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Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Top Events in Europe Worth Traveling for This Year

Source : Flickr
The year has started with a bang and settled to a fizz, and now you are starting to think about what events and marvels will unfurl. Europe has always had a lot to offer travelers, with its sandy shores, historic castles and walled cities, and spectacular scenery. Yet a lot of Europe’s best offers take place only once a year, or even less. From festivals to sporting events to more tomatoes than you can imagine, here are the top events to attend.

This year marks the 19th series of the Six Nations Championship, or the 124th edition if you include the tournament’s past iterations. Defending champions England are back, along with France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The action gets started on February 3rd at the Millennium Stadium where Wales will face Scotland. The competition continues until March 17th, so you have quite a few chances to watch the top teams in Europe battle it out. Take a look at the Six Nations predictions and odds before the tournament starts to get a feel for the favorites.

Next on the calendar is the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, from the February 3-26. Copenhagen is Europe’s jazz capital, and this event is the largest of its kind, so you can expect to see raw talent and plenty of spectacle along with 10 days of music spread across 100 venues — cafes, concert halls, open-air stages and street performances will host 1,000+ concerts!

If dance music is more your style, then head to one of Europe’s many EDM festivals. Ultra Music Festival is a great choice if you want to party with thousands of other revelers in stadiums, beaches and boats. Set on the beautiful shores of Croatia, previous acts include the Chemical Brothers and Deadmau5. The festival takes place from June 14-16. Tickets are pricey and difficult to get a hold of, so you could also consider one of Europe’s many other festival offerings.

You could take a little rest and sunbathing time in July because August is a busy month across Europe, and one of the best times to catch the most cultural events.

Notting Hill Carnival is held on the August bank holiday in London (W11 postcode) and has been a hotbed Afro-Caribbean culture and expression since 1946. Expect bright colors, sounds, costumes and plenty of street parties to get the heart pumping. Over in Zurich, a different kind of carnival takes place on August 11th. Known as the “Street Parade,” this is the biggest techno march in the world with a 2.4km stomping ground and 100’s of parties. Meanwhile, over in the small town of Bunol in Spain, on the last Wednesday in August, thousands of people hurl tomatoes at each other at “La Tomatina” for a bit of messy fun!

You may think that the year of festivities was nearing the end after August, but as the long, dark winters draw closer, don’t get your slippers on just yet. The end of September and start of October are the time for “Oktoberfest,” a massive event with drinks, brass bands, costumes, parades, contests and an all-out display of Bavarian culture.

You deserve a bit of a rest, so once you come down from Oktoberfest, we recommend heading elsewhere for warmer shores and taking a breather. If you do want to end the year with a bang, head to Edinburgh for the three-day long NYE Festival, which culminates in an epic firework display over the castle. It’s like a scene from a fairytale!

Note : The above article was contributed by one of the site's guest writers. If you have any concerns about this post, please send an email to tine.fernandez@gmail.com. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours

Being in the water is so enlivening that I just had to start my weeklong birthday trip in Palawan. As one of the  Philippines' most popular island destination, it's where one can enjoy beautiful beaches and a clear, vast underwater world teeming with colorful fishes and corals. 
island hopping in El Nido, Palawan
Even if I was traveling alone, the steady influx of travelers in this island paradise made it easy and budget-friendly for me to go island hopping. Unless you want a customized itinerary, there's no need to hire your own boat. You can either ask the receptionist at your lodging or look for a reliable operator in town and they'll find you a group to join.  
road to El Nido town proper
Northern Hope Tours,  a tour operator in El Nido took good care of me on this trip. From Manila, I took a flight to Puerto Princesa International Airport. Located in the provincial capital, it's about 5-6 hours away. You can commute by public transpo which can be a hassle.  Making it more convenient, Northern Hope had arranged for an aircon van to pick me up at the airport, along with other clients. (NOTE : Air Swift offer direct flights from Manila to Lio Airport in El Nido  but schedules are limited and fares can be expensive. Given the time and budget, I'd like to try this option in the future.)

With two nights in El Nido, I was able to join one island hopping tour and a private trip to Nacpan beach. I could have done more but this relaxed itinerary gave me plenty of free time. I was able to walk around town and try different restaurants and cafes (being a foodie and coffee addict, how could I not?!). 
Helicopter island, first island stop in Tour C. 
In El Nido, there are 4 types of island hopping tours called A, B, C & D. Tours A & C are the popular ones - which also mean, more people. B & D according to our very funny and knowledgeable guide Kuya Lito are just as beautiful and less crowded.

Being a water baby, I went with tour C, recommended  for those who love snorkeling and dipping in the water. We had to do a little trekking and some diving underwater in two of the islands which is really fun though a bit strenuous (depending on sea conditions). I remember, my feet barely touched the sea floor in most of the islands we visited. They do provide you with life vests but I never liked wearing one when in the water because I want to be able to move freely. 
Lunch :)
Rate for Tour C is 1,400 Pesos/head inclusive of a filling lunch and 5 island stops - Hidden Beach, Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine and Star Beach (NOTE: If going to Matinloc Shrine, you need to pay an entrance fee of 100 Pesos). 

Rates for other island hopping packages offered by Northern Hope Tours are here.  
With the new friends I met on this tour. Most of them are from the Northern Hope basketball team who
are in town for a tournament. As a former athlete myself, I find it so cool to be able to travel and play your fave game!
The next day, I was picked up by a tricycle driven by Kuya Nelson. He took me to Nacpan beach,  another popular beach destination an hour away by tricycle/motorbike from El Nido town. What a ride it was. The first part was scenic, passing on a road carved  on a mountainside and some plantation fields. The latter part of the ride was on a super bumpy, dirt road which Kuya expertly navigated. Though most parts were dry, we still struggled on some sections as the road was so uneven, like surfing on hardened marshmallows! 

The tasking ride rewarded us with a beautiful beach. No wonder it's very popular. I wasted no time getting in the water. It was quite wavy so I stayed close to shore. The sand felt soft and powdery. Scooping it with my hands, it felt like holding whipped cream. :)
Nacpan beach
After swimming, I sat at one of the rental beach chairs (it's 200 Pesos for two beach chairs). Set up near the water, you can lay down while enjoying the breeze and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. 

While Nacpan beach still has a raw appeal, there are already some development around the area. I do have mixed feelings about this but if it will help more people earn a decent living, why not? I just hope they keep the resorts as far from the shoreline as possible.  During my visit, I saw at least one hostel and some rental cottages (thankfully, both were within reasonable distance from the shore) and a couple of stores where I ordered lunch - buttered shrimp with rice (220 Pesos) and buko juice (80 Pesos) (Suggestion : get two sets if you have a big appetite, hihi). 

After the short trip to Nacpan beach, Kuya Nelson took me back to my lodge. There are  plenty of other things to do around El Nido like the Canopy walk, sunset viewing and more (See Lakas ng Trip's post here) but like I said earlier, I wanted a very relaxed pace on this trip. I just took it easy before I returned to Puerto Princesa the next day. 

DIY (Do It Yourself) trips are fun and give you the freedom to move at your own pace but when traveling to a destination like El Nido, it's really much more convenient  to avail the services of a tour operator,  especially if you're going solo on island hopping trips. 

***Blog post to be continued***

This hike is part of my week long birthday trip. Hope you can also take the time to read my other posts on this. :) 
Leg 1 : El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours (You're here!:))| Walking Around El Nido Town (to follow)

I stayed at Overcomer Lodge which is just a short tricycle ride from the town proper (it's easy to get a trike here). There are cafes, stores and restaurants nearby so it's not isolated. Rooms are very basic but comfortable. No icky vibe. Rates at 1,300++ to 1700++. All rooms have aircon and a private t&b. You can see the room photos and book discounted rates on Agoda here.

Reliable tour operator in Palawan : 
Norther Hope Tours
E-mail: northernhopetours@gmail.com
Mobile Numbers :
(+63) 939-902-2216 (Smart) | (+63) 927-735-3221 (Globe) | (+63) 942-375-2441 (Sun)

Facebook Page : https://www.facebook.com/northernhopetours
Services : El Nido island hopping & land tours, accommodation, Van transfers from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back (600 Pesos/person, one way), private van (6,000 Pesos/van, one way), Puerto Princesa Tours

Helpful Blogs : 
Lakas ng Trip | Top Things to do in El Nido  
Travel in Boots | El Nido Travel Guide

NOTE : While most of the expenses on this trip are from my own pocket, Northern Hope hosted my tour and accommodation in El Nido & Puerto Princesa. Thank you! :)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Overnight in Maguindanao (Part 2)

It was nearing the end of my weeklong birthday trip. After traveling to Palawan and South Cotabato, I made a final stop to Cotabato city to visit some friends (Part 1 of post here). 

Geographically located in Maguindanao, this busy city has the amenities to accommodate travelers that makes it a good jump-off when visiting tourist spots in the province. Around the city, there are simple hotels & inns, restaurants, malls and other business establishments.  

While catching up over a huge platter of grilled hito and seafood gambas at Babo Katips (good Filipino restaurant in Cotabato city!),  my friend Jeff convinced me to hike Mt. Minandar. Living in Cotabato city, he had gone up the mountain once and kept saying how nice of an easy climb it was. Though he couldn't join me as he'd be working, he kindly arranged for a motorbike driver to pick me up from my hotel the next day.  Gah, for a nature lover, the mountains are the ultimate seductress! 

(Note : Jeff is with Yellow Boat of HOPE Foundation, an organization that helps children get to school by providing yellow boats, other modes of transportation and structures. Their beneficiaries are children who have to commute over bodies of water or travel on vast lands on foot due to lack of transportation just to get to school. If you want to help, please head on to their site for details.) 
Mt. Minandar in  Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao

At 5:00 AM, sir Tam picked me up on his motorbike. With lesser cars on the road, we got to crossing SPDA in less than 30 minutes (This is the intersection that leads to Mt. Minandar's jump-off at Barangay Kusiong. If commuting, you need to get here and take a tricycle or what they call a payong. Fare is 150 Pesos).

As it was still very dark, we had breakfast at an eatery a few blocks from the main road. I enjoyed a serving of pastil (a fave!) and brewed coffee. Brewed coffee! This my friends is one of the reasons I love Maguindanao. Unlike other provinces in the country, a strong cup of brewed coffee is not hard to find! 
Brewed native coffee and pastil, an awesome pre hike breakfast!
Mt. Minandar in Brgy. Kusiong is home to the Tiduray people. Located within the municipality of Datu Opin Sinsuat, it's one of the most peaceful places in Maguindanao. 

After signing on a log book and paying the registration fee (25 Pesos), my assigned guide and I made our way up. (Guides are not hard to secure, there's no need to contact them in advance unless you're in a super huge group. Fee is 150 Pesos but feel free to add a tip). The trail starts on a farm, passing several yards then to a huge grassland. Thankfully, it was early and we didn't have to worry about the sun. The trail was narrow but clear of foliage. 
View of Moro gulf from Mt. Minandar
In less than 2 hours, we arrived at the summit where the view was even more beautiful. From our vantage, we could see Moro gulf, nearby islands and the grand Mosque, which is so massive, it's recognizable even from a distance.  The wind that made sightseeing more enjoyable also brought in some dark clouds but I didn't mind. The breeze was refreshing! :)

If this inspires you to climb Mt. Minandar, just remember to conserve what Mother Nature has to offer. Reduce your impact, leave no trace (Loyola Mountaineers). 

Going down was easier, taking less than an hour. By 9:00 AM, we were back the jump-off. We again stopped at an eatery where I had another serving of pastil and coffee. Hehe! It's just so good! Pastil is like adobo flakes over rice!  The chicken meat which is marinated in soy sauce, then sauteed is so flavorful. 

My flight back to Manila wasn't until late in the evening so I still had some time for a side trip to the Grand Mosque, one of the must-sees in Maguindanao. 

Masjid Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah or commonly known as the Grand Mosque, was named after the sultan of Brunei who helped fund its construction. The grandiose structure is 5000 sqm big and is situated along the banks of Tamontaka river, away from houses and other establishments. The area is pretty quiet, a fitting atmosphere for a place of worship.  

Before going in, I had to rent a hijab (20 Pesos) to cover my head. The lady at the rental helped me put it on, along with the malong I brought. 

It was a Tuesday and the mosque had very few visitors so I was able to go around and quietly marvel at its design. A few minutes later, we returned to the city center.

Lunch was at Moro Cafe which turned out to be a nice surprise. Located inside the ARMM compound (where the regional government offices are), it offers good coffee, comfort food, albeit a limited selection, and an ambiance conducive for casual meet-ups or doing some remote work (not sure if they have wifi though). Budget for food/coffee is 100-200 Pesos.

Lunch at Moro cafe. The triangle ones are called samosa(s). These are deep fried or baked dough with fillings of minced chicken or beef. The other two pastas are lasagna and carbonara, both done Pinoy style - very cheesy and milky and has this sweet after taste. 
After catching up with friends from DOT ARMM and Jeff, I got on a 5 hour van ride to Davao where I took an evening flight back to Manila. (NOTE : Cotabato city also an airport which has flights to & from Manila but at the time of booking, it was so much more expensive, even if I add in the costs on traveling to Davao.)

This hike is part of my week long birthday trip. Hope you can also take the time to read my other posts on this. :) 
Leg 1 : El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours | Walking Around El Nido Town (to follow)

NOTE : Mt. Minandar, the Grand Mosque and Blue Lagoon are all located within the municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat (DOS). For more info, please get in touch with DOS Tourism : 
Datu Odin Sinsuat (DOS) Tourism Facebook Page
DOS Tourism Office contact : Datuhabib Salazar
Mobile Number : +63 0905-617-1725

If you need a motorbike (with driver) to go around Cotabato City, please contact : 

Tam (Jeffrey) Hingco - +63-975-638-3302 (rates are negotiable). 

Expenses :
Guide Fee (Mt. Minandar) - 150 Pesos (please feel free to give more if you're spending more than 5 hours in the mountain with your guide).
Registration Fee - 25 Pesos
- Rates above may change. Please contact DOS Tourism on details provided above for updated rates.
- there are no entrance fees to be paid to get inside the Grand Mosque. Instead, you can offer a monetary donation at a drop box near the entrance. 

Resources :
The following blogs helped me get around Cotabato City and Maguindanao. Please visit their blogs for additional helpful info : 
Lakwatsero | Cotabato City Travel Guide
My Mindanao | Mt. Minandar, Maguindanao's Newest Attraction

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