Lake Danao Ormoc City

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Nestled at 1,033 feet above sea level, Lake Danao is the largest lake in Leyte Province.

We went to the lake courtesy of a friend who brought us there on a sturdy Isuzu DMAX. But those who do not have private transportation can either arrange for a habal habal (back-riding on a motorbike) from Ormoc proper, or rent a jeepney or a multicab. Travel to the lake from Ormoc City is 15-20 minutes on a winding uphill road.

There is a viewing deck on top of the hill. Across from the view deck is an office for Forestry students of the Visayas State University.

The viewing deck has three levels. The ground level is essentially a patio style structure where one will not have a view of the lake because of the trees and shrubs blocking the vista. I imagine that, once developed, this will be a perfect spot for coffee, especially when the trees and the shrubs are trimmed. Imagine having coffee al fresco with such a great view.

Downhill, guests have access to many cottages on rafts that can be rented for picnics. Guest bring their own barbecues, or arrange with locals. Some guests I figure would enjoy fishing, or even a cold swim. And kayaking. Camping can be arranged.

 

Pity that the place seems to have been neglected. I found out that the park is under the DENR, a national government office. But if only the city of Ormoc and the national government strike a partnership, the city of Ormoc can benefit immensely, and have Lake Danao as its top tourist draw.

I am an advertising person. While there, I couldn’t resist the idea of shooting the mayor, actor Richard Gomez while rowing on the lake, with his beautiful wife, Congresswoman Lucy Torres, watching him while having coffee at the viewing deck on the hill. Tight and panoramic shots. And visions of Richard in the now classic BENCH tv commercial. This can be done and exposed only online, as advertising on TV will be expensive and may not be easily recovered with revenues from a small city destination. Who knows?

Baler to Manila via Bongabon

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Everyone goes to Baler and back via Pantabangan. It is the easiest route, and the views are scenic – – with 2 dams along the way.

Not so many know that back in the old days, the road to Baler was via Bongabon in Nueva Ecija. In fact, during President Manuel Quezon’s time, the family would take this road to and from Manila. That is why it was also on this stretch of road where then First Lady Dona Aurora was ambushed. A sad footnote, but an important detail to illustrate that back then, Bongabon was the road to Baler. Thus in her honor was created the Aurora Memorial National Park, a protected area within the Sierra Madre mountain range covering parts of Aurora and Nueva Ecija. The road system stretches nearly 71 kilometers from San Luis, with an area (according to Wikipedia) of   5,676 hectares.

Left San Luis at 830am

Baler used to be part of Aurora Sub Province, which was then politically under Quezon Province. Imagine that the people of Baler would then have to go via Nueva Ecija, and then on to Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila, and Laguna before they reach the provincial capitol in Lucena for a transaction with the government? Until of course Aurora became a province unto itself.

Last time I took the road back to Manila from Baler via Bongabon was in 2010, seven years ago. I wrote in my blog then :

Jungle Route vs Scenic Route

Returning to Manila, we decided to take the Bongabon Road from San Luis in Baler. Why? Because the map showed it to be a shorter route. From San Luis, it said 77kms to Bn (Bongabon). Wow, must be a really quick return trip! And the roads were paved. I figured we will be in Nueva Ecija in no time. But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Bongabon route is what I will now call the “Jungle Route”. If you are not on a 4×4 and not adventurous enough, stay with the Pantabangan “scenic route”.

The paved road from San Luis ended way before I could rejoice at the decision to do this shortcut. Soon enough, we were traversing a dirt road carved out of the Sierra Madre, with deep ravines on our right. There were several portions that were so narrow and we had to stop to give way to trucks going up the mountain trail. Most of all, we had to cross two rivers, one was deep and wide enough to make me re-think of the sanity of continuing. But then,this wasn’t the first time my 4×4 was crossing a river, so what the heck. In my mind, I was more worried about  the van that we passed early on. It is one of those second-hand vans you can buy for P150,000,  and I was sure they will have trouble with their decision to take this jungle route. They probably also had a map, and decided to take this “shortcut”. I was glad I took this route so I can advise non-adventurous friends to stay away, and challenge my daring friends to take this road either to or from Baler.

The Road 7 Years Later ( June 5, 2017)

Just the other day, I was in Baler from another route – – via Quirino Province. It was also some adventure. Thus, to complete the adventure, I decided to try what I then called the Jungle Route to Manila via Bongabon. Bummer. It was, after 7 years, a concrete road – – – or at least around 85% of the way.

Left San Luis, the town after Baler at 830am. Entered the Dona  Aurora Memorial National Park and was out of it by 11am, on a very leisurely drive, with some stops for photos and a stop at the marker of the site where Dona Aurora was ambushed. Thus, 2 1/2 hours for a distance of 71 zigzagging kilometers with portions of dirt roads.

the historical marker. I was there when this was unveiled by the National Historical Institute a few years ago.

This is obviously a low-traffic road such that dogs feel like they own the road. I must have spotted nearly 50 dogs on the route, with some of them comfortably lying down right in the middle of the road. This one I chanced upon (my cam was not always on) was, at least, on the side of the road.

Yes, there are still some portions that remain unpaved. Or maybe the concrete must have been washed away by landslides. Most likely, the unpaved portions will be done after cutting up portions of the mountain to widen the road, as most of the road system from San Luis to Bongabon are now wide. And there are plenty of spots and opportunities to stop and soak in the beauty of the forest.

Stop and marvel at the forest

Avoid the road after a typhoon as landslides could block the road

 

 

 

 

 

 

51kilometers to Bongabon, Nueva Ecija

 

There was only one point where my 4×4 crossed a narrow a shallow river, but only because the bridge was still being put up. In sharp contrast with my previous trip on this route where crossing rivers and streams was “normal”.

Crossing the shallow river

 

and up into a dirt road

Methinks that even when DPWH finishes all work, this route will forever be under repair. The terrain is just so different and prone to mudslides and land slides. Mental note to self : avoid this route after a really heavy downpour. Or be stuck when trees and earth block the road.

Otherwise, this is a route I can now take anytime. A welcome change from the usual Pantabangan-Baler way.

I strongly suggest you try this route.

P.S. On way home, we stopped in Zaragoza in Nueva Ecija, and had a wonderful lunch in a roadside carinderia. My driver and I ordered one steaming hot palayok of pink salmon, one sizzling plate of pork belly, and one sizzling plate of dinakdakan (an Ilocano delicacy made of pork and liver). Plus three (3) orders of rice, and 2 bottles of Mountain Dew softdrinks? Guess how much we paid.

After the meal, I was guessing how much the bill wpuld be, and I flashed it on facebook and asked friends how much the bill would be. Some guessed as much as P680, with others itemizing how much each item was to come up with a good estimate. And almost no one believed that the sumptuous meal cost us only P295.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and the Baler-Bongabon Roadtrip

 

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Road trip: Quirino to Baler,Aurora

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Why would anyone make a road trip from Quirino to Baler in Aurora Province? Because the road is there.

Quirino, named after the 6th President of the Philippines, is landlocked, It has Nueva Vizcaya to the west, Isabela to the north, and Aurora to the southeast.  Visitors go to Quirino for adventure tourism – – cliff jumping, exploring its many caves ( it is said that practically the entire province of Quirino sits on a syatem of caves). I had planned to stay overnight but chose to bypass after reading up, realizing I should spend maybe 2-3 nights for me to fully explore Quirino. That will have to be another trip.

I was crisscrossing Cagayan Valley and the towns of Isabela, photographing the beautiful old churches. Then I spent a night in Santiago City, intending to explore Quirino, and then decided to save it for a longer trip. Thus, unplanned, I inquired about the road from Quirino to Aurora – – whether it is now passable. I first heard about it and wanted to cross then from Casiguran in Aurora to Quirino, many years ago. When I was told that the road is good, I went on and traveled to Baler instead.

ORYZA HOTEL in Santiago City, my start off point

 

 

On the road to Cobarruguis, capital of Quirino

 

Destination: Maddella town hall

 

Santiago City to Maddela, the jump-off point to the Quirino-Aurora Road is 62 kilometers. And it was an easy 78 kilometers to Barangay Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, Aurora. I got on Waze and learned that it was going to be a mere 1 1/2 hour drive.

Ain’t no mountain high enough

I was imagining an adventure into the hinterlands. As it turns out, the road system is 95% complete and it was concrete roads all the way. Except for certain sections about to be concreted, or maybe just being repaired due to landslides. There are also slippages in many sections but, overall, road travel is safe. There are stones and pebbles piled up on the sides of the roads that are not passable because of the slippage – – – it is hollow underneath.

I felt comfortable especially after coming across many cars and SUVs coming from the other end. Then the road must be good all the way, I said to myself.

It is a picturesque route. Mountains and hills and rivers. For a while I thought I was along Kennon Road.

At the end of the mountain road is Barangay Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, a town I have visited many times before, next to Baler.

Dinadiawan in Dipaculao, Aurora

1.5 hours from Maddela to Dinadiawan, another 1.5 to 2 hours to Baler

Lunch was in a carinderia by the roadside at Dipaculao Poblacion.

And then I was back in Baler, enjoying my beer.

 

Superman Cowboy at Masbate Rodeo 2017

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This is the fifth rodeo I attended in Masbate in the past 5 years. And carambola has been a favorite event.

To the uninitiated, carambola is a cattle event where 2 competing teams of cowboys chase 2 heads of cattle let loose in the rodeo arena. The team that first grabs the bull by the neck will have that cattle to wrestle with and bring down, and tie 3 of its legs  with a rope. The cattle must not be able to stand up within 10 seconds, or else the team is disqualified for that game. All teams race for time, and the winning team for the event, like for example in  the 4-man carambola, is that team that does this routine at the shortest possible time.

This particular 4-man carambola I witnessed this year will go down in history as the bravest attempt by a cowboy.

Ever heard of the idiom “take the bull by the horns” ?

Here is what an idioms book says :

take the bull by the horns:  to forcefully attack a difficult situation

Example: ” I took the bull by the horns and confronted him about his drinking.”

Etymology: based on the idea that holding a bull (male cow) by its horns is a brave and direct action.

Cowboy Ace Malate, a 19-year old Animal Science student did exactly that. I was then at the Photographers Gallery when I saw this cowboy take the bull by the horns and did not let go, even as the bull was mightily trying to throw him off. Cameras from the photographers clicked almost continuously realizing the danger that the cowboy put himself into just to help his team wrestle the horse down. My thought balloon was ” My God, I hope he is not thrown off – –  he will be badly injured if this happens. The horns can get into his tummy ”

Here is the sequence, in photos taken by the official team commissioned by RMI.

 

Taking the bull by the horns

 

Holding on, feet now off the ground

 

The bull is trying to ward off the cowboy, now horizontal

 

Superman !

 

When the group was able to finish its task, I turned around to the photographers and remarked that if anyone had a good photo of that, it could possibly be the winning photo in the Photo Competition participated in by 25 or so photographers.

I also hurriedly went up the stage and requested the barkers Long and Yen to ask the brave cowboy to present himself to the stage for a special cash prize. An instantaneous decision triggered by this awesome display of bravery.

Leo Gozum, Rodeo Director told me:

” Right after this particular game with the horns. Guenther (a German cowboy from Munich,  and  a volunteer rodeo official working as timer) reacted  and said that Filipino cowboys are like cats. They have 9 lives. No matter how they are thrown they still land standing up. If the Germans that he knows would do this – – –  for sure they will have broken bones and end up in a hospital.”

Meet the brave Superman Cowboy, Ace Malate.  He is from the team called Association of Rodeo Enthusiasts in ViSCA or AREV of Visayas State University in Baybay Leyte. This photo is taken from his Facebook page, and used with his permission.

After that feat, the barkers were teasing the next carambola players if anyone would be taking the bull by the horns, like Ace Malate did, for a spot cash prize. But we know this is something that has never happened in the history of Rodeo Masbateno. And probably never will again.

Superman !

 

Dimasalang Masbate

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Dimasalang is a 3rd class municipality on the southern parts of the island province of Masbate. Visitors to Masbate inevitably stay within the city limits or visit the nearby Ticao Island. But out-of-city travel normally comes after visiting the famous sights in Masbate City and its surrounding municipalities.

I first went to Dimasalang last year and did not have enough material to write about the place. Last week, my friends from the group of travel-photography facebook group called FUNtastic Philippines set out for island hopping, after attending the Masbate Rodeo the day before.

We left Masbate before breakfast and were in Dimasalang in less than 2 hours, 67 kilometers away.

First stop was Patio Milagros, a resort hotel that is also the default party and function venue in Dimasalang. We went straight to a picnic hut on the garden overlooking a group of islands we were going to visit. After coffee and native pastries offered by our hosts, we were briefed on our itinerary by the Tourism Officer, Virgilio Natural, known to everyone as simply Ilyo.

PATIO MILAGROS

ISLAND HOPPING AND PORTAVEGA


We boarded a fishing boat at the town’s pier and went straight to the islands, mostly uninhabited. Such beauty. After about 30 minutes of oooohs and ahhhhs, we were brought to Portavega, a very relaxing resort on a cove.

Within Portavega is a very unique, dome-shaped church with Latin words around the dome. Because of its shape, no microphones are necessary during mass. And the religious should not even talk to each other in whispers. the whole congregation will hear what you are talking about.

Lunch was boodle fight consisting of pork dishes, sea food including sea urchins. Drinks were fresh coconut juice. We had for dessert some more native delicacies that looked like camote or balinghoy. I can’t recall exactly how the locals called it.

 

From PortaVega it was a short boat ride back to the pier, less than 15 minutes.

A sidelight was a visit to the statue of our National Hero Jose Rizal, the only known statue of this here where he is sitting down. Jose Rizal, for those who don’t recall lessons from grade school, used “Dimasalang” as his pseudonym when he wrote.

We were briefed on the development plans for the islands. Deep inside, I was hoping that the development will be controlled, and only to add some amenities that will make visitors more comfortable.

As for me, I will be happy pitching a tent at Porta Vega. There is a small store there that sells very basic provisions. And there are toilet facilities, too.

 

HOW TO BOOK AT PATIO MILAGROS:

Baler Revisited

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This is another revisit. April 2017.

On a previous visit, Costa Pacifica was under construction. Now it is the best Baler has to offer, and nothing comes close.

Costa Pacifica has no equal. The 2nd best will be a far 2nd.

Aurora Beach Camp is a campsite no more. It has been developed into a resort called Coconut Plantation.

Not a trace of the old campsite, Coconut Plantation is now a proper resort, with air-conditioned cabanas.

 

There was just a pebbly beach before, now there is a swimming pool with gazebos

 

this cove is the only thing that reminds me of the old camp site

 

While the resort looks nice, I can not see my self staying in this place which is about an hour from Baler’s nerve center, Sabang Beach. The snacking experience was also bad. The “restaurant” is a shared space with guests checked into a room within the restaurant area. we were having snacks while the guests were comfortably slumped in the sofas right beside our table, applying make up, and doing things normally done in the privacy of their cottages. Not their fault. Just bad space planning.

 

I didn’t stay at this resort, and only went for snacks. Ordered “pako” hamburger. I thought it was expensive at P200, way more expensive than the better tasting (for me) Big Mac which even comes with fries.

PASALUBONG CENTER

For some reason, I missed writing about things to buy in Baler. The best place to go to is the Pasalubong Center at the back of the public market. The best buys are Pacing’s coco jam and also shredded beef. Look also for rice cakes and other kakanin in the stalls just outside.

vinagar, including pinakurat in stalls outside th Pasalubong Center. And suman (photo below). There are also several carinderias in the area if you get hungry after shopping

 

WHERE TO EAT IN SABANG BEACH

Yellow Fin : top favorite. At the back of Costa Pacifica

 

Good Food. Inexpensive. With healthy options.

at Good Food, blue marlin with rice (and it is a good size cut of marlin) is P200. Quesadillas was good. Taco was nice. No softdrinks here – – so we had lemon grass for drinks.

 

Vegetarian.

 

ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATIONS. 

There are plenty. Here are some of them just around (at the back, actually) of Costa Pacifica

wherever you end up staying, you will want to be on the shores of Sabang morning and afternoon. Enjoy Baler !

To and from Baler, there is Hillocks Coffee Shop and Restaurant. My favorite stop. Along Pantabangan.

 

CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW FOR LAKWATSA TO SEE MORE OF BALER

LAKWATSA

Baler is now more accessible after the roads have been completed and it now takes only a few hours from SCTEX. Before we hit Baler town, we stopped at the centuries old balete tree that is so huge and intricate it can literally carry 100 people at any one time, hanging around it.

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Baler now teems with visitors from Metro Manila, for that now-so-near holiday. Especially for those who love the beach and the surf. In fact, Baler is gives visitors a flavor of either Boracay or Phuket.

Baler Kahea

Baler Aliya

Baler surf2

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Baler resort

Baler Desiree's Inexpensive accommodations on the beach front

Baler Amihan

Baler outdoor Boracay feel – – food and drinks almost on the water

Baler outdoor 2

Baler store Store on the beach front

Other than the main beach lined with hotels, surf shops and restaurants, Baler offers tens of other beach locations. We had lunch in a rather quiet beach, at the Aurora Beach Camp. Here, there were no other visitors and we…

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Costa Pacifica Baler

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This is my nth trip to Baler, but the last was when Costa Pacifica was still being constructed. My first was at Bahia, that beautiful resort with a swimming pool at the front, with beautiful rooms, but really very few. Next thing I knew, there was another Bahia, this time a 3-level structure. Costa Pacifica, built by the same owners, is right between the 2nd Bahia and the ocean.

Today, Costa Pacifica is without equal. Nothing comes close. The resort compares with the best resort hotels I have been to.

As one enters the lobby, the resort feeling immediately sets in. Very tropical. Open space plan, with the huge pool and the ocean right in front of the guests. Tables and deck chairs surround the swimming pool.

The rooms have verandas facing the ocean. Ours was a suite on the second floor with a perfect view of the whole grounds, including the pool and the beach.

The room has 2 comfortable beds, a wardrobe with a safety deposit box, a luggage rack, color tv, a nice big bathroom with a shower and a tub. Two lavatories. Spic and span. With all the bathroom amenities one finds in 5-star hotels and resorts.  Not all rooms have living rooms, but our suite has a good-sized living room with 2 daybeds that double as sofas, another TV with a DVD player, a round breakfast table for 4, a bar counter top with 2 bar stools, a kitchen counter, with coffee and tea facilities. And a fridge stocked with mini bar items. The veranda has two deck chairs and a clothes drying rack.

 

 

the pool deck as seen from our bedroom, on the right

 

when the blinds are up – – the view from our beds

 

the living room, and the living room deck

 

 

Costa Pacifica sits on a huge property that has a long waterfront, probably the longest waterfront property in Baler. The garden has colorful chairs grouped in one section, a gazebo with swing chairs, a swimming pool bar. And nearly everyone gravitates to the shore where surfers get the ooohs and aaaahs from awed guests. I understand that Baler still offers the cheapest surfing lessons, and there are surf boards for rent. And lost of surf instructors.

Buffet breakfast is served at the restaurant called Beach Club. The breakfast spread is sumptuous, with cereals, fruits, breads, omelettes, and rice plus many choices of dishes to go with fried rice.

Outside of Costa Pacifica are a variety of restaurants and bars. And alternative, albeit cheaper, accommodations.

 

But one can say that Costa Pacifica is the nerve center when one comes to Baler for a holiday. One can go around. But the spell of Costa Pacifica will stay in the visitor’s mind for a long time. And this view will probably stay for quite a while, until the visitor encounters another beautiful resort.  Costa Pacifica will have a place in in their guests’  hearts.

I booked online, and you can book thru their website:
http://web.costapacificabalerph.com/