Cebu and Why It Is A True Queen of the South

It wouldn’t be called Queen of the Southern Philippine Islands if it does not possess the unparalleled beauty typical for a royal seductress – mesmerizing, captivating, one you can’t help but gaze.

Often featured as one of the world’s best islands among magazines as Travel + Leisure (6th), Cebu is a spectacle one should not miss dropping by: a mirror of what could be a complete Philippine experience – from the simplistic way of coastal living caught between the blazing sun’s heat and the cooling sea breeze, to the life-changing and surreal encounter with creatures of the ocean, to the modern-day way of city life.

An opportunity to visit Cebu came my way, and everyone knows I have to grab it. And I did, despite the lack of a concrete plan and solid savings. All I had were tiny specks of guts (which were enough for me to apply a 3-day vacation leave despite having been hired for only 10 months) but a big will to travel.

The flight was at 3:30 AM, an hour of delay so that’s 4:30 AM. I was with my officemates. We were sleepless, hungry and heavily disorganized. The one hour plane ride was scarcely enough for a nap.

At almost 6:00 AM, we took our first groggy steps in a 6-day stay in Cebu.

IMG_1295
Take a Bus Ride! It’s a perfect chance to explore the Cebu’s countryside.

Simala: Nook of Catholic Faith

We stopped by at the place of our friend’s friend to cater our personal necessities – water, a little rest, and of course, the toilet – before heading to our first stop: the Mama Mary of Ligodon Church in Simala.

From Cebu City, Simala is a 3-hour bus ride south. It’s long but it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore the Cebu island’s country side which excellently reflects the Philippine country scene as a whole.

History has it that one man prophesied about a mysterious woman appearing in grasslands and hills which now will be the Church of Simala. Years later, in the 1990s, a group of monks traversed amongst the area and the prophecy materialized: an image of a woman mystically appeared.

Now, the Church of Simala is an important place for pilgrims in Cebu and daily, hundreds of people from all over the country come to the church to deliver their petitions.

On the way back, we stopped by at Carcar City to treat ourselves with the nationally revered chicharon Carcar.

Million Sardines and Some Turtles

Next day, we woke up at 4:30 AM to head to Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu. The sun is so our mood that morning: dreamy, half-wanting to rise, half-wanting to recline. The sky is crimson orange and after almost two hours, the smell of the sea was already prevalent in the air.

The engine of the motor boat we’re riding to cross island to island  silenced our conversations, so we had the chance to just marvel at the vastness of the sea and beauty of the panorama.

Pescador Island is  a home for a million sardines and some sea turtles.

20170429_094233
Sea turtle gracefully maneuvering in the sea
20170429_093203
Sardines Run!
20170429_100956
Meek big one

Witnessing them maneuver  adeptly under the sea, in their natural habitat, was mesmerizing – especially the medium-sized turtle who swam like a ballerina in a perfect piece with its flippers gliding through the water flawlessly.

Taking the Canyoneering Plunge in Kawasan Falls, Badian, Cebu

Kawasan Falls was our next trip and highlighted by a 3-4 hour canyoneering adventure. Not just mentioning the time it takes to overcome the adventure, but mostly how to overcome the trail – the rocky steep slopes, sharp boulders, the strong current of the river, and especially the 20-, 30-, 40-ft. leaps from a barely enough stronghold  of cliffs down to the splash of blue, relaxingly cold but deep freshwater.

Personally, before I took that 40-ft jump, large amounts of fear, hesitation and excitement collided in my brain. Who wouldn’t when you’re not a professional diver lest a good swimmer? But then our guides told us to not think about the height or the fall. Thinking will only exacerbate the fear. Just take the leap. It only takes a second of courage to overcome the doubt and experience glory.

Unfortunately, we haven’t taken a lot of photos of our canyoneering trail because along the way, our action cam failed (sad).

Butanding!

At 5:30 AM the next day, we headed to the beach in Oslob, Cebu to witness with our very own eyes the one of the majestic sea creatures there is: the whale shark or locally known as butanding. Each morning while the sun is not yet too hot (thus, the early time) these gentle giants come to the surface to be fed by the local fishermen. This makes a fantastic opportunity for people to bond up-close with them, especially that they are generally harmless.

Encounter time is limited to only 30 minutes but were actually enough to revel at the sight of our friend in the sea (although at first sight, when it was 1 or 2 meters away from me and close to its overwhelming size, I was terrified. But that’s part of the process. It wouldn’t be called the biggest fish in the world for nothing).

20170430_063037
A queen fish in a queen island – Butanding in Oslob, Cebu

Sadly, we saw one wounded whale shark and somehow I questioned myself, am I enjoying at the expense of these beautiful beings? I hope not, but still it didn’t felt right and I pray the whale sharks get the care and respect they deserve.

From the sea to the top

After immersing ourselves in Cebu’s waters for days, we reached its highest point – the Osmena Peak. As is with other hikes, the trail was energy-consuming albeit not that difficult. After 10-20 minutes, we found ourselves marveling the Cebu island from its crown.

IMG_1522
A local boy from Osmena Peak
IMG_1500
Tourists not minding the cliff to get better photos
IMG_1492
Looking all over Cebu shrouded by dark clouds
18194130_1478915908837347_8434432393807286612_n
The mandatory group photo

And the richness in history and faith.

At a very young age, we were taught the richness of Cebu’s history: the landing of Magellan (who led the first navigator ship to circle the world – Victoria) and his death at the hands of arguably the first Filipino hero, Lapu-lapu, in the notable Battle of Mactan. The setting of Magellan became an important turnaround in Philippine history, paving the way for a 333-year of Spanish regime. This day, Magellan’s cross became a monument of this history. I can’t help but be amazed as I witness things I was taught as a young Filipino, as if ridiculously I was watching history unfold in my very eyes.

But perhaps what can be attributed most to Cebu culture-wise is the depth of its Catholic faith, as is evidenced by its monumental shrines and the nationally hailed Sto. Nino (celebrated annually during the Sinulog Festival).

IMG_1595

The sporadic food trips:

There are tons of A-class restaurants that offer palatable food in Cebu. In this trip, we went to Casa Verde (where we’re treated for a dinner by a generous officemate), La Vie Parisienne and Zubochon (where we satisfied ourselves with the cuisine Cebu is known for – the lechon Cebu). But coming to the point when we have to budget, thankfully there is a local street eatery that gave us just what we need, cheap but delicious meals – the Pungko-pungko sa Fuente – where crabs, chicharon bulaklak, hotdog, porkchop and chorizo are put all together in one rectangular plastic container. Just pick one and eat. It was fun since we haven’t had that kind of eating experience before.

IMG_1590
Pungko-pungko sa Fuente! Fun dining experience
20170501_131018
Magellan’s Cross – a monument of the 333-year Spanish regime in the Philippines

 

There’s still a long list of places to visit in Cebu: Bantayan Island, Tumalog and Aginid Falls and more.  Next time, I’ll make sure I’ll tick off everything.

Until the next time, Cebu!

How I Ended Up Regretting Underestimating My First Hike

Mt. Capistrano? Never heard of the mountain before.

And when my officemates organized a hike to this mountain’s top, I was more neutral than excited. I even thought of not going. Well, I even decided not to go at all.

img_3707
The moon as we started the hike.

But events turned out so quick and I found myself at the foot of Mt. Capistrano
at 4:00 AM on January 15.

No exercise, not even a minor jog. No warm-ups whatsoever. I was even confident carrying a heavy bag and wearing fitted shorts.

But ten minutes of climbing the landform and I found myself desperately wanting to leave my bag behind, among the wet shrubs; not bothering if I’ll still find it when I come back.

A quarter of the trek and I did not hesitate wearing off my fitted shorts and have my trick pants instead (I bless the minute my brother persuaded me to bring the pants).

Every step along the trail, I and my friends are close to saying ‘Okay, I’m done. I’m not climbing that mountain anymore.’

img_3710
7:58 AM and we’re halfway through.

But every step along the trail, we were peeking at the vista there is of the panoramic mountain ranges of the beautifully green Bukidnon (bukid is actually mountain in our native tongue!).

That’s what holds us from giving up the climb; the thought of reveling at the top, watching all of the sceneries in full circle, 360 degrees, back-front, left-right.

We were slipping along the slope; scratching our hands on sharp edges of rocks; traversing through snake holes.

We were literally crawling, with nothing but a rope to hold on and prevent us from sliding down.

We were trailing behind most of the legit hikers, chanting ‘This is not a race. We’ll get there.’

‘Slowly but surely.’

‘It’s the journey that counts. The destination is just an added bonus.’

‘All of this will be worth it in the ended.’

Before we knew it we were already reciting mantras not only applicable to this hike, but virtually in every aspect of life.

So this is what hiking is all about: believing it was all easy at first until you reach that point of giving up.

Until you reach that mountaintop.

img_3714img_3734img_3711

And only if you could pat yourself on the back and say ‘Dude, thanks for not giving up.’

And as if everything is not enough, there’s an underground spring in a cave nearby that can surely relax your cramped muscles.

Relax in a cold spring inside a cave nearby!

Exploring the Exotic Camiguin

Northwest of the Mindanano island, Philippines is the exotic island of Camiguin. Indeed, its geography of four active volcanoes in one island is unmatched anywhere else in Asia. Riding a ferry from the coast of Misamis Oriental, I can only stare at one of its steaming volcanoes, Mt. Hibok-hibok, as the swerving water transport approaches the Port of Benoni, Camiguin. The journey was long, but like any other journeys, it was worth it.

The island of Camiguin is the perfect stop to one looking for a getaway from civilization. There are areas where signal is low so you have no choice but to forget about Twitter and keep that mobile phone away; few people and simple human habitations and roadside cliffs peppered with lofty rainforest-like trees. In fact, I decided to go there along with my sister and her friends not just to travel and create this entry but more so to calm my mind amidst the busy and demanding work of an auditor.

Anyways, our first stop was the Sto. Nino cold spring, with cool and relaxing waters coming out straight from a mountain’s bottom. The moment I submerged my toe in its pure water, the relaxing chill reverberated to my entire body.

Later that day we went to the Sunken Cemetery. Needless to say, the cemetery is covered by meters of oceanic waters with only a huge crucifix emerging above the surface. The place dates back thousands of years ago during the Spanish era around 1500s. A combination of all of that creates the surreal, historic, somehow terrifying yet overall, invigorating feeling. There were foreign tourists snorkeling and watching underwater tombstones when we arrived.

14852984_10207494851790911_1944606173794392433_o
The setting-sun background of the Sunken Cemetery magnifies its surrealism.

The next day we went to one of Camiguin’s famous spots which in my opinion is the iconic symbol of the place, the Camiguin White Island. The treeless, all white sand landform is located in the middle of the sea kilometers away from mainland Camiguin. And to sum up my experience there is the word breathtaking: the fine sand comprised of white rocks and seashells powdered by the coming and going of the rhythmic waves is breathtaking; the sun kissing and slightly burning your skin and then cooled by the breeze as it passes by to blow the hairs of ladies captivated by the view of steaming green volcanoes far away. Breathtaking.

15039625_10207600411269832_4380461628346604312_o
A cheap but delicious local food. 

 

14907646_1260358204034128_4137537475971573192_n
My snorkeling experience has been fantastic, given the fantastic waters.

Truly, when I came back for work after that trip, I was more ready.

15068339_10207600411229831_4301086555957746915_o
Coming back home with a more positive mood

Make sure to come in Camiguin, too!

 

Living Alone in Taiwan: My Experiences as an Exchange Student

Two years ago, I had this once in a lifetime opportunity to become an exchange student. Initially, the thought was a bit scary to me due to the fact that I’ve never lived away from home for a long time lest to be alone in another country. But somehow, the thought also ignited a spark in me that (as I’ve found out), I cannot just shelve in the corner – the excitement of what could become a fantastic adventure. So despite many concerns, hesitations and a palpitating heart, I took the chance and applied for an exchange student program.

And to cut the long story short, I was bound for Taiwan.

Boarding off a DragonAir flight, I couldn’t simply describe how I felt the moment I stepped on the Taiwanese ground and be surrounded by Chinese characters and conversations I could not understand. There was fear that what if I made such a decision emotionally, mentally and financially unprepared? What if halfway through I wanted to go home? What if I don’t fit in? I’ve never had a longer conversation with a foreigner before so what if I can’t adjust? But then in the middle of these worries, I would finally think ‘This is it! This is the adventure you need to color your life!’

Perhaps, the most significant place in my journey in Taiwan is the place I lived in in four long months -a dormitory inside our university’s campus in Kaohsiung City, south of Taiwan; and one of the things I’m most thankful for is that my roommates and dorm mates are very friendly. My roommates are Bryan, from Macau and Yuya, a Japanese. What’s funny in our setting is that, Bryan barely speaks Japanese or English, Yuya barely speaks English and is just starting to learn Chinese while me have no idea about Japanese or Chinese at all! So verbally, there’s no way for us to connect with each other. Yet thankfully, all of us willingly tried to communicate with each other as much as we can – which means a lot of funny gestures, unintelligible languages and Google translate. I felt really happy looking back at those moments.

People from our nearby rooms come from different nations as well: there were four more Japanese guys across our room; Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians are on our left and right; further down the hall was a cool guy from Haiti, a multilingual Vietnamese, a floor above is a Thai and French friends of mine, and more. I got particularly close with my Japanese, Malaysian and Thai dorm mates, and with them I made a great number of funny Taiwan memories even in a bleak, high-walled dorm.

660
I in a Japanese traditional costume my Japanese friends made me wear. My Malaysian friend (leftmost) was there to have fun of me too!

Next thing that’s great about any travelling experience (and I’m sure we can all agree) is food, and Taiwan has many local, exotic and delicious delicacies to offer. At the close of every day, night markets open; and in Taiwan a night market means a rich hub for food enthusiasts.

251
A night market in Taiwan – a rich place for food and more.

Some of Taiwan’s palatable cuisines include the xialongbao (steamed buns), lu rou fan (pork braised rice bowl), oyster pancakes, and the very famous chou dofu (stinky tofu). Eating all of them together with new found friends, my Taiwan journey has been more flavorful.

 

Taiwan is also a very livable place, with excellent transportation system, clean environment, scenic and artistic spots and friendly locals.

99
In Formosa Boulevard, one of the subway stations in Kaohsiung.
158
One of the many buildings in my university.
331
Taiwan is a very livable place.
476
Strolling around the city
494
Through a bridge
606
In one of Taiwan’s museum.
286
A magnificent Buddhist temple
156
A sunset view in Taiwan – different country, same sun.

It is this Taiwan experience that ignited my desire to travel the world. In fact, it is this experience as well that made me create this humble travelling blog – for me to share my thought about travelling and how the world is too wide and big and great to be undiscovered.

Honestly, I felt like I became a different person when I came back. One who is not settling in a single, safe place in the world but one who is a discovered of a wider horizon.

group-photo
Cultural differences will make you a more understanding human being, but more friendships will make you a better person.

If there is one significant learning Taiwan has given me, it is the cultural immersion experience that widened my understanding and perspective of differences among people of varying nations and how we should treat everybody with respect regardless of what they believe. Most importantly, I’ve learned a society can become more beautiful if the people within it are different but equal. Imagine a rainbow. One color alone cannot create a rainbow – it can be too bright or it can be too dull – but position them side by side as if they are a single ray and voila!, a beautiful rainbow. In Taiwan, I’ve learned the importance that in a setting of different people, you should not brand yourself as different. Rather you should learn to blend by learning what makes you different from them – be it in religion, tradition, even political and social views -and accepting those differences no matter how they can be contradictory to yours. In that way, you can widen your thinking of people without losing your own identity. In fact, you can become more appreciative of who you are and your roots and you will learn a lot.

413
A smile in an adorable Taiwanese baby. A world can be filled with this if every body does his or her part in promoting harmonious living.

 

Ta-al Trekking

Being one of the most known volcanoes in the Philippines, and perhaps in the world, a trek to the crater of the Ta-al Volcano is definitely a must-try.

Being one of the most known volcanoes in the Philippines, and perhaps in the world, a trek to the crater of the Ta-al Volcano is definitely a must-try.

Why go to Ta-al?: If you want to get real up close an active volcano accompanied by several surprises along the way, Ta-al is a very good choice.

How did we go?: We wanted to go to certain locations first before finally heading up to Ta-al. In this trip, we rode a bus headed from Manila towards Sta. Rosa, Laguna to stop over in Enchanted Kingdom, a local fun amusement park, then hired a van going towards Tagaytay to enjoy its noted cool and clean surroundings. After that, we drove us to Talisay City, Batangas. where we rented a boat to cross Ta-al’s outer lake to its inner land circle.

Note that there are many ways one can access Ta-al. It is best to plan your trip ahead of time so that you can decide wisely which path suits your comfort.

What you should do?: The most enjoyable trip of your life in Ta-al doesn’t have to be that costly. At the foot of the Ta-al volcano, the locals of the community will welcome you warmly. There, you can ask one of them to accompany you to the crater. Of course, you have to give them some freebies as well. After choosing your tour guide, talk with him. Ask him what’s his name, how is he, how long has he be doing this job or does he have any other form of livelihood. Ask them anything about Ta-al as well, they know more the place they live in than anybody. By doing this, you’re not just discovering the place but more importantly the life within it. I have the opportunity to mingle with a local named Dennis, the horse jockey I had to accompany me. He was born in Batangas, lived in the same place ever since in his 36 years of living and has been doing the job for  10 years now. Dennis, was no taller than I am so I felt like I was talking to a comrade – a very close comrade if I may describe it. His dark complexion, black pupils, dry hair, dirty nails and gapped teeth spoke much of the simplicity of the life of the humble people living within the vicinity.

Aside from having a local tour guide, you can horseback your way to Ta-al too! Horses in this part of the world are so friendly and their names – Jericho, Cristina, etc. – are very amusing as well.

But my suggestion is that you trek to the crater and then horseback your way back to the town. That method, you’ll enjoy the the perks of both options. Just remember that any of those ways mentioned, you’ll have to bear with the smell of horse poop along the track. In my case, I just laughed out my disgust of the smell but occasionally covering my nose to avoid it. Besides, it is still part of the entire Ta-al experience, isn’t it?

You can do these things while you are on your way to the crater as well:

  • Locate some sulfur emissions of the volcano and its rotten egg-like smell
  • Talk to your fellow tourists and ask them how they’re doing. If they are enjoying, tell them great.If they are not, tell them have a life.
  • Wonder at the scenic views of different islands.
  • Take pictures! Just remember not to obsess too much on documenting the trip through your cam or phone that you fail to actually document it in your memory.

Once you reach the top, take some time to rest. Perhaps, you can take a sip of a local vendor’s buko or buy souvenirs like locally-made shirts and other items. This way, you’re having physical memoirs of your journey and at the same time, helping the community.

After gaining energy, now’s the perfect time to enjoy the view. Meditate on the view, capture it in your mind thinking you might not come back to this place. If you’re with your family, now’s the time to enjoy it with them; with friends, to have fun; with a lover, to be romantic; or alone, to reflect on everything worth’s reflecting.

Where to eat?: After the tiring yet fun trek, it’s just right to reward yourself a hearty meal. You can go back to Tagaytay and drive straight to the Mahogany Market.  The market is known for its sumptuous and delicious native cuisines, all for reasonable prices! You can try their roasted crablets, fried shrimps, sweet pineapples and their bulalo (beef stew) is one, if not the, place’s finest. If you want, you can pair all those food with a native coffee. Just to mention, Tagaytay is known also for its coffee.

So what are you thinking about now? Plan your next rrip and let that trip be a trek to Ta-al.

 

Sohoton’s Waters: Amongst the Finest

Amongst the World’s Finest Waters

A six- to eight-hour ride from Davao City will take you to a place uncrowded of tourists, unpenetrated with big establishments but blessed with a wonder of nature so beautiful and pristine one gloomy heart will surely lighten. The place is called Sohoton in Siargao Island near the northeast tip of the bigger Mindanao island, Philippines.

Why go to Sohoton?: While the physique of Sohoton can be compared to places like Palawan, its atmosphere is something to brag about. It offers serenity and quietness which famous island tourist spots usually lack – a perfect moment for someone to relax, meditate and destress from the hullaballoo of the city and life in general.

What to do in Sohoton?: You should go to the Hagukan Cove, an opening found beneath the ocean where you can cross over to enter into a hidden cove. Our tourist guide told us Sohoton got its name there, because you have to sohot or so-hot or so-ot (to swoop) the opening to get in. Inside, the green waters will look like they’re sparkling, mainly because of the enough amount of light playing with the water’s ripples.

 

You should do these things as well:

  • Dive into the clear waters 15-25 ft deep. In our case, Club Tara, our accommodation, has its own diving board. We took this opportunity to dive as much as we want.
  • Hire a local tourist guide to accompany you in the trip. Ours was named Michelle, who is a really beautiful lady with her sun-kissed skin and hair, brown eyes and fit stature. She’s also really kind, as with most of the people we’ve met here.
  • Thrill yourself in the Bolitas Cave. Bolitas Cave has a particular tunnel enough only for an average human to fit in and pass through. If you’re looking for some adrenaline rush in your entire Sohoton trip, Bolitas cave is the perfect choice.
  • Go island hopping! It seemed that when God rained islands to the earth, this particular area got a lot. So go ahead, hire a boat and hop from island to island. Not to mention that there are islands that are perfect for swimming because of their not so deep water and shores strategically located to avoid the sun’s rays.
  • Take pictures of the entire scenery. There are unlimited places to go and snap that perfect shot (or selfie!) you want.

 

What to eat?: The place is the reality for that sumptuous and straight-from-the-ocean fresh seafood buffet you dream of. You can order wide arrays of varied seafood delicacies ranging from steamed squids, prawns, shrimps, lobsters, grilled milkfish, malasugue and more. All of that and never a worry of bad fat and calorie!

Tips: Although, it is advisable that you know how to swim, you don’t have to be a really good swimmer to enjoy the deep waters of the place, as there are life vests and life guards to assist you. But for those who can’t, I recommend a little more care and attention – but not too much as to stifle your enjoyment of this nature’s beauty. So go ahead! Go to Sohoton and immerse yourself as much as possible in its majestic waters.