a journal on hiking and traveling around the Philippines

Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - The Donsol Encounter

A  man in his late 20's sat confidently on a chair across our table. He had an imposing burly body with a bare chest obscured with dark hair. His deep, gentle eyes contrasted with his dangerous appeal. It met with mine for a millisecond. My senses roared. I gulped and looked down. It's unbelievable, just a few steps away  is  a human delicacy to be devoured by the privileged few (or not :P). Me and my travel bud, a good friend from college, ignored him. Though loquacious when surrounded with girlfriends and a very few male brotherly buddies, at the presence of a  flaming demigod, we struggled at vocal communication. 

We  actually met the guy from the night before. Me and my travel bud had just arrived at the resort, tired from spending half a day of roaming the ocean for a chance to swim with the whalesharks. It had been a cloudy day and the whale sharks did not surface at the shores of Donsol, Sorsogon. 

Smiles blare despite the gloomy weather
Just when we had concluded that we were unlucky that day, this heavily tanned stranger, with a presence as daunting as the whale sharks, appeared a few steps from our room. We were both surprised as it seemed like he just appeared from the bushes. "What are you doing here?!", we exclaimed in small voices as though our ages were reduced to half. " I wuz waiting for you..." , his words spurted with a French accent and oozed with sex appeal and promise. (and I swear the last six words were contributed by my friend Jules.:P) 

I failed to recall what other small talk transpired after that line, but as soon as he was off our sights, we locked our door and me and my friend started giggling like we were being tickled. What a hottie! 

We then continued the rest of the night with our usual girl talk and bouts of raucous laughter,  completely forgetting that our room was adjoined to another separated by thin, cogon walls. A few minutes later, we heard someone rambling from the other side of the wall. Oopsy, looks like our neighbor  got disturbed.  Our mouths froze in place waiting for more ranting from next door. "Girls, I can hear you!". Our heads ignited with recognition. It was the French guy! He then started chatting and  asked if we wanted to go out and check out the fireflies tour. The undeveloped woman inside of us refused. Fireflies with a hot guy in a small town?! That's just too much heat for a night!  

Our room at Amor Farm Beach Resort

Four years later, whenever me and my friend reminisce about our first backpacking trip together, the memories of that encounter was still something that had the power to shove us back to our shy days and giggle like little girls. 

Travel Notes : 
Donsol Travel Information - Sorsogon Tourism 
Amor Farm Beach Resort - Facebook Page 
What I love about Amor Farm : It has an enormous flower garden overlooking the shore. I chose it mainly because it had great reviews from Trip Advisor and well regarded for its great food and awesome service. I'd love to come back here! :) 


All photos courtesy of my friend Jules. Thanks bffeee!!!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tribute Thursday - Gay, Pinay Travel Junkie

Photo Credit : Gay in Famy, Laguna
I remember the late 90's vividly despite the phases of my life that are not worthy to be reminisced because it was also during that time that I was introduced to one of my many passions -  hiking. I had just joined our college outdoor club where majority of its members were guys from my block. I instantly clicked with another girl named Jules, one of its founders. 

Together with the rest of the gang, we hanged out frequently for training and out of town hikes.  For some time, we were the two main damsels of the club, well, damsels in huge backpacks and trekking shoes. :P 

A few months later, a new girl joined the club, tan, slender and has a commotion-inducing sex appeal. She throws off irresistible jokes that you'd have to be extremely dense or dim-witted  not to erupt with laughter.  All the guys  loved her. She laughs like crazy too but for some reason, hers sounded whimsical. Whenever I laugh like she does, I get mistaken for an animal. To top it all, she has gorgeous legs, long, silky jet black hair that rivals that of Pocahontas' and a  striking face to match the personality. I heard she's smart too. Instantly, I hated her. 

I stuck with my main bud and we barely talked to her up until we graduated from college. (Insecure lang :P) 

Four years after,  we got together with the  old gang from college and we hiked Mt. Daguldol in Batangas.  Gay was my hiking buddy on our way down the mountain. I have long forgotten the confidence issues from my teenage years and together we strolled like we were out in a mall,  chatting about what we wanted out of life and love.

Summit
I remembered she kept raving about Sagada and Batanes. Traveling to far-flung places where everyone's a stranger was quite an eccentric idea for me. Back then,  the only thing that mattered in my life were work, mountains and my one great love - football. But she spoke with such passion about the places she's been that I became so curious that I decided to try it for myself. 

2007, I flew to Cebu for my first solo backpacking trip, had a thrilling experience  and the course of my life changed. Traveling occupied my thoughts, it inspired me strive harder in whatever I was doing, talking to strangers became second nature and I got to see views I never knew existed out of books. 

Thank you Gay for sharing the wonders of traveling!

Currently, she's in Brazil, on her 247th day of traveling around the world  together with her baby girl Luna and hubby Sherv...and ooh, she still looks as gorgeous as does back in college. Read about her travels on  her blog - Pinay Travel Junkie     or follow her on Twitter - nomadwifey. She has a Facebook page too, link here.

Photo Credit : Gay (Thanks for letting me grab whatever I wanted. :P)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Freaky Falls Tuesday - Zambia

Whoa, it's Tuesday already?! Yay, this week is zooming by quickly. :)  Last week was insane at work. I was stressed - had bouts of headache and  felt hungry all the time so over the weekend, I just took it easy, slept tons and wrote a piece for my book. I am still taking it easy this week, well, at least until the workload comes crashing down on me again. :P  

So while I am in a great mood, let me share with you a  vacation video I found on You Tube. It features Devil's Falls in Zambia. Tours are offered by local guides  to bathe in a natural rock pool on top of Victoria Falls. It's a 100 meter drop from here to the gorge  and that is crazy cool! Happy viewing. :) 


For more information on Victoria Falls, visit Zambia Tourism

Friday, February 17, 2012

San Mateo Bliss

Why do I do this?! It was the nth time I had asked that to myself, being someone who's into spontaneous and sometimes bizarre adventures. The rest of the group run ahead of me by several meters and I lagged behind like a struggling little puppy trying to keep up with its long-legged master who's training for the Ironman.

I sweat, my belly jiggled frivolously inside my shirt and my breath came at patchy intervals. I looked behind with my head towards the horizon and realized that it was worth it. Views of Makati and Ortigas can be seen from where I stopped. On ordinary days, these buildings up close are far from magnificent. From a huge distance, they are minute and the smog surrounding its area turns the scene into a surreal vision, like a lost paradise.

It was a Saturday morning, supposedly an ideal day for lounging and doing nothing but I woke up before sunrise to join a friend and several new found, very fit friends from a running circle.


We were approaching the steepest part of the road popularly known as the shotgun trail (origin of its name, I am not certain). This area is in San Mateo, Rizal, which sounds quite remote for someone who doesn't really go around the city that much. My runner friend has fallen in love with the place, frequently talked about it as if it was heaven, less than an hour outside of Quezon City. Naturally, I got curious and when she mentioned that there's also a great place for breakfast near the area, the unstoppable foodie in me had vowed to run several kilometers on a perfectly sunny weekend just to get there.

The amazing thing about steep trails is that at the very top, you are rewarded with sceneries that makes up for all that lost body fluids.


From the unforgiving, "uphell", cemented road, we approached the terrains I am so accustomed to - uneven and slightly muddy. This part, I really loved.




Two hours after, came the best part and the major reason I agreed to go - meal at The Breakfast Club.

How can I not run several kilometers with promises of a wonderfully made SPAMSILOG and a glass of ice cold Gatorade?!




The most exigent thing about the experience was we had to walk back to our friend's car exiting via Timberland Heights, which felt like forever under the heat of the sun. :(

We stretched and recharged with cold drinks after the exhausting run. Surge of body pains has started but as with previous physical trysts, the views and the hyperactive company I was with were worth it.


The Breakfast Club 
Pestano Farm Road
Phillip's Sanctuary
Sto. Palinlingan, Antipolo
Business Hours : Weekends and holidays from 7:00 AM -1:00 PM
Tel: +63  (02)707-8877; 219-1975
Website : The Breakfast Club
Facebook Page : Here

Monday, February 13, 2012

One for the Books - A Lazy Noon Hike

Up until the night before our departure, I felt uncertain about our decision to hike Mt. Kalisungan. Nothing against this mountain really. I just wasn't in the mood for a new destination. With stress in my system, I craved for a familiar place that reminds me of happy thoughts.

One of such is Mt. Batulao. Views of its  rugged peaks and the cold mountain breeze that typifies beloved Tagaytay City, 20 minutes away from the jump-off are great reasons to come back. It was also a place I frequented with college friends to train for major climbs. That's more than a decade ago. Ah, time really flies and snippets of school life flash in my head as though it was only yesterday. :P

A few hours before I met with Jules, an old friend who's a skyrunning addict and equally loves outrageous mountain adventures, we agreed to deviate from the plan and go to Mt. Batulao instead. (Ooh, here's Jules' post on her Mt. Apo day hike last year.)

And so we both thought we were climbing that day.

"Why are we doing this again?", I asked my friend for the nth time that morning. I  felt slightly dehydrated, my hands started to bloat, my head hurts from the heat and to top the experience, my face was accumulating dust from all the passing vehicles that whizzed by the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway. It was nearing 12:00 PM and we haven't had a decent rest. 

More than an hour has passed since we decided to walk from Jollibee at Mendez Crossing to Evercrest in Nasugbu so we can burn the hefty lunch we had just consumed. Neither one of us could recall how far we were from the jump-off but we were determined to get there on foot.


Since we started walking down the highway, we had been receiving curious stares from by-standers and motorists. It was a rather eye-catching site for visitors to be walking on this part as most travelers were on wheels.



During our walk, we met some friendly locals who wondered why the heck we were walking aimlessly around town. Funny, we were both wondering the same thing. 

Taal Lake from afar


10.5 KM later, we stopped at a blue waiting shed to rest. There was a trail behind it which we didn't bother checking out. On the other side is an area side abundant with sunflowers. Across the road, we can see trees that had nicely shaped branches. A few meters away, we can see the final curve to Evercrest, Batulao's jump-off. We happily slumped on the bench and continued our girl talk. We started to snack on what was supposed to be our trail food.  


Wind continued to blew. After about an hour, we impulsively agreed on a ridiculous idea   "Let's just go back to Manila and eat at The Old Spaghetti House!". And just like that, we hailed a bus and traveled back. Inside the bus,  we shook our heads and laughed at ourselves on what we just did. 

We have our crazy days where we hike until we are close to fainting and we have our extra crazier days where we just go anywhere, hike and stop, just because we feel like stopping. It was a testament of our appreciation and passion for nature, be it a breathtaking scenery or as simple as wild flowers growing at the side of the road. Once again, we were reminded that it's not always about the place, but the nice people you meet and  friends who put up with your silly ideas that make up an amazing adventure. :)


*Some photos are courtesy of Jules. Follow her adventures on Facebook or through her blog at The Trail Running Mistress

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Destination Dining - Cafes Around the Philippines (Part 1)

Places that allow me to leisurely enjoy a meal in a laid-back atmosphere while sipping an aromatic brew of coffee are a haven for me. Quaint cafes that display local ingenuity through its interiors are a destination itself and fortunately for coffee addicts, the must-try list just gets longer!

Here are some of my great finds around the Philippines - selected for the quality of food and drinks, service, value for your money, without sacrificing the aesthetics.

1. Puerto Princessa, Palawan - Itoy's Coffee Haus
Established in 2005, Itoy's  is the answer to your coffee cravings while basking on the beaches and frolicking around the landscapes of Palawan.  Me and a friend, stumbled on this place, tired and groggy - the effects of an intense two-day tour of Palawan. The intimate space, coffee and pastries instantly picked up our mood before going off for a city tour.    

Trivia Time! The cafe's name was derived from the nickname of the proprietress' father - Benito Jason Marcelo Jr..It's success paved way for a second branch at Barangay San Pedro, also within Puerto Princessa City. Aside from coffee and pastries, pasta and rice meals are also served.
Address : Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippine
Website : Itoy's Coffee House

Photo Courtesy of Olay Rullan

2. Butuan City - True Brew Gourmet Coffee Shop
Situated along a major road and a great place for meeting business contacts or dear old friends.  It's open from lunch time to midnight and unlike most cafes, waiters come to your table to get your order. Its Mango fizz and sandwiches must be tried!  
Address : Acerado Bldg., J.C. Aquino Avenue,Butuan City


3. Malaybalay City, Bukidnon - Bukidnon Brew
Great coffee that is served 1/3 of the price from  Manila's coffee shops would top my list any time! I was brought here for a late business meeting and was amazed with the wood furnishings. Unlike most cafes, its area  is  spacious, a good few feet from the next table and made me feel like I'm in a friend's library at home. 

Unfortunately, I was unable to take any photos but I placed their Facebook link so you can drop by their page.  Coffee prices astonishingly start at 35 Pesos. 
Address : 51 Bonifacio Drive, Malaybalay City
Facebook Page : Bukidnon Brew

4.  Paete, Laguna - Kape Kesada
Enjoy a cup or two of kapeng Barako while ogling at paintings of local artists. It's a one room gallery established in 2004, by art enthusiast Dr. Nilo Valdecantos.

A visit to Kape Kesada can be mixed with a walking tour around town where you can find the decades old St. James the Apostle Church (rebuilt 1939), hike up Tatlong Krus for a view of Laguna de Bay and splash around at Matabungka Falls. 
Business Hours : Sunday-Friday - 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Address : Quesada Street (near the Paete Church).


5.  BenCab Museum, Baguio City - Cafe Sabel
Owned by award-winning national artist, Mr.  Benedicto Cabrera, BenCab Museum houses not only his works but also those of promising local artists.  Located inside its premises is Cafe Sabel which was named after a subject photographed and sketch in 1965. The cafe overlooks a duck pond, the mountains and a garden. This place is ideal for quiet conversations or solitary sessions. I can imagine myself staying here writing for hours!  
Address : Km. 6, Asin Road, Baguio City
Website : BenCab Museum
Museum Entrance Fee : 100 Pesos
Business Hours : Open daily except Mondays, Christmas Day & New Year’s Day
from 9:00am to 6:00pm (last entry at 5:30pm).

House blend Iced Tea and Pancakes with Bacon

6. Makati City - The Room Upstairs 
As with a previous cafe find, I was invited here for a business meeting. After selecting a seat and absorbing its chic interiors, I felt that the place seemed too cozy for a meeting. My first thought was that it would be an amazing venue for a date and instantly, my mind conjured episodes of romantic trysts. It was hard to focus on anything serious and I found myself occasionally drifting from the conversation to entertain my so-called "hopeless romantic fantasies".  

When the coffee and the moist chocolate cake arrived, I shook myself back to reality and reclaimed focus to discuss about our project.  I swore to myself that I must come back here with friends or maybe a lover, hahaha! 
Address :  2nd Floor LRI Business Plaza, 210 N. Garcia St. (Formerly Reposo Street), Bel-Air,Makati City
Website : The Room Upstairs
Facebook Page : Here

 Le menu. Photo Source : The Room Upstairs Website

Last one on my list digress from the definition of a  cafe and is not originally set-up as a business venture, but it's a place where you get to sit down and chat over coffee. The most spectacular detail of all is that  coffee here is served for free, and and and and I have to repeat it one more time, coffee here is served for free! No food here but you can bring your own and share it with new found friends.

7. Mt. Manabu, Batangas City - Kape at Mang Pirying's Hut
Mang Pirying's hut, located 30 minutes from the summit is a favorite stopover for Filipino mountaineers. 

Here, the homeowner, Mang Pirying or a relative will genuinely welcome you and offer you a strong brew of Kapeng Barako. You are not obliged to pay but as a polite guest, it is customary to at least give something in return. Ground coffee is sold at 20 Pesos/good for 6 cups. 
Address : Brgy. Sta Cruz, Sto. Tomas, Batangas

Interested to hike this mountain? It's the only way you can taste Mang Pirying's coffee! :P Itinerary available at Pinoy Mountaineer


Coffee and comfort food served by the friendliest people are among the reasons why I cannot think of a better place to live anywhere else but in the Philippines. 

I am pretty sure I missed a lot so please feel free to recommend your favorite cafes - here or overseas,  and I will definitely bend over backwards to get there and come up with a Part 2! :)  


Friday, February 3, 2012

For the Love of Hiking - 2 Days, 6 Peaks in Southern Luzon

“We climbed 'cause it's fun. And mainly it was fun. That's all we ever did.” A dialogue from a documentary movie, Touching the Void echoed exactly what I felt when I agreed to join a crazy hiking trip organized by a friend - Ceejay Custodio, co-founder of Green Mountain Tribe (GMT). 

The plan was to get to 6 peaks in a span of one weekend which meant covering 3 peaks in a day. While it sounds outrageous, what appealed to me was that I get to see several mountains in 48 hours and I didn't even have to file for a leave! :)  

Day 1 - Mt. Malipunyo, Biak na Bundok and Mt. Manabu
Our mountain tryst began at 5:00 AM from the Mt. Malipunyo jump-off in Barangay Talisay in Lipa, Batangas. 

With me and Ceejay were 7 other new found friends, an energetic bunch comprised of both tenured and new mountaineers from everywhere. Sun was still out and light from our headlamps illuminated the road. Taking the lead was our chatty guide, Kuya Mario. Our "support crew" of two stayed behind. They're a lovely couple who treated us like their own children and took care of our food and transportation.

First hour of the hike was easy as most of trail was relatively flat though a bit rocky. Pace was a tad quicker than my usual frolicking pace but I tried my best to keep up - that or get left behind in the dark. Not an option. :P

Our first stop over was in a small river and from there, trail started slinking upwards to a deeper portion of the forest. Soon enough, we had to make frequent stops to catch our breath.


After two more hours, we reached the summit of Mt. Malipunyo which humbly soars at a height of 1,005 MASL. No breathtaking views welcomed us as it was foggy, cold and mildly raining when we got there. We didn't have time to savor our first peak because we were all busy trying to keep warm. The winds blew mercilessly but no one whined. We were all happy to have completed it. :P


Our next peak was the hill, Biak na Bundok. To get here, we had to pass by the slopes of Mt. Susong Dalaga. Here I saw the best view for the entire trip. I've never been here and was surprised to see a 360 view where nearby mountains of Manabu, Makiling and more can be seen. 



Last stop for the day was Mt. Manabu. We took a dense, unpopular trail where we incurred scratches from thorny shrubs and wild grasses.

At Mang Pirying's hut located 20-30 minutes from the campsite, free Kapeng Barako is served to hikers who are willing to stop a bit and chat. Here they sell ground (20 pesos/6 tbsps.) and souvenir shirts.

Best coffee break!
Descending from the summit
After a late second lunch, we traveled via hired jeep to Ternate, Cavite, a 3-hour travel from Sto. Tomas, Batangas. 

That night, after a filling dinner and socials, we slept at cold wooden benches at the DENR, the primary registration area for climbers going to Pico De Loro, our fourth peak. (Bawal malikot matulog!:P)


Day 2 - Pico De Loro Traverse to Nasugbu, Mt. Talamitam and Mt. Batulao

On our final day - everyone woke up with body pains everywhere and it took a warm breakfast and cups of kapeng Barako before everyone got ready. 

Off to our fourth peak!

Pico de Loro is frequented by mountaineers on a weekend. A guide is not necessary but you have to be very mindful of trail signs situated along the forks. One can easily get lost and land in either Maragondon or Nasugbu if a wrong turn is made.

The Parrot's Beak, Pico de Loro's trademark
Views of the South China Sea and the rest Mt. Palay-Palay mountain range at the summit
From the summit, we made our way to our exit point, the almost desserted Ternate-Nasugbu Highway. On the cement, we sat and ate our lunch - hot bulalo on a hot day with plenty of rice and soy sauce.


Last two peaks!

At this point, our group of 9 had dwindled to 6 due to either fatigue or severe hang-over from the previous evening's socials. :P 

Last time I remembered, Mt. Talamitam was an easy hike but this time, it was a bit challenging with the sore legs and the hot sun as most parts do not have much coverage. We found ourselves stopping every now and then for a bit of shade under the trees. The exhaustion was starting to get to us but we managed to laugh our way through it.



On our last mountain, what was normally an easy trail became extra grueling and felt my legs had turned to rock. It was past 6:00 PM when we started and soon, the area became dark. Silhouette of Batulao's numerous jagged peaks, city lights from afar and of the campsites were our views. 

Wind was so strong at the summit where we spent less than 30 minutes. It was too cold! Below's our group shot - obviously, too tired to get a good one. :P


It was about 9:00 PM when we got back to the jump-off and everyone was just exhausted and famished. No one had the energy for wild hoorays but we were all happy that we've completed it. 

We reached Alabang at almost 1:00 am with no decent bath and  no heavy meal which I've been envisioning since we got down from Batulao,  but despite all that, I went home, smiling like a lovesick fool. The time I spent enjoying the mountains and the entertaining company made up for the pain, scratches and sore muscles. :) 

"Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints, Kill nothing but time."

Our Itinerary is posted at the Green Mountain Tribe website: Click here

Expenses :
9,900 Pesos - for 9 People which included round trip jeepney rental from Alabang, 1 breakfast, 2 lunches and 1 dinner, all registration fees, guide fee for Mt. Malipunyo to Manabu. It's a pretty good deal! :)

Logistics:
Kuya Rey - +63-0916-3432426 - Jeepney rental
Mario - +63-998-409-4899 - guide for Mt. Malipunyo to Manabu (updated Sept. 2016)


*Thanks to Ceejay for some of the photos! :)

I also wrote about this adventure via Rappler. Check it out here. :)

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