Sanib Pwersa @ SM North EDSA March 22-25, 2019

A first-ever show featuring three Japanese art forms will open on March 22, 2019 and will run up to March 25. Dubbed as Sanib Pwersa, the exhibit will feature around 200 bonsai trees from the members of the Philippine Bonsai Society, the country’s premiere and most prestigious bonsai club. PBSI is the lead organization, having mounted huge bonsai and suiseki (viewing stones) exhibitions and conventions annually, including exhibits hosted for the international organization called Bonsai Clubs International (BCI), regional conventions for ASPAC and for ABFF, plus national shows every year.

The 2019 exhibit is joined by partner clubs Natural Stones Society of the Philippines (NSSP) which will showcase suiseki, or landscape and figure stones collected from all over the Philippines and in other parts of the world, and the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Manila which will display some ikebana arrangements.

I am showing some of my viewing stones collections to give readers an idea of what suisekis are. The exhibit and competition will be judged by an international panel of masters and experts from Taiwan, Japan and the USA. Bonsai Master Yen, from Taiwan is one of the judges, alongside another Taiwan master and another master from Japan, Kunio Kobayashi.

On the afternoon of the March 22 opening day, Master Kobayashi will do a live demo on how to create magnificent bonsais from raw trees. He will have Prof Amy Liang, another master from the National Bonsai Assn of Taiwan as partner in the demo. Here is how Master Kobayashi did his demo in the last national convention in Taiwan.

There are lectures and demos from March 22 to 24. Learn from the masters. This is a very rare opportunity.

The exhibit is open to the public, in partnership with SM Supermalls. Catch it at The Block Atrium, SM City North EDSA.

Ilocos Sur Rodeo at Kannawidan Festival

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The rodeo in Vigan, actually the 6th invitational amateur rodeo tournament, has just been concluded. This event has become the highlight of a month-long Kannawidan Festival.

This year, moe new teams participated, including teams from Visayas and Mindanao.

The VROoM (Volunteer Rodeo Officials of Masbate) officiated the games, ran the stockyard, briefed the players, brought in its barker, and had Ilocos Sur use their bull riding gear for free.

Three events were held for the first time in Ilocos Sur: bullriding, wrestling from horse back, and lassoing from horseback.

Indeed the rodeo in Vigan has come a long way. And plans are afoot to invite rodeo teams from ASEAN schools in 2020.

Ilocos Sur has, de facto, become the Amateur Rodeo Capital of the Philippines.

Edible Garden in Mobo

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When my friend Mark and his girlfriend invited me for dinner while I was in Masbate for the rodeo, they said we were going to a restaurant outside of the city proper. Is this like Sonya’s Garden serving salads? Could it be they serve mostly veges grown from their garden restaurant?

We arrived at Edible Garden about 25 minutes from my hotel. The place looks very very simple, no frills. If at all, the decor is shabby chic, more the former than the latter. Appropriately shabby.

We took the long dining table with 2 wooden benches. On another table for four sat a group that obviously enjoyed their banter over dinner. Looks like the place is a magnet for friends planning lunch or dinner. My hosts also had close friends joining us. Shey cleaning up a table for us

We had so much food. Barbecue was apparently a house specialty that there wasn’t enough for each one of us. We also had bulalo and kare kare, among the many dishes ordered by Mark and Janine.

Can’t tell you how much the bill was. I can only surmise that the prices of the food items here are diner-friendly. It is not fine dining. It is away from the city. Ergo pricing must be really affordable. I must say everything tasted well. Such that I immediately recommended it to friends. Bico, fresh from a Hongkong trip, according to her diner-friends

The appeal is enhanced by the personal attention from sisters Bico and Shey and their mom. They cook, serve the food, and clean up. In between conversations about their pet doggies with diner-friends who seem to go just to be with the sisters, and have good inexpensive dinner at the same time.

Kannawidan 2018, Vigan

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Kannawidan is the biggest event in Ilocos Sur, and Vigan starts the festivities as early as January 28.

The highlight every year is the rodeo where teams from Luzon and, this year, a team or two from the Visayas compete for honor and cash prizes.

Plan your trip and book accommodations now!

San Nicolas, Batangas

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San Nicolas is along Taal Lake and is the smallest town in the province of Batangas. It is so small for it was part of the town of Taal, and only became a separate town in 1955. Inevitably, its history is closely linked to Taal.

 

The largest basilica in Asia which now stands in Taal is actually Taal’s second basilica.

 

TAAL’S FIRST BASILICA

(from WIKIPEDIA) “In 1575, 3 years after the founding of Taal town in its old site near the shores of Taal Lake  work began on the construction of its first church by Father Diego Espinar (O.S.A.) with Saint Martin of Tours as patron saint. The church was rebuilt in 1642 using stronger materials but in 1754, it was destroyed along with the town of Taal in the largest recorded eruption of Taal Volcano This event led to transfer of the town and the church farther away from the volcano to its present site atop an elevated hill facing Balayan Bay. The ruins of the previous church can still be seen in San Nicolas.”

The first basilica is now nothing but ruins, but is the most interesting spot in San Nicolas that draws visitors to this little town. I did a copy paste of the church ruins history posted outside of the ruins.

Noticeably, the structure is principally made of corals, just like how most of the churches in southern Luzon and the Visayas were made.

 

One can not help but visualize how the church stood in its glory days even as there is now nothing except its shell.

 

Today, statues of saints have been erected outside of the walls of the ruins.

 

GATEWAY TO TAAL VOLCANO

While the town of Talisay is the default gateway, loading hundreds of visitors onto boats for a visit to the volcano island, the town of Nicolas lays claim to being the real gateway. They are the closest to the volcano, about 3-4 kilometers away, and a mere 30 minute boat ride.

The promenade that the town has built around the lake draws visitors for a view of the lake, the volcano, and Mt. Maculot on the background.

 

 

 

 

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SAN NICOLAS

Other than taking a boat ride and trekking Taal, here are two interesting things to do in San Nicolas.

Have lunch at the local restaurant serving the very rare maliputo, a fish species caught only in Taal Lake. On one visit, I had one cooked two ways (a portion was grilled, the other portion made into sinigang). And the famous tawilis. Unfortunately, they do not have these everyday. Try your luck.

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

 

BIRD SANCTUARY 

(photo taken by my friend Bobby Taron)

I did not experience this myself. But the tourism poster at the maliputo place indicated that this is a special attraction in San Nicolas.

 

 

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Kalinga to Abra : Extreme Roadtrip

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This is a route I will advise the faint-hearted not to take. There are no phone signals in 85% of the route, the roads are non-existent in many parts, necessitating traversing thru narrow, muddy  edge-of-mountain roads. There are many stretches where the concrete roads are still good, but they suddenly disappear after the trip, one will remember only the narrow, muddy terrain.

Kalinga and Abra are two provinces within the Cordillera Administrative Region, which also includes Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province.


The Cordillera Administrative Region encompasses most of the Central Cordillera, the largest mountain range in the country, occupying half of Northern Luzon.  It is both the highest and the single largest mass of mountains in the entire Philippine archipelago.Because of its mountainous topography the region has been referred to as the “Watershed Cradle of North Luzon”

The only landlocked region in the country, it is bordered by the the Ilocos region in the west and southwest,  by the Cagayan Valley  on the north, east,  by Isabela in the southeast, and by Pangasinan and Nueva Vizcaya  in the south. It is the least populated region in the country, and is home to numerous indigenous tribes such as the Kalingan, Isneg, Tinggian, Ifugaos, Kankanaeys, Ibaloy, Bontoc, Bago, Illian, Baliwon and many others. Collectively they are called Igorots.

But despite being centrally located between between the much-visited Ilocos Region and the high-tourist-traffic Cagayan Valley which is popular for centuries old churches and exotic beaches , the provinces in the Cordilleras have limited entry points from neighboring towns and cities due to its topographic configuration mostly of steep slopes and mountain ranges. Abra is accessed via Vigan, Benguet via La Union, Apayao, Kalinga, and Mountain province via the eastern Cagayan Valley and Isabela.

Yet, this unique topography of mountains, valleys and rivers make the region a must-visit for travelers seeking adventure and wanting to soak in a different culture one can only experience by meeting ethnic people from the hinterlands.

HOW I DECIDED ON THIS ROUTE

On hindsight, I should not have taken a so unfamiliar route.  But then maybe something in me craved for the uncertain. The sense of adventure started when I did the Apayao-Kalinga route, another road less traveled. Normally, travelers would exit from Apayao from Luna town to Cagayan Valley, and enter Kalinga from there, via Tuguegarao. Instead, I took the mountain road to Kalinga, with traveler friends either advising me against it or warning me of the treacherous road, and that I must take extreme caution.

But then again, maybe I just have a taste for roads that pose a challenge. I went from Baler once to Manila via Bongabon, even while I could take the easy Pantabangan way. Yet, the lure of rugges roads in the rainforests thrilled me, so I drove my 4×4 then tru shallow rivers. On my last drive to this route, it is still beautiful, but now less exciting because the roads are now mostly paved.

And have you tried going to Baler from Nueva Vizcaya, via Quirino? That was also some experience.

I checked with locals. They said the route to Abra is via Balbalan. So some route exists. And it is only 173.5 kilometers. Hmmmm.

So here I am, wanting to go to Abra via another road less traveled. My friends actually said maybe it is  “roadless travel” when I told them about it.

 

START POINT: KALINGA

Kalinga province has rugged and sloping terrain, with mountains soaring to 2,500 meters. On its western side, which is on the route to its neighboring province of Abra, are sharp, rugged,  inter-linking peaks of steep slopes, plateaus and valleys, and rainforests. There are numerous rice terraces to awe visitors in the towns of Pasil and Balbalan.

Tabuk City Hall, Kalinga

DESTINATION: ABRA

Abra  is on  the  Western side of the massive Cordillera in Northern  Luzon. Its deep valleys and sloping hills are enclosed by rugged mountains,  except in the western portion where the Abra River flows towards the coastal plains of Ilocos Sur.  These rugged mountains are shared with the boundaries of the province of Kalinga.

TRAVEL SUMMARY:

At the end of my travel, I reassured friends who knew I was taking this route with a facebook post describing the adventure.

Route not recommended. I am probably just so adventurous, and foolish ( hehehe). And because I knew my 4×4 can handle the road. Total of 6 hours with maybe cumulative 30 minutes spread in different spots with mobile connection. Too many unpaved, very muddy roads on long stretches. Landslides in too many spots I stopped counting at 100. Too many portions where half of the road has nothing under the concrete – – the land must have been washed away. There is a portion where the car had to negotiate an elevated, unpaved road where on a wrong maneuver, the car could fall. And that is why we never saw public transport throughout the trip. Extreme adventure. But something in me says I can do it again. Call me crazy.

REWARDS: Beautiful Sceneries

Pasil

I first chanced chanced upon a beautiful, quaint cafe by the provincial road in Pasil  on the way to Lubuagan, Tinglayan and Bontoc. This is Bangyan 88, a cafe/resto  where, on the next bend to the right, one starts the journey to Abra.

The route starts with this nice, paved road.

From a nice, paved road, you will probably ask “where has the road gone?” And before me was a truck where locals hitched a ride, as there seems to be no public transportation. There is a little barangay I saw, but before and after that was long stretches of muddy roads.

To be fair, there are concrete roads, too. But they suddenly disappear.

On the way, cloud covered mountains and rice terraces.

Balbalan

Balbalan is the next town after Pasil. In fact, this was the defined gateway to Abra, The town of Balbalan covers a huge tract of land – – mountains, valleys, rivers, streams and plateaus. In fact, a national park, Balbalasang Balabalan National Park sits on the beautiful mountain called Mt Balbalasang, and is a major draw among adventure travelers.  Balbalan is also famous for its rice terraces.

 

 

It is in Balbalan where the roads get muddier, narrower, and where landslides on mountainsides become more frequent. A lot of the concreted roads also become unservice-able because the ground underneath has been eroded, making the roads “one way”.

 

 

 

A most scenic part of Balbalan is the Balbalasang area.

 

 

 

Onwards to ABRA

One never know when the roads from Balbalan ends or where it begins to be part of Abra. I kept looking for any signs of the provincial boundary. Nada. Most likely because the roads are in perpetual construction or repair.

There are many stretches of this road. Just half of the road is concrete. And we were constantly praying that no one is on out opposite direction because there was no way we or the other vehicle could move to the sides – – about 10 inches from the ground. Luckily, no one came the opposite way. And that is because no one seems to want to be on this route.

 

 

 

 

 

I FINALLY KNEW I WAS IN ABRA.

Because there was this “To Kalinga” sign, I knew I was in Abra.

 

But I was not quite in Bangued yet. I also saw an arc, and when I went past it, knew that the place I just passed was Malibcong in Abra, an area defined as an “ancestral domain”. Interesting.

 

I felt like I was back in civilization when I hit the next town.

 

 

And then I was in Bangued. Total travel time, including stops for photography was nearly 7 hours.

 

As I told my friends, this is a route I should not have taken. I wasn’t able to photograph a spot where our 4×4 crossed a road that was almost just as wide as the vehicle we were in, and we could have fallen if our wheels moved a few inches away on either side. Visualize this, and it would have been impossible for me to have taken a photo. Once past it, I was just so relieved that I completely forgot to take a snapshot of that road we passed thru, no matter how short.

But then I may be crazy enough to want to try this route again. Especially since I have done it once.