Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wander our Wonders: Island Tour of Batan and Sabtang, Batanes

I was off to a well deserved break after the tax men came knocking on the door that left me sleepless and restless for a time.

We had to be awake by three in the morning for our early morning flight. But my blogsy friend Nina was right, we had to wait, flights don't leave earlier than six. "Finally!" is what we blurted out when we landed in Basco, Batanes. After months of hullabaloo, we safely landed aboard the 30-seater plane of seair together with a group of 19 joining the photo safari of Mandy Navasero. See my reviews about the photo safari here.

The view of Mt. Iraya and a stylish stone house airport terminal greeted us on the runway of Basco Airport. We were met at the airport by a local guide. Mang Roger is a typical Ivatan local: hardworking, hospitable and jack of all trade. He was more than just a tour guide. Aboard the jeepney, some were seated on the roof, a thrilling ride zipping on that winding road cliff of Batan. Batanes here we come!

Clockwise (L-R): Batanes runway with Mt. Iraya, Seair, Jeepney Ride, Basco Airport Terminal


First stop was a fifteen minute spelunking in a World War III Japanese Tunnel. True to popular sayings, there's light at the end of the tunnel. As we exit the tunnel, it was our first view of the hedgerow. Hedgerow is a closely spaced shrubs that serves as barriers, protection from wind and prevents soil erosion. These hedgerow are popular in Scotland which earned Batanes the name, Scotland of the Philippines.

The rest of the day was a jeepney ride to Tukon Hills overlooking Basco, a climb up the Mahatao Lighthouse, a walking tour of Basco, a sit on the rocks of Rocky Beach or Chadpidan, a wait for the sunset at Chanarian View Deck and an evening entertained by the Basco palo-palo cultural dance.

Clockwise (L-R): Mahatao Lighthouse, Chanarian View Deck, Tukon Radar, Grazing Cow in Mahatao, Rocky Beach, View from Tukon Hills, Hedgerow View from Tukon Hills (center)


With an early morning wake-up call, we're headed to Ivana port to ride the falowa. With lifevests on, we were prepared to rock with falowa as we crossed the sea to Sabtang Island. The weather was great, the waves was not as rough as I've expected.

We toured the town of Savidug, had buko juice in Chavayan, had lunch in Nakanmuan’s White Beach under the famous Batanes Natural Arc, went to the Sabtang Lighthouse while waiting for our falowa ride back to Batan.

Clockwise (L-R): Kid overlooking the window at Savidug Stone House, Whitebeach Natural Arc, Nakanmuan's White beach, Carabao in streets of Savidug, Chavayan Stone house, Raging waves by Sabtang Lighthouse, Sinakan Stone House, Ruins at Savidug, Peddling Ivatan, Sabtang Lighthouse (center)

Back to Batan Island by four, we dropped by the UNESCO heritage House of Dakay built in 1600. Lola Frestilda Dakay lives in this house alone. This old lady is one of the most photographed person in Batanes. Now she's very old and weak, as much as she wants to get up and sit by the door like she did on a cover of Reader's Digest, she can only hold onto a rope atop of her bed to sit and made a gesture to welcome us inside her house.

Further down in Ivana is the Ivana Church and the one of a kind Honesty Coffee Shop. It's called Honesty for the simple reason that you pay for what you buy even without someone manning the store. There's a price list on the wall, a log book to write what you bought and a box where you'll leave your money. You should bring change, it's keep the change policy here. This is something you'll only find in Batanes.

Clockwise (L-R): Ivana Church, Ivana Port, Ivana Port, Sunset at Ivana Port, Honesty Coffee Shop


It was another early day as we wanted to catch the sunrise, but we were caught offguard, our jeepney ride arrived when the sun has risen. We had breakfast instead and headed to an early morning walk at the Rolling Hills. Lo and behold, the view of the hills overlooking the sea is heavenly. It's tranquility moves the soul and breaks one into tears with a song of prayer. A moving experience felt by one during a group prayer that touched the rest of the group. Who would have thought that someone who chose to go solo on this trip, one who was exceptionally bubbly was feeling empty seven years after her husband's death, found peace on this land and so she speaks, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want..."

After that enriching experience was a ride back to Tukon Hills. Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge sits on top of Tukon Hills overlooking the sea where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea. It was once the home studio of a great artist Pacita Abad who lost the battle of cancer. The place is reburbished in country style charms with rooms overlooking the sea and mountain. Rooms starts from P3,750 to 8,000.

The so called Marlboro Country, was another breathtaking panoramic view, with velvet green grass and grazing cows. I could hear the sound of music playing in this windy Marlboro Hills. We had a tasty lunch in a hut but I could imagine laying down after having our picnic on a mat right on top of the hill. Wishful thinking maybe, but it's not impossible.

Clockwise (L-R): View from Rolling Hills, Fundacion Pacita du Tukon, View from treking up to Fountain of Youth at Diura, Early morning walk at Rolling Hills, Marlboro Hills, Diura Beach, Rolling Hills, Infinity pool of Fountain of Youth, View from the window of Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge (center)

We moved to Diura fishing village, where we started our trek up the hills to the Fountain of Youth. It's spring water with infinity pool overlooking the sea. Others took a swim while we just laze around waiting for the tides to go low. We continued to walk down by the shore, leading to Crystal Cave for a short spelunking. As we exit the tide went high instead of low. The guide must have overlooked the calendar. We had to brave the raging waters, as we head back to the village. Some didn't want to get wet but in the end, everyone got soaked. Whew, we survived with scratches here and there and a bundle of fond memories to last a lifetime.

Batanes is finally off my wishlist, but wait! Batanes will remain on the list, I'd love go back there with a free and easy itinerary, different from what we had. That is, to laze around Fundacion Pacita sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific and South China Sea... to lay a picnic mat at Marlboro Hills with the real sound of music... and to watch the clouds go by as the sun sets by the Rolling Hills. :D


Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or


Fly via Seair from Manila to Basco Airport.


1. Pack a Map of Batanes by Ironwulf.
2. Contact a guide. Mang Roger Amboy: +639183331797
3. Discuss your itinerary with your guide, maximize travel time.
4. Hire a jeep or van. (I didn't see any form of public transportation.)


  • Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge Rates: P3750 - 8000+

  • Batanes Resort +639275829078 Rates: P550 - 1500

  • Batanes Seaside Resort and Restaurant +639212290120 +639178825609 Rates: P450 - P1200

  • Shanedel's Inn +639204470737 Rates: P350 - 1200

  • Ivatan Lodge  P300 - 1200
  • Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    More Long Weekend Holidays: Eid al-Adha

    President Arroyo has signed an executive order formally declaring Nov. 27 and 28 this year as national non-working holidays in observance of the Islamic festival Eid al-Adha.

    Eid al-Adha means "festival of sacrifice", celebrated by muslims to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.

    This will give way for more Filipino Muslims to go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj. That also means a four-day weekend from Friday, November 28 to Monday, November 30 (Bonifacio Day). This will be the 12th long weekend holiday for the Philippines in 2009 (to add to those previously announced.)

    read more.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero

    Along with my sister, we booked this tour five months before the scheduled trip. With early bird discount, we paid P20,000 all inclusive of travel photography workshop, full board and lodging, and airfare from Manila to Basco with Zest Air. Regular rate is at P25,000.

    Zest Air flights are suspended due to unfortunate events. With a sigh of relief we were accommodated with Seair. A few days before the trip, we were informed that our flight was cancelled. It would have been lovely to experience Batanes with the cold front but we were left with no choice but to reschedule it on a later date. Two weeks ago, we finally land on Basco, Batanes at the height of summer.

    We were checked-in at Batanes Seaside Resort, unfortunately, not all bookings were honored. Some overstaying guests occupied our rooms, so some of our companions has to stay for a night in another lodging house. With basic ammenities, rooms are clean and spacious, private bathroom comes with electric hot and cold shower, the suite rooms came with a refrigerator, and there's television too but food was ordinary.

    Mandy Navasero's Photo Safari is unlike the travel photography I've been to. There was no room-in lecture, not even a critique session. Mandy's teaching style is different. Her creative ideas are outrageous and her personality is a standout - at times with comic relief and naughty antics. She remained energetic and passionate with what she is doing inspite of her age.

    Mandy Navasero during an informal lecture at the view deck

    She puts emphasis to shoot with a heart, to pose with an attitude, and to add life into the subject. After a while, I've come to appreciate it. It's not the technical aspect that brings life to a photo. My basic knowledge on travel photography came in handy, but Batanes landscape is lovely as it is, it will come out beautiful in any photo. She puts much emphasis on colors and fashion photography with the so called "S-curve". Frankly, it doesn't come naturally for me, I look awkward in my photos. All throughout the trip, it seemed like we were having a photoshoot. We had our fair share of becoming a bench model, a beauty queen, a lifestyle model and a mastered the art of jumpology. On the otherhand, being the photographer, one must know how to motivate and to bring out the spirit of the subject, flatter if you must.

    This is my second travel photography workshop and I'm getting comfortable with the Nikon D40. No more cheats this time, I managed to pull off some good shots with the manual settings. Yipee! :)

    Joining Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero:

    I recommend this tour for those adventurous fellows who love to travel and like to shoot and/or appear in them, but not for those hard core photographers who expect point by point photography lecture.

    PROS: hassle free: board & lodging, itinerary & flight bookings and everything else are taken cared of; touring with a group sharing the same passion for travel & photography

    CONS: quite hectic: itinerary needs to be ironed out to maximize travel time and to start on time; for pre-trip briefing: personal appearance was necessary when it could be done remotely via email; no critique session: it would have been necessary for a photography workshop.

    For inquiries, they can be reached at:
    Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
    Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or

    Read more about my experience on the trip here.

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Ad Sense, No Sense

    I've long received from google my google (ad sense) account and got more than a thousand points on Entrecard.

    I've signed up after a little encouragement from a blogger friend but I actually don't know what to do with it. For now, these made no sense to me. Boo!

    Saturday, April 11, 2009

    Discovering Camsur Watersports Complex

    After our successful encounter with the whale sharks in Donsol, we were off to discover Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Pili, Camarines Sur.

    It was an hour land trip from Donsol, Sorsogon to FilCab/GT Express Daraga Terminal.

    In Daraga Terminal, several vans are waiting in line for hire. At P140 per head, we found our way to Pili, Camarines Sur two hours later on a Daraga - Naga van for hire. That's a lot of savings compared to hiring a private van at P3000. We got off on the highway, crossed the street and rode a tricycle leading to the Eco Village inside the complex of the Capitol. At P7.50 each, five of us and a stranger were forced to cramp inside this tricycle with our bags and luggage on top since the driver refused to have it all to ourselves.

    I made reservations with Eco Village. Quite disappointed with what we saw, we had to look into the rooms first before we checked-in. Facilities and rooms are unfortunately not well maintained and dilapidated. The cabins looked more like dog houses (excuse me for such comparison but it's what I think it looked like). Even the staff could not give a decent answer if the rooms are good. The eco village concept would have been nice. I guess the reviews I read was written many years ago. Good that I've researched beforehand, I knew of other options. We asked if there is available room in the cabanas. Timely, the WWA Wakeboard Championship just concluded the previous day, there were available rooms. So we had to lag our bags again and cramp on a small tricycle further into the complex.

    Voila! I was happy with what I saw. Accommodations at Villa del Rey is what I envisioned CamSur Watersports Complex is, clean and world-class. The front desk of Villa del Rey was right next to Villa del Rey Villas the most luxurious accommodation available in the complex with this huge pool nestled in the middle.

    Across the street is where the Villa Del Rey Wood Cabins and Villa del Rey Containers are lined together in a spacious lot. On the other side is the Villa Del Rey Cabanas.

    We settled in the Cabanas at P1350/room for two. I could not understand how the pricing scheme is but the accommodations in this newer area are cheaper than the rooms in eco village.

    Open daily from 830am to 930pm, Mondays from 830am to 7pm

    The WWA World Championship just concluded but the place is still packed with foreigners. I assume many of them joined the competition. The complex is equipped with free wi-fi, club house, swimming pool and more. Wakeboarding fees is reasonably priced, check out their website for applicable rates. As much as I wanted to try it out, I know I can't pull it off. The queue was long, once you fall you have to queue at the end of the line again so we opted to go to Lago del Rey.

    Open daily from 830am to 6pm.

    Lago del Rey Aquapark is just across the street, I saw this featured on Sports Unlimited a few weeks before our trip and it looked so much fun. It's a fresh water man-made lagoon, 5 to 20 feet deep, filled with inflatables for aquasports. A lifevest is provided and must be worn at all times. For P120 an hour or P380 per day, kids will enjoy the kiddie round inflatable and wading pool, while adults will enjoy playing on a slide, a seesaw, an obstacle course, a volleyball court, a trampoline and an iceberg (for wall climbing). Sailboats and jetski are also available for rent. It's so much fun being a kid for a day.


    Food is available only at the clubhouse or at the Mansion for about P150 to P300/meal. Food kiosks are also available on special events.

    Villa del Rey is walking distance to the wakeboarding complex and Lago del Rey. You'll need a ride going to and from the Eco Village and the Mansion. Free shuttle service is available around the complex but if there are too many guests, it would be difficult to find one. There's also a free shuttle that will take one from CWC to Naga City for about 15 minutes ride on a scheduled trip (9am, 2pm, 7pm). The airport is in Naga City, and so is the van and bus terminal.

    The 9am free shuttle service to Naga dropped us off at the FilCab/GT Express van terminal in Naga, right across the soon to open SM Naga. At the van terminal, we managed to talk it through, to drop us directly at Legaspi airport for P150/head. It's two and a half hour land trip from Naga City back to Legaspi City, just in time for our flight.


    Hail to the governer who has a vision to develop something like this. I hope they can keep up with the maintenance of the facilities more than his term in office and not just build and build something new. For my reader's info, it's taxpayers money that funds this project.

    If there is anything that is remaining in my wish list for Bicol, I'd say Camaroan. See, the list just keeps getting longer!


    Camsur Watersports Complex Office:
    Provincial Capitol Complex
    Cadlan, Pili, Camarines Sur
    Contact Number: +63(54) 475-0689 or +63(54) 475-4784
    Fax Number: +63(54) 477-5162

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    WoW Donsol, Sorsogon: Butanding Interaction

    More about Whaleshark Interaction, see my Donsol Travel Guide here.

    I've looked forward to summer like never before. With back to back trips from Donsol, Sorsogon, CamSur Wakeboarding Complex and Batanes, I am overwhelmed and fascinated. With tan lines all over, add all the superlatives, now my thoughts are garbled! I can't seem to make a decent post.

    While on the plane, our flight was announced delayed for reason that documents have yet to be completed and Legaspi airport is closed and learned that our companions' flight out of Manila was likewise delayed for an hour. What the #@?!! I was anxious, this can't be... nothing should go wrong. It was hell of a pressure to set foot in Donsol and see the whalesharks. I knew I can't go back home not seeing one otherwise I'll be at the receiving end of all possible mockery. For those who knows my tale, the long wait was worth it. If it rains it pours, this time it poured with so much luck!

    We were met at the airport by a van driver arranged by the resort. Before heading to Donsol, we dropped by Cagsawa Ruins and Daraga Church. The Mayon Volcano was standing high and mighty across Legaspi City. The Mayon Volcano is best viewed from a distance between 6 to 8 in the morning when skies are clear. With P10 entrance fee, we entered Cagsawa Ruins with the Mayon Volcano on the background. Once in Cagsawa Ruins, you'll be met by local kids, age 10 to 16, they will start by narrating the history of Cagsawa Ruins with visual presentation, then later offers to take your pictures with camera tricks. Good thing I've read an article about it, otherwise I would have shooed them away. I tell you, they are very creative. They even knew how to use my digital camera more than I do. In the end, you won't hesitate to give them a tip.

    Afterwhich, we proceeded to an hour land trip to Vitton Resort in Dancalan Beach Resort, registered at the Donsol Tourist Center next door and met by a lovely sunset.

    Next day was judgement day, I booked the best Butanding Interaction Officer, Omar. He was the videographer of Donsol (the movie) and guide to celebrities like Korina Sanchez of Balitang K and Dianne Castillejo of Sports Unlimited. He took care of the booking of the boat, skipper, spotter, gear and everything else.

    It was non-stop sightings between 730 to 11am, we barely had time in between to reapply sunblock or to grab a sandwich. Just in time we get settled on the boat, the guide shouts "ready!". Who am I to complain? I rushed to put on my fins over and over again, be the first to sit on the edge of the boat and lucky to be dragged by the guide through and through. Twas an amazing encounter with the gentle giants.

    I've lost count, but I can safely say we swam with 5 different whalesharks in more than 8 occasions. But it's not in the numbers. The first one was the biggest and the friendliest. It didn't mind our presence, interaction lasted a good 30 minutes... it could have been longer but we could not keep up, after having our portraits alongside it (so I have proof to brag). I was literally panting the first time when fear sinks in, then excitement sets in and eventually breath rans out. I probably gulped a liter of water with planktons (eew!) and heard someone screamed underwater. With that first encounter, we were already very much content but they just kept coming and coming, even on our way back to shore.

    The rest of the day was a lazy afternoon, spent an hour of thanksgiving mass in Donsol, Church in their native dialect and nourished our hungry pangs at Amor Farm Resort.

    It was a totally awesome experience, I don't mind going back someday.

    MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! off we went to Camsur Watersports Complex.

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