It’s Who You Travel With (Barkada Trip Series:Ilocandia)

We must be getting old. Fifteen years of friendship made our bonds stronger and while we seek more adventures together, we also yearn for the easiest, most comfortable means there is. Among our group, only me, the tot and the baba are for the backpacking, commuting, DIY sort of travels. The rest of the group wanted a “group tour” fixed by some agency. The majority won of course and us three are not complaining, we are all eager to travel with everyone.

It’s All About Who You Travel With

For 15 years, our group of friends have experience a lot and out of it all, we grew to strong, mature and dignified individuals — well most of us. Our work and personal lives has kept us busy that is why, every opportunity for a get together is always a welcome respite. For 2014, we decided to explore places up north – Ilocos.

We arrived in Vigan, at around 3 in the morning. We were sleepy and asking our van driver what we are doing there, he replied with “Dito daw tayo magpa umaga sabi ng kaibigan kong driver dun sa kabilang van.” He clearly doesn’t know anything about tour guiding in Ilocandia. Our group along with 5 other people suggested that we just stick with the itinerary provided by the agency since he also don’t know where or why we should go.

Places of Interest

There were a whole lot of destinations listed on the itinerary that the agency provided us. It could have been one cool road trip if only he was more accommodating with our suggestions. Being a little wayward, my boys and I took some time exploring nearby areas while the rest are still checking out one spot.

On Day One we were able to tick off these sights and spot in Laoag.

The Marcos Museum
Sinking Bell Tower
Johnny Moon Cafe
Burgos Church
Empanada
Malacanang of the North
Paoay Church
Paoay Sand Dunes

Day Two was all about Pagudpud, and though it was only a short stint, we were able to soak our weary bodies at Saud Beach and later on, joined the beach party where Glock 9 played! We were able to visit:

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
Bangui Windmills
Patapat Bridge Viaduct
Kabigan Falls
Saud Beach

Day Three was all set for Vigan’s Calle Crisologo and Baluarte.

Our travel dates were set on the super peak season – Holy Week of 2014. This is the first time for us to set a trip for this occasion and woooh! I will never travel to such kind of destinations during Holy Week!!

DIY vs Group Tour

Because of our desire for comfort, our group opted for the group tour though I always preferred going on DIY trips. Well based on our experience, we’d never ever recommend – MTF Educational Tours and Services. Their Manager, Ms Marie Fallorina was a pain in the *** to talk with especially after the tour and we were fixing our refund. And yep you guessed it – no refund were ever given. She promised and promised and promised until we eventually gave up on them. Ms. Marie Fallorina stopped replying to our text messages and email. They also ceased answering our calls. Sad story of expenses charged to experience.

If it wasn’t for our longing to spend time with one another, our 2014 Barkada Trip Series would have been a great fail. Ilocos was brimming with tourist at that time and we can’t fully appreciate the view or places we visited. But like any great journey – it is always the people you travel with, that makes every journey an unforgettable and enjoyable adventure.

Travel Essentials on Our Christmas Wishlist!

Me and Teloy are not hard to please. We love surprises and we love gifts, but of course there are yearnings for days on the road and the feeling of excitement of being in a new place. This is probably why most of the gifts we wish for this year are travel related.

A Smaller Backpack
Most of our trips these days are limited to weekends and a few days during school breaks. My trusty ol’ TNF Borealis has been with me for eight years, for more or less 30 Philippine provinces, around six mountains including Mt. Kinabalu, the highest in Southeast Asia. I feel that it’s a little too big for our small trips recently since Teloyskie have also started packing and carrying his own things. A smaller backpack like the 22-liter Spider for mommy and a bit bigger pack for Teloyskie are travel necessities that makes it on top of our wish list this year.
A Lightweight (Fleece) Jacket
I’ve been thinking about taking Teloyskie up north to experience the cold weather in Baguio City this holiday break, well if the budget permits. When I checked my closet, I realize that I don’t have a jacket for such kind of weather. I have two waterproof jackets, a light hoodie jacket and a cardigan, all of which may leave me freezing me ass off at a sudden drop of the temperature.
Packable Pants for Boys
Here in our province, you will rarely find travel gears or apparels. I have to look online to find durable hiking and travel apparel for kids. We are always on the lookout for affordable packable trek pants for Teloyskie so this item gets a spot on our wish list.

rei convertible pants for boys
A (Backpacking) Tent
I took Teloy on a beach camping for his first backpacking trip and he never forgot the experience. These days, he would talk about camping and sleeping on a tent and he would frequently reminisce about his experience. So as early as now, I’m planning to rough it out next summer and maybe take him for some more camping trips if get a tent of our own!

 

Luggage/Backpack Tags
I have a Bag Tag that looks like it has seen better days. Teloyskie’s tags on the other hand doesn’t have that durable strap and most of them tags got lost because those strap snapped and got broken. It’s just about time to get something more reliable and updated. 

 

PowerBank
I recently gifted Teloyskie with his very own cellular phone so Daddy can contact him anytime they’re missing each other. His phone also became his game console especially during long trips. So a powerbank is an essential need for our travels. We got our Xiaomi Powerbank which packs a whooping 10400 mAh from his godfather yey!

Where to Eat in Daet, Camarines Norte

Daet has recently been awarded as one of the most promising municipalities in the country. When in town, you can’t help but notice all the bustling activity going on around you. The market, the stores, businesses… yes this place does  seem to be making it’s mark in the economic zone. But really, Daet has slowly emerged from it’s sleep mode when a growing number of tourists and travelers flocked town on their way to Calaguas Island.

Bagasbas beach which is also a part of Daet also made itself known by drawing in surf enthusiasts not only from around the Philippines but from around the world too! It’s no wonder, several food joints have popped out to satisfy cravings of different tastes.

Catherine’s +Bagasbas Lighthouse Hotel Resort

Teloyskie and I first visited Camarines Norte for a group tour of Calaguas Island. The fee covered for everything we needed on the island. Upon returning to Daet, we were encouraged to try surfing in Bagasbas and sample the treats at Catherine’s, a restaurant inside the Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort. There we tried their smoothies which are soo yummy and got that double thumbs up mark from the tot.

Earl’s Burger (Bagasbas Beach and Brgy 1)

Recently, I was able to visit Daet once again but this time it was for some seminar that I had to attend. My co-workers based in the area suggested I try out the best burger in town – Earl’s. They had two branches – one in Brgy 1 and the other in Bagasbas Beach. They took us to the one in Bagasbas Beach and I was warned about the ambiance of the food joint. Yep, it looks like a drinking den of some sort. It was dark and everything was rickety or improvised. Tables and chairs are from beer and soda cases, lights were those yellow/orange incandescent. But the food… the food.. are just awesome. (Well the two we’ve ordered anyway!) If I get another invite from this side of the region, I’m sure I’ll be dropping by the other Earl’s branch in town and sample more of their mouthwatering delights.

Brankolei Pizza Italian Vero (David St., Daet)

Here’s another delicious discovery I had during my recent visit in Daet. One of my high school friends is assigned here in Camarines Norte and I decided to contact her while I am still in town. I asked her to take me to the pizza house my co-workers are talking about. So after getting lost finding Allaga and the “furniture” shop, my friend finally decided to meet me near Jollibee Sentro. Brankolei Pizza Italian Vero is actually located in David St. Daet. I think this food joint deserves it’s own blog post!

Other talked about food places in Daet include KSarap and Mario’s (I’m not sure but I know the place’s name starts with the letter M!)

The Pink Villa Juliana Inn and Other Budget Accommodations in Caramoan Town

Before surprising my boys with our super summer trip to Caramoan, I’ve been reading and searching for affordable accommodation options around town. There were several to choose from but we settled for the cheapest decent one as reviewed by travel bloggers.

Villa Juliana Inn

Among the different blogs posts I’ve read about Caramoan, Villa Juliana Inn seemed like the best choice for us. It was swatted in pink and has a unique homey feel. The reception lobby is filled with tables and chairs so you’d think you’re in a restaurant. However, they don’t serve meals here. The rooms are located at the back. We were given a room with three beds with colorful beddings and curtains.

It looks clean but if you will really check, the room is dusty and moldy. The bathroom is so-so and we have to call in someone to fix the faucet on our first night. This inn is really not for the choosy but it sufficed. The beds are comfortable enough to nurse our weary backs after a day of exploring.

Villa Juliana Inn is smacked in the middle of Tawog so you won’t have any issues finding places to eat or things to buy.

Other Accommodation Options

La Casa Roa

This hotel is along the same street as Villa Jualiana. It looks a lot nicer and as we pass by it, we noticed that they have a lot of guests. They even have a party on the roof deck one night with a karaoke blasting out.

Istaraan Hotel

This is one of those new buildings located on the same street as La Casa Roa and Villa Juliana. This is also where we had our meals. We ordered our take out lunch and snacks for our island hopping around Caramoan’s paraside-like islands! The staff are accommodating so guests can easily feel welcome like they are part of the family.

Golden Hub Tourist Inn

Just down the bend, another budget accommodation in Tawog, Caramoan. It sure doens’t look very welcoming especially with those group of men loitering just outside the inn.

Caramoan Bed and Dine

This is located along the main road, on the far end of the market. They have a restaurant were we dined on our first day.

I’ve heard of other accommodations options in Caramoan, There’s the Riverside Inn, Wow na Wow Tourist Inn,  Rex Tourist Inn, West Peninsula Villas and a lot more. Travelers and tourist can choose to stay in town or in Paniman Beach where there are also a number of beach front accommodations.

Vera Falls Malinao Albay: Refreshing Summer Destination

A few days before the Holy Week of 2014, our family decided to spend a weekend in Tiwi, Albay. We have a trip coming up so might as well visit the grans while we can. Teloyskie enjoy being in the midst of Lolo Jun’s yard. They have pigs, chickens and dogs running around so even if he’s on his own he never gets bored.

It was early Sunday morning when we thought of exploring Vera Falls in Malinao. We’ve always heard about hiking and trekking to this falls as early as when we were high school. Baba said he’s been here once or twice for a drinking session during his high school or college years but this is going to be the first for me and our little tot.

We gas-up or motorcycle and brought chips right after breakfast and traversed the mountainous road to Brgy Soa, Malinao. The view was astounding as we slowly climb up the sides of Mt. Malinao. The sun is blazing hot but the wind is cool. We passed by travelers or tourist asking for directions to Vera Falls and they were on foot! The road leading to the falls has been improved so we were kinda lucky we don’t need to hike several kilometers to get there.

Vera Falls

It was a long way down but we can hear the loud roar of the water. When we It was a grand sight especially for Teloy. I cannot compare it with the other waterfalls I’ve seen because it has it’s own enchanting beauty. With the sun high up, the pool glisten invitingly. My boys did not require a second invitation to waddle in and enjoy the cold refreshing water.

Teloyskie loved the mini pools and mini water falls that seeped out from the walls and rocks. The two also took their time getting a water massage under one of those low pools. Soon the place is packed with locals and tourist looking for some refreshing treat amid the summer heat.

We decided to go home to Tiwi after a couple of hours. We still haven’t had our lunch and we will still be travelling back to Legazpi. Our little tot seemed to enjoy the place so much that even when he’s already shivering and his lips has turned blue from the cold, he still wants to extend our stay. Our first time (except for Baba) in Vera Falls was quite a refreshing experience. It’s no wonder the place has been talked about since we were in our teens.

Caramoan Chronicles – Matukad Island’s Enigmatic Lagoon

Matukad island boosts one adrenaline pumping activity that other islands in Caramoan do not – discovering the enigmatic lagoon! Soon as we arrived in Matukad the third island on our island hopping itinerary, Kuya Sonny, our guide said that we should go and explore the hidden lagoon. Teloy is left with his companion because he think that my son won’t be able to carry on with the climb (though I think Teloy could have done it easily).

Our guide headed the way and lead us to a rock wall. (My thoughts was: “What? hey that’s a rock wall! Are we going to pass through there and magically come out in another place?”) Then he pointed that we are going up – yep we are going to climb the rocks with jagged edges with all our sweaty palms and soles. The sun was already up and blazing so some of the rocks that we held on to were hot. Thankfully there are sandy spots to cushion our soles as we huffed and puffed our way up then down these jagged edges.

The lagoon is enclosed and kept hidden behind walls of sharp and pointed rocks. We needed to climb a few steps finding stable footing to see the enchanted Milkfish living in the lagoon. According to Kuya Sonny, no body knows how these fishes came to the area and how they grew so big – approximately six kilos at the moment. Also according to our guide, there used to be two Milkfishes in the lagoon, but a local speared one of them and fed it to his family, then they all died the following day. And because of this event, the Milkfish was considered to be enchanted and no one else dared harm the remaining fish in the lagoon.

Aside from this enchanted tale, this lagoon also boasts some of the most breathtaking views of Matukad beach and the surrounding Caramoan islands. We would have stayed longer on the top of the lagoon but we soon worried about Teloyskie who might be throwing fits for being left out of the adventure. So we hurriedly climbed down and enjoyed our time at Matukad Beach.

Finding the Hidden Gems of Caramoan

The name “Caramoan” has surely made it’s mark in the lists of best international destinations especially for traveler who want to explore the outdoors – no thanks to the Survivor series. This area has hosted several seasons and versions of the hit-reality show and it seems that they will be staying for several years more.

 But what is it really in this area that makes Survivor want to stay and lures more and more travelers, tourists – both local and foreign to take the high road visit Caramoan?

Island Hopping in the many islands of Caramoan is more than just moving from one island to another. There are two island hopping tour offers in this area – A. Php 1500 and B. Php 2500 The three of us traveling on a tight budget, choose the cheaper option and it covers 4-7 nearer islands in a day. 
We contacted Kuya Ramil, a tour operator recommended to us by some friends. A jeepney with blasting sound picked us up from our hotel on the day of our scheduled island hopping tour. What we didn’t know was this pick-up service is not included in our island hopping fee! Kuya Ramil asked us for additional Php 300 for it which then sabotaged our food budget!

Anyway, we started quite early. It wasn’t 7 in the morning yet when we set sail and headed to our first island. Our boatman, pointed Gota Beach, Hunungan and Tugawe Cove as we passed by them from afar.

TINAGO ISLAND/COVE

I’m not really sure if this is an island or just a beach but this is where we stopped first. The water is calm and cool and it has an eerie emerald shade. It is surrounded with limestone karsts and it is accessible through a narrow entrance which one might not easily notice. My boys started playing around though the sand wasn’t really fine and there were insects jumping around. Baba told me about the “bantay” in the beach and told me to look up. We saw a Tiki face protruding from the sharp edges of the rock wall. Maybe that’s why it felt a little eerie. 🙂

LAHUS ISLAND

We approached Lahos island from the side and saw only a bunch of jagged limestone rock formation over the water. As our vessel moved over, a bright strip of sandy beach was slowly revealed what came to be our favorite island among those we’ve visited! “Lahus” means “through” and that is what this island really have – a strip of white sand double beach nestled between two sets of jagged limestone formation.

One side of this island has calm and shallow waters while the other have slightly rougher waves coming in. Baba even conceded and claimed that Caramoan is indeed worth all the hassle of long travel. The sand is fine, powdery white and the water is iridescently blue. We lingered on this island a little for our breakfast. I also took work related calls while I marvel at the beauty surrounding us.

MATUKAD ISLAND

A few distance away from Lahus is probably the most popular island among the Caramoan group of islets.  It can be seen from Lahus island because of it’s bright white strip of beach. Although we’ve already declared that Lahus island is our favorite, Matukad island has the finest sand among those we’ve visited and probably the most beautiful too. The beach is wide and the clear blue shallow waters is great for swimming.  There is also a lagoon that you can explore — read about it here!

Most of the islands in Caramoan have limestone rock formations so most of the beaches have sparse vegetation. It is best to start your island hopping adventure early so you won’t have to deal with extreme midday heat and enjoy your picture taking at the islands to the fullest!

MINALAHOS ISLAND

The last island we have visited is a quiet nook compared with the compared with the more popular islands. The beach has dark colored sand, but some fine white powdery sand, probably carried over from the other islands, gives the beach a lighter brush. It was still high tide when we arrived in the island and we settled beyond the rocks where it is more shady for our lunch.

While resting, the tide started to turn and it revealed a wider more shallow beach. Despite having a small stretch of beach, you will appreciate Minalahos differently. Rock formations in this island are quite imposing and they make up most of the island. It is nearer Hunungan cove and a great spot for afternoon swim because of the shade and the cool, calm waters.

Our boatman/guide asked us if we still want to check out other islands after lunch, but we declined. I think we already had our fill and it’s time for us to rest our swim-weary bodies. Not to mention that our little adventurer is now several shades darker!  

The Rough Ride to the Paradise called Caramoan

We have all heard about raves about the hidden paradise of Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur. We also heard about the hassle associated with travelling to this place, but of really, some of the loveliest places are indeed hidden well away from bustling metros and are accessible only via the hardest routes to dissuade the curious onlookers.

After several months of laying-low, my boys had become even more restless at the onset of summer. Little did they know, I’ve been secretly planning a trip to these islands for several weeks already. I disclosed my plans to them 2 days before our scheduled trip. Baba was adamant and was very much concerned with our budget. Still we pushed through despite Baba’s worries and unyeilding self.

The six-hour rough ride to Caramoan from our home base in Daraga, Albay did not do much to appease Baba’s attitude. We took the van plying the Daraga – Naga (vv) and alighted at Anayan, Pili. There we waited for the Naga – Sabang jeepney that will take us directly to Sabang port. I noticed Baba’s hesitations start to vanish. We are enjoying the wonderful vista offered by Mt Isarog as our jeepney traversed the road to Partido area onwards to San Jose.

Arriving at the port, we hurriedly got inside a canteen (forgot the name) located just beside the passenger’s waiting area. We ordered some brekkie and took our time with it seeing the long queue of passengers waiting to board the boat. After breakfast, we went down to check the boat schedule and alas – the next boat is already full and we have to wait for the following one which they don’t know what time will arrive. We should have our names listed on the manifesto soon as we arrived, but our tummies directed us to the delicious smell coming from the canteen first!

Luckily two boats arrived instead of one and we were accommodated soon enough. Many “bangkero” will tell you to reserve seats by taking your bags to boat and you have to pay them P20 or P50, but we declined them. Also, since there is no “port,” bangkeros have made a “make-shift” port and asks P10 for each passenger. The boat ride took about two hours, traversing along the coast of Presentacion, Camarines Sur.  We arrived at Guijalo port at around 1pm and took a tricyle to sentro. I asked the driver to take us to Villa Juliana for our accommodations.

After resting a bit, we went out to look for a place to eat and found ourselves at a small native restaurant along the highway for our late lunch. We went back to our inn and slept a bit. It was already four in the afternoon when we decided to check out Paniman Beach.

Paniman Beach is the pick up point for island hopping activities in Caramoan. It is well away from the town proper Tawog so we took a motorcycle to get there. The beach is lined with resorts and restaurants as well as souvenir shops. The water is very calm and the beach itself has fine brown sand. It was very soothing to sit and watch my boys play at this beach. We walked to explore the resorts at the far end and back. I think a lot of foreigners have already settled here and have opened their own resorts too.

I wondered how marvelous the sunrise would be in this beach. I faces some enchanting limestone karsts. Baba though still irritable from the lengthy trip, gave me unsolicited advise and said that if I only discussed this trip with him, we could have prepared a better itinerary. And maybe we could have booked our first night in Paniman and watched the sunrise from there too!

Bag of Beans: A Hard-to-Miss Place in Tagaytay

I haven’t posted anything for a while. There’s been a lot of goings-on and everyday seems to be  hectic one. Not to mention the major weather disturbance that wreaked havoc to our place.

Last month, I was sent to Silang, Cavite for a month-long training. I left my boys to their own devices while I planned short escapes from the monotony of every training /schooling day. So one fine afternoon, when we finished our modules earlier than usual, we hurriedly took of in my classmate’s car and headed for Tagaytay.

It was only 30 minutes away from the Philippine National Police Academy where we are currently based. The cool afternoon breeze was a welcome respite from the polluted Metro Manila air and as well as the constantly fiery atmosphere in Bicol. I wanted something soothing and hearing a lot of good things about Bag of Beans, I asked my mates if its okay with them to visit the place.

Bag of Beans in Tagaytay is indeed an eye candy. It is located along Aguinaldo Highway and it is considered a hard-to-miss place. If you are visiting on a weekend, you can expect a long queue despite their spacious location. There is also a constant traffic build-up when you are about to pass by this place so you will hardly miss this place.

Bag of Beans has quiet and cozy nooks for those who want  a bit of privacy. The place is decorated with colorful lanterns and gives that charming vintage feel. They have tables under those huge umbrellas, indoor coffee tables depending on what or where you want to while the time away. The drinks are competitively priced but the food kinda scared me off a little. But I made the right choices ordered two items that are more than enough for the three of us.

I ordered a cup of coffee for me and some pika-pika for my mates which served as our meryenda-cena. I started to feel my shoulders slacken and the pressure seem to leave me slowly. I really love having good coffee and being with real nice company. Not to mention spending a quiet time in a really nice place like Bag of Beans.

Getting to Caramoan from Legazpi City Plus Tips on Avoiding GettingRiff-offed

Rainy days have started but pocketful of sunshine still invites beach bummers and city-escapers to go and explore hidden coves and beaches that worth your while. One of the country’s most beautiful destination as hailed in many articles online and offline is Caramoan. Prolly due to the shoot of Survivor series, this hard to reach destination has proven to be worth all the hassle in the getting there!

From Manila, there are lots of info you can get on how you can travel by bus, by plane or by private vehicle to reach Caramoan. But for the three of us based in Albay, particularly Legazpi City, the road to Caramoan is indeed long and wide. 
From Daraga: We started the day early, at 5:30 in the morning we took a van going to Naga and traveled for about 1.5 hours to Pili (Anayan), Camarines Sur.
From Pili: Buses going to Lagonoy from Naga as well as jeepneys going to Sabang Port, ply the diversion (Anayan) road in Pili, Camarines Sur. We took the jeepney which will take us straight to Sabang port over buses which will only drop us at San Jose and will require us to take jeepneys going to the port itself.
From Sabang Port: There are scheduled outrigger boats travelling from Sabang Port to Guijalo Port in Caramoan. Boat schedules are as follows:
  • 5:30 Am
  • 7:30 Am
  • 9:30 Am
  • 11:30 Am
  • 1:30 Am
These times vary depending on the return trip of boats and their availability. 
From Guijalo Port: Arriving in Guijalo Port – be warned, many boat men awaits the passenger outrigger boat arriving from Sabang and insist that they transfer you to the port via their boats. You will notice that they connive with the captain of those passengers boat so the latter would announce that he cannot take his passenger boat nearer to the side because of so many alibis and that we should just take the offers of the boatmen around us. 
From Guijalo Port: There are tricycles that can take you to Brgy Tawog or the centro where you can find an inn or you can go straight to Paniman Beach and stay in one of the beachfront accommodations there for the night. 
Fare matrix:
Daraga to Naga Van : P130 per pax (even if you alight in Pili)
Pili to Sabang Jeep: P80 per pax
Sabang to Guijalo Port Boat: P120 per pax/P60 for child
Guijalo Port to Tawog Tricycle: P25 per pax if full
Boat transfers: P20
Back ride service: P10
Tips: 
1. Be sure to have yourselves listed in the manifesto soon as you arrive at the makeshift port. We arrived early but decided to eat first so when we realized we needed to have our names listed, the arriving boat’s manifesto is already full so we have to wait for the much later one. 
2. Don’t listen to some of the guys telling you that you need to have a seat reserved and offer to take your belongings to the boat for a fee. You are listed in the manifesto and that guarantees a space or seat for you right?
Additional Tip:
I planned this Caramoan Trip as a surprise summer treat for my boys and got a lousy schedule because I did not seek Baba’s logical advise on some points.
When you visit Caramoan for a 3 days/2-nights stay, head straight to Paniman Beach from Guijalo port and stay there. Why? 
  • You can while away your aftie right there on the calm brown beach.
  • The sun rises on this beach, and
  • You can have your island hopping boat service pick you up from here. 
So that’s less expense on your travel from Centro if you want to beach bum in the afternoon after your arrival and the next day travel for your island hopping trip plus you get a rewarding sunrise (which we missed) from your resort too! 
After your island hopping, you can then go to the centro for cheaper accommodations options, easier exploration of other interesting spots around the area and easier trip to Guijalo port when you are leave Caramoan.