My First Solo Sojourn: Sagada

So, one day, I went to the nearest airport, luggage in tow, hoping to snatch me up a yummy JM-slash-Anthony look-alike. I positioned myself near the baggage check-in counter, arranged my bags so they look like they’re overflowing, took out my jacket, a couple of lacy thongs and spread them out on the floor. And I waited. And waited. Alas, no dashing stranger approached me to offer extra space in his luggage. Tsk. Maybe chivalry is indeed dead. Or all the good men are either already in Sagada, or buffing up in some fancy gym somewhere in the metro. Geez. Time for Plan B. I ditched my bags, went to Cubao and boarded a bus to Baguio.

Yeaaaah. About that.

The truth is, a solo trip has always been part of my 30-things- to-do-before-I-turn-thirty bucket-list kinda thing two years ago. What can I say, I’m a walking cliche, which is why I don’t entirely blame those “concerned” people who keep asking me if I went up there to fix whatever it is that’s broken in me. Wow, thank you ha. To begin with, I don’t consider myself  to be quite the voracious traveler, but I’ve been to places, just never really alone. Back then, I have considered Sagada, along with Ilocos, Cebu and Davao, but time, budget constraints and maybe just plain fear of going alone prevented me from checking off this item from my list.

Fast-forward to 2015 where yes, that movie did help inspire other people to trek over there, and made it easier for me to gather reliable information for rooms and such to plan my own trip. Also, I was able to get some useful tips online so I want to return the favor by sharing some of my experience.

Getting There

I planned to be there Thursday to Saturday, so I can avoid the deluge of tourists going back to Baguio and Manila on Sunday, since also a lot of agency-sponsored tours do the Fri-Sun schedule. I left Alabang Wednesday night at 8PM, got to the Victory Liner terminal in Cubao ten minutes before 10. Just ride the SM Fairview buses in Starmall, Alabang (PHP 60 pesos, aircon), then buy a ticket to Baguio (PHP 450 with insurance).  For their schedules (both deluxe aircon that travels for 6 hours, or the luxury liner that cuts the trip to 4 hours via TPLEX, for about PHP750), check here: http://www.victoryliner.com.

I believe there’s an alternate route that goes straight to Manila-Bontoc then another jeepney ride to Sagada, which offers a view of the famed Banaue Rice Terraces. You can search for Ohaya Transit, which has a terminal in Sampaloc, Manila.

I caught the 10PM trip to Baguio and arrived at the City of Pines at 4AM, where I had the obligatory strawberry taho amidst the superrrr early morning cold! I took a cab to the GL Bus Transit terminal (about PHP50), which plies the Baguio-Sagada route. Their first trip is at 6AM so the terminal was still closed. I hung out and watched videos and at 5:45, the terminal opened and the bus arrived. Ticket is for PHP220, the bus is smaller than average, seats are by twos, air-conditioned and looks comfortable enough. I got the aisle seat behind the driver, which gave me some pretty good leg room and I believe the safest spot.

 

Because, yeah, I came just for this! Strawberry taho for PHP 30.

Because, yeah, I came just for this! Strawberry taho for PHP 30.

Starting March 17, some liners (Victory included) are temporarily not accepting advance reservations for tickets so you buy once you get there. I was planning to already purchase my ticket home but was advised of this. The luxury liner accepts, though I was told it was fully booked until Monday.

The trip took six hours, with two pit stops every two hours, one at a regular bus stop with rest rooms and food stalls, another at a roadside gas station, with food and veggie vendors as well. I bought a carton of strawbs for PHP 20 pesos and took in the brisk mountain air. I wanted a smoke so badly but felt like I would violate some unwritten clean-mountain-air law. The whole trip offers  breath-taking  views of the mountains on my left, and a steep, cliff drop on the other side of the road, often with terraces of rice fields and vegetation. The endless sight of robust pines trees was a welcome change from the usual coconut trees and pavement of past road trips I’ve taken.

Wish I live where they sell strawbs at the side of the road like they do corn or peanuts.

Wish I live where they sell strawbs at the side of the road like they do corn or peanuts.

Touchdown, Sagada 

We arrived at the Sagada town proper at two minutes before noon. All tourists are required to register at the municipal tourist information center and pay the environmental fee of PHP 35. You are expected to present the receipt each time you do any of the tours. The people at the front desk are really helpful. Since I was alone, I inquired how to go about with tours and she said I can come anytime and ask for a guide, or tag along a group if they would allow it. I was given a map of the town, which also includes numbers for the inns, schedule of the bus trips and the tours they offer. You can definitely choose your own adventure here, depending on your length of stay, budget and courage!

Pine trees and rainbows. Yes please.

Pine trees and rainbows. Yes please.

I did not reserve a room, but peak season was starting so it was only at the third inn – Indigenous Inn – that I got a room. The owners – Ate Wanay and Tita Josie – readily gave me key for a room with my own bath. It had three beds, heated water and cost only PHP300/night ,because Tita Josie said they count by the head, not by room. If you want to save more, they also offer rooms with shared rest rooms at PHP 250. Most of the establishments along South road (which has most of the popular lodgings and restos) offer rooms from PHP 250-500. You can easily search for them online and reserve. I inquired at Salt N Pepper and Residential lodge but they were both full.

Where I stayed.  You can contact Tita Josie or Ate Wanay at 09216455679 for inquiries and reservations.

Where I stayed. You can contact Tita Josie or Ate Wanay at 09216455679 for inquiries and reservations.

My room. Actually I ahd three beds, my own batch and hot water. All for 300 bucks a night. Yasss.

My room. Actually I had three beds, my own batch and hot water. All for 300 bucks a night. Yasss.

After settling in and finishing the rest of my strawberries, I walked up and down South road, which was semi-deserted at that time, finally settling at Salt N Pepper for some late lunch. I had beer and some pan-seared rosemary chicken inutom with rice for PHP 170 ( a bit pricey for the simple fare but delicious nonetheless). I went back to my room and lounged around then decided to check out some activities. I wasn’t really planning to go the adventurous route – I foolishly didn’t even pack my running shoes – but I realized you can’t go to Sagada and not try any of the activities they offer.

The interior of Salt N Pepper. Had the place to myself that time.

The interior of Salt N Pepper. Had the place to myself that time.

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Activities and Food Trip

I went back to the tourist info center and asked if there we any tours going on. Most of the activities have a standard rate, but if you go in groups, you can split the rate. For example, the Echo Valley hike to view the hanging coffins cost PHP 200 for 10 visitors or less. Luckily, a fellow solo traveler also inquired so we decided to split the fee for the tour. Our guide was Mang Dangwa – named after the bus line since he was reportedly born inside the bus – an affable and quietly humorous Igorot old timer. He speaks fluent English and seems more comfortable talking to us in English rather than Tagalog. He led us through the Episcopalian Church of Mary the Virgin, the modern cemetery (where one of the Fallen 44 rests) and through the trail. He gave history nuggets about how religion and the tradition of burial had evolved with the arrival of the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese.

Episcopalian Church of Mary the Virgin

Episcopalian Church of Mary the Virgin

The modern cemetery we passed on the way to Echo Valley.

The modern cemetery we passed on the way to Echo Valley.

 

 

Hanging out by the hanging coffins at Echo Valley.

Hanging out by the hanging coffins at Echo Valley.

Looove the backdrop!

Looove the backdrop! O di ba, mukhang napadaan lang sa outfitan!

After the hike, which lasts for less than two hours, we tried the famous lemon pie at The Lemon Pie House (PHP 30/slice, PHP 200/whole) with some mountain tea (PHP 15) and coffee (PHP 30). The place was cozy and quiet. I loved the flaky crust, tarty leemon filling and moussey top of the pie. They also offer egg pies and other hot and cold drinks, which I would find out is pretty standard in most of the eateries there.

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The buko pie girl tries the lemon pie.

The buko pie girl tries the lemon pie and their mountain tea.

 

For dinner, heeding recommendations, we headed to Mesferre Country Inn and Restaurant. Their menu consisted mostly of pasta, burgers and salads and cost anywhere from PHP 150-500+ depending on the size. I originally ordered an apple chicken salad plate (PHP 170), but the server served me a huge cheeseburger with potato fries and side salad (PHP 220) so I had that anyway.

The yummiest mistake I've had so far.

The yummiest mistake I’ve had so far.

The next morning, we were picked up by our tour guide Kuya Satur at 5AM for the sunrise at Mt. Kiltepan Viewpoint. The van ride costs PHP 500 so best to split it with other poeple. The ride up is about 15 minutes (3 KM) which you can hike, but I wasn’t going to do that all alone at 5AM. At the site, we found other tourists already there, some set up camp the night before, pitching tents, pouring coffee or setting up their fancy cameras and tripods.

 

A lover of beach sunrises, I quickly fell in love with mountain sunrises too!

A lover of beach sunrises, I quickly fell in love with mountain sunrises too!

This is Rio! Choz.

This is Rio! Choz.

Kuya Satur took us to a higher vantage point and I reveled at the lush greenery, the relative silence (occasionally punctuated by laughter or “tadhana” hiritans by some of the younger tourists) and the sight of fog covering the rice terraces below. The infamous sea of clouds was nowhere to be seen, it was mostly fog and smoke, as Kuya Satur explained that it’s better if it rained the night before. Still, the sight of the fiery ball of sun rising over the mountain skyline was no less breathtaking. We took turns standing over a rock perched on the side of the click, while elsewhere we can hear the cheers and applause of a group of friends, where apparently a marriage proposal happened. Kuya Satur said it’s common. He also shared some personal experiences and a bit of history as well. He recommended to get us a guide for the cave connection. “Wag kang kukuha ng basta pogi lang na guide tapos di nagsasalita. Dun ka sa marami matututunan.” Agree!

Breakfast was at Bana’s Cafe and Restaurant back on South Road. For PHP 150, I had banana pancakes, fruits, eggs, bacon and their famous Sagada coffee. It was a small place but also had a great view of some of the other lodges and more trees.

 

Bana's also sell their own ground coffee, which I bought to take home.

Bana’s also sell their own ground coffee, which I bought to take home.

Breakfast at Bana's.

Breakfast at Bana’s.

Kuya Juri, Kuya Satur’s brother in law picked us up at 9AM. He showed us the Sugong coffins placed at the side of the mountain. We walked until the end of South Road to the entrance to the Lumiang-Sumaging Cave. The tour costs PHP 800 and max of 3 persons per guide. We were told it will last for 4-5 hours. Kuya gave me props for wearing a trusty pair of cheap rubber slippers, since I didn’t want to wear shoes that would get wet and make me slip. Though if you have proper hiking boots, might be a better idea.

 

Sugong coffins.

Sugong coffins.

The descent starts here. Wooh!

The descent starts here. Wooh!

We started with a brief history lesson about the rest of the coffins placed at the mouth of the cave, the traditions involved, the rock formations and stalactites we were going to see inside, as well as some safety reminders. Kuya Juri lit up the kerosene and led the way in.

 

More coffins placed at the entrance. They still practice this, as the latest burial here was in 2012. Some coffins and bones were spotted a few meters away, washed away by rain and floods.

More coffins placed at the entrance. They still practice this, as the latest burial here was in 2012. Some coffins and bones were spotted a few meters away, washed away by rain and floods.

Traditionallyy, they regard lizards as bearer  of good omen.

Traditionallyy, they regard lizards as bearer of good omen.

I’m afraid of heights, and at some points during the spelunking, we had to go up and down slippery rocks, squeeze our way through small crevices by the help of ropes and the tour guide, or wade through knee-deep ice cold water. Though I was huffing and puffing a bit, I barely broke a sweat as it felt like the entire cave had the air-conditioning up on high.

Some of the wee spaces we had to squeeze opurselves into. One of the few times I'm glad I'm a stick. Kuya Juri jokingly says for healthier people, the rocks "adjust" and move around. :)

Some of the wee spaces we had to squeeze opurselves into. One of the few times I’m glad I’m a stick. Kuya Juri jokingly says for healthier people, the rocks “adjust” and move around. 🙂

Since it was already summer, the water in some places weren’t as deep. The tour guide showed us some places where the water would go up to the chest during rainy season. The cave the really beautiful and Kuya Juri kept up a steady stream of chatter filled with bits of history, geology, weather, showbiz trivia and jokes.

The latter part of the spelunking would take us to the deepest part of the cave, where interestingly, we found shells embedded in the rocks. Sagada is made up of limestone formations, and it really cool to think billions of years ago this place (and the rest of the Philippines) was underwater. The short course spelunking tour would actually just cover mostly the Sumaging end and lasts for an hour or so, while the cave connection we took is 4-5 hours. We were able to finish in less than 4 hours, with me taking about half the dirt, mud and bat crap on my hands and clothes, but yeah, totally worth it!

The King' Curtains. Some of the amazing sights inside Sumaging cave.

The King’ Curtains. Some of the amazing sights inside Sumaging cave.

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They look like silky caramel formations.

 

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Smiling yet super scared.

Smiling yet super scared. See that deep dark crevice where I came from?

At first I was afraid...  after almost 4 hours, keribelles na!

At first I was afraid… after almost 4 hours, keribelles na!

I’m not going to spill too much about the stuff we saw there (hint: they have rocks they call “porn formations” and there is a royal family residing inside this majestic cave) so I’ll leave it up to you to imagine or better yet, come and visit them.  🙂

After parting with our guide, we decided to get lunch at Gaia’s, since it was on the way and looked deserted at that hour (around past 1 PM). The small, two-storey eatery had a nice, rustic feel to it, with the tables set to offer a nice view of the mountainside. The dainty kitchen and rest rooms were below. The place offered all organic, vegan fare and once again I was delighted at the delicious yet affordable selection. I had their pasta with roasted tomatoes and red pepper sauce, strawberry smoothie, a chunky blueberry muffin and their famous camote (sweet potato) fries topped with muscovado (raw sugar), paprika and lemon.

A little cottage perched at the edge of the mountain road.

A little cottage perched at the edge of the mountain road.

Pasta with roasted tomatoes and red pepper sauce.

Pasta with roasted tomatoes and red pepper sauce.

Camote fries, blueb muffin and strawberry smoothie.

Camote fries, blueb muffin and strawberry smoothie.

Cozy! No wonder they used this resto for that movie.

Cozy! No wonder they used this resto for that movie.

It was a very peaceful, quiet lunch and it was an effort to get up (especially since my calves were starting to scream bloody murder). We walked back to South road, with plans to hit up the museum later, but I guess the unplanned exercise and crisp mountain air did me good and I feel asleep and woke up past 5PM.

I met up with a friend who came to Sagada for a wedding and we had lemon pies and had dinner with the family. There, we were told how weddings in Sagada is basically a town activty, with everone pitching in the preparations, as well as the celebrations the next day. We had dinner amidst huge vats of chopped vegetables, meat and other condiments, since they were expecting a turnout of about 4000 people. They’ve already prepared 16 pigs and a cow and are actually receiving more for the feast. Wow!

My manang tendencies got the better of me and I called it a night early. The next day, I got up around 5 and walked around the town. It was market day and already, the side streets were filled with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, fish, dried meat, ukay-ukay, toys and pasalubong. I scored some more strawberries and blueberries, the obligatory coin purses and magnets, a pack of coffee, a jar of wild blueberry jam and two maxi skirts from a roadside ukay for only PHP 120 each. I took a leisurely walk towards the direction of Echo Valley though I went back and sat inside the church, already decorated for the wedding, and finished my coffee and quiet time.

Lovely views like this almost everywhere!

Lovely views like this almost everywhere!

The church all spruced up and ready for the bride and groom.

The church all spruced up and ready for the bride and groom.

Market finds!

Market finds!

More tourists were also arriving, and they came in droves of vans, cars and buses. Kinda made me thankful to be leaving that day and avoid the crowd, though I felt my stay was really bitin. The museum was still closed, and I’ve already spent a couple of hours buying stuff so I had a quick breakfast of chicken noodles at one of the eateries then went back to my room to pack.

HEADING HOME

I caught the 10AM bus going down to Baguio; last trip was at 1PM. Same way going back, just ride the GL bus to Baguio, take a cab to Victory and from there you can catch a bus to Cubao or Pasay. I chose Cubao since Victory’s terminal is just a few steps away from HM Liner, which plies the Cubao-Sta. Cruz route. After a three-hour interim in Baguio, since I had to wait for a later bus so I don’t get to Cubao at midnight, and another 8 hours from Baguio to Cubao to Los Banos, I finally got home at around 4:30 AM, tired physically, but still wide-awake from the short yet eventful trip I had.

I definitely missed a lot of activities I still wanted to do, and there were other out-of-the-way spots that tourists don’t frequent that I wanted to check out. But hey, all the more reasons to come back, right? Probably when everyone’s over their tadhana obsession, I can go back to a quieter, less crowded Sagada. For me, my first solo trip was a success. I was able to brave through long bus rides alone, lived within my budget, spent a lot of quiet, munimuni moments, ate a lot, met some new people and discovered a really great place.

Me, myself and I.

Me, myself and I.

One thing I realized during this trip is that I don’t need to be sad or broken to find time to carve out a trip for myself. One shouldn’t have to be. I went up their with really no concrete plans or expectations, except to eat and think, and yet I came out of it with more wisdom and experience (at least I like to think so haha!). Though I came for a myriad of reasons – curiosity, adventure, stress, budget – my sister summed it up when she shared one of my photos shortly after she, my other sister and mom spent the morning berating me for going up all alone.

I went because I want to and because I can.

You should try it.

Cagbalete Island: Beauty and Budget

Summer may be winding down for a lot of people, but not for me. My mandatory 2-week leave at work officially started last Friday, so after weeks of writhing with envy over the flood of beach pictures in my social media news feed, I gathered my closest work buddies and headed to my first beach of this summer – Cagbalete Island in Mauban, Quezon.

A friend sent me a blog link about this place (check it out here:“6 Hours and 470 Pesos To Paradise”) and I found it beautiful, refreshing and most of all, affordable so I planned to go there alone at first, but decided later on to include my friends. It’s a great alternative to your usual beach haunts, and if you can get over the long bus ride, additional boat ride, walks and camping feel, you should add this to your list of must-visit place in the Philippines.

I’ll try to break down the details of our trip to help you if you are planning to visit this little pocket of paradise int he Quezon province.I am very grateful to the blog post I read, so I’m doing the same. I’m no travel blogger so don’t expect too much, alright? I’ll be sure to include other helpful links below.

Getting There

For commuters, there are a couple of ways to get there. Since our group were coming from work in Alabang, we stayed overnight in Cubao then got to the Jac Liner bus terminal at 2 AM. It has two trips to Mauban, 5 AM and 12 NN, and many trips to Lucena. The bus starts loading at around 3AM though and once it’s filled up, it leaves even before 5 AM. We boarded at around 3:30 and left at 4 AM. Note: be vigilant for line jumpers (singits!) though, or else you’ll lose your own seat. We almost got into a fight over line jumpers and the guard who wasn’t watching the line properly. The trip to Mauban is for 4-5 hours. We go there in four. Cost: PHP 277.

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The line at the terminal.

Once there, you will take a tricycle to the Mauban port. Cost is PHP 50-100 for 4 persons, but if you will rent it and take a detour to buy supplies at the market, it costs around PHP 250. The drivers are friendly and knowledgeable and acted as tour guides as well, so the fare is worth it.

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Don’t take your sweet time at the market or you’ll get left by the boat.

Once at the port, pay the environmental/terminal fee of PHP 50. The public boat costs PHP 50 each. It has two trips, one at 10 AM and another at 4PM, but same drill: it fills up early, it leaves. There were two boats when we got there: MV Anthony and MV Neneng (I think). It will be filled to the brim and for a few second you will wonder about the safety. Sit close to the life vest. Trip lasts for 30-45 minutes.

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This ain’t Titanic. Bring a fan coz your armpits will be crying for Argentina.

 

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The initial sight of the island is already worth the puyat, pawis and uhaw.

If you got left by the Mauban bus, you can take any bus to going to Lucena, then take a van or jeep going to Mauban. There are also private boats going to the different resorts in Cagbalete Island. Price starts at PHP 1500 for 1-2/pax, then going up as the capacity increases. Some private boatmen can offer packages and discounts so use your haggling powers (without risking your safety of course). You can negotiate with them as they offer their services to you at the port. I’m sure if you’re coming from the South (Los Banos or San Pablo), the trip would be much shorter. You may also bring your own car (road trip, yey!) and leave it at the port (at your own risk I guess).

Touchdown Cagbalate!

You will get off at the Sabang port (also called Cagbalete port) which is also lined by the homes of the locals there. Kids and adults alike will offer their services as guides and you can tip them as you see fit. The resorts are on the other side of the Island. Trek time depends on the distance of the resort you chose, 10 minutes for the nearby ones, up to 30-45 minutes for the farthest (which is what we did!). If you will take the public boat, I suggest staying at the nearby resorts like Pensacola (arguably one of the most popular there), Villa Cleofas, Villa Noe. We stayed at MV Sto. Nino which is at the farthest end of the strip. It’s more secluded though so it’s fine.

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Walk, walk, walk. Bring a sarong or umbrella for cover. And water!

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The trek to our resort is not for the faint-hearted and those prone to heat stroke.

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I could stare at this all day, everyday, every damn day.

Most of them offer the same types of accommodations for roughly the same price range. You can bring food or buy there for slightly steeper prices, or you can get meal packages, cost around PHP 800 and up for three meals and snacks. You can also pay them to cook for you (cost PHP 100-250) or rent utensils. Ice is not regular, some resorts charge corkage for alcoholic drinks (PHP 50-200) and I suggest bringing lots of uling (charcoal), water and snacks if you plan to cook your own food. We bought food at the market and cooked.

There is no electricity in the island, just power generators which is only turned on from 6PM – 6AM the next day, so bring your power banks and also charge during the night. We brought katol (mosquito coils) but there weren’t a lot of mosquitoes so it was quite pleasant, though hot during the night.

For resort choices, here are some. Or simply type Cagbalate resorts in Google and you’ll get a lot more.

Pansacola

Villa Celofas

Villa Noe

MV Sto. Nino

Our Digs

We stayed at MV Sto. Nino, which is at the far end of the island, so unless you’re game for some walking (we walked for 35 minutes at noon time, san ka pa?), I suggest you rent a private boat so they can drop you off at the resort’s front step, so to speak. It’s quieter though, and more spacious, though once high tide, the shoreline is a bit smaller. There’s a swampy area though that’s fun to explore.

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Main hall at MV Sto. Nino. If you like the dorm-like feel, stay here.

The beach itself is beautiful, just a few seaweeds, hardly any litter. The sand is fine, some parts are rockier than most but not painful. There were a lot of whole shells, probably because only few people  trample the sands. The water was pleasantly warm, not too salty and not painful that you can swim with your eyes open underwater and not get those red, ouchy eyes. The even sand goes on for like forever so there’s plenty of space to wade and swim and just lounge around.

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Yehey there’s water na!

 

Low tide is around 10 AM until early afternoon, during which the place looks like an endless expanse of a damp desert. Water will come in though at around 5PM until the next morning. You can swim at night or even during early morning because the water doesn’t become cold.

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Dude, where’s my beach?!?

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Sunrises and sunsets are always more beautiful in the ocean, yeah?

We stayed in two small cottages with a room, PHP 1000 each. There’s a main house with air-conditioned rooms too. The rest rooms are clean and newish. You can buy food, beer, water and soft drinks at their little canteen. The katiwala, Ate Aileen is friendly and accommodating. There’s a volleyball court in the middle and you can rent the ball.

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Our humble abode.

You can also pitch tents (rent for PHP 400-500, bring your own for PHP 200-300) or hang a hammock or roll out a sleeping bag. Be sure to keep your valuables close at all times.

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Keep calm (and within budget) and cook your own grub. Yuuuum!

Going Back

Getting home is also as easy as getting there. Just reverse the process. You ride a boat from Sabang to Mauban port (it leaves at 6AM and 1 PM) or rent your own (we got ours at PHP 2200 for 10 pax). Then ride a tryc to the van terminal (PHP 50/tryc), ride van to Lucena grand terminal (PHP 65/pax, about 1-hour trip) and then once at the terminal, choose the mode of transportation depending on your destination. My friends going back to Alabang rode a Jac Liner bus; I chose a van going to Sta. Rosa, which will pass by Calamba. Tough if you live where I do (Los Banos), better to take a van to San Pablo, and from there take a jeep going to Calamba, to avoid taking the long route of Alaminos-SLEX and the traffic of Pansol.

There are several fast food chains in the terminal (Chowking and Jollibee) and some stalls where you can buy pasalubong. Broas (lady fingers), tikoy (a kind of caramel sweet), espasol (some kind of rice-macapuno sweet rolled in roasted rice powder) and cassava cake or budin, are local delicacies. Or if you can brave the dirty stares at an air-con bus, go buy some longganisa (sausages in pigs’ intestines) as well.

With my group of eight people, each of us spent roughly PHP 1700 each, which our own individual meals in fast foods going to and from Mauban, and our ambagan (shell out for the group expenses) of PHP 865 each. Not bad, eh?

Moral of the story: better to travel in packs or groups. Not only is it more fun, but more affordable as well!

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What’s a beach trip without the obligatory jump shot?

 

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I’m the one in the blue bikini. 🙂

There are still two weeks of summer left. Go book your rooms, pack your bikinis, board shorts and sunblock, and head out to Cagbalate Island. Let’s support local Filipino tourism, o diba? 

UPRHS Batch 2000: Time for some kamote again…

It started as a rumor: the Old Rural Buildingis going to be demolished soon. For those who aren’t from Elbi, it’s the Math Building, that haunted-looking structure in front to St. Therese Chapel. Our batch spent the first three years of our high school life wreaking havoc in this building, and just when we were about to inherit the much-coveted lobby when we became Seniors (an age-old Ruralite tradition), we were shipped off to some far-flung bukid then known as The New site. Urgh.
 
So, just before Eli, one of our seaman friends and the self-appointed lider-lideran of our barkada even way back, goes off a-sailing, we decided to have a photo shoot in the old site. So after loading up with beer (for the guys), juice, dynamite (that uber-hot cheese-filled jalapeno treat), sisig and liempo at Eli’s new ihawan (Wheeler’s Elbi Grill, De Castro Cmpd, Lopez Ave. Batong Malake, Los Banos, Laguna, plug plug!), we went to the Old Rural at 1 AM!
In the middle of mugging it for the camera at the lobby and debating how we can sneak inside the premises (the guys wanted pictures in MPHand the Ipil room, which is the first room to your left upon entering), the guard approached us to tell us the rumor isn’t true. An Elbi landmark such as the Old UPRHS building will NOT be torn down daw. Wooh. Great. But anyway, since we were there, we had pics taken in front of the flagpole too. Tristan, another promotor of this early-morning trip and my co-head in our the planned 15th year reunion, took some random pics of the 2nd-floor rooms (which used to be Mancono, Molave and Mahogany) in hopes of finding something supernatural turning up in the photos later on.
 
 
Me and Chrys at the flagpole we spent some time being tied onto and pelted with flour and soy sauce as part of a school fair’s “revenge booth.” Kami na ang suki. 
We were known as the Millenium batch, the first batch to graduate from the new site (although thank God we had our ceremonies at the D.L. Umali Hall). During our move the summer of 1999, we had to “igib” flushing water from outside and bring it to the toilets each room had (parang grade school lang, wala pang common restrooms). There was mud mixed with decomposing leaves and animal poop everywhere. 
 
The UPRHS New Site. Trust me, it didn’t look this great back then. Wish I had a picture.
 
Our canteen was a makeshift mesa resembling a turo-turo and our lunchmates were flies the size of dragonflies. The MPG or gym was built in the middle of our year and as a going away present to the school, our guys’ barkada made like construction men and built the volleyball court from scratch, their punishment for being caught with booze during the senior trip to Ilocos.We dreaded doing PT (Physical Training) during the Citizen Army Training drill days on Saturdays because the ground was rocky and sandy and filled with sharp, broken pieces of shell and bottles and of course, the obligatory cow dung. 
 
We were denied of the upper lobby, especially since we bullied any lowerclassman who dared sat there. We flubbed leading the school song on one flag ceremony and had to endure a major lashing for not memorizing the song even the freshmen knew by heart. 
 
We sent home a class of lowerclassmen when, in our exuberance at having the dreaded Physics exam cancelled, instead of shouting “Walang exam!” some genius shouted “Walang pasok“! and kids started getting out the school and boarding the shuttle jeeps home. We incurred the ire of the faculty countless times for our katigasan ng ulo, kaangasan and kayabangan. 
 
We had a lot more and looking back at some of these mischief last night, we were amazed at our youthful naughtiness. I’m glad most of us (I can’t say all eh haha!) outgrew these and became fine, upstanding (not to mention handsome and beautiful) citizens of the world. We became doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, media people, graduate students, entrepreneurs, musicians, mothers, fathers, hardworking taxpayers, you name it. Our 10th year reunion was a blast and kudos to the organizers back then. I believe our yearbook was also finished without an official faculty in charge so my respect as well to the yearbook peeps. 

UP Rural High School Batch 2000 during our 10th year reunion last December 10, 2010.
 
So I really hope we can make that 15th year thingie happen. Batch 2000, I know we’re used to reaching for those blasted stars with hardship, but let’s make this easy and fun as well, yes? Make those calls, connect, suggest, volunteer, plan and strategize with us. See ya’ll soon! Visit our batch’s Facebook group (UPRHS 2000) for updates or just plain old kamustahan and chikahan. 🙂

UP Kong Mahal

The recent deaths of two young women – the suicide of the UPM student and the murder of an 11-year-old girl in our barangay – made me stop and think. 

I can’t even comment on the issue of suicide, because, as it has been repeatedly said in the last few days, it is indeed a complex matter and we can’t just point to a single reason why this happens. 

It just made me think of how I had taken for granted my own stay in UP. I graduated from UP Rural High School, which is the preparatory secondary school here in UPLB. Back then (1996), only 160 students were accepted every year (this has been cut down to 120 in the last few years, I believe, since they removed one section comprising of 30 students per year level). 

*Old Rural building in front of St. Therese Chapel (now the Math Building) where we spent Freshman-Junior year. We had to relocate to the new site for our Senior Year.

Our tuition back then was a little more than PHP 1000 per year, and for this we got some of the best teachers in the area, more freedom compared to other private high schools and more or less the confidence that we have a better chance of getting into a good college, preferably UP. I remembered that while I got decent grades (except Math and some sciences with numbers and all, which I managed to pass by mercy of my teachers and copying from my friends), I never really exerted much effort. I was busier with extra-curricular activities and typical teenage rebellion stuff like barkada, vices and cutting classes. I shudder when I think of Ging going to high school, and as early as now I am praying to God she doesn’t end up like me, haha! 

Ruralites did have a rep of being mayabang, especially once they get into UP colleges. Since we were the high school counterpart of UPLB, we had a tendency to look down on other schools, and act all smug when, say, we had to read The Little Prince or Of Mice and Men in Humanities subjects and we’d go like, yeah, we read that in high school already. I’m not saying we’re all like that; I’m speaking for myself and some people I would rather not name. I don’t think most of us even took the UPCAT reviews the school offered the summer before senior year quite seriously. Most of us were just glad for some excuse to get allowance during the summer. 


*The new site in Paciano, Bay. We were the pioneer batch and the word ‘rural” took on a whole new meaning for us. Barriotic talaga when we first came here!

I guess this confidence was the reason why I didn’t bother to take any entrance exams from other colleges. That and that my mother was a UP employee, so I figured she and her friends can figure something out in case I got wait-listed or something. A lot of my high school friends were also kids of UP staff so we shared this feeling of dependence.

Thankfully (and now I attribute this to the sheer grace of God!), I passed the UPCAT and got into my college and course of choice. For the next four years, my tuition was PHP 45 per semester because of the Tuition Fee Exemption (TFE) granted to children of UP staff and employees. If I want to add another subject, it cost PHP 10. During my last two years, I would often resort to late reg and just do pre-rog to my instructors once classes start, instead of queuing for hours in the registration line. I paid PHP 50 for late fine. My two other sisters also went to UPRHS and UPLB. My eldest sister took Medicine in UP Manila, and my other sister is taking up her Masters in UPLB now (she’s a UP employee now too; my mom retired two years ago). Nowadays, the cost of one unit would’ve been enough to put me through college for many, many years. While I got better grades in college (even landing in the honor roll and college scholar list a few times), I still lived a pretty laid back, partying lifestyle. I got pregnant during my second year but still managed to graduate only a semester after my peers. Looking back now, I never had to worry about paying my tuition, allowance, food or lodging; we lived right in campus. I hope my daughter will never have to experience that too, and will value her education much more than I did. I have such high regard for those students who study hard and work even harder to stay in school and not take any of these for granted.

*The familiar UP Los Banos signage upon entering the UP Gate

 

* Si Oble. Behind him is the Humanities building and my college org’s fave hangout, the Hum Steps.


The other news is that of the young girl found dead two weeks after she went missing. She was found just a few villages from where I live! The jeepney-pedicab route that goes from the Animal Science area inside campus and plies the route of subdivisions around the campus perimeter (including our own village) is a familiar route me, Ging, Ige and my family have taken numerous times. It hit closer to home because Ging is also 11. The moment someone texted me the news and I saw it on the bus TV  as well, I immediately texted my mom and sister and asked them to hug my daughter and keep a close eye on her. My heart goes out to the victim’s family. Losing a child is one of the greatest pain any parent can go through, I hate to even imagine how that feels.

UPLB has been in the news the last couple of years due to some recent crimes and deaths. I hope the local government will continually do something about these and not just while the issue is hot.

Let us just pray for these two girls, and for their families as well. For whatever reasons these incidents happened, let us hope for healing, peace and awareness to come to our hearts and communities. 

Let’s Nail This Paco Park Thingie

Sometime this year, I got it in my head that I want to go to Paco Park. Chalk it up to part curiosity, part-kilig by the JL-Bea scenes shot here in “Miss You Like Crazy,” nyaha! Plus, I really want to do a lot of promdi-goes-to-the-city trips just for fun. So I put it in my little list (number 8!), and promised I’d get around to doing it. A friend and I passed by the park few months back on our way from church, but were too tired to visit that time, and then we never got around to going back.

Last week, since I had some errands in the city, I decided to go for it. I took half the day off from work, and from Alabang Petron station, took a Lawton bus; fare was for PHP 40. I whiled the time away laughing at Pinoy Henyo on the bus TV. Traffic was a little heavy once we passed Dela Rosa up until we took a left on Quirino Avenue. I got off at United Nations Ave and took a tryc for PHP 10. There’s a queue near McDo UN. Actually, if you feel like walking, it’s only about a block away, but I didn’t know it was that near so I rode one. There’ s also a pedicab that takes forever to fill up.

 
There’s an entrance fee of PHP 5, and mood music was playing through a loud speaker placed near the entrance. I was a bit surprised because I was expecting it to be bigger (it looked like that in pictures and in the movies) but it was not that grand. I noticed though how clean and well-maintained the grounds were, and how quiet. There were only a handful of people: a few young couples in school uniforms (huli, nagde-deyt!), a gaggle of office girls noisily taking their pictures in front of the church, and a couple of guys with fancy DSLRs scoping and taking test shots of the area. I would later find out they were professional photographers waiting for their pre-nup shoot clients. The rest rooms were also surprisingly clean for a city public park.
 
I walked around looking at the old, mostly empty graves, covered in moss. Some looked refurbished, but nonetheless blended in the aged look of the whole place. There was a flock of pigeons flying around the area, and the occasional flapping sounds of their wings gave the lazy afternoon a more soothing feel. It was a cloudy afternoon, the ominous clouds boding a possible rain shower. I uttered a quick prayer for a downpour not to ruin my little field trip.
 
 

Paco Park used to be Manila’s municipal cemetery for the aristocratic families during the Spanish colonial era, up until 1912, when interment ceased in the park. It was built in the 18th century in what was once the district of Dilao, now known as Paco. Jose Rizal was also buried here after being executed in Bagumbayan, until his remains were moved to Rizal Monument. There is also the shrine dedicated to the three Filipino priests, Gomburza.
 
 
The park is circular in shape, with a Roman Catholic chapel, St. Pancratius Church in the middle. There’s an inner circle where the niches are, and a second outer layer was later built to accommodate more. It was fun to walk around the pathway built around the park, admiring the thick adobe walls and imagining all the history that took place within these walls. I’m not really a history buff, but I get a bit nostalgic when I’m in old places like these. 
 
Paco Park is open Mondays through Fridays except Wednesdays (good thing I went there n a Tuesday) 8-5 PM and celebrates its anniversary every February. I vaguely remember a musical show of sorts featuring the park, “Paco Park Presents” when I was a kid, though I never actually watched it. I looked it up and found out it was to foster strong cultural bonds between Filipinos and German artists. It’s also a very popular venue for prenuptial photoshoots and garden weddings.
 
I sat there for about half an hour, before the two photographer guys sat beside me and chatted me up. They were waiting for their clients from Paranaque to arrive, and I was kinda sorry I had to go; I would’ve loved to watch an actual prenup shoot in a garden take place. I did manage to get their contact info, since they asked me why I was there alone and taking lots of pictures. At first I was wary, they might be some crooks or crazy guys who like to pick up crazy chicks in local parks, but their site looks legit. 
 
 
Future brides, you can check it out: http://www.studio1photography.org/#Home%20Page. They specialize in weddings debuts and other special occasions for more reasonable rates. (plug plug!)
 
After my errands, I walked back to UN, had a root beer float to go from Jollibee, and caught the LRT to Gil Puyat, where buses (Greenstar and BLTB) ply the Manila-Santa Cruz route.

Zambales… is More.

Written September 8, 2012.

“Zambales tayo!” Riz, my seatmate back in the old test team, said to me sometime in late 2011. We were enjoying our usual afternoon chitchat about food, and we had somehow ventured into sea foods again -ihaw-ihaw, ensaladang mangga and all that shiz. The last time we indulged in this idle talk, the whole team ended up splitting a 6K-plus tab at Seaside near Daang Hari (no regrets, by the way).

I was already warming up to the idea – I’m putty in anyone hands at the mere prospect of traipsing around sand and surf. But when she added, “It’s a virgin, isolated island so we’ll have it all to ourselves,” I was already packing my swimsuits and sunblock in my mind.The team spent a few weeks saving up for it, clogging our emails with teasers and cartoons of us in summer get-ups and finally counting down the days til we can get off for the much-awaited weekend.

It was January 27, 2012. There were twelve of us all in all: AJ, our line manager; Aclo, the team’s clown and AJ’s personal stress-reliever; Riz, the aforementioned teammate who also happened to be schoolmates to our connection at the island; Hernie, the all-important photographer with the DSLR camera; Abie, who was eager for some me-time away from mommy duties; Ranil, our machong dalaga; Honey, the import from another process and unofficial mother hen; Red, one of our two managers for ops; Iela, our adventurous little pare; Trixie and her husband, Robert. I believe Brian and Chelai, our other teammates, regret not joining up to this day (since this was also the last time the team went on an out of town). Kasi eh!

We all prepared PHP 1500-2000 budget, and with the help of some team funds, bought some necessities at the grocery and off we went to Pasay after shift to the Victory Liner terminal. Fare to Iba, Zambales cost about  PHP 360 and we left at around 10PM. We were about to leave when we got texts that the salary is in so we all made mad dashes to the ATM and fortunately were not left by the very efficient driver and conductor.


Picture taking at the terminal.

The ride was comfortable and we arrived in Zamba around 1AM. We met our contact there and we stayed at their home until around 3AM, after which we rode a jeep to the port. We were expecting to leave at 5Am so we can maximize the time at the island; unfortunately, our bangkero didn’t arrive until before 7AM. We whiled the time away playing Pinoy Henyo using Honey’s phone, caught snatches of sleep at the carinderia seats, ate and also bought fresh seafood and vegetables at the bulungan (which is what they call the palengke/bagsakan of newly-caught fishes and sea foods). I can’t remember the prices since I left Honey and the rest to haggle but I believe we were able to score them dirt cheap.



We waded into the murky shore water that smelled strongly of spoiled fish entrails, to meet our bangkero. The boat was just a few planks sturdier than a raft and we managed to load all our bags and food, then squeezed in whatever space was available. The ride cost around PHP 2000 and this would be the same boat to bring us back, so aside from the bangkero, he had a couple other guys, his wife and two kids, I presume. The whole contraption looked precarious, but everybody else seemed at ease and not thinking of any Titanic-esque scenarios even with the absence of life vests or any safety paraphernalia so I just uttered a silent prayer for our safety.

The trip lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes, and since the sea was calm, we were able to enjoy the early morning view of the ocean. I was still a little nervous all throughout the trip – deep, dark waters have always been one of my fears – and since I was 28 days into my self-imposed month-long alcohol embargo, I must’ve smoked almost half of my pack of ciggies while I tried to distract myself through music. (I’ve completely quit smoking now, by the way.) However, all jitters vanished when we caught the first view of the island. It was so serene and calm, just a little pocket of white sand, clear water, lush pine trees and greenery and jagged mountain rocks tucked in some corner of Zambales. I think it’s called Sitio Sampaloc.



Here’s where we got off.


While we squealed in delight and marveled at the beauty of the place, we unloaded our stuff and proceeded to the nipa huts at the far end of the beach. It was very simple, not really set up like a resort. But there was running freshwater, relatively clean but dark toilets and bathrooms (there is no electricity in the island, after all) and plenty of bamboo seats and tables.  We started preparing lunch since most are already hungry and eager to start the whole beach adventure.  Hernz took on the “manly” role of chopping firewood, Aclo and AJ cleaned the sea food and Honey just about took over cooking everything else. The rest of us chopped veggies and took pictures, nyaha!  The result was an impressive spread that far exceeded Riz and my afternoon sea food cravings:  kinilaw na tuna, inihaw na pusit, sinigang na hipon, ensaladang mangga and salted egg with bagoong, ensaladang inihaw na talong,  inihaw na bangus, hinalabos na hipon and lots of ice cold Coke and fresh mangoes and watermelons afterwards.





We rested a bit then started the hike to the water falls. It was about a 30-minute gentle sloping hike, and the view was again, so worth the sweating. The water was cold and very clean, we drank it! There were several naturally-made pools and even rock formations that looked like water slides. There were other visitors, by the way, probably from the other side of the island or just docking for the day, but we pretty much did whatever we pleased.


On the lower left photo, that’s dry cow dung Aclo is holding out. Why? That’s just like him.

After the hike, each of us just plopped down everywhere and dozed off til about 6PM, when we groggily realized it would be completely dark soon and we had to start taking baths and cooking. Dinner was leftovers and some of the hotdogs saved for the bonfire later.

We lit the branches and wood pieces we had gathered earlier in the day and started roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. We laid mats just a few feet away from the water. It wasn’t terribly cold, and the starry night was just perfect for hanging out on the shore. What followed was one of the most fun, revealing and thought-provoking talks I’ve had in a long time – and I was 100% sober! Can’t say the same for the others who hit up the vodka that night but thankfully, nobody did the usual “panawan.” After a “liberating” play time sesh with the millions of planktons lighting up the shallow waters, we decided we were either too sleepy or too tipsy to walk back to the cottage so we just decided to sleep right there on the shore.



The next morning was spent frolicking on the beach, taking pictures and tanning ourselves with beer. Three of us had our period then but that didn’t stop us from enjoying! For more pictures, you can check out Hernie’s album of our trip: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.369184433095786.103721.100000126972033&type=3



Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and we started rinsing and packing up around 11AM. We bid the island goodbye under a  sun so sweltering, you’d think it was summer. Red, who spent so much time and beer tanning himself, opted to sit at the front of the boat while we all scrambled under the trapal shade and caught some sleep. We arrived at the bulungan again around 3Pm, and it smelled twice as bad as the day before.

We rode a jeep to The Coffee Shop, one of the famous eateries in the area, famed for their giant tacos and American diner-style food. I had been here before with my sister’s family, who lived in nearby Balanga, Bataan. The place was simply furnished, if a bit rough on the edges, but their delicious fare and relatively cheap price (I mean, compare it to Manila standards) belied the sparse surroundings. Their giant taco shells are actually made from what looked like fried spring roll (lumpia) wrapper, same goes for their taco salad bowl. I personally recommend these two, as the whole thing cost only about PHP 110 and are chock-full of beef and vegetables and cheese. Their banana split, fruit and milk shakes, calamares, club house sandwich and onion rings are also must-tries. Their washroom is clean and there’s free Wi-fi too.



Exhausted, sleepy and full, most of us slept soundly on the way back. We caught a little snafu at the Zamba terminal, because the cashier gave us tickets to a bus that’s already full so we had to get off it while it was already pulling away from the lot. Fortunately we were able to snag seats on the next trip and were home hours later.

This little piggy’s so tiiiiiiired.


As simple and fast as the trip was, or how koboy or skwating we seemed during our time there, this was to date, one of my most memorable, fun and relaxing beach sojourns ever. There weren’t any posh hotel rooms, no alcohol-induced high, no fancy buffet or drinks or amenities. No crowded bars or loud blaring music. Just good food and conversation enjoyed with great friends, and Mother Nature just doing her thang. Solb!

When’s the next one?

P.S. Here’s proof that while we all enjoyed the trip, someone just enjoyed it waaaay too much. Ayiiiiii!


Aclo carrying Riz from the boat to the shore.

 

CamSur na Sure Mauulit Ito!


Written September 1, 2012.

During a session with our manager a couple of weeks before, he asked each one of the performance coach’s pool member what is it that we want to do if we were not in our current job post. More than half answered, to travel. I myself replied to travel and write. That’s the dream.

Now, while I was going through my laptop’s picture files in a valiant attempt to free up space (I just find it hard to delete even random photos), I saw a lot of pics from my previous trips: to beaches, out of town sojourn with family and friends, anything that involves bodies of water and food trips and team-buildings and sunbathing and (not-so-long-ago) inebriated nights that I only vaguely remember.

So while I’m whiling away time until the next trip, I want to relive some of the of these trips, what I remember, saw and felt during these happy, tiring, exciting and memorable times. Cue sappy music.

I’ll start with my most recent trip to Camarines Sur, July 20-22, 2012.

Jown, one of our managers, organized a trip for her team, since she snagged some promo fares online. She invited me to come along, so I booked a flight the next day, although the ones they got were sold out so I got a later flight home. I also wanted to surprise someone from her team so I connived with them to keep it a secret for three months (the trip was July and we booked late in April).  Whew!



We left Alabang around 10 PM. We were riding a bus going there via Penafrancia Lines, which had lazy-boy-like seats and its own toilet. It was very spacious, the lights were low and conducive for slumber, and was very cold, well worth the PHP 900 fare, rather than what would have been a butt-numbing ten-hour trip had we ridden a regular bus. The bus seats less than 30 so we were left with a lot of leg room.



After the initial kodakan moments, we settled in to sleep for the night. I was not able to sleep well, probably due to excitement, and also because I wanted to pee but the thought of the tiny cramped toilet scared me. I finally gave in and chose the right time to pee: while the bus was winding a particularly zigzagey road. I thought the door would pop open mid-stream in front of all the other passengers! We had two stopovers, one in McDo (somewhere in Batangas I guess?) and farther down south, a small rest area. At around 4 AM or so, though, the infant seated behind us started crying and wouldn’t stop completely until we reached Naga.

We arrived in Naga at around 7 and proceeded to a hole-in-the-wall eatery, Kinalas Twin, that served well, kinalas. By Jown’s recommendation (who is incidentally, a Bicolana), we ordered their specialty, which is like Bicol’s answer to Batangas goto or Iloilo’s la paz batchoy. They looked kinda like lomi, fat noodles with garlic and onion and pork liver and egg and I don’t know what else, eaten with a side of puto and of course, endless supply of siling labuyo. A huge bowl costs only PHP 36 and the puto was less than ten bucks. Solb!



Next we rode the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) shuttle and got there way before check in time. Good thing they let us in early without an extra charge. The complex was expansive, and there were bigger, more expensive cottages in kubo style, condo-like rooms and larger villas. But if you’re on a budget, the trailer’s good enough: it’s fully air-conditioned as well, the beds were nice and comfortable and there were towels, toiletries, cable-ready TV and hot/cold water.

We rented two trailers, a two- and a four-person which cost PHP 1200 and PHP 2850, respectively (although we were 13 all in all haha!) The girls’ took the bigger one, which had a kitchen, microwave and what I call a sexy shower.



CWC is a water sports park that offers wakeboarding, wakeskating, waterskiing  and other activities. It’s a popular haunt for amateur riders and professional wakeboarders in and out of the country. There are also restaurants, shops, spas and sand bars to entice visitors with other interests. It’s a mere 20-minute drive from Naga Airport and offers a shuttle service too.

Our group decided to save the wakeboarding for the next day and just spent time at the inflatable playground in the middle of the lake. We paid PHP 200 each for four hours. We donned life vests and spent hours (cut only by a quick lunch in the complex’s resto) swimming, climbing the iceberg, kayaking and jumping up and down the trampoline. And of course, pictures galore!



Afterwards, we stopped first at a couple of souvenir shops then took a bus to Our Lady of Penafrancia Basilica, where the others toured the old church and lighted candles outside. Dinner and grocery shopping was next and we went to nearby SM Naga. I was feeling sleepy so I had a huge cup of kapeng barako from one of those bibingka stalls. We bought chicha and drinks and breakfast stuff at the supermarket, then had dinner at Molino Grill. We feasted on local fares such as sisig, laing and bicol express. I had chop suey with a bicol express twist. Thankfully, not everything is ear-smoking hot, since I have a low tolerance for anything spicy. We bought pasalubong there too: shirts, key chains and pili nut products. Bonding, chikahan, drinks and chicha followed in our trailer then lights out at 12… just because RA decided to end the session by spilling her glassful of mai tai on the floor!



The sunny weather the entire day belied the heavy rains that greeted us when we woke up Sunday morning. Jown told us the morning flights were cancelled, and ours were scheduled at 1:30 (mine) and 4:30 (theirs). We were a bit apprehensive, since also most of them were first-time flyers. Still we braved the heavy downpour because we can’t leave CamSur without trying wakeboarding right? Unfortunately, the beginner’s area was closed, so we went to the pro area and opted to just try knee-boarding. Hourly rental was PHP 165 which included the helmet, vest and board. There was a PHP 500 deposit which you can refund after the stuff was returned. The rental also included an hour of pool usage.



It was a lot harder (and more painful) than it looks, since the cable pulling us was really strong and the prospect of not turning in time and hitting the ramps was daunting. After a few rides (where I wiped out in the middle of the course and I had to carry the heavy board all the way around the lake) and swallowing about two gallons of murky lake water, I gave up trying to complete the course and just jumped into the pool for some underwater pics. Kudos to the others (RA! Jovan! Who else?) who finished!

Afterwards, we hurried through baths and packing up to catch the shuttle to the airport. We had spaghetti and chicken delivered for lunch from Bigg’s Diner (PHP 165) and it tasted homemade! True enough my flight was delayed, so I was able to wait for them at NAIA 3 since I was the only one with checked in baggage, carrying all their bottles of perfume and lotion and folding umbrellas. Some celeb-spotting and fan-photo op with former Senator Miguel Zubiri (who is either really nice or it’s just nearing election time?) and Yael from Spongecola (who is either a snob or just really tired to even muster up a smile).



It was technically just a two-day, two-night trip, but even though the activities were tiring, weather was bad and flights were delayed and all, we still had so much fun! It was my first time for a lot of things: surprising someone on a trip, going to Bicol, traveling on a lazy-boy bus seat and then alone on a flight back, knee-boarding, and jumping off a really high inflatable ice berg! And more important than the actual place I visited, it’s also the company that made it even more fun. Thanks to Team Autobots for making me feel welcome! Sa uulitin! =)

There’s something about Elbi

Los Baños is classified as a first-class urban municipality in Laguna, but for me, it still has that probinsya vibe that makes it seem so relaxing and calm as compared to the nearest metropolis. I myself live in a lush, tree-filled village, where encounters with squawking chicken and grazing cows are common.

I was conceived, born and raised in LB. The teachers who taught me in nursery school were the same were the same set who greeted my daughter on her first day of day care 20+ years later. In high school, I could pluck a mango from a tree or pat a passing goat while my Geometry teacher droned on in class.

Here in UPLB, everyone knows everyone, the students, and especially the natives and old-timers. It’s not uncommon for the butcher or grocer to say, “Ah kaw yung anak/apo/pamangkin ni So-and-So…” I went to UP Rural High School, where probably the closest we came to urbanization was the field trips to Manila and standing in awe as Vega Centre and McDo were erected in what used to be a weeded, run-down lot sometime in ’97. I remember my best friend Chrys bringing me a white ballon from McDo’s opening.

Of course, this was way before all these bars and restos and boutiques sprouted in Grove and Umali Subdivision. For the longest time we just had Jollibee, Big Mak and the smattering of home-owned clothing stores. Olivarez and Robinson’s were still years away. We would go to Calamba or San Pablo to watch movies, and take the two-hour commute to Manila to visit a mall or bar.

I’m a pure-blood LB kid, yet in the past couple of years, since I began working in Alabang and going home only to snatch a few hours of sleep, I had watched and heard about LB undergoing some changes. I rarely went out here, and when I do, I’m overwhelmed now with the variety of choices I have with regards to food and entertainment.

Before it was Burger King, and now KFC, that space was Leo’s Photo and Kristille’s boutique, where we had our ID pics taken, and people bought genuine Levi’s and Hongkong goods on consigenment from Titab Dulce, respectively.

Paponei’s was a pizza place called Little Tramp, and before, it was Magnolia Ice Cream House where my mom used to take us for banana split and choo-choo trains for special occasion desserts.

Before Isis’s Cafe, Bean Hub and other frappe-mixing joints, the fave haunt was Kofiholics Anonymous, few spaces from 101 Boutique. We couldn’t get enough of their chicken roulade and For the Love of Oreos concoction. Also, we could smoke and chat while eating and we don’t have to worry about being shooed out for taking up space. This was memorable beacuse lots of my heart to heart talks happened within the four walls of KA (sex atlks with Carol, chika with Joffin, and telling Chrys I was preggy…). Soc’s Acoustic Nights were also frequenty held here.

Agrix was a thriving grocery outlet before, as well as the only theater this side of Laguna who offered free surot bites with every movie pass. Even while it was already declared a condemned building, small business still ran beneath it -parlors, Vietnamese and other Asian eateries and the usual ihawan stands.

Maces was, and still is the place to scour hard to find stationery and school supplies, and where I religiously bought my monthly vice of Sweet Valley High books. Before, 101 Boutique was Maces 2, where you could get novelty items like paper boxes, tissue holders and other gift items. Beside it was Bookshelves, another bookstore.

Metrohair, was a day care/play area (which, I believe was owned by a former school mate, Ray’s family) and then was also a bargain bookstore, Regina’s Bookstore. I can’t remember which one came first.

Before the advent of VCDs and DVDs, one woud go to Dis En Dat for their Betamax and VHS fix. I also know which shelf they keep their Triple X selection because that’s where I ususally found my dad browsing, nyaha.

7-11 and Mini-stop’s selection was peanuts compared to Pogi & Sexy’s store. Real 24 hour service and cheap goods at that. I think they had a stall at the corner most part of the Arcade before they transferred to the current location.

LB Square is a fairly recent addition to LbBs hot spots, and it did a lot to attract more people (and jologs), sometimes causing petty fights and drunken rumbles that are part and parcel of our nightlife. Leandro’s was hopping at the same time that IC’s bar was (the latter used to be in front of BPI, in the space above Galleria Ethnika). But the advent of numerous gaming and internet cafes caused a lot of business to close, relocate or completely revamp their services and image. What used to be Tambayan Online is now a small-scale call center. The space below used to be The Practical Shop where I would spend hours scrounging around for Grisham bestsellers and Sweet Valley High books. They are now located in front of Community Cable. CCVC was right beside Mother’s Best and their cross-stitch supply store (across Demarces) where their display of 6 TV sets along the sidewalk provided hours of entertainment for the regular tambay with no access to cable TV.

Before we were exiled to far away Paciano, Bay, UP Rural students reigned supreme among the other schools in the area. Mayabang, ika nga, como “UP.” We would cut classes to play billiards at 4th floor Vega, smoke out at the hanging bridge (which Milenyo mercilessly destroyed) and eat pancit canton at Mang Domeng’s domain.

LB has undergone a face-lift, but not all are physical. The people and events have also caused a shift in what makes LB, well, LB. New jeep fares, routes, there’s the “Kaliwa” and “Kana” signboards, when before it was just UP College or UP Gate, Korean exchanges studes taking their pictures everywhere (and I do mean they are everywhere!) with the signature “peace” sign. I wonder wht it emans for them and why they alway do that when getting their mugs shot?

The continued growth of UP has acused more dorms and apartments to be put up, photocopying centers, salons, clothes store, specialty boutiques and various canteens and eateries trying to outdo each other with the cheapest “student-meal” they can come up with.

Glad to see though that some things have only slightly, if never, changed at all. There’s stil Anker’s and Cel’s and Sizzler’s. Our high school fave, Salad Country still has those rice-viand-salad meals. Papu’s and their siomai, and Bulacan for kikiam and squid balls. Tony’s has withstood the competition of Acer, Rob and South. There’s the Little Store near Chime, where studes from MSI and the old Rural bought snacks and smokes.

People still do funky things under the Fertility tree, and run circles around the Oval. The urban legends of Mariang Banga, the Senior Social Garden graduate statue and the numerous sightings and accidents in the infamous Pili Drive, never fail to scare the shit out of people.

Shapers is still the place to lose weight (haha!) and learn dance, as well as shout out your love for Elbi with their UP shirts. Glad to see it has expanded into another store offering trendy pieces and anik-anik accessories.

Mer-nel’s still sell their famous yema-filled chocolate cakes (when it opened, their smallest heart was P60, now I believe it’s 115), although during peak season like Christmas and Valentine’s, the quality of their cakes would suffer due to the sheer volume of orders.

Thread’s and De Jesus tailoring is the place to bring your clothes for repairs, and Dolly’s to rent barongs and screaming yellow or fucshia gowns and terno come prom or Linggo ng Wika time. Buko pie is still the pasalubong of choice! Letty’s and Original rules.

You, what has changed since the last time you went to LB?

Maybe it’s just me or the fresh air, basta, there’s something about Elbi that keeps me rooted to this pace. Which is why I have never relocated yet, I got homesick when I lived in Makati for 6 weeks a couple of years ago, and why I’m hesitant to try foreign soil for better job opportunities.

I love my Elbi life.