Sunday, 31 December 2017

Kabujuan Islet

It is an undeniable fact that there are so many unexplored and rarely visited Islands in the Philippines. This is of course we are considered an archipelago and because we have a plethora of must-see white sand beaches spread across the country.

Kabujuan islet is definitely not an exception. This uncrowded, go to summer destination is unspoiled because it has not been changed or damaged by people yet.

From afar, it is a captivating image of pristine nature -where a lighthouse stand tall at the center, the whiteness of the sand and the clarity of the water is already a promise of a fun filled visit.

This mesmerizing island can be reached via Surigao City either by Van or by Bus. All you have to do is tell the driver to drop you off at Claver port where bancas or small pump boats are lining up, ready to transport you to this eye-catching islet.

We were so fortunate when we went there because we had the island to ourselves since it was Claver's fiesta and everyone's busy with the preparation. The island is eerily beautiful and mysterious. The powdery pink-ish sand on the other side of the island, white sandy beach at the front, instagram-worthy rock holes and formations along with the crystal clear waters make this island worthy to be part of your "bucket list" beach destinations.

Upon our arrival on the island, we were so eager to climb the lighthouse and reach the top. The panoramic view from the top was spectacular but our acrophobia heightened when we looked down. The breathtaking view below is so hypnotic it teases us to looked down again. So, we decided to capture a few snapshots of this beautiful picture postcard setting and then heard our footsteps descending the stairs.

The only downside I guess is the pathway going up. It was a bit brittle and fragile and yes a seemingly hyperventilating experience (for Sumo Wrestlers like me hahaha). Also, there are no stores in the island so it is imperative to bring food, snacks, water and other necessary provisions for beach outings.

It would be a worthwhile experience if you explore the place and go around the island. There are so many areas in the island where the landscapes are as beautiful as the scenery that greets you upon reaching the beachfront from Claver port.

All in all, it was majestic, it was stunning, it was beautiful. Indeed, a must visit beach destination in Surigao Del Norte.

Rate for pump boats by the way ranges from P600 - P1000 depends on the season and your talent in haggling. This is already a round trip fare. Travel time from mainland to the island is approximately 20-25 mins. Upon request, the bangkero will fetch you at the agreed time so it’s best to have their mobile numbers.

Note: No entrance fees on the island so for now it’s still free of charge. On the other hand, Claver has a strict policy on littering and proper waste disposal so clean as you go!

P.S. Our bangkero’s name is Archie Bulawin with mobile number 09464785006.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Rockabye Baby, Rock Albay

There is nothing like traveling - visiting a place for the first time, tasting the food you only get a glimpse of via social media channels and being able to marvel personally at the fantastic view you usually see on magazines, tv features and postcards. 

This was a long overdue trip because way back 2012 we booked for Legazpi and things didn't push through as planned. Thankfully, the second time around we were able to push ahead despite the long wait. 

What’s so special about Legazpi is that the stunning Mayon Volcano welcomes you upon arrival at the airport. Its mesmerizing imagery never fails to captivate both local and foreign visitors as sounds of camera flicks find its way to blend in with the airplane engine noise.

With no contacts whatsoever of any tour guide nor a specific place to stay, we decided to trust the high reviews on the internet for a particular hotel, the Embarcadero de Legazpi. After all this is what adventure is about - the art of not planning everything!

Legazpi airport is swarmed not just by taxis but also by trikes. So from the airport, we opted for a tricycle ride going to embarcadero hotel. Fare from the airport to Embarcadero is P50 (one way trip, max of 4 persons). Travel time is approximately 15-20 mins.

Upon arrival at the hotel with no prior booking, we then proceeded to choose the twin sharing which costs us P1650/night (breakfast excluded). The room was super clean and has a hot & cold shower. But the best part about the hotel is that its restaurant has the perfect view of Mayon Volcano while savoring your meal (preferably during breakfast since Mayon is not covered yet with clouds).

Even though we arrived very late in Legazpi, we were enthusiastic to taste the authentic Bicolano dishes and flavors including the famous Sili Ice Cream of 1st Colonial and Waway’s Restaurant Buffet (P250/head) which is the go to place for Bicol’s distinct and spicy cuisines.  

                                                Sili Ice Cream
                              Tinutungan (Roasted Rice) Ice Cream

                                                      Waway’s Restaurant (Buffet)

At Embarcadero it is best to go for a leisure walk in the mornings or jog with the locals towards the Legazpi Boulevard.  Then you may reward yourself with a fresh coconut drink at the Boulevard afterwards. There's so many things you can do in Embarcadero that's why I would definitely consider staying here while in Legazpi. 

Unfortunately, our Day 1 did not start with a leisure walk or a jog. But we did have an enjoyable breakfast food at Cisyd restaurant (probably read as Seaside since it's along the Seaside of Embarcadero or perhaps “sisid” still closely related to underwater or swimming under the water). They're open at 6am with a variety of breakfast menus (P170/breakfast meal) that comes with an unli coffee. 

With tummies already filled, excitement being re-fueled, we then pushed on to our first pit stop, Cagsawa Ruins. From Embarcadero, we rode a jeepney bound for Guinobatan and then informed the driver to drop us at Cagsawa ruins. Fare is P10 and travel time is 20-30 mins (traffic included). 

When we arrived at Cagsawa ruins (P20/adult)  it was already a bit crowded with foreign and local tourists. And yes saddened by the fact that Mayon hid its beauty behind a cottony veil of clouds. But still we took a picture with the alluring Cagsawa Belfry, a beautiful reminder of a disastrous natural phenomenon long time ago. 

While at Cagsawa, there were several tour guides who approached us and convinced us to try the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle), one of them was Jerome who ultimately became our tour guide for our entire stay in Albay (Misibis Bay excluded). He offered to bring us to Hoyop-hoyopan Cave, Sumlang Lake, Mayon Black Lava, Lignon Hill, Daraga Church for only P1200 (but we gave him P1500 tip included). 

Note: There's a trail called Zac Efron trail which costs P1850 (3.5 hour trail). The name was derived from the famous actor who used the said challenging path thereby making it a popular track among local and foreign visitors.

Helmets on and suddenly hit with a serious case of wanderlust that pumped us up, we began our Albay exploration by spelunking - destination, Hoyop-hoyopan cave. 

As we enter the cave (P300 entrance fee good for 6 people), the darkness was in itself an utter absence of noise though the paths ahead were already lighted for an easier guided tour. The rugged and weary walls that stood the test of time seem to tell a story of the distant past as the cold air filled every corners of the cave. The only warmth we felt was our eagerness to explore the cave. We were enthralled by the cave's beauty - inside, there were different shapes of stalagmites and stalactites, “sukatan ng sexy” passageway, ancient cemetery and a dance floor where locals dance their night away during special occasions. 

After an exhilarating experience at the cave, we continued our tour at Sumlang Lake. With no clouds hovering over Mayon, it is said to be one of the best spots to capture the majestic snapshots of the Volcano. You can rest here a bit, relax while riding the bamboo raft (balsa) furnished with trendy set of chairs made out of abaca; enjoying the marvelous view of Mayon Volcano as backdrop for your instagram-worthy photos. Entrance fee is P10/person and a Balsa Fee of P25. 

A trip is not complete without a “food trip” thus after Sumlang Lake, it’s time to sample the Bicolano dishes. We tried Inulukan (grated young coconut with taba ng talangka or crab aligue wrapped in taro leaves), pinangat (taro leaves, chili, meat and coconut milk), Bicol express (stew made from long chilies, shrimp paste, coco milk, Pork). Most of their dishes if you haven't noticed have 2 prominent ingredients, the coconut (coco milk) and the chili peppers - both are considered to be abundant in the Bicol region.

    Inulukan (grated young coconut with taba ng talangka wrapped in taro leaves)
                                                Bicol Express

We then proceeded to Mayon Black Lava after our sumptuous lunch. Piles and piles of dark rocks said to be spewed by Mayon Volcano during its several massive eruptions became a mountain of rocks. And yes it's a challenge climbing the steep, spiky and stony footpath. Once on top though, you will be rewarded with the alluring view of Mayon and the nearby cities surrounding it. There's also a helipad up there used by researchers and volcanologists examining and monitoring the active Volcano. If you're too tired to descend the rough steps, you can always opt to avail of their zip line for a quicker arrival. 

From one summit to another, we moved forward to Lignon Hill which is also one of the best places to snap a gorgeous photo of Mayon. We were suddenly looking through a whole new vista at the top. Entrance fee is P20/person (we paid this amount because this is applicable for non-Albay residents). 

We then wrapped up our trip for Day 1 by visiting Our Lady of the Gate Parish (Daraga Church). The old church is grand in its own way, its ancient architecture speaks of a rich culture and colorful history in terms of politics and religion. And yes, it's not everyday you get to experience a scenic backdrop while taking snapshots for your social media accounts. 

A bit slap happy from our trip, we headed back to our hotel for a quick rest. Besides, dinner time means gastronomic journey across Legazpi, Albay.

                                                            DIY's Tomahawk Chops
                                                         DIY's Hickory Ribs

Giddy with excitement and itching for an out of town getaway, we continued our Legazpi expedition on Day 2 by availing a day tour at Misibis Bay Luxury Resort. It was booked last April so we were thinking everything is in its right place including the pick up time. 

We were looking forward to a blissful beach chillout on that day only to have an unpleasant experience with their reservation. Supposedly the strict shuttle service pick up time was 8am. We waited for 2 hours before they were able to finally fetch us. We found out later that the reason for the delay was lack of communication on the part of reservation and concierge services. 

On the other hand, Day tour rate (off peak) is P1400/person (consumable). Transportation fee is priced at P950/person (to and fro Misibis). So P1400 less P950, basically you only have P450 to spend for food or other recreational activities including souvenirs. (Tip: Do not purchase anything yet at their souvenir shop unless you are certain that the amount they provided you is the deducted amount or the available amount for purchase).

The resort was pretty, upscale with a laid-back ambiance. You can play beach volleyball, ride an ATV, rent a Kayak, swim in the pool, go on a hike, a guided tour at Cagraray Eco-Park, all these activities are covered. 

Since we arrived late at the resort, we decided to have our lunch before we begin exploring the place (yes it was lunchtime already because travel time to Misibis Bay from Legazpi is approximately 1 hour). Unfortunately, when we arrived it was low tide so it was not the best time to go for a swim. 

                                       Leche Flan Turon

We spent our time waiting for the Eco-tour at their cocktail bar. Sipping the minutes away with our cocktail drinks, we learned from the bartender that there were several local and foreign resort visitors. And that they too cater beach weddings and company team building activities and games. 

The highlight of Misibis Day Use is a guided tour at Cagraray Eco-Park where the Amphitheater is located. It has 2 available tour schedules: 9am and 4pm. Fee is P150/person. Part of the tour is the chapel at the top where special weddings are being held. 

Needless to say,  our whole-day Misibis Bay excursion was a bitter-sweet experience - bitter, because of the bad experience (reservations) and sweet, because of the pleasant experience at their restaurant (great tasting food included).

Day 3 is a continuation of our sightseeing tour around Albay. With different tourist spots in line, Jerome (our tour guide/motorcycle driver) offered to bring us to 5 other major attractions by paying P2000 (2 motorcycles because in Albay 2 passengers are not allowed on one motorcycle). Hopping from city to city, we traverse the province by motorcycle discovering more hidden gems that are worth visiting. 

Tucked away in an off the beaten path of Brgy. Busay, Malilipot Albay, Busay Falls is a popular day trip destination for local tourists due to its multi-tiered waterfalls. It has about 7 cascading waterfalls but level 1 is said to be the best place to cool down after a long journey in the hot sun.

Catholicism is the predominant religion in the province and each town is said to have patrons and patroness celebrated on separate occasions. So it was just befitting for us to visit the Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, commonly known as Tabaco Church. This century old church which is reminiscent of the churches in Ilocos during the Baroque period showcases the prominent historical structures in the archipelago. 

After our soul enriching church visit, we keep the ball rolling by going to the Mayon Planetarium and Science Park before proceeding to the Mayon Skyline (Mayon Rest House). 

The Planetarium hosts a 15 min. documentary movie about Mayon Volcano and its several eruptions to date. Its observation facilities offers panoramic view of nearby towns in the absence of smogs. It is also situated at the foot of the iconic Mayon Volcano within the 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) permanent danger zone as per our tour guide. Entrance fee is P10/head.

Just below the Planetarium is the Mayon Skyline where picnics can be done because it has a designated playground and picnic huts suitable for family gatherings or barkada outings. It's a good thing while we were there that Mayon showed its gorgeousness for a few minutes before it sashayed in behind the big puffy clouds. Besides it's the closest you'll ever get to tread near the volcano. 

We were on our way to Kawa-Kawa Hill Nature Park in Ligao City when the habal habal driver starts driving a mile a minute; it was already a bit gloomy when we descend the mountain range of Buang, Albay. 

When we reached Ligao City, we were too tired to hike the trail of the hill without a hilltop so we simply took a photo of the life sized Last Supper monument. We rested for a bit before moving on to our last and final lap of the trip, The Quituinan Hill in Camalig, Albay.

With spectacular landscapes and magical scenery, the place is famous for holding prenup photo shoots and party gatherings. It also holds the historic Japanese war tunnels in this town which is one of the new tourist attractions in Albay province. Entrance fee is P20/head. 

Note: For the Japanese tunnel tour guide, you just have to provide the tip (any amount will do as the cashier said but we gave him P100).

All good things must come to an end and so is our Albay journey. The sun was just setting at the airport when we were about to leave Legazpi. Yet Mayon still holds me captive almost like a separation anxiety disorder as it unceasingly mesmerized me with its good looks and attractiveness. 

As we passed through the exit gate, I looked beyond the horizon and there she was revealing itself in all its majestic glory. It looks as if it smiled down on us to bid us farewell as crimson skies started to envelope its peak. 

I pondered, stood in awe then slowly walked my way towards the plane. It was a hugely fulfilling and enriching travel experience - indeed, traveling broadens the mind!

Tip - When in Legazpi, kindly contact this Tour Guide: 

Jerome (jhe) Nuyles
Marketing Officer/Asst. Trail Guide
Mobile No.: 09484358607
FB: BicolandiaOutdoorAdventuresCo