Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Byaheng Norte: A Budget Travel Guide

In this time of my well deserved R&R, I decided to travel to Manila with an original itinerary of having a Manila-Vigan-Banaue-Sagada-Baguio-Manila trip. A friend however encouraged me to drop Vigan since this Ilocandia trip deserves a whole 3-day trip (at least) on its own. I took advantage of a seat sale of Cebu Pacific from Davao on my way to Manila and my Get Go points. The trip cost me more than 7K points which I exchanged to my Manila-Davao trip.

Upon arrival in Manila, we started our trip to Banaue by riding a Ohayami bus in Espana, Manila. The trip lasted for 10 hours (more or less) and we paid around PHP 470.00 pesos. We took the 9PM trip and we arrived in Banaue around 8AM. Upon arriving at the terminal, you can take vans to Sagada which leaves around 10 or 11AM. The local tourism people will collect PHP 20.00 for their environmental fee. We paid PHP 200.00 for the trike which took us to four view points which showcased the beauty of the rice terraces. There are also a lot of souvenir shops around where you can buy souvenirs like key chains, bonnets, etc. You can see the terraces rom different angles between these four view points. There are also statues of rice gods or Bul-ol in the local language around the area and you can also see Ifugao's in their traditional garbs that you can take your pictures with a small donation.

The vans to Sagada costs around PHP 350.00 and they will also drop you off in one of the view points where you can take pictures of the terraces. The entire trip lasts for four hours. It is better to travel in large group when you ride the van because they will try to make sure that the van has enough passengers before it leaves. We stayed and waited for a couple of hours as the driver tries to look for more passengers. We left Banaue around 10AM and we arrived Sagada around 2PM.

 On our way to Sagada, we saw a lot of beautiful sceneries. The air is also becoming very cold as we wiggle our way up to the mountains. Upon reaching Sagada, you can really feel that the air is very fresh. You need to register at the Tourism office and pay PHP 35.00. Make sure that you bring the receipt anywhere you go since they  would ask to see it in all the tourist spots you will visit. There are a lot of places to stay in Sagada which ranges from PHP 250.00 to PHP 350.00 per head in a dorm type room. We stayed in Residential Inn where we paid  PHP 300.00/head. The rooms are neat and clean and they also provide an endless serving of brewed coffee at the lobby.  That afternoon, we visited the Anglican Church- Church of St. Mary, the Virgin which has a unique architecture. The church is also near the entrance of the Echo Valley.
 Our first day in Sagada started really early. We took a van to Kiltepan Peak around 5:30 AM to see the sunrise. By the way, Vans in Sagada costs PHP 500.00 per location. This is okay if there's a lot of you. You can rent the van for one day at PHP 2,200.00 (You may inquire at the front desk of Residential Inn). The place has its own restaurant which opens if there are campers in the area, however, you can buy food and some other stuff from vendors who sell their stuff near the viewing area. Kiltepan peak is breathtaking, you can see a valley with a rice terraces. It's nice to see a sea of clouds roll in at the same time the first light of the sun reek through the mountains. It is truly a sight to behold.

 There are a lot of restaurants in Sagada which sells a variety of food. We had our breakfast at Bana's Cafe which sells really nice Chicken Masala (PHP 250.00 good for 2) They also sell Civet coffee if you are into it. The place also has big serving of food which is usually good for 2 people.

After our breakfast, we took the van to St. Mary's the Virgin Church. The place is the start of the Echo Valley trail. They wouldn't let you in though without a guide (all the places in Sagada need a guide, or else they will not let you in). There are three types of Echo Valley walking tours. The highlight is a three hour tour starting from the Echo Valley, to the Hanging Coffins, the Underground River and ending at Bok-ong Falls. This Adventure Trail costs PHP 1,000.00  for 10 people or less. If you wouldn't want to enter the Sagada Underground River, the Eco-Tour cost is PHP 600.00. If you would like to just have the 45-min tour of going from the Echo Valley, the Hanging Coffins nd back for PHP 200.00. During this tour, we got an excellent guide named Sotero Gau, who gave us backgrounds on Traditional Ifugao beliefs and funeral practices. You can get him by asking the front desk of the Residential Inn.

The Adventure Trail starts with a trail to the Echo Valley. Upon trekking down the mountain, you can see the Sagada hanging coffins which traditionally held the Ifugao deceased relatives. However, this practice as been stopped and the last body was traditionally buried last 2012. After the area of the coffins, we trekked through the forest where you can see a lot of coffee growing at the side of trail. We climbed some rocks, crossed some rivers until we reached the entrance of the Sagada Underground River. You can see a lot of stone people (Stack of Stones believed to house the stone spirits) at the entrance of the cave. The cave is pitch black so you need to bring some flash light. The water is also ice cold and the stones slippery so you need to be very careful. After the trek in the dark, we found ourselves walking along the river leading to some farmlands and ending at Bok-ong Falls which has a naturally formed pool. The water is also ice cold in this pool so better bring a towel and a change of clothes. We started the tour at 8:30 AM and ended it around 12 Noon. We had lunch at Yoghurt House which sells, what do you know, yogurt. I'll suggest the strawberry, granola and banana yogurt. They also sell things like chicken curry, fried rice with traditional smoked ham called etag and pasta. Food is expensive though.

 The Sagada Hanging Coffins

 The Stone People - I made at the entrance of the Sagada Underground River

 The Sagada Underground River Trail

 The Echo Valley Trail

 The Underground River Trail

  Bok-ong Falls

  The afternoon part of the tour was a trip to Sumaging Cave. There are also different types of caving trips that you can try. There is the cave connection which costs PHP 400.00 per person (minimum of two) for a 40-minute walk from the Lumiang cave entrance to Dukiw Hanging Coffins exiting to the Sumaging Cave. We took the Short Course Caving at the Sumaging Cave. Before the 1 and a half hour expedition in the cave, we passed by the Lumiang caves and rode the van to the entrance of Sumaging cave. The cave has very slippery stones and we need to sit and climb the stones. There were a lot of rock formations inside the cave where our guide Kuya Sotero lighted the way with a petromax. There were some rappelling, climbing the rocks using ropes. The place is very dark and you also need to have those plastic pouches where you can put your phone to protect it from water. You can buy it at the stores found at cave's entrance for PHP 100.00.

 The Coffins from the Lumiang Cave

One of the Rock formations inside the Sumaging Cave

We ended our day with a trip to see the sunset at Danum Lake. However, since it was rainy, the lake can't be seen because of the thick blanket of fog. We also dropped by Sagada pottery which was at that time was already closed, so we took some pictures and head back to our Inn. We had dinner at Pinikpikan Haus where they served Pinikpikan, a traditional Ifugao chicken dish served with a slice of Etag. They sell it for around PHP 150.00 per bowl. The soup is sour and smokey and the etag is also salty, but I like it anyway.

 We left Sagada for Baguio the next day around 10 AM and arrived at 4PM. I loitered around Burnham Park and went to Rainbow Barracks where I got a free HIV test (got negative). After spending time with the rainbow gang, we travelled back to Manila around 3 AM and arrived 10 AM just in time for the Manila Pride March at 4PM.

The Byaheng Norte has a lot of first. My first time to travel to Banaue, Sagada, Benguet and my first time to come back to Baguio after 13 years. First time to have my HIV test, first time to do my Pride March. I spent less than 10K on this trip, but the experience was priceless.

Before ending this story here are the things you need to remember when you are in Sagada.

1. Travel as a large group, this would save you money. Van and Guide fees can be split among the group. Trekking usually allow 10 people while Caving limits to 4 people per group.

2. If it's just you and your forever, then talk to people in the van or on the bus. Or just people that you meet on the road or your accommodation. It will be very expensive if it's just both you.

3. Respect sacred sites and rites in the area. If you see some rites or rituals, ask permission before you snap a photo.

4. Caves are always dark, wet and slippery so prepare your gears. Waterproof pouches is a must as well as a change of clothes. Avoid bringing bulky DSLR cameras inside the caves. You will be required to crawl, climb, crouch and your doing this while you're getting wet. ;)

5. Mind your trash. Do not just throw your litter everywhere.

6. Bring the Environmental Fee receipt wherever you go.

7. You need guides everywhere. Except in Kiltepan at sunrise and the sunset at Danum Lake.

That's all.

More pictures on my FB Account:   

Saturday, May 7, 2016

JJampong Gangnam Style

Since the early 2000's there was an influx of Korean students coming to the Philippines to study English. As the number of Korean students increase, the need for everything Korean increased too. When I was still in Iloilo, I saw that a lot of Korean inspired businesses opened to accommodate the needs of the travelling students including the number of tutors, Korean boutiques, grocery stores and of course, restaurants included.

Here in Davao I have tried eating in four Korean inspired restaurants. Of the four that I already dined in, I only can recommend a couple since some are not really serving authentic Korean dishes. Ambiance is of course a factor in choosing a place to eat. You can also throw in the price of the food, the customer service and the variety and authenticity of the food served.

My good friend Jolen Crame invited me to eat in Gangnam in Davao Café and Restaurant one time. I have tried some of the dishes like the rice cakes and the Kimbap. The first thing I noticed about the place is the ambiance. The décor and the lighting of Gangnam is modern, with brick walls and wooden tables. The bookshelves are also amazing (though I haven't tried asking if we can borrow books and read them while waiting for our order).

Tonight, I went back to the restaurant to try their Jjampong. This Korean dish is a personal favorite because it is made up of seafood in a spicy broth. They also give you four side dishes to enjoy while waiting for your order- there was a potato dish, rice cake, a bijon-like side dish and my personal favorite, Kimchi.

So here are my simple observation of that dinner in Gangnam- things that I like and things that they probably need to improve in the restaurant.

I like the ambiance. Lighting is okay, the decoration is nice especially the picture of the coffee beans (though I don't think it was the most appropriate picture to display in a Korean Resto). The plastic tree decors for me are distracting and could collect dust. The framed sayings on the restroom are a nice read.

The food is okay especially the refillable side dishes (though the staff don't proactively inform you that it is). The Kimchi is perfect that I have to ask for a second serving (I was ready to buy another serving, when the staff told me its refillable). It is not very sour and the spiciness is just right. The sauce of the Kimchi is also thick which probably add to the taste.
The Jjampong is so so, the noodles are okay and the seafood added to the soup are just enough. There was squid (3 slices I guess), 1/2 pc crab (with shell), 2 big scallops, and a few smaller scallops (3 of them is shut tight and I was not able to eat them), there was no trace of fish, there was a couple of shrimp on the stew but they're not de-veined, so you can still see and taste the dark gritty stuff on the shrimp. The food serving was ample and for PHP 270.00, the bowl is big enough to be shared by two people.

The service needs a little improvement. I noticed that the person who took the order was not able to relay the orders properly. I ordered one Jjampong and a can of Coke Zero, but the Coke was not communicated well with the service staff. He asked me if I have additional orders and I told him that I ordered Coke and that's the only time that he got me one. They greet people coming in and going out like in those Japanese restaurants and I think this is a great show of customer service skills.

Will I comeback and eat in Gangnam again, I think my answer is yes. Will I recommend I with friends? I think I can recommend them to friends who love Korean food. Though I would probably advice them to bring extra money since the price of the food is on the PHP 200 up range.

Overall, I'm rating Gangnam Davao 3 and a half stars. The restaurant has a great ambiance, delicious refillable side dishes, big serving and a very delicious Kimchi.

photo is owned by the author

Gangnam Kimchi

Side Dishes


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Dilemma of an Urban Witch

Upon waking up around 9AM, I usually go to the altar dedicated to the House Spirits and offer a quick prayer. Not being able to do the complete Ritus such as wearing a white toga, or doing libations and food offering, I just usually light an incense and whisper a prayer of thanks to the Lares. After my day job, which usually ends around 12 MN, I would face the altar in my room for a daily devotional to the Gods and the ancestors and this would be my usual routine everyday excluding the eight Sabbats.

In the centuries past, our ancestors are still not bound to an 8-5 office job (for some of us- night shift) and are free to practice their Craft all day, every day. Our ancestors breathe magick and treat the Craft as part of their daily routine. They are cut-wives, midwives, herbalists, fortune tellers, journeymen and priests or priestesses. They have been doing this all the time that there are no distinction between their normal daily tasks and their magickal workings. They put magick in all they do- from planting their crops, to harvesting them and even preparing their food.

In modern times, witches are too occupied with their day jobs that it can be challenging to create rituals following the correct time correspondences. It can also be very challenging to gather ingredients to a potion or a satchel. It’s also very difficult to look for places of power in the heart of the city let alone a silent place to conduct your rituals, especially if your house is located in front of a busy highway.

Compared to our ancestors, we modern witches would find it challenging to observe the movement of the seasons. Aside from the light pollution blocking our view of the night skies, some of us living in the metro has all these skyrise buildings blocking the view of the stars. We have lost our close connection with nature with all of the concrete and metal surrounding us. That’s why we witches often times leave the cities to go on a vacation, where we can run barefooted or just hug a healthy trees.

Some of us require a lot of effort to switch from our “mundane daily mindset” to our “ritual magick mode”. Some of us do this by listening to chants (played of course on an iPod or those sleek Samsung Phones) and meditating, holding a crystal, or anointing ourselves with oils and burning incenses (from the health and home area of Gaisano Mall). I switch to my magick mode when I smell (sometimes if my nostrils are clear) Lavender Oil, or reciting a mantra. While our ancestors can easily cast a spell in front of the hearth, we urban witches do a lot of “rituals” first to achieve this state of mind.

Probably, the one thing that I can appreciate as an urban witch is the fact that we became very resourceful. We still can cast spells using grocery items (McCormick Dried Basil anyone?), we dance around a bonfire burning inside a clay cauldron in the middle of a room at a beach resort, we can still map the moon phase using those useful Windows and Android Apps. We also learn to find the things we lack by substituting them with something, especially if the spell require something that we cannot find here in the Philippines. On this age, magick and technology has become partners in achieving a desired goal, ever heard of a USB of Shadows?

As the traditional approach to Magick change with the modern times, the essence of the Craft did not. Whether you are a modern witch or Pagan from the 16th century, the basic foundation of how magick works remain the same. It is as Cordelia mentioned in American Horror Story- Coven said- Intention!

photo from the internet

Friday, December 11, 2015


Way back 2008 when one of my friends informed me that she'll visit Davao and other cities in Mindanao, I immediately reprimanded her that the place is full of terrorists and rebels. I told her that she might encounter accidents if she travel to Davao. I always thought that Davao, being a part of Mindanao is rebel infested and bombings is just a normal occurrence in the city.

This probably is what millions of people living in Luzon and Visayas think. 

Due to a career move, I "forced" myself to move to Davao last 2009. Again with all those silly thoughts about Davao being a dangerous place playing in my mind when I disembark the plane. However, after a few minutes, my perception about Davao changed drastically. 

Davao has one of the most honest cab drivers in the country. I took a cab from the airport to my dormitory accommodation and the driver used the shortest route (checked this out after a couple of weeks in Davao) and gave me my change up to the last centavos. The cab drivers are polite and accommodating and would even return bags, phones and other stuff that people leave in their cabs. I am not saying that all of the drivers are honest, most of them though, follow the law. 

Davao is a clean city. When I arrive in Davao, I was amazed how the city looks really clean. Water can be drink right out of the faucet, the air is clean, we have effective waste management. We rarely see people throw their trash on the streets. They are disciplined not to just throw their garbage everywhere. 

Davao is smoke free... and nobody is exempted. As a non-smoker, this place is heaven for me. I do not like the smell of cigarette smoke. I feel that my lungs tighten if I inhale cigarette smoke, and in this city, you will only see smokers in designated areas. In my experience, living in other cities in the country, you see people smoking inside the jeepneys, on the streets and almost everywhere. Here in Davao you will be arrested and fined if you smoke in everywhere aside from the designated areas. 

This list can go on and on, but the most important thing that I Love about Davao is its security. I have lived and visited other parts of the country and in those cities, it is normal to hear housemates and workmates talking about robbery, hold-up, mugging, snatching happening almost everywhere. I even get to see and experience a few pickpocket-ting, but here in Davao, one can use their gadgets inside the jeepney without being scared of these items getting snatched. The police responds really fast and thanks to the CCTV cameras scattered around the city, emergency and disaster response is really on time. And oh, did I already mention that we have a working 911 HOTLINE here?

#MyDuterteStory is not really about my experience with the Mayor. I have only met him twice and I was really starstruck. He is very accommodating and charismatic. However, I see Davao City as an extension of the honorable mayor. He is after all the father of this place. All the experiences that I have reflects the leadership quality of Mayor Digong. He is a man of action and not just talk. He always puts the welfare of his constituents as first priority. He makes sure that help is received on time, all the time. That's why his constituents love him very much. 

Although I am not born here, being here for six years made me love this city even more. I see myself stay and grow old in Davao. Same goes with other co-workers who have expressed their desire to live in this city. Davao City, truly, Life is Here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

EXPLORE: Super Surigao

For the past six years of staying here in Mindanao, traveling to Surigao has always been a dream and a steady item in my bucket list. Last November, I had the opportunity to explore this part of Mindanao and boy, it was one of the most amazing experience ever. 

You can go to Surigao by public transport if you have the time and the patience to travel by bus. There are a  lot of buses that travel from Davao to that area, though this could take you around 6 hours. However, there are also some tours that are offered for 2.5 to 3K per person. This include trips to Tinyu-an Falls, Enchanted River in Hinatuan and Britania Islands.

I was lucky to be able to travel with office mates that time, Instead of getting the tour, we opted to rent a van and stay with our employee who is from Bislig. The trip costs us around PHP 3,500.00 per day excluding the gasoline which actually made the trip more expensive, however, gas is cheaper in San Fran, one of the municipalities of Surigao and that's where we got the van full.

Now, going back to the story of the trip. We left Davao City around 8-9AM. We traveled all the way to Tagum and Compostella and it took us he entire afternoon to reach Bislig. Though this is probably because we often took wrong turns and end up a few kilometers away from our correct destination. 

After a meal in Tagum, we were shown the beautiful landscapes of Compostella From the colorful farmlands to the lush mountains, the trip offered a visual treat to my tired eyes. We also passed by a few silent towns (most of them memorable to Kendra, one of our employees who frequent these places), some mansions along the roads, a few beasts of burden that are still on their shifts. The most unforgettable part of the trip is the literal "long and winding road"  and as the concrete roads zigzagged, I also have my own fight with nausea. 

After a few stops and a few times asking for directions, we finally hit our first destination- Tinuy-an Falls. Dubbed as the Philippines own "Niagara Falls", Tinuy-an is a magnificent waterfalls.Though we havent really appreciate its beauty, since we arrived after dusk, the waterfalls is really beautiful even in the dark. It is located inside a resort where they collect an entrance fee (PHP 50.00). There are also some cottages that are for rent around the area. But the most wonderful thing is probably riding a raft for PHP 150.00 and let the guides take you near the falls. You can really feel the strength of the pressure as the water massages your back. The waterfalls has this almost mystical charm that attracted my senses (probably this is other than the elementals that frequent the area, but this is another story).

After we went to Tinuy-an, we stopped in this small inasal restaurant near the public market. The food there was really affordable and delicious and you get to pick the meat that you want to eat. After dinner, we went to Michael's house for the night.

Day 2:
It was early morning when the group decided to go to the market and buy food for the 2nd day. We went to Michael's farm and get to meet his dad who works there. They have a lot of coconuts which Mike's brother, Arjay graciously climbed to get. The farm also has a crab pond where they grow these delicious crabs. The farm was kinda far from the main road, that's why after so many years of not being able to walk barefooted on mud, I removed my slippers and I just walked. It was scary (because mainly of the thought of having leeches, snakes, etc.), but the trip was worth it, muddy feet or not. 

We left Mike's house and went straight to Hinatuan where we get to see the Enchanted River. This area is also very mystical. We arrived in the area and I quickly looked around. The Enchanted River is a very mysterious place because a.) They still have not reached the bottom of this river. b.) How the fishes would react to the sound of the bell during fish feeding (too bad that I haven't seen this). I was really very hesitant to just jump on the water, like most of them, I secured a live vest since I felt that I am being sucked in by the hole.  After almost two hours of wading through the iver, we headed out to the last destination on the list, Britannia Islands.

.Britannia is a group of islands which are accessible via pump boats. You need to rent these boats to sail and dock to these islands (PHP 1000-1500). Since we have arrived late, we only visited two of these islands. The night was fast approaching and I know that it has become more difficult to navigate the waters around this place. After we toured the white sand beaches of Britannia, it was time to head home.

We went back to Bislig and stayed in Mike's house for a few hours to rest. We left Bislig City around 12 MN and we arrived in Davao around 4AM, That was a fun trip that you would really enjoy with friends. Will I try to do it again? Of course I will. As long as it is with friends, then I am ready to travel and explore the country.

Dont be a stranger to your own country. Travel and Explore.