One fine day and ‘A Year in Batanes’

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Batanes. If you live in the Philippines, chances are that name can evoke beautiful, unspoiled pastoral images of rolling hills, rugged mountains, an unobstructed expanse of sky and water, and an idyllic way of life. It’s the northernmost island province of the Philippines, separated from the rest of Luzon where the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea meet. Because of its location, Batanes gets a ceaseless beating from the strong winds and typhoons during monsoon season. It’s one of the more remote spots in the country and like most fellow Filipinos, it’s a place I’ve always want to see.

Early this March, I found the perfect excuse to go. We launched in Batanes Asa Ka Awan du Vatan (A Year in Batanes) under Firetree Press, the small book publishing house I am a part of. The book can be a travel journal of sorts, but it’s really more of a precious collection of watercolor paintings by Victoria Abad-Kerblat and different Ivatan artists with a month by month guide on the rich heritage and traditions of Batanes.

The day before the book launch, my colleagues and I got to make our way around Batan, the main island of Batanes, where the provincial capital of Basco is located.

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Slowing down in Zambales

Almost a month ago, I went on a travel assignment north of Manila to a couple of provinces. The theme was nature and adventure and if you’re coming from Manila or Clark, there are a lot of choices just a couple of hours away, from Pampanga and Tarlac to Zambales. (More on that in the magazine article, which I’ll put a link here once it’s published.)

I finally tried to learn how to surf. Tried. But I think I ended up mastering the art of falling into the water. Get on the board and then fall again. Which was a far cry from another water activity I tried the day before, the bandwagon, where I refused to fall at all. It appeared to be a breeze–just sitting down on an inflatable couch while it gets pulled by a jetski–but I ended up screaming my lungs out, holding on for dear life so as not not to get thrown off into the water, and wondering what the hell was I doing. It’s no surprise that what I most appreciated in the trip were the times I ended up having to do nothing. Oh, age. You make me want to just chill, stare at sunsets, and maybe have a massage.

In the small village of Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales, you can do some of those things.

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The beach in front of Capones Vista Resort in Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales

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Cove

Peace and quiet in a cove near Capones Island

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People stopping by to catch the sunset

Sunset watchers

Stare at sunset

There’s always a beautiful sunset just waiting at the beach

End of the day

End of the day

Six things to do on a road trip down Southern Cebu

When we made the recent trip to the island province of Cebu for the Sinulog festival (one of the Philippine’s biggest fiestas–read: street party–and annual religious festival in honor of the Santo Nino or Child Jesus), my husband and I and a couple of our friends also made a three-hour trip out of the city to the southern town of Oslob and made some other stops on the way back for some good lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (pork cracklings). Because why wouldn’t you stop for lechon and chicharon?

1. Swim with the whale sharks. Like the sleepy Sorsogon town of Donsol, Oslob turned into a tourist destination, primarily because of the whale sharks that frequented its waters to feed. But unlike in Donsol where you have to search for them, the fishermen in Tan-Awan in Oslob hand-feed the gentle giants and lead them close to shore for the tourists to have an easier access to them. And there are three ways to see them, dive (P600), snorkel (P500), or just stay in the boat, (P300) because the whale sharks tend to stay close to the surface as the feeder throws uyap (shrimp) to feed them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino

One of the whale sharks in Oslob. This and the other one we saw were relatively smaller (but still amazing to behold) than the ones in Donsol (Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino)

Personally, I prefer the practice of whale shark interaction in Donsol. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale shark and capture that Instagram-worthy shot there–because they are after all supposed to be still in the wild–but it seems there’s less impact on their migratory nature (the whale sharks in Oslob, we’re told, are there year-round). Our friend who writes for About.com and was with us during the trip has a different take on it here (and a more helpful guide). Continue reading

Keep moving forward

C.S. Lewis wrote in his Collected Letters that “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” These words have been on repeat in my head at the start of this new year. But to be fair to 2014, even with its challenges and upheavals (which partly account for my absence in this blog), it also brought joy and new experiences that I’m grateful for.

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View from Top of the Rock last May 2014. Thank you, New York City

When it came to travel, getting to see New York City for the first time was one of the more incredible things that happened last year. I’ve always wanted to see it (I even committed to memory the map of Manhattan when I was in high school for some reason), but in the past few years, I’ve started to think it impractical for both me and my husband to go there for vacation. Then when a work opportunity for a trip to go there materialized, my former boss, who knew of my fascination for New York City, asked me if I wanted to go for the team. Of course my immediate response was a big YESTHANKYOUVERYMUCHWHENDOYOUNEEDMETOFLY?!

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Less than 24 hours in Baler

First of all, I don’t recommend it: spending less than 24 hours in Baler. Unless, you’ve been stuck in the city for months, have been salivating over beach photos in your Instagram feed, have a company outing, or all of the above. Then, it’s a welcome escape.

Baler, a coastal town in Aurora province, is known as one of the top surfing spots in the country. Pounded by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, Baler is reportedly where surfing was born in the country after the film crew from Apocalypse Now surfed and left their boards back in 1979. These days there are several surfing schools and resorts that dot the stretch of Sabang Beach in Baler. One of them is Costa Pacifica.

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Having only opened last year, Costa Pacifica has earned a reputation of being one of the more comfortable accommodations you can book in Baler, where backpacker inns also abound. I wasn’t really keen to learn how to surf, especially when there was a typhoon heading in the area–oh, who am I kidding? That weekend, my idea of being adventurous at the beach was drinking cocktails by the pool, even as it was raining.

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