Monday, March 31, 2008

Coming Soon!

I actually posted my Camarines Norte trip before the one to Camarines Sur, especially Caramoan. So the next posts will be on the Caramoan Peninsula and some islands outside the country, like Bali, Langkawi, Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands of Krabi in Thailand. So keep on exploring!

The Dream Islands of Calagua

I have travelled to so many beaches in the Philippines, and I still keep looking for the perfect one. Every time I experience what I thought was perfect, I stumble upon a better one. I love our country. It is indeed beautiful. I have seen a lot of beaches as well in South East Asia, and I must say that we are tops in this category. We are a land of heavenly beaches.

Last Holy Week, we decided to go to Camarines Norte after seeing a feature of an isolated group of islands off the CN coast into the Pacific Ocean. I was so intrigued, since I never knew there was something worth visiting in my mom's hometown. So, my siblings and I packed our bags and went straight to CN, to see the Calagua Islands with our very own eyes.

Our trip to the Calaguas began in a river port in Vinzons, where we snaked our way out to the open sea. You can again take a trike to Vinzons from Daet. From Vinzons, take another trike to the river (just tell them that). The river ride was also a delight, seeing sunken coconut trees and mangroves that resembled a Vietnamese landscape. We then hit the strong waves of the Pacific, and rode the wildest ocean I have ever experienced. It was a bit frightening after hard rain fell upon us. It was like a scene from the perfect storm. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the ocean calmed a bit. But still it was a very rough ride of more than an hour to our destination. Finally, I could see the Calaguas from a distance.

We were nearing the islands and the ocean was loosening up. Suddenly, it feels like you were entering a portal, when everything shifted into heaven. Rolling hills, white isolated beaches, gorgeous rock formations greeted us as we passed through the first set of islands. The water was getting bluer and bluer. It left me speechless and even stunned to take pictures. I was just in awe at what I saw.

Then, we approached Mahabang Buhangin (Long Beach). The water was smooth and as blue as the sky. The fine white sand was luring us. I immediately jumped off the boat and got barefoot. Was I in Boracay 20 years ago? We were not alone in the beach. Apparently, around 5 big boats were there as well. But the beach was so wide that you still get a huge space all on your own. We set up a makeshift tent as the sun was extremely hot. The water was refreshing and the sand was cool. It was perfect. I was in paradise.

Honestly, I don't know what to write about the Calaguas. I am truly speechless. I just want to say that it went way beyond my expectations. We stayed at Long Beach for lunch, and then explored the surroundings. We were met with new beaches to the right of Long Beach with unique rock formations on their shore. There was one part that had platforms of orange clay colored rocks that made the water cascade on their surfaces.

(These kids live nearby, so when you visit Mahabang Buhangin, I hope you recognize them.)

The other beaches were isolated as well, with an amazing backdrop of the other islands' green hills and pristine beaches. There are more than 20 islands, and we were just in one. I could see beautiful beaches and landscapes in the nearby islands, but had no time to go to them. We headed back early to Vinzons at 330PM, as the boatman instructed to avoid the strong waves back in the mainland.

The Calaguas are a dream come true. I went to Caramoan in Camarines Sur last January and discovered the wonderful sights of Bicol that can rival the Visayas and Palawan. The Calaguas were different from Caramoan and probably the other beaches I have been to, and so, I will stop comparing and saying it was better. Mahabang Buhangin actually reminded me of "The Beach" beach in Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, without the limestone rocks. But I love the Calaguas more, because I found everything I was looking for in a beach. Seclusion, serenity, amazing landscapes, the azure of waters, the cool fine white sand. Most of all, it felt like home. It was indeed a dream come true. Come to the Calaguas!

TO GO TO THE CALAGUAS, hire a boat in Vinzons or in Mercedez near Daet. You need big boats to brave the rough waters, so it can cost a lot. We paid 4k and that was considered cheap. Though they told me that the ocean becomes flat and smooth from July to September, and it becomes so easy to go to the Calaguas. It will only take an hour. So, if there's no typhoon, this will be the best season to go to these gems in the Pacific. There are still no resorts, so one must camp out. There are inhabitants in the other islands, as three baranggays make up the group. it may not seem that a thousand people live in these islands, because they look so deserted. So, it's best to plan and pack everything like food and drinks before going there. Believe me, this is a trip that you never forget.

This is probably one of the best beach shots I have ever taken. Perfect paradise.

Cast Away in Quinamanukan Island

After having a splash in Bagasbas, we decided to move on to San Jose in Talisay, a town adjacent to Daet (take a trike to San Jose from Daet). San Jose was more laid back than Bagasbas, and more surfers were riding here when we arrived. We met some cousins who were surfing.

We were hoping to hire a boat to an island called Quinamanukan, which supposedly was owned by another relative. It was already 3PM, and thus we knew we had little time to negotiate. From San Jose, we traversed through rough waters on a medium sized fishing boat to Quinamanukan, which was seen from the San Jose shore.

Quinamanukan Island was a delight. It was literally deserted. Some watchdogs made up its population. The sand was also nice, with a bit of an orange color. It was a small island, and I managed to go around walking for about an hour.

The island was all beach around, with a part where some jagged crags resisted strong waves. I went to the side facing the Pacific Ocean where the waves were high and in full force. I really felt like I was stranded. No one was around.

We made it into sunset which painted a beautiful scene behind the mountains of CN. We had a few beers while laying on the soft sand. Nothing could be perfect for a first day in CN. The main event was to happen tomorrow, where we would be docking onto the shores of the Calaguas. But for now, were savoring every moment of being washed away in Quinamanukan.

Stoked Daet

I always stay in Manila during Holy Week, but this year, my siblings and I decided to go to our home province, Camarines Norte. The last time I went here was way back in 1997 when my grandma died. After 10 years, I finally made my way back.

The trip to Camarines Norte took about 8 to 9 hours and this was a Holy Week. It was so traffic in SLEX and in some parts of Laguna and Quezon. As soon as we passed Lucena, it was a smooth ride. The roads to CN are surprisingly well kept and even better than those in more progressive Quezon. My deceased grandpa was the one who designed the long and seemingly never ending zigzag going into the heart of CN. It took me 2 hours at an average of 60 kmph to travel the tiring distance.

And so we arrived in Daet, the capital of CN just in time for dinner. We were supposed to stay in a relative's beach house in Talisay, but since we planned our trip a day before, someone was already occupying it. We looked for a place to stay in Bagasbas, so we would be right next to the beach, but all accommodations were taken. So we opted to stay in Hotel Mega Star just outside Daet, for a decent basic room at 700 pesos a night.

We had breakfast the next morning in Bagasbas, hoping to check out the popular surfing scene. Unfortunately, the waves were not as fit for great surfing, though we saw some boards riding the waves. Bagasbas had a long stretch of fine black sand that made it also perfect for skim boarding. What makes Bagasbas interesting is its shallowness; you could go far out to the knee deep water to hit the waves. It was so much fun just letting the waves wash you ashore. The water was clean, even though the black sand made the water seem unclear. I was supposed to try surfing later in the day but decided to head out to an island nearby. More of that island in my next post. We just rented a body board for the meantime to ride the waves.

There was life in Bagasbas. I remember back in my childhood when Bagasbas had only this quaint pizza parlor, Alvino's. Now the beach is lined with several eateries where one can drink and chow down after a day of surfing. At night, Bagasbas is full of people drinking and having a good time. It's the surfer's life after all.

Bagasbas is a fun place, where you can have fun with the waves or just chill out on the fine sand. It is a haven for both new and experienced surfers and for beach bums of all ages.

Amici de Don Bosco in Morato!

The popular Italian canteen from Don Bosco in Makati is now in Tomas Morato! Amici finally opens a branch in Quezon City with brighter and modern interiors. The canteen atmosphere is still maintained and self service still rules. Savor their sumptuous gelato and yummy pizzas. The menu is still the same. I heard that the former owners of Red Ribbon bought the franchise, and plans to expand further. I hope they still maintain the great quality of their dishes. Nevertheless, after all these years, Amici begins to reach out. So for those nearer QC, here's your chance to taste the famous Italian canteen.

Amici is located along Tomas Morato in Quezon City, in the the same building of Coffee Bean and Ratsky's.

Travel Cafe Philippines

We were scouting for a new restaurant in Greenbelt 5 when we stumbled upon the Travel Cafe. Last time I went to GB5, it was still closed. I chose to have dinner there because of the concept. I didn't expect much on the food, since it was more of a tourism marketing thing for me than a restaurant or a cafe for that matter. I hoped their coffee would be great, since they were promoting the several coffee beans that you can find in the country. They have the Monk's Coffee from Bukidnon, the beans from Cordillera, and the expensive Alamid Coffee.

The place looked great. There were two 42 inch Philips LCDs that played AVPs on Philippine tourist spots. There were travel brochures on the travel concierge. Yes, they had one, with a desk and all, for any inquiries about tours around the Philippines. The design was indeed inspiring, and very modern. I loved their plates. They were all customized with the travel cafe logo.

It took a while to order, even though their menu wasn't long. The menu had salad and appetizers, pastas and main dishes, and a list of whole wheat pandesal creations that are good enough for lunch. The list also included desserts like Halo-Halo and the cool Suman Sushi, which was basically your kakanin fare presented sushi style complete with chocolate chopsticks.

We ordered the Hearts of Palm Pouches (P150) to start. As the name implies, it was fresh lumpiang ubod wrapped ala dumpling style. The peanut sauce was nice, and wasn't too strong. I literally poured it over the pouches. The ubod was actually tasty and had the right crunch. The pouches wwere also sealed by a strip of lemongrass that gave it a unique taste from your normal lumpiang ubod.

Then, the Saranggani Plate (P320) was served. It was of course, boneless bangus (milkfish) with red egg and tomatoes on top of it. It also had an insalada accompanying the dish. It was great. The bangus was indeed soft and tasted fresh. It must have really come from Saranggani since I've tasted the best bangus there two years ago. This comes close.

Finally, the Batangas Beef Ribs (P420) were served. It was their version of tadyang. Marinated in rich garlic soy sauce, the beef was flavorful. My only complaint was that it was not as tender but manageable enough. Also, it is better served with plain rice, as the garlic rice become too overpowering already. Too much garlic.

We were supposed to have dessert at Classic Confections, but I couldn't resist the Tsokolate with Suman (P140). And it was worth it. My sister said it was the most perfect suman. And indeed it was. Dip it in rich tsokolate and it ended the meal successfully.

Travel Cafe Philippines is in itself a concept that allured me. I was surprised that they served great food, great enough to make it one of the most memorable meals I had this year. I first heard of the cafe in Cool Hunter, as they featured the one in Japan. Now, it is here in the Philippines in Greenbelt 5, where all things Pinoy are.

Travel Cafe Philippines is located at the 2F of Greenbelt 5, Makati City.

U2 3D

The first live action 3D concert is here! Beginning April 1 at the SM IMAX Theater in Mall of Asia, the U2 3D show is deemed one of the best media experiences of this generation. It is ground breaking, history in the making. Reserve your tickets now as they are selling out fast.

Click the box above to reveal the You Tube screen.

The Hundred Islands of Pangasinan

The Hundred Islands National Park is probably one of the oldest tourist attractions in the country. It has been promoted as a tourist spot even before I was born. It is actually the First National Park in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Noting this, I was expecting nothing much, since tourist attractions in the country have the reputation of degrading over time. It seems that the DOT or local government still doesn't know how to keep these attractions as natural as they were. No excuses here. It's done outside by all our neighboring countries.

And true enough, the Hundred Islands is a rundown. It took me 5 hours to drive all the way to Alaminos in Pangasinan, the town of the Hundred Islands. Arriving at the port in Anda in Alaminos, I immediately felt that abusive development. We stayed in some resort near the pier (forgot the name, sorry, but I have pictures). Going to the Hundred Islands requires a boat trip and you also have to pay a conservation fee (entrance fee) to the town officials at the port (makes me wonder what it really is for). Well, it is a national park, so we do have to pay a fee.

Anyway, we headed off to the islands after negotiating with the boat that cost us P600 for the afternoon. We were told that we were to visit Quezon Island, the largest of them all, Children's Island and General Island. Of course, being the adventurer, I told him that I didn't want to go these islands only. I had to negotiate more with the boatman and just told him to visit Quezon Island and just look for other ones worth visiting.

Quezon Island was the largest, yes. It was also the dirtiest. Then I saw the one thing that makes me angry: VANDALISM. I don't know how Filipinos can ruin places with their marks. I just don't get it. Anyway, Quezon Island looked like a dump. The people seemed to be ignorant of all their trash while frolicking in the waters. All the structures in Quezon Island like the huts are in ruins. Now, I really wonder where the marine park fees go.

(Manuel Quezon statue, hence the name of the island)

After going up and down the island, I rushed to look for a more pristine spot. I kept pointing to islands I liked, but the boatman kept resisting me. He told me the tide was not good and that the waves were not safe to dock. Well, I know a lot already about driving a boat, and I knew the driver was just trying to make it easy for him. He did manage to bring us to Scout Island. It was small and the sand was so much better and cleaner than in Quezon. But, as I look up the wall, there they are again, in screaming glory, as high as the wall itself: VANDALS. I can't even figure out how they managed to mark the wall that was as high as 20 feet.

It was just bad luck. The waters were rough and unclear. The skies were not blue and the sun didn't shine. It was drizzling and the surrounding was damp. Well, even with better conditions, I still would have complained about everything. But it would have been so much better. The other islands were promising to say the least.

But as I've said, I wasn't surprised. The Hundred Islands is a true example of how Filipinos can just abuse tourist attractions and leave it to rot until the next great destination is found and then developed. It's a cycle. Boracay is on its way. I just hope and pray that we have learned our lessons already. And that goes out to all you TRAVELERS too.

Northern Luzon Speed Tour

We were in Tuguegarao for work, and had to catch a plane to Manila, but the only flight available was in Laoag. So, were decided to take an entire day driving from Tuguegarao to Laoag, stopping by popular spots on the way.

Our first stop were the Callao Caves in Cagayan, just less than an hour from Tuguegarao. The Callao Caves had a chapel inside, which made it unique and interesting. A young boy presented himself to us as a guide. The kid spoke to us in English, which was nice. He said he had to because he usually takes in foreigners. We traversed through the 7 passable chambers which were all huge. Though plain, it was still fun to trek down the cave and see the light pass through the cracks on the surface.

We then continued our journey. The road to Laoag was smooth. Cagayan province looked the same from town to town. The scenery changed when we reached the northern coast of Luzon. After seeing the Cordilleras from a distance, we arrived at Ilocos Norte.

The view was impressive. Amazing in fact. The Patapat viaduct seemed to have transported us to a different place. The air was cool and the roaring splash of waves on the rocky coast was soothing to hear. it made me just want to get off the van and run to a spot on the cliff and reflect.

Highlights of the speed tour included a visit down to the Bangui Windmills and Saud Beach in Pagudpud. The Bangui Windmills were a photo op treat. We also passed by the town center of Pagupud, visiting Saud Beach Resort to check out the scene. The pictures show the massive beach front and the open sea that seems to stretch forever. You are truly on the edge.

We ended up in Laoag Airport 30 minutes before our flight to Manila that would connect us to Cebu for another event. We were so engrossed with the road trip that we forgot about the time. Well, this shows how much fun road trips can be.


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