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Til next summer

It’s the first day of June. Time sure flies so fast. Summer vacation for most students ends today as classes open tomorrow. Summer, my most favorite time of the year, will soon be over. 😦

This year’s summer had been a very memorable one. I got to meet my adorable niece Emma for the first time! I made it a point to take some time off from work to spend quality time with my family, especially because my cousins from Canada came home for a vacation.

I love going home to the province, even on short vacations, because I get the chance to watch the sun go down everyday at the beach near our house. I could just sit there on the shore or take a dip in the inviting water to cool down the sweltering heat of the summer sun until it had finally set. But mostly, I love going home because I miss home cooked meals and the comfort of being with my family.

Even at work, the past two months had been quite busy. I was mostly out on fieldwork gathering stories, capturing photos, facilitating workshops, meeting people, organizing events. I rode motorbikes, walked in the sugarcane farms under the scorching heat of the sun, and traveled from one island to the next. I’m not complaining. I love my work, actually. Because at the end of the day, in the few hours before I head home to Manila, I get to see the beautiful sights in the area.

As I was browsing through my summer photos, trying to relish the fun memories, I realized I had on this one top in a lot of photos! Yikes, I need some serious wardrobe change! I badly need to buy some pretty beach dresses online. And new swim wear, too (maybe something that could hide my growing curves).  Besides, summer may be over but it’s always good to be ready with the outfit. There’s so much picture perfect places waiting to be explored all year round.

Anyway, check out these pictures to see what kept me busy this summer:

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Thank you, summer, for the great memories and the darkened skin! Til next year.

Kota Kinabalu From The Top

Kota Kinabalu From The Top

Don’t Look Back

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You can’t look back – you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future. ~ Jodi Picoult

Malaysia, Truly Asia

Early this year, I went to Malaysia alone – not that I wanted to be alone, but my friend who was supposed to be on the trip with me had to cancel because of unforeseen circumstances. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity so I still pushed through with the trip. Anyway, a former officemate who worked in Kuala Lumpur offered to be my tour guide during my stay there. (Thank you, Ochie, for being such a great host!)

Here are some photos from my trip:

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I loved the food and architecture in Malaysia! I didn’t have enough time to visit all the famous tourist spots but someday I will go back and explore the countryside, the islands and the beautiful beaches.

Kota Kinabalu, I will see you in May. 🙂

Love,

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Keep Calm and Take a Break

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Magalawa Island, Palauig, Zambales

The quiet sea always has that calming effect on me. I know that it isn’t always like that, that there are days when the wind is strong and the waves are raging. Yet, I know that each storm will eventually come to pass and the sea will become still again. Despite knowing that toxic days are ahead, I somehow feel at peace knowing that everything will be alright. Thank God for the short but wonderful break last weekend. It helped clear my mind and calm my anxious heart.

http://www.magalawaislandresort.com

Lessons from a Lady Named Joy

Remember Jaja – the little girl I met on the bus going home to the province? I still think about her sometimes and wonder how she’s doing. I hope she’s well and happy and enjoying her childhood.

On my trip back to Manila after that vacation, I met Joy. What really got me interested in Joy was that she reminded me so much of Jaja. It was like I was seeing the adult version of the little girl I met a few days earlier.

I arrived early at the bus station, which was just a block away from our house. Mom and Dad walked me to the bus, as they always do. The long vacation was over, and a lot of people – both tourists and locals – were on their way back to Manila. Good thing I was able to reserve a seat, although the seat I got was already at the second to the last row.

It was almost 8pm, and the bus was about to leave, but the seat next to me was still empty. I took out my iPod and book and began reading while the light was still on. A few minutes after 8, our bus still hasn’t left the station. I guess they were waiting for some more passengers who reserved seats. My seatmate was one of them. I was almost getting drowsy when finally, she arrived. She sat down beside me, catching her breathe. She must’ve raced her way to the bus station to catch the last trip going to Manila that day.

“Hi, are you heading to Manila, too?” she asked me. “Yes,” I answered. “I’m Joy,” she smiled at me. “Mae,” I smiled back.

I stowed my book and iPod and readied myself for a conversation with Joy. I wondered what her story was and I was eager to know. I didn’t get disappointed because Joy was very talkative. In fact, we talked until 1 in the morning. Her high-pitched voice floated inside the bus, along with the soft snores of the passengers.

For 5 hours, I listened to Joy unfold her life. She just went on and on with her stories. As I listened to her, I noticed how similar her story was with Jaja’s. Like Jaja, she was orphaned at a young age and was left to the care of her aunt. Since college, she had been living independently while her aunt went abroad to work. She has learned to live on her own and look after herself. She told me about her past relationships, and how her ex boyfriend left her for another woman. She told me about her work, her colleagues and struggles. She shared that she wanted to try her luck overseas, hoping her life would be much better. She was only in her early twenties and she seemed be very enthusiastic about everything. I felt how strong a person she was, probably because of the circumstances in her life.

Joy travelled alone during that trip, her first time to do so. She was supposed to travel with her friends but her schedule didn’t permit her to join them. This didn’t hold her back from getting the most of the very long weekend so she decided to explore Ilocos on her own. She recounted her adventures to the different tourist destinations she visited, places I myself haven’t even been to considering I lived almost half of my life in that province. She excitedly showed me the photos and videos that she took from the places she visited.

Joy had a positive outlook in life. I envied her and wished I could have that same confidence and positive attitude. I thought of Jaja and wished she’d grow up with the same positive outlook.

At 1am, she must have noticed that I was so sleepy so she finally told me to sleep. I slept thinking about Joy and Jaja and prayed that they both have a bright future ahead of them.

I don’t normally talk to strangers on the bus but God allows us to meet other people to let us realize and learn things from them. Tonight, I’m headed to the province again for the long weekend. Before I leave the house, I just had to finish this post I started two months ago. I’m looking forward to hearing more inspiring stories from strangers!

Sometimes, We Need to Take a Break

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Missing Bolinao

Late last year, I went on a trip to Pangasinan with friends. I already posted about our HUNDRED ISLANDS tour but I haven’t been able to share about our second destination – Bolinao. So, here are my favorite shots from our weekend getaway in the beautiful town of Bolinao.

The day ends with a beautiful sunset

Reflections from the infinity pool

Kayaking at the river fronting Punta Riviera

Where the river meets the sea

Chillin’ by the pool in the morning

Cape Bolinao Lighthouse

White sand

From the top

The 400-year old Roman Catholic Church of Bolinao

Getting ready to go fishing

Capiz lanterns

We weren’t able to fully explore the tourist sites in Bolinao but if you’re planning to go there, check out this site – THINGS TO DO IN BOLINAO

Nearly There

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Stop, Look and Listen

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

Be Still

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Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river. ~ Lao Tzu

Rockin’ the White Rocks

During one of my recent trips to my province, Ilocos Norte, my friend Rocky and I decided, out of the blue, to visit Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation in Burgos, about 30 minutes away from my hometown Pagudpud. The reason why we both really wanted to go there was simple – we thought it was weird that we haven’t been there when everyone else we know had been. I, for one, found it embarrassing when my Manila friends asked me how it looked like and I didn’t really know what to tell them. Before the trip, I only saw it from photos of friends who’ve gone there. Armed with the determination (and my iPhone) to finally see Kapurpurawan, we rode in Rocky’s motorbike to Burgos at 10 in the morning, not minding the uncomfortable heat of the sun.

On the way to Kapurpurawan on a motorbike

The place is about 30-45 minutes of dusty road away from the highway.

From the jump-off point, we walked for about 5-10 minutes. You can also take the option to ride a horse for P100 pesos.

Getting nearer. We still have to go around the hill to really see the whole thing.

At last!

This is no place for swimming. Too rocky. 🙂

At 12NN, we were both drenched in sweat when we got back to the jump-off point but I felt so glad that we pushed through with our unplanned trip to Kapurpurawan. It was an adventure like no other, and I was amazed with what I saw.

I’m happy that there aren’t any hotels or resorts or restaurants in the area yet. Although there are vendors at the jump-off point and one along the trail, I just wish they’d remain at that number. Too many vendors mean food and plastics and garbage. I hope they can maintain the pristine-ness of the place.

Now, I can finally confidently describe how beautiful the White Rock Formation is to anyone who’ll ask me. On our way home, I closed my eyes and offered my face to the wind and sun and thanked God for a wonderful day.

Check out the sceneries that we saw on our way home:

Bangui Windmills

The town of Bangui

Pagudpud. Home.

I got nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award!

I’d like to thank LyndaMichele for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! I am glad that you find my blog “informative, fun, and inspiring”. You should go check out her blog, too. I love how she captures the beauty of nature and the things around her through photography.

Here are the guidelines for accepting this award:

1.Link back to the blogger who nominated you.  2.Paste the award image on your blog, anywhere. 3.Tell them 7 facts about yourself. 4.Nominate 15 other blogs you like for this award. 5.Contact the bloggers that you have chosen to let them know that they have been nominated.

So, in accordance to the rules of the award, here are 7 facts about myself (this is the hardest part!):

1. I grew up in the northwestern most town of the Philippines – Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

2. I am afraid of snakes!

3. I love photography.

4. I love the beach.

5. I want to learn how to surf and dive.

6. I am currently reading A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

7. My greatest dream is to be a pilot.

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Here are my nominees:

1. Storytelling Nomad

2. That’s How I See The World

3. Sadie & Dasie

4. Clotildajamcracker

5. Stories of My Wandering Feet (& Mind)

6. Millie on Her World

7. A Word In Your Ear

8. The Resplendent Life

9. Second Lunch

10. California Pixie

11. Maftravelgraphy

12. The Ego Tripper

13. Illumylife

14. My office is the road, my service is the carabao

15. The Alternate Economy

 CHEERS!

Sunrise

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Sunrise at Abra de Ilog port, on the way to Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro

Welcome each day with gratefulness in your heart and love and blessings will flow abundantly.

Revisiting Anawangin

Almost 4 years ago, my friend Jessica and I, along with her two older siblings, decided to go on a weekend trip to Anawangin Cove, Zambales. It was not part of the trips that we planned but we got excited to go there ASAP when we saw the pictures of this hidden treasure on the internet. So,after a few days preparation, we set off to discover the place. And it turned out to be a great weekend getaway.

Some time in April, some of my office mates saw a deal from CASHCASHPINOY.COM for a group package tour to Anawangin and I got invited. It had been four years since I last went there, so I said yes. There were about 30 of us who went to Anawangin that weekend.

This blog post is not about how to get there or what to do or see in Anawangin. The place has been quite famous for the past few years and it has earned a great number of blog posts. My post, on the other hand, is about how different Anawangin has become after 4 long years.

These are some of the shots that Jes and I took in Capones and Camara Islands and in Anawangin Cove when I first went there in 2008:

Pundaquit – the gateway to Anawangin, Camara and Capones Islands

On the boat heading to Camara Island

Camara Island during low tide

Tide’s down at Camara Island

Capones Island (without the white sand shoreline that it has now)

Huge rocks at Capones Island

Behold, Anawangin Cove!

The clean, clear waters (Photo by Jes)

No stores, no fences, no trash (Photo by Jes)

A few campers spending the night at Anawangin (Photo by Jes)

The river, pine trees and mountains of Anawangin (Photo by Jes)

Cooling down at noontime

So, what’s different about Anawangin today?

1. Campers. Lots of them. Especially on weekends.

Hundreds of people flock the place on weekends, especially during summer. Since it’s just a few hours away from Manila, it means its cheaper to go there. I think the group deals on the internet also contributed to this increasing influx of local tourists, thanks to online marketing and selling.

I’ve always thought Anawangin to be a recluse to those who want to retreat from the busy life in the city. There’s no phone signal. No electricity. No hotels. No comfort rooms. It’s just you, the sea, the pine trees and the river – the perfect place for a retreat.

I’m not sure if you could still do that there, unless you go there on weekdays.

2. Garbage. Plastic. Everywhere.

The moment I stepped out of the boat in Anawangin, I wanted to dip in the water. I remembered the clear blue waters from four years ago. Sadly, I got disappointed when I saw plastic trash, along with oil coming from boats, floating on the water. The water at the center of the cove was murky and dirty and filled with trash. We tried to swim, but we ended up doing a clean-up drive instead. The waters were cleaner and clearer at the sides of the cove.

The comfort and bath rooms could clearly not accommodate all the campers. The queues were long, and some campers were insensitive with it as if they’re using their bathrooms at home. Shampoo sachets were all over the ground. Good luck with caring for the environment. 😦

On a lighter note, I love that Capones Island has “grown” a new white sandy shore where it was rocky before. It was there that I enjoyed swimming. The water was clear and there were corals and fish near the shore. I just hope that people and capitalism would not rob the place of its beauty.

Float On

Anjel floating in one of the islands in Sorsogon

Anjel floating in one of the islands in Sorsogon

My mind is weary from the busy-ness of the city. But I always find solace in the gentle swells of the sea. All I want to do is float my tired body along the clear blue waters and drown the world’s noise. I love listening to the faint sound of the waves softly crashing on the shore. It keeps me calm and serene, and sort of detaches me from the world. Too bad, there’s no sea in my city to comfort me, and only recorded sounds of the sea keeps me company at night after the day’s work.

The Sea

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The midday sun was scorching hot that day. It bit my skin so hard I can still feel its sting everytime I close my eyes and recall it. My sunburned face constantly reminds me of the pain I tried to suppress. The knowledge that I let my one chance slip away keeps gnawing at me up to this day.

The sea gives and the sea takes away. Whatever it gives, hold it dearly in your heart. And when it takes, be ready to let go less the sea takes you with it until you find yourself lost in its deep blue waters.

Lessons from a Little Girl Named Jaja

My wristwatch told me it was 11:00pm. I had been at the Florida bus station since 9 in the evening, afraid I might miss the bus because of the terrible traffic along Quezon Avenue. My bus finally arrived so I climbed up and took my seat. It was the last seat on the extra bus that day. If it were not for that last seat, I would have waited until midnight or the next day  just so I could go home and be with my family for the Holy Week.

I was glad to be seated at the second row. Most of the time, I travel alone when I go home to the province. I wondered who my seat mate would be that night and I prayed it wouldn’t be a guy who might turn out to be a maniac. That’s when I met her.

“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Jaja,” she replied.
“Hi, Chacha!” I happily welcomed her.
“It’s not Chacha. It’s Jaja,” she blurted out.
“Oh, sorry. Hi there, Jaja!” I repeated my greeting. And that started our interesting conversation.

Jaja is 6. In fact, she told me it was her birthday that day. “Happy birthday!” I greeted her. “Thank you po,” she shyly replied.

She was with her Tita Bing and her girl friend, and just like me, they were bound for Laoag for the Holy Week.

“Naku! Lagot ka diyan kay Jaja, sobrang daldal niyan,” her aunt warned me of Jaja’s talkativeness. I told her I didn’t mind although when I travel, I usually don’t talk to my seatmates. My iPod and books are my constant travel companions. That night, I turned off the iPod and closed my book and decided to talk to Jaja. It turned out to be one of my best encounters with God.

Jaja was really talkative, just as her tita warned. She kept telling me stories about her toys, her playmates, her relatives. In between, she asked me numerous questions like where I was going and what I was going to do when I got home. Sometimes, I didn’t know how to answer her questions so I just smiled and nodded to her.

Out of nowhere, I asked her if she was going to miss her mom during her vacation. Nonchalantly, she told me her mom was already gone. Jaja said she was named after her mother – Juanita Antonia – because she died after giving birth to her. I was speechless for an entire minute. I didn’t know what to say and I stupidly stammered, “Do you know how she looked like?” She told me her father used to show her her mom’s picture which he kept in his wallet. I asked Jaja if she’s going to miss her dad. Her reply shocked me to my core. “Patay na po si Papa. Naaksidente po siya  sa motor,” she announced, as if her father’s death did not bother her…but I know it did and she was hiding her sadness in the way she smiled. She became silent for a while. At that moment, all I wanted was to be in my room and release the tears that had been threatening to fall from my eyes. I gathered up the courage to comfort her, “Okay lang yun, andiyan naman si Tita Bing mo. Siya na lang magiging mama at papa mo.” It was a stupid statement, and she told me, “Hindi ko naman po siya mama.” I never dared to reply back. Then, there was that awkward silence again.

Her Tita Bing saved me when she told Jaja to sleep since it was almost 1am. I seconded her. I told Jaja we’d better sleep because everyone at the bus was already asleep except for the two of us. Her tita handed her her teddy bear. Jaja told me she couldn’t sleep without it. I asked her if she ever prayed at night. She told me she didn’t. I told her we we’re going to pray before we slept, and that she only needed to repeat after me. I closed my eyes and travelled back to my childhood, recalling back the prayer that I prayed every night then.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

Jaja stammered the words after me, but she was smiling when I opened my eyes. After that, we said our good nights.

The bus had become icy cold, and I asked Jaja if she felt cold since she was only wearing her favorite pink jumper dress. She said she was, and asked her tita for her jacket. However, they found out that Jaja’s jacket was left behind. She gave Jaja a large t-shirt instead. I knew that this would not keep her warm. I, myself, was already shivering. She kept stirring in her seat. She was holding her teddy bear like I would hug my mom when i was cold. So I decided to share my sarong with her, hoping it would make her feel warm and more comfortable. “Thank you po,” she said with eyes half-closed.

I smiled at her but I quickly turned to look out the window into the dark, cloudy night. I cried. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I cried for a while. I couldn’t sleep. The entire conversation with Jaja slowly sank in. I remembered my mom and dad. I realized how lucky I was that I still have my parents with me… that they are still alive, though getting older. I felt really blessed knowing that I had a mother and father who took care of me as I was growing up, who saw to my needs, and who were there during all the birthdays and milestones in my life.

I used to feel so afraid just thinking about my mom and dad and other loved ones passing away. I could not even try to imagine my life without them. I always prayed to God not to take them away from me too soon. That night, I suddenly felt a coward compared to 6-year old Jaja beside me.

Jaja is a brave and strong girl. Young as she is, she has already experienced far greater trials that I had in my entire 28 years of existence. Before I finally convinced myself to sleep, I prayed for that little girl sleeping soundly beside me. I prayed that she would grow up healthy and strong. I prayed that God will give her good people who will guide her well. I prayed that she will understand all the things that happened in her life as part of God’s wonderful plan for her. I prayed hard for the best for Jaja.

When I got home that day, I rushed to hug my mom and dad, silently thanking God that I still have them with me.

Donsol Getaway Day 2: My Encounter with the Gentle Giant

After the lovely night with the fireflies of Ogod River during our Day 1 in Donsol, my travel buddies and I were all so excited to see the famous Butandings (Whale Sharks) of Donsol, Sorsogon. I was pretty hyped up because this day marked the fulfillment of one of my travel goals – swim with a Butanding.

We got up early since the staff at the Donsol Tourist Center told us to be there at 7am so we can join the first batch of boats heading out to sea. We arrived earlier than that but when we got there, the place was teeming with tourists – mostly foreigners – all waiting for that chance to get a glimpse of the Butandings (dubbed as the Gentle Giants). According to the locals, a lot of these foreigners keep coming back for days just to swim with these giant but gentle sharks. Good thing we already registered the day before so we didn’t have to go through the orientation anymore. When our BIO (Butanding Information Officer) arrived, we got our gears ready. Life jacket – check! Snorkeling gear – check! Flippers – check!

Boat used for Butanding interactions

Kuya Egong, our BIO, told us as we headed out to the Donsol bay that there’s a 50/50 chance of seeing and interacting with a Butanding. I know that when we heard him say that, we all prayed in our hearts that we would. I silently prayed to be given that special opportunity to see and swim with an awesome creation. Finally, Kuya Egong briefed us on what we needed to do once the Spotter signaled the presence of a Butanding.

It took a while for the SPOTTER to spot a Butanding. By that time, there were already a lot of boats filled with excited tourists. We had to race from one place to another just to get close to a Butanding. But when we got really close, they would dive deeper into the sea. I prayed, “Lord, just give us one chance to see your precious Butanding.” My prayers were immediately answered as our Spotter finally called the attention of the BIO.

Mr. Spotter

“Ready, set, jump!” shouted the BIO. The small area in between the boats was crowded with swimmers. I jumped and looked down in search of the Butanding. Lo and behold, before me was the biggest fish I have ever seen live making its way across the Donsol sea, its mouth wide open ready to take in its food. Sadly, it was my first time to use flippers and the one I rented was so big that I had a hard time catching up with the Butanding. Even so, I was happy that I was finally able to swim with a whale shark.

When we got back to the boat, I silently hoped for another chance to see another Butanding. And yes, my wish was granted! I got to swim with these sea creatures for two more times. During the 2nd time, I still tried to wear those huge flippers hoping I’d be better at it this time around. However, it only slowed me down. I watched as the Butanding swam past me, while I continued to struggle with the flippers. I didn’t even see where my friends were anymore. All I saw in front of me was a tangle of legs and bubbles. All of a sudden, an angel in yellow and black diving suit came to my rescue. He must have noticed that I was struggling so he grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. When I realized what was happening, I looked down and saw that the Butanding was right in front of us. The guy kept pulling me forward and guiding me where the Butanding was. That was the best 1 minute of my Donsol trip. Whoever he was, I never got the chance to thank him, but I’m pretty sure I will always remember him whenever I see a Butanding.

The BIO

Though tired, I was very grateful to God for allowing us to see and swim with the Butanding. Other tourists seemed to not  get tired as they went back into the water again and again just to see a whale shark. Once was enough for me. It was a bonus that I got to see it thrice. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of it but it is enough that it will forever be etched in my memory.

The sunset that day was exceptionally beautiful – one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. Again, I was reminded of the great love God has not just for me but for His entire creation. Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful life and world you’ve given me.

Tips before you go swimming with the butandings in Donsol:

1. Make sure it’s the season for whale sharks in the area.

2. Don’t use flippers if you’re not used to it. Or better yet, practice first.

3. Check that your snorkeling gear is in great condition. Make sure it doesn’t have leaks or anything, especially if you’re just renting one from the resort or tourist center.

4. If you’re not a good swimmer or if you don’t know how to swim at all, stay close to the BIO or ask him to hold you.

5. Always be ready once you’re on the boat. When the BIO says JUMP, don’t hesitate and just jump!

6. Don’t be too greedy. Let others have their chance, especially if there are a lot of tourists wanting to see the Butandings, too.

7. Please, please, please follow the guidelines and code of conduct when swimming with the Butanding..

There you go! If you’re planning on heading to Donsol or any other place with Butanding sightings, I hope you will have a great time interacting with them. Have fun!

Donsol Getaway Day 1 – A Date with the Fireflies

As a child, I had been fascinated with fireflies. There was this place along the road in our town where these little creatures would glow in the darkness of night. I loved spotting them amidst the bushes and plants.

When Ate Che was arranging our itinerary to Donsol, I saw that there was Firefly Watching in the list. I was ecstatic! I felt this was going to be one of my most memorable trips ever.

(I’m sorry it took me so long to continue this series as I was forced to concentrate on my acads. I know, school sucks during exams!)

So, let’s go back to Day 1.

After arrival and settling down in our resort, we paid the Donsol Tourist Center a visit to register.

Our first activity: Firefly Watching at Ogod River

At 6pm, we hailed a tricycle and headed to the Ogod River Tourist Center handled by the River Cruise and Firefly Watching Association.. And with much excitement, we climbed the boat assigned to us, together with our tour guide and captain. Alas, once on the boat, the tour guide told us not to expect that much because it was a full moon. The moon was actually so huge that night that it took my breath away. (Aside from sunsets, I also love clouds, stars and the full moons!)

Tip # 1: Make sure not to schedule the Firefly Watching on a full moon.

Look at how bright the moon was that night!

We didn’t have to use a flashlight. The moonlight literally lit up the night sky.

So, I was kind of disappointed… but I was still hopeful we could get a glimpse of those tiny little glowing creatures of the night. And surely, we got what we went there to see – hundreds and hundreds of fireflies crowding the branches of mangroves lining the river. I had but one word to say to the sight before me – AMAZING! The captain took us near the mangroves so we could take a closer look. All I wanted to do at that moment was to catch some and bring them home with me. But, I couldn’t. Because they’d die. So I just feasted my eyes on their bright little lights, savoring that moment with nature and God’s wonderful creations. We cruised the river some more and saw more fireflies along the way. And I was just so happy  I forgot I was tired, hungry and sleepy. I left Ogod River and its fireflies with a smile on my face, praying that both won’t get affected by the continuous development in that area. I hope that when I go back, if I’d have another chance to, the river and its fireflies will still be there, thriving.

Tip #2: If you want to capture your moment with the fireflies on camera, bring a DSLR.

Now, this reminds me of another place teeming with fireflies – San Rafael Farm in Tacloban City, Leyte. They have a tree that turns fairytale-like at night because of the fireflies lighting it up. Make sure to visit this picturesque garden restaurant when you’re in Tacloban and enjoy their great food!

Check out Day 2 of Donsol Getaway here!

P.S. Check out these really cool facts about fireflies:

Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are neither flies nor bugs – they are actually beetles!

Fireflies can be seen in all continents, except in Antarctica

Fireflies are the world’s most efficient light producers.  All 100% of the energy goes into making light, without generating heat. Now, that’s something we could use to combat global warming!

A firefly spends most of its lifespan as a larva. In the adult form, it survives for a very short span. The main aim of an adult firefly is to find a mate and lay eggs before dying. 

Fireflies produce light for three reasons – attracting mates, warning predators and telling other fireflies of danger.

Head to these sites for more fun facts:

http://www.firefly.org/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/

But hey, did you know that the population of fireflies is slowly dropping? I, for one, have not seen fireflies in areas where I usually spotted them when I was a child. This is because fireflies are sensitive to disturbances in their habitat. They are usually found in moist environments such as swampy areas, fields, lawns and at the edges of woods or streams, so if we don’t stop cutting down trees everywhere and turning fields and woods into subdivisions, we might not be able to see fireflies in the near future.

So, check out this website for a list of what you can do to help fireflies and prevent them from disappearing.

Donsol Getaway Day 1 – The Arrival

Summer is here! At least for me and my travel mates. And what better way to kick-off this summer than with a trip to Donsol, Sorsogon to swim with the Butandings (Whale Sharks)!

Donsol Bay is one of the few areas here in the Philippines where Butandings are regularly seen (There are also sightings in Bohol, Palawan, Batangas, Leyte and Mindanao). Accordingly, the peak season for Butanding sightings is February to April. Our scheduled trip was just in time!

Armed with a backpack full of summer clothes for our 5-day trip, I was ready to forget about work and school and just enjoy the sun and the beach!

Day 1. The Arrival

To get to Donsol, you can either: a) take a plane to Legazpi City, then ride a van to Donsol; or b) take a bus straight to Donsol. Good thing we got a Cebu Pacific promo fare from Manila to Legazpi about a month ago so we didn’t have to endure to grueling 12-hour bus ride. We took the first flight at 6:05 am since we wanted to maximize our first day. It was a bit difficult to wake up that early considering I barely slept that night ( barely, meaning 30 minutes). I made it a point to finish my paper for school because I didn’t want to have to think about it or do it while I was on vacation.

Thankfully, our flight didn’t get delayed so we arrived there before 7 am. Sleep deprived that I was the night before, I slept throughout the flight and missed seeing Mt. Mayon from above (which I also missed in my previous travels to Legazpi). But, as I stepped out of the plane, I was refreshed just seeing the majestic Mayon volcano.

One of our travel companions booked for the next flight at 7:55 am so we decided to have breakfast first while waiting for her. The tricycle driver took us to Kim’s Bowl where we had breakfast and coffee.

My first Tocilog during this trip

Sadly, the next flight got delayed by an hour. Finally, after three hours of waiting, we were all set for the 1.5-hour travel to Donsol, Sorsogon. You can take a taxi to Donsol but it’ll cost you a few thousand pesos so best take a van since it only costs P75 each. At about 1pm, we arrived in Donsol. The van even brought the six of us to our resort for only P100. I was so exhausted from the trip that I decided to take a short nap before we started our 1st day activities.

At 3pm, we went to the Donsol Tourism Center to register for our Whaleshark Interaction the next day. A BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) showed us a video orientation about Butandings and the rules in interacting with them.

At the Donsol Tourism Office

As always, I find it super awesome to watch the sun go down by the sea. So, here are some of my sunset shots at Donsol.

We stayed at AGM Beachfront Resort. They have really nice and attentive staff and clean rooms. If you’re looking for a quiet place to stay, this is the right place for you. There’s no TV, no WIFI, no videokes. It’s just you and the beach. Plus, they also organize tours for their guests. I give a thumbs up for Ate Mae and all the staff of AGM.

By 6pm, we headed to the Firefly Watching Tourism Center in Ogod River for our date with the fireflies. Check out my next post to know more about firefly watching in Donsol.

Overall, our first day in Donsol was great! That night, I went to bed looking forward to swimming with the Butandings.

Of March Travels and Sunsets

I haven’t had the time to write about my travels, photos and experiences this month. School requirements has taken its toll on me. Thankfully, next week is already finals week so I’m excited to get back to blogging. For the mean time, let me give you a glimpse of my Donsol-Legazpi trip last weekend.

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Exploring Pangasinan!

I’ve always wanted to go to the famous Hundred Islands of Pangasinan. Last year, my officemates and I visited not only Hundred Islands, but Bolinao as well. I was super excited for this trip, not just because it was my first time to go to these two destinations, but also because they are part of my travel bucket list here in the Philippines. Much thanks to Ate Che for organizing the trip and for being the best itinerary planner ever!

Saturday 12mn – travel to Alaminos, Pangasinan (jump-off point to the Hundred Islands)

Total travel time: 5-6 hours via Victory Liner

We took the midnight trip to Alaminos so we won’t need to check-in to a hotel. We arrived in Alaminos around 5am. It was still dark so we looked around for someplace to stay while waiting for the sun to rise. However, all the fast food stores were still closed so we ended up eating lugaw and drinking 3-in-1 coffee in a store by the roadside. At twilight, we decided to look around.

By 6am, we decided to head to the Lucap Wharf. It took us about 15 minutes to get there via tricycle. When we got there, we registered at the Hundred Islands National Park Center and arranged for a boat for our day tour. Our boatman was so kind to help us buy fish at the market and have rice cooked for our lunch.

After a couple of minutes, everything was ready. Swimming gears – check! Food – check! Cameras – check! We eagerly stepped inside the boat, excited to see what the islands had to offer.

Trivia: Did you know that the Hundred Islands National Park is composed of 123 islands and islets?

Here are some of my shots:

What we did in Hundred Islands:

1. Snorkeling

Although we did not find a lot of corals and fish in the area where we snorkled, the giant clams were really amazing! If you have the guts to dive and touch them, you’ll get to see them snap shut. Just make sure your hand won’t get caught. You may want to bring your own snorkling gear and life jacket (if you’re not a good swimmer) since the ones that are rented out are already worn out.

2. Spelunking

The boatman took us to a small island with a cave. He told us that we’ll exit at the other side of the island. I was so excited to see the inside of the cave so I took on the challenge. Two of our companions didn’t come with us. The inside of the cave was so beautiful with the light coming through a small opening at the top of the cave. It was so surreal that I forgot I have a fear of closed spaces. After a few minutes, the boatman told us it was time to go. When I saw that the exit was a small opening at the other end of the cave and that we had to go through a 10-meter passage, I got really scared. But I couldn’t go back anymore so I told myself that I could do it. The boatman patiently instructed us on what to do. Eventually, we all got out alive! Thank God!

Billie coming out of the hole

3. Cliff diving

I also have a fear of heights and cliff diving at Marcos Island proved to be another challenge which I intended to overcome. It was pretty low but it still took me a few minutes to convince myself to jump. I’m glad I did! It was so much fun!

That’s me, getting ready to jump!

While we enjoyed swimming and snorkeling, our boatman and his assistant prepared our lunch! They docked our boat in one of the islands and we feasted in the delicious grilled fish. After lunch, we visited other islands and swam some more until we got tired. Finally, at around mid-afternoon, we bid goodbye to Hundred Islands to go to our next destination – Bolinao.

Overall, I enjoyed Hundred Islands! I’d definitely go there again. I want to try staying overnight in one of the islands.

Catch Part 2 of Exploring Pangasinan! soon to find out about my trip to Bolinao, Pangasinan.

For more information about the Hundred Islands National Park, check out:

 http://hundredislands.ph/

http://www.alaminoscity.gov.ph/index.aspx

To Coron, Alone!

I am one step away from fulfilling two of my travel goals this 2012 – travel solo and go to Coron (thanks to Cebu Pacific‘s PromoFare). I was thinking of spending my 29th birthday in Coron but I still prefer spending it at home with my family (especially because my dad & I have the same birthday). So, I’ll be there the week after my birthday. I am so thrilled and I wish October comes soon!

Goal # 1: Travel Solo

I’ve always  wanted to go on a trip by myself. However, I haven’t had the courage to really do it. Whenever I mention traveling alone to my friends, they usually ask, “Why would you want to do that?” Some say, “It’s no fun!” since you don’t have anyone to talk to, or take pictures with. But, that’s precisely why I want to do this. I want to travel solo because I want to know how it feels like to not know anyone, to not worry about anything except yourself, and to not have anyone to depend on except God. This is the kind of adventure that I want to do! I look forward to meeting new people and discovering new things about myself and the world. I’m sooo excited!

Goal # 2: Coron, Palawan

I think it’s just fitting that I’m doing my first solo adventure in one of my dream places to go to in the Philippines – Coron, Palawan.  The reason why I chose Coron is because it seems a good place for a personal retreat. Since it’s going to my birthday, I’d like to take some time to examine my life. Usually, communing with nature helps me introspect so Coron’s majestic landscapes will surely provide a perfect milieu for personal reflection. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be introspecting the whole time I’m there. I’ll make sure to spare enough time to explore the best of what Coron and the nearby islands have to offer!

Anyway, got any suggestions or tips for me about traveling solo and what to do in Coron? I’d be happy to read your advice in the comment box below. Thank you!

I’d like to end with my version of Dept. of Tourism’s “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” meme:

 

This photo of me was taken by Karen Sioson in Anilao, Batangas.

Grace Under Pressure

I haven’t written for quite some time. I’ve been so busy for the past three weeks doing different sorts of projects that I can only count the days I slept in my bed in one hand. From reviewing and editing Bible study materials for children at UP Hotel, to organizing and facilitating a 12 Hour Famine event for a school in Baguio, to assisting a retreat for doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel of a province in Bicol, attending a conference for Singles for Christ in Dagupan, and now I’m back to working on the Bible study materials again, this time in Tagaytay. And July has a few more days to offer me for some other tasks at hand.

Algino, my cousin whose staying with me at home, might already be feeling bad that I’m not there to cook food or to help with his assignments. I’ll just have to make it up with him this weekend, especially since his birthday is coming up soon. My visa application forms has been on my desktop for quite some time, undisturbed. I guess I’ll have to squeeze time for this soon since application time is running out. Mg Lyn, another cousin, has been waiting for me for a week to watch HP at Imax. I promised to watch it with her this weekend. I might as well tag Algino along. That would be my birthday gift for him + dinner. Hahaha. And oh, I almost forgot… I also have to meet with friends this Saturday afternoon. Its been half a year since I last saw them. And I really miss talking with them.

It’s been a busy month… but I’ve never felt more productive. My body may be sore from travelling and having not enough sleep and rest, but I feel more alive than ever. The Grace of my caring God has carried me through. Thank you, God!

At this time, I want to enjoy the peace and serenity the Poveda House of Prayer offers. My eyes have feasted from the scenic view of the Taal Lake at sundown. My stomach is happy with the delicious food. And I feel glad.

For now, since the nocturnal animals are already starting their concert, I have to go back to work.

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