February 22, 2015

Ilocos: Perfect for Tourists

Ilocos, which is roughly 8-9 hours away from Manila via car, houses a lot of major tourist spots -  making the province a primary destination among locals and foreigners alike. Some of the sights to behold include a UNESCO heritage site, one of the new 7 wonder cities of the world, a white beach, sand dunes, and beautiful rock formations.

Bangui windmills

Must See

1. Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Kapurpurawan rock formation is a very picturesque place. Imagine the immaculate white limestone, the blue sky, the green sea, and the white beach foam in the picture. It's beautiful!

Kapurpurawan rock formation

2. Callle Crisologo, Vigan

Calle Crisologo is a busy place - whether it be in the early morning or late afternoon. It was probably because we visited on a weekend holiday. There are lots of antique shops and souvenir stores which you'd do best to scrutinize the products' authenticity before buying. Even so, I find the aesthetic of the place very romantic - especially if the tourists flocks would disappear :)




3. San Augustine Church (UNESCO World heritage site)

I know nothing of architecture but according to Google, San Augustine church or commonly known as Paoay church is a classic example of Baroque earthquake architecture in the country. It has survived numerous wars and earthquakes making it true to its structure.l

Look the bell tower is detached - this is to avoid the instances of the bell tower crushing down the church in case of an earthquake. If you observe the sides, there are also 4 big major buttresses supporting the church.

There have been conversations during the trip that the bricks were glued using egg whites, but I cannot seem to find any credible account for such occurrence. That's interesting, isn't it?


4. Bangui Windmills

Previous research and mapping studies concluded that Bangui is a good place for wind power installation. Hence, the modern looking Bangui windmills!



5. Marcos Museum and Mausoleum

Picture taking is not allowed in the mausoleum. It is a small room with Marcos's embalmed body in the center. The group will just circle the coffin very quickly and then go out immediately after. Hmm, I am really not a Marcos fan so I find the stories presented here very one sided - but I guess the Marcosses were good to Ilocos. I'll let them have that.

Must Try

1. Sandboarding

Riding a 4x4 to get to the sand dunes is a story on its own! It's so fun, reminded me of Mt. Pinatubo! And then the sandboarding is also thrilling - too bad I wasn't able to slide down in a standing position. By the way, I walked barefooted and had mild burns on my feet after, don't try that.

Meet the Villanueva family!

2. Surfing / Strolling around the beach (ANY beach here is nice)

White sand beach and big waves!


3. Local  delicacies and cuisines
Try their longganisa, empanada, chichacorn, banana chips, bagnet, pakbet, etc. Food is great here!

4. Ziplining at Blue Lagoon
I've never tried ziplining over an ocean so I felt like hey this is nice, I'll try it. I backed out though because the wind was soooo cold. 

Other attractions

1. Kabigan Falls
2. Baluarte
3. Bantay Bell Tower
4. Cape Bojeadora Lighthouse
5. Paraiso ni Anton

Overall, I'd say that Ilocos is truly an ultimate tourist destination because of the variety of activities and sights to behold here. I think majority of the people would enjoy a visit in Ilocos - besides it's relatively easy to visit.

See  you around!
Arlet

Basic Mountaineering Course: Love & Respect

"You say you love rain, but you use an umbrella to walk under it. You say you love sun, but you seek shelter when it is shining. You say you love wind, but when it comes you close your windows. So that's why I'm scared when you say you love me."

I love nature.  Hikers must all do. For if we do not, imagine the state our mountains, forest, and beaches will suffer. But to say we love nature, and act in counterproductive ways against its conservation and protection is futile.

I guess this is the core of every Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) and Leave No Trace principle - to love and respect nature.


Several mountaineering groups and outdoor groups usually organize BMC during this time of the year. And if you see yourself trekking from time to time, it would be wise to attend one - or at the very least be oriented by someone. I've been trekking on and off for around a year now, but I haven't attended a BMC yet - I was however coached by Loyola Mountaineering group during my first climb. The insights and lessons I've learned from them have guided me in my past climbs and up until now.

Even so, I felt that attending a BMC has been a long time coming so when I found out about Conquer's BMC event, I immediately signed up and joined.


A lot of things were discussed during the event - planning a climb, trail movement & trail signs, basic ropemanship, water safety, land navigation, climbing essentials & equipment, camping, first aid, mountaineering etiquette, etc. The discussion was mostly an overview of each aspect so one shouldn't expect to be a master immediately after the course. One has to study, execute, restudy, re-execute and restudy the lessons again and again to be completely skilled in the craft. As Sir Rec of Tanay Adventure Camp mentioned, our level of consciousness right now is awareness. At least after the program, we know what concepts to look for and study.

Survival in the wild orientation

Demo on fire starting

Demo on tent pitching

Obstacle course

Knot tying and basic ropemanship

Rappelling

Land navigation

River crossing and water safety

It was definitely an insightful and enjoyable event. The organizers and speakers were prepared and credible, while the host site (Tanay Adventure Camp) was well kept and overall hospitable. It is probably my most relaxed camping experience up to date. Sana ganito din karelax sa bundok :)

In the mountains though, we cannot afford to be apathetic and lax for one mistake could put us or the group in danger. If we aren't prepared, we increase the risk of harm not only upon ourselves, but also to the environment.

Remember that in the mountain, "there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."

Hiking is caring.

See you around!
Arlet

PS

Like Conquer Outdoor Equipment Facebook page for updates on their events and whatnot. I'm looking forward to their Banahaw next month, or if you know any Makiling hikes anytime soon, please let me know. Thanks!

February 21, 2015

We're Made For Each Other

I woke up earlier than usual today. I fixed myself and headed out to our meeting place. It's a date!


Today is Valentine's day, and with the help of other people, we planned to bring the hashtag lunchbag project here in Manila. 

#HashtagLunchbag was born on Christmas Day 2012 in a Los Angeles apartment with just a small group of friends. The intent was simple, to prepare and deliver a hearty and well-balanced meal to our local homeless community. We all chipped in a few bucks before taking a quick trip to the grocery store and purchasing a few goodies. We invited over a few more friends to help assemble the lunch bags, blasted some music, and then hit the streets.

The sun wasn't out yet, but we were already done with plenty of tasks. For most of us, it was our first time to meet each other. That wouldn't be obvious though - not with the way we talked, joked, and worked with each other.


They were all wonderful people! Everyone was competent, decisive, and kindhearted. They could rule the world if they wanted to!

On our way to Manila, we passed by several takatak boys, traffic enforcers, and roadside cleaners who were all very happy and appreciative of  the lunchbag we handed them. What we gave was only a lunchbag, but when you look at them, it feels like they've received something much more than that.

Walang sinuman ang nabubuhay para sa sarili lamang (No one lives for himself alone.)
Walang sinuman ang namamatay para sa sarili lamang (No one dies for himself alone.)
Tayong lahat ay may pananagutan sa isa’t-isa (We're all responsible for each other.)

Perhaps the reason we feel good whenever we try to help others is because we're all really made for each other. We're here to look out for one another, get each other's back, and be each other's keeper. Perhaps.

Happy Love Month!
Arlet

With just a small network of friends we were able to raise funds and distribute packed lunch to hundreds of homeless  people. It may be just a little thing , but with the smiles and thanks we've been given, I felt how much little things could matter.

If everyone lights just one little candle, what a bright world this will be.


Reach out.

January 31, 2015

How Mt. Purgatory Made Me Reexamine My Love For Hiking

We will always find ourselves asking the same questions. And unless it's the truth, we will always have different answers. This is because our hearts cannot be tricked into believing what it does not genuinely love.


Day 1.

"I'll go ahead." I told my friends and left.

I walked on and observed the trees, the ferns, the moss, and myself. The universe can exist without us humans. Perhaps it can thrive better without us. I looked at myself and the surrounding again and again. I obviously do not belong here. I shrugged.


The sky was getting dark; the fog was getting thicker. I've been walking for a while now, but it seems I'm nowhere near the end of this forest. Maybe I shouldn't have gone alone?

No Arlet, it's okay.
I'm on the right trail.
I'm sure?


I took out my headlamp and whistle. If I'm on the right trail, then my friends would catch up with me sooner or later. If I'm on the wrong trail, then I should conserve my energy and avoid getting trapped deeper in the forest.

So I waited.


While waiting, I felt how painful and sore my shoulders were, how cold my hands were, and how scared my heart was. My little familiarity with the terrain was quickly fading. Why am I here alone? I'm scared. I'm scared to be a burden to the team.

"Paano ka magiging pabigat, eh ang gaan gaan mo," a friend's voice scolded me in my head.

My negative thoughts were quickly erased. At the same time, I heard footsteps quickly coming closer. I bit my lip and stared at the direction where the noise was coming from.

A wild Ate Sharie appeared! Woohoo!


Upon finding me, (as she was specifically looking for me) she radioed the others and asked for a headcount. It turns out that no one could account as to where I was so she went ahead of the middle group and quickened her pace.

Oh gosh. I was immediately thankful that they were the ones I was with for this climb. They are not just people who are willing to help, but people who actually can.

"Be prepared not just for yourself, but also for others." - For now, I'm the 'others' :P

We were supposed to head for Bakian Elementary School, but we ran out of time so we stayed at the hut for rent just before the school.

Bakian Elementary School

Dinner.

Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! Dinneeer! I was so excited for dinner because the ladies prepared pochero and sinigang. I mean, don't we all just usually eat meat loaf for a climb? After all, it's just 1 night - and we'd like to get as much rest as we can rather than cut eggplants, right?

Well, well, well... not this  group. Hooray for cutting eggplants and cooking rice at high altitude!

Boys cooking rice

Dinner ala Sha Rie, Dang, Maynard, Shelli, and Jack!

Day 2.

After finishing 2 mountains the day before, we continued hiking for Mt Komkompol. The trail was mostly uphill from the camp, and I felt my legs weakening already. We reached the peak of Mt Komkompol (our ultimate destination) in no time.
 



The view was beautiful, but I'd say that the sceneries from when we started the hike were just as beautiful, if not more beautiful. 

Nonetheless we basked in the sun as if we just came from a long winter break, breathed the air as if it was limited, beamed at the mountains as if it will vanish, and laughed with each other as if it were our last. It was indeed a day well spent. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Woohoo!!! HAHAHA see you guys next time! Itigil and vicks, please.

We stayed at the peak for a few minutes, and then started our descent. It was purely downhill from there. After several hours of going down, I felt my knees ready to give up. I wore my knee support and became extra careful with my steps. The last time I felt this way was during my first climb in Mt. Palay Palay

I had the exact same thought back then: "Can I do this?"

My answer then was I'll try.
Right now, my answer is still the same thing.

I'll try.
And try.
And try some more.
Try some more, I will. 

But I figured, I'm not here to try hiking or even my love for it - it has already been tried. It is myself that I am trying.

See you around!
Arlet

PS

Mt Purgatory traverse is roughly 30km long. It spans 3 mountains: Mt. Pack, Mt. Purgatory, and Mt. Komkompol. If you observe closely, you will be able to tell the difference in flora between the mountains - it's very interesting! -reminds me of the setting of Princess Mononoke :)


December 31, 2014

2014: Just Did It!

Analysis paralysis. I was afraid of making mistakes in my life. This same fear paralyzed me into inaction late last year. January of 2014 was unwelcome. I didn’t want to start another year while I was in such a mess – no job, no money, no direction, no plans, no present and future on sight.

The only thing I knew then was that I wanted to see more of the world. Nothing else mattered. So nothing else, I did. Fortunately though, a headhunter chanced upon my LinkedIn profile and offered me an opportunity. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but it was better than nothing. My mentality was that I can always quit if I hate it. Hence, giving it a chance wouldn’t hurt, right?

Lesson 1. Opportunity knocks from time to time, but we must be prepared to grab it.
Accepting and keeping an opportunity that I wasn’t sure of? Just did it!

A few months after getting a job, I decided to move out of my parents’ house and live on my own. It was one of the most liberating and educating things I’ve done for myself. At first, I was skeptical of my capability to survive on my own, but now I’m sure that I can. It wasn’t as smooth sailing as I hoped it to be, but it was fun nonetheless.

Lesson 2. Sometimes, we never really know for sure unless we try.
Live on my own? Just did it!

After separating from my parents, my expenses blew up. I was worried that I might have to stop traveling. That, I knew I couldn’t take so I made a new budget plan and stuck to it. I used a new expense tracker to keep my finances in check. Currently, I’m unable to travel internationally, but it doesn’t matter as there’s still much to see here.

Lesson 3. You don’t have to stop doing what you love to follow society’s priorities, just as you don’t have to stop playing games when you’re older. It is not selfish to want happiness for yourself so long as you’re not taking it from others.

Paid my own bills and still pursue my travels? Just did it!

I did it- achievements and mistakes alike. It was a year of taking over my life, of making myself a priority - and not just listening to what other people want, need, or expect from me (Gets mo ba yun ha, Popoy?! Hahaha!) This year, I am fully responsible. I liked that.

So 2015, leave it to me, I got this.

Happy New Year, folks!
Arlet

Taking it Slow (Baler)

When I was a child, I found days to be slow, but I never wished for it to go faster. Now that I’m older, it seems that the days are always in a hurry to be over. Often I find myself wishing it would go slower – stop even.

The pace of life in Baler reminds me of my life back in the province (and Siquijor for some reason). I like it.


A. Getting There

From Manila, you can ride a Genesis bus to Baler. Regular trips costs 450php while deluxe trips via Joybus costs 700php. Take note that Genesis doesn’t have reservations for regular trips so be at the station earlier than scheduled. Also the road to Baler is bumpy, it is wise to stay away from the back seat of the bus.

B. Places to Visit

1. Oldest Balete Tree in Asia

According to locals, this Balete tree, which is about 600 years old, is the oldest in Asia. In the past, visitors were allowed to climb the tree, but to preserve it better, guests are now prohibited to do so.


2. Ditumabo Falls / Mother fall

Getting to Ditumabo Falls would entail one to take a short trek from the foot of the mountain. During the trek, be prepared to get wet up to waist level. The current can be a bit strong so make sure that your sandals are safely secured and attached to your feet.


3. Baler Museum

Baler museum houses stories of significant events in the province. It is also a nice place to take photos.


4. Dona Aurora House

The house is just on the next corner from Baler museum. It is one of those simple, cozy, and old Filipino houses. The study room is inspiring – makes me want to have a similar house :P



5. Ermita Hill

In December 1735, there was a huge tidal wave that wiped the whole town of Baler. Only 7 families who climbed the top of Ermita hill survived. 


By the way, there is a viewing deck on top of the hill (where I did my vanity shot :P )


6. Lukso lukso islet

It’s a scenic place to walk around and take photos. Reminds me so much of Royal Cliff Resort in Siquijor.


7. Baler church

I don’t buy most of the Catholic teachings, but because my friend was attending the Sunday mass and I had nothing else to do – I went with her. It’s a nice little church I guess. There were also flat screens for those who are outside.


8. Sabang beach!!!

Surfing is the main attraction in Baler. When my friend and I arrived, the cloud was dark and heavy because of the looming low pressure area. The waves were big and scary so we were naturally terrified! Hahaha. Nonetheless, with the help of my instructor, Jun, from Michael Surf Shop & Surf Lesson I was able to ride the waves in no time! It was exhilarating! I got worn out quickly though – I stopped the session in just about 30 minutes because my arms cannot push my body up anymore.


I’ll definitely come back next time, but I’ll be stronger. I should really start on conditioning my body next year! By the way, parts of my arms were itchy and swelling after surfing so perhaps there are jellyfish in the area? Just saying.

C. Getting Around

You can rent a motorbike to go around and tour the province yourself or you can rent a tricycle for 800php. I suggest the following itinerary if you want to make the most out of your time without being in a hurry.

Day 1

Rent a tricycle for the day (800php) since the following places are not in the city itself. It would be nice to start around 8am so you can take your time in each place.

Balete tree
Ditumabo falls
Lunch
Ermita hill
Lukso- lukso islet
Day 2

You can ride a tricycle to Sabang beach and then commute back to the plaza after lunch. All the places after Sabang beach are just short walking distance from each other. Tricycle fare per head is 12php.

Sabang beach
Lunch
Baler museum
Dona Aurora house
Baler church
Souvenir shops
You can contact Kuya Edwin if you want a guide. He can also be your game-fac-on and jolly photographer! Look at some of the shots we got with his direction, haha!



Edwin Alino
Tricycle/ Tour guide service
0936 708 1666

D. Sample budget

Manila to Baler – 450php
Baler to Manila – 450php
Accommodation – 700/day/2pax
Tour guide – 800/2pax
Surfing instructor – 350
Tip (optional) - 50
Food – 300 to 500

Your budget can range from 3000 – 4000 including souvenirs and what not depending on your profile as a traveler. I spent around 3500 all in.

Overall I absolutely enjoyed this trip! Baler is such a relaxing place to visit. The people were nice and the food was cheap and good. After trying surfing for the first time, I realized that the outdoors make me feel so alive. It is not just trekking, or swimming, or snorkeling but mostly everything about the outdoors captivate me! Hahaha!

Would you look at that, I just wrote 31 blogs and the year is almost over. The holidays are almost over. Well what can we do? Holidays are really the quickest days of the year. Sadly, we cannot slow it down, but we can take it slow and make it count.

See you around!
Arlet

December 23, 2014

Save Taal from its Locals

Taal volcano must have been a beautiful and scenic place; there must have been some interesting urban legends and narratives surrounding the area, but instead this story tells a different kind. One I do not enjoy to write.


Upon arriving in Olivares, Tagaytay (the entry point from the main road for those who are coming from Manila), different tricycle drivers flock upon our group to sell their service. We settled with 250php.

Once in the registration area, the staff told us that Calauit trail is closed. We wanted Caluit trail because that trail leads to the crater lake, but because it is closed we settled with another trail wherein the last part is just on the viewing deck. That costs us 2000php for the boat ride and the mandatory guide. The boy we had as a guide was adorable, but we didn’t need him as the trail was very straightforward. No one could possibly get lost there – especially with the crowd of tourists and local sellers around.

Our group’s consolation was the bumpy boat ride since we all agreed that it is the most enjoyable leg of the trip – aside from each other’s company of course! Hahaha! Even if it was only a lake, the waves were big enough to rock the boat to our satisfaction. By the way, there are two lakes in Taal, one is the first lake from the boat station to the foot of Taal, and the other is that of Taal’s crater. That’s why it is called as a lake within a lake.

At our boat’s destination, an old man was very nice to put a bench connecting our boat and the dry part of the ground. We obliged to pass by that bench of course, only to find out that walking through that plank will costs us 50php each – also known as the landing fee. We were all taken aback, we could have just jumped from the boat, that’s just mere 5 inches of seawater. I don’t suppose it could hurt us.

Our group was beginning to feel how much of tourist trap this place is, but we were still doing our best to stay courteous and amiable. A group of guys approached us and tried to sell their tour guiding services using the Calauit trail. We probed because we were told earlier that it was closed. They agreed, but they said we can still use it for additional 2000php. We (now annoyed) declined the offer. An old lady then approached us for a 10php registration or environmental fee each – I wasn’t sure anymore. She then tried to persuade us in getting a horse saying that it was impossible for us to get to the top without one. We just laughed and walked on.

We arrived at the viewing deck in no time. It was piece of cake.

Along the way, a lot of horse dung were lying around. There were also locals selling refreshments and horseback riding services for a steep fee. Some were selling souvenirs and some were insisting on taking our photos using our camera. I do not know why. There were also those who were asking if we wanted to play golf in the area – I do not know how either. It was like a market place – complete with filthy wrappers on the ground. I observed that some locals were too persistent (to the point of rudeness) on foreigners. It was almost harassment. A pity this place is.

Upon heading back to Olivares, the only tricycle driver in the station was asking 500php from us. We asked him how come the fare changed from 250php to 500php when it’s just the same road back. He said it was uphill this time. We naturally didn’t buy his bullshit and walked until we found the next tricycle driver whom we managed to negotiate 300php with.

Over all, if the local government and locals themselves do not sort this tourist trap issue, then this place is not at all worth visiting – considering all the other beautiful places in the Philippines. Places with locals who are warm, friendly and genuinely helpful.

Currently, I do not recommend a visit to Taal volcano to anyone. Should the wind change direction though, I would be more than happy to do so.

See you around!
Arlet