From B to Z

25 Aug

Actually, it should be the other way around: from Z (for Zamboanga) to B (Basilan) and back.

In 2012, when a seat sale came about, my friends and I decided to explore uncharted territories (for us, anyway) and pick a destination that we or anyone else we could immediately think of haven’t been to before. It was an easy choice: Zamboanga is about as far as you could get from Manila without actually leaving the country. And so, with a rudimentary list of recommendations we culled from acquaintances and blogs (“Try the satay! Go to Santa Cruz Island! Don’t leave without trying the curacha!”), off we went, way, way south of the country.

As “exotic” as Zamboanga City has become thanks to the news, the place felt like the usual sleepy town when we made touchdown at around six in the morning. (Remember, this was in 2012 and so that terrible siege between the military and rebel forces hadn’t happened yet.) Tricycles, jeeps, and cabs plied the main roads, and near the airport was a commercial square where we spotted a Chowking sign. None of us were interested in that, though. The first order of the day—after having as breakfast the orange-y satay drenched in an even oranger sauce—we dumped our bags in a hostel downtown and proceeded to the city’s own version of Baywalk.

The goal was to get to Santa Cruz Island, the place of the famed pink sands. It was easy to hire a boat to take us there, as there was a tourism office and a small port at the Baywalk. My friends and I worried at first about lunch, i.e. what would we eat on the island, as the plan was to stay there for hours, but the boatman assured us that there are fishermen there who could round up a batch of crabs for us, fresh from the sea, for some dining al fresco.

Heading to Sta. Cruz Island

Heading to Sta. Cruz Island


                Indeed, the beach was pink—from afar. Up close, it was a fine mixture of red and white, the red courtesy of shattered corals.


Crushed red corals mix with the sand





There are locals who stay on the island. Badjaos, if I remember correctly. They set up little shops near the shore, selling little trinkets. Deeper in the island forest are their burial sites, with the dead’s remains placed inside small wooden boats, symbolic of the journey to the afterlife.

Caveat: This information I’m spouting is from an unreliable memory, as I was mostly preoccupied that day befriending the sweet and slightly scared dogs on the island. All of them had stubs for tails, and according to one of our guides, it’s a common practice among island inhabitants to cut short their tails while they’re still puppies. Poor dogs:(( So anyway, for more accurate information about the Santa Cruz Island folks, GMG. (Google mo, gents and ladies.)

After wading and floating in the water, it was time for the day’s most important agenda. Actually, the initial big plan was to be taken by boat into a lagoon deeper into the island, but since the tide was too high, we had to forego that. Crabs for lunch, of course, was also an important agenda, but not nearly as important as a jump shot…in front of a make-shift vinta sail. WOMP WOMP!

Jump shot

Finally, lunch.

Crabby by the sea

Crabby by the sea


                We decided to walk a bit around the island after, with a couple of guides going with us. The guides were said to be necessary, as Santa Cruz is in the patch of sea separating Zamboanga City from Basilan. Hence if there should be bandits on the island, it’d be safer to stay on the side nearest the boat and nearest back to Zambo.


View from the walk


Naks, art


                Too bad our stroll was broken by some unseen warning received by our guides who said there were bandits who’d come ashore from Basilan, so we trekked back to the boat as rain started to pour.

Upon getting back to the city, we thought it would be best to have dinner at the Baywalk. Here, we spotted a restaurant selling a seafood platter with curacha in it. Of course, we had to try it. The recommended restaurant was actually Alavar’s, located a bit more uptown, but we wanted to have another meal by the sea and see the “dancing fountain” at the Baywalk Plaza. It was a nice experience, albeit the periodic brownouts, a common problem in Zamboanga.

With our taste buds gotten into a frenzy by the sneak preview of the real thing, we were really hankering to get some honest-to-goodness curacha. We boarded a jeep headed uptown, got off in front of Alavar’s, and prepared our stomachs

Curacha slathered with Alavar sauce



                Curachas are hairy, fleshy, deep-sea crabs as big as my face. What makes them extra special,though, is the Alavar sauce, an intensely delicious concoction made from gata and secrety secret spices and whatnot—of course, the restaurant folks would never tell—that can make eating even plain white rice exciting. Meaning, kahit palaman sa tinapay, masarap siya. It’s so good, you’d forego cleanliness and dining etiquette just to suck the last morsel of Alavar-coated crab meat from the recesses of the crab shell.




                Too bad the Zamboangeño restaurant in Quezon City has closed down. You’d have to fly to Zambo to taste this truly legendary sauce. We had the option to buy a large jar of it, but I can’t remember if we had an issue about carry-on and luggage weight or if it’s allowed to be checked in at the airport, but we ended up not getting one. That Alavar sauce still haunts me in my dreeeeaaaaams.

By the way, after the boat trip back to the city, my friends and I met Marshall, as he calls himself. He’s a traffic enforcer-slash-tour guide of sorts who convinced us to join this other group he’s taking around. That part of our trip with the other tourists wasn’t so fun because of said other tourists so I’ll skip that, but it was Marshall who got the idea into our head to go on a day trip to Basilan on the morning of our flight back to Manila.

There are ferry boats that go back and forth the whole day between Zamboanga and Basilan, and they get pretty packed so weren’t too worried about entering strange territory. We thought it would be best, though, to look the least tourist-like as much as possible for our own safety, as even Marshall himself, who goes back and forth between Zambo and Basilan frequently, told us it’s not impossible for rebels and bandits to pick on obvious outsiders.

Basilan port

Basilan port

Miming chilling

Miming chilling


It’s so easy to imagine Basilan as a desolate place because of its reputation, but its capital Isabela looked like any small provincial town: at its center are the church and the city hall, and the maze of narrow streets spread outward from it. Small shops and eateries line the road, and people go about their normal business. There was a Jollibee near the town square and we could spot the symbolic crescent of a nearby mosque. Also nearby is an old cinema house, Zenith.

Isabela, Basilan city hall

Isabela, Basilan city hall

Zenith cinema house

Zenith cinema house


Misericordia Street


                We would have loved to explore the town more and take in the local culture, but the said group of other tourists had stupider ideas, i.e. ask the tourism officers where else in Basilan we could go using the local city hall’s obviously limited resources such as transportation, driver, and gas. Dear travel bloggers: please don’t use the “exposure” that a place is going to get from your blog as a form of currency to curry favors from local officials. It’s disgusting, and it’s not fair to the locals. You’re no Anthony Bourdain, so getting written about in your blogs is no source of pride or honor to anyone.

So that was how we ended up crammed inside a hot FX, heading deeper inland. Marshall would get this wary look on his face now and then (he was seated in front of me at the back of the vehicle) while scanning the road and the nearby mountains, and of course I’d get nervous. He had said that the farther from the port and the town we get, the more dangerous it would be. We went to a couple of places: as a small, honestly unimpressive waterfall (and there was considerable litter around the area) and a rubber tree plantation, which looked pretty, but what were we supposed to do there, really? Like, really? And since we had seen the rubber tree plantation and taken artsy shots of sap flowing from a tree bark, the driver took us to a rubber factory. POR QUE, RIGHT? (Not the driver’s fault, though, the itinerary had been agreed upon by the tourism officer back in town and the spokesperson of that other tourist group.)


Rubber tree plantation://///


Artsy shot:////


I’m not amused.


It smelled quite terrible in that rubber factory, which was located in a secured compound. I was SO PISSED to be there, because we could have been somewhere else, immersed in what normal life in Basilan could be like, you know? Examining the menu of the local Jollibee would have been more interesting than gawking at piles of stinky, tofu-looking rubber. We looked so dumb and pointless, even the few workers at the factory ignored us (and rightfully so). There were distractions, though, such as the military men stationed(?) in the compound. Might as well make a photo op out of it.

Photo op

Halatang turista, shet


                Ugh, I still get pissed thinking about this trip. We did pay for the gas and gave the driver money, but we didn’t have to use them in the first place. We didn’t have to bug the tourism officials in the first place, as we already had a pretty knowledgeable guide with us. Instead of standing around like idiots taking tourist-y photos of pretty much nothing, we could have talked to more locals who feel slighted about the bad rep their place has. One of the city hall officials admitted to us that yes, the town church did get bombed as recently as the year before, but she also said that the place is otherwise peaceful, far from the fighting up in the mountains. On my part as an outsider, the presence of military men at the town square was disconcerting, but I also saw how life was quite normal there. If not for the sight of rifles hanging from the soldier guards’ shoulders, we could have imagined we were in Liliw, Laguna.




                It sucks that most of my memories of Basilan are colored by supreme annoyance, and most of those memories are of fucking rubber, since I don’t know if and when I’ll be able to go back there. Kainis. What a wasted opportunity.


My happiest place on earth

29 Jun

     The summer of 2012, my editor decided to include a special section in one of our issues, which would involve the staff picking a destination and the items we would pack if we’re headed there. The locations selected were a mix of local and international ones, which was good because it meant that not everyone has Paris or New York at the top of their minds when asked for their dream destination. Mine was the nearest, though, because it involved only about an hour and a half of travel by boat, over a distance of little less than 32 miles.

      I chose Corregidor because the first time I set foot on it in 2010—kind of late for me, yes—I immediately fell in love. Green mountains by the sea always get to me, and the fact that no one truly lives there (because the whole island is a war memorial and, therefore, no one is supposed to) made me fall harder. I remember squinting as I looked out from the Corregidor Inn balcony at the view of the ridiculously blue bay, the wind on my face, and thinking, “I will never get tired of seeing this everyday.” (True, part of it is the appeal that I’d really never get to see that view literally every single day because of rules.)

On a clear day, you can see forever.

On a clear day, you can see forever.

      Since then, it has become a yearly thing for me to go back, usually on New Year’s Eve, for some (even more) alone time and quiet; NYE is especially fun because there are no firecrackers at midnight and no smog the next morning. The day tours may be simple, unchanging, and there are strict rules and time tables enforced on the island for everyone’s safety, but I like how these manage the number of people getting into the island and the scope of activities they can do. No lines, no massive concentration of crowds. Once the day trip guests have boarded the boat back to Manila, everything settles down quietly.

      One of the best trips I made was the first Christmas I spent there, also in 2010. On December 25, I woke up at 5 a.m. to join a tour to watch the sun rise (or rather, imagine it, since it was cloudy that morning) and explore the Japanese cave near the sunrise lookout point.


To the Jap cave

      That morning tour ended at around 7 a.m., and the family who took the tour with me decided to retire to their rooms. The tour guide Kuya George, however, asked if I wanted to go on a trek around parts of the island that aren’t included in the day tour. There were three kinds of treks: easy, moderate, and extreme. The higher the level, of course, the more places to see. Since I nearly never pass up on the chance to push myself physically, at least in non-sports-related activities, and because the lure of “more sights” always elicits a “yes” for me, I signed up for the extreme hike. “Baka masuka ako sa pagka-extreme, ha,” I half-joked to Kuya George.

      No puking was involved, though; we wrapped up the hike at lunch time, walking all the way back to the inn from the mountain. My feet and legs were sore and tired, my legs were scratched red by prickly weeds, I had guano droppings on my eyeglasses from where we walked into a literal bat cave—and a flying bat crashed onto my cheek!—and I stank like anything, but it was one of the happiest Christmas mornings I ever had.


Best Christmas morning ever.

      It was so happy I decided to recreate the feeling two years later, this time during summer and with a few friends coming along. I enlisted Kuya George to do the tour for us again, and while nothing beats the first time (that’s what she said), that 2012 trek is also one of the happiest summer memories I have.

Like a rejected Benetton ad

Like a rejected Benetton ad

     Just as it was the last time, the pick-up dropped us off at some point near a sign that points to Battery George. It was a hot morning, and before we even got far, we were pretty much coated in sweat already. We passed through the ground floor of the hospital, which we had visited the night before on a guided “ghost hunting” tour.

      Side story: NYE 2011—It was so annoying when, on the tranvia headed back to the inn after we stay-in guests watched the play of fireworks all the way from Manila’s and Cavite’s coasts, a fellow guest kept flashing a light on every dark, looming structure we passed by. “Baka makakita ako ng multo,” he kept saying loudly to his companion, obviously as a joke. I sincerely wished then na sana, makita niya talaga ‘yung hinahanap niya since ang tapang-tapang niya. Leave the poor, generally peaceful spirits alone, okay? I mean, I’ve spent how many nights on the island already and while I get antsy, naturally, about sleeping in a strange place alone, I’ve never been bothered by any presence. Well, except for the time when my bra closure suddenly snapped open while I was putting on pants. I just said out loud, “Very funny,” and hooked my bra close. I know. Soldiers, right?


The hospital by day…

...and by night.

…and by night.

      That’s Kuya George above, caught in the middle of a Backstreet Boys move. NO. He was explaining to my friends the history of the Jabidah Massacre, which happened on the island in 1968 and served as the spark to the many years of enmity between the government and the Muslims.

      Soon after leaving the hospital, we got deeper into the woods. Though there were ropes already in place to help hikers get from one point to another, some of the dips were still quite steep, and loose, slippery soil and easily displaced rubble were a constant concern.

Going slow

Going slow

Going slower. Photo by GK Okpora.

Going slower. Photo by GK Okpora.

     We finally get to one of the underground tunnels dug by the Japanese. Here’s the difference between a Japanese-made tunnel/cave and an American-made one: the former is pretty rudimentary, all packed soil and cramped space, the better for them to hide in. The latter, meanwhile, is usually bigger and with concrete walls, very Western, very obnoxious, obvious, white male. KIDDING. Of course the American caves would be bigger and built more conventionally, they spent around USD150M developing the island to be some sort of military paradise between 1902 until the early ’20s.

Down the goddamn rabbithole

Down the goddamn rabbit hole

     This part of the trek always terrifies me because I’m afraid of heights, especially descending from great heights. The shaft is only (only!) six feet deep and, as you can see, there are wooden steps provided, but getting down from the lip of the shaft to step on a rung is a taxing process as far as I’m concerned. I’d always have to sit at the edge first for a minute, making crying noises, and apologizing to Kuya George for taking so long.

The laugh/cry of terror. Photo by GK Okpora.

The laugh/cry of terror. Photo by GK Okpora.

     The shaft leads to a cave that served as an overlooking point for the Japanese, as it provided a view of the Corregidor coast. Foliage covers the entrance, making it the perfect perch for spies and guards. According to Corregidor guides, the Japanese dug about 200 or so caves around the island and not all of them have been discovered yet; some of them are too small to get into and plenty probably still contain undetonated bombs.

The hulas crowd

The hulas crowd

     We entered the famous bat cave, which doesn’t contain as many bats now because they get disturbed by visits from trekkers. Sorry, bats! There were still lots of cockroaches there, though.

     Let me tell you about that one time a bat flew into my face. Another tour guide, Armando (my favorite tour guide ever), had told me a story of an American woman who went on a trek and entered the bat cave. Supposedly, she was appreciative of what she would see during the trek, and was loud about it. Before entering the cave, Armando had warned her that bats would be flying all over the place and so getting shat on by them is something that could be expected. True enough, while walking down the length of the cave, guano plopped down on her head. The woman was so surprised that either she screamed or made some exclamation—I can’t remember anymore exactly. Basta she opened her mouth.

      And then a bat flew into her mouth.

      I was so scared of that happening to me that I kept my mouth firmly shut even before entering the cave. I kept it shut even when I could see the cave floor crawling with roaches and even when the screeching of bats raised my anxiety level. Then suddenly, splat! Something furry hit me like a slap on the right cheek, and I couldn’t help it. “Putanginaaaaa!” And Kuya George just laughed at me.

     Okay lang, it didn’t hurt at all. It’s just that it was so sudden. Anyway, aren’t bats supposed to “see” their way in the dark?

The hulas crowd

So goddamn tired.

     Sorry I can’t give a chronological account of the trek or even provide the correct locations for where each picture was taken because everything was just trees and caves and more trees and waist-high vegetation, with a couple of small batteries and their cannons, long dismantled by poachers, in between; Kuya George could have easily gotten us lost forever in the wilderness if he had wanted to. This photo was taken, um, at some point, and we were all obviously exhausted and filthy. There is a great view of the sea, though, and a teeny, tiny island that also served as a fortress when the Americans still held a military base on the island. According to our guide, only a submarine could get to the entrance of the fortified islet now; I think he said even he has never been inside it, though an American was able to a long time ago and reported that all it had inside were beer bottles.

Funny Little Island, People

Funny Little Island, People

     I mentioned earlier that everything was trees and caves. Here’s a great cave experience, starring my friend Adrian:

Too technologically inept to share the video, so here's the screencap instead. The footage involves us commenting how Adrian looks like a big-headed baby getting born.

Too technologically inept to share the video, so here’s the screencap instead. The footage involves us commenting how Adrian looks like a big-headed baby getting born.

      Getting out from the mouth of that cave is fun, but not so easy if you have weak upper body strength. You enter that cave from a much bigger hole that narrows down into crawl space, and you literally have to be on your stomach to climb up and out. SO FUN.

      Well, maybe for other people, all that doesn’t sound like fun. It’s my idea of heaven, though, being deep in Corregidor’s forest, and crawling on my stomach through one of her earthen passages feels as if I’m giving the island a hug. And every time I wake up in the morning to the sound of birds, the warmth of early sunlight, and the view of the mountain and the sea, I feel like giving a hug to this beautiful place. It’s as if I had always known the island and I’m just re-experiencing now the tug of something familiar.

      The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was the one I drank at the first morning of this year. It was just coffee from a sachet, nothing fancy, but sitting there in the inn’s balcony and drinking it, I had the most content and peaceful feeling come over me. True, there’s also nothing fancy about the island and its accommodations, just like my coffee, but the simplicity of the place’s natural beauty, the richness of its history, its refusal to be turned into a tourist trap, and the quiet kindness of the people working there make it perfectly lovely. Plenty of people search for and chase after that feeling of wholeness and contentment in many different places and situations their whole lives—I’m one of them. I’m just really lucky I found a place where I know I could find it, again and again.

Oops, I'll do it again, and again, and again.

Oops, I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

🙂 ;D ❤ and all the happy emoticons in the world

Boracay! Part 2

13 Mar

Ahh, Boracay. Life on this sacred isle would not be complete without the consumption of mass quantities of alcohol.

However, we all know that mass quantities of alcohol usually cost a lot. What I am about to tell you is a closely guarded secret among Boracay veterans, and will make your alcoholic consumption  more efficient and budget friendly. There are a lot of ways of getting completely hammered under a budget in Boracay, that is, without getting anyone to buy your drinks for you. I’ll be sharing a few of these tips with you.

  1. Drink in your Hotel Room. Before going out to paint the town red, a lot of Boracay veterans prefer to buy hard liquor in Manila, check in their bottles at the airport, and drink the night senseless in their hotel room. An alternative to this is buying booze from the groceries and convenience stores around the area. The bottom line is that you avoid the high per bottle/per shot cost from the bars, and get buzzed in your hotel room before heading out. This way, a few drinks at the bars will be all you need to have a great evening.
  2. Watch out for Promos, Happy Hour, and Buy 1 Take 1 Drinks. A lot of establishments in Stations 1 and 2 offer drinks at incredibly low prices during off-peak hours. Some bars offer 2 for 1 cocktails and beer at around 3pm and last until 5pm. Although a bit early, the drinks cost a lot less and are great for that late afternoon buzz. A really great deal we found while we were there was the Drink All You Can promo at Obama, located near the Grotto. For P275.00, you can drink all the cocktails you can from 5pm till 8pm. This was great, as you can sip your margaritas while watching the sun set and while hearing the waves crash along the shore.
  3. Watch out for Friends. This one’s probably one of the best. Keep your eyes peeled for people you know, who also happen to be in Boracay as well, and are celebrating an occasion. Free booze.

After getting buzzed, time to get your groove on and party! Although there are a lot of places in Boracay that boast of the best parties, I realized that people frequent certain establishments:

  1. Club Parau
  2. Juice
  3. Epic

These three places are packed, and there’s something usually going on there that keeps the party alive. Great parties, great crowds, and awesome booze. That’s the great time triad right there.


27 Feb

The Grotto, photo by DJ Mercado

Ah, Boracay. Never has a dull moment been met when I am in your bosom.

This is actually my first post outside the Internet Explorer trip. I must admit, I miss travel blogging.


Boracay Island is located 2km off the tip of Panay Island in the Western Visayas, and is governed mostly by the Provinvial Government of Aklan.

There are two popular routes of going to Boracay. The first, and most convenient, is via Caticlan. Direct flights are available from Manila to Caticlan, and getting to the Jettyport is not a problem. It is advised, however, that you book your flights early on, as Manila-Caticlan flights can be expensive when booked late.

The second route is via Kalibo. Upon touching down in Kalibo Airport, one has to board a shuttle headed to the Caticlan Jettyport, which takes approximately 2 hours.

A great suggestion that I received is going to Boracay via Kalibo, then going back to Manila via Caticlan. That way, you get to save some cash on the way, and enjoy the more relaxed travel going back.

When I arrived in Boracay, I had the following ToDo list:
– Get a Jonah’s milkshake
– Eat a Choriburger
– Party
– Get a very light tan

I think that about covers your basic Boracay experience, yeah? Enjoy the beach, drink a bit (read: like a fish) and feast on the local flavor, hahaha!

So, let’s go through the list.

Jonah’s Fruit Shake and Snack Bar is located in Station 1, near the grotto. The (used to be) small snack stand serves the island’s iconic shakes, and I’m not talking about your basic flavors here. Although they do serve your usual Mango, Banana, and Mangonana, they also serve other unique flavors, such as Peanut Butter Chocolate, flavors with Rhum, and Melon Milkshake (reminiscent of an old Magnolia milk flavor I adored as a child). I had the Mango-Banana mix, as I really wanted something classic at the time. I’ve only been to Boracay twice, and Jonah’s has never failed to brighten my day (further!). I absolutely recommend their shakes. Be careful of cheap knock-offs, though. There are a lot of shake stands in the island.

Next on my list was the Choriburger. I wasn’t really picky where the Choriburger is concerned. I. Just. Want. To. Have. One. Fortunately, there are grilled stuff vendors everywhere on the island, so getting the choriburger wasn’t really that hard.

Next up, PARTY!

It’s always sunny in Samal pt. 2

2 Jul

While on the Island Garden Coast of Samal (or IGaCoS), the three of us stayed at the Pearl Farm Beach Resort. It’s a beautiful place that also affords guests sufficient privacy. While the night life here is quite subdued, the resort has its own attractions to keep both guests and day visitors preoccupied during the day: snorkeling, island hopping, basketball/volleyball/tennis matches at the court, the arcade, feeding Charlie (the Pearl Farm’s temperamental cockatoo), fish feeding, swimming on either the two pools or in seawater, and, the one I enjoyed best, looking at these views to my heart’s content:

Apo was visible on a 9 o'clock morning--hallelujah!

But just lounging at a resort for a couple of days, no matter if it’s a premium resort, drives me nuts. So on our second day at Pearl Farm, Mia went snorkeling, Pepper vegetated in our room, and I decided to take a short road trip around IGaCos.

Habal-habal drivers are easy to find and rent on the island; just outside the pearly (not really) gates of Pearl Farm, there was a shed where a couple of them were hanging out, waiting for passengers. They are pretty helpful folks. If you haven’t drawn up an itinerary for your road trip yet, they give tips on the island attractions you might want to see and how long the drive would be going back and forth. I wanted very much to get up close with Mount Puting Bato, the highest point in Samal where you can get a view of even mainland Davao, but according to my designated driver Kuya Otol, the trip going inland to the mountain is at least three hours long. Plus, I’m no mountaineer and I wasn’t really prepared to trek on inclined dirt roads that morning. So we settled on going to the Hagimit Falls then the Monfort Bat Cave instead.

Habal-habal is my number one mode-of-transportation of choice

Five minutes after driving away from the slightly bumpy road leading from Pearl Farm, Kuya Otol stopped his motorbike to let me take in this view:

I wish I had a wide-enough vocabulary to name all the different shades of blue in this photo.

I’d like to think that if it weren’t for the foliage, I would have seen the horizon curve ever so slightly, proving that the earth is, indeed, round.


IGaCos’ main road is wide and paved–a great thing. Means of transportation, aside from habal-habals, are small buses and jeepneys. There is hardly any traffic on the road, though. We got to Hagimit Falls in around 15 minutes and after Kuya Otol parked his bike and I paid the P20 entrance fee, we went down a pretty long flight of concrete steps to get to the falls’ source.

The actual falls is a teeny tiny one, but it is enough to keep the whole area cool. Families flock to Hagimit on weekends for some PG-rated fun and visitors can rent huts, tables, and chairs for a small fee. But kids, remember: strictly no diving.

We didn’t stay too long at Hagimit Falls since I wasn’t planning to do some freshwater swimming, so we hopped on the bike to proceed to Barangay Tambo where the Monfort Bat Cave is. The road leading there after a fork on the main highway wasn’t paved so the ride was pretty dusty. It took us about 20 minutes to locate it; Kuya Otol claimed that the entrance route had been changed.


Entrance to the Monfort Bat Cave grounds is only P20, and during my visit, there were two very helpful and funny beckys (my favorite term of endearment for the gays) who served as tour guides.

The Monfort Bat Cave was declared by Guinness World Records as having the largest colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette Fruit Bats or Rousetteus amplexicaudatus just last February. A conservative estimate from the Bat Conservation International pegged the bat population living in the cave at around 1.8 million.

I can get behind that figure.

Here are the things that will hit you once you get close to the cave:

a. The noise. You have millions of bats vying for a square inch of stone to hang from, and they fill the air with their wing-rustling and their screeching for space.
b. The smell. In Sagada, the stench of guano was tinged with salt. Here in Monfort, it’s sickly sweet and clammy. The tour guide says that is due to the bats’ fruit diet.
c. The sight. Not gonna lie, those critters look weirdly cute.

Monfort serves as a sanctuary for these flying mammals; though bats are still caught for food and for fun in IGaCos, catching them within the Monfort premises is strictly forbidden. Fruit bats are especially important in the pollination of durian, as they are the only ones who can withstand the fruit’s stench, hence the mandated protection. And really, we should all be aware that every animal has a niche in the global ecosystem, and the loss of just one species spells trouble for all of us. (Although I have to admit, I was intrigued by adobong paniki.)

Yeah, wordpress is refusing to rotate a couple of pictures, sorry.

Afterward, we took the longer route going back to Pearl Farm, and while the sun shone throughout the road trip, the Samal breeze helped keep us cool. On the whole, the trip took less than three hours. For a basic fee of P200 (I’m not sure if this is an arbitrary amount or it’s the standard fee for a two-destination road trip) plus P100 for gas, it was well worth my money. (Please try to tip the nice habal-habal drivers.) Maybe on my next visit, I’ll get some face time with Mount Puting Bato.

It’s always sunny in Samal

25 Jun

It’s true; Kuya Otol, a local habal-habal driver told me so. The three mornings we woke up to in this island garden were all blue skies, cottony clouds, and bright sunlight.

Davao River white water rafting

24 Jun

If zipping through the air doesn’t quite provide the surge of adrenaline you were looking for, then try riding the rushing waters of the Davao River.

Though competitors have also set up business in the city, Davao Wildwater Adventure, Inc. is still the trusted name for river guides and rafting equipment. With their current discounted rates (a good side effect of competition), a group of five can enjoy a wild ride down the river, with the transportation to and from the city provided. DWA Inc. also adds in packed lunch (to be eaten on a river embankment during a rafting break), a CD of your rafting photos (for easy Facebook uploading), a souvenir shirt, and a tour of the Crocodile Park, where DWA Inc.’s office is located. At P2,000 per person, that’s a pretty sweet deal. Add more people to the group and the discount gets even more awesome: P1,500 pax for 15 people and P1,250 for 20.

Safety first: guides show guests the how-tos of paddling and safe rafting.

Before the ride, the river guides take care to demonstrate the proper way to paddle, as well as what to do when you slide off the raft. I had actually fallen overboard before; embarrassingly, it wasn’t even because of a hardcore rapid. As my friend described it, one second I was there, talking about something, then the next second I was gone. We had just finished lunch and the guide was maneuvering the raft down a dip in the river when kerplunk! I was swallowed by water. To be honest, I think he let our raft dip on my side intentionally because no one else fell for the rest of the trip. Floating down the river to catch up with the raft was fun, though; I didn’t have to do anything except keep my feet up (to keep me afloat) and remember to float downstream feet first (to avoid bashing my head in on any boulder).

The starting point of the river ride is at Tamugan, Davao City, and you encounter about 30 rapids all throughout the three-hour ride. While riding the rapids can feel like riding a (low) roller coaster, with trolls positioned at the top to dump buckets of water on you, there are also stretches of easy paddling where you can just sit back and not worry about falling overboard. Take in the views of the river bank, wave hello to swimming kids, enjoy the cold water dripping in the mini caves, and even jump into the river for some easy floating before the guide steers your raft down another whirlpool of foamy water and rocks. After surviving a rapid, the guide will call out for a paddle high five, though be wary of these calls as some guides use it to distract you from the fact that you’re not yet out of the woods yet, so to speak.



Cave break


Another thrilling point of the ride down the river is the six-foot mini-cliff where tourists are encouraged to jump off from. This, to me, was scarier than the rapids because one, I can’t swim, and two–well, free falling is just terrifying. The rewards of taking the leap, literally and figuratively, are just amazing, however.


There is also another river embankment where clear, clean water rushes over the rocks. At this point of the ride, guides help tourists sit on the rocks and let the water wash over their sunburned shoulders. It’s a slippery struggle to get on top of those boulders, so be prepared to grapple and crab-walk your way to the top.

On the rocks

At the end of the ride, there will surely be heated, reddened skin, aching arms and shoulders, and knotted hair all around, but there will be smiles, too. The beauty of the river and the thrill of feeling its power are some of the best ways to get endorphins zipping through your system, I have discovered. And with the guides pointing out the care and pride that the people of Davao have for their river, you come away with a sense of respect for the city’s love of its environment. Here in the Davao River, you come face to face with nature on nature’s own terms, not yours. And that’s the way it should always be.

Just around the river bend

Call Davao Wildwater Adventure, Inc. at +6282 221 7823, +6380 286 1055, +63920 9546898, and +63920 9546897. Visit their website for more information.