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Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Friday, August 23, 2013

Guest Post : Take to the Seas this Summer

If you fancy a holiday that's a little bit different, why not try a cruise holiday this summer? Rather than sticking to one hotel and staying in the same resort for the duration of your holiday, a cruise offers a fantastic opportunity to explore many different  destinations without lifting a finger to get there.

For instance, you could set sail from Southampton and embark on a tour of some of the Med's most beautiful locations, such as the beautiful Balearic Islands and the sunny coast of Spain. Take a flying visit of Gibraltar, explore Portugal's historic city of Lisbon and take in the sights and sounds of friendly Malta.

If you've been there and done that, don't worry. Cruise holidays certainly don't start and finish with the Mediterranean - far from it! Why not discover other parts of Europe by river, and sail along the Danube from Budapest or discover the wine regions 

of Bordeaux? You could experience the magnificent Northern Lights by touring the Norwegian Fjords, or take your cruise holiday to new heights by sailing off to the sun-baked wonders of the Caribbean.

And if you really want to whip up a little adventure on your next holiday, why not fly to Canada's beautiful city of Vancouver and set sail for a week around Alaska? Or for the ultimate adventure, you can now book a round-the-world cruise and spend upwards of three months exploring some of the world's most beautiful and awe-inspiring landmarks.

Phew - how's that for an adventure of a lifetime? It's fair to say that cruising opens up a world of opportunities and thrilling experiences for just about every taste and budget imaginable. The only problem you'll have is deciding which one to choose. 

Your best bet is to search online through a tour operator like Cruise Thomas Cook. Take a look at their cruise page, here - http://www.thomascook.com/cruise/ and use the search panel to discover some of the wonderful itineraries on offer. You can filter the results by various criteria including price, destination and even ship to help you find the cruise holiday that best suits your preferences, as well as your budget.

So, where will your cruise holiday take you this summer?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of Falls & True Friends

Strapped helplessly on a harness being lowered with a pulley in  a 20 feet steel cage, I let out bouts of panicky high-pitched screams. I didn't care that I'm 31 and with muscles  on the wrong places that makes me look that I wouldn't bat an eyelash if a knife was pointed at my throat,  I felt extremely afraid. My heart revolted against my chest and in seconds, my shirt was drenched with sweat. I was about to cry but the supposedly mature side of my head took over and I found myself, releasing several more piercing screams instead. 
Before I realized what was about to go down, I willingly put on a harness
A few meters above me, I hear the sound of sheer enjoyment that came from friends who were fully aware that I suffer from acrophobia. 

My friend Mors
My dear old,  "trust them with my life" kind of hiker friends who told me we were just going on a relaxing road trip and a visit to Pagsanjan Falls, which in my mind, (since I've never gone there), involved lazing on a boat and taking tons of landscape shots and group pictures. 

I managed to calm down before I reached the ground. But of course, I had to release my woes to someone. One of my best friends, Jules, who I've known for more than a decade was the first brave person to go down after me. In a calm, soothing, sisterly voice, she asked if I was okay.  I threw back a betrayed look and several accusing remarks, which only a true friend can tolerate and knows does not come from a hateful place but one that springs from over familiarity.  She understood exactly how I felt and how to appease me, like the true friend that she is. 
My friend Jules
Fear and anger dissipated as soon as the rest of my friends got down. I  soon found myself laughing again with them.  (Thanks to friends who knows how to push the right buttons and how much to push it.) It was also hard to retain ill feelings when you're surrounded by thick beautiful foliage. The weather was cool and I'm thankful for the giant tree trunks that shielded us from the wind.

After a 45-minute walk on a steep, winding set of metal stairs and another round of rappelling, we reached the base of one of the famous tourist spots in the Philippines, Pagsanjan Falls. Around 90 meters tall, it was named after its popular jump-off in the municipality of Pagsanjan. It's actual location however is in Cavinti, another municipality, 18.4 kilometers away via the  scenic Lumban-Caliraya-Cavinti Road.  
Due to the rain, the normally clear waters of Pagsanjan falls turned murky but we enjoyed the place anyway.
Sweaty and a little breathless from the hike, I madly took in our surroundings. The gorge where we emerged revealed enormous boulders along the river and as backdrop, a heavily forested mountain encroached with various species of trees. The cloudy skies highlighted the rich hues of greenery around us. Civilization felt like millions of miles away.

We were quickly ushered into a bamboo raft by local boatmen and joined by a big group of Korean tourists who came in colorful pink and green boats from Pagsanjan. 

The monstrous roar of the water was exhilarating and as we approached the  area under the falls  we all clung to the rope tied over the raft to avoid from being washed away. Everyone screamed with excitement. 

We were led towards a rock formation at the back of the falls where we took turns having our pictures taken by the friendly boatmen. 
At the back of the waterfalls
Everyone got so pumped up, I almost forgot that making our way back would be a little more challenging as we now have to lug all that body weight up on a vertical trail but this time, the scary steep views would be on our backs. It doesn't lessen my fear of falling though. 
Borrowed a boat to have our pictures taken on it. This was the boat used by those coming from Pagsanjan side.
I was happy when our guides decided to use a nature trail (after two more rounds of rappelling and some stairs climbing), supposedly a short cut that led directly to the parking lot. It was steep and slippery but being avid hikers, it was one that we were much more comfortable to tread. 

We capped our quick waterfalls adventure by bathing at Bumbungan Eco Park, a few minutes away from the entrance of Pueblo El Salvador, the primary jump-off to Pagsanjan Falls.
Happy friends. I was grateful to have a pair of Keen's Venice H2 (in blue)which had amazing traction and
very comfy on the soles, perfect for this waterfalls adventure. :)
Here, our need for quiet, relaxing time was fulfilled finally. :) 

Cavinti/Pagsanjan Falls
Barangay Tibatib, Cavinti, Laguna
Mobile Numbers : +63 918 9859-461 / +63 917-2066-110
Landline : 049 523 0012
Rate : 270 Pesos/Head
If entering via Pagsanjan, you need to pay 1,250 Pesos/head inclusive of safety equipment and boat ride
Website : www.cavinti.gov.ph
Facebook : Cavinti Tourism

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hiking Mt. Amuyao, Mountain Province

Located in the cold region of the Cordilleras, up northern Philippines, where striking views of rice and vegetable terraces are abundant is Mt. Amuyao. At a height of 2,702 MASL, it is the country's 10th highest peak.  
At the summit of Mt. Amuyao (photo by Roland Wang)
 However, it's not the altitude that drew me and several friends to this mountain but the prospect of witnessing its sheer beauty and most importantly, spend time with good old hiking buddies, one, was temporarily leaving the country to chase the greener pastures in the Middle East. 

We left Manila by taking the 8:30 PM Cable Tours bus that took us directly to Bontoc after 13 slow hours on the road. 
From Manila, the bus took a 15-minute stop-over at Mt. Polis. Here you can buy snacks and fresh produce at low prices! :)
In Bontoc, we were joined by another friend, Roland, a resident of Bontoc. After taking an early lunch, we took the 1:00 PM jeepney to Barlig. It was a two hour ride, passing over a mix of rough and smooth roads  which made sleeping a little challenging. 

By 3:00 PM, we reached the town of Barlig.  As August 9 was a public holiday, there was no one at the office. The locals we asked refused to accept our payment for the registration as they could not issue an official receipt (mabuhay kayo sa inyong pagiging matapat!) and was told to just list our names at the logbook at the Barlig Municipal Police Station. Since we were the last group to arrive that day, there were no available guides either.
 Barlig Police Station  (the building in blue and white).
3 of our friends had hiked the mountain before and was confident we could reach the summit that day safely so we decided to get on with the ascent by 4:00 PM. Assisted by the friendly villagers, we reached the main trail located at 1,300-1400 MASL. In less than an hour, the trail started slinking upwards. It was quite steep! The oxygen level was quite thin and for us who live in the lowlands, the  altitude change proved to be quite challenging. 

I was more than happy I had minimal load on my back that day. I limited my hydration supply to 2.5 Liters, (1.5 of which was Powerade)and packed some hydrites to avoid dehydration. Even food we carried were minimal, just pita bread, pork and beans for the meals and some chocolates and Clorets as trail food. The heaviest part of my load were  the extra jacket, malong and clothes for protection against the cold.
Sunset at the trail. We were still more than an hour away from the summit at this point
Despite the minimal load and the non-technical trail, since it's like hiking a flight of natural stairs all the way to the summit, it wasn't as easy as what I read about. What kept me entertained all throughout the trail were the nice trees along the way and the view of the sunset with clouds hovering mountain peaks. 

By 8:00 PM,  after four hours of trying to catch our breath, clinging over rocks and tree branches,  we finally reached the summit of Mt. Amuyao where  relay stations of local tv networks are located. The bunker where we planned to spend the night was packed with people so we went outside, turned off our headlamps and changed into dryer clothes in the dark. 

Since we were all cold and tired, we didn't get to appreciate the view at the summit until the next morning. We were up by 1:30 AM hoping to start early for a traverse to Batad in Ifugao but it was raining so hard, we knew we couldn't make it back  and fulfill our ambitious plan to catch an afternoon bus back to Manila. 

The traverse trail to Batad, according to those who have seen it is breathtaking. It passes around several rice terraces and is reputed as one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the country. Worthy to mention is that the cluster of rice terraces in Batad, where the hike terminates, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Enticing as the trail was and fully aware that it wasn't going to be easy, we decided to set the traverse another time as it was vital for some of us to board a bus back to Manila that same day. 

When the rain finally stopped, it was almost 6:00 AM. Thankfully, sun came out, affording us with an awesome view at the summit with fluffy clouds floating above mountain peaks. Despite the temperature drop which was shocking to us lowlanders, we couldn't control the childlike smiles on our faces with all the beauty that surrounded us.

We made it back down to Barlig after another four hours using the same route we came up, catching the 11:00 AM jeepney to Bontoc. There, we enjoyed generous serving size of meals  and cups of coffee at Goldfish cafe, a vibrant new cafe with orange decors, a few blocks from the Cable Tours office. 

Fresh and clean after our overnight climb! Photo taken at Goldfish Cafe. 
Shout out to my loveable BFFEEE's Jules, Mors, Tristan and friends Kirk and Roland. Thanks for this wonderful adventure. Til the next one! :) 

Hiking Notes:  
Bus from Manila to Bontoc (via Cable tours) - departs at 8:30 PM from their terminal along E. Rod. Fare is 650 Pesos, one way (Travel time : 12-14 hours). Reserve your seats by contacting +63 9185216790. They don't sell tickets in advance. Just reserve your seat. Map to bus terminal here.  Just a heads up that Cable Tours bus is a little clunky. Some hikers opt to take a bus from Manila to Banaue, then from Banaue, hire or take a public jeep to Barlig. 
From Bontoc, there's an 11:00 AM bus and 1:30 PM jeep to Barlig (80 Pesos). (Travel time : 2 hours)
At Barlig, register at the police station and pay the applicable fees:
Registration fee - 50 Pesos
Guide Fee:
1 Guide per 5 climbers
Day hike = 1,000
Overnight = 1,500/day

Traverse = 1,500/day
Bus from Bontoc to Manila is via Cable Tours - trip is at 3:00 PM (Travel Time : 12 hours, Fare : 650 Pesos/head)
Contacts: (If doing the traverse to Batad)
Jane Buyao, chairperson of the Banaue Tourism Council at +63 919 614 22 66 (mobile)
Juliet Mateo, information officer, at (+63 74)38 64 010 (landline).

Other Useful Blogs :

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Antipolo : Pinto Art Museum

My interest with paintings, particularly realist styles, started when I was younger, but it's a skill that has eluded me.  I couldn't draw, let alone use a paint brush (except to grill hotdogs :P) even if a kiss from Cristiano Ronaldo was at stake. 

Thank God for galleries and museums that allow me to ogle at art! 

My hiking buddies ditched their backpacks and trekking shoes for a day to appreciate  art

Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo  sits on a 1.2 hectare property housing contemporary works of local artists. Aside from its massive collection of paintings and sculptures, it also has several gardens, surrounded by manicured lawns, various tree species (the tree hugger side of me was elated!) and plants! It's a must visit for both art and nature lovers.
Here's one of my favorites, a sculpture of a pregnant lady displayed in one of the gardens

Its halls are enormous and very ideal for huge groups. We were told that they also accept pre-nup pictorials and event reservations. 

My friends and I bounced lively around the place, appreciating practically every detail about the place from the paintings on the walls to its bathroom doors.  I was especially enamored with one of their staff (and I'm sorry I forgot his name) who toured us around the place and identified all the plants and trees I asked about. If I'm not mistaken, he's their resident botanist or a landscape architect, perhaps a part owner? I wasn't paying attention when the topic came up because I was staring at an Alibagbag tree with flirtatious, twinkling eyes. :P I adore its heart-shape leaves!
Mediterranean-inspired architecture :)

We spent about three hours inside the museum before we felt tired and even so, we have not covered the entire place! We had lunch at Sira-Ulo cafe located inside the museum grounds but the prices were a bit too steep for a thrifty foodie such as myself to enjoy a hefty meal (around 295 Pesos for a small plate of pasta and 595 Pesos for set meals) . I did sent an email about it and got a very congenial response. Hope they increase the serving size. :) 

I'm willing to make a return trip though on a full stomach and armed with some snacks. :)

Pinto Art Museum 
Silangan Gardens, 1 Sierra Madre Heights, Grandheights, Antipolo City.
Business Hours : Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Contact Number : +(632)697-1015 
Email : pintoartmusem@yahoo.com

Entrance Fee :
Student- Php 100
Senior- Php 120
Adult - Php 150

How to get to Pinto Art Museum : 

Want to read more about it? Do check out this nice post from Biyaherong Barat  :) 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mt. Natib Day Hike Traverse

Wide trails at the start of our hike
Over the weekend, I reunited with hiker friends Gideon, Ivan Lakwatsero, Arisse and Arvin for my first ever ascent up Mt. Natib in Bataan.  We boarded the 1:30 AM bus from Genesis terminal along EDSA-Cubao and arrived at the waiting shed in Orani after 2.5 hours.

Since we came too early, we were picked up by a hired tricycle driver (60 Pesos/head, 5 people in one trike).  Cold air blasted everywhere as we took the 30-minute uphill trike ride to Barangay Tala.

 After meeting with our guide Wilnor, and registering (30 Pesos/head) at the barangay hall, we started hiking at 5:08 AM. It was a little dark but we didn't need headlamps, dawn was about to break in a few minutes.

The trail started off in a rocky wide road where trees where abundant on the left side and birds gleefully chirping away, obscured by thick foliage.  As weather has not been good the past couple of days around Manila and  several provinces, we were only too glad that the sky was clear. As the sun rose from the sky, we were greeted by views of the mountains of Zambales on our right side. 

The happy gang :P  (L-R) : Arisse, Gideon, Ivan & Arvin :) 
In 30 minutes, we arrived at the gate that took us further up the mountain.  Trail was still even and I was grateful for a very easy start. Soon, we were hiking on a rocky trail, brushing on weeds and shrubs.

Classified by PHIVOLCS as a potentially active volcano, you can find lots of big rocks & sand and thick flora along trail. I felt like I was back in Mt. Hibok-hibok, a volcano in Camiguin which I hiked 3 months ago (blog here).

Wild and pretty :)
The notoriously steep trail to the summit came in a few hours later. I practically crawled my way to the top, using all four limbs on some parts just to get through. I was breathless as we emerged to the opening that led to the peak but I managed a huge smile as I met with the rest of the team who arrived earlier. Fog was beginning to encroach our surroundings but we were blessed with a view for a few minutes, allowing us to see Mt. Samat, Mt. Morong and other nearby mountains.
Group shot at the summit 
I checked for limatik bites this mountain is oh so popular for and saw I only had one on my arm. I struggled so hard with the assault to the peak, I didn't even notice it. While the blood gushing from my arm looks grotesque, it doesn't hurt at all. I had to put a bandage over it as the bleeding didn't stop for hours.

We left the summit after 30 minutes. The trail down was easier as I no longer have to lift my entire body up but the cliffs were scary. We had to slow down to avoid the slippery mud and enormous wet rocks. In under an hour, we reached the junction that marked the start of our long, arduous journey to Morong.

One of the two roped segments of the trail to the summit
The traverse trail  wasn't so bad but it was too long, around 7 hours long!  Occasionally steep on some sections, we had to cross several sections of Morong river about 8 times. 

Ivan summoning his ninja powers to get him to the other side :P
It's definitely one heck of a day hike but one that's worth the agony. I was enamored with what we saw, twisted branches of  giant trees that seemed to stretch towards the sky, ferns growing at the side of the trail, fruits scattered everywhere.  It's  a tree lover and plant enthusiast paradise!  I felt like I was in a fairytale, staring at grandiose creations rising from the ground. :)

Our last rest stop was at Sitio Kanawan, an Aeta community where we were received warmly by the people at the barangay. They seemed astonished that we came all the way from Orani that same day. We were only too happy to have completed it without incurring any serious injuries.  We bought cold Pop Colas which we finished off instantly. The best! :P
As we crossed the hanging bridge that marked the end of our journey, I couldn't help but feel giddy. Iwas here 12 years ago, (a newbie in our college outdoor club), trembling at the first step as I was extremely afraid of heights. I'm still acrophobic but I'm glad I made it halfway to the bridge before I started trembling again. Improving! Lol!

Thanks to Ivan for organizing this and to the rest of the team, (Gid, Arisse & Arvin)  for this wonderful adventure! :)

More photos from our hike here.

Hiking Notes :
Contact person : +639075681785 – Mr. Darwin Ganado, DENR (for guide assignments and reservations
Rate : 1,000 Pesos – One way; Traverse - 2,000 Pesos
Genesis Liner bus to Orani, Bataan (187 pesos; 2.5 hours), Cubao Terminal. First trip is at 1:30 AM but be there by 1:00 AM. You can also board at the Genesis terminal in Pasay.
Going back to Manila, we took the 8:30 PM bus from Victory Liner, Olongapo (200+ Pesos)

Traverse Itinerary is posted at Gid's blog at Pinoy Mountaineer. For timely updates, like his the page on Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/pinoymountaineer | Twitter : @gideonlasco, mine is @jovialwanderer

Friday, August 2, 2013

Post Race Dispatch : Teva Trail Challenge 2013 + Race Results

The Teva Trail Challenge held last July 28, 2013 at Eartheaven in San Mateo, Rizal was by far, the muddiest, technically challenging but most fun non-ultra race course I've ever joined.

Gun Start at 6:00 AM. Both division started at the same time. (Photo from R.O.X. Philippines)
In this promotional outdoor activity by the friendly folks at Teva, an outdoor footwear brand,  participants had to run on slippery, steep terrain and pass through several obstacle courses.

I joined the 10K division as part of the bloggers team, reuniting with blogger friends Dom, CJ & Dhenz, even met a couple of smiley new ones too, Louie, Cheryl  and Thirdy.

Old and new-found friends :) 
First part was a kilometer of road which towards the end of the stretch revealed views of Makati, Ortigas and Pasig. 

Then came the muddy trails where several ropes were installed to protect the runners. I felt bad for those who came in road running shoes, the trail was too slippery for them. The route became a little congested too on some parts as it was obvious that some of those who joined have never been in a forest trail and had difficulty positioning their foot. Still, I never heard anyone complain. Everyone was having fun despite the challenging terrain, at least, it's true for most of the people I came across .  :)

First obstacle was to climb a wall using a rope ladder.  It’s probably just fifteen feet high, but with my fear of heights, I couldn't help but feel nervous as I made my way up. 

Photo from R.O.X. FB Page
The second obstacle was the coolest. Cutting the route was a mud pit which we had to cross by selecting one of the 3 options to get to the other side, either via the monkey bridge, a rope bridge or a rope swing

I chose the funnest option which was  the rope swing. I thought it would be an easy challenge. Swinging as hard as I can, I reached the middle portion of the mud pit, felt my hands slipped from the rope and crashed into the murky water. FAIL! It was fun though. I laughed so hard as I struggled to regain my composure. The photographers laughed with me too. :P I must have looked so silly with my game face on and mud all over me.  :P

This was the last shot I took with my camera before I fell into the mud pit. :P
Muddy but happy :) . Congrats Henry and Melo for completing the course! (Photo from R.O.X. Philippines)
Then, we had to go under a bridge on the river towards the falls. I'm not very fond of trails leading to a waterfall because it tends to be too rocky and slippery. Still, water cascading down the boulders was a pretty sight.  Lots of marshals were along this portion of the route as it seemed to be the most dangerous part. 

The rest of the way involved serious uphills leading to a peak that had a gorgeous view showing some portions of Rizal.  I wished my camera was still working when we passed it. 

A few minutes before we crossed the finish line, we had to undergo one final challenge using a rope swing to get to the other side. Again, I fell into a mud pit. This time,  mud clung everywhere and my friend and I finished the course, dirty but proud. 

I clocked in at 3:13, the slowest finish I've ever had in a 10K trail running event but it's one that I am very much happy about. The obstacle courses and  the route itself was a reward on its own and just completing the entire thing was an achievement. Of course, the loot bags, raffles, interactive product booths promoting Teva's latest footwear models were a much-appreciated plus. :)

Women's TevaSphere Speed, my footwear during the run. It's very light and suited for multi-adventures.  

Congratulations to all the organizers and participants! :)

Race Results here.

Check out Running Pinoy's blog about his experience, Extreme Fun at Teva Trail Challenge .

The event was sponsored by The Legend Villas, Timbuk2, R.O.X., Res Toe Run, Crystal Clear, Choco Boom, Magic Flakes, Gatorade, Sony, Walkman and Eartheaven. Media Partners: The Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, Sports Digest Magazine, Dispatch Magazine, Gala Magazine, and WhenInManila.com

Thanks to Ian of the Primer Group of Companies (Teva's distributor here in the Philippines) for the invite. :) 

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