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?


Many, many years ago, 1994 I think it was, we made a day trip to Sagada from Banaue.  We found ourselves a guide and he suggested that we do the caves.  That was 18 years ago, I was not the same person I am today.  I hesitated, “I’ll stay in the jeep”, I told my friends.  They looked at me, “that’s a 3-hour wait”.  “But my shoes (a trekking boots) will get dirty”, I said.  Bewildered, they just looked at me and started walking down the steep stairs leading to the opening of Sumaging.  A friend stayed with me but when the last of them disappeared from our sight, she convinced me to do it as she has already decided to go for it.  Long story short, I gave in.

Slippery step after slippery step, I was cursing.  “I will never EVER listen to you guys again”.  But at least I didn’t cry like one of our companions.  I was too angry to cry.  Yes, it was terrifying, especially for a first timer.

But it gets better as you walk pass the guano covered rocks.  Yes again, those rocks aren’t only slippery, they’re stinky as hell too.

As we walk those boulders with only a gasera (gas lamp) lighting our way, I would imagine slipping and falling into a deep pit – for all you know, it ain’t that deep but the surroundings were pitch dark so imaginations can get wild, believe me.

At a certain point, we were asked to take off our shoes.  Well, at least my (trek) boots won’t get wet, I thought.  But my next worry though was how on earth are we to manage those slippery rocks barefooted.  Best. Thing. Ever.

The pumice-like rocks had enough traction that your feet practically stick to those boulders.  Amazing.

Still cursing though as we not only rappel up and down to get to other chambers, we had to step on our guides too, if no other options will do (shoulders or thighs lang naman).

Beautiful stone formations with names like King’s curtain, pig pen, pregnant woman, rice terraces formation etc. are found in those chambers.

It was definitely the saving grace of this “craziness”, truth to tell.

Recounting our adventure that evening, I started with “Next time we do this again, I will…”, they all looked at me, “I thought you will never EVER do this again?”  Oh well.

I was somewhat true to my word, I never entered Sumaging since.  Not saying though that I haven’t done Cueba de Oro, San Carlos, Sierra, Baggao caves since that fateful day.  Unbeknownst to me then, Sumaging would be my intro to the outdoors and life has never been the same since.  Although caving or spelunking, as they call it, will never really be a favorite activity but if push comes to shove, I’ll do it.  Anything for camaraderie.

Fast forward to 2005, I heard of the Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.  Curious and not wanting anything new to pass me by, I ventured once more to the uncomfortable with friends in tow.

We started early as this would take us 4-5 hours, they said.  More experienced this time, it wasn’t as daunting but to say it was challenging might be an understatement.

Not recommended for the faint of heart or the inexperienced.  That said, many of the friends with me that day had never experienced Sumaging or any caves for that matter… so who am I to discourage.  Did they ever enter another cave?  No.

The obstacles that we went through would consist of rappelling down small openings with the use of ropes – squeezing and contorting sometimes,

sitting on our butts and inch our way down if ropes were unavailable, hugging rocks,

walking along narrow ridges with only a rope to hold on to –this I can guarantee are steep cliffs and falling can be fatal, and a lot of listening and following (mostly the guides’ instructions).

Halfway and nearing Sumaging, the chambers would have icy cold pools where one can take a dip or rest on the banks.

Like Sumaging, Lumiang is beautiful, breathtaking even but unlike Sumaging, it can really test your limits.  A bragging right of sort, me think.

Would I do it again?  Perhaps.  I always believe though that the first time is always the most memorable.  It stays vivid in your memory like it was yesterday.  I remember more my first descent on Sumaging 18 years ago than the more recent Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.

Early this year, I accompanied friends to Sumaguing.  These friends of mine have never gone into a cave ever.  It was as I remembered it but less intimidating – I didn’t have to step on anyone’s shoulders, to say the least.

I didn’t push Lumiang… Sumaging was bittersweet for them – challenging yet a source of pride for finishing.  Exactly my sentiments each time – Sumaging or Lumiang.

Useful Tips:

1.  Aquasocks or river shoes proves best inside the cave.  I used my Five Fingers on my last trip and I didn’t have to take them off.  But sandals are good too.

2.  Wear quick drying shirts. Rash guards would keep you warmer.

3.  Never go in the cave without a guide.  Register for a guide at the Tourist Information Center at the Municipal Hall.

4.  Best is to bring headlamps and helmets (for Lumiang).

5.  Water and towel is likewise advised.

6.  Always follow your guide’s instructions.  They know best.

Budget Traveling

“You see that?” a friend pointed out to a showcase of a tiny, tiny room that was labeled Tune Hotel.  “That’s exactly the size of your room”, she said as we walked pass it at the arrival hall of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Maybe it’s the penny pincher in me or me just being practical that led me to save wherever and whenever I can since I got lured into traveling.  Oftentimes traveling on a budget.  Whatever savings I get, I throw back into my travel fund and splurge on other things like food, keepsakes or tours.  This is where budget airlines and hostels come in very handy.

Air Asia – one of my favorite airlines – the low-fare, no frills airline with a route network that spans through more than 20 countries, mostly but not limited to Asia. They had been shuttling many Filipinos since 2005, when they started offering flights to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and Kuala Lumpur (KL) out of Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

And the good news is: Air Asia Philippines is the newest kid on the block; launched only last February 28, becoming the 13th regional hub of the Air Asia Group.  Future destinations are said to be HK, Macau, Inchon, Singapore, Japan, Bangkok…

Yes – it may be a bit of a hassle to travel all the way to Pampanga but the cheap fare makes it worth the effort, me thinks.

My first trip to KK in 2007 (en route to a diving expedition in Sipadan) was with this airline and many more followed since.  A satisfied customer is what I am – if you look at it as a no-frills, budget airline that it is, without expecting much in the service and perks department, then there really is nothing much to complain about.  The flights are almost always on time; the seats are comfortable enough but are first come first served.  If, however, you pay a little extra and go for the hot seats, you get to choose your seat online and board first – definitely worth the extra shell out.  I always pick the 1st row seats for the leg room. The food… well really, who needs to eat on a 4-hour flight anyway?  We normally just have our meals at any of the gas stations along the expressway before reaching the airport.

The downside here is that Kuala Lumpur, being their main hub, has most flights flying out of there.  It doesn’t help that their flights often need an overnight stay as well.  Sometimes having to pay for a room in nearby Sepang defeats the savings on the airfare – so what’s the point, right?

That’s where Tune Hotel comes in.  Just a stone’s throw away from LCCT, in fact you can spot it from the arrival terminal.  Although a shuttle is provided for just MYR 1, its schedule seemed unreliable (or maybe we were just impatient).

We waited until we realized that it takes less than 10 minutes by foot to get there, cutting through the parking lot by way of a walkway.  You can even take the trolley all the way to the hotel.

This hotel follows the same no-frills concept of its partner airline and is the answer to travelers who just need a few hours to sleep and shower.  We booked a 12-hour package for MYR 129 (that’s about US$ 40).

This came with a package of 1 towel, soap, shampoo and conditioner.  Slipping the key into a key holder turns on the power and the 12-hour countdown starts.  It stops when you take out the key.  So if you’re out most of the time, 12 hours is more than enough. US$ 40 for half a day is not exactly cheap when you think about it but it is a brilliant concept, don’t you think?

The room is exactly as seen at the airport.  It is practically the size of the bed with a bit of extra space to walk around albeit one at a time.  The bathroom is similarly as tiny and can likewise only fit one person at a time.  It is relatively clean and the bed is quite comfortable.  Oh and make sure you don’t bring a huge luggage as there is no space for that.  We brought backpacks so that worked well for us.

The upside to this is that it is conveniently located without having the need to wake up earlier than needed as flights are often scheduled early in the morning.

It has a nice courtyard just outside the hotel lobby with enough tables and chairs to hang around with a nice cold beer or coffee.  Decanter, the restaurant there, serves decent food and if budget is a concern, there is a 7-Eleven right beside and a coffee shop that is open 24 hours.

For a few hours, Tune Hotel serves its purpose of providing “reasonable” comfort and convenience for less.


Lombard Street overlooking Russian Hills

For a short while I called San Francisco home.  Straight from a pampered life, away from the watchful eyes of my parents, living (not exactly) alone in the Richmond District was uncharted territory (for us then).  Albeit a carefree time of my life, it was there that I learned independence and self-reliance.   It was one of the best times of my life.

I don’t return very often but I recently found myself back in San Francisco again and again.  Although our visit was mostly because of work, my brother and I managed to squeeze in some time for family, friends and some reminiscing.   I likewise seized the opportunity to spend precious time with my brothers – one arrived with me and was my roommate then, the other met us there from Louisiana where he now (temporarily) resides.

The bar escapes the need for reservations.

We met up with friends at the Slanted Door lounge bar no sooner than we landed.

Having Slanted Door’s signature drink:  Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka.

The next day we decided to pay our old neighborhood a visit,

passed by our old apartment and had lunch at our favorite hangout.

Thai Cafe along Geary St. has good food at student-friendly prices thus a favorite hangout.

That weekend we spent a lot of time visiting old-time favorites.

Choco Fudge Sundae at The Ghirardelli Square

Breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in Diner.

Although many of those who stayed behind after school moved out of San Francisco, they remained within the Bay Area.  Some still lived in the same house we used to hangout in.  Once you’ve lived there, you can’t really shake San Francisco out of your system, can you?

Stockton St.  I used to walk this street a lot (in daytime, or course) to go to school.

It was an awesome weekend reminiscing about the juvenile things we’ve done and had gotten away with.  How we survived those reckless years was a miracle.  Ah to be young again… even for just a weekend.

Caramoan Adventure

Credits: Quickpage by Sarah H from JS bloghop 2010.

An adventure it was indeed.  Not in a thrilling kind of way but more precarious I’m afraid.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish

It started as a simple exploration of the town and while there, we were met with rains so we waited it out at River Inn,

the nearest hiding place when it poured.  We watched the river swell as the downpour continued and seemingly refusing to let up.

We decided to make a go for lunch the moment it waned.  Needless to say, we arrived Sea Porch soaking wet.

The food was good at least so there were some delightful moments that transpired during the day.  After lunch, we decided that it was best to go back when the rain started to pelt down once again.

We hired a tricycle but halfway through, we saw the resort’s van stranded with newly arrived guests.  The river overflowed (which is a common thing, they say).

Children without a care in the world.  So used to it, they saw it as their playground.

It was deep and the current was strong, we couldn’t go further… at least not the tric, so we paid our driver and let him go.  At this point, we were so wet and weary that the idea of a dry, cozy cabin seemed so inviting.  We were told that it would take a while for the flood to subside, my heart sank.   I thought it funny that the resort sent a kayak to get us to the other side.  What?!? The current was strong; I was iffy.  If the kayak topples (which was very likely), my thought balloon goes, “there goes my camera”.  Desperate for a hot shower, I decided to bid my “rebel” goodbye and went for it.  All the worry was unnecessary – as I said, this happens often and they have used the kayak to get them across countless times.  They expertly maneuvered the kayak without us having to paddle a single stroke.  Our only task was to sit upright and not move.  It worked.

I remind myself often to throw caution to the wind and not to underestimate the deftness of Filipinos (or anyone for that matter) especially when caught in a situation.

In no time, we were curled up in our cozy little cabin — dry, warm and clean.  The rain eventually stopped, the water calm once more and the sun dared to peek out at one point as we traveled back to Naga the following day without incident.

Making Tradition

Birthdays are always a good excuse to get together.  Since we graduated from High School many moons ago, we still keep in touch but seeing each other often is fantasy today, with different lifestyles and priorities as the number one culprit.  Not to mention that 10 in a group means 10 birthdays and busy bodies that we are, it’s complication to the max. Determined to keep the bond, it became a tradition of sort for 5 of us with birthdays close together – if you consider a span of 3 months close – to treat the group to something special, each year transcending to finer and more enjoyable experiences.  It started with extravagant dinners to out-of-town lunches to dinners prepared by a chef to this.

We don’t travel well together.  It’s the difference in travel styles.  That said, the travel planner that I am dared to plan an overnight trip to Laguna and Quezon for the group last year.  They complained – about how far the trip was… that they don’t like airbeds as it is difficult to share the bed… and why were there only 2 bathrooms for 9 of us… fun, isn’t it?   😯

So we had lunch at Ugu’s and so impressed they were, they stopped grumbling about the 3-hour drive.

We then headed to Sitio de Amor, our home for a night.  Again, they oohed and ahhed… until they realized the bathroom and bed situations.  I told them to live with it (for a night).

I have eyed that tree house since I first saw it.  So I booked it.

It had a balcony with seats built all around.

The back of the pool

And beautiful views of the grounds to boot.

A close to perfect setting to gather together and catch up with each other till the wee hours of the night, the only thing is… it had only 1 bedroom which could only fit 4 of us.

Not bad at all.

The rest had to trek back and forth to their room, called Lanzones – a room with a beautiful view of the lagoon that fits 6 and yes, with only 1 bath.   😛

The motley crew before heading back home.

All is well that ends well.  They were happy despite the bathroom and bed dilemmas.  The breakfast was as usual, superb.