Tibiao in Tagaytay

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Just a preview.
I went to Iloilo last October 10 with the intention of going to Tibiao, Antique,  to get ourselves (me and my wife) immersed in a huge hot bath. In Tibiao, they add herbs to the lukewarm water. The hot bath is actually a giant “kawa” used in the making of muscovado in the earlier years. Enterprising resort owners made them into a spa.
Unfortunately, the heavy rains two days before our Iloilo-Antique holiday caused the bridge connecting Iloilo and Antique to become impassable.

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Had to content ourselves taking photographs around the southern part of Iloilo, up to San Joaquin where the bridge was located. Took photos of Iloilo’s beautiful churches instead. But my chief destination was Tibiao.

Now I do not need to go to Tibiao. I brought Tibiao to my PARADISO in Tagaytay.

Paradiso Tagaytay

Masbate. So Beautiful. So Underrated.

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I first went to Masbate in 1978. I remember Masbate to be a very poor province. I always tell my friends that I then checked in at Crown Hotel near the pier and, when it was time for shower, the hotel staff would fetch me a huge pail of water – – brought to my second floor room from a pulley at the end of the hall.

Fast forward to 2013. Friends piqued my interest to watch the Masbate Rodeo and I thought it was an excellent subject for photography.

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Bull riding

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Barn dance at the Rodeo opening ceremonies

In between the rodeo events, my friends and I would go to “tourist destinations” but I did not have enough material then to write about Masbate. This year, I attended Rodeo 2014 and booked myself a much longer stay. In the process, I was able to explore more of Masbate.

From wikipedia:

“Masbate lies roughly at the center of the Philippine archipelago … bounded on the north by Burias and Ticao Pass, east by San Bernardino Strait, south by the Visayan Sea, and west by the Sibuyan Sea. Relative to mainland Bicol, the province faces the southwestern coasts of Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon areas.

The general surface configuration of the province ranges from slightly undulating to rolling and from hilly to mountainous. In each island, the rugged topography is concentrated in the northeastern portion and gradually recedes to blunt hills and rolling areas in the south, southeast, and southwest.”

Above description of Masbate’s topography reminds me of it’s similarities to the hills of Batanes. In fact, I tell my friends while we were on the road that, if they haven’t been to Batanes, they could shoot some hills and pass them off as Batanes shots. Of course I could be exaggerating.

 

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Yet, Masbate is beautiful in its own right. And depending on how deeply you explore its nooks and crannies and the islands that form part of the province, you might even say it is more beautiful. Minus the stone houses that make Batanes unique.

All promotions of Masbate that I have seen in recent years say Masbate is the Rodeo Capital of the Philippines. I can only agree that the rodeo is the one big draw. Otherwise, I would not have made visits to watch the rodeo for two consecutive years.

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Rodeo is big in Masbate, complete with the only proper rodeo arena in the country, and in Asia

But I submit that Masbate is much more than rodeo. It’s natural beauty is more than enough to lure visitors. The centuries-old lighthouses are another major reason and, for some, could be sufficient enough reason to go. And I am not even talking about the wonderful people of this province that made my visits both comfortable and memorable.

I shall show Masbate in photos on this blog. On some, I will share anecdotes. But for most, I the photos should speak for themselves. As it is sad, a picture paints a thousand words.

 

BUNTOD REEF
Buntod is a marine sanctuary that is most likely the most popular destination. It is accessed from right at the city, at the wharf of Rendezvous Hotel. On our frist trip to Buntod, we went to still another destination, a cove about 30 minutes away.

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mangroves were planted and maintained/preserved in this marine sanctuary

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CATANDAYAGAN FALLS

The only waterfalls I have seen that empties its waters straight into the sea. Accessible by boat, the falls is actually part of the nearby Ticao Island, in the town of San Jacinto.

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PALANI BEACH

Palani is a rather new development. When I visied in 2013, resorts were just being set up. Excellent swimming on crystal clear waters on powdery sand. In the town of Balud.

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AROROY LIGHTHOUSE

Took a 1 1/2 hour ride on a van from the Masbate Transport Terminal. Van fare was P80. From Aroroy, took a boat to Punta Bugui, at P50 per person. This centuries-old lighthouse is a short walk up the hill.

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BALUD LIGHTHOUSE

P150 fare on a van to Calumpang in the town of Balud. Approximately 2 hours, with the last 45 minutes on bumpy, rather dusty road. Good thing the van is air-conditioned. Transfered to a boat to the island of Jintotolo, landing on the Barabgay Cantil shores. A short hike up, or an easy “habal-habal” (back-ride on a motorbike) to this other centuries-old lighthouse.

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SUTUKIL RESTAURANT

I rate this restaurant as another tourist destination. Our group of 25 persons ordered food more than enough for us. Malasuge fish cooked three ways – – – – grilled, broth, and sashimi-style. Plus scallops and seafood kare-kare. And generous servings of rice, plus softdrinks. In the end, we split the bill and each one of us had to fork out only P200 each as our share.

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LASALA BEACH
Lasala Beach was used as “command post” when Secretary Robredo’s plane crashed and President Noy Aquino took cahrge of the failed rescue operations. A small picnic hut has been called “Little Malacanang” by the locals since it is from this small hut where the President met with his cabinet who were with him.

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Little Malacanang

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view from Little Malacanang – – an ocean going vessel

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RANCH LIFE
I had the privilege of a preview of a tourism package that is to be a major draw of Masbate, RANCH LIFE. We were guests in the ranch of the president od Rodeo Masbateno, Inc, an amiable gentleman everyone calls Judge Sese.

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FAZENDA DE ESPERANCA

Fazenda is a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol dependents in the town of Milagros, run by the religious.. The community of Fazenda Masbate has established different working sectors: Dairy, Rice, Bakery, Vegetable Garden, T-Shirt Printing etc. Through this, the community is earning the money for the daily operations.

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SIGSAG

Locals call the zigzag road SIGSAG. It is a beautiful winding road with a view of the hills and plains.

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BAT-ONGAN CAVE

Located 1.5 kilometers inland in the town of Mandaon, near Masbate City. It is said that the caves were used as burial grounds in the old days. Within the area, a hike will lead visitors to an underground waterfalls. We were so tired we skipped the waterfalls and just saw another falls from up the hill. Our knees were trembling after traversing two hills we couldn’t muster the strength to go down the falls.

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Bat-ongan Cave from a distance. The cave is what looks like a mound

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THE STREETS OF MASBATE

Stroll around and discover some old houses, see the Masbate Church, and soak in the feel of a provincial city unknown to most travelers

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a view while going around the coastal city of Masbate

 

WHERE TO STAY IN MASBATE CITY

I have stayed at both Greenview Hotel and MG Hotel. Both are comfortable, but nothing de luxe. I have also visited popular hotels Rendezvous, 7 AR, and GV.

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my room at MG Hotel, at P2,400 per night

 

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a small pool at MG Hotel

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the coffee shop at MG Hotel

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Greenview Hotel, where I stayed in 2013, at I think P1,500 per room per night

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the outdoor section of the coffee shop at Greenview

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Rendezvous Hotel, where the wharf to Buntod is

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I snapped this photo of the room rates at Rendezvous in April 2013

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I almost wanted to stay at 7 AR because it looks most beautiful. But I am told the rooms are rather small

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7 AR looks more like a resort

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and because I did not stay here, I thought I’d just have lunch. Not bad, but not memorable either. I just liked the ambience

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GV is at the heart of downtown Masbate, near the Masbate Cathedral. It is part of a local hotel chain. I understand the rates are very reasonable

 

Another accommodations worth mentioning is Balai Valencia, also in downtown Masbate. I don’t have photos but suffice it to say that some of our friends who attended the 2014 Rodeo stayed in this budget hotel, and did not complain. Rates are very inexpensive:

Airconditioned rooms:

Single 650 1room

Double 800 2rooms

Triple 950 2rooms

 

Fan rooms:

Single 450 1room

Double 550 1room

Triple 650 1room

Extra person per rm 150

 

 

HOW TO GO TO MASBATE

1.  By Land:    RORO bus at Araneta Center

The roro bus (roro bus of Montenegro and Isarog bus line) in Araneta terminal (the old Rustan’s) leaves for Masbate between 1 pm to 6 pm. The bus fare is P1,200.00. Travel time is approximately 11 hours.

2.  By Air:  PAL/PAL Express direct flight to Masbate. My return ticket cost me P7,000.00. Fares vary depending on the season, and depending on how early or late you book your flight.

3.  By Air, Land and Ferry:  Any flight to Legazpi.  Land travel to Pilar, Sorsogon.  Ferry at Pilar, Sorsogon.

You can supplement whatever I have shared about Masbate by visiting the Masbate City’s website: http://www.masbatecity.gov.ph/

You may also want to visit the facebook community page I created and called MAS-BEYT, a play on the province’s name:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/masbate.is.fun/

SEE YOU IN MASBATE !

Buntod Reef

Buntod Reef is a few minutes boat ride. White sands.

 

 

Ticao Island

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On a recent trip to Masbate I made a side trip to nearby Ticao Island. I have not heard of Ticao from any of my traveler friends and there lies the allure of discovery. Not many people have gone to Masbate, and definitely even less would have even heard of, much less set foot on Ticao. A short one-hour boat ride took me to this island.Fare: P85

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The boat from the Masbate Pier

The boat I took sits 80 passengers cramped in a small space. There were enough life vests though, and this made me feel good somehow.

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Entry into the seats on the boat is via the bamboo planks on the side, and then you slide into the seats.

 

FOUR TOWNS

 

Ticao Island is home to four towns. The first town a traveler hits from Masbate City is Batuan, arriving at the Lagundi Port in Barangay Burgos.

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There are piers on all the 4 towns. I went to the Batuan pier at the center of Batuan, near the market, and saw fish being dried. Yes, Ticao Island folks have fishing as the main source of livelihood, aside from farming.

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must be a 7-kilo catch

I traveled the island on habal habal (back-ride on a motorbike) as there are no other means of transportation in Ticao. My next stop was the town of San Fernando.
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Next to San Fernando is the island’s mother town, the progressive municipality of San Jacinto.

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This is where the bishop stays when he is on the island

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The oldest church on this island was built in 1852, but the local parish had updated the church’s interiors, and repainted the exteriors as well – – to the great disappointment of this delights in shooting old churches and homes.

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This is a very old church, but the exteriors have been repainted and now looks rather new. The old design can be gleaned from this view, though

The last town is Monreal. The church was also renovated and updated, but the old homes got me worked up.

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This century house is open to visitors, but the owner was away when I came to Monreal

Monreal is also where one finds Matang Tubig, a spring resort on Barangay Real.
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a never-ending supply of fresh water from the bosom of the earth

Monreal is also the jump off point to island-hopping. The Halea Nature Park is famous and, I am told, a must see. But my limited time in Ticao prevented me from further exploring ( I could not afford to miss the opening of the Rodeo Festival the next day)

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CATANDAYAGAN FALLS

This is the only falls I have seen that empties its waters straight into the ocean. A friend jokingly said that he is surprised the sea level does not rise with the continuous flow of the falls into the sea. Catandayagan can also be accessed from Masbate City on a 1 1/2 hour boat ride.

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emptying its waters straight to the sea

 

WHERE TO EAT
My friend and I, both back-riding on habal habal, had lunch in a carinderia recommended to us by the people at the town center. When asked for directions, we were told to look for the carinderia in front of the Monreal Town Hall

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What we found was the best-value lunch I ever had. All four of us had longaniza (native sausages), half of a fried fish, and adobo. We also had two extra plates of rice and a 1.5 liter bottle of soda. And lots of purified water. Total bill came to only P320.00. I joked about this to my friends at the Rodeo, saying I will give a treat to the first 100 persons who sign up and would want a lunch treat from me in Monreal.

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weren’t we really hungry !

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WHERE TO STAY

There are inexpensive resorts and even cheaper homestays if you ask around. But having saved so much on food, I decided to stay on the best accommodations on the island. TICAO ISLAND RESORT is in Barangay Tacdugan on our way back from Monreal to San Jacinto. It is reached via a motorbike on a stretch of unpaved road that I reckon is about 4 kilometers long. The “ordeal” from that back-breaking ride is rewarded by this A-1 resort accommodation on cabanas facing the ocean. Image

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a waterfront cabana with airconditioning, 2 beds, a clean toilet and shower, and a small veranda

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the restaurant staff gave good service and wide smiles

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buffet dinner catered to international guets

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The air-conditioned cabanas rent out at P2,600 per pax, at 2 pax per cabana, inclusive of dinner and breakfast. Budget fan rooms are at P1,500 per pax, also inclusive of meals.

Strangely enough, the resort does not cater to locals, nor to people from Masbate mainland. It is actually fenced off and access is by boat as nearly 100% of its guests, also nearly 100% foreign nationals, arrive via boats from Donsol in Sorsogon, actually another, albeit nearby, province. The resort is packaged as accommodations for divers. Ask them about manta bowl and they will say Ticao Island.

Book Ticao Island Resort thru their website: Ticao Island Resort | Donsol Dive Resort | Ticao Island Dive Resort | Dive Donsol NOW!

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Boarded this ferry the next morning to arrive in Masbate City at 7am to catch the Grand Parade to open Rodeo 2014

 

 

Camiguin, come again

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an island born of fire

Camiguin is the second smallest province in the country, next to Batanes. Its charm lies in its being an unexciting place for people looking for a wild night on the town. Even the capital town of Mambajao tends to sleep early at night, with just a videoke pub on Roof Top for those who would want to spend an evening outside of their  resorts.

The island is a perfect eco-tourism destination. Beaches, nearby islands, volcanoes, hot and cold springs, waterfalls, and lots of hiking and trekking opportunities.

Mantigue Island, off Mahinog, Camiguin

Accommodations are also varied. From high-end resorts offering amenities similar to Metro Manila hotels, to back packers’  hostels at P250 per night. Island tours can be done in air-conditioned comfort by renting vans, or in the sturdy jeepney-like Multicabs, on motorbikes that can be rented for P500 for the whole day, on motorellas (like the tricycles of Metro Manila), on habal habal, or simply by walking.

On a visit ages ago, I walked around the island, all 64 kilometers of the coastal road, spending the night in resorts in whatever  town I am in by end of the day.  Only to move out in the morning and continue walking – –  on to the next town where I would spend another night.  I spent two nights outside of Mambajao then, and was back in this capital town on the third day.

On this latest visit, I rented a multicab to cover as much sights as I could in one day.After picking me up from the resort at 9am, we proceeded to the tourist-listed  destinations:

Ardent Hot Spring is at the foot of the Hibok Hibok volcano, some 3 kilometers from the main road. The water is normally at 40 Celsius, making it an ideal overnight swimming destination. Accommodations are available within this resort.

one of the hot spring pools at Ardent

We passed by a very familiar old house, with the same sign “Paradiso” that I saw some 15 years ago. Apparently, the owner of the old restaurant has maintained the lease on the old house, but now does business nearby, using another business name – – Luna Ristorante Italiano.

Paradiso reminded me of a visit to Camiguin 15 years ago

Old Vulcan was next, with the Way of the Cross as a stop. There are 300 steps to complete the Via Crucis, but I made do with the first 2 stations.

they call this the old volcano, maybe until it one day decides to prove to them it is not that old, and explode

the agony in the garden

Immediately next is a fish sanctuary where a cemetery was sunk by a volcanic eruption, and where a cross now stands as a marker to define the area of the Sunken Cemetery.

Nearby is the Guiob Church ruins, with a small chapel inside the ruins.I thought that the church or the government should have kept the character and feel of the ruined church, and should not have built that chapel inside the  ruins. Maybe an altar using old stones would have been more appropriate.

I bought a pack of lanzones for P90 from vendors near the ruins, not wanting to pass up the chance to savor Camiguin’s most famous produce.

P90 because it is not exactly in season

Next stop was the SODA Swimming Pool, that I will make sure I skip on a next tour, and advise friends not to waste time on. Nothing extraordinary here, and the pool is not even spectacular.

But Sto Nino Cold Springs is a stop I will recommend to friends. Not only is the water refreshing, the place has picnic sheds for P50 and there are women outside of the complex who would arrange to cook dishes for you – – – freshly cooked lunch (1/2 kilo kinilaw, 1/2 kilo tinola manok, 1/2 kilo inihaw na baboy, rice, and 3 pcs fresh buco was only P540, including the cooking and the utensils that they themselves will set up, and move out, of your picnic shed.

a nice place to stop for lunch, and have food freshly cooked by locals

 

P540 worth, must be good for 5-6 persons, freshly cooked and delivered to my P50 shed by the pool

 

We also visited the town of Guinsiliban where I took a photo of a row of boats on the shore.

Guinsiliban boats

Part of Guinsiliban is Barangay Cantaan, home of the giant clams, with some measuring as long as 2 meters. The clams can be viewed live on the water, with fees arranged thru the volunteers of this park.

live giant clams in this DENR-supervised local initiative

 

rates to view the clams – in their habitat

 

It was the feast of St John (San Juan) and it was a holiday in Camiguin. People went to the beach, including White Beach in Cantaan.

the white sand beach in Cantaan (the only other white sand beach is White Island, 10 minutes by boat, P500 boat hire)

Somewhere near the beach, in a cluster of shrubs and a tree, I saw this sign that struck me for the way it expressed the truth and the inevitable consequence of being irresponsible with nature. Forget the grammar, but I urge everyone to keep this in their hearts.

A big group was having a program, when a dirty ice cream vendor passed by. He was immediately surrounded by the entire beach population, and it took rather long before my turn to buy 3 scoops at P5 came. It was like a scene straight out of EDSA, with the vendor literally being mobbed.

as if this was the last ever ice cream on earth !

I patiently waited for my turn

 

We then stopped for coffee at J&A Fishpen, a popular seafood restaurant. So popular they charge a P5 entrance fee to those who come just to take photos. I ordered coffee instead, so the entrance fee was waived.

the lagoon is NOT man-made

Enigmata is an artists’ haven. I liken it to Tam-awan Village in Baguio. I met two resident artists, Vincent and Venson, who toured me around the area. I commented about the name, and how appropriate Enigmata, from the root word enigma, is to the place. Until I was told that while it was a good coincidence, Enigmata is actually Bisaya for “open your eyes”. Because that is their mission:  to open people’s eyes to their various art forms. painting, including using sand as the medium, sculpture, installation art, the creation of things like bongoes, beads, etc. Anything creative.  They even have accommodations for backpackers, dormitory-type or private rooms. I said I will definitely stay in this place at least one night when I return.

Open your eyes!

Our last stop for the day was near Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin, the resort I was staying in on the day of the tour. We went to Katibawasan Falls. It is 240 meters long, cascading from the top of a mountain onto a lagoon. It is a breathtaking sight, with the forest around it lending serenity to the gushing water. Picture perfect.

240 feet down

Accommodations

I stayed on the first night in Camiguin Golden Sunset Beach Club, booking what I thought was a beachfront cottage. As it turns out, it was a room in a structure with 4 rooms facing the sea, at P2,600 per day when off season. Other rooms cost P2,000 per day.  I was welcomed by the guy who took my booking, and was ushered to my room. I also met Philip, an Englishman who owns the place, married to a Filipina. He goes by the local name Pipong, speaks Bisaya and Camiginon, having been in the Philippines very long. He even wrote a clear perspective of the Pinoys to brief foreign guests. Try to click on that when you go to their website :    http://www.camiguinisland.com         phone (+6388) 3879613

I stayed on the second night at Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin, BBC for short. Clearly THE place in Camiguin. Nice de luxe rooms like 5-star hotel rooms for P4,375 per day, with room rates going down to P3,700 as you go farther away from the pool. Standard nipa-hut style rooms, air conditioned, go for P2,359 per day. Wi-fi is available. The restaurant and the bar overlook the sea. Lovely place. Book them by phone (+6388)3871057 or go to their website http://www.bahaybakasyunan.com. I am definitely staying at BBC on all my next visits, and recommend this and only this resort hotel  to friends. Until, of course, a better place comes along.

Bahay Bakasyunan

de luxe cottage, facing the pool and the sea

big room in a de luxe cottage, nice amenities

regular cottage, at half the price of de luxe

not luxurious, but comfortable and clean, aircon, with hot and cold shower and a TV

nice restaurant

a well-stocked bar

BBC is the best in Camiguin

I also checked on the popular Paras Beach Resort. It is, for me, the second best choice in Camiguin. Room rates start at P1,950 with a suite going at P3,450. There are also 2-bedroom cottages for P5,500 (standard) and P5,900 (de luxe).  Phone (+6388) 3879008 website: http://www.parasbeachresort.com

Paras is the second best

de luxe

 

While I did not check in at Jasmin by the Sea, I went there to check it out, being listed on Lonely Planet as the best value place in Camiguin. Indeed, they could very well be. A room facing the water goes for P800 per day, no airconditioning. There is a fan, but it may not have to be used as the breeze enters the room.  I plan to stay here one night when I return. Contact (+6388) 3879015

seaside accommodation for two at P800 per day

 

Ardent Hot Spring has rooms for P3,200, air con. And a dormitory for P440/day, up to 7 persons in the dorm. Contact (+6388) 3870508

Finally, another place I will stay in at least one night – – Enigmata. They have rooms for P950 and backpackers’ quarters for P250 per head per day. website is http://camiguinecolodge.com/  Contact them at (+6388)3870273

Enigmata

How to get to Camiguin

The usual route is via Balingoan, an hour and a half away from Cagayan de Oro. Take a  ferry from Balingoan to the port of Benoni in Camiguin. Travel time is 1 hour.

the ferry I took from Balingoan to Benoni

Mambajao, where most of the resorts are, can be reached by motorella, if you have not arranged for pick up with your resort. My pick up cost me P400 on a Multicab.

From Cagayan de Oro to Balingoan, you can get into a bus at Agora terminal. Or take a taxi that will charge a flat fee of P2,000.

Moving around

You can make arrangements for pick up, island tour, or boats to nearby islands from the resort. Or even arrange to hire a motorbike.

transport options

You may want to contact the driver who toured me around. He owns the multicab. Whole day tour of the island is P1,500 (P1,800 if booked from the resort). His name is Criz Jabay, with mobile phone number 09215637788

Criz Jabay and his multicab

Here are sceneries from Cagayan to Balingoan.

fishport in Kimaya

 

taken at Jampason town. But the view is like this all the way to Balingoan, and onwards to Gingoog

 

Camiguin is beautiful. It almost tells you “Come again !”. I say, surely.