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?

Ironwood Hotel Tacloban


I have been to Tacloban many times before. But I am visiting Tacloban for the first time after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) a few years ago. Local and internationl aid poured in. Government and the private sector joined hands in its rehabilitation. And today, I saw no signs of the havoc I was then seeing on TV.

I used to stay at Leyte Park Hotel. But even on a previous trip prior to Yolanda, I got disappointed with its state of disrepair, so I checked into another hotel then. That nice hotel, I understand, did not escape Yolanda’s fury.

And so I was pleasantly surprised finding Ironwood, from my research of the best Tacloban Hotels. And Ironwood did not disappoint.

Before the trip, I booked the hotel’s biggest room, an executive suite at the corner. As I pulled the drapes, I had Tacloban streets below me. The room was of good size and accommodated an extra bed which I ordered for the rodeo players who fetched me at the airport (we rode the Ironwood Hotel van). The room had a ref with drinks and a bar with snacks charged per consumption. Toiletries were sufficient. The room also had a safe. Everything I expected from a high-standard hotel.


We checked out the 5th Floor open terrace and had beer. The place is also the hotel’s smoking area as the city prohibits smoking in public (and the hotel of course disallows smoking in rooms and in the hotel’s public areas).

Breakfast was included in the room rate, as well as complimentary wifi. Breakfast was buffet on my first stay. But plated when I returned as buffet was not going to be cost-efficient for the hotel when the rooms are not all taken.

Coffee and cake is nice at the Seed Cafe by the lobby

I actually returned to Ironwood a few days later. That pretty much sums up the satisfaction I experienced with this hotel.


I couldn’t resist this. Returning to Tacloban on my way back to Manila, I was supposed to stay in another hotel, booking the biggest suite that was to cost me P30,000 a night (lower than their usual rate). When I advised that hotel I might arrive early, like 9am, I was to be levied an early check-in rate. While this was that hotel’s policy, I felt it was not a friendly one since they could not have accommodated other guests between 9am and 12noon and therefore would not have lost any revenue. I have been allowed to check in early when the room is available. When a guest is till in the room booked for me, I leave my luggage and get into the room at the usual check in time, and this is all fine. But no hotel anywhere in the world has charged me for being 3-5 hours early. Thus, I cancelled, and stayed again at Ironwood instead

Tacloban after Yolanda

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Except for the ship ran aground that stays as a tourist attraction in Barangay Anibong, visitors will not find any trace of the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought to Tacloban years ago.


Tacloban City is robust and is like any other big city. There is a SaveMore, Gaisano, Robinson’s and a host of hotels fit even for the discriminating.

On arrival in Tacloban, I was met by members of the rodeo team from nearby Baybay, rodeo players from VSU. Together we found a place I was to go back to on the return trip to Tacloban to fly back to Manila. This is now my default drinking place in Tacloban. This barbecue area at the end of the road in Magsaysay, near City Hall, attracts foodies and drinkers as the sun is threatening to set.


We sat on a table with monobloc chairs as the area was yet being set up. We later on found out that the tables were to be covered with table cloth and an umbrella hoisted. Never mind, we ordered ahead and enjoyed our beer and barbecue a meter away from the water. What a sight. They also sold “puso”, cooked rice wrapped in what looks like pandan leaves so that diners can have rice with their barbecues. We ordered all sorts of barbecues – – pork, squid, innards, etc.



The hotel I stayed in was Ironwood and I  would rate it high when I go to my tripadvisor account. The rooms are nice, the service good, plus the fact that they have an open terrace on the 5th floor where beer and food can also be ordered.


front desk of Ironwood Hotel


my favorite spot – – an open terrace at the 5th Floor


We visited the nearby town of Javier and checked out the Javier Carabao Multiplier Farm. This facility was set up thru the Philippine Carabao Center and the farm produces carabao milk that the workers pasteurize into bottled milk, some with chocolate and also into pastillas.

(photo courtesy of Leo Gozum)

photo courtesy of Leo Gozum



A tour around Tacloban is never complete without San Juanico Bridge. It was rainy but I was lucky to have taken some shots when the sun showed for a brief moment.




Another farm we visited was Doctor Camenforte’s Farm at the north end of Tacloban. It is an integrated farm with goats, carabaos, ducks, cows etc and is frequently visited by students taking up agriculture or Animal Science.

(photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)




Dr Floro Comenforte, the farm owner (photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)

I think a parachute visit into Tacloban is not sufficient and I must return to photograph the other places I missed visitng this time.

Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte


I was invited by the Association of Rodeo Enthusiasts in VISCA (AREV) to visit the team, as a member of the Board of Trustees of Rodeo Masbateno Inc and of VROoM (Volunteer Rodeo officials of Masbate). There were four of us from VROoM, including the Rodeo Director. We were welcomed by officers of AREV and their adviser, a professor who is also the head of the Philippine Carabao Center in Leyte. VISCA is the old name of what is now Visayas State University.

I have never been inside such a beautiful campus. VSU has a lower campus on the mountain side, complete with a dam and the rodeo team’s rodeo arena.  The lower campus doesn’t look like a school campus – – it looks like a beautiful beach resort.

We were hosted in a guest house with hotel amenities – – comfortable bed, aircon, and a nice bathroom. The lounge had sofas and a TV (even if there is TV in the room). Our meals were served, courtesy of our PCC host, at the Guest House that looks like a beautiful seaside restaurant.

(photo from Rodeo Director Leo Gozum’s facebook page)


Our VROoM member whom we call Bilog joined the local AREV rodeo players ride horses

(photo taken from Rodeo Director Leo Gozum’s facebook page)


In the evening, we were taken by the team to a local tourism destination still being developed, but already open to visitors. What a sight ogling 16,000 roses up on a hill. Do not hold your breath, these are not real roses. But the concept is so nice that even butterflies probably think the roses are real. The photo below is only half of the 16,000 roses as it is difficult to be walking on steps as I do a pano shot. A drone will be best.



even butterflies think the roses are real

From hill with 16,000 roses, we went with some rodeo players to a local bar with live music, and had beer and music – – – with some moved to dancing by the fun atmosphere. That was captured in a friend’s video which I shall not post here.

The next day, our host took us to a farm in Ormoc which is a public-private partnership. The students from VSU essentially use the MR Farm, owned by the Larrazabal family, for their study- –  especially students of Animal Science. The grounds also serve as their practice grounds before competing in big rodeo competitions.





The second day was capped by bonding with the AREV team, all 60+ of them in a team building event at the nearby beach resort called Aqua Azul.

(photo taken from the facebook wall of the AREV, taken by VROoM Victor Bien)

As I left VSU and Baybay, the beach campus lingered on my mind. Oh, what a campus !

Fort San Pedro, Cebu




Fort San Pedro, or Fuerza de San Pedro, made of stone and mortar,  is the smallest tri-bastion in the Philippines. It is a lovely sight, and a “date place” the way the young and the not so young go to Fort Santiago or to the Paco Park in Manila to be with their special someone in a romantic nook.




It is a good tour for students of history. At the entrance cove, one finds photos of the fort in the old days. And on another wall are snippets of history relating to the founding of Cebu.














Yap-Sandiego House in Parian, Cebu

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The Yap-Sandiego ancestral house is reputed to be the oldest Chinese house outside of China. According to the guide who handled our tour, the house was built in the late 17th century at the heart of Parian, then a wealthy community in Cebu.

I have seen a lot of ancestral homes in my travels around the country but this one is different in many ways. Most of these ancestral homes  were built by the wealthy  families with Europena/mestizo origins . Or they were houses of the biggest owners of farms and haciendas. They all looked like typical European homes.

Yap-Sandiego stands out because of the way it was constructed.In fact, it  does look and feel like you are in a Chinese movie setting, especially with the brick “tisa” roof – – not the same as the tegula concrete roof cement in today’s modern and affluent homes.


Clay roof and molave hardwood for this ancestral house. 

A lady receptionist clad in old Filipiniana dress adds to the aura of this heritage home. At the ground level, there are ornaments and antiquities that are collections of the present owner of the house, a descendant from the Sandiego branch of the family. The house is over 300 years old although the antique collections would probably be “younger”.
in the moment

She lives that moment 

Ground Level

The ground floor is unpaved and contains a lot of period furniture and “santos”. Walking around, my eyes were riveted to the wooden structure that is actually the underside of the stairs. I marvelled at the wood that made up the house – – – molave and other hardwood.


Pebbles on the unpaved ground floor



Sturdy materials for the stairs



Images of saints 




Second Floor
Visitors are asked to wear mittens, provided by the guides,  to cover their shoes or sandals before being allowed on the second floor. This, the guide says, is to make sure the wooden floors are not damaged nor scratched. The first sign of its age, as I went up the second floor, is the creaking staircase, on the left side going up. Noticing how fragile the structure was, I slowly moved and walked up on the right side where it felt more stable.
Photographed from the second floor

Photographed from the second floor

The “banggerahan” ,  a rack for drinking glasses and cups, catches one’s eyes at the second floor, at the dining area. The other focal point  is the bedroom with a four-poster bed and a wooden baby crib. The guide said that even the wealthy Yaps then slept in one and the same bedroom.



Banggerahan on extreme left



The antique items are collections of the present owner, a descendant of the clan. Old interesting items, but not quite as old and as interesting as the 300+ years old house itself. 




 A painting of how the Parian community must have looked like before






an eye-catching wooden baby crib




Pocket Garden 
There is a pocket garden where one can catch a glimpse of the house from the sides. It was Christmas season when I visited so the lovely lanterns provided an interesting accent to this heritage home.





As I took a photo of the house from the street, an ambulant taho vendor walked by, and an old lady came into the scene. I thought these personalities created for me a scene straight out of the late  17th century when Parian was a bustling Cebu district.



Bonus: Cebu’s History in a Giant Sculpture

Just outside is a mjor tourist attraction. I am showing it from one side and not posting the other angle because a portion of the mural is damaged. I hope the city fixes that ruined part before you visit.



A short turn from the Yap-Sandiego House is the Museo Cebu, but the facility is closed every Sunday.

Open from 9am to 7pm everyday
Entrance fee: P50 per guest
How to get there: 
Hail a taxi/cab and tell the driver to take you to Yap-Sandiego at Parian. This is such a famous landmark that everyone knows.
Address and Contact Details:
155-Lopez Jaena corner Mabini Street
Parian, Cebu City, Philippines
(032) 514 3002 / (032) 514 3003 / (032) 253 5568
For more information, visit their faebook page:

Iloilo : Dinagyang

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Iloilo is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, and is home to the most colorful festival honoring the child Jesus, known as the Sto. Nino.

Tribu Obreros

Tribu Obreros

I went there last weekend to join the festivities and to capture the colors and the soul of the event wherein “tribes” from the different towns and cities in Iloilo participate. If one did not know, he will think that the warriors are real tribesmen, what with their bodies painted either black or very dark brown.

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Each contingent is well funded, and donations from the different businesses in their localities fund the elaborate costumes and props. Each of the participating tribes are  made up of more or less 500 participants, including the warriors and the ladies, the chieftains and the religious leaders, the musicians on their eardrums-assaulting drums, the propsmen, the barangay officials on parade, and the choreographers and costume designers.

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If one has not been to Dinagyang, he will never really appreciate the spectacle, and the scale of the event. The props are huge and mechanized, much like crude versions of props in Broadway productions. And each presentation includes a lot of huge props, one setting for every phase of the 6-minute presentation.

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Each of the tribes perform in front of 5 sets of judges on 5 different stages. Thus, photographers and spectators do not have to squeeze into one location and crane their necks. In my years of covering all festivals in the Philippines, Dinagyang stands aout as the most organized. Tribes are given an hour to set up, 6 minutes to perform, and another one minute to exit and proceed to the next stage.

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For photography hobbyists, Dinagyang is a must-go-to event. The performers are in their elements, their mouths are wide open when they shout, and their faces tell the story the tribe wants to impart.

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Dinagyang happens every third weekend of January. I strongly urge everyone to go. Book a seat on any one stage for a good view. More importantly, book your hotel as early as 2 months ahead, or one month ahead at the latest. And make sure you book your flight or your boat trip ahead, too.

A good way of not missing the trip is to book well ahead and visit the ancestral homes and old churches around Iloilo. The three most notable churches one should not miss are Miag-ao, the church in Molo, and the church in Jaro. Visit, too, the Balay nga Bato where your entrance fee includes a biscocho snack with hot thick chocolates.

There are many hotel in Iloilo. My top 3 choices are Amigo Terrace (refurbished) at the city center, the good old Sarabia Manor, and the very clean Grand Dame (if you don’t mind a public market right by your doorsteps).

I shall write about these churches and other destinations and show photos and contact details of these hotels on another day on this same blog page.


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This is a nice tour once you have done the usual Cebu tour of the Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, the Sto Nino Shrine, the Gorordo Mansion, Tops, etc. Time to head south.

Hit the road going to Argao and Cagbalete and head back via Toledo, Balamban, and return to Cebu City via Nivel Hills – – where Marco Polo Hotel is.

You will be passing thru The cities and towns of Talisay, Minglanilla, San Fernando, Naga, Carcar, Sibonga, Argao, and then return via the coastal city of Toledo. You need to rent a car or hire a taxi for this wonderful tour. Hotel cars can be arranged for P5,000 for 8 hours, taxi’s can be negotiated for P3,000.00.

Stop and take photos.



This Naga is not in Bicol

This Naga is not in Bicol



Carcar is a major stop. You can buy shoes and slippers, or ampawa and chicharon. These are the major finds in this city. But the visitor will most likely spend a bit more time taking photos of Carcar’s beautiful church, the museum beside it, and its many old homes.

stop by the stalls around the rotunda for chicharon and ampao

stop by the stalls around the rotunda for chicharon and ampao

shop for shoes and bags - - this is Cebu's Marikina

shop for shoes and bags – – this is Cebu’s Marikina

the old church

the old church

and the museum

and the museum

one of the many old houses

one of the many old houses


Among photo hobbyists, the biggest stop is probably Sibonga with the castle-like Simala Church. The structure is very much unlike any other church in the country. Perhaps unlike any other church in the world.

To non hobbyists, it is a pilgrimage place, pretty much like the Manaoag church in Pangasinan where devotees queue to get to touch the statue of the virgin


as if it is not grand enough, construction is ongoing to surround the church with moat-like bridge/passageways

as if it is not grand enough, construction is ongoing to surround the church with moat-like bridge/passageways


The top attracation of Argao is the cathedral. There is a nearby cafe for the weary and the famished, before heading back to the city.



the church in Toledo

the church in Toledo



when you get up the hill, look down and see the beauty of the place you just came from

when you get up the hill, look down and see the beauty of the place you just came from

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Sea Breeze Hotel in Bacolod


I first set foot in Bacolod in 1979 when the best hotels then were Sea Breeze and Sugarland. I have stayed in both, but I then preferred Sea Breeze because it was right at the city center, the easier for me to visit the radio stations when I used to do media checks then.

Sea Breeze has become a good budget hotel, from being the premier hotel in the 70s. Warning: don’t book this hotel if you want the best, luxurious accommodations.  But highly recommended  for practical, non-fuzzy travelers.

I remember the huge tables and chairs at the ground floor restaurant where I almost always ordered steal a la pobre. The old man Rene Echauz, the owner of the hotel, once sat down with me on my table for small talk, realizing I was a solo guest. I don’t anymore see cafes where tables are so far apart from each other.  I guess old hotels were built with generous spaces in the plan.

generous spaces between dining tables

With newer hotels as years passed by, Sea Breeze decayed to a point that seemed beyond repair. I then movedto the newer hotels, including once at the casino hotel so I could go straight to my room after blackjack or baccarat at the gaming tables. Then came L ” Fisher and Sea Breeze seemed doomed to oblivion.

The prominent winding staircase.

On a trip a few years back, I went to the hotel, for old times’ sake. And the old hotel staff (literally old, being senior citizens) remembered me from years past. And proudly told me that 2 rooms have been renovated. I checked them out and the suite looked like brand new, and decided to stay one night.

The corridors need updating. But then i really don’t mind when I am on a budget.

Over a month ago, I tried to book myself at L’Fisher, the best hotel in the city, but was told the hotel was fully booked for the Masskara. And then I thought of the renovated suites at Sea Breeze.  I called the hotel and they proudly declared they now have more renovated rooms.  Well and good.

My room. Executive Suite 210. With a veranda and a view of the fair and the mall from a distance. It used to be that one has a sea view from here in the old days, before the reclamation. Not bad. In fact, the bigger suites are at the same room rate, but this was the only suite left because of the tight bookings due to the Masskara Festival.

A budget “executive suite” may be an oxymoron in the hotel industry, but that is how this nice room is. No clothes closet, just open shelves and hangers.

A clean bathroom is a must. And Sea Breeze delivers. Of course I can not vouch for the older rooms that have not yet been renovated. (They renovate room by room, )

Staying here for the Masskara was most practical. I was a few steps away from the city’s main plaza where the Masskara competitions were being held. As I write this, there is a street party around the plaza, littered with makeshift inasal stalls, with almost all tables overflowing with beer. A night market is open for others who would not want to get wasted with all night drinking.

Around the plaza., just for the Masskara, I guess. Not that busy during the day, but all seats taken at night til the wee hours of the morning.

I am also right beside the fair that was set up for the Masskara, in between my hotel and SM City Bacolod. The rollercoaster rail sits next to the fence outside my room, and I can hear all the yelling from excited riders. I can see everything from my veranda.

The view from my Suite 210 veranda

The hotel staff is what makes me comfortable at Sea Breese. Ms Elia at the front desk and Marigold of Reservations are the typical Ilonggos – – warm and caring.

Marigold and Ms Elia at the front desk

Having come to Bacolod precisely for the Masskara, the hotel is dressed like a Masskara hotel. Apparently, the owners have been collecting the winning masks year on year, and are all displayed at the lobby, the coffee shop, the front desk, and even on the 2nd floor corridor.

previous years’ winning masskaras on display at the lobby

Not bad for a budget hotel. I did not even know beforehand they now also have wifi. With rooms as cheap as P975 (single) to the executive suites for only P1,790, I would ay that Sea Breeze has regained it’s rightful share in the Bacolod travel industry. Not in any way the premier hotel that it once was, but the best-value hotel, most likely. And nothing beats its location. At the heart of downtown. Right in the middle of SM, the plaza, and the beautiful San Sebastian Church




San Sebastian Cathedral


The plaza, almost just across from Sea Breeze, was the heart of the Masskara


The Masskara dance competition was held right at the plaza, across from my hotel

sculpture at the plaza

Sea Breeze Hotel is at San Juan Street, Bacolod City.

Contact them at (034) 4337370, (034) 4333907. Fax (034) 4332258.  They accept all major credit cards.

Here are the displays of the previous years’ masskaras, and of course don’t expect these to be on display year-round:


All these seem to make Sea Breeze Hotel the “official” Masskara Hotel


N.B. I was a full paying guest of the hotel, and no freebies were given to me. I wrote this because I felt good that the old hotel is slowly picking itself up.