“Taking the plunge” challenge in Sohoton Cove

The sole opening to Sohoton Cove National Park.
The sole opening to and from Sohoton Cove National Park.

Cliff divers make a visually striking spectacle through their acrobatic feats. Their stunts display a breathtaking choreograph, leaving watchers in awe at how they can carry out such a sequence of rhythmic motions while defying gravity.

Although the sight I saw at Magkukuob Cave in Sohoton Cove was not that intense, there was something that captivated me in the way H  – one of my companions – jumped into the water from a makeshift diving platform 12-feet above sea level.

He wasn’t a professional cliff diver, neither was he a good swimmer. But his body was completely relaxed when he took the plunge challenge. His stance emanates sheer calmness like those of professionals.

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His right hand was stretched upward; his right foot pointing downward, so it can pierce through the water without incurring injury from the impact. It didn’t take long for him to touch the water, but the sight of his body so slowly and gracefully falling down the water had made him look infinite. I was so transfixed at the sight that I felt it too that very moment in time.

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DRY RUN. Practice water jumping at Tiktikan Lake in Bucas Grande Island.

I knew he did that to do the challenge properly, not to show off, or inspire anyone -as was the effect to me. But it did motivate me.

To cut it short, my hesitance was replaced with a resolve. A resolve to jump into the water without wearing a life vest. A resolve to do the challenge properly. So that I too can experience not only the invigorating rush but also the infinite feeling of being suspended in the air which very briefly takes place in between taking off and plunging into the water.

Tour guides discouraged us to wear life vest when jumping into the water because according to them it is dangerous.
Tour guides discouraged wearing a life vest when jumping into the water because, according to them, it is dangerous.

At Magkukuob Cave – one of the main attractions in Sohoton Cove – spelunking ends with a cliff diving challenge. That is, for good swimmers. But for recreational swimmers, calling it “take the plunge” challenge would be more appropriate.

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Whether it’s one or the other, one will have to do the challenge because it is the fastest way to get back to the water, where the boat is waiting nearby. The other way to exit the cave is to go back to the entrance of the cave.

In the end, it’s not about how experienced (or inexperienced) a person is that counts. It’s about managing the crazy feeling that a scary stunt like cliff diving gives that matters.

Being able to do that rewards one of an invigorating rush, a quasi-euphoria kind of feeling, telling oneself that it’s worth taking the plunge no matter how risky it sounds.

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Cliff diving practice at Tiktikan Lake

A basic but very helpful piece of advice that experts and first-timers can use is to not overthink things.

For a first-timer like me, jumping off a platform that is suspended from a cliff, 12-feet above the water, is a memorable feat.

Note: Sohoton Cove National Park is part of Bucas Grande Island in Surigao del Norte. The park, together with the rest of Bucas Grande, forms a maze of natural wonder that can only be seen (or access) in certain conditions.

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Photo credits to my travel buddies Gin, Ely and Joann.

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Why the People’s Park of Davao is unique

It’s nice to see sculptures of the native people of Mindanao in the park of Davao. While it is likely for a cultural-themed park like that of People’s Park in Davao, I find it refreshing especially since in many Philippine parks it’s the sculptures of heroes that are normally erected in a specific area of the park.

They come in larger-than-life-sized, too, which make them hard to miss.

Here are some photos I took during our visit there.

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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.

 

Basic Packing Tips from Martha Stewart

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.

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

Part 3: The Inspiration of the Calamian Tagbanua

Modern Challenges

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The tribe’s cultural practices are in danger of dying out. Customary rules are no longer strictly followed, particularly those related to sacred places and fishing taboos.

Changes in religious beliefs make some members believe that the spirits dwelling in sacred places could bring no harm, although the respect for the teaching of the elders is still there. Modernization is also a factor in changes in fishing motivations and behaviors of young fishers.

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The presence of other resource users like migrant fishers in the island has somehow influenced some of tribe’s fishers to forgo observing taboos.The demand for live grouper also results in younger generation using hook and line in fishing, instead of the traditional fishing gears such as tridents.

These conflicts in fishing practices can pose a threat to the preservation of their cultural heritage.

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Moreover, traditional markings are nowhere to be seen. Even those markings that commemorate the tribe’s legendary ancestors, “the three heroes who lived in caves and could fly, and protected the islanders from Moro marauders.” It’s only during major events like births, marriages and deaths that the tribe observed traditional practices.

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Power struggles and mismanagement of money collected from tourism fees – which according to our tour guide are used for financing education, health and livelihood programs for the members of the Calamian Tagbanua – also hound the tribe council’s leadership, causing conflict not only among its people but also between tribe leaders.

As an NGO member assisting the Tagbanua in gaining control of their ancestral land observed, “The harmony and unity that existed before turned into strife as soon as money from tourism started to come in.”

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Despite the challenges and changes that the tribe has to keep up with, their capability to keep their ancestral domain clean and orderly remains impressive. There is poverty, but there’s hardly a sign of filth in inhabited areas. Their houses are spaciously set in their land and there’s no sign of alcoholism – characteristics that are common to other fishing villages in the country.

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This, according to Victor Paul Borg of Geographical magazine, is perhaps the greatest achievement of self-rule.

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[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]

This is the third and last part of my blog about the Calamian Tagbanua. Here are the links for parts 1 and 2.

Part 2: The Inspiration of the Calamian Tagbanua

Putting premium on the environment

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There is a deeper sense that drives Calamian Tagbanua in avoiding sacred places and implementing taboos other than showing respect for an ancient belief that has been passed on from generation to generation.

Their customary traditions have been tied to strict and sustainable regimens designed to protect the environment, the single most important aspect of their survival.

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From preventing illegal fishing methods to avoiding catching juvenile species until they reach maturity, from keeping some marine areas sacred for cultural rituals to keeping their island clean – all these have been strictly enforced by the elders to promote long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainability.

Other key factors that help the tribe maintain control and balance include keeping the population low and maintaining an economy that functions for subsistence, not exchange.

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Members that dare to break their cultural rules are subject to disciplinary measures, such as corporal punishment and use of bamboo stocks.

These efforts, combined with a high-quality map and management plan, entitled the tribe of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

CADT granted them autonomous right to 24,520 hectares, comprising 7,320.0516 hectares of the island and 16,958 hectares for the ancestral waters around its coast.

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This initiative has put the Philippines on the world map of conservation as the first government to recognize ancestral water claims.

And the Tagbanua has become an inspiration to indigenous communities especially those with similar claims here and outside the country, including those in Maluku, Indonesia and the Torres Straits of Australia.

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The World Conservation Organization also 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.

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For the first part of this blog post, please click here. Part 3 tackles the modern challenges the tribe is facing today.

[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]