Archive for June, 2012

Life in Mono and Random Thoughts

Color is among those things in our lives that is easily taken for granted. Its significance is often lost as our attention is drawn towards its superficial qualities rather than its very essence. Color – its abundance or lack of it are like Apples and Oranges and are entirely worlds apart.

Recently, I was rummaging through the photos I’ve collected and I was surpised how some photos I used to ignore suddenly unfolded with different character when they were converted to monochrome. I was surprised how turning to monochrome allowed me to see the others things that were going on in the photos. When I first captured these photos I felt that there was something about the scene but I just wasn’t able to figure out what it was. With too much information, I was easily overwhelmed and failed to realize the beautiful converge and divergence of lines, emotion and most importantly context.

This brings me into thinking how life is for people who are color blind. Are they less fortunate or is it us? Do they get to stop and smell the roses while we remain lost and amiss from too much stimuli around us? Or maybe it shouldn’t be thought of as a disadvantage in the first place. Life in Color or without may never be a question of reality as I’ve always thought that for us individuals, Reality is relative because reality is what we see and interpret through our senses which can never be identical. Similar but still not identical.

“I find hope in the darkest of days, focus on the brightest. I do not judge the universe.”
– Dalai Lama

Paris in a Heartbeat

Paris has always captured my imagination and for the longesst time I had been content in experiencing it only in movies. I never expected setting foot in Paris in my lifetime and for the lack of word to describe it…to be awe struck by Paris is like a pinch of an understatement.

It was work that brought me within “arm’s reach” of Paris and a little bit of luck that gave me a window of opportunity to get there.

I was sent to do some work in Oberhausen, Germany which had me entering Europe through Amsterdam and passing through Dusseldorf, Germany. Amsterdam would have been a handful to go around already with all the canals, quaint houses and the “vegetarian” cafe they’re famous with but I never had the chance to go around because of the limited time I had. Going to this trip, I was actually set in going to Rome if I ever had the chance as it has been a dream destination for me like Paris. I was even practicing a bit of Italian on the flight to Amsterdam and was reading a travel book to give me an idea where to go which was informative but unfortunately had too much information that in the end it felt like I don’t need to go there anymore. A good lesson for other travellers – never ever read too much travel books because they might just drown out the excitement of travelling.

My business in Oberhausen went on as planned for the first few days but an “unfortunate” delay required me to stay longer than planned and consequently left me with the whole weekend in Europe to myself. Sounds too good to be true indeed but I was never a travel bug before so it took me quite some time to muster up the courage to get myself to explore Europe.

My hotel in Oberhausen was a few minutes walk from a nearby mall where I went to after office hours on that Friday. Being in Europe at the waning months of the Northern Solstice, I had more than enough time to ponder where to go. I was unresolved between going to Munich, Amsterdam or Paris and mot importantly I was also trying to figure out how to get there. Flying will definitely eat up my time as I have to shuffle between airports and baggage counters and security checks so travelling by train was the best option. Finally, after finding a tourist information office I was able to get information from some English speaking folks who showed which bus to ride going to the train station. The bus ride by the way was something worth remembering as until now I’m still at a loss figuring out how should have paid for the fare. Was I supposed to use a pre-paid card? Should I have bought tickets at a booth somewhere? Should I have paid the driver or was it free anyway? I thought it was the latter which surprisingly nobody noticed until I asked the driver before I got off. With the language barrier to our disadvantage, the driver didn’t understand that I was trying to ask how to pay for the ride. He just instead insisted that I unboard the bus which I embarassingly did.

Awe began began sinking in the moment I reached the Oberhausen Train Station. It was so huge considering the train stations I’ve been to before but the best thing I liked in that station the same way with the rest of the European train stations is that you can pay for your tickets by credit card no matter how short your destinations is which was good for me as I was trying to save the cash I had which was already not that much as I had already been in Germany for a week already.

ICE Train bound for Cologne at Oberhausen Hauptbanhof

The trips on the schedule board informed me that the train directly leaving for Paris has already left earlier which I would have caught if I didn’t spent too much time earlier collecting the courage to step outside Germany. My best option was to go to Cologne and find another train from there. If I remember it right, Cologne was about an hour from Oberhausen on an opposite direction going to Paris which meant that I will pass again Oberhausen on the way to Paris.

Dusk at Cologne Hauptbanhof

If there was one thing I’d never forget about Cologne is that it is so COLD there. The moment I left the train after arriving at Koln Hauptbanhoff, I was already shivering. Everyone except me didn’t seem to mind the temperature but I tried to appreciate it. I just thought you’d never get this temperature in the Philippines unless you find a way to stick yourself inside the freezer. The temperature became bearable however when I started walking and taking photos of the place. Not only does the Northern Solstice resulted to extend periods of daylight, it also cast a mysteriously wonderful tone in the sky.

The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is not difficult to miss when your in Cologne and I spent a lot of time scouring its perimeter for the best view and even had the chance to get inside. If I only had my tripod along with me I could have made better interior shots.

Details in Facade of Kolner Dom[/caption]

Relics at Kolner Dom

The two towers flanking the Dom had a somewhat gothic style which I thought resembled but on a smaller scale the towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Spain. What draws one’s attention in the Dom is how it was built with astonishing detail. It was truly a feast to the eyes and It won’t come as a surprise for people to stand still for minutes just digesting the details in the Dom’s exterior.

The Cologne Cathedral at night

The streets of Cologne were also a sight to behold as the cobble stone streets stretched everywhere. Together with the outdoor cafes and probably post World War II sculptures everywhere, the mood set here was for real.

I believe, the Cologne I saw was just the tip of what the City holds as there was the Great St. Martin Church, and Cologne City Hall that I didn’t get to see.

When daylight finally gave up, I found myself a suitable hotel to stay for the night and tried to get some sleep before catching the train for Paris early the next morning. As I was lying in bed that night, I noticed how police sirens dominated the air for rest of the evening. I finally dozed off thinking how the sirens were so alike with the police sirens in the car chases in the Jason Bourne movies.

At around 1AM in the morning, I woke up, checked out of the hotel and walked my way to the train station. As I have done numerous times the night before, I asked one of the ticketing agents one last time to confirm that all I have to do when my train arrives (my train was an ICE train by the way) is get in and I will be given my ticket and pay for it inside the train. Very convenient but risky as I was prepared to pay by credit card only and I didn’t have enough cash with me to pay in case the card is offline. Fortunately everything went well.

The train had sporadic moments when it runs at top speed which you’ll never notice until you look outside the window. To give you an impression of the speed the train was going, at its top speed, the power poles will appear like a continous blur instead of intermittent diagonal lines sweeping by we are used to seeing. It was an exciting sight for the first few minutes but will give you headache if you stare for long. The passengers inside were relaxed and very casual. When the train stopped to pick passengers on Brussels, a group of middle-aged women boarded with picnic baskets and drank champagne inside the train until we reached Paris. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about but whatever it was, they seemed to have a good time. As if the ride wasn’t impressive enough, I was surprised to find that all chairs had power outlets that passengers can use. I was able to recharge my laptop and upload the photos I already took just to be sure I don;t run out of memory space in my camera in Paris.

I would have stopped by Brussels when we reached there but I decided to skip it when I heard the announcement on the train telling the passengers to watch out for pickpockets. It was actually not unusual knowing where I came from but I thought I am not in the best position to take the risk knowing I’m halfway across the world from home.

Finally at around 9AM in the morning, our train came to a halt at Gare du Nord. As it slowly crawled to the platform, I was fixated looking through the windows trying to bring myself to believing that this is Paris I am now seeing. Instinctively, I tried to look through the skyline hoping to get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower but it is nowhere to be seen. I thought right away that Paris must be so huge.

Alighting from the train, I quickly went to the ticket booths to secure a ticket for my trip back to Oberhausen for the following day. Unlike the trip that got me to Paris, I was able to get a ticket that will bring me directly to Oberhausen. With ticket secured it now time to see Paris.

Looking outside, I immediately saw the countless outdoor restaurants with all their fancy signages. The streets were not as wide as I thought and indeed compact cars where everwhere. It was a busy Saturday morning in Paris with people coming in and out of Gare du Nord mostly tourists just like me.

I tried to find a tourist assistance station looking for a city map I can use. Being able to find one, I saw that Paris Nord was located a bit far from the major landmarks of the city and considering the traffic situation in the streets, I thought I’d use the subway. The subway was quite a challenge to figure out as there were so many platforms and were located at various locations levels throughout station.

My destination was to get off at St. Michel and from there walk towards the Notre Dame Cathedral and see the views of the River Seine and work my way to the Eiffel Tower.

St. Michel was packed with tourists and just as tourists would do, they made a background of every angle of St. Michel. That day, tourists outnumbered the local people by a large proportion and that made me feel comfortable to just keep my camera hanging on my neck as I walked around. Unlike Cologne, Paris was warmer but still a bit chilly just enough to make me keep my jacket on. Actually, for the rest of my brief stay in Paris, I never had to remove my jacket. Besides the bust and train rides I made, I must have walked around 5 kms in Paris without breaking a sweat. Really great climate.

From St. Michel, I made my way through the bridge – Pont St. Michel then stopping buy to buy souvenirs at the stores lining up Quai du Marche Neuf. Every few minutes or so, ferries will pass by the Seine River loaded with tourists. You can tell the nationality of the tourists by the flags waving on the ferries on some. Other ferries were more elegant having tables on their decks with passengers having wine and brunch. At the banks of the river, you can see mostly locals hanging out and chance by a few couples kissing in that very cinematic Paris kind of way.

The Fontaine St. Michel which has stood in its place since 1860

Fontaine St. Michel depicts the timeless battle between good and evil

At the end of Marche Neuf, if the Notre Dame Cathedral which was also filled with tourists. At its front, you’ll see long winding queues of people wanting to get inside. Birds were plenty and some tourist kids amusing themselves by getting covered by birds perching on their arms and heads. Numerous bronze statues were also scattered everywhere with the distinctive greenish-white hue of Copper Oxide on their surfaces.

Overlooking the River Seine

Instead of going inside the Cathedral, I went to the Crypt (Crypte Archeologique du Parvis de Notre Dame) below the front lawn which showed various Roman-like burial grounds and structures built in the city ages ago. Mostly ruins, the literature and maps show how Paris through the centuries developed to the city that it is now. At some point in its infancy, Paris resembled something like our Intramuros.

Notre-Dame Cathedral was breathtaking at all angles and I spent just the same time at its back lawn as I did in the front. One amusing thing at the back lawn is that speakers were hidden in the plants playing French tunes. I’m just not sure it it was harpsichord or violin but it was very romantic. I actually saw several newlyweds walking along Quai de’l Archeveche and Pont Saint Louis complete with their wedding suit and gown and their photographer just shooting as they trot along and kiss as if the entire city was their ballroom.

The Notre Dame Cathedral

Moving on, I went back to the subway and headed for Champ de Mars – Tour de Eiffel which will take me to within vantage point of the Eiffel Tower. As I walked along Quai Branly, inching closer to the Eiffel Tower I felt the excitement build its way finally coming to its plateu when I finally reached the foot of the tower.

Tourists were everywhyere but that wasn’t enough to spoil the mood of the place. The City had so much for everyone that congestion didn’t seem to be a problem as people’s attention get divided between the finely detailed carousel at Promenade Quai Branly, the amazing statues lining up Pont d’lena and the enticing Palais de Chaillot looming over the distance.

The Eiffel Tower viewed from Champ de Mars

The massive legs of the Eiffel Tower has elevators that take tourists to the tower’s mid and top levels. The line stretched to forever that day so I thought that getting to the top will take up a lot of my time.

The open area behind the Eiffel Tower was scattered with tourists, newly weds and souvenir hawkers which I think were mostly South Africans. These hawkers were quite persistent and would go their way to speak a few words in various dialects just to get attention. At first they thought I was Indonesian which was pretty close for a first guess.

Making sure I never miss out any angle of the Eiffel Tower, I took photos from different vantage points. One thing I noticed having seen the tower for real is that at its first level names of what seemed to be famous Frenchmen are written all around the tower. I’ve never seen this detail before in any photo or replica which made me appreciate more having seen the real thing.

I never felt that I’ll have enough of this famous landmark and although I’ve shuffled twice or thrice between Mur de la Paix and Quai Branly already, I still find myself in awe with the tower. As I took more notice of the trees and signages of Av. Joseph Bouvard, I found out that tomorrow Sunday will be the closing leg of Tour de France as the riders finally reach Paris. Riders were actually filling up the avenue staging their sort of advance celebration of Tour de France.

Knowing that this will be a big event, I thought that I should change my schedule and depart earlier to avoid the congestion from the people coming in on Sunday. Therefore, Instead of leaving Sunday morning, I must leave this same day. Disappointing as it seems, I believed it was the best choice for me as right after buying my departing ticket at Gare du Nord hours ago, I noticed that my credit card went offline which considerably damaged my chances of finding a hotel for an overnight stay. Adding to that, who knows if I’d ever find a hotel room with so much tourists in Paris at this point. I realized that not only were tourists flocking the city for its sights this weekend, they were also anticipating the final leg of the Tour de France.

It was only around 5 hours ago that I reached Paris and now I have to plan on leaving already. Breaking a heavy sigh, I told myself I better get moving then and make the most of the sights on my way to Gare du Nord.

I found myself walking the length of Av. de la Motte-Picquet passing by Musee de l’Armee, Place de Invalides, and Historial Charles de Gaulle. The streets these time had less tourists and the whole mood was much calmer. Place Invalides’ gold plated dome, gray slate roof, classical architecture and manicured lawns at the center of the Avenue was just an amazing sight.

I continued walking the other direction reaching Quai d’Orsai and the lavishly decorated Pont d’ Alexandre. Probably one of the most impressive bridges in the city.

Lavish Lamp Posts lining out Pont Alexandre III

At this point, it was already starting to drizzle and it was raining when I reached St. Michel before descending to the subway that will take me back to Gare du Nord.

In the same way love stories with sad endings end with rain, The whirlwind that brought me to Paris and what seems to be a sliver of time I spent there ended up the same way. Looking beyond the rain clouds, the sun glimmers behind assuring that the rain will come to a pass but not after it has washed of its streets of my footprints.

I know I did my best and covered as much as I could and even if we only shared a heartbeat, the memories will be forever.

Paris, je serai de retour!

My Sweet November and getting Cross-Eyed at Sonya’s Garden

I was down to my last weekend in the Philippines before flying back to work for the next 4 weeks. Being on this set-up for quite some time now have made me realize the value of time especially how it drastically appreciates when its less and how it is neglected when there is plenty of it. This actually should not come as a surprise anymore because everything else behaves the same way like – Love, Happiness and Attention or something more earthly like Food and Money.

I can think of several movies whose plot revolves around people making the most of their limited time. Sweet November is one of those movies which although I only managed to watch in fragments conveyed enough emotion for me to keep it in my Unforgettable Movies List. I am surprised to find out that the lead actors in that movie were nominated for Worst Acting Roles in a 2001 awards. I thought the movie had decent acting job or maybe the plot itself was so emotionally alluring that I didn’t notice their acting.

So, for my last weekend for the month of May, me and my wife decided that we go on a somewhat mellow exploit as our “Sweet November”. Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay was in our sights because of its accessibility and the curiosity it has spurred on us for quite some time already.

Unlike my wife, I’m not really being a big fan of raw vegetarian food in which Sonya’s Garden is known for but we were excited to spend nice quiet time and see what the Garden really is about.

On the way there, we encountered a heavy rain which reduced to a drizzle when we finally arrived. The cold climate of Tagaytay combined with the humidity of the drizzle made us feel like waking up in the wee hours of the morning but it was actually around past 3 in the afternoon already.

After finding a parking spot, we walked to the front desk of Sonya’s Garden anxious of the entrance fee that awaits us. To our surprise, one of the employees at the front told us that there was none. Fees are only charged to specific services so unless we’re content to just hang around the place then there is nothing to worry about.

The flowers of Sonya’s Garden were indeed impressive and the whole place was as peaceful as what we were led to imagine from advertisements and discussions by other visitors. The rain earlier proved to be an advantage as the overcast and slightly gloomy sky further added on to that “cozy-sleepy” atmosphere.

And like sprinkling salt and pepper to a dish, the drizzle was just enough to put an extra touch to the flower photos we were able to snap.

We had a great time taking photos of flowers that I almost got cross-eyed. Unlike landscape photos, taking flower photos present a unique challenge as you have to deal with close subjects which usually cannot be properly judged by the camera’s Auto-focus System thus, you have to rely on Manual Focus and spend longer time peering through the viewfinder.

Depth-of-field also plays a crucial role in flower photos so it is best to take photos of your subject at various aperture values and compare them later.

We spent around 3 hours at Sonya’s Garden before we decided to leave. Since we were craving for something deep-fried like KFC, we thought we’d give the veggie food a pass for now.

How to get to Sonya’s Garden – From South Superhighway exit Santa Rosa and turn right towards Tagaytay. Upon reaching main Aguinaldo highway, turn right toward Nasugbu, Batangas. Go past Tagaytay Rotonda and proceed for 10km. After Splendido Golf course and Sunrise Hill make a right turn on the Buck Estate. Drive for 2km and watch out for Sonya’s on the left side. Use the first gate and drive towards the end of the driveway and make a right towards parking lot.

Sonya’s Garden also provides Bed and Breakfast and a well frequented Spa. for those interested to take on the complete Sonya’s Garden experience.

Puerto Princesa – and the search for the Bearded Pig

Concluding our amazing tour of the Ilocos, me and my wife had 1 day to rest and prepare for another trip. Next stop for us will be Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Unlike the reservations we did for the Ilocos trip, the Palawan trip was more convenient and less stressful as we booked our package through PAL’s PALakbayan Program.

Still nursing a stomach gone haywire which I suspect must have been caused by eating too much “Poqui-poqui” (a dished made of eggplant, tomatoes, scallions and onions mysteriously cooked with egg resulting to a soft and tasty omelet) in Ilocos, me and my wife packed our bags, re-charged our camera batteries and emptied our memory cards to prepare for this trip.

Our package was for a 4-day, 3-night stay at the Microtel Inn, Puerto Princesa. Unlike the hotel room we had in Ilocos, our room at the Microtel Inn was a big improvement. We had so much space, impressive mood lighting and an amazing seafront view of the Puerto Princesa Beachfront. Unlike other beachfronts, the one at Microtel Inn was lightly strewn with Mangrove Trees. Microtel Inn did a good job in making use of these trees by installing “Capiz” lanterns on them making them stand out during the evening. Another great thing about the beachfront is that every sundown, the sea level recedes leaving the mangroves accessible. Throw in a clear evening sky, full moon and cool sea breeze and you have the makings of a Hollywood-like evening stroll.

Beachfront View at the Microtel Inn Puerto Princesa

Another scene at the beachfront –
Microtel Inn Puerto Princesa

Before coming to Puerto Princesa, we tried to arrange in advance for tour packages to the popular destinations around the city. (Although the PALakbayan is a package itself, it only covers the airfare and accomodations. Any activities such as Island Hops, Spelunking etc. are usually not included. However, you can be assured that almost all hotels in Puerto Princesa have contacts to tour providers and Microtel Inn is not any different.) To our surprise, we learned that since it was summer it was that time of the year when tour packages especially for the Underground River are fully booked. We were alarmed to find out through most of the contacts we found over the internet that the Underground River tour actually requires an early reservation sometimes even a year in advance so that the proper Environmental Permit is secured.

Not letting this dampen our spirits, we thought that its not the end of the world if we don’t get to see the Underground River. There will always be a next time and we believed that there are other activities to do. But as luck would have it (again), upon arriving at the Puerto Princesa Airport I asked around the Tour Providers inside the building and came across one tour provider who just had some reserved bookings opened up because of some customers backing out at the last minute. So there it was, instant booking for us to the Undergorund River! (which I paid for right away).

Come to think of it, was I really lucky or was I just too excited that I allowed my gullibility go to an all-time high? Although it turned out legitimate I just came to realize that travellers always have to take risks at times. The seriousness of the risk actually depends on the propensity of the individual but that is what people like us are for because we are the ones who come back to tell our stories and share useful information.

On our first day, we went through the standard stuff. Airport to hotel transfer, hotel formalities and a few hours of rest before the eagerly awaited City Tour.

As always, coming to a different place is always a feast for the senses but one thing that stood out and impressed me is that Littering is a strictly enforced violation in Puerto Princesa. Being a natural litter bug like most of us city rats are, I honestly had to deal with this rule and for several times had to control myself which was actually good. I wish it was enforced and taken to heart the same way in Manila. The problem with Manila I think is that despite that it is “enforced”, there is still a lot of shortcomings and double standards so visible that we simply don’t get the whole point. Imagine being fined for Php 1,000 for throwing a piece of candy wrapper on the street and finding out after walking to the next street that the Public Market has its trash lying just about everywhere. It makes one think that the “rules” seem to apply only to those who can afford. What happens if a beggar throws his plastic bag on the street. Obviously no amount squeezing or reprimand will make him cough up with money to pay for the fine.

Facade of the Puerto Princesa Cathedral. The blue and white theme is reminds you of Thunderbirds Resort at Poro Point which takes inspiration from Santorini, Greece

This statue at “Baker’s Hill” doesn’t leave much room for imagination.

A pool of flowers found at Baker’s Hill

Besides its warm-hearted citizens, Puerto Princesa boasts of a developed city that almost resembles parts of Manila. Business establishments are present, Cellphone stalls here and there, parks, markets and interesting restaurants can be seen everywhere. The place is busy enough that you don’t have to worry about being disoriented.

Crocs a’ plenty at the Crocodile Farm

A furry and contorted version of the crocs waiting for some cuddling

Our itineraries for the City Tour were:


Our tour guide actually told me that there are other places of interest around Puerto Princesa but she said that some attractions have been maintained poorly and they felt visitors will be “unimpressed” to see them. If you ask me, I thought she was just being modest.

On our second day, we arranged for an Island Hop tour which will take us to Honda bay and its neighbouring islands. Being the peak time of the year, the Port going to Honda Bay was packed with tourists. If the city tour did not make us disoriented, we were at the Port. Recalling our previous Ilocos Trip which we arranged for a private tour just for me and my wife, our tour for the Island Hop had us grouped with other people. I believe our group was somewhere around 11-12 persons large. One of the drawbacks I quickly realized on being in group tours with people is that you have to mind about time limits provided by the tour guide. If the tour guide says, we have 45 minutes on this island before moving on to the next, you have to make it a point to follow that. Me and my wife were actually guilty of not following it for several occasions but we’re glad our guide was patient. I don’t know for the other people in the group as they were all silent :). By the way, this kind of arrangement may not work for some people particularly if your primary interest is to admire the place and take some very good photos. Having a time limit simply does not give you the freedom to bring out your creative side as you have to constantly rush from one place to the next.

Despite the volume of tourists, it is not difficult to find your spot at Pandan Island

Our Itineraries for the Island Hop tour were:


From afar, Pandan Island was striking with its lush trees and smooth shoreline. Despite of the number of visitors at that time, it was not difficult to find your spot on the beach. We spent several hours here and we had our lunch here before moving on to the other islands.

During the course of our island hop, I was under the impression that we will see a long sandbar in one of our destinations. After going to several islands I wasn’t able to bear the itch longer and I asked our tour guide. She told me that the island with the longest sandbar at Honday Bay was Starfish Island. Having seen it, I was not convinced that this is the one I knew I should be seeing, I realized later on that what I had on my mind was White Island in Camiguin (I was reading too much travel blogs). But anyway, White Island or not, the sights were great.

Saving the best for last, we lined up the Underground River tour on our third day. Unlike the boat ride during the Island Hop tour the previous day, the boat ride to the Underground River was short but very very crazy. Since I was nursing a perturbed stomach, I didn’t ate a lot during breakfast. If I did, I could have easily goodbye to my breakfast right there (and if that’s not enough, be fined for littering also). Waves at the time were huge and we were already wet even before hitting the beach.

One thing I observed at the Port going to the Underground River is that despite earning its place in the new 7 Natural Wonders of the World and with all the number of visitors coming day in and day out, I cannot understand how nobody has never thought of providing a safer (and dryer) way to allow passengers to board the boats. In our case, I saw that boarding the boat not only involves timing but a great deal of balance as well. Timing, because you have to read the wave patterns and predict how much time you got before the next big wave comes to board the boat and Balance because if you don’t you might as well say goodbye to your gear.

Not wanting to miss out opportunities in this trip, I brought with me my important lenses and my relevant camera gear. So just imagine how worried I was to lose my balance and fall straight to the sea with all my gear. One boatman actually told me story that a foreigner Photographer suffered that fate weeks ago and he was packing so much gear with him at the time. The foreigner wanted compensation for what happened but unfortunately this is a do-it-at-your-own-risk package. Let’[s not forget also how this arrangement poses risks and setbacks for the elderly. Even old folks deserve to see the Underground River. Hopefully the local government would hear this out and do something.

The entrance to the Underground River

Tourist on their way in to the cave

For our final day in Puerto Princesa, me and my wife decided to just hang out and relax until later in the afternoon for our flight back to Manila. After all the adventures we’ve done from the warm city people, great food, crazy waves and death-defying boat jumps we wished we could have stayed longer.
For a moment I was lost imagining myself hoping on and off boats again.

But we have to pull the plug and save the memories.

Despite all the searching, we were disappointed not to find the Bearded Pig…and somehow I get the feeling pun was intended when I was told to pose for this shot.

The PALalakbayan Program provides tourists a convenient travel and accomodation package to most of the famous destinations in the Philippines. Due to tie-ups and the benefit of the partnership of a large company together with a network of hotels, customers are assured of good deals rather than booking plane fares and hotels separately. As of this writing, the PALakbayan link is being updated but you may check it out through PAL’s website ( or better yet inquire through phone at: (632) 855-8888 daily from 6:00am to 10:00pm. In our case, we booked our package over the phone and paid at Terminal 2 after 1 day.

The Tour of Ilocos

The Summer of 2012 is one full of firsts for me and my wife. First and foremost, this is the first summer for us as husband and wife. Next, this was one great summer packed with a lot of adventure and travelling to near, far and VERY far places. Last but not the least, it was on this summer that our budding Blog Site came to be.

Moss Pools of Kapurpurawan.

Our 2012 summer began with the trip to Ilocos. It was one trip that was never short of expectations and to our delight it was actually beyond what we expected. The preparations for this trip was not much as we just relied on plain luck.

The famed Calle Crisologo a UNESCO Heritage Site for its well preserved houses constructed since the Spanish colonial Period

Unlike other travellers, me and my wife choose to have a definite place to stay and at least a clear grasp of the itineraries. Adding to that, we are also keen on getting the most practical (but not necessarily the cheapest) deal we can find to assure our safety and security as well. On the contrary, this trip was actually pieced together from a string of phone calls made to various agents or individuals we stumbled across in the internet. In this case it was actually in that we found this individual who could provide us the tour together with a bunch of itineraries and a hotel to stay. It sounded too good to be true because our previous inquiries gave us the impression that going around Ilocos is not for someone on a tight budget. The deal was not exactly a steal but was to a certain degree less than what you’d end up with if you try to book a hotel, and a transport altogether.

Excited but apprehensive at the same time, we decided to give this trip a go. Having deposited 50% of the package amount before the trip as a requirement made the apprehension worse and for the rest of the trip me and my wife discussed all the possible Plan B’s we can do suppose the whole deal turns out to be a fake. By the way, to decrease our risk or should we say potential losses, we decided to travel to Ilocos by bus instead of by plane as originally planned.

And we arrived in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. After a few minutes of nervous waiting, our tour guide met us up, exchanged pleasantries and dropped us off to our hotel so we could rest for a few hours before starting our tour. Our hotel was average which is understandable considering the amount we paid for the package but the staff were friendly and very accomodating in a very natural way which made us feel less like strangers to the place.

When our tour guide fetched us a few hours later, we were very impressed to see him suited up in a neatly pressed “Barong” (Traditional Filipino upper garment) paired with an “Salakot” (traditional Filipino hat). At that point me and my wife knew that the risk we took was all worth it.

A Short trek to the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. The fields dotted with grass and pools of clear water remind you somewhat of the Dead Marshes Frodo passed through on the way to Mordor.

The Inspiring Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. With all its grace and form, the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation is a fragile landmark damaged by the normal course of weathering. Locals believe that soon this formation may become a mere memory.

Kabigan Falls. A significant trek through the beautiful fields farther north of Pagudpod, one realizes the diversity of sights in Ilocos.

And so for the rest of the three days, we scoured the entire Ilocos (North and South) visiting all of its famous landmarks. Since we paid for the entire tour, it was only me and my wife inside the van and we had the entire attention of our tour guide to ourselves. One thing I realized that when you get into these private tour packages, you don’t have to deal with different strangers in your tour and most importantly, you never have to worry about getting left by the group because YOU are the GROUP! 🙂

Paoay Church. Earning a spot among the UNESCO Heritage List, the famous church gets a well desrved makeover.

The whole Ilocos trip was anything but amazing as we saw diverse sights and sceneries ranging from the Colonial Spanish Heritage houses of Vigan to the surreal rock formations and landscapes of Kapurpurawan. To top that, our guide never failed to show us the best places around the City to enjoy the rich Ilokano cuisine which we enjoyed.

Usually, I can tell how amazing a trip is by looking at how many photos I took at the end of it. By the end of our Ilocos trip, I totalled a staggering 12+ GB worth of photos and I’m not even on recording in RAW most of the time!

Hope you enjoyed the photos and by the way, this was only our first trip for the summer…

St. Paul Cathedral of Vigan

Our contact for the tour package in Ilocos was Mr. Jan Carlo Caldito (+639198884849
,+639174396759). You may view his Facebook page – IlocosHeritageGuide and you can also view his posts at using Ilocos Tour 2012 as keyword.

Our itineraries for the 4 day – 3 night stay were: