Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Hits and Misses of Camp Alfredo, Guimaras


I decided to write a separate post about Camp Alfredo because I liked it and not-so-liked it at the same time. Bi-polar blogger, anyone? Anyways, Camp Alfredo is one of the tourist attractions in Guimaras Island that offers a zip line-rappelling adventure-slash-obstacle course (whatever you call it, hahaha).

So why do I hate it and love it at the same time? Read on.

The Miss: the zip line / obstacle course was not really that long for the price that they offer. OR MAYBE, the people assigned to brief guests of such a course were not enthusiastic enough to tell us the whole route. I found out in their Facebook page however, that the course is relatively longer, and perhaps, worth the price. Prices and packages can be seen here (Camp Alfredo's FB page).

A part of the obstacle course










Another Miss: The expensive Coke Sakto. I'm sorry. I just cant get over it. I never knew Coke in Guimaras could be very expensive. Haha.

The Hit: The Pool. I'm raving about the pool, I know. It's just so clean and blue and green and happy. I would love to take a dip here at night, with nothing but the stars and the mountains and the trees and those cute lanterns.



Another Hit: The landscape. The landscaping in Camp Alfredo is beautiful. It's still a work-in-progress, I guess. But they are doing excellent work on it.






























Entrance fee to Camp Alfredo is 50 PhP. They also offer cute cottages/rooms that I was not able to take a picture of. They're perched on the side of the hill (nice pictures of those on their FB Page).

So given the chance to return to the island (and if I had enough money to spare), I'd love to stay for the night and experience dipping in that beautiful pool. I do still need to find a way to smuggle beverages into the resort though. ;)



The Rush That Was Guimaras =)



Before bidding Ilo-ilo goodbye, we decided to make a short side trip to Guimaras. Since the island was just a 15-minute boat ride away from Ilo-ilo City, was asked ourselves, why not?  The last 3 days have been tough and we desperately wanted to go out and do something - anything before our faces morph permanently into this....


Luckily enough, we were told that the jetty for Guimaras-bound boats was found right at the back of the hotel. Perfect.


We left the hotel at 9:30 in the morning and took a short (but hot, hot, hot, hot, hot) stroll to the pier. Tickets bound for Jordan (a municipality in Guimaras) are sold in this tiny, yellow stall. Fare: 14 PhP. We heard that this is the shortest route to the island. There is another boat going to Buenavista (another port in Guimaras), but travel time would take around 45 minutes in another jetty somewhere in the city.


Everything is open-air accommodation. =)

After docking, we headed straight for the tourism office. This was the very first time for me to visit a tourism office. In Guimaras, what greeted us was a small counter. It's found just a few steps away from the docking area. The ladies in the tourism counter were really helpful. They gave us a suggested itinerary and even helped us decide on a price for the motorcycle tour.


We told her that we wanted to return by 2pm so our site seeing time was limited. She gave us a price of 1500 PhP. SInce there were 5 of us, we shelled out 300 PhP each. Fair enough.

FIRST STOP: The Beaches of Nueva Valencia. This was the farthest spot of the tour. We did nothing here. Seriously. Even Manong Driver was puzzled. Call it a joy ride. There was no public access to the beach. Our sneaky little Rex managed to get into one of the resorts without paying the entrance fee (Yessss, masterssss is tricky..). He went back and told us it was nothing out of the ordinary. So we decided to skip paying the 20-Peso entrance fee and buy mineral water instead. hahaha.


SECOND STOP: Camp Alfredo. I shall remember this place for its Kasuy Trees (becasue we stole a handful of them). I categorize this as a mini-adventure camp with a mini zipline and a mini cafe that sells expensive drinks (a Coke sakto for 35 Pesos!).



But apart from the expensive mini Coke, they had other impressive facilities as well. Their swimming pool for instance, reminded me of the one I spotted from Patty Laurel's blog in Ubud - open air and surrounded by lush greeneries. The large trees around it had pretty lanterns too. I'm guessing this place looks even more beautiful at night. For more photos on Camp Alfredo, you can find it on a separate post here.


THIRD STOP: The Trappist Monastery. This monastery is run by monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. Trappist monks are known to speak only when necessary. The ones living in Guimaras make a living by selling various products to visitors of the monastery. I bought most of my pasalubongs here at their gift shop.


The Energy Ball finished a box of these in less than an hour. I'm guessing they tasted good.
Their church was very simple. No intricate glass windows or painted ceilings. But I loved it there. It was silent and airy. And in a few short minutes, I was able to sit still and pray.


I'm not really the religious type but I found this lady selling wood right outside the gift shop. The wood was miraculous, she says. The cross symbol only  "appears" during the Holy Week. The holiday was still 2 days away, so I guess miracles have a grace period as well. =)  I was a bit intrigued so I decided to buy one.


LUNCH: The Pit Stop. I've read about this in Carla's blog (Blissful Guro) when she featured their Mango Pizza. We decided to order that on top of a rice meal. Bawal mag lakwasta na gutom. We ordered pork sinigang, chicken adobo with mango bits and of course, the mango pizza.




The verdict: the mango pizza was so-so. It had more cheese than mango. The mango ketchup was interesting. What won us over, however, was the chicken adobo with mango bits. The chicken was tender with just the right combination of sweetness and sourness.

FOURTH STOP: Museo de Guimaras. The museum is currently closed for renovation. I have no idea when it'll open. Bummer, yes.


Ali-baba and the other thieves
Pasalubong overload
FIFTH STOP: The Pasalubong Center. This is just a short walk away from the museum. Their pasalubong center sells all kinds of local products, including those found in the Trappist Monastery (now at a slightly higher price).

ROCK SALT. Literally.

LAST STOP: Roadside Mango Stalls. I made this name up because these are stalls that sell mangoes on the.... oh go figure. haha.


Over-all, we spent 476 PhP on our 5-hour tour - this includes the round trip boat fare, tour and lunch. If you want a complete breakdown of our expenses, click here. Not bad at all, if you ask me. =)


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Road Less Travelled: Anini-y, Antique


Last week, I was lucky enough to visit the town of Anini-y for some work-related diving. Anini-y is part of the Province of Antique and is situated right at the tip of Panay Island. We hired a private van for 2,900 PhP to take us from Ilo-ilo airport to this sleepy little town. Travel time took about 3 hours. There are buses available but I heard they were few and very far in between, Summer is just starting at this time of the year and the place was scorching hot - arid even.

Up and around town.
There really is nothing much to see in Anini-y except for Nogas Island. Nogas is found 2-3 kilometers off the southern coast of Panay. It's uninhabited with a small, non-functional lighthouse standing right in the middle. It's home to a government funded coral restoration project - the very same one that I'm working on in Leyte. You can read all about it here.

Nogas Island just right across
Our dive site was okay but we heard that there's really impressive coral cover in other parts of the island. Locals also say that dugongs frequent the place. But luck was not on our side, those three days. Perhaps some other time. =) There are a very few food stalls in town and none around our resort. The accommodation was nothing to write about either, except for the intermittent water supply.


What makes up for the lack of basic amenities is the sunset. It's breathtaking. Other-worldly, even. Perhaps, it's enough to make me want to come back. The isolation was soothing as well. We arrived a day early from the rest of the party so the whole gang was able to do some much-needed catching up.

I've seen better beaches, but I've never had better company. =)

Photo credits: Pictures (the nice ones to be exact) are taken by Rex "party animal-slash-snack bar station" Abao, Jr. Thanks Dong!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ilo-ilo Accommodation: Circle Inn Hotel and Suites

A work-related trip to Ilo-ilo led to me this little hotel called the Circle Inn Hotel and Suites. The place is just a few minutes away from SM City and Smallville - one of Ilo-ilo's more popular night spots and literally a walk away from the jetty for Guimaras. In my three nights, I was lucky enough to stay in three different rooms. Seriously. Sometimes, being a victim of a reservation mix-up can be a good thing. =)


On my first night, I was booked in a Deluxe Room with a matrimonial bed. This type of accommodation is at 1,380 PhP. The price is good for 2 but I had the room all to myself. It offers basic amenities: a/c, cable tv, some toiletries (soap and shampoo) and a cold, hot and super-hot-I-will-steam-you-alive shower. haha.


On my second night, I was transferred to a bigger room with three single beds - together with the rest of the girls. I particularly liked this room. It was spacious. It had a mini bar with a few drinks, a water heater, complimentary coffee and tea and a bathroom that was as large as my bedroom back home. Room 228 was especially nice because it had a good view of Guimaras. This was priced at 1,780 PhP per night.

DISCLAIMER: I did not drink all of that beer.
On my third night, the whole mob-este-group decided to move together to a family room. The room was even bigger with 6 single beds and two bathrooms. Their published rate was 3,600 but they gave it to us at 2,700 PhP only. Sweet.




Over-all, the rooms were great. Simple design. Clean. Soft sheets. Beautiful lighting. Working hot and cold shower. However, they do not offer complimentary bottled water so you have to buy them at the coffee shop below. They also offer a few food selections for room service. Food was okay. The beer was cold- which was of utmost importance. The people in the coffee shop offered nice service - something that the girls in the front desk should learn a thing or two about. Just sayin'. =)

Although this may not be the best choice for budget travelers, this is a good option for traveling groups and families. The larger rooms were particularly nice. So if you were to ask me if I'd come to stay again at the Circle Inn Hotel and Suites, the answer would be yes. =)





Saturday, March 2, 2013

Travel Snapshots: Cross-Countryin' Southern Leyte


I've recently found this alternative route going to Ormoc from the South of Leyte. From Bontoc (the town found at the innermost part of Sogod Bay), the road crosses through the entire Leyte Province to Bato (westernmost side).


There are a lot of mini buses that pass through this route. Travel time from Sogod Bus Terminal to Bato is usually 30 minutes, fare is 40PhP. I love the ride. The road is winding and you pass through mountains and beautiful rice fields. For those who are Ormoc-bound, you simply hop on a van once you reach the Bato Bus Terminal. Travel time on average, is 2 hours and the van fare is 140 PhP.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Year of Coral Restoration: An Ode to the Sogod Bay Hardineros

Ten months ago, I was sent to Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte to be part of a pilot technology coral restoration project. This was the most challenging job I've ever taken, so far. I was fresh from graduate school, had no experience on coral restoration whatsoever, had less than 30 dives in my log and could not dive without Nong Ben (this big, burly guy who always looked after me in dive trips during my graduate and undergraduate days). I had no idea where Padre Burgos was. The job required me to establish a coral nursery from scratch and plant 10,000 coral fragments inside a marine sanctuary. And to top it all, I will be working with people that I've never met before. So yes, I was shit scared.

My first few shots of P. Burgos
But somehow, Someone made it all work. We found a beautiful cottage right by the beach, just a few meters away from our workplace. The hut was simple: it had a bed, a tiny sink and a bathroom. It wasn't really much, but it became home for almost a year.


Manpower was a huge issue at the beginning of the project. It troubled me. But volunteers started coming in and we began working at an impressive pace.




Four months after the official start of the project, we finished deploying our 40th CNU - which housed the 20,000 coral fragments that will be used for restoration.

Our babies are growing well, thankyouverymuch........
Growing too heavy in the nursery
By the end of February, we will be planting our 10,000th fragment. The last bullet point in our deliverables.


The road wasn't always smooth. Three months into the project, my volunteers were detained and I was called in for questioning at the Police Station. Apparently, some people thought we were collecting corals for illegal trade. Questioned and interrogated for over an hour, I began to understand how things work in local communities and how you can never take politics out of the equation.

Smile while in detention. =)
A month after finishing our nursery, we were hit big time by a typhoon. 38 out of our 40 coral nursery units were damaged. Some were almost irreparable. I was sick to my stomach when I knew. But a few Supermen came and made everything better. They swam, dived, almost drowned their way into moving  every single unit to deeper water.


Over time, I have learned things that I never would have learned if I said "no" to this and chose a comfortable job in the city instead. I understood how precious family time is. I was away from the Energy Ball 4-5 days a week and I learned how to make the most out of my little time with her.

I found the courage to travel alone. Cross seas, go on long bus rides with no one but me. I learned how to ask for help when I needed it. I learned how to smile at people I did not know. I experienced the kindness of many strangers.

And finally, I met people that I will never forget and made friends that I will cherish for a lifetime.





To the Project Staffs and Volunteers of Project 7, my prayer is that you will not stop here. You've been trained, honed for a year on this skill. Make use of it. Share what you've learned and I'll see you on the road again, one of these days.

And before I forget, thank you for making this year one of the best of my life.