Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snapshot on the road: Tagaytay

Take your pick

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Iloilo, Mi amor

Iloilo was the last installment of my solo backpacking trip last year.  Iloilo is known for its gentle and "malambing" people and of course, its famous batchoy!

From Bacolod City, I took a one-hour journey aboard the Supercat going to Iloilo.  There were a lot of pedicabs, tricycles and taxis outside when I arrived at the Muelle Loney Port.  I rode a taxi going to the Iloilo Midtown Hotel paying a fixed price of Php 200!  I wanted to argue with the driver because if I was not carrying a 7-kilo backpack, I would have just walked from the port to my hotel!  My estimate is that it might have taken me 20 minutes if I walked.  But it's my fault since I didn't ask the driver before I got in the  taxi.  I paid the fare but felt as if I was robbed!

I got a Standard Room in Iloilo Midtown Hotel for Php 980 per night.  I stayed there  for two nights since I'd also be going to Guimaras.  This time I only had one bed - a matrimonial bed, the receptionist said.  And for a split second, I wished that I had someone there with me.  But hey, this is a solo backpacking trip right? I had to remind myself.

I woke up early the next day because I plan to visit as many churches as possible.  But the heavy rains kept me stuck in my hotel until 10am.  I had to order breakfast because I can't get out.  I paid Php 170 for a typical breakfast. I felt robbed again! Ano ba yan, wala pa kong napupuntahan, ubos na pera ko!
My breakfast at the hotel
Finally after endless flipping of tv channels because of boredom, the rain stopped.  I went down to the reception and asked for directions on going to the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Miagao Church.  The receptionist told me to ride a jeepney going to Timawa and ask the driver to drop me off at Super (a wet market).  Fare is Php 7.  There I will see a terminal for jeeneys going to Miagao.  It was just a 10 minute ride from my hotel to the wet market.  Then I rode one of the jeepneys going to Miagao, fare is Php 50.  The ride going to Miagao was long, it must have been an hour or so.  I was able to pass through some of the churches on my list and decided that I will visit them after Miagao.  From Iloilo City, you will pass through the towns of  Molo, Mohon, Oton, Tigbauan and Guimbal before you arrive at Miagao.

Miagao Church or the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva was built in 1787 by Spanish Augustinian missionaries.  It was declared as one of the four UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Philippines listed under Baroque churches.  It has a sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the child Jesus while clinging to a large coconut tree.  There were two watch tower belfries which served as a line of defense against the Moros.

Miagao Church
A closer look at the sculptures on top of the church
It was raining again when I arrived at Miagao.  When I got there, the church is closed!  I wanted to cry because I traveled a long way to get there plus it was raining.  I only had a shawl so I used it to cover myself and my camera while I took pictures of the church from the outside.  Naawa yata si Lord sa kin because after a few minutes, the church caretaker came out and pinapasok ako sa loob.  He asked me where I'm from and I said Laguna.  Ang layo pa pala daw ng pinangalingan ko kaya dapat makapasok ako sa loob para sulit yung pagpunta ko.  Hallelujah!

We toured inside the church.  The caretaker asked me to remove the flash on my camera.  He was the one who took the pictures inside the church.  Sabi nya he started serving in the church many years ago as an altar boy.  Now he is the caretaker and that his whole family is also serving in the church.  And as a bonus, he let me in on a small room with the statue of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus.  He said that only a few people have been to that room.  After that we went to the adoration chapel at the back of the church.  He said that they only open the church when there is a mass and since it was Monday when I went there, it was closed.  He bid goodbye and wished me well on my trip back home.

I felt kinda disappointed because I wasn't able to go to Tigbauan and Guimbal church that I passed by on the way to Miagao. It was raining very hard.

Another reason why I went to Iloilo is to try the famous batchoy. It was a perfect merienda especially on a rainy day.  Ted's and Deco's are two stores known for its batchoy.  Since I've already tasted Ted's batchoy in Manila, I went out to try Deco's version.  For Php 104, I had a bowl of steaming hot batchoy, puto (rice cake) and a glass of iced tea.  Personally, I like Ted's more because Deco's was a little bit too salty for me.

After my batchoy experience (lol), I went to SM Mandurriao (also called SM Iloilo) to have a fish foot spa.  The fish spa originated in Tibiao, Antique.  Tibiao Fish Spa has opened their second branch here in Iloilo.  It's located at the lower ground floor.  They use garra ruffa fishes which were first discovered in Turkey.  The fishes feed on callouses and dead skin cells (parang ang morbid pakinggan nun ah, haha)!  I paid Php 120 for a 30-minute service.  You have to wash your feet first before soaking it in a pool of fishes.  There were shelves available so you can leave your things there while  you're having the foot spa.  As soon as I soaked my feet in the pool, the fishes came like lions catching a prey and they nibbled on my feet.  It was ticklish at first but you'll get the hang of it after a few minutes.  Since it was my first time, the attendants let me stay in the pool for an 1 hour and they didn't charged an additional fee!  Once in lifetime experience naman 'to kaya sinulit sulit ko na (haha).  I wonder kelan kaya magkakaron ng ganito sa Manila?

Next, I went to buy some biscocho for pasalubong.  The most famous biscocho came from Biscocho Haus which also has a branch in SM Mandurriao.  After my pasalubong and souvenir shopping, I went to Roberto's Siopao to have dinner.  Roberto's is in JM Basa St., near Muelle Loney port.  I asked for their best seller, the Queen size siopao but the store run out of it, sobrang mabili daw kasi yun.  So I bought the Jumbo siopao instead.  There were a lot of people buying from the store and they even have boxes for those buying in bulks.  Burp, burp, burp!  Dalawang siopao ba naman ang nakain ko!

It was the last night of my solo backpacking trip.  I was proud of myself for being able to do it despite all the inhibitions I had at first.  I'm glad I pushed through because otherwise, I wouldn't be able to experience the excitement and fun of being on the road.  As I go back to Manila, I bring home with me added weight (because of too much food tripping), an almost empty pocket (sobrang nasagad budget ko) and a realization that hey I can do a solo backpacking trip naman pala!

Cheers to more backpacking trips in the future!

P.S. I'm planning to do a solo backpacking trip again this year.  Any suggestions on what places to visit?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Lakbayan Map

How much of the Philippines have you visited?  This was the question posed by the creator of Lakbayan, Eugene Alvin Villar.  I took the test and I am a C Traveler!  I hope this year I would be able to travel and visit more places in the Philippines.

You can also take the test at

Guimaras, how beautiful can you be?

My solo backpacking trip to Guimaras was one of the most memorable trips I ever had.  It was because I was able to feel a sense of peace in my heart.  Guimaras is so calm and quiet.  The air is fresh, there are beautiful beaches and the people are so warm.  Life is simple in Guimaras.  You can feel that the people are proud of their land and they are seeking ways to promote it.  I cannot capture the entire beauty of this place through my lens but I hope that somehow I could be able to give you a sneak peek of how beautiful this place is.

I took a  45-minute ride from Ortiz Port in Iloilo to Jordan Port in Guimaras.  I paid Php 14 and boarded on a pump boat called Chris Clyde.  Most of the passengers are residents of Guimaras who came to Iloilo to buy some of their supplies.  It was high noon when I traveled ang my shawl was my only  protection against the sun's scorching heat.  After a few minutes, I had my first glimpse of Guimaras and I can't help but feel excited.  I have done my research and listed my itinerary but I am also ready to be lost in the charm of this place.  I am excited how this trip will turn out!

I will meet my tour guide, Kuya Jun at the port.  I texted him the day before and I agreed on a Php 1,000 fee for the entire day's tour.  We will be riding a tricycle.  Honestly, at first I thought that the tour was kinda expensive considering that I would only have 4-5 hours.  But when we started going from one destination to another, I realized how far it was.  The Php 1,000 seems not enough because a large chunk of that fee came to the gas alone.  If ever you'll be in Guimaras you can contact Kuya Jun at 09351132252.

Our first stop is Daliran Cave.  Since the road to the cave is not paved, we have to get off from the tricycle and trek for about 30 minutes.  Can you imagine how hard it is to trek at 12 noon?  Well, it was just my first stop but I have burned a lot of calories already!  Until finally, we reached the cave.  It was just a small cave pero sabi ni Kuya Jun, pwede pa raw pumasok dun sa kaloob-looban.  I opted not to since I still have other places to go.  I just took some pictures of the cave and the stream near it.  Then, off to our next stop.

After about 15 minutes, we reached the Trappist Monastery.  The monastery is run by monks under the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance also known as the Trappists.  They live their monastic lives by being purified and strengthened by a long labor of prayer. They also sell products in which the ingredients were grown on their grounds.  The monastery has a lot of trees and the place was super quiet, a perfect place for meditation.  I really, really wanted to meet one of the monks here but unfortunately I didn't saw any.  My guide told me that there were specific times only when the monk would come and talk to the visitors.  Sayang!  I just went to their gift shop and bought some mango bars made by the monks themselves.

I passed by a small stall selling fresh mangoes and I told Kuya Jun to stop since I need to take home Guimaras' famous fruit.  They grow mangoes here all year round but the peak season is in April. This is also the time when the mangoes were at their sweetest.  Kuya Jun taught me how to spot a sweet mango: you have to smell the portion where the bud is, if it smells sweet, then it's sweet.  So there I was sniffling each piece and trying to pick the sweet ones.  I bought a kilo of mangoes for Php 80.

For the island hopping tour, we went to Raymen Beach Resort.  You can rent a boat for Php 400 for the first hour and Php 150 for each of the succeeding hours.  I think the boat can take up to 10 people so you could split the cost if you were in groups.

We first went to the Lawi Marine Turtle Rescue Center.  At that time, there were two turtles in the center. I asked the caretaker if I could hold the turtle in my hands and she gave it to me.  The turtle was flipping its legs when I carried it. I was careful not to drop him in the sand. He must have weighed around 2 kilos.

After my close encounter with the turtle, we went to Ave Maria Island and Baras Cave.  The boat entered the cave and I had some pictures taken there.

After an hour, we returned to Raymen Beach Resort and headed to our next destination, the Guisi Point Lighthouse.  The trail going to the lighthouse is spectacular since you get to see the beach near it.

Our last stop was the Smallest Plaza.  It used to hold the title of the Smallest Plaza in the Guinness Book of World Records until another country beats it.   But still it's the Smallest Plaza in the Philippines.

We went back to the port at around 5pm to catch the ferry back to Iloilo. I boarded the pump boat satisfied at the day's outcome. One thing that I will be bringing home with me was how special this place is - so peaceful, so quiet, so serene.  If there's one place where I would want to settle someday, Guimaras would definitely be on the list!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Captivated by the City of Smiles: Bacolod

The first leg of my solo backpacking trip is in Bacolod.

The airport for Bacolod-bound visitors is in Silay City.  It is more or less 30 minutes away from Bacolod.  You can ride one of the shuttle vans parked outside the airport to get to the city proper, fare is around Php150.  I originally planned to ride a tricycle which only costs Php10 but it was still early in the morning so there were still no tricycles outside.
I booked at Bacolod Pension Plaza because they have the lowest price that I could find in the internet.  I paid Php888 per night on a standard twin room.  Since I am alone, the extra bed is for my backpack.  I've also read some decent reviews about this place plus it's conveniently located near some major landmarks.  They also allow early check-in during off peak seasons and it is just 5 -10 minutes walk to SM Bacolod mall and the famous Manokan Country.

I ate breakfast and took a 5-minute walk from my hotel to the San Sebastian Cathedral.  It is located in front of the Bacolod Public Plaza.  The church was originally made of wood in 1825 and has undergone several transformations over the years.  Now it is made up of coral stones from Guimaras.

Since I'll be going to Iloilo the next day, I needed to go to BREDCO Port first to buy a ticket.  I bought a Supercat ferry ticket which costs Php 320.  Aside from the Supercat, you can also choose from other ferries going to Iloilo.  They have daily trips and you can buy your tickets 3 days before your trip or on the day itself.  But if you're going during the Dinagyang Festival, it's better to buy your tickets ahead of time.
I was excited for my next destination.  Aside from the Masskara Festival, Bacolod is also known for it's Chicken Inasal.  And the best place to have it is at the Manokan Country.  Manokan Country is where you can see a row of restaurants serving chicken inasal.  If I had lots of time, I'd probably eat in every single one of them to compare which one serves the best. But since I only have one day, I have to choose one.  I opted for Nena's Beth and ordered the classic chicken pecho with garlic rice and a bottle of softdrinks.  I must say that compared to the chicken inasal in Manila, Bacolod's version is more succulent.  You can see that the chicken is fresh and that it is cooked just right when you order it.  The meat is more tender and juicy.  I am a big fan of cheap but tasty meals so for an 89 peso meal, this is such a bargain!  I finished my plate savoring each and every bite.  I noticed that a lot of people were ordering oysters and I was curious to also try it.  However, I was afraid that I'll have an upset stomach and have emergency visits to the comfort room so I decided just to pass on the oysters.

After a delicious meal, I walked back to San Sebastian Cathedral and rode a jeepney going to Mandalangan.  My next destination is The Ruins in Talisay City.  I alighted at the Pepsi Cola plant and hired a tricycle going to the old mansion.  I suggest that you let the driver wait for you since there were very few tricycles going to that area.  I paid Php 160 round trip.  The entrance fee is Php 60 and upon entering you will be greeted warmly by the employees.  They say that it is best to come here late in the afternoon since the sunset serves as a good backdrop for the mansion.  At night, the place is lighted up and turned into a restaurant so you can have a delicious meal while enjoying the beautiful setting.  A lot of my pictures here was taken by Kuya Jun, one of its employees.  He already knows the perfect spots where to take the pictures and I was his model for the day! :-)

After the photo shoot (haha), I went back to Bacolod to have my merienda at Calea Cafe.  Since Bacolod is the Sugar Capital of the Philippines, I wouldn't pass up the chance to sample some of their heavenly sweets.  Calea Cafe has several branches in Bacolod and I went to their branch in Lacson Street.  I asked the waiter to give me their bestseller, the blueberry cheesecake.  It looks just like an ordinary blueberry cheesecake but when I tasted it, all the flavors melted in my mouth. It was so delicious!  It was different from the other cheesecakes I have tried before.  Just thinking of it right now, makes me wanna go fly to Bacolod to order that cheesecake once again!

After Calea, I went to ANP (Association of Negros Producers) - Negros Showroom to buy some souvenirs.  ANP is also in Lacson Street.  I bought one of their delicacy, bagoong and an item for my collection - a bacolod masskara magnet.

At around 7pm, I went back to my hotel room tired but happy.  My Bacolod stint was short but definitely memorable.  Surely, one day is not enough for me to experience Bacolod but in the short time that I spent there, I have been to some of its famous landmarks, tasted their delectable dishes and experienced the warmth of its people.  If I had a chance to come back there, I would also love to go to Mambukal Falls, experience the Masskara Festival and taste the Guapple Pie in El Ideal.
And just when I was about to go to bed, room service rings.  My fruit salad arrived.  Looks like I just can't get enough of the Bacolod sugar rush!  :-)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Me and my backpack

Have you tried traveling solo before? I've always wanted to try out solo travel but I always chicken out. I have a lot of what ifs and a lot of fears. Until finally, I mustered all the courage I have and dived into the unknown!  I only live once so might as well do it.

Somehow fear has its way of sneaking up on me because a week before my trip, I want to back out! I want to cancel my hotel reservations and just stay home. But when I saw the amount I have already paid for my plane tickets (though it's on sale, haha) and all weeks and weeks of researching for my itinerary and months of saving for this trip, it's too late to back out now.  I have to be brave! I have to believe that I can do this.  So in the early hours of November 12, I dragged myself and went to the airport to catch my 4am flight!

Destination: Bacolod, Guimaras and Iloilo.  I chose these three places because they are relatively near each other.  Perfect for the first time solo backpacker.  I only have to ride a boat to get from Point A to Point B and travel time is only an hour. I also wanted to be able to taste the authentic dishes that those three provinces are known for. Bacolod is known for its Chicken Inasal, grilled and cooked to perfection.  Guimaras is well-known for producing the sweetest mangoes in the world.  I have read that it was even being served in the White House and in Buckingham Palace.  Iloilo, on the other hand, is famous for its batchoy.  Batchoy is a native dish which consists of noodles, pork and chicken innards boiled and served in steaming hot broth.

I booked the 4:20 - 5:30 a.m. flight going to Bacolod City.  I took the first flight because I wanted to photograph the sunrise while aboard the aircraft.  I wanted to capture shots of the horizon changing its colors from black to orange to blue.

Mistake number 1: research on the time of sunrise otherwise you might not catch the sunrise after all. On that day, sunrise happened 30 minutes after my plane touched down. I guess no sunrise pictures for me.

My seatmate at the airplane was an old man from Bacolod. When he saw that I was alone, he politely tried to talk to me.  He asked a lot of questions. Why am I traveling alone, do I know anyone there in Bacolod, where will I be staying, and how long will I be in there? The old man volunteered to accompany me to the city proper. At first I was afraid because what if he takes me somewhere else or does something bad to me.  We rode a commuter van that took us to the city proper.  He gave me directions on going to the famous landmarks and bits of information regarding Bacolod.  Since, he will be alighting ahead of me, he told the driver to drop me off to my hotel. The old man even paid for my fare!

Mistake number 2: Don't be too paranoid.  Learn to trust, not all people are out to harm you.

I arrived at Bacolod Pension Plaza at around 6am.  Lucky for me, they were able to give me a room even if it's way too early for their standard check in time.  I saw a couple of American backpackers.  I was happy to see people with whom shares the same passion as I have in traveling. The receptionist told me that my room would have two beds since all rooms with a single bed have already been fully booked.  Oh great (confused expression verging between thank you but the only one who's going to use that extra bed is my backpack!).

My room has a street view, two beds, two towels, two glasses, everything comes in two.  I dropped my backpack, rested for a while, looked at my itinerary, sighed, gave myself a pat in the back and said - Go girl!