The Way to Initiate the Novice


I’m with some novice trekkers, not that I mind, it is an easy trek after all.  I am thrilled, in fact, to have them experience the joy of summiting after an uphill struggle that seemed never-ending and pointless, and to realize, after all that trouble, that the reward is usually at the peak.

Named the 3rd best beach and island of the Philippines by CNN Go April of last year and just like that, Palaui caught my attention.  I’ve been going back and forth to Sta. Ana for a few years now, but Palaui was never on my radar.


Maybe because it takes more work to get there and that includes braving the (sometimes) treacherous sea.


A protected area, the island lies between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  It boasts of a nice long stretch of white pebble beach, abundant marine life, a century old lighthouse, a waterfalls hidden somewhere and a scenic rugged terrain.  It is pretty much uninhabited, with only a small community living in the island.  No electricity and accommodation to speak of.


So one fine day, along with the same people I spent several Sta. Ana weekends together, we took off from the shores of Sun City in San Vicente and headed to Palaui.  An hour, perhaps more on the boat and we arrived on the island.


We paid for a guide and started our trek on the beach,


which lead to a short forest walk before we emerged on the other side to beautiful rolling hills reminiscent of Batanes.



We then climbed (more than) some steps that would eventually lead to the summit where Cape Engaño stands.



The view along the way took my breath away.


It may not be the best beach as it is not fine sand as that of Boracay or even Palawan


but the island dazzles at every turn,



from the beach to the top of the lighthouse… all I can say was SPECTACULAR.  And the new recruits were enjoying themselves too.


Not that difficult to get to, we took the Lugunzad trail, which took all of just 30 minutes from beach to lighthouse.


There is a waterfall somewhere, said our guide, but all this walking made the others hungry.  And so the initiation is over, we will take baby steps and insist on the waterfalls some other time.


At a beach named Gotan, lunch was already being prepared.   A private beach, we had to arrange to use a few days earlier.  We had a sumptuous meal of everything grilled.


There, we lounged around, enjoyed each other’s company amidst beautiful Agoho trees.   That’s how to initiate novice trekkers.  Yes?


Best of 2012

Forgive the silence… would you believe that I ushered in the New Year with colds and fever?  But that didn’t stop me from having friends over for the count down. No.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.


Credits:  Quickpage from JSprague’s 4ever kit, created by Brenda Neuberger

2012 has been good to me.  Even with much less travels this year, I’ve managed a few unforgettable firsts.  Here they are; some I have not even posted but will pre-empt:

1.  The Bus Ride to Vang Vieng


A 4-hour bus ride from Vientaine on a sleeper bus made for petite Laotians.  Worst was the bunks were meant for (yes) 2 petite Laotians.  We’re definitely far from petite.  So imagine the trip.

2.  First time on a Hot Air Balloon


Soaring high in Vang Vieng, watching the town wake up.  You get the best view in town, if you ask me.

3.  The Boat Ride to Y’ami


An idea that came to fruition had us journeying to the northernmost island of the Philippines on a grueling 3-hour boat ride off Itbayat Island in Batanes.  Why?  I ask the same question many times over.  An experience hard to topple.

4.  A Night in Siayan


We had to break the grueling boat ride and stay overnight in an island about 1 hour away from Itbayat (the farthest inhabited island of Batanes) because the waters along the Bashi Channel can be treacherous particularly in the late afternoon.  Getting to the island, beautiful as it is, is an adventure in its self.

5.  Hiking Up to Cape Engaño


Beautiful sight, up there.  That’s all I will say for now.  Watch out for my post – coming soon.

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath


While it snowed too.  A totally exhilarating and liberating experience, I dipped in those pools two nights in a row.  Awesomeness.

As for 2013, I’ve got some exciting plans already in the pipeline. I’ve been working hard to get that to fruition over the holidays, truth to tell.  It is going to be an exciting year.  I feel it in the air.  How is your 2013 looking so far?

Road Trip Eats: Cagayan Valley

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home,” James Michener

Cagayan Valley is composed of five (5) provinces namely: Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino.  It lies in a larger valley in northeastern Luzon, between the Cordilleras and the Sierra Mountain Ranges.

Abuan River in Ilagan, Isabela

I’ve traveled this road countless times and for good reasons.  Besides serving as a jump off point to activities such as whitewater rafting and kayaking, Cagayan Valley’s allure includes beautiful mountain ranges that never failed to blow me away, unspoiled caves (except for Callao, of course) that begs to be explored, breathtaking sceneries along pristine rivers, historical churches, and good friends forged through the years.  Another important reason why I keep coming back is the food and here’s why.

The rugged mountain ranges greet you once you hit Nueva Vizcaya, also called the gateway to Cagayan Valley.  I’ve always looked forward to this part of the drive precisely because of the stunning mountains ranges of the Sierra Madre, the Caraballo and the Cordilleras that surrounds this province.  Truth be told, given that there are a lot to explore, I’ve never really set foot here except to pick up some gorgeous citrus fruits along the highway at Busilac, Bayombong– whatever is the sweetest and in season.

Satsuma from Nueva Vizcaya

The province has become known for its citrus fruits and oranges, which is available all year round.  Open even at the wee hours of the evening for the night travelers, the row of fruits stand at Busilac sells different varieties of oranges, which includes Perante, Valencia, Clementine, Satsuma, Pongkan, Washington Navel.  Other citrus fruits like Pomelo are also available when in season.  A bit on the tart side and not as sweet as the Davao variety, this yellowish variety is refreshingly juicy and best with salads and made as juice.

As you journey on, stop at Ilagan, Isabela (about 120 km from Nueva Vizcaya) for some really good suman (rice cake) called Inatata.

Wrapped in banana leaves as most sumans are but distinctly bundled in 10s.  But what makes this adorable mini suman a cut above the rest lies not in the packaging but in the product itself.

Made of glutinous rice, sugar, butter and coconut milk, somewhat like Biko but smoother and creamier in texture.  I must warn you, these little babies are so good, it’s hard to stop.  A bundle goes so quickly and before you know it, you’re so stuffed.

Once you reach the town proper of Ilagan, you’ll find a nipa hut (or is it a bamboo?) stall somewhere around the rotunda that sells Inatata for P25 a bundle.  Get a few bundles and a few more for good measure, then go across to a Jollibee to get yourself some coffee to go with the it.  You’ll thank me for it.

Make sure to save some for the road or for dessert after a plate of Pancit Cabagan at Cabagan, Isabela.  They say Feli-Cita’s serves the best in Cabagan.  This pancit has become the benchmark of all pancits for me.  Nothing so far is better than Pancit Cabagan, a medley of stir-fried fresh noodles, julienned cabbage and carrots, boiled quail eggs, and a generous heap of lechon de carajay.  Eaten with fresh onions, local soy sauce and calamansi… heaven.  What makes this so heavenly are the fresh al dente noodles – an apparent secret that may be hard to replicate.

I always have mine not in Cabagan but in Natan’s.  A small outdoor restaurant just outside the Tuguegarao Airport.  This simple pleasure I can have without having to do a road trip actually.  I often look forward to trips to the airport (whether arriving or departing) for I can have my fix of Pancit Cabagan at Natan’s.  Pancit Cabagan and Coke… need I say more?

Speaking of Tuguegarao – my base when I’m in the region and the gateway to Peñablanca where the Pinacanauan River flows.

It is one of my favorite rivers where just hanging out along the riverbanks for a barbecue lunch and some kayaking is enough to make me happy. Kayaking aside, it is also home to the circadian flights of fruit bats – a must-see spectacle when in the area.

Longganisa served at Casa Carag

When in Tuguegarao, I make it a point to bring home packs of Tuguegarao Longganisa for my stash and to give as gifts.  I’ve never met anyone who’ve tried this garlicky sausage and not love it.

Native Chocolate at Casa Carag

Another must have when I’m in Tuguegarao is their Tsokolate.  Four tableas (tablets) to a cup makes a perfect native chocolate drink – just thick enough with the right amount of sweetness.  Tsokolate, longganisa, eggs and garlic fried rice = a power breakfast courtesy of Tuguegarao.

About 65km further north on your way to Sta. Ana perhaps, is the town of Lal-lo.  Although it is recognized in history as once being the seat of the Diocese until it was transferred to Vigan in Ilocos Sur a long time ago, I know it as a town that makes the best milk candy I have ever tasted.

Better than the more popular Alcala milk candy, I swear.  Both made of carabao’s milk but somehow, the one from Lal-lo is softer and creamier with seemingly more milk.  Both are not too sweet but the Lal-lo specialty wins hands down.  The thing is, you won’t find it at the Tuguegarao airport where the Alcala milk candy abound.

So if you find yourself in Lal-lo by any chance, look for this sign along the road.  I promise it is worth the stop.

Once you reach Sta. Ana, head straight to the market for some fat, sweet crabs, lobster and the freshest fish.

Known as a game fishing mecca, the rich fishing grounds yield lobsters, octopus, yellow fin tuna, blue marlin and many more.  Freshwater fish, crabs and shrimps likewise abound in inland fishing grounds.

Best is to buy them at the market and have it cooked in a restaurant nearby for a fee.  We had ours cooked by JnJ Seafood restaurant along the Highway.

Ok, enough…

I’ll leave you with this for now but let this be a Part 1 as I document more good eats from this region.  A region still underrated and unnoticed in the tourism realm.   Its people, its natural wonders and its food keeps me coming back for more.

The Season of Giving

Alas the season of giving is here and the child in me still loves the mystery of a carefully wrapped gift – the thrill of unwrapping a gift to discover what’s in it… ahhh!!  Which is why it brings me great joy come Christmastime to search for the perfect gift, perfectly wrapped for the people I love.  If I love the surprise, so would they, yes?   🙂

Recently, I was invited by friends to join their gift-giving mission.  Six years ago, the burden to help the needy and the desire to share the blessings they were bestowed with gave rise to this endeavor. Good friends pulling resources together just for the joy of giving – no agenda, just pure passion.  I have been donating to their effort for a few years now but this year, I was invited to take part in it first hand.  I’m glad I did.

It was heartwarming to see how a simple gift,

a simple lunch and a bit of entertainment

can add excitement and joy in their lives.  It actually took so little to put smiles on their faces.

Because of its poverty and remoteness the group decided this year to give to the students of Cumao Elementary School in a village in Gattaran, Cagayan Province.

What they lack in materials things are compensated by the beauty of the land and the pureness and the childlike enthusiasm of the people.  The teachers, who chose to stay in remote Cumao and devote time and energy to teach, care and nurture these kids; they are heroes in my eyes.  There is no season for giving for these teachers.  It happens the whole year round.

More snaps captured that day:


Chilling in Sta. Ana

Yeah.  It’s a long ways just to chill I know.  But A and our good friends convinced me to go all the way to Cagayan Valley so that I can spend some down time with them away from the hustle and bustle of my town that is Manila.

But what really convinced me was the surprise birthday party planned for our dear friend J.  And so I obliged and found myself on a bus one August evening en route to Tuguegarao.  A 10-hour bus ride had me arriving at 7am the following morning.   After breakfast and a bit of a rest, I was soon off again with the gang on 3-hour drive to Sta. Ana.

Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when we reached the unpretentious entrance that lead to a simple structure,

that is the resort’s reception lobby.   Located at the northeastern tip of Luzon, in a 7-hectare waterfront of Cagayan Valley facing the South China Sea,

Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort provides

112 spacious villas,

a seashore swimming pool,

a Spa and Holistic center and a fine dining Chinese Restaurant.

Our ocean front villa came with a private pool where we of course spent most of our time chilling.

Each of the 17 ocean front villas has 5 bedrooms with its own bath and albeit not to my taste is fully furnished and in fairness, tastefully designed.  The kitchenette does not really allow for real cooking but we had a feast just the same.

We bought most of our food from the local market and for a fee, asked a restaurant — JnJ Seafood Restaurant along the highway — to cook for us.  We had a feast.  A seaside town, Sta Ana is known for sweet, inexpensive crabs and lobsters, which suffice to say, was the highlight of our stay.

News of disgruntled residents somewhat taints this Chinese owned resort in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZF) area — they are accused of employing many Chinese citizens offering less opportunities to the locals.  There were undeniably Chinese-speaking employees working alongside Filipino employees during our visit, perhaps to cater to the mostly Chinese tourists billeted at the resort.  This town was once only known for game fishing without much facility, it is today attracting tourists from Hong Kong and China, mostly gamblers. The resort complex is really known for its casino but if gambling is not your thing, there is the spa and some watersports facilities such as jetskis and kayaks that can be rented.

The beach however does not boast of the same esteemed white sand of many Philippine beaches.

The sunset though managed to get my seal of approval.   🙂

If you are in the area and only if you are, I’d recommend that you check them out.

Five Reasons Why…

You should try Whitewater Rafting at least once in your life.

Credits:  Bannerwoman Designs Worn, Folded Edges, Judy Meibusch Doodle Dot elements, LivEdesigns SSunFun Alpha

Ever since my first rafting experience in 1999, I was hooked (see here, here and here).  I can’t count the number of times I’ve rafted the Chico, after all as they say, you never run the same river twice.  And I felt it time to share this exhilarating experience with my team.

So for 3 days in January, we found ourselves in Tuguegarao slaving away, devising strategies for the year

with a little bit of team building on the side.

Then on day 3, we spent an adrenalin-filled day at the Chico River in Kalinga.  Here are insights gathered from this experience.

It’s Liberating

When was the last time you’ve tried something at least once in your life?  I am one to try almost anything (I say almost because I have yet to convince myself about bungee jumping) at least once.  Whitewater rafting may not be for everyone but you’ll never know unless you’ve tried it.

I’ve rafted with many first timers with sedentary lifestyles through the years and as often as not, they at the very least, had a blast and in numerous occasions, a wild side they never knew they had is kindled.

Anton Carag, charismatic mover and shaker of whitewater rafting since 1998 at the Chico

Many among my team were apprehensive before the run and listened intently to Anton Carag lecturing on proper paddling techniques, what to do when one falls off and how to get back on the raft.

Doing a Hi-Five for a job well done

I saw how their fears transformed to confidence after the first few rapids.  They started to have fun.

Some even enjoyed the falls, bringing home stories of how they survived it etc.  It also helps to know that two internationally recognized wilderness specialists trained Anton and his team of guides some 10 years ago.

It Fosters Team Spirit

Rafting only works if everyone works as a team.  Listen to your leader and follow exactly the commands.  If the team fails to act as one, the raft may capsize.  If you’re not prepared to drink gallons of water, you probably don’t want this.   It’s also a hassle getting back on the raft and if the water’s low, you will most likely be going home with bumps and bruises as a remembrance from the river.  But hey, isn’t that proof of that adventurous spirit you thought you never had?  So listen to your guide and be in sync with your teammates.

It’s Actually Safe

First of all, the guides (mostly natives of Kalinga) know the river like the back of their hands.  And to reiterate, top-notched, seasoned river guides with international experience trained most of them.  But in case you didn’t follow instructions or to put it nicely — misunderstood the guide’s instructions and you fall off or worse, the whole raft flips, not to worry because the equipments, most especially the vest you are wearing (I can only speak of AEPI’s as I am not familiar with the other outfitters) is US-certified safe.  This means that when you’re under, the vest is buoyant enough to carry you out.  Sometimes with a little help from you, but hey again, sometimes you need to work a little harder eh?

It promotes Eco-tourism

And provides jobs.  Whitewater rafting is part of the new adventure and eco-tourism that the Philippines have to offer.  Most of the guides used are from neighboring communities and the more tourists, more jobs and other business opportunities are not far behind.  It also teaches us to respect and appreciate Mother Nature.

It’s Gorgeous Out There

Spectacular views of the Cordillera Mountains coupled with beautiful riverbanks and clear waters (not always the case though) surrounds the whole stretch of the run.  Unspoiled.  Pristine.

Except for raging rapids that never fails to stir up your adrenalin, the only other sounds you hear are chirpings of birds and the flow of the river.  Serenity in a most natural setting.

Excellent Food at Casa Carag

The 6th reason why you should try whitewater rafting with AEPI.  The food is just extraordinary.

Nothing is ordinary, from the longganisa, Salinas and hot native chocolate for breakfast, to the local Ibanag dishes such as their pinakbet and inabraw.  It’s all good!

So, at the first chance of rain (which is sadly a long way off), book a package with AEPI and experience the ultimate adventure of your life.  Season starts in August and ends in February.

*  All photos at the river courtesy of AEPI.

Contact Details:
Anton Carag, Jr.
Mobile:  (63)917-532-7480
Landline: (6378)844-1298

Kayak the Rapids, Anyone?


That’s right!  In up north Peñablanca in Cagayan Province, you can kayak downstream in its Pinacanuan River. Depending on the time of year, the rapids provide an adrenalin rush interspersed with calmer water where one can enjoy the beautiful landscape, scenery and occasionally spot kingfishers or herons along the way.



On a hot day, the clear, blue water invites a dip to cool while picnicking by the riverbank.  Relaxed or charged, this river surely captivates the heart.



While you’re there, why not visit Callao and Sierra caves?  The first cave requires an easy trek on a big-domed cave with skylights.  A 206-step flight of stairs will lead you to a little chapel with pews and an altar.  Sierra, on the other hand, is a recreational cave with an array of well-preserved and very delicate speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites).


Be sure to stay and watch the phenomenal circadian bats leave their nesting place in droves to look for food just before the sun sets.  These are fruit bats so not to worry as they only eat fruits.   😀



If you find your way to this part of the world and would like to try this out, you may contact Anton Carag of AEPI.

Visit more worlds here.

*Edited 02/14/10:  The AEPI website is no longer available… you may contact Anton Carag at +63(917) 532-7480.