The Highs and Lows of Easter Island – April 3-4, 2012

With my formal tours done, I scheduled myself for two additional adventures while on the island. On the afternoon of April 3rd, I scheduled myself for some scuba diving. I signed up for a 45 min dive around 25 deep off the coast of Hanga Roa. Meanwhile, for the next morning, before my flight back to San Francisco via Peru, I signed up for horseback riding up Mount Teravaka… the highest point on Easter Island.

Scuba Diving

There were a few dive shops at the pier. I went for Mika Rapa’s.  Fortunately for me, I had my NAUI Certification Card with with me just in case anyone asked to see that I was a certified diver

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It was actually quite painless to sign up. The dive just cost $60 whether you are a beginner, or a seasoned diver. In my case, I was teamed up with a Frenchman who has as “rescue” certification. What that simply means is that we were on our way immediately while the beginners go through their orientation.

I suited up. Tried on some fins… and we were off.

The first stop after getting off the boat was a site called the “Underwater Moai”. Obviously its not a real Moai. After all, why would the natives place a Moai so far off the coast. Anyway, it was obviously placed there for tourism purposes.

The one thing you will notice is how blue the water is. I have never seen water so blue. Clear and blue.

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The underwater Moai was definitely a nice starting point for the dive.

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The dive itself was quite as expected. Though I must say is that, while the water is so clear… and blue. The experience as a whole was ho-hum. Mind you, I have been diving for pretty much 20 years and I have seen a lot of underwater scenery from all over the Philippines.

Diving in Easter Island was fun by itself. But the corals were pretty much a bland grey-blue-pink color. Typical coral. There was a an assortment of fish… but not very colorful. Simply put… a dive off the coast of Batangas will give you a more colorful array of corals and fish.

But once again, that doesn’t take away the experience of diving in the middle of Pacific Ocean in the most remote diving spot on Earth.

 

Horseback Riding

There is only so much you can reach via a car on Easter Island. My guides had suggested that I take the horseback riding trip up Mount Teravaka… which is the highest point on the island.

Mount Terevaka

I was warned that the entire trip would take 3-4 hours. This would have been the longest horse back ride I would ever take. An experience I would feel in my body for the next three days.

My guide Matti, picked me up from the hotel at around 8:30 am and took me to his farm where the horses were stabled. While waiting, I met up with one of his dogs. I later found out out that this dude was one of three dogs who would accompany me up the mountain.

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And we were off. We made our way through a number of fields and dirt roads.

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Then we started to ascend up Mount Teravaka. You can see the two other dogs leading the way.

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After around 2 hours… we finally reached the top of Mount Teravaka.

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The scenery was awesome. With the whole island practically devoid of trees, you could see all around directly to the water.

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Here is a panoramic shot I took while at the top. You could actually look 360 degrees around the island.

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We stayed up there for a little less than 30 minutes. After looking around and admiring the scenery, there wasn’t much else to do… and I wasn’t about to get off my horse.

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So after a while. We made our trek back down the mountain.

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As with most of my trips…with proper scheduling I was the only one en route up Teravaka. But on the way down, we met up with several hikers or others on horseback on their way up the mountain.  Timing wise was also great. Because by the time I got down, it was almost time for lunch.

Our trip down was a little faster. Just around 1.5 hours… not so much because it was going downhill, but because our last stop wasn’t all the way back to the farm. We ended up at Ahu Aviki.

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Meanwhile… here are the three dogs that accompanied me up the mountain… just doing their thing.

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While waiting for Matti to pick me up,  I took some more additional pictures at Ahu Aviki which was great because the sun and sky were just great!

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I was a great day this far.

With these last two adventures I would have been around 4/5 of the entire island, go to one of the lowest points underwater, and on the highest peak of the island. What a great way to end my adventure on Easter Island. AWESOME!

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From here I would make my way back to the hotel… have lunch… and prepare for my trip back to the airport and fly back to San Francisco.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park, Quezon City – November 13, 2011

On the morning of November 13, 2011 right before the controversial Pacquiao vs Marquez 3 fight, I was browsing through Google Maps when I spotted the La Mesa Dam Eco Park. A few weeks earlier, my friend, Eufer, had posted some pictures when he went to the park. I was also looking for an interesting place to bring my dogs. So on this morning, I decided to take a quick trip to finally see the Eco Park which is somewhat nearby to where I live in Quezon City.

View La Mesa Eco Park in a larger map

 

I brought Taylor, one of my dogs to check out the Eco Park.  As I mentioned, I checked it out on Google Maps, and visited the website (http://www.lamesaecopark.com/) for directions, prior to leaving the house.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

It was a Sunday morning, but I guess because it was the morning of a Pacquiao fight, the park didn’t have a lot of people, though I am told it is normally quite full on weekends with families on picnic.

After parking, I proceeded to the entrance where I paid a modest entrance fee. You get a discount if you can show an ID showing you are a resident of Quezon City.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

It’s quite a walk downhill from there as I followed all these families lugging food and coolers.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

Trashcans everywhere

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

There are a lot of designated places to see and sit around.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

There are also several picnic areas. Use of one of the huts require you pay a fee for usage.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

Ooooh. Horseback riding!

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

Our would you prefer a horse and buggy?

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

The Eco Park also seems to be a great place for student activities.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

Then again, all this walking around tired out Taylor.

It being a Sunday, there was even a Sunday Mass

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

If you didn’t bring any food, there are actually a lot of food stalls all over offering all sorts of snacks, cooked food, drinks, and even charcoal for your grill.

The park is a great place to relax amidst nature. It’s great that amidst Quezon City, there is a place where one can relax amidst nature.

La Mesa Dam Eco Park

 

And best of all… it’s dog friendly. I plan to bring my whole pack of dogs here soon. Perhaps this weekend?

Taylor

Taylor approves.

Swimming with the Whale Sharks, Donsol – March 15, 2009

More from my archives. I was looking through my pictures drive on my PC, I realized that I had trips from my backlog dating way back to early 2009 (since before I started the Lakwatsero Travel Blog). I discovered that I hadn’t blogged about our trip to Mayon Volcano and Donsol.

The day after our tour of Mayon Volcano and Vera Falls, we were now up and ready to go swimming with the Whale Sharks or “Butanding”. People have said that the best time to go to Donsol is between February to April when the Whale Sharks pass through and are plentiful. We had to get up for our van’s 5am pick up as we started on our 2.5 hour trip to Donsol fom Legazpi City.


View Donsol in a larger map

 

It’s important to get their early for two reasons. First, to beat the other tourists! Second, there are more Whale Sharks in the morning. The second reason is of course the best reason to be early, but the first is always fun.

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We got to the Butanding Center, paid all the necessary fees, and we waited our turn to board the boat.

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This was quite fascinating. The boatmen would watch out for signs of the Whale Sharks. Once spotted, we race over to go ahead of the whale shark. We then jump into the water to meet it as it is approaching, then we swim with it for as long as we can until it dives.

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We are told when to get ready… then we jump in… and race after the whale sharks.

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Meanwhile… underwater…

Here is the whale shark’s wide mouth

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the fin…

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Here I am… swimming on top of one… (our guide insisted he take hold of my camera so he can take me. so all of these underwater shots were taken by him)

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Yes. The water was quite murky… and with good reason. This is afterall the reason why the whale sharks are here. The water is thick with plankton… which is what the whale sharks eat. They swim with their mouth wide open and the plankton gets filtered in their mouth. And no… as big as the whale sharks mouth is… they have no teeth and it doesn’t open up very wide.

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It’s was definitely quite a thrill.

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We were lucky. There were quite a number of whale sharks in the area. We got back on the boat, chased after another shark and jumped in. We probably repeated this time around 12 times while we were there. We heard that on some days, they would be lucky to have 3 – 4 sightings. Anyway, we kept this up until we were too pooped. I remember telling our guide after he asked if we still had in us for another run… I said something like “we give up…. let’s go back.”

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Back at the boat.

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If you ever get chance to to Donsol and are up for some cardiac-swimming-after-sharks mode… go for it.

Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, CA–June 15, 2011

I woke up this morning and decided to revisit one of my favorite nature haunts. Today was forecasted as the hottest day of the week and I was going to take advantage of it.  I have been to Muir Woods many times in the past. I remember taking a number of friends to the woods famously known as “The Forrest Moon of Endor” from Return of the Jedi… you remember, the place with all the Ewoks.

Muir Woods is not your typical tourist destination associated with San Francisco.  Muir Woods is 11 miles North of the Golden Gate Bridge.


View Larger Map

En route to the woods, I decided to make a quick stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for a picture or two. Typically one parks at the southern-San Francisco side of the bridge. But it was such was a great day, the parking lot was full. After a while I decided to just proceed to Muir Woods. As I was crossing the bridge I decided to stop at the northern vista point. It’s a less common picture point of the bridge.

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From here, I proceeded north-bound toward Stinson Beach.

Through a winding road, I soon found myself at Muir Woods.

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I paid the $5 adult admission fee and proceeded inside.

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As is always the case when the sun is out… places like this fill up with a lot of people. I actually just missed two bus loads of school kids… buti na lang.

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I decided to take long route around.

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Ah… the majesty of God’s forest.

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After a while of taking pictures. I realized the trouble with taking pictures in the forest. There isn’t too much variety to the generic shots. After all… at a certain point… it looks the same. But God… such beautiful scenery.

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I took a  video of one of the streams. I was so enamored by the soothing sound of the water. So peaceful.

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Every now and then, I just sit down and soak it all up.

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The forest reminds us that amongst God’s creatures… we are quite small.

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To end… here is a 360 degree Photosynth Panorama I took on my iPhone. You can rotate the image to see the majesty of it all.

Mt. Pinatubo (3rd time’s a charm) – January 29, 2011

This is my third time to trek up Mt. Pinatubo. The first two times were two years ago, the first being January 3, 2009 and the second was a month later on February 8, 2009… each trip with different sets of friends. Actually I have a fourth trip from the air via the Pinatubo Sky Tour last year.

Despite this being my 3rd trek to Pinatubo… a lot has changed in the 2 years since I was there last. More on this later. I will devote a lot of commentary in the changes.

During our trip Kalibo for the Ati-Atihan Festival, my nieces were talking about going to Mt. Pinatubo. I then volunteered to take them there this weekend. So with me on this trip were my two lakwatsera nieces Leia and Kitkat and my grandson Ziggy (ok, fine I’m not that old… my sister’s grandson).

Our trip starts at 4:30am to be able to get to the “Pinatubo Spa Town” by 6:00. (Take note, my timing was off, travelling at the posted speed limits, it still took me 2 hours from Quezon City). I had called two days earlier to make my booking (which is always a good thing). Cost per pax… P1,500. This for a group of at least 3pax… even if we had a 9 year old with us.

Getting there earlier has its advantages. First, it isn’t hot. When you consider that the whole trip takes you 5 hours back and forth, you want to be avoid the noon day sun. Second, it gets traffic on the path… people in front of you, people behind you. Third, when you get to the crater, unahan sa tambayan.

When we got to Pinatubo Spa town, there was a lot of ople already there. But they were still waiting for their groups to be complete before starting off. So we were able to be the 4th jeep to get started.

Mt. Pinatubo
View Mt. Pinatubo in a larger map

En route to the crater via the lahar fields at around 6:45am. This part of the trip takes pretty much 1 hour. En route I was a little concerned as it started to drizzle very lightly.

Mt. Pinatubo

This is the start to the “Skyway”

Mt. Pinatubo

Here’s me, my two lakwatsera nieces, and little lakwatsero Ziggy.

Mt. Pinatubo

We reached the “Parking lot” where all the jeeps would wait for us. From here we started our trek. We were the 4th jeep on the lot at the time.

Mt. Pinatubo

The first 30 minutes of the trek is pretty cold. This is due to the wind circulating in area.

Mt. Pinatubo

To tell you the truth, I was concerned about taking a nine-year-old with us, but to my surprise Ziggy held out pretty well. He did get tiered as well as we all did, but I guess youth does have its advantages.

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Changes

Since being here two years ago, there were a lot of changes to the landscape. Storms and other natural occurrences would cause some landslides. For safety reasons some areas had to be leveled down as well.

One change is halfway there, there are now these rest huts even with a restroom with a water tank. It’s a little odd, but I guess for tourism purposes, much needed.

Mt. Pinatubo

AT this point, it is now safe to take off your jacket.

From here there is a sign which tells people how much further off the crater is. Not sure if this meant for ego purposes. It reads…

“Welcome to Mt. Pinatubo. Your trek starts here… For Young age… 15 minutes, Middle age… 18 minutes, Senior Citizens… 20 minutes”.

Not sure if they used actual people to time this.

Mt. Pinatubo

Walking up from this point, the landscape also changed. The narrow path is much wider with less foliage.

You know you are almost there when you encounter stairs. Yes! Stairs.

And 15 minutes later (I guess that put us in the young age category) we are at theto[ of the stairs greeted by a sign “Welcome to the Crater of Mount Pinatubo.”

Mt. Pinatubo

For first timers, the scene is breath taking!

Now on to some differences… this is the scene two years ago for me (2009)

Mt. Pinatubo

Today it looks like this (2011)…

Mt. Pinatubo

Progress is progress I guess. And I guess from a tourism stand point the development does “help.” But from my point of view, it takes away from the nature experience. For me, it looks ugly. I would rather they made things out of wood rather than cement. But I guess from a safety standpoint, it is “safer now”

Here’s another comparison shot.

Two years ago (2009)

Mt. Pinatubo

The same spot today (2011)

Mt. Pinatubo

Oh well.

Regardless… That does take away from the majesty of Mt. Pinatubo. Hmmm… from the picture below, I notice another change, but this one natural… the water level has gone up.

Mt. Pinatubo

As we went down the stairs, I noticed the shoreline was several meters inland. Not that its bad. It just shows that certain destinations do change with nature, the seasons, and with time.

Mt. Pinatubo

Now to take advantages of the “what’s new.” As we were walking up, our guide Joel mentioned that they now have boats. Two years ago, I remember there was an option for a canoe but that you needed to make preparations in advance. This time, they have “Burnham Park”-style boats. Since my last two times were just limited to the shoreline pictured above, I guess a trip to the other side would be worthwhile.

Fee per person… P350. Yes, even for our 9-year-old.

Mt. Pinatubo

Our destination was to a warmer side of Pinatubo with actual hot springs.

Mt. Pinatubo

En route…

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Getting to the other side… we saw two other boats before us. And a huge “virgin” area….

Mt. Pinatubo

Getting to the other side. Ziggy was all too excited to get swimming. Getting him into the water was a challenge because at the shoreline itself was hot water. A little hotter than “warm” but not too hot. But a meter from the shoreline the water cooled off.

Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo

I wandered off and explored that vast volcanic plain behind us.

Mt. Pinatubo

After a few minutes, the clouds were moving fast… and the sky became simply beautiful!

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Two great shots below from my iPhone below

Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo

After swimming, Señorito Ziggy just enjoyed himself eating up some Pringles.

Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo

After around 45 min in the area we went back.

As we landed… here is an example of what I mean by the area getting crowded.

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Just as we were leaving the area, I saw this rather amusing sigh. I wonder if there is a scientific explanation to back this up… “No shouting please… noise can cause soil erosion.”

Mt. Pinatubo

All set for the long trek down…

Mt. Pinatubo

We took the long trip down and something like 40 minutes later we were back at the parking lot. Note the worst moment is the walk up a steep area of rocks just before the parking area.

But when you get up! It is so great to be up there. Note the number of jeeps by this time…

Mt. Pinatubo

Roughly counting, I saw at least 30 jeeps. Made me wonder about the industry in that little town that Pinatubo provides for townsfolk.

Mt. Pinatubo

An hour later, we were back at Pinatubo Spa Town for late lunch at around 2:00pm (Lunch and showers are part of the package)

Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo

It was great to go back. It was also great being with my nieces and grand nephew. The new boat ride gave me a great new experience.

The changes or development to the area are a little disappointing, but from a tourism standpoint I think is seen by some as necessary. It makes the place safer, and at least the infrastructure provides convenience for others.

In the end, the experience itself is still awesome!!!

Since I seem to be going back to Pinatubo every Jan-Feb… I guess I’ll be back here in 2012!

END

Mt. Pinatubo

How to get to Pinatubo Spa Town

  1. From Quezon CIty take NLEX until the DAU Tollway.
  2. Take SCTEX, exit Concepcion
  3. After you exit SCTEX, take a LEFT headed towards Capas, Tarlac
  4. Follow the road until you see a McDonald’s then an intersection. Turn LEFT and head South on McArthur Highway (turning right will lead you to Baguio)
  5. Watch out for a Mercury Drug on your right and/or a Jolibee at your left. Once you see a Mercury Drug, try making a right. (Some roads are one way). Last resort turn right after you see the Jolibee on your left.
  6. Turn RIGHT on the next major road.
  7. Follow this road and stay on the MAIN ROAD. There will be a point where the road will become a small minor road, the main road will be to your LEFT. Landmark is an Iglesia ni Cristo at your left.
  8. Follow this road until the end. There will be two checkpoints along the way.
  9. Just stay on the road till you get to Pinatubo Sky Town in Barangay Sta. Juliana in Capas Tarlac. If you are early, your land mark will be all of the jeeps and 4x4s on the road.

Fees vary based on number of people… if you are 3-4 pax the fee is P1,500/pax. P4000 if you are 1 person. Inclusive of lunch (Filipino or Korean) and showers after.

Be sure to make arrangements before hand: My contact is Bea Ramos at 09297025058

Capones Island and to Anawangin Cove, Zambales – June 1, 2010

This is my second trip to Anawangin Cove this year. I made the first trip in January of this year. (Directions can also be found on that blog post.)

I made the trip again with my officemates at work. This was our team offsite. A great opportunity to discuss a number of work-related matters in a very far-removed office setting. What makes this trip also interesting is that this takes place on a weekday… which contributes to some rather interesting observations of Anawangin Cove.

Part of the agenda is supposed to be a quick trip to Capones Island, specifically to see he lighthouse. Those who have followed my adventures are aware of my love affair with lighthouses.


View Anawangin Cove, Zambales in a larger map

We left Quezon City at around 7:00am. For “technical reasons” we could not leave earlier. We comfortably went through EDSA-NLEX-SCTEX-Subic heading towards the town of San Antonio with occasional stops to eat, buy food, and of course relieve ourselves. We arrived at Pundaquit at around 11:00am. A little later than planned, but then again, we did make a few stops.

As this was my first time to be in Pundaquit during a weekday, it was rather eerie. It was very quite and almost devoid of people. I guess the little town is alive on weekends due to the nature of the fact that tourism is one of its major sources on income (aside from fishing). At the parking lot, I made arrangements for a boat to take us around.

Pundaquit Website: http://www.pundaquit.com/

I first negotioated to go to Capones Island and then to Nagsasa Cove… Anawangin was not the initial destination. However the distance of Nagsasa was an issue. Meanwhile I was warned that due to the waves, landing on Capones Island near the light house might be a challenge.

Our bangkero (boat man) soon arrived and guided us to the beach proper where he got the boat ready. If you look in the picture below… Capones Island is the island on the far left of the photo.

Capones Island

Capones Island

We were soon en route to Capones.

Capones Island

The trip to the island took around 15 min. The waves were mildly rough.

Capones Island

On the tail end of the island, there was a group frolicking on the sand…

Capones Island

We proceeded to the farther end of the island.

Capones Island

As we got to the end, I could just see the lighthouse protruding upward.

Anawangin Cove

Unfortunately, the beach area where would dock is quite rocky and that the bankeros refused to attempt it as it would damage and potentially destroy the boat. If you look very closely, you would see the stairs below leading up to the lighthouse. This is the most direct route. If we were to land elsewhere, they tell me it would be around an hour hike up to the light house.

Anawangin Cove

Anyway, I was not going to ponder to much on this, I quickly told the bankeros to proceed to Anawangin Cove.

Anawangin Cove

Anawangin Cove

When we got to Anawangin Cove, I noticed a lof of differences/improvements since I was here in January. In fact if you read my previous post on this, I noted that there was a lot of things that were different from what posted on previous travel blogs.

First of all, there is now a fee of P50 per person who are there for the day. P100 for those who stay overnight. I was even issued a receipt by the caretaker, a Mang Manny. The receipt states “Wild Life and Nature Organization Inc.” Interesting.

I got to talk to talk to Mang Many a bit and he did tell me of the few improvements.

First off, there are more picnic tables set up.

Anawangin Cove

This was interesting, and I did notice that the tables were actually “new”. The last time I was here, I noticed that the tables were falling apart or were quite flimsy.

Next…

Do you remember my post about the cemented Comfort Room? Well, these are also a tad different. The toilets have been taken out and covered over. What remains is a drain hole in the corner. These rooms, according to Mang Manny have been turned into changing rooms / shower rooms. So where are the toilets?

Anawangin Cove

Mang Manny pointed over to the far end, near the base of the mountainside. You can sea Sawali wall. When I walked over, I was quite surprised to see a new development. I guess this is best considering the growing popularity of the place.

First you will notice 4 sawali shower rooms. Next to them…

Anawangin Cove

7 Toilets in a cemented structure. Flushing oc course is still via the buhos method. You will notice the fawcets and pails.

Anawangin Cove

Across the toilets… 15 changing rooms.

Anawangin Cove

All in all you have a nice, clean area for campers and visitors to shower, change, and do their “thing.”

Anawangin Cove

Thinking about it, I guess it’s an interesting improvement. Though of course, what used to be blogged in numerous travel blogs circa 2007 or so is that Anawangin Cove was a truly virgin area with almost nothing there. While a little bothersome, the facilities I have seen are definitely and interesting necessity if they want to attract more visitors here.

The place still had its sari-sari stores. Two of them were closed due to the low weekday traffic. But Mang Manny said that they did have soft drinks (no ice though) and basic necessities of soap, shampoo, and off at their store.

A little disconcerting was this structure which almost gave foreboding glimpses into a possible Boracay-like future…

Anawangin Cove

Oh well…

I guess the money does go towards improvements and upkeep of the place. One subtle thing I noticed was that the sand was well “raked.” This is when someone evens out the foot prints in the sand with a rake. It also cleans up little bits of trash. This was of course a good sign. Later on I noticed that there were those that loaded “trash” on the boats.. plastic bags of plastic. This was quite a pleasant sight. Certainly better than what I had noted at Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo.

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The place was great nonetheless. This being a weekday meant that the place was virtually empty. When we got there, there was a big group pitching a tent. And another small group on the farther end. Later on there were two other boats that arrived. I have seen pictures of those that have recently been there on a weekend and it is just packed with people.

Today… it was, for a moment, the quiet little paradise.

Anawangin Cove

Anawangin Cove

Anawangin Cove

Anawangin Cove

One of the closed sari-sari stores.

Anawangin Cove

And now, the required group pictures…

Anawangin Cove

It was of course not all rest and relaxation. We were able to discuss a number of work related issues that needed to be resolved. This of course in between watching some scantily clad women frolicking in the background.

Anawangin Cove

By around 2:30pm, it was now time pack up and start on out trip back to Manila with a planned stop in Subic for a hot meal.

Anawangin Cove

Final Thoughts

Anawangin Cove is still certainly a great designation for beach goers who want to get away from the usual crowded beaches of Batangas. Or for the hikers and campers who want to spend the night in a clean and maintained camping ground.

Anawangin Cove

GALLERY:

Banaue, Ifugao Mountain Province – April 24, 2010

Probably one of the most iconic symbols of the Philippines, the famous Banaue Rice Terraces, is one place I had longed to see and go to since I was a kid.

On this particular trip with me are RJ Bumanglag and Chris Aquino. We left Friday evening (technically early Saturday morning). We were on our way at around 1:30am of Saturday. The trip would take approximately 8 hours with a few stops along the way.

We proceeded north via the NLEX where we stopped for a snack at a Tropical Hut, then proceeded onward via the SCTEX through till the Tarlac exit, we turned right toward Cabanatuan City, then turned left where we headed northward toward Banaue. The trip was quite uneventful. The great things about these National Roads is that they just go straight and you can’t get lost.


View Banaue, Ifugao Mountain Province in a larger map

Proceeded northward through Nueva Ecija through to Nueva Vizcaya.

Nueva Vizcaya

Every now and then we would stop and admire the scenery…

Along the way to Banaue, we started to encounter a few rice terraces…

Banaue, Ifugao

Banaue, Ifugao

Shortly thereafter, we reach Banaue!

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When we get to the town of Banaue, the first thing that strikes us is that it appears to like a lesser developed Baguio CIty… something perhaps reminiscent of Baguio in the 1960s.

The town of Banaue

We proceeded to our lodging. I booked a room at the Banaue View Inn in Barangay Poblacion, Bontoc Road (Tel: (074) 386-4078). I learned about the place from going through online blogs and chanced upon a blog post where a lady stated “we should have stayed here instead.” So I assumed that it would be a nice enough place to stay.

Banaue View Inn Banaue View Inn

The Banaue View Inn is clean and offers no frills. Our room for 3 which included a double bed and a single bed would cost us just P1000 for the night. It had its own bath with running cold/hot water. They don’t offer any meals except for breakfast which is available at additional cost. The room opened out to a balcony, offering a view of the Banaue Rice Terraces right from our room. The room (as expected from the misc. blog posts) had no air conditioning or even an electric fan. It was quite cool, but due to the lack of wind, it became a little uncomfortable. Our stay here was quite pleasant, but it could have been better. It’s a family-owned operation and the “manager on duty / manager” daughter wasn’t very accommodating or helpful with information and information she gave was either incorrect or not helpful at all.

What I could say though was that the place offered spectacular view of the Banaue Rice Terraces right from the many balconies around the buildings.

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Town of Banaue

Banaue, Ifugao

Batad Rice Terraces

We rested for a couple of hours and decided not to waste time to make our way to the Batad Rice Terraces. What is so special about Batad? Apparently it is the side of a massive wall of terraces.

Apparently there were a number of options to get Batad. We could rent a jeep for around P2,500. Take a tricycle for around P400. There is a third option we only realized layer on…. we could have taken the 4×4.

We had flagged down a tricycle and met Mang Tony who brought us to our trek to Batad. It was Mang Tony who told us that we could have taken The Lakwatsero Mobile up to “the saddle” and would have saved us a one hour trek up the mountain.

If by tricycle, we were taken all the way to the base of the mountain where we would start our trek. The Tricycle would not be able to bring us any further. We would trek up around 1 hour to the top. This is a rest stop called “The Saddle” which is the half way mark.

Below, from the center right, at the bottom of the V, is The Saddle. It is from here which would would mean another 45min – 1 hour before we get to the Batad View Deck.Batad

Needless to say, I was not amused. I had just made the 8 hour trek to Mt. Pico de Loro the previous week. In short, I was quite irritated that I had to make another trek after a week.

Anyway so after an hour of trekking up the mountain to the Saddle did we see a number of jeeps and 4x4s that had made it up and parked here. Had we known… this would have saved us the 1 hour trek.

From the top we then rested a bit then proceeded downward to the Batad View Deck. Walking down through a narrow foot path to the Batad View Deck.

(Photos of me taken at this time are not for publishing)

The photo below is taken just before we get to the Batad View Deck. It’s a nice tailored set of Rice Terraces with no houses in the immediate vicinity.

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After artound another 10 min… a breathtaking site which is the Batad Rice Terraces. My first reaction…. WHOOA. At that moment, whatever pain my legs were feeling momentarily went away as I took out mu camera and started shooting away.

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Banaue 6

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The view deck offered all the trekkers a number of places to sit and order a wide array of food. It was already 3pm and we needed to start getting on our way back soon or else we would run out of sun on the way back. We had time to order up some halo halo (just P20 each) before making the trek back.

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Needless to say… the trek back was agonizing for me.

What was interesting was that a majority of other tourists along the way up and down the mountain were all foreigners. Aside from us (and what appeared to be a Filipino family) we encountered a few groups of foreigners from Israel, the US, and Europe.

Banaue Hotel

After getting back, we rested a bit and took a bath, we then had our dinner at the Banaue Hotel.

From all appearances, the Banaue Hotel is very reminiscent of an early Baguio-style hotel of the mid 70s. It’s a government run hotel with around 82 rooms.

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Below is a photo of the view of rice terraces from the roof deck of the Banaue Hotel.

Banaue Rice Terraces

After dinner, we made it back to the inn. Due to the lack of anything else to do, we went to sleep by around 10pm and slept through till Sunday morning.

Early morning, we would have breakfast then proceed back to Manila by around 9:00am. With stopping along the way to pee and lunch… we got back to Manila 8 hours later.

Conclusion

All in all it was a fulfilling trip. And despite my complaints over the 4 hour up and down trek, it was well worth it.

Strike off another item from my bucket list. It is definitely an adventure I would recommend to anyone. The roads to Banaue from Manila are nicely paved making it a simple and easy trip.

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Climbing Mt. Pico de Loro, Cavite – April 17, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, my friends from Microsoft Philippines’ Mountaineering Club invited me to join a trek to Pico de Loro in Cavite. Without hesitation I confirmed joining the group. My only hestitation was that I registered to join the Tour of the Fireflies on April 18… so I wasn’t sure if my legs could handle a mountain trek and a 40km bicycle ride on the same weekend. Nonetheless… I joined the trek

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A few facts about Pico de Loro. It is located in both Cavite and Batangas Province. Its elevation is around 664 meters above sea level. It is accessible from Ternate Cavite, or Nasugbu Batangas. The trek is considered a Level I or “Easy”… and all things considered, yes it was an easy trek.

The group had decided that it would be easier (and more convenient) to rent some vans to take us to the jump off point.

Getting there was easy. Head towards Puerto Azul. Go past Puerto Azul and look out for the sign to the magnetic point. There is actually a sign which indicates the place… but it has loong been faded. So if you pass a sign on the left (mountain side) where you can’t read anything… that’s it. Go forward a few more meters till you see an opening in the foliage. (see picture below).

When we got there, there was a local with a logbook waiting to take people’s names. There is no fee to pay, but he will then offer the services of a guide which will cost you P1,500. Though, if you can follow a trail and read the signs, a guide isn’t really necessary.

There a group that was there just before us and they were about to start when we got there.

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After the required photo-ops we were off!

Ok, the first 30-45 min was quite easy. You just follow a path up through the foliage away from the road… the sound from the tricycles and jeeps slowly fades away.

Signs along the way...

Apparently, there are signs along the way. Some of these were put up by the DENR… other signs were placed by past trekkers.

I don’t often take video during my trips, but every once in a while I do remember to bring my Flip

 

Continue walking… and walking… until you find a path which goes down, yes down. Even when your objective is to go up, there are points where you have to go down before going up again. (sigh)

At the bottom, of this downward path there is an intersection. Fear not, there are… signs…

Signs along the trail...

… magalang pa ang mga signs. Hehe.

Base Camp I

After roughly 30 min or so, we get to Base Camp 1. The camp is a nice first resting point. They also sell canned Coke or Sprite for P40. We didn’t buy any on the way up, but we did on the way back… and a cold Coke is definitely refreshing.

Base Camp 1 Pile of plastic

I wasn’t just sure of what that big pile of plastic waste was for. Was it to just pile up? Or did they ever plan on bringing it down the mountain?

Anyway, we proceeded on our trek. The trek was mainly flat with some ups and downs.

Every now and then I would stop to appreciate the scenery…

Butterflies!

Part of the trail brings us past some private property. At first we weren’t sure if we were on the right path when we saw a fence. Apparently we just walk through it. It had a very interesting gate which closed automatically! Ingenuous!

And every now and then… another sign to point us on our way…

Most of the trek was under trees and miscellaneous shrubbery. So the sun wasn’t much of an issue.

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But every now and then we would go through a clear path… although this was few.

Base Camp 2

After maybe around 45 min,  We reached our next major rest stop. We reached a big flattened area just before we would make the final uphill assault. We stopped here to eat out “lunch”.

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So we proceeded updard. We followed the trail up to the summit…

It was a loooong climb…

I am so pagod!!!

then after around an hour and a half…

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WE MADE IT! We were not quite at the top yet. That was another 15 min. But this is the base camp location where anyone would set up camp.

So we made ourselves comfy.

Photo-opp muna. Oh, the shot above… I was standing on around a foot of surface area. Behind me was a straight drop downward! . And while it isn’t obvious… I was shaking in fear as Johnny was taking the picture..

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Before proceeding to the summit.

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… THAT is the summit. And that column on the left is the “Parrot’s beak” or Pico de Loro.

So after around another 15 min upward…

at the peak of Pico de Loro. The highest point of Cavite

Here I am at the summit of Pico de Loro. The highest point of Cavite…PicoDeLoro20100417 128

Syempre… photo opp muna…

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The views were spectacular…

Pico de Loro

There was a group of young mountaineers that made their way up to the parrot’s beak. We were not as daring.

At the summit. 360 degree view.

Pico de Loro

Going back down

It was now already around 5:00PM and we had to start our way back down. And we had to rush as we needed to get down before dark. Given its summer, we had around 1.5 hours left of daylight. We actually made it in the nick of time. We just had enough light to make it back to the vans. With the resolve that we needed to make it down… we kept on going… and we only had two rest stops.

Final thoughts

All in all, it was a very fun trek. And though it was “easy” it was still nonetheless tiring as hell. The formost learning. START EARLY. I recommend starting the trek at around 7 to 8 am for two reasons… its cool when you start early… and you don’t have to run after the sun.

No photo opps on the way down as we rushed down like zombies. Also… it was getting dark.

Just a thought

Johnny had told us to bring around 2 liters of water. I loaded around 3 literts of water in my hydration pack’s bladder. It lasted me the trip… yet I wondered, where did it all go? And I didn’t pee through the trip.

Check out the photo set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lakwatsa/sets/72157623755971403/

( In preparing for the trek, check out this site for more details: http://www.waypoints.ph/detail_gen.html?wpt=picodl )

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Back to Taal Volcano and into the crater – March 13, 2010

My trip to Taal Volcano on December 29, 2008 was THE trip that gave birth to The Lakwatsero and my many adventures that were to follow.

For this weekend, my original plan was to go to Donsol which became a Skydiving adventure… which also didn’t push through. So on Friday I decided to go back to Taal Volcano. Why go back? A few nights earlier I saw a travel show on TV (I don’t recall the show or the channel so don’t ask). In the feature the female host talked about being able to cook an egg while in the crater of Taal.

The show made me recall that during the first trip, I remember seeing down to people who went to the water in the crater. I remember asking our guide who said that it was possible. What he didn’t quite explain was how and where to go. Anyway… it was decided… BACK TO TAAL I go!

Taal Volcano with a view of crater lake

What was to follow was a different experience from the first, and I was very happy with this Lakwatsa.

In times of instant travel plans, I usually tag along Patrick Mineses aka “Kaladkarin”. For Southern trips, I pass for him at the McDonald’s at Alabang Town Center. Meeting time… 7:00am.


View Taal Volcano in a larger map

After picking him up, we were on our way to Tagaytay. We got to Tagaytay at around 8:30am and I proceeded to road which goes down to Taal Lake. As we passed half way… just as before we picked up a tour guide from a tourist look out point. He parked the car, then boarded the boat… and we were off!

On the boat to Taal

En route to the island/volcano I mentioned to our boat guy that I had already been to the peak and that this time I wanted to go inside. That’s when he told us that we needed to go to the back of the island… not the “front” (I refer to the front that area nearest to Tagaytay). He said that on the other side, were was another station to dock and there are also horses there. It is of course farther, and costs more (P3,500 instead of P1,500). Pat and I looked at each other for a moment and agreed.

Fake Taal

We passed that little volcano which most people who look at Taal from Tagaytay assume is the actual Taal Volcano. Well… no. It is part of Taal… but is not the main volcano… it is, a mini-volcano. Not sure what the right term is, maybe it’s a huge vent?

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We had to make a quick stop at the original drop off point to get gas. Yes… gas. I didn’t get it myself. So don’t ask. We then proceeded to the back.

What happened next was quite a pleasant surprise. Between the towns, we got to see another source of income… fish pens. I found it fascinating.

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En route we saw these small habited islands.

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Upon “landing” we were planning on make the trek by foot. But it was hot. Very hot. So we decided to take horses instead. Only costing P900 each, it was good that we did take the horses.

In retrospect, I was glad that we took the horses. Some might thing its corney and that they should just attempt to make the climb themselves. But the horse ride itself was quite fun. After all, how often does one get to ride one. Of course if you never rode a horse it could be a little disconcerting at first. But in the end, its fun and all worth it.

Taking the horses up.

When we get to the top, we actually reached the rim of the volcano. We rook a short stop at the top to let the horses and guides rest. There are some vendors that were there selling bottled water and soft drinks … tourist trap alert, a bottle of Pepsi at the town below would cost P15, up there it cost P50/each. But still, when you are thirsty… what’s 50 bucks?

Anyway, we went around and took a few pictures till our guide called us.

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We then got back on our horses, then proceeded down to the water level. Going down was a little cooler as the foliage provided some cover.

Going down

almost there!

We got down. A sight more reminiscent of Mt. Pinatubo. BREATHTAKING!

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But I must say… it seemed to me… nicer and more majestic than Mt. Pinatubo.

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What was fascinating about Taal was that it isn’t as “dead” as a I thought. Patrick went down to the water and… it was hot!

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We walked around to a spot with lots of steam vents.

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The area was full of these steam vents. And the vapors smelled of sulfur… of course. And it was hot… full of boiling water. Of course it was nice walking around exploring all of these. If this was in the US… you wouldn’t get to do this. There would probably all of these safety precautions preventing tourists from walking up to these places. Good thing this isn’t the US with their over safety-conscious officials.

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I decided to take out my Flip Cam (which I always forget I have on me) and do a video channeling my inner Sir Richard Attenborough. Hehe… NatGeo I am not. So here it is…

You can’t see it in this picture below but up near the center is the lookout point had you come up from the “front”. I must say it was good that I went up there the first time. This trip was so much better putting the first trip to shame.

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I said earlier that Taal seemed more than Pinatubo. I had done Taal last year (just went up to the rim I mentioned above) and did the trek to Pinatubo twice last year. I guess its a toss up. The Pinatubo trek is always great. And if you ever get to do the sky tour to Pinatubo, I highly recommend it. But I guess there were a lot of great moments during this trip to Taal… the steam vents, the boiling muck made it really interesting. The weather was great. The sky was fantastic!

A final plus is that, from Manila, Taal is nearer and easier to get to.

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By around 11:30… we decided to head back to Tagaytay. It was getting real hot and of course we were hungry. We rode on the horses and we were off. At lunch in Tagaytay and I was back home in Quezon City by 2pm.

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All in all… a great trip! A good lakwatsa ! I highly recommend trying this out!!!

Mt. Pinatubo Travel Advisory: DOT suspends trekking to the volcano.

 

A friend of mine asked me to accompany him and his family to Mt. Pinatubo this coming Saturday. Since I had gone twice earlier this year (Jan 3, 2009 and Feb 8, 2009), I gave him tips and my contact number to the Pinatubo Spa. He informed me later in the day that after calling the number I gave, the trips to crater lake have been suspended by the Department of Tourism due to some deaths which occurred due to the recent rains caused by Typhoon Kiko.

Here is an excerpt from the Department of Tourism website here:

In the light of the recent tragedy that struck the Mt. Pinatubo trekking program in Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac on August 6, 2009 which resulted in the death of three (3) foreign tourists (2 French and 1 Belgian nationals) including four (4) Filipino guides and workers, the Department of Tourism – Region III deeply regrets its decision – effective this date – to indefinitely stop recommending the said trekking activity to foreign and local visitors, and to all DOT-accredited tourism stakeholders and major players until such time that the local government of Capas in Tarlac including private agencies involved in the operation of the program shall have officially secured an environmental and infrastructural clearance from DENR and DPWH including volcanic hazard clearance from Phivolcs and that it has satisfactorily complied with all the precautionary measures needed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of tourists.

The advisory above was dated August 17th, 2009.

Oh well. I hope the DOT and the proper departments can work on the route to open up the site to tourists again.

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