Simple ways to make travels more memorable (Part 1)

Travel is an investment in experience. If you think it’s expensive, try doing the suggestions below. They will not require you to spend much to make your travel experiences memorable and one-of-a-kind.

1. Do something new. Bring the spirit of gift-giving this Holiday Season to your next destination by exchanging gifts. Having ‘Monito-Monita’ will not only make the travel experience more fun but also unique.

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Kurangon islet in Tiwi, Albay

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 For more pictures of the islet and related story

2. Participate in a local activity, especially when tourists are encouraged. It’s already entertaining to see a group of local pre-teens performing a cultural dance, with costumes, harmonious moves and all. But joining the fun is an entirely different thing. It will make you feel welcome and one with the locals without you doing anything but accept a simple invitation to dance.

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Children dancing Tinikling at Loboc River, Bohol

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3. Go back to the basics. Forget about your gadgets for a while to enjoy nature by biking, walking or playing with kids. It will not only reward your physical health but also your mental and emotional well-being. You’ll even wonder why you get invigorated instead of feeling exhausted after exerting a lot of energy.

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This used to be planted with rice, corn and other root crops. But now it’s a wide, open field, perfect for biking, flying kites or walking while enjoying nature. (Tiwi, Albay)
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The two famous, not to mention equally beautiful,  mountains in Albay are also visible in this area. What a picturesque view they make.

4. Try learning something new. You don’t have to be adventurous to try learning new things when you travel. A good dose of curiosity and openness is enough to make you see the people around you and their way of life, and want to try it yourself. When you start noticing their culture, you’ll be interested in the language they speak, the songs they sing, the story behind those timid smiles, how they make a living, and so on. In this respect, travel becomes no longer about you.

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Philippine Ceramics at Putsan, Tiwi, Albay

5. Visit a place that is not a part of your itinerary. Sometimes unintended side trips make you “see” more of a place and its people than most of the suggested places in your itinerary.  These brief excursions you’ll make off the main route will allow you to see more locals, walk alongside with them and have a glimpse of their everyday life. The things you’ll see (and experience) in these places may be ugly and alarming and not to your liking. In other instances beautiful and awe-inspiring. In short, if you want to add an element of unpredictability to your travel go wander.

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Mangcawayan  is the village opposite Mahabang Buhangin. You’ll never know how poor the village is until you visit it.
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Mahabang Buhangin, one of the main islands in Calaguas group of islands
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Delightful surprise. I wasn’t aware of this lagoon (Twin Lagoons) in Coron, Palawan until our boatman brought us here.
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A secret cove that isn’t usually part of the island hopping packages in Caramoan. Thanks to our boatman for bringing us here to snorkel before we get back to the mainland.

 

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Basic Packing Tips

Because it is a joy to have a neat and organized luggage bag, I am sharing this quick and easy-to-follow packing tips from no less than the wedding expert, Martha Stewart.

Layer 1

Line the bottom with shoes and tech gear in bags. Fill the center with rolled-up jeans and jackets.

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Layer 2

Lay dresses and pants lengthwise on top of the first layer, letting the ends hang over the sides of the luggage.

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Layer 3

Roll shirts and sweaters. Place them on top of the second layer. Cover them with the ends of the dresses and pants from the layer underneath.

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Layer 4

Fold delicates. Place toiletries and lingerie into separate bags. Set it all on top.

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By learning to line, lay, roll and fold your things neatly inside your bag, you’ll find yourself wrestling with your stuff no more. Happy travels!

Photo credit to Martha Stewart wedding website

5 Fascinating Facts about Coron, Palawan

Here are some fascinating facts about Coron in Palawan, from how this island was formed to its environmental awards to its keepers’ greatest legacy.

secluded-lagoon

Fact #1. Coron limestones were formed 260 million years ago as a coral reef along the length of Southeast Asia and was part of the China Continental Crust. It was later drafted to its present location north of Palawan by tectonic movements.

They were uplifted by tectonism some 30 million years ago and then extensively eroded by waves and monsoon rains to create its present unique “karst” topography. These limestone crops rise dramatically as cathedral-like formations more 400 meters above sea level. [Source: UNOCAL company calendar]

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Kayangan Lake. Photo courtesy of Carol Caudilla

Fact #2. Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda are the only two lakes in Coron open to tourists. Both had been awarded the cleanest lakes in the Philippines. How pristine the sacred lakes (Panyaan) in the island, we can only imagine. 

The Calamian Tagbanuas, the indigenous caretakers of Calamianes Islands, believe that a Panyaan is sacred for the spirits dwelling in it. This is usually a big rock or coral reef formation that is separated from its main structure and in relatively deep water. They believe that a kunlalabyut or giant octopus lives in this area.

Fact #3. The World Conservation Organization recognizes Coron Island as a community conserved area because its strict conservation rules and forbidden/sacred lakes and beaches are considered equivalent to its management category: Ia, Strict Nature Reserve and Category V, Protected landscape/seascape.

A community conserved area is defined as natural and modified ecosystems, including significant biodiversity, ecological services, and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local and mobile communities through customary laws or other effective means [Source:Borrini-Feyerabend, et.al, 2004].

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More info and pictures of Calamian Tagbanuas and their customary laws and traditions here: [The Calamian Tagbanua, Putting premium on the environment, Modern Challenges]

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Fact #4. The Calamian Tagbanua serves as an inspiration to other indigenous communities here in the Philippines and outside the country for securing the autonomous right for their ancestral domain including water areas.

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Calamianes Island

Fact #5. “The islanders were impressively clean, their houses spaciously set in courtyards, and there was no alcoholism…There was poverty, but there was no squalor.” This, according to Victor Paul Borg of Geographical Magazine.

These photos below taken by photographer Jacob Maentz during his visit to the island affirms that it remains true up to now, at least in areas of the Tagbanuas because the waters close to the mainland are already polluted.

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coral garden coron palawan

 

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[The rest of the photos were provided by the travel buddies.]

The Underground River and its Ancient Trees

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Ancient Trees Puerto Princesa

puerto princesa underground river

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“The underground river is reputed to be the world’s longest. At the mouth of the cave, a clear lagoon is framed by ancient trees growing right to the water’s edge.”

Meet the Lake of Kayangan

You are not a photograph.
Although at flimsy intervals I wish you were
So I could hold you in a glance.

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You are not a photograph.
You are most real,
And a lonely wall is not your fate.

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You are not a photograph,
You are not a photograph,
And you will nevermore fade…

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Not a Photogtaph by Miracle Romano

Facts About Kayangan Lake

  • Kayangan lake is one of the two lakes (the other one is Barracuda lake) in Calamian islands that is open to tourists. The rest are considered as panyaan or sacred areas by Tagbanuas, the indigenous people of Calamian islands.
  • Like the Luluyuwan lake (also called Barracuda lake), Kayangan lake has been awarded as the cleanest lake in the Philippines. It holds a Presidential Hall of Fame for consistently winning from 1997-1999.
  • Entrance fee to Kayangan lake is 200 pesos.
  • the lake water is a mixture of fresh and salt water
  • Tagbanuas make a living (aside from fishing, farming and weaving mats) by collecting swiftlet nests at the top of the small cave in Kayangan lake, or anywhere in the island’s high limestone cliffs. This edible bird’s nest is used for making the bird’s nest soup.
  • the most photographed and most visited tourist attraction in Coron

Kayangan Bay Image

  • is accessible via a 10-minute climb in a steep mountain slope
  • is the most photographed view in Coron
  • is a picture perfect point

Do’s and Don’ts in Kayangan lake

  • Diving and kayaking are prohibited
  • Avoid making unnecessary noises (the noise that tourists make can disturb the balinsasayaw or swiflet that nests in the cave)
  • Use chemical solutions (sunblock, insect repellent, etc.) to a minimum
  • Bringing food is not allowed
  • Visit the lake between 8:00-4:00 pm
  • Bring your garbage back to your boat and dispose them properly

photo credit: Carol Caudilla. Thanks te =)

Common Day Trip Destinations In the Philippines

Side trips are often brief and trivial but it does not always mean that they can’t be as interesting as ultra-touristy sites are.

In fact, there are instances when a brief excursion off the main route of an itinerary can hold just as much (and sometimes even more) meaning as those visits in major tourist attractions.

In the Philippines, there are some special places you can consider getting acquainted with aside from its beloved natural gems.

Churches

Centuries-old churches in the Philippines tell something about the country’s history, its architectural influences and the ingenuity of its natives.

For instance, the Church of our Lady of Gate in Daraga, Albay borders on the baroque with very ornate decorations on the facade. Its collection of architectural relics of saints and rare religious seals were carved out of blocks of volcanic rocks, making the church distinct from the rest of churches in the country.

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Daraga church before and after (the facade is coated with a white coating called paletada to prevent further deterioration of the stone carvings)

The hill where the church is perched offers a bonus commanding view of Mt. Mayon.

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San Agustin church is also a favorite venue for weddings
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the door of San Agustin church.

San Agustin Church could have been one of the remnants of the savagery and conflict of World War II, but it has remained standing after the bombardment of establishments inside Intramuros during the 1945 Battle of Manila. As a result, the church has become not only the oldest building standing in the Philippines to date, but also a witness to many significant events in the Philippine history during the Spanish Period.

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The adjoining museum albeit eerie also offers some important lessons on history. Inside the museum is a collection of statues, paintings, artifacts and other church ornaments. The first governor-general Miguel Lopez de Legazpi rests here together with other Spanish conquistadors including Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti.

With some help from Augustinian and Franciscan friars, Legazpi established a governing city council in 1571. At the same time, he ordered the construction of Intramuros, proclaiming it the capital of Manila and seat of the Spanish Government in the East Indies. (From tita Lili’s blog)

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The San Sebastian Church has been recognized by UNESCO as the only all-steel church or basilica in Asia. It has also been implausibly reputed to be the first prefabricated building in the world, and more plausibly claimed as the only prefabricated steel church in the world.

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Sagada is the only town in the Philippines that is predominantly Protestant. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada served as the center of festivity for Filipino Protestants during the celebration of the 100th foundation of the Episcopical church in the country. There had been no Catholic church in Sagada until last year, when the CBCP announced that the construction of the first Roman Catholic Church in Sagada was already underway.

Consider:

Opting for guided tours. “…guided tours are best if one wants to appreciate the place’s historical and architectural significance. You may Google all you want but you may miss out on some historical tidbits.”

Cemeteries

It sounds a far-fetched idea but cemeteries can be worthy of your time especially if you want to know about the flamboyant architecture and the interesting history of the 54-hectare cemetery that is La Loma, or the nearly forgotten Panchong in North Cemetery. Or, you can simply  revisit the cemetery that should have earned more attention, respect and recognition other than as a popular wedding venue —  the Paco Cemetery.

Here are excerpts from Tita Lili’s blog about her cemetery tours (organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines) in Manila and Quezon city. The Old (and Dead) Rich of La Loma.

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All of 54 hectares within the metropolis. You’d think one should find better use for this land in this time and age. But Campo Santo de La Loma is a significant link to Philippine history and architecture. After all, this 2nd oldest cemetery counts among its buried citizens the important icons of history, the aristocratic families of old, the illustrados, the religious leaders, the hacienderos and simply the famous. 

A Nearly Forgotten Panchong in North Cemetery

manila north cemetery

It would be interesting to draw up a list of graves whose “tenants” now grace some street signs around Manila. The place also counts resting places of past Presidents and national leaders, celebrities and prominent families. Just like the nearby La Loma Cemetry, architecture flourished in this area.

Remnants of World War

Ruins usually have historical and aesthetic significance. But often it is the fascination of the ruins (either archaeological or romantasized) that attracts people to take a pause and give a wrecked, partly destroyed architectural piece or an incomplete work of art a closer (or perhaps longer) look . Why would they not when sights like these, albeit a symbol of absence and loss, suggest the possibility of endurance, hope, memorialization and restoration.

The Ruins of Talisay

the ruins

If you happen to be in Bacolod, make sure to visit the Ruins of Talisay. Although Bacolod is also home to a number of heritage or historical landmarks, you can’t miss visiting this great edifice for a number of reasons. To quote a favorite blogger, “The Ruins exudes beauty from the past that lingers up to the present.  It is also an exquisite rendition of a marriage of cultures, and a representation of a fine taste of architecture of European influence.  Touted as the Taj Mahal of the Philippines, this also becomes an icon of undying love and devotion.”

Besides, Talisay is just a 14-minute ride from Bacolod city.

Corregidor

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thanks Dos for allowing me to use these pictures.

The story of Fortress Corregidor is one of legend and myth combined with the reality of modern war.

Corregidor stands sentinel over the sea routes into the legendary port city of Manila. From the fifteenth to the early part of the twentieth century, the Spaniards, and later the Americans assigned to Corregidor the the role of defending Manila and fortified it accordingly. The fortifications were meant not only to discourage ambitious Western colonial powers and greedy Asian pirates and bandits, but also to safeguard the commercial shipping  passing in and out of the harbor. 

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thanks again Dos for these photos. They are lovely as usual ^_^

Today, although its role has changed, Corregidor retains its spectacular beauty featuring sweeping vistas of the open sea and the calm water of Manila bay. The huge artillery pieces are silent and unmanned, and the old concrete fortifications that reflect the island’s violent past provide homes for monkeys, for gulls and other seabirds. (Excerpts from the book Corregidor in Peace and War)

 Intramuros and Fort Santiago

From its founding in 1951, Intramuros was the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling classes. Within its walls were imposing government massive buildings, stately homes, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, hospitals and cobbled plaza.

Fortified with bastions (balaurte), the wall enclose an area of some 64 hectares. Gates (puerta) with drawbridges provided access to and from the outside world.

At its heights, Intramuros instilled fear in Spains’ enemies as a mighty European city, the only of its kind in Asia. By the end of WWII, the walls here were almost all that remained of the once-proud city, and 150, 000 Filipino civilians had perished in the crossfire.

Fort Santiago

Guarding the vital entrance to the Pasig river, Fort Santiago was once the seat of Spanish military power. Today it is a memorial to Dr. Jose Rizal, who was imprisoned here in the final days before his execution in 1896 for inciting revolution against the Spanish colonials. It is also a memorial to all Filipinos who have fought or died for the cause of freedom. —excerpts from the book Philippines by Greg Bloom.

Museums

National Museum

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The National Museum is a five-story building with tall Roman columns atop a short flight of very wide stairs. The building alone is a showcase of a bygone era. And just looking at the building makes you feel like you are in another time. Read the full story here.

 

Five Reasons You’ll Get High With Caramoan

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Preview of Caramoan

Caramoan is considered as Bicol’s best kept paradise. Even if there have been man-made changes in some islands, the rest remained unspoiled.

Paniman is one of the jump-off sites for island hopping in Caramoan.
Paniman is one of the jump-off sites for island hopping in Caramoan.

Like the tourists that flock to the peninsula all-year round, here are five reasons you’ll love Caramoan, too.

1. It offers unparalleled coastal exploration opportunities. Whether you visit the nearest islands or those farthest from Paniman, you’ll discover that every island is an ideal spot for endless outdoor adventures. Island hopping is the big drawcard, but travelers can also experience Caramoan through snorkeling, rock climbing, trekking, as well as spelunking, mountain biking and camping.

activities caramoan

When beach hopping, visitors can choose whether to explore the nearest islands or opt for the islands located farthest from Paniman. The islands near Paniman – namely Matukad, Hunongan, Lahos, Tinago and Gota Beach – can be reached via a 15 to 30-minute boat ride.

caramoan near paniman islands

On the other hand, reaching the more distant islands would take at least an hour or more for visitors to know how it feels like to be in the middle of nowhere when they stepped foot on Cotivas island, or experience once again the thrill of playing with abandon on the wide stretch of Manlawi sandbar. The longest and triangular-shaped island that is Sabitang laya is also waiting to be explored in ways only every group could think possible.

islands farthest from paniman

2. No islands are ever the same. Each island found in the peninsula is incomparable to others. For instance, the postcard-perfect view that is Matukad is a 125-meter stretch of pristine powdery white sand walled with jagged limestone cliffs. It has a lagoon (with an enchanting tale) tucked between the island’s lush tropical forest and limestone formations. Lahos island has sugar-like powdery sand whose shoreline is sandwiched between two beaches and two identical giant rocks. What makes Lantangan beach on Pitogo bay interesting is its pebbled covered shoreline which will make you realize that Caramoan islands are not all about fine white sand.

caramoan beaches

3. You can have some of the islands all to yourselves. This is particularly true to islands located farthest from Paniman. But if you don’t want to travel that far and spend more on boat rental, consider visiting Tinago beach. In Bicol dialect, the root word tago means hide. True to its name, Tinago beach/lagoon is surrounded by imposing rock formations covered with lush green vegetation. It’s hard to get through the entryway of the lagoon when the current is strong.

island all to yourself

4. Encounter An Underwater Garden. Tayak lagoon in Malarad island has a vast coral garden where the corals resemble those of the coral garden in Coron, Palawan. The broad coral formation is spread just a few feet from the water surface, which makes it ideal for snorkeling. However, you need to swim underneath the rocks on the side of the beach to access the lagoon.

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a view of an underwater garden in Coron, Palawan

5. Caramoan offers some of the “best mountain-meet-the-sea vistas”. Mountains of Caramoan also have distinctive shapes — some resemble those rolling hills in Batanes or the lush, green meadows of Palaui island. These sights, along with the scenic and some insanely shaped limestone karsts, make the trip from one island to another less exhausting.

caramoan karst topographycaramoan limestone mountainsmanlawe sandbar

The trip to the peninsula could be excruciating, but tourists seem not to mind especially since enduring it comes with a reward. That is, experiencing a natural high that only nature’s ultimate wonders like Caramoan can give.

*Photo credit to my travel buddies and cousins, as well as to Gota Village Resort. Pictures were used with permission.