Monday, June 27, 2011

Travel.Live.Connect: Getting Together for Travel, Bisdak Style

The Event: Travel 101: Travel.Live.Connect

What About: Travel 101 is a project that "aims to bring together groups of travelers or travel enthusiasts in hopes of creating an actual community here in Cebu City in which people can inspire each other, share stories, build new friendships and connections through a common passion" (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Travel-101-TravelLiveConnect/)

The event was launched last Sunday, June 26, 2011 at the Outpost, Veteran's Drive, Lahug Cebu City. I really had no idea about this until a good friend of mine tagged me on FB. (the beauty of social networking, eh?)


The program, which was scheduled  at 6pm ended up starting 3 hours later. I didn't complain though because Carlo, one of my college classmates turned out to be one of the organizers. Another good friend, Clistar, was also invited to speak for the event. He is by the way, the most well-traveled guy I know. The pesky little kid I used to watch over during college, Rome, was also there. I always have fun when these people are around. 


The event organizers invited local travelers to share a little bit of their own travel experiences to the rest of the crowd. There was also a bazaar and several bands who played for the night.


To be honest, I really didn't get as many travel tips or travel stories as I expected. Interviews with featured travelers were a bit short. However, this was a start. Any start is a good start, right? I'm pretty sure there's a heck more to come from Travel 101. Cebuano travelers, be excited.

This is actually a first of a 3-series event. The second of which will be held next Sunday at the same venue. I'm not so sure about the time, though. =). If you're interested, you can keep track of their latest schedule on FB. Their ID is Travel.Live.Connect. You can also send in your travel photos to be part of their AVP presentation.


So even if you're not a frequent traveler or have never traveled at all, I invite you to give the event a visit next Sunday. Hopefully, there will be more travel stories shared.

Why are they so important, if you ask me? I guess its because stories have the power to inspire. Sometimes, it takes a single story to push you to take that leap. I took mine a year ago and I have never been happier. =)

The trip that started it all... =)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Palawan 4D/3N Budget

Here is a little budget rundown of our 4D/3N Palawan Trip.

Day 1                                                                      COST (in Pesos)
         Terminal fee - Mactan, Cebu    200 X 2                      400 
         Lunch                                                                          325
        Puerto Pension 4D/3N Accommodation                    3100
         City Tour                                  600 X 2                     1200
         Hopia and pastries @ Baker's Hill                              250
         Souvenirs
                    Ref Magnet                                                         60
                    Wooden Mask                                                    80
         Groceries (water, junk food, insect repellent, etc.)     250
         Dinner @ Bilao at Palayok                                          526
         Beer and etc.                                                              112
                                                              
Day 2
         Underground River Tour             1500 X 2               3000
         Breakfast upgrade                     89.50 X 2                179
         Snorkeling rental
                      Mask and snorkel                                        150
                      Booties                        150 X 2                    300 
                      Underwater Camera                                    250
        Dinner @ Kalui                                                          506
        TWO Slippers                                                           212
        Beer and etc.                                                             112

Day 3
         Honda Bay Tour                        1100 X 2               2200
         Breakfast upgrade (1 pax)                                     89.50
         Chaolong merienda (2pax)                                       145
         Dinner @ Kinabuch                                                 569
         Beer and etc.                                                           150

Day 4
        Breakfast upgrade (1 pax)                                     89.50                    
        Kasoy (2 kilos)                                                          420
        Airport transfer                                                           50
        Terminal fee - Puerto Princesa    40 X 2                    80

TOTAL                                                                     14805 / 2
                                                                       = 7402.5  PhP per person 

  • We booked our tickets 3 months before the travel date. Round trip fare cost us 1800 each. 
  • Puerto Pension serves free breakfast but you can upgrade the meal for PhP 89.50 per person
  • Only rented 1 set of snorkeling gear since I brought along mine
  • Lunch is inclusive for both Underground and Honda Bay Tours
  • This does not include trike transpo around the city - it can cost you from 7 Pesos (daytime )to 10 Pesos (nightime) per ride per person
  • We were a bit lavish with dinner so if you're on a budget, there are plenty of affordable fastfood  / carenderia choices around the city as well. 
                                          

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Palawanderer: Day 3 Honda Bay

Day 3: Honda Bay tour.

Our van was scheduled to pick us up at 7:30 in the morning so we planned to have breakfast an hour before. This time, I didn't get the upgrade. It was just too much food for me. The bread, scrambled eggs and hot chocolate fit me just fine. Janjan however, never says never to food. So he tried out the tocino upgrade. It was, well, tocino. Nothing special to fuss about.

Our tour van arrived at 7:45. Jacky, out tour guide, was apparently from Masbate. A Bisaya, thank God! So for this day, we were back to our old, loud selves. We were 9 in a group. A family of 7 (mostly kids - very friendly, clingy, talkative kids with no regard for personal space - in an adorable way ) and us. The ride to the wharf took around 30 minutes. We were talking most of the way, in Bisaya of course! When we arrived, Jacky gave us 20 minutes to rent what we needed to rent, buy food and register our names before boarding the boat.
Visitors are required to register their names, in case they get lost or drown. Joke.
A little heads up though, snorkling gears are a must here since most of the tour's highlights are found underwater. But the thing is: rentals here will cost you money, big time! Masks are rented for 150 PhP each, booties at 150 PhP, fins for 150 PhP and underwater cameras for 250 PhP (which we rented from Jacky's older brother). You are also "encouraged" to buy bread for fish feeding. So if you already have these gears at home, do spare some space for them on your luggage to save you some extra bucks.

So after registration, we boarded our boat and headed to Snake Island. The ride took about 30 minutes. Ater docking, we went straight to our shed (which we picked all by ourselves), left our stuff and headed straight for the water. 

Water baby =)
Fish here go nuts over bread
My personal take: it really wasn't that spectacular. There were very small patches of corals. Lots of rabbit fishes, a few Zanclus or two, spotted a solitary barracuda, apogons (the WG's - way gamit: my crazy marine biology classmates used to call them back in the days. haha). I've seen better and more interesting reefs around Mactan, even right at the back of our own run-down marine station in Maribago.

Anyways, we had lunch an hour after swimming- which was great, by the way. Thanks to Jackie. Grilled pork, salted eggs, shrimps, eggplant with spicy shrimp paste and some surprisingly sweet green mango. There were only 4 adults in the group and we ended up with a whole lot of left overs. Janjan, who was the first one to start eating, also finished last. =)


Right after lunch, we moved on to Starfish island for some photo ops and a few minutes of snorkeling. It's just coral rubble here so there's nothing much to see as well. The shore however, looks beautiful during low tide, great for taking pictures.

Nothing much to see, but still, we had a pretty good swim
After 30-45 minutes, we headed on to our last destination: Pambato Reef. The reef is found right in the middle of the ocean. Boats dock into a floating station and visitors are required to wear a life vest if they want to swim out to the reef- a good 10-meter swim or so. I tried to charm the guard so he'd let me swim without one. But apparently, that didn't work so I had to swim with the bulky, bright orange thing around me.


So off I went on my own. After the disappointing Snake and Starfish Islands, I was really, really hoping to see something out of the ordinary here. I swam and went around and was surprised to find quite a few bleached corals -most of them already covered up by algae. There was a huge clam sitting on top of a massive coral. Again, reefs back in Mactan are still so much prettier.

After a few more minutes of swimming , hoping I'd see something spectacular - a shark or a turtle, maybe, hehe - I retreated back to the visitor's station. It was more disappointment for me. Oh well. We still had plenty of time to waste so I just hung out with Janjan and the kids. They were a fun bunch which made the trip quite memorable, in its own way. One of the boatmen (Jacky's husband, apparently) also did some diving stunts, which we enjoyed as well. Good company always saves the day. =)

Chikiting patrol right here
After Pambato Reef, we went back to the wharf, showered, returned all of the rentals and made the last 30-minute ride back to the pension house. It was 4pm. We rested for a bit before heading out to explore the rest of the city - one last time.

The next thing on our itinerary was to eat at a Chaolong Restuarant. I have read a good deal about this local fare. Chaolong is actually Pho - Vietnamese rice noodles in beef stew topped with cilantro and bean sprouts. I heard a lot of good reviews about a local resto named Bona's but I had no idea where it was. It was starting to rain so we just picked a resto we saw earlier along Rizal Avenue. I ordered noodles with pork while Janjan had the beef stew. Locals also recommend pairing the hot noodle dish with French bread so we ordered 2 kinds of that as well. Janjan had the garlic bread while I had beef.


Left: Beef stew. Right: Pork Chaolong
Although a lot of people were raving about the dish, it was just so-so, for me. Actually, it tasted kinda funky. Sweet, sour, spicy. It was weird for a noodle dish. I never finished mine, and neither did Janjan. Did we go to the wrong resto or does it naturally taste this wierd? I can't really answer that, for now, at least.

After that, we headed back to the pension house to get some more sleep. We were tired from all the swimming. We woke up at 8pm and headed straight to Kinabuch Bar and Grill. This is another one of the more popular restos along Rizal Avenue. A few friends of mine highly recommended this so we decided to give it a try. 

The place was packed when we got there. There were barely any tables to accommodate new guests but we got lucky. A waiter led us to a small table at the corner, away from all the crowd. The place was crazy. Waiters were running around carrying plates, food, chairs and even tables. The service however, was surprisingly fast.

We got our menu and minutes later, a nice lady showed up to get our order. We were in the mood for pork, having eaten mainly seafood for the past 2 days. So we ordered grilled liempo, chicken lollipops, a platter of rice, Coke for Janjan, slushed iced tea for me and some ube yam for dessert.

THE star of the night: Ube Yam
The food was okay. It was not as good and as unique as Ka Lui's. What really made my dinner though was the dessert. The yube yam was delicious. Sweet with a beautiful texture to it. We never got to finish our food. We had the liempo and the lollipops packed so we can take it back to the pension house. We orginally planned to stay here for the rest of the night and drink a couple of beers but there were just too many poeple around.

This was our last night in Palawan so we decided to just walk around the trade fair for the last time, bought several cans of beer from the nearby convenience store and went home. We ended up finishing the trip with a few beers in Puerto Pension's veranda. It was not what we originally planned but it was still perfect.

We were flying back to Cebu tomorrow morning. And although not everything was exactly what I expected, it was over-all, a pretty good trip. Good company. Palawanon hospitality. I-haved-died-and-gone-to-heaven good food. Dirt cheap souvenirs. Insanely-low terminal fees. I could go on and on.

So will I come back? I most defintiely will.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Palawanderer: Day 2 Underground River

Day 2 of our Palawan trip. Janjan and I woke up at 6 in the morning, showered and got our free continental breakfast at the fourth floor. Aside from the free meal, we also requested an upgrade: a choice of tocino, longganisa or beef tapa and rice for 89.50 PhP. We were at the 4th floor resto by 7am so we had an hour to finish breakfast before our van picks us up at 8.

It's really, really difficult to do anything in a hurry here. The view is simply too beautiful. It makes you want to take very long breakfasts. Heck, I wouldn't mind if my coffee gets cold. The morning will still be as perfect.


Although our first meal (yesterday's lunch) at PP was not that eventful, thier breakfast was good. The free continental breakfast included fresh fruits, juice, hot chocoloate, bread and some butter and marmalade. We had longganisa and beef tapa with garlic rice for the upgrade.

Longganisa and Beef tapa for brekkie
Our van arrived just in time with a diffent tour operator. This time, I got the tour guide's name. Harold. We were 11 in the group. A family of 7 from Manila, a couple from Ilo-ilo and us. Our 2-hour drive to Sabang was comfortable and I slept most of the way. We had a 15-minute stop over to grab something to eat before taking the last leg to the port.

Pit stop-slash-souvenir shop
Once you reach the port of Sabang, you'll need to take a 15-minute boat ride to the National Park. Tour groups are only allowed to board the boat one hour before thier slots. Since we got the 1:30 slot, we had plenty of time to go around the beach and have lunch. Lunch was an eat-all-you-can buffet with grilled fish and pork, kangkong, chicken adobo and chicken soup at Roberts Seaside Resto. Simple, but very, very good.

The winner: Sauteed Kangkong!
If I were given more time (and perhaps, money), I'd stay for a few days here. Sabang is very laid back. There are a lot of passing tourists, yes, but the scenery is worth an overnight's stay. At around 12:30, we registered our names and boarded the boat. You'll never have to worry about overloaded boats here. Boats are limited to 8 passengers, max.

 
Ports never looked this beautiful

So off we went. I've been out at sea a lot of times but this was by far, the most beautiful 15-minute boat ride I've ever had. We passed through shores lined with white sand beaches, patches of mangrove forests and towering cliffs.



Our game plan was to get ahead of everyone by heading straight to the registration booth (yes, another round of registration). There are actually several tour groups scheduled at a single time slot and the group who registers early gets to go inside first. After the registration, we still had enough time to take some photos. There were wild monkeys and monitor lizards everywhere and visitors are always reminded never to bring food nor feed the animals.

So around 1:30, Harold gave us the go signal to start putting on our safety helmets and life vests. He also asked both of us to sit on front and man the halogen light - the only light our boat was going have inside the cave. I felt the pressure... So I gave the light to Janjan and told him to carry it. Pressure gone! haha.

So off we went. Aside from all the bat shit, the experience was surreal. This was my first visit to a UNESCO Heritage Site. My photographs will not do justice. The boatman started his script a few minutes after we entered the cave. I bet you my erm.... my laptop, it's what every single boatman tells thier passengers. But I didn't care. Heck, I was going inside the longest navigable underground river in the world. I have nothing to complain about!


Embarassing story #10,944,283: I am no expert of the Tagalog langguage. In fact, it sometimes takes me a full minute (okay, maybe even two) to tell which is kanan and which is kaliwa. My poor group mates had to translate the boatman's directions to English so that I could point to the right rock formation. Embarassing, eh?

There are a lot of beautiful rock formations inside the cave. Most of them were named by the Italian scientists who first explored the area. My favorite rock formation was called the Cathedral. It was named so because the ceiling at this part of the cave  rises up to 60+ meters high. Janjan bent his head way too much that his helmet almost fell out of the boat. Way to go Jan.

Going in...
Going out
So after the tour, we headed back to our boat, back to our van and on to another 2-hour ride back to the city. Riding home, I felt different. I felt a huge sense of gratitude. I felt proud to be a Filipino and  be able to call this geological wonder "mine" (and partly because I came out of it alive). Every Pinoy should save up and come here. Believe me, you'll feel a little prouder to part of this third world country, right after you come out of those caves.


We arrived at PP at around 5pm. I did some work while Janjan rested. We had an 8:15 reservation at Ka Lui's so we decided to just relax for the rest of the afternoon until dinner. The sloooow pace of the city is getting to me. And I'm starting to like it.

Eight o' clock came and we were off to Ka Lui. I have never been this excited for dinner in a very long time. A trike drive to the resto cost us 20 Pesos. Rates can vary during daytime and nighttime. 7 pesos per person during daytime and it goes up to 10 pesos during the evening.

There weren't a lot of people in the resto, but still, there's a "fully booked" sign posted on the front table. A lot of people dine here, apparently. The reason for the restaurant's strict reservation policy, just to keep things in order.


Right after we were sitted, a waiter handed us the menu. The resto's menu is very, very simple. A few fresh-catch dishes of the day, some appetizers, drinks, a few dessert selections and that's about it. I like it. It makes choosing a bit easier. So Janjan and I decided to get thier set meal. Partly because I wanted to sample as many dish as I possibly could AND partly becuase my mental calculator told me this was going to cost us less compared to getting the indivudual dishes (ahehehe....). And my, was this a good move.

Servers and diners, barefoot
For the appetizer, we had fresh guso. I've never had guso this good before. I can tell it's a class A product, I can't tell if its racemosa, though. They look a whole lot bigger.  (this is the biology freak rambling. so don't mind me.)

For the main dish, we had fish steak, fish rolls in curry sauce, sauteed kangkong and some shrimps. The serving was just perfect for two. I love, love, love it. (Golden rule: You can never say "love" too many times when it comes to food, ayt?). All of these for 300+  Pesos.


We also had fresh fruit shakes. Coco-banana for the gentleman and mango-pomelo for the lady. It was wonderful. After we finished our meal, we were surprised when manong waiter handed us dessert: fresh fruits drizzled with brown sugar in a coconut shell. I could not remember if this was included in the set meal or if they gave every one of their guests free dessert. Anyhow, I felt like a queen. We were smilling from beggining to end. =)


Subtleties.....

I guess my slippers felt the ecstacy too because right after the meal, the right pair snapped. Yes, yes, Laugh all you want. Nabugto ako tisnelas sa kalami. So Janjan had an ingenious plan. We were to hike all throughout Rizal avenue, look for a conveninece store, buy a safety pin and secure the damned thing into place... So we started walking, with me dragging one foot behind, scoured every single convenience store that we could find for a safety pin - but to no avail.

When we got to city hall, we decided to buy a cheap pair of flops instead. So we went inside the Baragatan trade fair to look one. Lucky me, I found a store selling original TWO products. I bought a pair for slippers (with a 20% discount!).

It was 10pm so we decided to buy a few cans of beer at the convenience store before heading back to PP. Back in the pension house, we found ourselves a cozy table at the veranda. While Janjan sipped his beer, I finished working on my articles before heading off to sleep.

Another wonderful day at Puerto Princesa. =)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Palawanderer: Day 1 Around the City

I originally planned to take this trip right after college graduation. But becuase I was still too scared to travel alone, it was delayed indefinitely. Four years later, I finally got the courage to book myself tickets to one of my dream destinations. Although I could only affford to stay a few days at Puerto Princesa, it was a good start (El Nido and Coron.... soon).


After four years, we finally meet.
I browsed through several local forums and found that the cheapest way to go around Puerto Princesa was to take the guided tours. I usually shy away from tours becuase it hate following other people's schedules, but for this trip, I guess it'll have to do.

Our flight from Cebu to Palawan took us approximately an hour and I basically slept the whole trip. We arrived several minutes ahead of schedule and found our free airport shuttle waiting for us outside the arrival hall. At first glance, I was very, very impressed at how polite Palawenos were. Not the pushy kind of polite. Trike drivers here genuinely want to help you out when you look lost.


We rode in a huge, air conditioned jeepney as Bobby (the driver), gave his own version of a city tour. Puerto Princessa is not as highly developed as Cebu  but the locals here, I believe, are more capable of handling tourists than those back home.

People here value thier visitors, probably because tourism is the city's number one indsutry. But apart from that, Palawenos are very proud of thier heritage. And over the course of the trip, I discovered why they have every right to be.

The bus, all to ourselves
We booked ourselves at Puerto Pension Bed and Breakfast. This was one of the best things I did for the trip. The entire hotel had a beautiful, homey enthnic ambience and the staff gave us the best taste of Palaweno hospitality. I was initally a bit concered about the room we booked beucase I accidentally overlooked the room description that said "shared comfort rooms". But when I got there, I found our room right beside the CR, tucked away in a small private hall. It was perfect.
Our very own veranda
Puerto Pension also arranged all our tours. Although check-in was still at 2pm, we were already given welcome drinks and keys to our room at 12 noon. Yehey! The van was scheduled to arrive at 1:30 so we had just enough time to settle into our rooms, freshen up and get a quick lunch.

Our room was fairly small but it was clean and well-kept with extra soft pillows. It had a small working desk which fit my laptop perfectly (I had to work and write my articles every night) and a mini-fridge that had several bottles of water, cans of alcoholic and non-alcoholoc beverages that you can get and pay for later. I guess I was too used to staying at backbackers hostels because this felt luxury for me. Haha.


So we grabbed a quick lunch at the hotel's fourth floor resto. I didn't mind going four floors up every morning becuase the view from the top was breathtaking. Our first meal at Puerto Pension was not that eventful. I had cheese and bacom carbonara while Janjan had grilled pork chops.

After lunch, we went downstairs to our room. Several minutes later, the front desk called us up to inform us that our van was here. We were 10 in a group - all couples and Tagalogs. Tell you a secret, I have difficulty speaking the langgauge so everytime someone wanted to start a conversation, all I did was nod and say "oo, nga". O_o

First thing on the itinerary was a very quick stop at the Plaza Cuartel. Quick. This means a few shots at the entrance and we were off to go. I really wanted to tour the place for a little while. I guess that's the downside to doing tour gruops. Anyhow, according to the guide, the cuartel was where 150 American soldiers were tortured and killed by the Japanese during WWII.


Outside Plaza Cuartel

After that, we were off the the Crocodile Farm and Wildlife Conservation Center. The farm has lots of..... crocodiles. The highlight of this trip was seeing the 17-foot croc (I forgot his name though) that literally sent chills up my spine. The reptile was huge!


Although he doesn't look much here, this guy is 17 feet long!

We were just in time to see these boys fight over food
They also have crocodile sisig for sale. A serving would cost you  PhP 150. Luckily enough, a couple in our tour group invited us to share thier order, and we gladly obliged. Croc sisig tastes a lot like pork sisig. It needs to be extra hot to cover up the aftertaste.

An ironic thing to sell at a conservation center, don't you think?
After that, we headed to Mitra's Ranch and to Baker's Hill for some photo ops and to buy hopia. Again, I would have loved to stay at Baker's Hill longer and order one of their oven-baked pizzas. But we took up too much of our time at the Croc farm so we couldn't stay longer.


Perv on the loose (haha, sorry again Jan )
After Baker's Hill, we went staright to the Butterfly Conservation Center. It had, erm..... butterflies and several other insects that you can touch and hold.

Butterflies and all things small and icky
We stayed for about 20-30 minutes at the conservation center before heading out to out last stop, the Binautan Creations (where I got to try weaving). They actually make mats for signature brands here.  Imrepssive, huh?


We asked to be dropped off at the tiangge for some souvenir shopping. I bought a cute wooden ref magnet for my colection. After this, we headed to the mall to get some insect repellant for your Underground River Tour the next day.

After getting some greceries, we headed straight to Bilao at Playok. This resto came highly recommended in many travel forums. The restuarant's ambience was exquisite. Our table was right beside a pond full of koi fishes. The lights were dimmed and there was beautiful bossa nova music playing at the background.

Warm, homey interior...
And the food...we had seafood sisig and buttered crabs. It was divine. Everything was fresh and tasty.

Buttered crab @ PhP190
Seafood sisig, or what was left of it =)
After that wonderful meal, we walked all the way to Ka Lui (another highly recommended resto) to make reservations for tomorrow's dinner. I went inside and I instantly felt giddy with excitement. All diners are required to eat barefoot so I left my slippers at the door to go to the reservations counter.

I got the 8:15 slot for dinner. After this, we hailed a trike and went straight back to our pension house. I still had a few articles to write so I needed to home early.

Overall, the city tour was not bad at all. I had fun with the group. The van was comfy. And the tour guide was great  The food so far, was divine. Fresh sea food, flavorful cooking. I think I'm spiralling more and more in love with the city. And this was just day one. =)