Category Archives: travel notes

It’s More Fun in the Philippines

It was really fun going through several years’ worth of photos to come up with this set, and the way that social media participation is really driving the hype around this campaign is great. Although of course, using social media has its risks, as the whole it’s-more-fun-in-the-philippines meme has also been used by people to point out the not so fun things about the Philippines. Some are in really bad taste, but some will also make you think.

But even while I was working on the images, I began to sense that my attention was already waning, and I found myself wondering what DOT has in store next after this initial hoopla. I’m hoping that beyond promoting the country’s destinations and how its people can make the tourist’s experience more fun, DOT will also work to make sure that the local communities hosting the tourist destinations fully benefit from tourism (not just the investors who may not even hail from the area). Of course, measures should also be undertaken to ensure that the ecological integrity of the area will not be compromised by the tourism-induced developments. Boracay is a magical island and all that, but it is NOT a best practice on how a tourist destination should be developed in this country.

For now, however, I decided that I’m supporting this, and that I will try to contribute to popularizing the positive things about this country without also being blind to its negative aspects (of which, goodness knows, there are also many). Highlight the positive, while working to fix the negative. And also, have fun 🙂

Previous blog posts featuring sites in this gallery:

Bohol – Bojol!
Batanes – Batanes overload
Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro –The Mountain and I are not One
Siquijor – That rare long weekend trip
Tour of the Fireflies (event)
Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi – haven’t blogged about this site yet, but here’s a great article written by one of the journalists that joined us on a visit there: Turtles teach life changing values like patience

As these will show you, yes, it can be more fun in the Philippines!

certified!

While a typhoon lashed at the country over Labor Day weekend, a group of six nervous but excited individuals squeezed into unfamiliar neoprene suits and fiddled with strange knobs and hoses.  It was the beginning of a long weekend, and we were taking up scuba diving.  Finally.

excited?

excited?

Scuba diving was one of those things that were in my “nice to do” things, but I never really gave it much serious thought until recently.  Diving seemed to be too complicated – the equipment too expensive, the wetsuit too tight for my tummy-conscious self, plus I’m not even a good swimmer – but all those stuff got swept away that weekend, and all that was left was the nervous but excited feeling as I strapped on the gear and breathed underwater for the first time.  It felt, needless to say, wonderful.

newly-certified!

newly-certified!

It was all that a great weekend ought to be – a new adventure, good food, good company, cold drinks, and, well, yes, videoke.  Add a little competitive spirit during the diving lectures and quizzes,  a boo-boo or two during the practical skills tests, and the magical combination whirls into place.  Memorable moments:

  • Abby refusing to perform the mask removal test in one of the open water dives until all of us have done it first, with instructor Ren pointing to his watch as if to say “Ano ba, anong petsa na?” when she tried to negotiate.
  • My butt popping back up to the surface when I tried to skin dive. I could hear the all the laughter even when I was underwater.
  • Striking all those crazy poses during the five-consecutive-shots-at-a-time group photos.
  • Me-Anne trying to go to deeper waters and Ren hauling her back by the fin.
  • Boss Romy running out of air in his tank for the first time in, I don’t know, decades.
  • Finally succeeding to skin dive – the secret was fixing my eyes on a fish down below and going for it.
  • Bobbing around aimlessly during the first Open Water dive, when buoyancy control was practically nonexistent and somebody kept having to inflate or deflate my BCD for me.  Boss Romy said we looked like lost kites fluttering every which way in the air. He also described us as being a “school of fish” – ang laki-laki raw ng dagat, nagsisiksikan kami sa isang lugar.  “Buti sana kung pare-pareho ng tingin e,” he further deadpanned. “E iba-iba ng direksyon.”  Like I said, neutral buoyancy did not come easily.
epekto ng equalization at rhum coke/wine

epekto ng equalization at rhum coke/wine

Diving, so the cliché goes, opens up a new world for you. This is one of the few times when I wouldn’t mind being a cliché.

Bojol!

Bohol's Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer

Bohol, our tour guide Roel claimed, has become the country’s top tourist destination, overtaking Boracay whose popularity has slipped due to pollution and congestion issues. I can’t verify his claim since the Department of Tourism website doesn’t have the info, but if it’s true, it does make sense.  Bohol offers a wide range of activities and points of interest – like Boracay, it also has beautiful beaches, but in addition to that, it also has old churches and watch towers, caves, the famed Loboc river cruise, the flagship species Philippine tarsier, and – what was that – oh – the Chocolate Hills.

Indeed, Bohol has got its tourist sites so down pat that you can hail any taxi driver passing by and he will be able to give you the standard tour.

The problem with that, of course, is that everything’s so standardized that you feel that you’re just following a well-trodden but narrow path, looking straight ahead but remaining oblivious to what goes on at either side.  Worse, you’re trudging along the path with hordes of other people elbowing each other out to get the best photo op.

In Chocolate Hills, for example, it requires a bit of speed and maneuvering to get good photos (and, of course, pose for photos) because of the large number of people milling about the relatively small viewing area (and you’d all end up taking similar-looking photos anyway, because you’re on the same vantage point). Photographers-for-hire and their hawkers/agents are also around offering to take the standard trick photos of people “holding” the hills, forming heart shapes, jumping, “flying” on broomsticks, and what-have-you.  I found the jumping and the flying broomstick photos both amusing and appalling at the same time, because as it turned out, they were trick photos in the real sense – people were just jumping in front of a huge tarp photo of the hills.  This is a fairly recent development, I learned. Apparently the area where people used to jump was fenced off after a kid almost fell down. Of course, all the tarp and printer set-ups ate up even more space in the crowded view deck.  I tried to think of ways to improve the situation, and found myself stumped. Erecting view decks in the other hills will ruin the vista. Imposing a limit on the number of people who can climb up and the time they can spend there may work, but it can be a hassle to visitors especially during peak season. Carefully-placed view decks, I guess, would be the most viable option.

In any case, there are still some ways by which one can try to stray a little off the beaten path in Bohol. Some pointers (I never got to do all these, mind you, these are just nuggets of wisdom borne of hindsight):

  • By all means still go and enjoy the standard attractions, but go for the less popular/alternative versions. For Chocolate Hills, go to the view deck in Sagbayan instead of Carmen town. To check out the tarsiers, ignore the riverside operators exhibiting captive ones in small enclosures; instead, check out the Tarsier Sanctuary in the town of Corella for a healthy trek through the woods and a chance to see tarsiers more or less in the wild.  For the Loboc river tour, I think we did check out an alternative option, in another part of the river which features a mini Ati tribe community instead of the waterfalls. Continue reading

oh how i love these long weekends…

rinawhen you just pack up your bags and go…

when you temporarily forget the messes/backlogs/issues you left behind because they’ll still be there when you get back anyway…

when you walk for hours and feel the wind on your face and ignore the little nagging compulsion to find an internet shop to check your mail…

when you get to feed your senses with the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and sensations of the exciting and the unknown…

when you enjoy yourself thoroughly and think, why don’t i do this more often?

damn, i’d really have to be super efficient and finish all these stuff at work today…

photo from last year’s amazing, amazing Batanes adventure

Top memories for 2008

Travels:

the hard parts finally over, here comes the rain!

  • Clambering up steep slopes in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.  I will never again attempt to climb a mountain without doing months of training/exercise beforehand.

  • Throwing up over the side of the boat en route to Itbayat, Batanes.  Over the side of the boat pa talaga, di man lang barf bag. How absolutely ladylike.

  • Riding topload at Batanes. The whole Batanes journey is actually one big highlight of the year. Definitely an unforgettable journey.
  • Biking to Angkor Wat.  On our third day at Siem Reap, Cambodia, we decided against another guided temple tour and just went around town on rented bikes. We still ended up going to the temple area though, making it to Angkor Wat just before sunset.  We sort of got lost (I still haven’t completely figured out how it happened; I blame it on the map) and ended up going there via the long way, which was just fine since it gave us the chance to spot this marker and have a photo op 🙂

indo-china-12511

  • Haggling at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh. I’m still not absolutely cutthroat at it but I’m getting there.
  • Walking up and down Khao San Road in Bangkok simply taking in the sights and sounds and smells and enjoying the banana pancakes.
  • Sampling tasty travel eats! Coconut crabs in Itbayat, Tonichi’s fish steak in Batan, delightful Hue-style pho in Saigon, discount breads in Siem Reap, etc… Continue reading

beauty, history, identity

Got this on my inbox today and I’m only too happy to share it. John Silva announced his updated National Museum tour dates for August and September, and if you’re the type who has never been to the place or have only seen it during a school field trip eons ago, I do recommend that you join a tour. For three hours, get a fun and fascinating ramble through time, exploring the country’s islands, peoples, languages; all the colorful little details, artifacts and stories that make us who we are. I joined a tour a few weeks ago, and it’s definitely something I recommend.

Tour dates and details:

Or visit John Silva’s blog at http://johnsilva.blogspot.com/

National Museum Tour and Binondo Food Trip

It’s my first time to visit the National Museum, I shamefacedly told John Silva during our guided tour. I was sitting down on the floor at the time, we were almost halfway through the three-hour tour and I wanted to rest my legs. He was standing in front of me, and upon hearing my remark he looked down at me and said sternly, “And you call yourself a Filipino?”

Now that was a bit harsh, really; surely that’s not the only measure of being an upstanding or good or whatever you call it Filipino. But still, he has a point. If you’re a Filipino, you have to have a deep awareness of and affinity with what that means, and what that has meant throughout the years. A trip to the National Museum makes us acutely aware of our country’s identity and its rich past, as expressed in art and cultural artifacts. Alas, the photos here are of course poor, poor approximations of the originals. You have to go there and see everything for yourself.

Continue reading