Beautiful Bataan

Bataan: One of the country’s last stands before succumbing to Japanese forces during the World War 2.

So much have been said about this place in Philippine history, yet more of its beauty can be unraveled when you visit it yourself.

Perhaps most of us remember Bataan for the dreadful Bataan Death March where our Filipino fighters and American allies were forced to walk by the Japanese Imperial Army for 102 kilometers from Bagac and Mariveles to San Fernando then to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac. They were beaten, starved, and some were summarily executed. Most survived, but many didn’t.

With Bataan’s important role in our country’s history, I found it imperative to be one of the places to visit in the Philippines. For me, it’s a symbol of our forefathers’ valor and their heroic fight for freedom.

A few amateur snapshots I took while marching around: Bataan bataan2 bataan3 bataan5 bataan6 bataan capitolUpdate: Bataan at night. Photos courtesy of UNDP’s Ryan Cuanan.

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Sunset in Balanga, Bataan.

 

 

 

 

Rescued cats draw cattraction for new café

Cattention: all paws on deck!

There’s a purr-fect haven for cat lovers just within Quezon City where one can enjoy good food and drinks and the precious company of their feline friends — Cat Café Manila.

Partnered with CARA Welfare Philippines, a non-profit and non-government organization advocating animal welfare, Cat Café Manila provides shelter for cats while looking for a fur-ever home for them.  Such a brilliant  ‘CATtraction’ that allows animal advocates to help give these furry fellows a better life and at the same time enjoy their company. The good eats are a plus.

Mama Cat and Shelly lounging while waiting for customers.
Mama Cat and Shelly lounging while waiting for customers.
Basu was found and rescued from a garbage bin (basurahan), thus the name
Basu was found and rescued from a trash bin (basurahan), thus the name “Basu.”

For only P200 per person (half of which goes to the cats’ welfare and half goes to your food/drinks), you get to enjoy a good serving of either pasta, cupcakes, cookies, or drinks. The invaluable side of it is that you help Cat Café in its noble ‘CATvocacy’ of caring for these rescued cats.

Yes, those are rescued cats by CARA, and most of them were found in the streets and garbage cans in horrible conditions. Now, you wouldn’t even think they had a sad past. They’re obviously well taken care of, neutered, spayed, and vaccinated.

The cafe is manned by two friendly people (forgive me for forgetting their names) but trust me that they’ll give you excellent customer service and loads of interesting information about the cats when you visit.

If you’re not a cat person, I would still recommend that you try visiting it.  The sociable and cuddly cats there like Ling Ling, Chaka, Bicco, Mama Cat, Basu, and all the others just as adorable might give you a change of heart.

You may even adopt one of the furfriends there.

My namesake Shelly was rescued from a Shell gas station, hence her name. Cat Cafe recently announced that Shelly is their first cat to be sent for adoption. Sad to hear that we won't see her again at the cafe but glad to know she has found a new family.
My namesake Shelly was rescued from a Shell gas station, hence her name. Cat Cafe recently announced that Shelly is their first cat to be sent for adoption. Sad to hear that we won’t be seeing her again at the cafe but glad to know she has found a new family.

Many years ago, I didn’t like cats. It was because my first encounters with them were unpleasant — some strays would sneak into our kitchen and steal our food; one of them ate the helpless bird I tried to rescue after it broke one of its wings; and the worst thing happened when we woke up one day to see all our hamsters gone, with no other suspect but that same stray cat we previously saw trying a few times to get to the hamsters in their cage (apparently the cat succeeded while we were sleeping).

Frustrated about that particular cat, my uncle opted to feed it to his pet snake. My younger brothers told me about it and without hesitation, I rushed to the snake’s pit and took out the poor cat. Though I hated that it wasn’t a tame cat, I thought it didn’t deserve to be a snake’s hearty meal.

Fast forward, I noticed that cats grew tame on me and I started to like them.

Check out Cat Café Manila at 2nd Floor, 189 Maginhawa St. corner Makadios St., Sikatuna Village, Quezon City.

To avoid stressing the cats, Cat Café Manila limits the number of customers to 15 at a time so it helps to book ahead. Send them a message through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/catcafemanila?fref=ts. Don’t worry, your curiosity would benefit, not kill the cats.

Good food plus feline friends are a purr-fect combination not only to bust stress but also to show that you care for those rescued cats.

Nuff said.  Meow. Cat Cafe_FoodCat Cafe_Glass

Villa Amparo Garden Beach Resort, Samal Island

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When you’re in Davao and have enough time to bask in the sun, sea, and sand, make a quick trip to Samal Island and ask locals about Villa Amparo.  It’s arguably one of the most scenic and tranquil beach resorts on the island.

It’s about 20 minutes away from Babak Wharf, which means a quiet refuge from the more-populated beaches in Samal.  If you don’t have a private vehicle, you get there by a motorcycle or a tricycle once you reach Babak Wharf.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride so brace yourself.  The road going there is not yet fully developed.

The first time I went there with friends some two years ago, we thought we were being kidnapped because the road was getting narrower and farther from civilization, lol! We could see more trees and hills than the coastline.  And when the driver finally said we have reached our destination, we were welcomed by the resort’s security guard with a gun visibly hoisted to his side.

But seriously, there was nothing to fear there.  In fact, Samal Island as a whole boasts of a low crime rate and is arguably one of the safest places to visit and live in the Philippines.

All of Villa Amparo’s staff from the guard to the kitchen and office personnel were very accommodating.  Since it was a lean season, we had the place to ourselves!  Serenity.

We rented a nipa hut that could accommodate 3-4 people for only P750.  In the morning, we had our breakfast served at the Islet Gazebo without additional charges. Guests would have to pay P600 for a day at the Islet Gazebo but then again, we had the resort to ourselves and were given excellent perks fit for queens.

Their food was delicious yet inexpensive.

Their common shower rooms and restrooms were clean and well-maintained, and that was of primary importance to me.

Overall, Villa Amparo is worth checking out when you’re in Samal.

Tip: Don’t go there after a night of heavy rain because the sea’s current would wash loads of trash from Davao to this side of Samal. Go there on sunny days and enjoy the clear waters of Villa Amparo throughout your stay!

How to get there from Davao City:

By bus:

1. Ride the Island City Express bus from the Magsaysay Park in Uyanguren. This will get you to Sasa Wharf and ferry you to Babak. Get off at Babak Wharf, not in Caliclic. (Around 15 minutes sea travel from Sasa Wharf)

Fare: P30

2. Ride a tricycle or a motorcycle just a few steps away from Babak Wharf. About 20-30 minutes ride from there to Villa Amparo.

Fare: P75-P100 per head on motorcycle or P375-P500 for a tricycle depending on your bargaining skills;

Some habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers may offer P200 per ride, but able to accommodate three passengers at a time. Jaw drop 😉

By private vehicle or taxi:

1. Pay P270 at Sasa Wharf (not sure if rate has changed).

From the Babak Wharf, turn left and be on the lookout for small billboards and road signs along the way that will help you get to Villa Amparo. If all else fails, stop and ask locals.

Address: Sitio Dasag, Barangay Camudmud, Island Garden City of Samal.

The resort is pretty secluded from the other beaches in Babak Samal but when you get there, the breath-taking views, good food and customer service will let you know it’s all worth it.

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A comfortable overnight stay in a Villa Amparo nipa hut only costs P750.
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Boardwalk gazebo (P800 day tour). Take the spot upstairs for a fantastic view of the beach.

Our stay there was so relaxing and fun, and yet we didn’t break the bank. That’s the reason I went back last year and looking forward to going there again with more friends to tag along.

Debunking Myths about Mindanao

If you haven’t been to any parts of Mindanao, you’re probably one of the people who cringe at the thought of going there. I don’t blame you. Mindanao is generally and unfairly portrayed in the media as a war-torn island where gunshots are as common as firecrackers on Christmas and New Year’s eve.

I’ll tell you a story:

Many years ago, I was walking along a dimly-lit street in Pasay City when a stranger started taking my pace and tried to spark a conversation. I had this gut feeling that his intentions weren’t wholesome and I certainly wished he’d leave me alone. And then he asked me where I came from: I said briefly: “Mindanao.” “Ha? Muslim ka?” (You’re a Muslim?) His startled reaction was overrated. And he scampered away.

What is it about Mindanao and Muslims that scare people? Myths. Unfair generalizations based on hearsay instead of facts.

Once and for all, let’s settle this.

1. Mindanao, which is the second largest island in the country composed of 26 provinces, is generally peaceful.  Only a small fraction of Mindanao is actually conflict-prone. Not even all of Cotabato (North or South) is risky, so to be scared of Cotabato as a whole is not quite fair. However, you might want to avoid Mamasapano in Cotabato at this point. This agricultural area was unfortunately put in a bad light after a bloody encounter between armed groups and our law enforcers last January. Monitor the news first before you decide to visit that area.

But then again, it is but a small area in Mindanao. According to Wikipedia, the island of Mindanao is larger than 125 countries worldwide, including the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Ireland.

2. Whenever Mindanao is mentioned, one top-of-mind association is “Muslims.” First off, Mindanao is not limited to the ARMM or the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) which are predominantly Muslim areas.

There are many other cities and provinces in Mindanao that are dominated by non-Muslims.  And even if there are many Muslims in some parts of Mindanao, so what? They are like everyone else, regardless of religion. Sadly, many of us have ingrained a certain degree of prejudice against our Muslim brothers and sisters as if they’re synonymous to terrorists and rebels. They’re not. I have Muslim friends and they are some of the nicest and most peace-loving people I know on earth. It’s not fair to brand people.

3. Modern Muslims and Christians are not the only dwellers in Mindanao. Mindanao is also home to lumads (indigenous people) who have distinctively rich cultures but are usually not under the media radar (except maybe during the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City where a lot of these lumads converge and participate in government-initiated activities). Filipinas Heritage Library lists these lumads as follows:

  • South Central Mindanao (esp. Davao, Bukidnon, Cotabato): Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Teduray, Manobo, Kulaman, Blaan, T’boli
  • Eastern Mindanao (esp. Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao, Surigao): Mandaya, Ata, Mansaka, Dibabawon
  • North Central Mindanao (esp. Bukidnon): Bukidnon/Higaonon
  • Western Mindanao and the Sulu Islands (esp. Zamboanga, Cotabato, Lanao): Maguindanao, Iranun, Maranao, Tausug, Samal, Yakan, Kalibugan, and Subanen

I am a child of Mindanao and for more than three decades, I have never felt that my safety has been compromised. Was I just lucky? Not sure about that.  I’ve been to parts of Cotabato and Comval Province, places they tag as rebel-infested and war-torn, but I never heard gun shots nor have I been robbed nor assaulted.  There was a single instance though when our group was approached by a member of the New People’s Army somewhere in Compostela Valley but he didn’t bother us, maybe because our guide was a local farmer whom the group respected for creating livelihood in their area.

Still scared of Mindanao? Start with Southern Mindanao particularly Davao City, the 4th Safest City in the World with a crime index of 13.27 and safety index of 86.73.

Experience not strife but the serenity of its nature parks and mountain resorts, the beauty of nearby beaches, the modern facilities around the city, the abundance of seafood, meat and other fresh produce, the diversity and unity of cultures, the hospitality of its people, the honesty of its taxi drivers. Before you know it, you’ll be wanting to visit nearby provinces and telling your friends that their perception of Mindanao being scary is not at all true. around pilipinas

Camsur Water Sports Complex

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Camsur Water Sports Complex is one of the top tourist destinations in the Bicol region and probably one of the most popular in the country.

This 6-hectare complex is the first world-class watersports complex in the Philippines and in Asia.

Our family spent our Holy Week there last year, and I could say that it was the most relaxing respite we ever had. We’re not even watersports enthusiasts, so why did we go there? I say there’s a whole lot of things that this place has to offer even if you don’t intend to do wakeboarding, kneeboarding, waterskiing, or wakeskating. We didn’t do any of that. We were as boring as that, haha! But we enjoyed the tranquility of the place, which was the main reason why we went there. Afterall, it was Holy Week.

The great side is that while the other guests flocked to the dining places and the wakeboarding area, we had the swimming pool all to ourselves!

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Waking up to a rainbow. A view from our wood cabin.

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Address:  Provincial Capitol Complex Cadlan, Pili, Camarines Sur, Philippines

Their room rates are surprisingly low for the kind of comfort and ambiance you’re getting. Prices range from P1,200-P4,950 for two persons. Check out their website cwcwake.com for more information.

How to get there from Manila:

1. Bus – Araneta Bus Station, Cubao (P700). Since it was Holy Week, there weren’t enough buses to accommodate all commuters. We ended up making friends with other stranded passengers so we could hire a van at P1,000 each. Travel time: 8 hours

2. Plane – The fastest and easiest way to get to Camsur, but not the cheapest. Check out available flights online and see rates.

When in Boracay

What is there to do in Boracay other than swim and take selfies?

Here are some of the ways to maximize your staycation in the island without breaking the bank:

around pilipinas 31. Early-morning walk at the White Beach — If you love hiking and taking pictures, I suggest you take a walk along the beach line on foot (and I mean take off your shoes!) early in the morning like 5 am or a bit earlier. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the sunrise!

The difference is in the sand. You will feel the difference in the sand’s texture when you walk from Station 1 to 2 (Station 3 would be too far unless you’re built for extra long walks, but I wouldn’t recommend it). You will know you’ve reached Station 2 just by feeling the sand alone (not as fine as in Station 1).

The early-morning walk would give you a great view of the white beach minus the dense crowd, ideal for photography. And while you’re at it, stop by and eat delicious hot taho from local peddlers walking around the beach like you.

A view towards the end of Station 1.
A view towards the end of Station 1.

2. Shop and dine at D’Mall — Don’t miss D’Mall when you’re in Bora, it’s a paradise for shopaholics and foodies like me. Everything you need is there so even if you forgot to bring your swimwear, sunglasses, extra shirts, or even enough cash, fret not.  There are ATM’s around D’Mall and the prices of commodities are not as high as I imagined.

Tip: Haggle! Most shops allow their customers to haggle on the prices so go for it. I had to hop from shop to shop just to make sure I got the best deal in price, quality, and design (Yes dear, I have all the patience and guts for that).

Some of the steals I got were a 2-pc beach wear for only P350, a pair of slippers for P150, and cheap pasalubong items like personalized keychains for P100 per 6 pieces and ref magnets for P33-P100.

If you’re a foreigner, I suggest you bring a Filipino companion with you to get the best deals.

As for eating cheap, try Andok’s and Tilapia N’ Chips within D’ Mall. You can even find freshly brewed coffee for only P25 along the main road going to D’ Mall. When I saw that place, I immediately knew I could live in the island for good.

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3. Feast on seafood…on a budget —   If you are staying in an apartment instead of a hotel in Boracay and you have a flare in the kitchen, have your own seafood platter all you want. Fresh and cheap seafood, apart from other fresh produce, are aplenty at the wet market called “Talipapa Bukid” along the Main Road.

But if your accommodation doesn’t equip you to cook, go to the other Talipapa where there are restaurants that will cook fresh seafood for you. Ask the tricycle driver to take you to D’ Talipapa “Paluto.”  Buy fresh seafood from D’ Talipapa and ask nearby restaurants to cook them for you for a minimal fee. A lot cheaper than ordering the same amount of seafood from your hotel.

4. Walk under the sea — I’m not kidding. If you want to see what’s beneath the water some 10 feet down, try helmet diving. Package we paid was P500 each (Don’t fall for higher offers, haggle!) which included a CD of our underwater photos and videos. You get to feed the fishes too.

Tips: Listen attentively during the orientation. If the instructions are not clear to you, ask the instructor. Remember the hand signals, they’re your only means of communication with your underwater guides. Don’t panic. You will know instinctively how to breathe once you’re down there. Breathe normally and enjoy the moment. According to our guide, the best time to go helmet diving is in the morning, before 10 am. Beach is calm, visibility is good.

5. Depending on your budget, there are many other adventure packages in Boracay specifically around Bulabog Beach in Station 4 which is known for water sports. I listed a few here with their average rates which may vary depending on the season and the agency or individual you make arrangements with:

  • Parasailing –  P2,000 per person
  • Island Hopping – P1,300-P1,500 (3 hrs, 4 people)
  • Banana Boat –  P150
  • Jet Ski – P2,000 (30 minutes)
  • Paraw sailing – P1,000 (2 persons)

Of course, if you really don’t have enough budget for these activities, you can always bask in the sun with your travel buddy/buddies, play beach volleyball, go people watching, make sand castles, take loads of pictures, watch fire dances at night in Station 2, explore Boracay by tricycle or by foot and take more pictures, enjoy the cool sea breeze and the mesmerizing sunset, perhaps get a henna tattoo, and above all, frolic and swim all you want!

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First time in Boracay — Getting there by plane

I thought going to Boracay from Manila would be as simple as “You catch a plane to the nearest airport in Boracay, then take a cab/van/tricycle/what-have-you to get to your booked accommodation, and then voila!” Wrong.

It was our first time to travel to Boracay as a family and we  had no idea where to go. I didn’t even know there were five “Stations” in Boracay and what differentiated them from one another.  I had to ask friends for hotel recommendations and read tons of online reviews before making travel arrangements.

To save you from the hassle, I compiled the basic steps you need to know in getting to Boracay by plane from Manila or practically any city in the country.

How to get there:

1. Fly to Caticlan or Kalibo.

There are two airports close to Boracay — Caticlan (Godofredo Ramos Airport) and Kalibo International Airport. Which airport to choose? Here are some points to consider:

Caticlan – It is closer and more convenient to get to Caticlan Jetty Port if you’re coming from Caticlan Airport (roughly 10 minutes) compared to Kalibo (which will take you an hour and a half to two hours by van or bus going to Jetty Port).  So between Caticlan and Kalibo, we chose the former. If there are no flights available from your city to Caticlan, then Kalibo is your option.

Tip: Book morning flights. It’s a small airport with sunset limitation, meaning no adequate lighting facilities to allow flying and landing in the evening or early morning when there’s not enough visibility. Ergo, if you took an afternoon flight to Caticlan and it was delayed for any reason, your plane might be rerouted to Kalibo or worse, cancelled.

Kalibo – Cheaper airfare rates, bigger planes (but note that you have to spend around P200-P250 each for your van transport from Kalibo to Jetty Port plus the extra 2 hours you spend on the road which could sap away your vacation-mode energy). Since it’s an international airport, bigger planes can fly there unlike in Caticlan.

So between the two airports, your call. I would still go for Caticlan, more convenient for me.

2. From Caticlan Airport, you can easily get a tricyle waiting outside for P10 per passenger or P50 “pakyaw” or fixed price.

In our case, we were picked up by a van arranged by Sur Boracay, our booked hotel in Station 1.  The driver was extra friendly, he made sure were taken care of at the Jetty Port.

(From Kalibo, up to two hours ride by van or bus to Jetty Port).

3. Pay these fees at Caticlan Jetty Port to get to Cagban Port:

  • Boat fee – P25
  • Environmental fee – P75
  • Terminal fee – P100

Tip: Get free tourism handouts at the Jetty Port. They will come in handy during your stay in the island.  The handouts include a map and lists of establishments around Boracay, and activity packages you can choose from, among others.  They’ll also serve as souvenirs and perhaps your motivation to go back in the future.

4. At last, you’re in the island! To get to your booked hotel, take a tricycle from Cagban Port. If you made no prior reservations, just tell the tricycle driver which Station you want to go.

Our tricycle ride cost P100 from the port to Sur Boracay in Station 1. We passed through Station 3 first, then 2, then finally Station 1. From that trike ride alone, we could observe the differences among the three Stations — Station 3 was a bit more residential than Stations 2 and 1, at least from the street side’s perspective. The streets were vibrant around Station 2, more crowded and packed with commercial establishments. Then as we approached Station 1, the noise and the crowd slowly faded away. Serenity!

5. Once you’ve settled in your booked hotel, enjoy the place! Swim, hike, dine, dive, snorkel, island hop, para-sail, sunbathe, rest, party at night, do what you went there for.

For some tips on how to maximize your staycation in Boracay without breaking the bank, check out my other post: When in Boracay.

Have fun!

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