My New Paradise

AdamsCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course material.

Adams.  A familiar name yet peculiar for the Ilocos Norte, yes?  With names like Laoag, Pagudpud, Paoay… Adams sounds off.  The first time I heard of Adams was 16 years ago when Anton explored the river with fellow guides. He raved not only about the river but its natural surroundings as well.at-the-river

He went back several times to raft and to kayak the Bulo River but never with me. In 2009 on an Ilocos Road Trip, we attempted a visit to Adams to hike to the waterfalls. It rained, and we chickened out.  We never made it to the town.

2009-AdamsThis was at the junction where we’d take a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) to take us to town.

view-of-the-townSprawling over a land area of 159.31 square kilometers on the northern coast of Ilocos Norte,

floraAdams is a treasure trove of rainforests with rare flora and fauna, centuries old trees,

hanging-bridgehanging bridges and waterfalls.

anuplig-fallsAnuplig Falls
cultural-danceWe were treated to a cultural show.

It is a small town of only one village but is a melting pot of ethnic groups composed of the Yapayao or Itneg, Ilocano, Igorot, Kankan-ay and Ibaloi, which explains why their cuisine is different from the Ilocano dishes we know.

local-produceWe had fried frog, udang (river shrimps), stir-fried pako, and mountain rice.

It is a hodgepodge of the various ethnic groups and what is locally available like gabi (Taro), crab lets, baby damo (wild boar), frogs, Udang (river shrimps), purple mountain rice, and my favorite, stir-fried pako (fiddlehead fern).

baguio-climateLike its name, it is a divergent from the rest of the region.  The climate is pleasantly cool especially at this time of the year, with temperatures just a few notched higher than Baguio.

I wish I had made more effort to visit this mountain-river town. It took me fifteen years to finally set foot here. My first trip to Adams was last year around this time. Ask me how many times I’ve been back since. Four so far. I have fallen in love with the area. Expect more posts from me. Meanwhile, here are some photos to whet your appetite for the place.  This is my new paradise.

bulu-riverThe Bulo River from a bridge.
enroute-to-anupligLush forest en route to Anuplig falls.
entertainmentHospitality to the hilt.  Entertainment provided by the villagers.
Ilyn's-HomeystayIlyn’s Homeystay: our home in Adams.
lover's-peak-2A beautiful point called “Lover’s Peak”
lover's-peakLovely grounds at Lover’s Peak.

Going Back in Time

Unless it is really impressive, I rarely write about accommodations on this blog. But this beach resort has definitely impressed. It’s a destination of its own, a place to pause and recharge, do nothing and pretend that you’re from an era of yesteryear.

antique-furnitures

In Victoria Village in Currimao, on an 18,000 square meter land facing the South China Sea sits an amazing recreation of a typical mid-20th-century village. little-detailsUndeniably a work of love by owner Dr. Joven Cuanang, a Medical Director of St. Luke’s Hospital, his love for the arts greatly manifested in this stunning village he calls Sitio Remedios.

salvaged-doors-and-windowsIts main attraction is the rows of vintage-style Ilocano houses made of salvaged bricks and woods from mid-century houses (about to be demolished) to resemble old ancestral houses. Most of them were named after the town of Ilocos Norte such as Batac, Dingras, Piddig, Bacarra and San Nicolas.

balay-dingrasThe bungalow assigned to us, Balay Dingras, has 2 rooms, dining-area-dingrasa living and dining area, and a spacious front porch that leads out to the plaza.balcony-to-plaza Furnished with antique furniture, a daybed even in the sala, decor are vintage and to complete the look, crocheted tablecloths, vintage-motif-bedInabel (a local weave) woven bedding, and blankets were used. Each room has a Queen sized bed and its own bath.

welcomeA welcome message on our bed – a nice touch.

Dingras and all the other balays (house) face the square they call Plaza Manzanilla. housesLaid out in a grid typical of Spanish times, fencing off each house are manzanilla (hence the name), Bougainvillea, and gumamela bushes and few ancient trees adding character to the square.  chapel-and-plazachapel-interiorA chapel that opens out to the plaza, a pool facing the sea and a dining hall that serves exceptional home-cooked Ilocano favourites completes this village.dining-hall

Tucked quite away from the main highway, all our dinners were had at the resort. Turned out to be the best decision we’ve made. Meals were simple yet superb and very well prepared.  foodThe dishes were served buffet style and depending on what’s available in the market.  dinner-by-the-poolDinner venues change every night, one night in the main dining hall, another near the pool area and our last night was a romantic setting at the plaza. candlelit-dinner-settingHow can you not feel special and totally recharged with such detailed service?

Currimao is in the southwestern part of Ilocos Norte, near the northern border town of Paoay. An hour away from Vigan, and only 25 minutes away from Laoag, Sitio Remedios is an ideal base to those who prefer to explore the Ilocos Region leisurely.

Useful Info:

Sitio Remedios: Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte.  Tel (63)917-3320217

The Palawan Mystic and A Coupon

Mystic-PalawanCredits: A quick page template  was created by Michelle Seizys / Shell 

It’s the middle of summer and I’m at my desk staring at the computer itching to be somewhere but the metro. Just a week after a long weekend spent outdoors, I’m missing the outdoors already. That’s what summer can do to me. So I reminisce. Of toes sinking in the sand, of the cold waves taking me by surprise, of the sun warming my body after, and of the sea wind blowing me dry.

Speaking of last weekend, a friend’s daughter tagged along. She does not travel much around the Philippines and is excited to see another part of the country outside of where she lives, which is Manila, and where she has ties, which is Pampanga and Boracay. “Boracay,” she said, “is where I go if I want to get away.” She’s there once or twice a year and knows it like the back of her hand. She needs a change of scenery (I thought) so we brought her to the river.

Pinacanauan

The Pinacanuan River in Peñablanca, Cagayan is a favorite in the area because it reminds of Palawan in a way.

The image in my mind of the sand and the sea usually come with karst limestone in the background.

El-Nido-Island-Hopping

Yes, Palawan. I love how it is diverse – white sand, blue sea, stunning landscape,

good-eats

incredible food scene, breathtaking underwater world,

snorkeling-port-barton

dense forests, waterfalls, a world-heritage listed cave, etc.

waterfalls

El Nido is a top choice and will be for a while.

El-Nido-town

I love it for its charming town, its ruggedness, its simplicity, its raw yet sophisticated food options.

serene

Then you have the outlying beaches of San Vicente off Port Barton for those who want to get away from it all—quiet, tranquil and serene.

If, like my niece, your idea of a getaway is limited to the same old stuff, a change of scenery will do you good. Why not Palawan? And here’s a chance.

For a limited time offer, Let’s Palawan is offering a $30 off on their packages. To avail, all you have to do is click on their “get a quote” page and type in this coupon code: zeal4adventureC003. I urge you to grab it if you can, try something new. Palawan will do you good.

The Trek to the Underground River

Underground-RiverCredits: Papers by Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, The Design Girl, Trixie Scap Design; Ribbon by Design by Tater, Red string with flowers by Graham Like the Cracker, and String wrap by Haynay Designs. 

Elusive in the past, I became disinterested and eventually gave up the idea of visiting Palawan’s famous Underground River. Then they re-opened the Jungle Trail.

Initially slated for December but due to unforeseen reasons, we moved our Puerto Princesa trip to January.  We planned to simply chill out, visit our favorite jaunts and catch up with friends. Then, the grand idea— “why not go to Sabang for the day so you can finally see the Underground River?” Anton to me.  Me to him,  “Ok, but we will trek to the cave.”

Sabang-Pier

The Sabang Pier is the main jump off point to the Underground River or The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, once also called the St. Paul Subterranean River. Yes, it has many names. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, the cave was provisionally chosen (through votes—and you know how we Filipinos can vote) as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature in 2011.

Entrance-from-the-shoreEntrance from the shore

The usual way to get there is to take a 15-20 minute boat ride (I estimate) from the pier.

There are two trails to the cave, The Monkey Trail, and the Jungle Trail. The former has been closed for a time now and the latter re-opened only last year. Having heard of the Monkey trail from friends who did it some 10 years back, I knew that I’d do it at some point. Well, the jungle trail, I reckon, is good enough.

crossingThe trek starts by crossing the mangrove.

A recommended option for the active, the jungle trail meanders through a beautiful lush forest.

dwarfed-by-trees

It lets you hike through ancient trees, well crafted wooden staircases, bridges and benches made from confiscated wood that adds character to the trail

wooden-walkways

one-among-many-bridges

and at one point, limestone formations becomes backdrop behind the foliage.

limestone-backdrop

Not only does the pleasant 2-hour hike enhance the experience but it also gives jobs to the 20 or so Tagbanua indigenous community members.

guide

reminder-before-the-trek

As “Park Wardens” they serve as guides and caretakers of the jungle.

path-to-the-riverthe path from the trail

The Underground River itself was not a let down at all. Having heard of so many mixed reviews, expectations were low.

paddle-boatsWaiting in line to enter the cave.

But to my surprise, the chambers especially the one called “the cathedral,” towering some 800 meters high, impressed me.

inside-the-cave

Truth to tell though, I fell asleep some part of the way, perhaps due to exhaustion and the fact that the only thing lighting the way was a flashlight held by the person in front. Our guide was adept and quite engaging in providing intelligent albeit elementary information about what a cave system is.

lush-forest-2

My take on this experience: to go there just for the Underground River may not be worth the effort (it’s still a 2-hour ride to Sabang). The hikes makes the difference.  Having seen Sabang, I wish I had stayed a few nights to explore the quiet town.

How Time Flies…

Has it been a year already?  According to WordPress, I made 23 new posts this year.  Really?  Only 23?  That’s about 2 posts a month, and half of what I posted in 2012.  Not good at all.  I can’t say if I will do better than last year, but I can at least promise to strive for it.

2013 was pretty good to me—in both the travel and work scene.  In the travel category, it has been a cultural feast near and far with Morocco, most definitely, topping the list, followed by Spain and Portugal.  But not to be outdone are some of the places close to me.  Here’s a glimpse of how I spent my 2013, many of which I still owe a post so please stay tune.

2013And with this, I wish you all a year of greater adventures and good health.  Cheers!!

The Way to Initiate the Novice

trekking-to-lighthouse

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.

rough-sea

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

approaching-palaui

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.

jump-off

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.

Palaui-beach-front

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

forest

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

like-batanes

steps-to-lighthouse

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

closer-glimpse-of-lighthouse

cape-engano

The view along the way took my breath away.

beach-from-the-top

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

beach

but the island dazzles at every turn,

dos-hermanas

glimpse-of-the-beach-on-the-way

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

half-way-to-lighthouse

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

P6300834

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.

gotan-beach

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.

agoho-in-gotan

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.

This-is-forever

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

bus-to-VV

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

vang-vieng

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

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

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

Palaui-view

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

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath

hirayu-onsen

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?