A December tradition

Since I got married several years back, my husband and I try to celebrate our wedding anniversary in a new place every time. We didn’t really get to travel together before we got married, but we knew we wanted to see more of the world, or at least as far as our modest savings will allow us.

So after we said our ‘I dos’, we also took it as a vow to regularly travel…in good times and bad, in upset tummies and un-sexy coughing fits; to have no qualms about roughing it when called for and to hold on to our sense of humor, from this day forward, for better or for worse, until delayed visa applications do us part.

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Memorable travel lodgings: chilling, chilly or chilled

I just found out that Casa Vallejo, the oldest hotel in the mountain city of Baguio which was built in 1909, reopened early this year as a boutique hotel. It’s been around since the American Occupation and was one of the very few structures that survived the carpet bombing of the Japanese during WWII. But though it was spared in the war, the years were not as kind. It went the way of like many old pieces of architecture around the Philippines–decrepit and looking as if it’s about to crumble under its own weight. Right before it closed in 1997, when my sister and I and two friends found ourselves stuck in Baguio because we didn’t reach the last bus to Sagada, we ended up staying in this old hotel. And though that was more than a decade ago, Casa Vallejo remains one of the most unforgettable accommodations I’ve ever had on the road. And it got me thinking of some of those memorable hotels, resorts, or guesthouses I’ve temporarily called home while on a trip–whether because they sent chills down my spine or were just unbelievably chilly.

Casa Vallejo then (photo courtesy of JMagreda.blogspot.com)

1. Casa Vallejo (along Session Road, Baguio). Aside from the fact that it looked like it was just a couple of days away from attaining condemned building status (turned out they were closing it in a few months), the place just gave us the creeps. But we were in Baguio during a holiday and it was one of the few places with available rooms and they were cheap too. It only had shared bathrooms so using the toilet in the middle of the night meant getting out of our room onto an eerie and dark hallway, climbing the creaky staircase and running to the bathroom, while trying not to look behind you where Casa Vallejo’s old ballroom stood. The huge room was always dark and it had a heaviness around it. I always felt like I was being watched from that room and I refused to look at it. I later found out that it was where colonial government officials and the society belles before the war used to party. Well, it felt like they were still all there, wondering what happened and looking out the hallway. At the time, I felt like maybe I was letting my imagination run away with me, but when we got back to Manila and told people where we stayed, we were told that the place was haunted. That before it was a hotel, it had served as a prison and hospital during the war.

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5 things to love about (and do in) Palawan

My sister is heading off to Palawan in a few days and while I know she’ll be spending a large part of it writing and meditating, here are a few things she (or anyone with Palawan plans) should try in the country’s ‘last frontier.’

1) Island-hopping. As Palawan is composed of more than 1,700 islands, you can spend days hopping from one powdery white beach or rocky cove to the next. If you’re heading to its capital of Puerto Princesa, Honda Bay is the most convenient group of islands that can provide the requisite, sun, sand and surf. To make the trip even more convenient, you can book a tour with the inn or hotel you’re staying in (which we did through Casa Linda–more details on that at the end) as they usually have their own recommended tour groups. It comes out around a couple of hundred pesos more expensive, but it means being picked up by a van to take you to Brgy. Sta. Lourdes, which is 12 km away from the capital, where the boats to Honda Bay are docked; having a designated boat for the island-hopping; no worries about the different entrance fees of the islands (admittedly though, most are cheap at P50 per person); and being served lunch on the beach. Of course, this also means traveling with a group of strangers, but if you’re feeling sociable, it’s a great way to meet other travelers.

Serene stretch of Snake Island (Photo by P)

We spent the entire day either soaking in the sun or wading in the waters in front of Pandan Island, Snake Island (my favorite for its two-kilometer stretch of sandbar), and Starfish Island (where we did see some starfish).

Last stop, Pandan Island (Photo by P)

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