Monday Musings: 10 Life Reminders from Siargao

Oftentimes, the best memories happen when you do not plan. The Surfing Capital of the Philippines definitely took my heart away.

It started with a last-minute decision after the French Embassy denied my visa application, ruining my holiday plans and putting a huge shadow over my festive mood. Luckily, I found out that my former roommates and Couchsurfing bestbuds were celebrating New Year’s Eve in Siargao so I decided to join them.

I had my bag packed and got my gears ready but I forgot that it was the holidays. I confidently thought that there would be loads of tickets to go there. It turned out to be one of the biggest struggle I’ve had to reach one destination! It involved hours of riding on habal-habal, ferries, bangkas, jeepneys, and tricycles! I ended up arriving a day late from my hostel booking.

People asked me why I went through all those instead of just staying at home. At that moment it seemed like a great idea and I knew complicated journeys always turn into good stories (sometimes I lie to myself).

Anyways, after days of random overnights in unplanned stops, I realized that I have been reminded about a lot of things in less than a week of travel.

Chillin like a villain at Cloud 9

  1. Relax! I usually feel that I am Roger the Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh or the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and I am not alone for sure. Humans naturally want to control and predict basically everything. The thought of not knowing makes us all feel uneasy. When I took the fast craft to head to Southern Leyte, I had everything calculated and yet I still missed some of my schedule and my worry was unnecessary, because I still ended up where I used to be. Sometimes you just have to let things be, as what Timon and Pumba would say “Hakuna Matata!” I have not reached Timon levels yet but I started Headspace to help me be calm.

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    Sunset as I left San Ricardo Port
  2. Be open. I only had one thing in mind when I went to Siargao and it was to surf. This one thing I never got to do because I decided to open myself up to other possibilities. I did not regret missing out on the surfing because I had tons of fun memories with people. That is how it should be! We should set our path towards the door and remain open enough to let new things come our way. It helps us grow. If we just keep on doing the same things over and over, it is like you living in a program. We are not born robots and we should not live like one.

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    Team Blue Bloods vs. Team Diarrhea (Diarrhea won Paglaolympics)
  3. Make new friends. Most of the people I knew booked in another hostel and I felt quite uneasy the minute I arrive (my anti social side always kicks in). I did not know anyone and it was great because at the end of the trip, I made a lot of new friends. Sometimes, we have to leave our usual circle to get new perspectives on life.

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    Enjoying the waves as they kiss the shore.
  4. Live in the present. Everyday, you would normally seeing me posting a lot in FB about different things but while in Siargao, I was too engrossed in what was happening locally so I barely had time to post or read anything. This somewhat reminded me to really make it a point to disconnect regularly to connect with the real world. I’m a bit slow on this but I am making progress. Count moments not milestones.

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    Fail at the swing
  5. It is perfectly normal to make mistakes. When I started driving the scooter, I was so scared of making mistakes that in the end, someone still hit me at the back. I know motorbikes are not good examples but it does tell you that you can be extremely careful but there will be things beyond your control and it is completely fine to just make mistakes (as long as it is not deadly).

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    Channeling the inner monkey at Secret Spot
  6. Dare to do something you have never done before. The countdown was finished and everyone was already partying yet I was standing there still worrying about a lot of things. Should I do it? What will people say? Will I mess up? These are my normal mind prompts when faced with having to do something out of my usual and often I normally let them win. All my what if’s stopped me a lot of times from enjoying. I would rather do what others expect of me than what I would like to do. This has led me to a lot of regrets. This was also one reason why I ended up in Siargao, I never celebrated New Year outside of house or away from people I know and for the first time I did. It did not kill me, in fact, it was one of the good decisions I have made despite one huge mistake. I enjoyed the night of dancing with friends and saying hi to strangers.

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    Andrea checking out the waves
  7. Ride the waves. I haven’t done this in Siargao (Unfortunately!) However, I saw it a lot and noticed how it was so close to real life. We all have our struggles and sometimes we just want to give up but that should not be our primary reflex. If you just ride the waves, the whole process will give you joy. Waves are there to challenge your strenght and build your character. Each wave you ride adds up to your beautiful story.

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    Drinks and fire at Guyam Island
  8. Trust people. There were instances where I let people I barely knew drive the motorbike because of the unpaved roads and normally I would never do that. I have trust issues. I always think that people will fail me and in the end it will hurt me but in Siargao, I learned to not think about this and just believe in the goodness of people. Another instance was when I was pissed and decided to walk home to the hostel, there was one habal-habal driver who asked me if I needed help. I turned him down and 500 meters later. I was nowhere near the hostel and my phone was dead. I had no way to know where I was since it was my first night there and I greatly relied on my map app. I luckily chanced upon two nice street sweepers who showed me the way and finally trusted a driver to take me there. Nothing bad happened to me and I arrived safely. With the crazy world we now live in, trusting people has become more difficult than ever but it does not make the world better to be part of the cynics either. When you trust people, they also feel good about themselves. So instead of being negative, just be positive.

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    The annoyed kid :))
  9. Do not judge. We tend to have our own prejudice on different people. I had a terrible judgement of one of the habal-habal (motorbike) drivers. It was the first night at Siargao and I realised everyone already left. I did not have a ride and had a number of drinks. I was pissed and decided to just walk back to the hostel (not a good idea if you are new to the place). As I walk through the pitch dark road, I heard a man calling out, ‘Do you need a ride?’. I replied with a loud, ‘No’. He did not leave right away and he wanted to check if I was sure. Stubborn as I am, I told him to leave me alone and he did. After 30 minutes of walking and following the gps, my phone died and I ended up in town with two guys sweeping the street. I tried to ask them the way back to the hostel but I was not sober enough to remember. Finally, I gave up and just decided to get a motorbike driver. I arrived in the hostel safe and sound. The next day, I needed to go around so I decided to rent a motorbike (did not shower yet) so I walked back to town and then a driver called me. He was the guy who offered me a ride. All the while I thought he was just being nice to get more money but he went out of his way to find me a scooter. Being in the big city, people tend to use you a lot and then you become cynical. You start to categorise people without second thoughts. The incident reminded me that some people may look devious but they can be good natured.15822598_10154777794348329_6934201963544954634_n.jpg
  10. Enjoy the simple things. Siargao is still an under developed area. Although, there are several resorts most of the areas remain provincial and some roads still do not have streetlights or pavement. I enjoyed the rawness of the area. It is this simplicity that truly made my motorbike trips around the island pleasurable. The thought of adventure, the smell of fresh air and the unending lush greens, these made me happy and it was for free! As a city girl, I have moments where I just unwind by purchasing things that I probably would not ever need and this is what capitalism thought us. Money can buy happiness! I do not agree completely (although it can make me a bit happier if I get my dive master license and funding to educate more Filipinos) because this kind of happiness does not last long specially if it is just to buy objects. There are a lot of good things in this world that is free. Like the love of your family and friends and the beauty of nature, you do not need to break your bank to be happy.
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Finally getting the hang of it!

Getting to, being in and leaving Siargao were all equally memorable. I thought that spending four days in the island is enough. I was wrong, very wrong! I am grateful for having met different people through the trip they were good reminders and inspiration. I cannot wait to be back in Paglaom Hostel this May (to finally catch my first wave)!

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Weekend Wandering: 2016 El Nido Trip

Here’s a short video clip of what I did during the recent El Nido trip.

I just added a new video to my YouTube after a long hiatus from vlogging!

Here’s a short compilation clip from my recent trip to El Nido.

Will be working on posting more travel content!

Diving in Cebu: Shark Diving in Malapascua Island

As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

According to some stories, some Spaniards have been sailing through the Visayas in the year of 1520 and ended up stranded on Malapascua on Christmas Day because of the unfortunate incident they called the island Mala Pascua, which literally means “Bad Christmas”. I am not certain how they could’ve thought it was bad luck to be in a beautiful island. Although the older local people still insist that their island’s name is “Logon” (same name as the main village here on Malapascua) and not Malapscua. This island a popular dive destination in the Philippines. The picturesque island is home to a world famous treasure. A special kind of shark, the thresher shark. As a young animal lover, I have always dreamed of seeing sharks and swimming next to them. I remember staying up late to watch dive expeditions being shown on National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Diving with the thresher sharks was part of my dive bucketlist.

To get to Malapascua is not that quick, from Cebu City, you will have to take the bus all the way to Maya which takes about 5 hours. For my trip, I took the bus to Bogo  and stayed there for the night. The following morning we took the bus from Bogo City to Maya Port. I enjoyed the bus ride as it passed through rice fields and mangrove forests. When we reached Maya Port, the locals immediately asked if we were heading to Malapascua. I was told that the usual price is 80 PHP but we arrived a bit late (most boats don’t go to Malapascua in the afternoon unless you charter them because of the current) so we had to just say yes to them.

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Malapascua from a distance.

The weather was on our side that day despite warnings of thunderstorms that weekend. I sat and enjoyed the calming sea breeze for 30 minutes as the boat sailed smoothly over the placid sea. The other passengers looked like babies on a cradle slowly falling asleep.

Malapascua Island
Malapascua somehow reminds me of Boracay in a less touristy way.

Unknown to many, 2 years ago, Malapascua Island was also one of the islands ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Expats and locals both pitched in to recover from the destruction and while I was walking around there were little traces.

Bangkas in Malapascua
Clear blue skies and white sand.

We did not make any prior bookings relying on the fact that it was off season in the island. It was not difficult to find accomodations. I saw more than 10 resorts all lining the coast of Malapascua. More than a decade ago, I visited the island as part of my mother’s regular company outing. I could barely remember the details of the island and would’ve gotten lost if not for Lucas. He already went to Malapascua several times for diving.  I am always embarrassed when people ask me where I did my dives ( I probably did more dives in Mabul and Sipadan than in my own country). It was my first dive in Cebu by the way! Anyways, we headed to French Kiss Divers first to try squeezing in a dive for that day (we needed vitamin Sea so much that they anyways their local staff thought I was Thai, not sure if I should be happy or not). They were nice enough to schedule a 3:30 PM dive.

Boat
Serene view.

After taking care of our dive for the day, we headed to Malapascua Exotic Island Dive & Beach Resort. Exotic is one of the established resorts on the island and they offer budget accomodations (for those who want to spend more on dives than their beds). We left our bags and had a quick lunch (they had a wide variety of dishes and the servings were good). Once we filled our stomachs, we walked back to French Kiss to prepare the dive gears and do all the necessary equipment check.

BCDs are ready!
The view just makes you want to jump right in without your gears.

Shark diving is the main activity in the island but you can also do macro-diving. Malapascua offers sandy bottoms, seagrass meadows, mangroves and coral reefs. The island has other top class dive sites apart from Malapascua such as Gato Island, Lapus Lapus and Dakit Dakit. If you are spending more days in the island, you can even hire a boat to take you to Kalanggaman Island in Palompon.

Here is a map I created to show you a few of the different sites:

DEEP SLOPE

Our first dive was at Deep Slope which was a unique underwater sand dune that slowly turns into a small wall which is covered with soft corals.  Pygmy seahorses, yellow and pink ones can be seen inside the different sea fans along that reef.  An interesting dive site for more experienced beginners and advanced divers. For beginners, you need to be aware of the slope and make sure to always check your dive computer to avoid diving beyond your limit. While doing the dive, I got a bit nervous when we suddenly saw a banded sea snake (more than a meter long) swimming along the reef wall (FYI: I hate snakes and centipedes).

Continue reading “Diving in Cebu: Shark Diving in Malapascua Island”

24 Hours in Camiguin

Sunny noon, the bus stopped right in front of Jagna Public Market. We were beaming with smiles from Loboc, thinking that we calculated our time well to make it to the 1:00 P.M. trip. My mind filled with thoughts of white sand and turquoise waters of the volcanic island. We had high hopes that we will see Camiguin before the sun sets. Much to our surprise, they have changed the schedule. On their website it said that the time of departure was 1:00 P.M but they have not updated their websites for months (I generally have trust issues with most bus and ferry websites in the Philippines because they rarely update). When we decided to go to Bohol, it was because we found out that there was an alternative route to go to Camiguin. I researched on places to visit and double checked everything except for the schedule to Camiguin. That time I was only worried if the ferry trip even existed so when they confirmed it did, I assumed it never changed (Insert Don Miguel Ruiz’s Second Agreement , Do Not Assume). First lesson learned was to always confirm with the shipping lines (Shuttle Ferry / phone: 088 387 40 34).

The unfortunate incident led us to do the Sierra Bullones trail, losing a day for Camiguin. Next morning, we woke up by 7 a.m. Like de ja vu we walked to the port area, but this time we finally make it to the ship bound for Camiguin.  The cost to cross from Jagna to Balbagon was  PHP 425 for the ferry and PHP 5 terminal fee.

Balbagon Port
After 4 hours on the boat, we finally docked at Balbagon Port and said hello to the Island Born of Fire.

After getting off the boat, we then headed to hire a motorela ( a customized single motorcycle that could fit 10 people. ) to got to our resort. Of course, we tried to haggle and since they do not have a set price, most of the drivers tried to charge PHP250. We found one who agreed to P180 but in the end he did not have change so it was still PHP 200.

Camiguin Action Geckos
The view of the resort from the beach.

When we reached Camiguin Action Geckos Dive and Adventure Resort, we checked-in (the staff was happy to finally see us). We booked their traveler room with fan and shared CR and bathroom (cold water) for PHP 900 which was  value for money.

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The area was not touristy though there were nearby resort.
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Fine black sand

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If I can only live like this forever!

After going around the resort and settling down, we chatted with the manager and he gave us a map and tips on where to go. It was already lunch time so we decided to save time by grabbing lunch there. Their meals ranged from PHP 100-300 and they have a separate menu for vegetarians!

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Pasta for the hungry me.

Another plus with the resort is they have scooters for rent which cost PHP 500 for a day, so we grabbed our helmets and headed to Paras Beach Resort where we can get a boat for White Island. The local government of Camiguin has set a standard fee for hiring the bangkas or the outrigger boats for roundtrip costs PHP 450.00/good for 6 persons and Environmental Fee for PHP 20.00/ per person.

Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.
Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.
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The outrigger boat from Paras takes roughly 10 minutes to reach White Island.
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Lunch time is probably the best time to visit since most Filipinos do not want to get a tan.

 

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For 20 minutes, we had the entire sandbar for ourselves.
underwater selfie
Underwater selfies are difficult.

Little marine life in the shallow parts of the island.

Camiguin in one shot
Camiguin in one shot

We spent an hour basking in the sun, taking photos and swimming in the clear waters (we brought our own swimming masks which saved us P150).  We left the island around 2:00 P.M. just when others started arriving. Our next stop would be in Catarman to view the Sunken Cemetery.

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If you want to snorkel or dive, you have to register in the baranggay hall.

It took us about 30 minutes to reach Catarman, some of the roads were under construction (elections is coming) and we were amateurs in driving scooters. The idea of snorkelling over graves did not really excite us so we just took photos and left.

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You can see the cross from the viewing deck.

Couple of minutes from the Sunken Cemetery, you will see the Way of the Cross and the Old Church Ruins, both of which did not interest us so we did not bother to stop and went straight for the Bura Soda Water Spring.

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Trying to sneak a selfie with the scooter’s side mirror.

The soda spring had a distinct smell and I never found out where it came from. Anyways the entrance to the water park was Php60.00. It was a good refreshing dip to cool down after not having rinsed the salt water from White Island.

Soda Water
Bura Soda Water Park

We started getting cold and decided to go to the next destination, Katibawasan Falls by 4:00P.M. We were very motivated to add couple more stops to the half day tour. To get into Katibawasan Falls, you will need to pay PHP 60 per person. Before heading to the falls, we decided to have a quick snack. You can find several kiosks and souvenir shops right outside the entrace.

Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.
Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.

Non athletic and adventurous people need not worry about walking far to the waterfalls. They have build concrete walkway which makes it convenient (the only problem would be if you have knee issues since it is quite steep).

Katibawasan Falls
As how Lonely Planet describes it : A beautiful clear stream of water dropping more than 70m to a plunge pool where you can swim and picnic.
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Had the brilliant idea of taking this photo!

When we reached the waterfall, there were only 4 people with us. We had a tranquil moment as we enjoyed the chilly waters. If you plan to swim right to where the water drops, you will be disappointed as it is not allowed due to several accidents in the past.

Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls
Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls

The water was too cold for us and we were already shivering so we decided to catch the sunset at PHIVOLCS Observatory. It was sort of a Fast and Furious chase scene as we desperately tried to head to the main town of Mambajao (thank God for good concrete roads).

The view while we were trying to reach the observatory for a better view of the sunset.
As we were making our way to the observatory, the sun was teasing us.

After 30 minutes of driving like crazy (not the unsafe kind), we made it to the observatory.

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We managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset.

 

The full view
The full view
The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.
The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.

Normally, sunsets mark the end of the day, but for us it was not the last stop before calling it a day. We got back on our scooter and headed to Ardent Hot Springs. The entrance costs PHP 30 per person. The springs are still surrounded by trees and foliage and commercial shops. It gets very busy on weekends specially at night. The day we visited was no exception. This was our last stop for the day and we rewarded ourselves with a generous serving of pork sinigang and chopsuey from Ardent’s restaurant.

Ardent Hot Spring
Ardent Hot Spring

After devouring the food we went to take a dip. The water temperature did not meet my expectation. It was not warm like that from a hot shower.It was only lukewarm that night. We tried to find a hot area. We moved back and forth and in the end, we gave up and decided to head back to our room. As we made our way back into the main road, I needed to find mobile credits (disadvantages of prepaid) so we went around the town proper. It seemed like destiny that I would chance upon a Vjandep shop.  They were the most known bakers of pastel (Spanish word for cake) which was bread filled with custard or yema. The sweet tooth in me was celebrating. This bread was reminiscent of the time when I used to love dip sliced white bread into condensed milk.  I bought several boxes for me and as pasalubong for my sister. They had a box of 6 for PHP 70 and a box of 12 for PHP120.

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Pastel should be a sin!

I went back to the resort happy with my box of pastel. We ordered brewed coffee to pair with the pastel and enjoyed our dessert as we sat outside looking out to the shore and listening to the waves crashing. It was a hectic yet fun day and I felt that we were part of Amazing Race (I’m sure we can be good competitors if given the opportunity).

The next day, we woke up around  7:00 A.M refreshed and hyped to do a dive. We grabbed a heavy breakfast and checked our dive gears. It was the last for our day itinerary in Camiguin, a fun dive at White Island.

My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!
My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!

We finished diving around 11:00 P.M., we had enough time to shower, pack and check out. We then waited for a motorela to pass by the main road. We waited for a while before we managed to get one who charged us PHP 250 (we we desperate this time to not miss the boat so we just said yes in a heartbeat).

As we boarded the ferry, we wished we could’ve spent more time in Camiguin. We missed diving in Mantigue Island  and climbing Mt. Hibok-Hibok but as what one driver said to us, “This is why there is such a thing as second time”. 
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We will definitely be back.

Reaching Jagna Port
Reaching Jagna Port

From Jagna Port, you can get a direct van to Tagbilaran City for PHP 100. We arrived on time to make it to Ocean Jet’s last trip for Cebu.

Sunset over Tagbilaran Port
Sunset over Tagbilaran Port

Offbeat Bohol : Loboc – Jagna – Sierra Bullones Trail

Think you have seen all of Bohol? This might change your mind.

My dad is from Bohol, from an early age, I have already seen most of the touristic places in this beautiful island. Everytime we visited we always followed the usual route. Swimming at Alona Beach in Panglao then a day trip to Chocolate Hills in Carmen and stops in Loboc to for the river cruise and at Carmen to see the tarsiers. For a moment I thought I already explored Bohol well enough. When I found out that there was a long weekend, I decided to challenge conventions and carve out a different path.

The original plan was just to stay for one night in Bohol since we wanted to go from Jagna to Camiguin to spend more time there. We left Cebu City around 4:00 P.M. OceanJet offers P600 roundtrip Cebu-Tagbilaran. It was a 3 hour boat ride and sunset  greeted as we docked in Tagbilaran port.

Sunset in Bohol
The sun sets as the fastcraft docks in the Port of Bohol.

When we reached Tagbiliran port, we immediately followed the directions that most of the travel blogs wrote on how to get to Loboc ( located 26km. east of Bohol). People do not usually stay in Loboc, most of the crowd would flock to Panglao. Loboc is just one of the popular stops when doing a tour around Bohol. It is famous for the river cruises and the nearby Tarsier Conservatory. We chose to stay at Loboc because it was nearer to Jagna and to avoid tourists.

Getting a tricycle is not a big problem but finding a reasonable driver to give you a local price is, so we walked for a bit to the main road. We managed to get a cheaper one eventually. We headed to Dao Central Terminal which was right across Island City Mall. One thing a traveller should remember when going around the Philippines or any place for that matter is to always have a plan B. I did not expect that the jeepney bound for Loboc had specific schedules so we ended up going back to the plaza where the other jeepneys were. Luckily, we managed to get inside the last jeepney.

Filipinos in the jeepney.
How many heads can you count? This is what I call “Filipino capacity”.

It was a tight squeeze as they had people sitting in the aisle with wooden stools. If they cared about making the passengers comfortably sitted, one side would fit 10 max but since it is Filipino capacity there were 12 people on each sides and 6 sitting in the middle. We had huge luggage with us and for a while we worried about it. The good thing is the fact that most jeepneys have space on top. It took us 40 minutes to reach Loboc ( probably 20 minutes if there were less stops). When we reached the landmark of the place we booked, it was pitch dark and we had to use our flashlights. We barely noticed Loboc River on our right side as we walked through the dirt road. It was very tranquil and you can hear all sorts of sounds echoing from different critters. Relieved not to have a lot of people walking about asking you to buy stuff or have a massage, something that you would normally experience when staying around Panglao.

Pitch black
Darkness greeted us on our arrival.

We finally reached Fox and the Firefly Cottages but then realised that we booked the wrong night. Luckily there was no one occupying the room so the receptionist just let us stay. We woke up with a beautiful site. The place was serene and surrounded by lush greens.

Fox and Firefly Resort
The Fox and Firefly Resort offers a cozy and unique option for those tired of the beach.
Morning View
Good morning Loboc!
Fox
The local fox looking all pensive.
Shell Chandelier
The details matter.
Dragonfly
My spectator during shower time.
Outdoor Shower
My favorite part in Fox and the Firefly. I wish I had my own outdoor shower.

After having our hot shower and grabbing breakfast, we had 4 hours to kill so we went for a 1 hour paddle tour. I have never tried paddle boarding but I have been on top of a long board and a kayak so I did not worry much about the idea of falling over.

Paddle boards galore
The others went for the full day tour.

The tour guide first taught us the basics of finding the proper length for the paddle and the proper way to stand on the board. It was really not that difficult. You will only have trouble if you cannot balance well.

Loboc River
The magnificent Loboc river.

After the tutorial, we started the tour. The guide just went with us to make sure we were safe. I did expect him to tell a thing or two about the river but he didn’t. He was nice enough to take photos of us paddling across the river.

Sky's reflection
The weather was perfect.
Me Paddling
I always wanted to try paddleboarding.
Effortless along Loboc
An hour of paddling was not much of a challenge.

The paddle tour ended near the Loboc River Resort, we thought we needed to paddle back to the cottages but we got picked up by their multicab. It was a relaxing tour and the hour spent was really worth it. It would have been better if we did the full day since the 1 hour tour was P800 for each person.

Buko
Refreshing buko after the paddle tour.

It was already 10:00 a.m. and I initially planned to leave by then, we had to rush to the main road to catch the jeepney.

Path
The paved road to Fox and Firefly

We waited for at least 30 minutes before we got on a jeepney. There were more jeepneys heading to Loboc than heading out. At one moment, I considered hitching a ride with a bunch of locals but did not take the risk.

Loay bound
Jeepney heading to Loay Market

It did not take long to reach Loay Public Market and in less than 10 minutes we found a bus heading for Jagna.

Loay Public Market
Loay Public Market, where most of the buses heading to Jagna stops.

The only problem with the bus is that it was full. We had to stand near the doors and had to move back each time the conductor would shout, “Naay manaog!”, which in Visayan means someone is getting off. It took longer than expected with all the stops.

Filipino Capacity
Nothing like a full bus to keep you up!
The hot road.
The hot road.

Two hours later, we reached Jagna, only to find out that the ferry to Camiguin left at 8 a.m that the schedule I knew was not updated. So we had no choice but to stay in Jagna for the night. Jagna, a historical port town on the southern coast of Bohol is also known only as a stopover before heading to Camiguin and its delicacy called Calamay (sweet sticky rice packaged inside a coconut shell). The good thing of me being obssessive compulsive was I did my research on the town and had a list of places where we could eat and stay.

Idea Pension house is not like your ordinary bed and breakfast. It is a project of a 25 year-old organisation IDEA, where they provided employment, training and housing to the deaf around Visayas.  When the driver dropped us of we were wondering where the pension house since we only saw a cafe. We walked in and found out that it is within the same building. We booked a room for the night. Their accommodation came with free breakfast and WiFi. It was a good deal and we felt good that we were supporting a good cause.

IDEA Cafe Menu
You also learn some sign languages in their menu.
Pancakes and Bacon
Pancakes and bacon! You can never go wrong (if you are a carnivore that is).

It was still 3p.m., we were looking for things to do around Jagna, they have a nearby waterfall and a spring reservoir. Later, we reached a conclusion and decided to go to Chocolate Hills since it was his first time in Bohol. I did not want him to miss Bohol’s iconic geological wonder. In Tagbilaran City, it would be easy to find motorbikes for rent  but it was the contrary in Jagna, since people barely stay there, there was little market for it. The pension house was just walking distance from the public market so we went there to try to find a way to head to Chocolate Hills.

We had to bargain ( being with a foreign guy did not help). We asked around and most of the habal-habal drivers (extended motorcycle that could fit up to 6 people) wanted to charge us P2,000 which was ridiculous. Going back on the bus to Loboc was also not an option because it would take us another two hours. We ended up with an old guy who finally agreed to take us to and from Chocolate Hills for P1,000.

Roads of Sierra Bullones
Long and winding roads of Sierra Bullones offers a pleasant drive to the hills.

It was a pleasant ride through the hills of Sierra Bullones. Located at the interior part of the province, the municipality of Sierra Bullones was a place of refuge for insurgents during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. After the road construction, more people started settling in and started farming. The roads were surprisingly smooth and well paved. Apparently, it was as a national highway but people rarely pass there.

Magnificent view above Bohol
I have never seen this view of Bohol.

As we went through the road, we saw several rice terraces. I have never known this about Bohol so it was cool to know it. After an hour on the motorbike ( my butt hurt), we finally reached Chocolate Hills. It was funny while paying the entrance fee, one woman was saying that we really needed to buy water because it was 250 steps to reach the top of the viewing deck ( maybe a lot of people find it already tiring but since I love walking, it was easy).

Bohol Chocolate Hills
My 2015 version of the cliche photo of Chocolate Hills

Since it was a top tourist stop, you would normally have to wait for your turn to take a photo of the hills. Somehow Chocolate Hills always gives me this alien vibe. The view is just out of this world.

Less Photographed View
Another perspective from the viewing deck. The less photographed side.

Last 2013, the viewing deck was destroyed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake including the old churches around Bohol. Until now, you can still see remnants of the disaster. You will see the site landmark on the ground. You can still help in the rebuilding here.

Origin of Chocolate Hills
A scientific explanation to how Chocolate Hills were formed.

We grabbed some ice cream and water to cool down, we stayed for an hour on the viewing deck to rest our butts. The driver took us through the Sierra Bullones again as the sun sets. He was very happy to get paid that much (he was even showing us where he lived), he said that it was good that travellers like us decided to stay in the less popular places as it helps the local earn more.When we reached Jagna, we had a light dinner and headed back to the pension house to prepare for the morning trip to Camiguin.

Sunset over Sierra Bullones
Sun was slowly fading as we head back to Jagna

It was a nice cap off as we saw the starts shining over us and the cool breeze slowly calling us to sleep. As part Boholana, I saw my father’s province ( with an area of 4,821 km²) in a different perspective far from the popular beaches and more into the historical and geological ones.

Indeed, you can never be too familiar with one place. There will always be a different facade waiting for you to discover.

Browse over the gallery more photos of the adventure.

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Diving in Camiguin

The second smallest island in the Philippines is more than an island born of fire. Read about my dive trip in Camiguin.

“Island Born of Fire”, Camiguin is the second smallest island of the Philippines in area and in population and yet it offers a lot to travellers. In this island, you can create your own adventure, whether it is visiting the old ruins, swimming in refreshing springs or in my case diving.

Camiguin
Small but a lot to offer.

I have already visited Camiguin 9 years ago with my mother but then I was doing the usual day tour around the island. This time around was different. First my mom is not around travelling with me (she worries when I dive even when I swim in the deep) and second because I am a diver.

On the bangka
On our way back from White Island.

We stayed at Camiguin Action Geckos Dive and Adventure Resort. It was a popular place to stay for divers and even non-divers (they are top 1 in TripAdvisor for hotels in Mambajao). Unfortunately, we arrived a day late because of the change in ferry schedules from Jagna Port to Balbagon Port, before it used to leave Bohol around 1:00 PM and from Camiguin 8:00 PM but this time the ferry left Bohol 8:00 AM and I arrived 12:30 at Jagna. It was sad to not have enough time in Camiguin.

Dive Map of Camiguin
Dive sites around Camiguin

I was only limited to a dive (disadvantages of having a normal 9-5 job) and since we had to leave before noon, we decided to dive in White Island. The sandbar is roughly 10 minutes away from the resort.

White Island is an upper reef slope. The site is a Japanese garden with dense coral growth and diversity. It offers a forest of black corals on white sand. Common marine life seen are Sting rays, Moray Eel, Lion Fish, Frog Fish, Ribbon Eels, Orange (Cerianthus) Tube Anemones  and Sea Snakes.

Depth: 6-20m.
Visibility: 10m.
Current: Strong
Temperature: 25° C

Underwater
Sandy bottom
Lionfish
A lionfish hiding.
Moral Eel
A Moray Eel peeks out of its hiding place.
Green Sea Turtle
A green sea turtle swims away.
Green Sea Turtle
The second green sea turtle swims across the corals.

We got lucky during the dive, saw 4 green sea turtles and a hawksbill turtle. I never expected to see that much in one dive. The dive instructor said that it is still a good place to dive because Camiguin is not commercialised like in Bohol. It took only this dive to convince me to go back to Camiguin. Next time I will not miss Mantigue Island.

More than fire, Camiguin is an underwater paradise!

If you are not into diving, I will be sharing more about Camiguin in the next post.

My Untold Tacloban Story

January 5, 2015 started with the sun slowly beaming over the mountainous horizon. I woke up to the sight of Allen Port, the ship has finally reached Visayas. After 30 hours of travel by land and 2 hours on the ferry, I knew that my life has reached a full restart. I kept repeating “Tabula Rasa” in my head.

Traditional Costume

I will never go back to Tacloban! I swore myself this 4 years ago out of scorn. It was after I joined Ms. Pintados and lost. It was such a big dismay, I felt that I deserved at least a spot in the top five. I felt cheated and clueless. I did not know of the reasons for my exclusion in the final five.

Photoshoot at Rafael's Farm
Swimsuit Shoot at Rafael’s Farm

I felt that my performance was flawless, that they had no real reasons. It was impossible for me to mess up. I tried to see the logic behind my defeat. Perhaps because I was not a local or politics.

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I felt humiliated that night, after all, I already had enough experience. As the night ended, I was certain that I would never set my foot in Tacloban again.

I buried all that in my past til Typhoon Haiyan came. I could not help but put myself in the same situation. I almost perished during the Ormoc Flood of 1991, one of the worst natural calamities with more than 5,000 people dead. I was one of those children who would queue up for food and clothes.

As news broke of the terrible devastation, I donated half of the clothes I owned and my camping gears ( it was nothing major, I had a yearly tradition of giving away half of the clothes I own as to be a minimalist). I headed to Red Cross to join the other volunteers in the repacking but I felt I could do more.

Repacking at Red Cross Boni
Repacking at Red Cross Boni

After a couple of days, I ended up in Villamor Air Base as one of the head marshalls over seeing the flow of evacuees from Tacloban. When I went home, I was also an online volunteer, encoding all the names of the survivors of several baranggays. Although, I was doing a lot and barely getting any sleep, I felt that I needed to do more.

They called us Team Avengers after receiving 3000+ evacuees working as head marshalls for 100+ volunteers.
They called us Team Avengers.

After Miss SCUBA International 2013, I decided to use the prize money to fund my own volunteer activities. I became close friends with the fellow Villamor Air Base volunteers (we ended up being collectively called “Team Avengers” for managing to organise the simultaneous arrival of 3,000+ evacuees with only 50 volunteers).

Bantayan group
Bantayan group

We decided to support the Bantayan Back to Sea project by DAMGO Inc. As we planned our trip, I realised that the C130 plane will drop us off at Tacloban City. The place I swore to never visit again.

Of all the moments I was growing up with a military officer for a father, I have only tried taking the C130 after Yolanda.
Of all the moments I was growing up with a military officer for a father, I have only tried taking the C130 after Yolanda.
First trip back to Tacloban.
First trip back to Tacloban.

Despite the promise, I swore to do more. After a couple of checks, we boarded the C130. Without proper ventilation or seats, it was like being inside a flying sauna.

Sweating!
Sweating!

Me and my fellow volunteers managed to meet other groups also on their way to Tacloban.

Together with volunteers from other organisations.
Together with volunteers from other organisations.

The flight seemed longer than I thought perhaps because I was feeling the sweat dripping from my forehead.

Fell asleep while on the plane despite the heat.
Fell asleep while on the plane despite the heat.

It was a spur of the moment trip, we had no idea what was before us. It took a lot of effort to reach Bantayan.

Heading to Bantayan.
Heading to Bantayan.

We had to take the van to Palompon but the ferry did not leave until the next day so we had to spend the night in their terminal. I slept on top of boxes of stuffed toys that someone from Manila donated.

The next day we took a ship to Cebu then another bus to Daan Bantayan and another hour-long trip on a ferry to Bantayan.

On our way to board the ferry for Bantayan.
On our way to board the ferry for Bantayan.

When we arrived at Bantayan, I realized how most of the locals thought they have no power to change the situation.

At the port of Bantayan
At the port of Bantayan

I was lucky enough to meet the people changing the current status like Mr. Allan Monreal, Michelle Lim and Mr. Francisco Pacheco Jr. I was all smiles when I heard all their projects because I have wanted to see more sustainable changes that would empower Filipino communities. Damgo sa Kaugmaon Inc., started from a grassroots project focusing on rebuilding the lives of fisherfolks by giving them back the livelihood that they lost.

Building boats
Helping out with the Bantayan Back to Sea program

After spending days in Bantayan, you get a feel of how it would be like if every Filipino see that they are not powerless, that they can change and make things better for themselves and for the community. I left Bantayan with lots of good memories and lessons learned. It reminded me of what I dream for this country and why I have not given up on it.

We can learn so much from children.
We can learn so much from children.
Temporary shelter in Bantayan
Temporary shelter in Bantayan

After that trip, the vivid images of Tacloban haunted me. It made me wonder if what I did was enough and if I could still do more. Luckily, I met some friends from Couchsurfing who were implementing a programme in Tacloban and they asked me if I wanted to volunteer. I could not make any commitments then being tied to contracts and commitments.

A sad reminder

A sad reminder

Resillience is innate in every child.
Resillience is innate in every child.

As months dragged on, I slowly forgot about Tacloban. I got side tracked by personal issues, to the point that city life became toxic for me. My life fell into a full paralysis. I was alive and yet dead from the inside. I would spend the money I earned to amuse myself with food and sights but it was an unquenchable thirst for significance.

10580039_10203036599570850_8055695129581708513_nAs December 2014 was ending, I meet the same friends who invited me for volunteer work in Tacloban. I remembered my unanswered question. I had lost everything in Manila and felt totally helpless. I needed to find a way to feel in control with my life again. I needed an escape.

January 5, 2015 started with the sun slowly beaming over the mountainous horizon. I woke up to the sight of Allen Port, the ship has finally reached Visayas. After 30 hours of travel by land and 2 hours on the ferry, I knew that my life has reached a full restart. I kept repeating “Tabula Rasa” in my head.

“Football for Life” was the name of the programme teaching children football as a for of psychosocial support.

A photo posted by Paula Bernasor (@happinas101) on Jan 20, 2015 at 2:55am PST

I lived in the staff house and received living allowance.

At the start, I felt useless and clueless but as the days passed, I found my niche in the programme implementation.

Finding a place in the field of dreams.
Finding a place in the field of dreams.

I met the coaches, the children and the rest of the people who were working to rebuild the city. Their stories were equally vivid and it inspired me a lot.

Football is Life
Football is Life
We are all in the same boat!
We are all in the same boat!

Life was simple, everything closes by 9p.m. and there were not much to do after work. For someone living in the city for years, I was a bit in a shock ( no Family Mart, Coffee Bean, Divisoria or even 7 Eleven ).

Sunset over Tacloban
Sunset over Tacloban

The things that I got used to in Makati, nowhere to be found (like my favourite whole wheat bread or fresh basil, definitely first world problems).

At the sidelines.
At the sidelines.

Being used to living the metropolitan life, I ended up drowning in all the materialistic cravings. Day after day, I slowly managed to get used to things (except for the slow internet which I will never get used to because they are abusing consumer rights and charging to much).

Girls stick together.
Girls stick together.

I met new people who shared the same ideals and as January ended, I knew I had to stay longer. I planned to spend my birthday in Sagada and the idea of being in the office on my birthday did not bother me at all. I felt that I was where I needed to be. February came to an end, unknowingly Tacloban seduced me into staying for almost 6 months.

With the Pintadas!
With the Pintadas!
All smiles with these kids.
All smiles with these kids.
My loyal stalker Sandra
My loyal stalker Sandra
Those solo nights at Jose Karlo's
Those solo nights at Jose Karlo’s
Fun moments of Wizard and crazy talks at Naning's!
Fun moments of Wizard and crazy talks at Naning’s!
My usual order of tapsilog from Rafael's
My usual order of tapsilog from Rafael’s

The simple routines: walking to the shared office arriving with excited Sandra (the resident dog who pretended to be my pet) running towards me, staying until midnight in Jose Karlo’s while listening to a confusing playlist, and hanging out after work or taking random trips with friends during weekends, brought happiness and contentment.

Jumping at Calvary Hills with the guys of A World of Football

June came and we had to face that the programme is about to end. During the assessment, I was confident that the programme will get another year as there is none like it in Tacloban.

F4L Kids with their new jerseys!
F4L Kids with their new jerseys!
Traces of devastation remains.
Traces of devastation remains.

Everyone was rebuilding physical structures, we were rebuilding dreams. I always joked around when some of my friends from university ask if I do not want to practice my profession as a nurse. I would respond, “I am nursing dreams here in Tacloban.”

Fun time with the kids
Fun time with the kids

I never planned on staying long but I felt it was necessary. The time spent in Tacloban was not only to help the children recover but to help myself as well. The city reflected the turmoil that was hidden in me.

A dream of freedom.
A dream of freedom.

It is now funny when I remember those last few days of December where I would cry out of hopelessness. Tacloban served as my totem. It reminded me daily of life, its fleeting moments of defeats and triumphs. Moments of destruction is often followed with rebirth, a delicate balance we all need to accept. We too often forget life’s duality, not worry too much because everything falls into place.

During the CAC coaches training.
During the CAC coaches training.

We all have to embrace our nomadic nature, it does not have to be changing places but in constantly changing our minds and hearts for the better.

Leave footprints that cannot be erased.
Leave footprints that cannot be erased.

To always be open to life’s challenges and adventure, to set foot into the unknown with full trust that good things will happen.

On to another journey!
On to another journey!

I was a lost nomad with an unset direction and unclear vision. What Tacloban gave me was the priceless gift of clarity and hope.

Build your own bridges and roads to get you where you want to be.
Build your own bridges and roads to get you where you want to be.

“Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose. There is in the world only one way, on which nobody can go, except you: where does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations