Random Travel Snaps: Spotted Eagle Ray

Photo courtesy of R.Rellosa

Somewhere near Blue Corner off the waters of Palau, a creature gracefully glided its way towards us.  It was my first encounter with rays and it was intoxicating.  Stupefied, I watched its flat disk-shape body with its soaring wings fly towards us.  It was identified as a Spotted Eagle Ray because it has white spots on its deep blue body.  Their long rounded snout, almost like a pig’s snout, distinguishes it from other rays.  The one encountered was quite big but it is said that a Spotted Eagle Ray can grow to nearly nine feet (3M) from wingtip to wingtip.

Rays are some the most fascinating creatures to soar through the world’s ocean and they are found worldwide in tropical waters, most commonly in shallow inshore waters, around reefs.  To come across them in Palau is quite common, thanks to the island formation and currents.  Made up of over 100 islands with low-lying oval islands ringed by barrier reefs, it is world renown for its marine bio-diversity.  Outside of the pelagic (such as sharks and rays), the water is teeming with barracuda, jacks and tuna.  Over 600 coral species smother the reefs overflowing with small fish.  Definitely a must for every diver.

As a new diver in 2007, my trip to Palau was a series of firsts – it was my first time to dive outside of the Philippines, to drift in strong currents, to use a reef hook, to see big fishes like sharks and rays…  And these firsts gave me the confidence underwater.  But truth be known, that Spotted Eagle Ray made my Palau dive experience impossible to forget.

Spelunking

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.

The Kawasan High

Credits:  Papers by Queen of Quirks, Elements by Scrap Matters’ Life Simple Surprises Kit

Remarkable diving defines Moalboal and many combine it with a side trip to Kawasan Falls in nearby Badian town.

Just an hour away from Cebu’s diving destination, Badian is known for its 3-tiered waterfalls called Kawasan Falls.

A short trek will take you to the first falls where one can enjoy it with nary a need to swim if that is the preference (bamboo rafts are available to take people to the falls).

The beauty of the waterfalls cascading into turquoise pools and the lush tropical vegetation surrounding it already provides a natural high.

What more if, for 4 hours, you get to swim, trek, and jump into several of the turquoise pools along the way to Kawasan Falls?

We entered the falls from upstream, near the border of Badian, at the Matutinao Valley geared with a pair of booties, a life jacket and an adventurous spirit.  Canyoning at the Kawasan is not your ordinary Kawasan Falls excursion.

It requires swimming, river trekking, jumping off waterfalls and a bit of rappelling.  Canyoneering, as they call it, is a sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in rappelling, rafting and waterfall jumping.

The adrenalin started pumping at the Matutinao River, just a short distance from our jump-off.

We scrambled over rocks as we get use to the art of river trekking.

We sort of rappelled down a mountain slope to reach another canyon.

We swam when the water was deep.

We jumped from big boulders 4 times, sometimes over waterfalls, other times into a small basin with little room for error.

It was terrifying at times, but for the most part, it afforded us an ultimate high, non-stop adrenalin rush.  It was a high like no other.

The Aquaholic team made us feel safe all through out, guiding us through the magnificent sceneries of gorgeous blue lagoons and spectacular canyons and rock formation.

The remoteness and lack of habitation have left this valley a sanctuary.  In the course of our 4-hour escapade, we bumped into a few locals at the start and another canyoning group that explores the river the harder way from below, which they call river climbing.  Otherwise, we had the river and the beautiful riverscape all to ourselves to take pleasure in.

We reached the top of the 3rd cascade of Kawasan Falls at around 2pm.  Contrary to the tranquil environment we came from, we were greeted with loads of people enjoying their Sunday.

Caught off guard and surprised to see people out of nowhere walking down from atop the falls, they watched us with wonder as we walked pass them, exhausted but exhilarated.  Their facial expressions seemed to ask, “Where the heck did they come from?”

Going back to the van we walked this bamboo bridge which ironically was more frightening.

Why, one might wonder, do we take the grueling route when it only takes 15 minutes, 30 minutes tops to reach all 3 falls?

The answer to that would be because we love the challenge of an adventure.  Because we like doing things the unconventional way.  Because we are adrenaline junkies.  Because off-the-beaten paths are always more breathtaking…

Useful Info:

Philippine Aquaholic Diver’s Inc.
Club Serena Resort
Moalboal, Cebu City
Contact No: +63 (32) 516-1847; +63 (32) 474-0050; +63 (917) 717-3333
Email: dive@aquaholics.com.ph

My Wonderland

If I lived in San Francisco, I’d be hanging out a lot here, spending all my hard-earned money on everything on display.  This is my wonderland.

Located at the foot of Market Street is Ferry Building Marketplace.  Shops in all sizes offer everything from frozen yogurt to artisan cheeses.

Acme Breads — giving Boudin a run for their money

Superb cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery — I went all gaga with the selections!

On the day we were there, stalls of fruits, vegetables, flowers and a wealth of other products,

which include artisan specialties like ice creams, cheeses and honey occupied the front of the building along the Embarcadero.

On the other side are food trucks and stalls where many from near and far would trek to enjoy good, affordable food.

Taken from the back… stall owners busy preparing orders.

Food trucks and stalls from the front

A really good food truck is Roli Roti that served a mean Porchetta sandwich — they wanted to go home and was selling the last slab at a very good price.  We obviously bought it to have for dinner that night.  Lip-smacking good!

At the back of the building, one could sit back and enjoy the goodies purchased perhaps from one of the stores or stalls while marveling at a beautiful view of the bay bridge.

As luck would have it, I will be back sooner than I ever expected but that’s a tale for another day.   😀

Not Your Ordinary Ice Cream Truck

Sea Salt on your ice cream?  Or maybe some vanilla ice cream topped with balsamic syrup?

Check out The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck and you’ll soon find out that they are remarkable flavors that will blow your mind.  The truck roams the streets of NYC – a brainchild of musician Douglas Quint who announces the truck’s locations on Twitter and on his blog.

And that was what brought us to Broadway and 17th on Union Square one sunny day in October last year.  The truck is all about fun and unique toppings that brightens up an otherwise plain soft serve.

Novel and experimental toppings one would not think of pairing with ice cream, from the best-loved crushed graham crackers and nutella, to the innovative sea salt, olive oil, and elderflower syrup to the more radical wasabi and cayenne pepper to name a few.

Manned by no other than Quint himself, the truck was still closed when we arrived and not long after, a line of eager customers ensued.

I ordered their most popular regular – The Salty Pimp, which is vanilla ice cream injected with dulce de leche (something like caramel) sprinkled with sea salt and then dipped in chocolate.  The sweetness of the ice cream and dulce de leche fused with bursts of sea salt is a new marriage my taste buds easily took to.

My friend M got the simpler Bea Arthur, which was dulce de leche injected vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with crushed Nilla Wafers – which she says is her favorite.

There were daring concoctions that I wasn’t brave enough to try like the Cococone, vanilla ice cream and curried coconut flakes. –  my palate couldn’t marry that just yet.  There are however still an army of interesting blends that caught my fancy if only I can handle more ice cream that day… if given more days in New York, I’d probably be lining up again the next day to sample the peppermint syrup and cacao bits topping or its olive oil and sea salt combo or…  do you think I should pack up and transfer residence?   😀

 

Similan Diving

Clockwise:  Me all set to go, MV Koon, a friend about to do the giant stride.

I could hear someone enthusiastically banging his tank and I instantly knew there was something major up ahead.  I examined my surroundings and there it was, gracefully gliding through the great expanse of the sea, coming toward our direction.  Yes, this was what we came here for.  And suddenly the exhaustion vanished.  A sense of calm never fails to envelop me whenever I encounter this gentle giant gliding through, perhaps enjoying the attention too.

Strong currents hit us when we reached Ko Bon Pinnacle from the blue.  It pays to be fit because just reaching the Pinnacle is a work-out all its own.  This near vertical slope is where manta rays are frequently spotted playing.  There are a couple of cleaning stations on the reef and manta sightings are almost guaranteed.

This occurrence will continue until the next day, in different dive sites, mostly in the northern part of Similan.  It was awesome and is always a privilege being with them in their domain.

The Similan Islands was declared a national park in 1982 and is rated top ten among the world’s dive destinations.  The impressive boulder formation also continues below the surface with diverse landscapes of canyons, boulders, coral gardens, caves and walls.  It is also home to an amazing variety of marine life.

The southern coast consists of those smaller islands (described on previous posts) that are numbered from one through nine and is balanced by the larger northern islands of Ko Bon for its beautiful piece of landscape, Ko Tachai with her attractive sandy beach above and plateaus beneath with probably the most colorful coral gardens in the park.  Richelieu, the 3rd island of the south was also a highlight of our dive trip.

A relatively small dive site and a bit too crowded with divers all vying to see the huge extent of marine life in the area. Whale Sharks are usually sighted during the months of April and May but for some reason, they elude me once more.  And so my pursuit of that elusive butandings continues.

Here’s some underwater snapshots to take pleasure in:

Huge Batfish

Cuttlefish

Yellow fusilier

Harlequin Shrimp

Lionfish

Moray eel

Octopus

Puffer fish

Seahorse

Shrimps

This is either a squid or another octopus

Tomato Clownfish

Us, posing for the cam during a safety stop.

*  All photos courtesy of R. Formoso of Subaquatic Scuba.


A Climax Unparalleled

Credits:  Template by Crystal Wilkerson.

Am so happy that we followed our instincts, we had decided to stay one night instead of the suggested day trip.  I figured that the dramatic rock formations would make for a dramatic sunset or sunrise.  And I was right!  I was hoping for a sunset because I could never get up early enough to catch a spectacular sunrise.  But am I glad I paid no heed to this early morning indolence of mine and decided to wake up at 4am ON. THE. DOT.  By 5am, we found our own spot, waiting for the sun to rise on one side and

bidding the moon so long on the other – coolness!!

And this, my dear readers, is my reward!  I must remember this scene whenever I need to rise at an ungodly hour.  I know!  Sleep still rules (most of the time).  Hee hee!   😛

With this grandeur comes a simple breakfast of pan de sal, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs and instant coffee.

Well, one can’t have everything – the brewed cuppa joe can wait for now.

After that spectacular sunrise, we headed to Bel-at – which will turn out to become one of my favorite spot on earth.  And this is why…

We hired two fishing boats to weave us through the mangrove and then walked a portion of it when the water became too low for the banca – not an easy feat because the bottom is partially slippery bed of rocks (pleased that I chose to wear my aqua socks that day).

While in the mangroves, you couldn’t really tell what’s up ahead.

When I saw rock formations and some high crashing waves… my thought bubble goes, “nice, interesting… I wonder if this can top yesterday”.

I was excited nonetheless as it keeps getting better by the second.

Then we hiked up the porous rock (easy!) and this was what greeted us:

Meron pa (there’s more)”, says our guides cum boatmen.  So we followed them, waded through shallow waters, climbed some smooth rocks, then we waded some more.   Lo and behold…

As we got closer, I see a wall facing the ocean with crazy waves crashing into the rocks.

As I reached the bend, I was blown away!

It revealed a beautifully etched wall which lived through the fury of the sea.  Amazing how God works — in life, character comes when one endures life’s conflicts and challenges as with this piece of art, it transforms according to the conditions it endures through time. Stunning, spectacular, mind-blowing.  No words could describe this remarkable creation.  I am awed by His unfathomable wisdom and ways.

And that, my friends, is what I call a climax unparalleled.

Scenic Sunday

Captivating

“Captivating” was how A described Biri.  He promised to take me there “one of these days”, he said.  That was 7 years ago.  He was invited by his friends in the tourism office to check out Northern Samar.  When he came back, he couldn’t stop raving about the breathtaking rock formation and how wild the surfs were.  So enchanted he was that Biri stuck in my mind and had become a “need to see”.  Somehow between then and now, it got pushed back to the bottom of my list and so this Easter break, I decided to put it back on top and took A up on a promise he made 7 years ago.

Truth to tell, the culprit of this whole Northern Samar trip was Biri.  It was Biri that I needed to see and so…

The surf on our way to Biri.

finally the day has come — a 45-minute (somewhat choppy) boat journey from Lavezares got us to the town of Biri.

Anxious to see this highly raved rock formation, we checked in, plopped our bags, hopped on a habal-habal and off we were to the scene.

After about 10 minutes (it seemed) the scene transformed from quiet, simple town to world-class wonderment.

Walking to our make-shift shed

Yes, that’s our charming shed, prepared by the tourism office of Biri

Where we were served a scrumptious lunch.

Overlooking the Magasang formation

As we got closer to the outcrops plodding through slippery rocks –

the enormous rock formations, the gigantic pounding waves, they were jaw-dropping A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

Unlike anything I’ve seen before.  It was unbelievable, surreal.

A view of the other side

Our first rock formation, Magasang is an incredible formation of two huge, beautifully carved rocks standing separately on a wide flat rock.

Climbing these porous rocks is easier than it seemed.

I recommend hiking up to see a 360 degree view of the many colors and textures of the grounds below and a different perspective of the crashing waves.

Wondrous colors and textures

How ironic is it that this natural beauty was formed by the wrath of nature, carved through time from the pounding waves of the San Bernardino Straits?

This beauty is, to me, one impressive site the Philippines can boast of.  Still largely unknown to the world, I am torn – a part of me wish this to be a secret hideaway for a long, long time, while the other part of me yearns to proudly share God’s amazing creation to the world.  Well, obviously my desire to share got the better of me.   😀  Amazing… simply amazing.

Wait!  There’s more.  So come back for more eye candy in the next few days.  It will not disappoint and that is a promise.   🙂

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
Email:  aepi@whitewater.ph; anton@whitewater.ph; whitewater1ph@yahoo.com