THROWBACK – A THRILL OF A LIFETIME: SWIMMING WITH THE GENTLE GIANT – THE BUTANDING

Location: Barangay Dancalan, Town of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Region V – Bicol Region, Philippines

 At this stage in our lives, my husband and I look forward to ticking off our bucket list. I’m sure you do too, dear Seniors! A unique local excitement in our list is to see the butanding in Donsol, and we finally got our chance when a family member invited us to Sorsogon for Holy Week 2017.

Now, you might ask, how do I get to Donsol? Good question!

You can ride a Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines’ plane, just an hour’s flight from Manila to Legazpi City, in the province of Albay. Private vans can be hired from the airport to Donsol, costing PHP2,500-3,000.

You can also use a public tricycle, at PHP50, from the airport to the Legazpi Central Terminal, a centralized public transport terminal for all buses, jeepneys and vans to/from Legazpi and other Bicol areas located in the parking area at the back of Savemore Supermarket in the city proper. Tell the driver to bring you to the Donsol section.

You can then opt to take a PUV (van, 12-16 pax) from the Legazpi Central Terminal to Donsol for PHP98 (per person), but the van has to be filled up before departure.

You can also take a 12-hour airconditioned bus ride from Manila to Legaspi (costing PHP850) or a 13-hour bus ride from Manila to Donsol (PHP650 – non-airconditioned bus; PHP900 – airconditioned bus). For the former, refer to the previous paragraph how to get to Donsol from the Legazpi Central Terminal. Just surf the bus companies that can bring you to these destinations.

Of course, you can use a private vehicle and enjoy the road trip with your companions. You can use the Waze app to guide you all the way to Sorsogon. That is what we did: a relative of ours was kind enough to use his vehicle to drive/join us from Manila to Sorsogon. It was a great time to bond, and, boy, did we have endless conversations and lots of laughs for 11 hours! We also made several stops along the way to refresh ourselves, and to eat.

If you do not have relatives or friends in Sorsogon where you can stay, do not fear. There are resorts, inns, pension houses, and homestays, just surf or inquire from the Donsol Municipal Tourism office (cell phone number 0927-4023814). I suggest that if you will go with a big group, reserve accommodations ahead of time especially during the peak season (April and May). It is also advisable to arrive the day before your butanding adventure, to ensure an early morning boat ride – the best time for this activity.

Now, for foreigners, what is a butanding? It is the local term for whale shark.

Philippines, Luzon, Sorsogon Province, Donsol, whale shark (Rhincodon typus)BUTANDING: The Gentle Giant (Photo by WWF)

For more than a century, these gentle giants have been visiting Donsol’s waters between November and June, peaking between February and May. The residents initially feared these enormous creatures. It took a group of scuba divers in December 1997 to prove that the fish was docile, and their videos were spread till Donsol became an exciting destination. Thus, on March 1998, whale shark watching became an official attraction of Donsol, regulated both by the local DOT office and the observance of WWFguidelines.(see Wikipedia page, “Donsol”.2)

For the readers who have a biology background, bear with me but I need to describe it somehow. As explained in the Wikipedia page, “Whale shark”.The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is 4 to 12 meters long, grey fish (with unique pale yellow spots and stripes), a white belly, 3 prominent ridges along its sides and 5 large pairs of gills. It can weigh up to 21 tons, has a wide and flat head with two small eyes at the front, has a very large (1.5 m or almost 5 feet wide) mouth (with 300-350 rows of tiny teeth and 10 filter pads which it uses to filter feed). Amazingly, this gentle giant only filter-feeds on the nutrient-rich plankton that flow into the sea from the Donsol River, among others, during the months I mentioned above.

The butanding has a lifespan of 70-100 years and only reaches sexual maturity at 30 years2 (oh, my dearest butanding, so sorry you have to wait that long!?). It is the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, the largest known extant fish species, the largest non-cetacean animal in the world, the sole member of the genus Rhincodon, and the only extant member of the family Rhincodontodae. It has a pair of dorsal fins and pectoral fins and its spiracles are just behind its eyes. Juveniles’ tails have a larger upper fin than lower fin while the adult tail becomes semilunate.2 A juvenile butanding can eat more than 20 kg of plankton a day and they migrate to feed. Donsol is so blessed for it is strategically located in waters teeming with natural planktons that seem like a smorgasbord for these creatures. And we, Filipinos, are so lucky to have this phenomenon in Donsol!

Wait, my dear Seniors, at this point I know what is going on in your senior-minds … Are you scared of the water and these huge butandings? Don’t be! They are huge, yes! But they are so gentle and would not even bite nor hurt you! Remember, we are the ones visiting them in their feeding grounds in Donsol, or wherever you go to see them. Just imagine being about 3-4 meters away from a giant creature which is peacefully swimming along and happily eating unlimited plankton!

In addition, you can request your guide to be right beside you when you jump in the water in time to marvel at the sight of this wonderful creature, just like slightly scared but so excited “me”. Your snorkel or diving mask will enable you can stay as long as possible under water, or at least put your head in the water, just to witness the butanding peacefully feeding and swimming quietly before your eyes. Your safety vest will automatically make you float. You will not regret doing this adventure of a lifetime! Promise!

Anyway, if your group is less than six, either pay the whole amount for a “banca” (boat) or be prepared to share the banca with other tourists. If you want to just walk in, come early, around 7:30 am, at the Butanding Visitors Center.

We arrived in Sorsogon on April 11. Let me say that the roads in Sorsogon are so well paved, clean and well-maintained. I enjoyed my early jogging and bonding with my husband and appreciated the well-paved sidewalk, constructed for safety and convenience for all who need to walk around the province.

1-Butanding Visitors Center                                                            The Butanding Visitors Center                                                          (Photo courtesy of Desiree Abitria, Donsol Municipal Tourism Office)

The day for our great Butanding Adventure started with a full breakfast. We, Seniors, did all our morning “rituals”, joined the rest of the group, rode a van, and got to the Butanding Visitors Center early, around 8am, so eager to participate in this magical experience!

Now, Seniors, you might ask, what do we bring, Tita S? For the ladies, bring a sturdy and waterproof beach bag where you can keep the following: towel, cellphone, power bank, waterproof GoPro to video your butanding encounter (or you can rent an underwater camera on site), snacks, bottled water, medicine/s, sunblock, aloe vera gel (just in case you get sunburned), etc. If you have your own diving mask/snorkel set and fins, bring them too! If not, no worries, these can be rented on site as well. For the gentlemen, a waterproof bag (my husband uses a 20-kg Ocean Pack) with more or less the same contents and whatever personal things you need for almost half a day.

We paid the required fees and filled up the appropriate forms. Please check if the following rates still apply: (1) the boat rental package for about 3 hours, including the services of a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO)/spotter/boatmen is 3,500 pesos per boat, strictly for a maximum of 6 persons (adult/child); (2) an environmental/registration fee of 100 pesos per Filipino visitor and 300 pesos per foreign visitor (This is indeed a good indication that the local government is overseeing and regulating this tourist activity so as not to exploit the gentle butanding!); and, (3) the rental for a diving mask/snorkel set and fins, if you did not bring any, is 300 pesos per set. As an option, you can rent an underwater camera to take pictures of this wonderful experience.

We were then ushered to a viewing room for the must-see instructional video presentation-orientation for whale watching. The safety regulations were (as far as my senior memory can recall): a maximum of 6 swimmers per whale shark; to stay 3 meters away from the head/body and 4 meters away from the tail; not to get in direct contact with the shark (touch or ride it) or restrict its movement; a maximum of 10 minute-swim per whale shark; and, flash photography is not allowed.

We were then given our snorkel with diving mask set, flippers, and life vest, after paying the rental fee. We did not forget to apply sunblock at least 15 minutes before we boarded the banca.

CjEkR1525191893Bancas waiting for your Butanding Adventure

Tips, dearest Seniors: 1. Be sure the rented swimming gears fit you so you will be comfortable in the water which is a bit dark and not so clear because of the rich plankton, the yummy food sought by the butanding; and, 2. If you have not used a snorkel for some time, try practicing how to place the diving mask tightly so the water will not enter when you plunge in the water. Place the snorkel in your mouth while in the boat and practice breathing with your mouth so you can stay longer to marvel at the butanding.

Philippines, Luzon, Sorsogon Province, Donsol, Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) giving a briefing before whale shark interactionThe Butanding Interaction Officer’s briefing (Photo by WWF)

We were assigned to, and briefed by, a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) who was responsible for the safety of the persons in the boat. He also signaled us, with great accuracy/timing, to jump into the water to swim/snorkel alongside the butanding. We were also assigned a banca with a competent whale spotter (the man who stands on the boat beam to locate the majestic butanding) and two boatmen. Once in the banca, we all secured our life vests and were all excited.

9d1lo1525192073Our spotter and two boatmen

Note that the number of sightings depends on the season and since it was April– what can I say – it’s Butanding’s Peak Season. So I said: “Dearest Gentle Giants, don’t be shy, here we come!”

When a butanding is spotted, the boat would sail in its direction. We were excited, as we sat at the side of the banca with our snorkels and fins on. The BIO then signaled us to jump into the water and oh, what an awesome sight to see it peacefully feeding/swimming alongside while you marvel at its size and beauty!

NCegalerba-JSzwemberg_Donsol__91I7264Photo by WWF

For seniors, if you are “sigurista” (prudent) like me, I suggest you jump with the BOI, or with your trusted partner (husband, friend) so you will experience it together! You get to see the butanding for a short while as it swims alongside your spot, but I tell you, it’s like time stood still every time I snorkeled to see it. Then off you go, back to the banca, eagerly awaiting the next jump.

I must confess that I easily get scared and excited but since this is one major activity in my bucket list, I went for it! I tell you, the first time you see the butanding, you would be overwhelmed, thrilled, and amazed at just how big it is, and be awed by its majestic beauty. It’s like being in another planet! I was able to see its monstrous mouth open, with its huge gills moving, and just gently gliding and passing by in front of me! Such a fantastic feeling of exhilaration every time I saw it! I saw two butandings and I will always talk about this experience for years to come.

Philippines, Luzon, Sorsogon Province, Donsol, boats waiting for whale sharkSnorkeling to see the Gentle Giant @ Donsol (Photo by WWF)

I even mentally apologized for disturbing their eating time: “Walang personalan. Ang layo ng pinanggalingan ko. Silip lang ako while you eat, ok?” (“Nothing personal. I came from far away. Allow me to only watch you eat, ok?”) “I will just watch you as near as I am allowed.”

I assure you, dear Seniors, after the first encounter with this creature, you will be more comfortable using the diving mask and snorkel and can stay longer in the water, so you can appreciate it even better. You will keep on asking the BOI/spotter to be more vigilant in locating this fish so you can again and again plunge into the water and enjoy the whole morning!

We sailed for about 3 hours, sighted about 5 butandings, and finally returned to the Center in time for lunch. A kind boatman used a hose to remove the sand from our feet before we entered the cemented area of the Center.

Seniors, better be sure that all swimming gears rented are returned, and acknowledged as complete. I recommend that you give a tip to the boat crew: the BIO, spotters, and boatmen; they all work so hard for a living and this is just a sign of your gratitude for such an incredible and fantastic experience!

Then, we took a bath and off we went to a sumptuous seafood buffet lunch! Life is good, thank you, Lord! One big check off my bucket list!

Dear Seniors, if I can do it, you can do it too! Add this unforgettable, awesome and ultimate underwater experience in your bucket list and go to Donsol this May! To make it more memorable, make it a family experience; we did and so can you! Achieve!

Next time, and God willing, I will try Donsol’s two night tours: the firefly tour and the shrimp-catching tour, as well as other tourist attractions in Donsol, Sorsogon City, and other parts of Sorsogon. These would all be exciting too! Just call beforehand to confirm if such tours are offered when you plan to visit Donsol.

Please note that there is no guarantee of seeing a butanding and no refund is given if this happens. So be sure to go in the morning and during peak season (April and May).

We were told that Oslob, Cebu, also offers butanding watching. Its waters are shallower and clearer so one can get clearer pictures of this beautiful creature. However, the boatmen feed the butanding. The choice is up to you! A lot of tourists go to both Donsol and Oslob.

Special thanks to the Escudero family for their warm hospitality. Thanks to MS. DESIREE AVITRIA of the Donsol Municipal Tourism Office for the WWF pictures and directions how to get to Donsol. Dearest Seniors, if you have any inquiries, you can call the said office: 09274023814.

Did you find this post informative? Have you experienced whale shark watching in Donsol, Oslob, other parts of the country, or abroad? I would love to hear from you. Simply scroll to the upper right corner of this post and click “Leave a comment”. Thank you. Do not forget to follow me by clicking “Follow” on the lower right corner of your device.

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 1WWF stands for World Wide Fund for Nature, the world’s largest conservation organization. It is an international non-governmental organization for wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment, according to the Wikipedia page, “World Wildlife Fund for Nature”. It was formerly called the World Wildlife Fund but the term is still used in North America.

2”Donsol,” accessed November 14, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donsol.

3”Whale shark,” accessed November 14, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark.

4“World Wide Fund for Nature,” accessed November 14, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Fund_for_Nature.

ANILAG FESTIVAL 2018: Hali na! Tara na! Masaya sa Laguna! (Come on! Let’s go! It is happy in Laguna!)

Location: Laguna Provincial Capitol Compound, J. P. Rizal Street, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Philippines

The Anilag Festival is a week-long celebration held yearly during the second week of March, in the Laguna Capitol grounds located in the town of Sta. Cruz. It started in 2004, changed to La Laguna in 2012, and renamed Anilag in 2016.1

For 2018, this festival is scheduled from March 10-17 and the theme is: “Sama-sama ang Pamilya sa Masayang Laguna” (Together as a Family for a Happy Laguna).2

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This festival is like a smorgasbord of daily activities which caters to all ages, gender and interests.

 

Z-4Carnival Rides, Anilag 2018 (February 24-March 17)

Carnival rides opened early, starting February 24 and will end on March 17 (Saturday, last day of ANILAG) for the kids and kids-at-heart.

Here is the calendar of events for ANILAG 20182:

Days 1-3Anilag 2018 – Schedule of Events: March 10-12

MARCH 10 (Saturday) is the first day of Anilag 2018. It started with a Heritage Fluvial Parade (4-7 am), followed by: a Thanksgiving Mass (7-8 am), Ecumenical Prayer & Formal Opening of ANILAG Festival 2018 (8-9 am), Opening of Trade Fair Exhibit & Competition (9-10 am), Lakbay Lawa Forum (10 am-12 noon), Street Dance Competition & Land Float Parade (3-10 pm), and Fireworks Display (12 am).

MARCH 11 (Sunday) is the second day of Anilag 2018. It started with the First ANILAG Color Run: “A Run for Mayon Evacuees” (5-7 am), “Mardi Gay” & LGBT Parade Queen (2-5 pm), and ANILAG Miss Laguna Gay Queen 2018 (8 pm-12 am).

MARCH 12 (Monday) is the third day of Anilag 2018. The morning show “Unang Hirit” covered the event (5-8 am), followed by: a Flag Raising Ceremony (8-9 am), Landscape Competition (10-11 am), Little Mister and Miss Laguna 2018 (3-5 pm), Enchanted Kingdom Magical Show (5-6 pm), and ended with BandANILAG: OPM Battle of the Bands (8-11 pm).

Days 4-6Anilag 2018 – Schedule of Events: March 13-15

MARCH 13 (Tuesday) is the fourth day of Anilag 2018. This day was full of activities: Drum and Lyre Competition (8-11 am), Ani-Laki and Fishery Contest (1-3 pm), Culinary Arts & Flairtending Competition (1-5 pm), Artisans Demo: Fruits, Vegetables & Ice Carving (2-5 pm), Pinakamagandang Lola ng Laguna 2018 (6-9 pm), and Dance Revolution: Inter-Collegiate Dance Battle (9-11 pm).

TODAY! MARCH 14 (Wednesday) is the fifth day of Anilag 2018. Three events are scheduled: a Job Fair (8 am-12 noon), Bird Show (8 am-5 pm), and Burdang Lumban, the Laguna Fashion Designers Competition and Wedding Cake Competition (8-10 pm).

TOMORROW! MARCH 15 (Thursday) is the fifth day of Anilag 2018. The following activities are scheduled: Palarong Pinoy Traditional Games (9 am-12 noon), 3D Street Art Compeititon and Water Color Competition for PWD (12 noon-2pm), ANILAG Singing Idol (4-6 pm), and Pre-Pageant: Ginoo at Binibining Laguna 2018 – Casual Wear (8-11 pm).

Days 7-8Anilag 2018 – Schedule of Events: March 16-17

DAY AFTER TOMORROW! MARCH 16 (Friday) is the sixth day of Anilag 2018. The following activities are scheduled: Corn Congress (8 am-5 pm), Tricycle/Motorcycle Show (8-11 am), Car Show Competition (8-11 am), and Coronation Night: Ginoo at Binibining Laguna 2018 (7-11 pm).

LAST DAY, GO WITH YOUR FAMILY THIS WEEKEND! MARCH 17 (Saturday) is the seventh and last day of Anilag 2018. The following activities are scheduled: Short Film: AdNILAG and Laguna Photo Contest (9 am-12 noon), Dog Show Compeititon (2-5 pm), Pyromusical Competition (7-8:30 pm), and People’s Night Extreme (8:30 pm).

Each town in Laguna was assigned a trade fair booth to decorate in order to showcase its local pride, products and tourists attractions.

Z-AlaminosALAMINOS BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of ALAMINOS highlights its religious patron saint, Nuestra Señora Del Pilar (or Our Lady of the Pillar, the name given to the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with Her apparition to Apostle James the Greater as he prayed by the banks of the Ebro at Caesaraugusta – Zaragoza, Spain, in AD 40).3

 

Z-BayBAY BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of BAY (pronounced “ba-eh”) replicates the facade of its church, St. Augustine Parish Church.

 

Z-BinanBIÑAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

 

Z-CalambaCALAMBA BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of CALAMBA CITY showcases its famous CALAMBANGA, a giant water clay pot which symbolizes part of the city’s name – “banga” with the names of all the 54 barangays inscripted on it.

 

Z-CaluaunCALAUAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of CALAUAN features a gigantic PINEAPPLE, its main product which is so sweet and juicy!

 

Z-CavintiCAVINTI BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of CAVINTI proudly shows its Guinness World Record for the LARGEST SAMBALILO HAT (13.05 meters, or 42 feet 9.7 inches, in diameter; 2 meters in height; 3 meters width of the central dome) as of August 1, 2016.

 

Z-FamyFAMY BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

 

Z-KalayaanKALAYAAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of KALAYAAN features its BUTTERFLY FARM for nature lovers.

 

Z-Los-BanosLOS BAÑOS BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The facade of the 2018 booth of Los Baños is a giant cake, honoring the town’s famous bake shop, Mernel’s Bakeshop.

Z-Los-Banos-2Various products, displayed and/or sold, inside the Los Baños booth

 

Z-LuisianaLUISIANA BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of LUISIANA features Pandanan, its San Isidro Festival, in honor of the patron saint of farmers, held every April 3.

 

Z-LumbanLUMBAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

Z-Lumban-2The 2018 booth of the town of LUMBAN, the “Embroidery Capital of the Philippines”, showcases various products.

 

Z-MabitacMABITAC BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

 

Z-NagcarlanNAGCARLAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

Z-Nagcarlan-2The 2018 booth of the town of NAGCARLAN offers various sweets and snacks for sale. The representatives of Nagcarlan are all very friendly and courteous. Next time, I will try their Bignay Wine and other delicacies.

 

Z-PaetePAETE BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

Z-Paete-2The 2018 booth of the town of PAETE showcases different wood carvings. Paper maché products are displays outside the booth.

 

Z-PakilPAKIL BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of PAKIL sends a message that one can still have fun with faith through their TURUMBA FESTIVAL, in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows held seven times from April till May of each year (the first held on the Friday before Palm Sunday and the last held on Pentecost Sunday), commemorating the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary, celebrated with the people of the town singing and dancing to praise Her.

 

Z-PangilPANGIL BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

 

Z-RizalRIZAL BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

 

Z-San PabloSAN PABLO BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

Z-San Pablo-2The facade of the 2018 booth of SAN PABLO CITY features the COCONUT and inside, I was so happy to know that it exports COCOPLUS, powdered, organic, centrifuge extracted skimmed coconut milk to Japan.

Z-San Pablo-3Inside, the SEVEN LAKES OF SAN PABLO, the famous seven crater lakes around the city, is promoted. I appreciated the hospitality of the city’s representatives, especially Maria Donnalyn E. Briñas (Assistant City Tourism Officer).

 

19-San PedroSAN PEDRO BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The facade of the 2018 booth of SAN PEDRO CITY is abloom with giant sampaguita flowers, reminding visitors of its SAMPAGUITA FESTIVAL, a week-long festival celebrated during the second week of February.

 

Z-SiniloanSINILOAN BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of SINILOAN features its GUILINGAN FESTIVAL, held annually in August, named after the old rice grindstone used to make their local delicacies (e.g., kalamay, puto).

 

Z-Sta CruzSTA. CRUZ BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The facade of the 2018 booth of the town of STA. CRUZ offers a replica of the PROVINCIAL CAPITOL building since it is the capital of the province of Laguna, as well as a giant KESONG PUTI between two carabaos as it celebrates the Kesong Puti Festival every April 4-11.

 

Z-Sta MariaSTA. MARIA BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The facade of the 2018 booth of STA. MARIA exudes the town’s bountiful agriculture which made me recall the town’s MARILAG FESTIVAL, celebrated as a thanksgiving for their harvest.

 

Z-Sta RosaSTA. ROSA BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of STA. ROSA CITY proudly features its industrial estates (like the car manufacturing plants) and its famous theme park, Enchanted Kingdom.

 

Z-VictoriaVICTORIA BOOTH, ANILAG 2018

The 2018 booth of the town of VICTORIA, the “DUCK RAISING CENTER OF THE PHILIPPINES”, has eggs (their salted eggs are so good) and ducks (prepared like Kinulob na Itik) as accent pieces in the exhibit’s facade.

Z-Victoria-2I admire the ceiling treatment in the inner part of Victoria’s booth.

 

Z-VzBambooThe LAGUNA BAMBOO PRODUCERS AND MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION (LBPMA) also has a booth to showcase their products.

 

Z-VzFood-Stall-1I briefly went around and walked through the different food stalls selling enticing snacks and meals but I didn’t give in to their temptation LOL

                            Z-VzFood-Stall-2The newly cooked giant stuffed squids caught my eyes                                 but I finally decided to skip them as well.

 

Z-Vz-PasalubongI only stayed for less than three hours and was able to purchase these as “Pasalubong” (souvenir treats for my family): Pianono, 2 kinds of Macapuno Balls, Dalandan Concentrate, Santol-Mango Bites, 3-Layered Brazo de Mercedes-Leche Flan-Ube, and Gatas Tisoy and 3Cows Choco-Milk Drinks

 

So, what are you waiting for? You still have until this Saturday, March 17, 2018, to go to this special Laguna festival, the ANILAG FESTIVAL! Hali na! Tara na! Masaya sa Laguna! (Come on! Let’s go! It is happy in Laguna!)

Did you find this post informative? Please scroll below and click the “Like” tab and “Facebook” to share this post. I would like to hear from you. too Simply scroll to the bottom of this post and click “Leave a reply”. Do not forget to follow me by clicking “Follow” on the lower right corner of your gadget.

Visit a related post: THE ANILAG FESTIVAL

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1www.anilagfestival.ph

2Anilag Festival 2018 Facebook account

3“Alaminos,” accessed March 13, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaminos.

 

BINONDO: A QUICK VISIT

Location: Binondo, District of Manila, National Capital Region, Philippines

My husband and I were already in Metro Manila and decided to go to Binondo early for a quick and early visit since we haven’t been there for more than two decades.

For the benefit of foreigners, Binondo* is the Chinatown of the Philippines, considered the oldest in the world, established in 1594 by the Spaniards as a settlement for Catholic Chinese. It is a district in Manila and a hub of Chinese commerce.

Z-13-BinondoI saw the familiar Welcome Arch and prayed we could get a parking slot.

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Binondo still looks so busy especially during this time of the year.

Z-12-BinondoMemories of our past visits with loved ones and friends crossed my mind while we passed through the last arch.

Parking was full but we were able to find one accessible to the places we wanted to go to. We first ate breakfast in Ling Nam Noodle House. We then went to shop a bit then ordered a couple of  fried siopaos (steamed then fried meatball-chorizo buns) at Shanghai Fried Siopao for takeout. Before we left for lunch elsewhere, we didn’t miss the chance to eat maki (a Chinese soup with a brown, thick, starchy broth, and chunks of tender pork) at Ongpin Mañosa Restaurant. Click a related post – BINONDO: REVISITING 3 FAVORITE QUICK TREATS.

Z-14-BinondoFinally, we wouldn’t leave this place without buying yummy, freshly roasted castañas    (chestnuts). Then off we went for an important errand.

Did you find this post informative? Do you often go to Binondo? Do you also crave for castañas come the holiday season?  I would like to hear from you. Simply scroll to the upper right part of this post and click “Leave a comment”. Follow me by clicking the “Follow” bar at the bottom right corner of your gadget. Thank you!

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*“Binondo,” accessed December 12, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binondo.

 

 

EL NIDO: Islands and Caves – Part 3

Location: Province of Palawan1, MIMAROPA2 Region, Philippines

In our fourth day in the picturesque town of El Nido3 in the province of Palawan, my husband and I felt that we gained weight after three days here especially with Sea Cocoon’s yummy buffet breakfast, Hello El Nido’s finger-licking grilled buffet lunch during our island hopping, and the seafood dinners we had along the beach! This is paradise, but is not-so-good for our waistlines! But what can I say! When on vacation, NO DIET! Or, we have a SEE-FOOD DIET, i.e., when we see food, we eat! Right?!

Did you see my posts of our first two tours of El Nido? If not, click here for EL NIDO: HEAVEN ON EARTH – Part 1 and click here for EL NIDO: HEAVEN ON EARTH – Part 2.

Anyway, our third tour called TOUR B – WHITE SAND GALORE: ISLANDS AND CAVES, costs 1,300 per person. Just like the first 2 trips, I packed my hard-plastic beach bag with my needs for the day: sun block, bottles of mineral water, comb, towels, sunglasses, cell phone and power bank, snacks, cash, etc. After breakfast, we all met at the lobby, trooped again to the beach and boarded our big “banca” (boat) for the day.

3-El Nido-Snake Island-Gani
Snake Island, El Nido, Palawan – Photo by: Gani

The first stop was SNAKE ISLAND. I enjoyed this unique island because it had a natural S-shaped sandbar visible during low tide. And guess what, it was low tide today, lucky us! My husband and I walked the whole sandbar and we wished we had a drone to video our walk. We finally reached the end of the sandbar which was a mangrove. We stopped a bit and headed back to the starting point where we were ushered to head up and hike to a small gazebo with a spectacular view of the sandbar and the clear water! The bottled water came in handy to hydrate us going up and down this trail. Take your time, dearest Seniors, it is worth the effort!

Next was ENTALULA BEACH, reputed to be the best beach in Bacuit Bay. It can also be reserved for an intimate lunch/dinner.

The CUDUGNON CAVE was the next stop and cash was handy to enjoy fresh buko juice/cold soft drinks. This site was believed to be the burial site during the Neolithic period4 (10,200 – 2000 BC).

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A brief stop at the CATHEDRAL CAVE followed but we did not stay long because the water was a bit rough. However, each passenger was given a chance to have pictures taken with the cave as backdrop.

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Pinagbuyutan Island Photo by Gani

The PINAGBUYUTAN ISLAND was the last stop. It is a powdered white sand island ideal for snorkeling, laying at the beach, or swimming with loved ones.

This last packaged tour is good but not as good as the first two … anyway, the sandbar was more than enough to make this a memorable trip! Thanks again, Gani Ricarte of Hello El Nido! Just search for his website: www.helloelnido.com

My final words re El Nido: This town is indeed a paradise and a precious treasure for all Filipinos and foreign visitors to visit and experience for generations to come! I pray it will not suffer the same fate as Boracay if they just continue to consistently and strictly implement the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA)5.  I hope the local government will be able to continue to plan and successfully implement programs against the threats of high human activities and the booming tourism industry in the these towns such as: pollution from waste and sewage disposal; beach erosion; damage to coral reefs due to snorkeling, diving and illegal collection; and, disturbance of bird nesting and marine sites.

I would love to hear from you, dear Seniors! Did you find this post informative? Have you gone to El Nido? Did you also experience this package tour? What are your observations of the tourism impact to the environment? Just scroll to the upper right corner of this post and click “Leave a comment”. Follow me by clicking the “Follow” bar at the bottom right corner of your gadget. Thank you!

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1Palawan, according to the Wikipedia page, “Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, s a province in the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA Region of the Philippines, founded in 1818, and is now called the Philippines’ Last Frontier. SOURCE: “Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palawan.

2MIMAROPA, according to the Wikipedia page, “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, is an administrative region of the Philippines which is an acronym for its constituent provinces: Mindoro (Occidental and Oriental), Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan. It was designated as Region IV-B until 2016. It is now also called the Southwestern Tagalog Region. SOURCE: “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimaropa.

3El Nido, according to the Wikipedia page, “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, is a first class, highly urbanized city located in the western province of Palawan, the westernmost city in the Philippines, with 66 barangays, and the capital of Palawan. The airport is located in this city and it is also known for the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, named one of the New7Wonders of the Nature. SOURCE: “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

4“Neolithic,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic.

5El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA) is the largest marine sanctuary in the Philippines, according to the Wikipedia page, “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, It covers 18 barangays in El Nido and 3 barangays of its neighboring town, Taytay, involving more than 900 sq. km, using various forest and marine conservation and protection programs, to protect and develop the livelihoods of the seaside local population, amidst the development of tourist in the area. A very small (50 US cents) daily conservation fee is required per visitor. SOURCE: “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

 

 

LAS CASAS FILIPINAS DE ACUZAR: A HERITAGE TREAT

Location: Barangay Pag-asa, town of Bagac, province of Bataan, Central Luzon Region, island of Luzon, Philippines

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Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is an 18th-century heritage park and open-air museum located along Umagol River, in the town of Bagac, Bataan, Philippines. It was created in 2003 by Jose “Gerry” Acuzar, owner of New San Jose Builders, and opened it to the public in 2010. It is managed by Genesis Hotels and Resorts Corporation.

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It presents a 400-hectare sprawling settlement of 27 Spanish colonial-heritage houses from various cities and provinces of the Philippines (e.g., Biñan, Bulacan, Cagayan, Ilocos, La Union, Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Quezon City). Each house or “casa” was dismantled in situ (in its original place), brick by brick, numbered, transported to this site, where they were reassembled and restored. The houses are often made with a stone foundation on the ground level and made of wood on the upper floor. If parts are missing, bricks and woodwork were replaced to resemble the original structure.

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If you have arthritis, no worries, dear Seniors, the property offers the following transportation facilities to take you around:

  • Bicycle – reserve, for a fee, per hour;

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  • Jeepney – pick-up starts in front of Casa Mexico and drops off at Casa New Manila;

 

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  • Kalesa – a horse-drawn carriage; reserve at the Concierge and meet Makisig, the horse, used for this traditional mode of transportation good for 2 to 4 persons;

 

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  • Golf Cart – reserve at Casa Mexico for a fee per hour, whether self-driven (maximum 4 persons) or tour guide-driven (maximum 3 persons); and,

 

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  • Tram – a vehicle which goes around the property along a metal railway or track.

 

For Seniors who can afford and who have an architectural, cultural and/or historical interest, this place is for you! You will also have lots of “muni-muni” (reflection) time while strolling from one house to another along the brick pavements or cobblestone streets, or while riding any of the above vehicles and feeling the gentle to strong (depending on the weather/season) wind from the Beach Area, direct from the West Philippine Sea. If you love taking selfies or unique Spanish architecture, more reason to go, just apply lots of sunscreen! If you enjoy spending time walking/strolling with family or “balikbayan friends”, enjoying freshly-baked pandesal from La Panaderia or native delicacies for “merienda” (snacks) at La Parilla/Pica Pica, indulging in local fruity-flavored “sorbetes” (ice cream) peddled by a roving “sorbetero” (ice cream vendor) wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, swimming, sunbathing and appreciating the beautiful sunset while sipping beer/cocktails by the beach, and without the “noisy” nightlife of the city even for just one night, then check this destination out!

4-Las Casas

Stay at least overnight to enjoy this unique resort and savor its beauty on a leisurely pace, preferably on a weekend, to witness traditional native activities (listed below). I visited this nostalgic property on February 2017, along with my high school buddies as part of our 45th jubilee. There are 217 rooms to choose from; check-in is 2 pm and check-out is 12 noon.

12-Las Casas-Casa-New-Manila-QCWe checked-in at the first “casa” or house upon entering the compound, the Casa de New Manila Quezon City.

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I stayed with my husband in a Deluxe Room with a “retro ambiance” yet still enjoyed the comforts of air-conditioning, a queen-sized bed, television with cable, an in-room safety deposit box, a bathroom with hot and cold water and a separate bathtub and shower, and breakfast was also included.

Other types of rooms are the:

  1. Executive Suite – located at Paseo de Escolta with a view of the plaza and gazebo; for 6 adults; with 3 queen beds with 2 extra beds;
  2. Family Suite – located at Estero de Binondo with a view of Plaza Marcelino (river view) or beach front, for 6 adults, with 3 queen beds and 2 extra beds;
  3. Large Superior Deluxe – located at Estero de Binondo with a view of Plaza Marcelino (river view, beach front, or plaza); for 4 adults, with 2 queen beds and 2 extra beds; and, the
  4. Studio with Loft – located at Paseo de Escolta with a view of the plaza; for 4 adults, with 2 queen beds and 2 extra beds.

Visit its website for prices/availability/more information: www.lascasasfilipinas.com

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The following tours are offered (but note that schedules/prices may be changed, so inquire beforehand):

  • A WALKING HERITAGE TOUR held about 7 times daily (9:30 am, 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm, and 4:30 pm), subject to weather conditions, for 1,500 pesos. A trained and eloquent tour guide gives the history of each house. Experience this special one-hour tour with your “amigos/amigas” or family.

Here are some tips for you to maximize this tour: choose comfortable footwear that is easy to remove and wear (since you will be required to leave it at the door of each house before entry; wear socks for hygiene, if desired; wear comfortable and light clothes; during summer or hot days, apply sunblock, wear a cap or hat and even bring an umbrella; and, bring water for hydration. If it is windy, bring a shawl or something to keep you warm and, for ladies, apply a lip balm to protect your lips.

Since my husband and I stayed overnight, we availed of this tour and learned to appreciate more of our country’s rich history, architecture and culture. The tour guides were fluent in both English and Tagalog.

  • An ALL-DAY TOUR for a minimum of 5 persons, with 2,000 pesos nett per person, paid in advance, and cannot be combined with other promotions. There are several schedules daily, subject to weather conditions.
  • A RIVER/BALSA TOUR for a minimum of 4 persons per ride, on an “intimate and romantic” cruise around the property using a “balsa” (raft) for 500 pesos each. You can leisurely float along the Umangol River and the glide along surrounding balconies, brick walls, verandas and arched bridges.
  • A HOTEL DE ORIENTE TOUR is a tour of the faithful replica of the first luxury hotel in Binondo during the Spanish colonial era of our country, for 200 pesos. It is the property’s “premier 3-floor convention center” which can accommodate functions for at least 10 persons to banquets of up to 600 persons. Its lobby boasts of wooden sculptures crafted by Betis and Paete carvers, both well-known for wood-carving.
  • A WORKSHOP TOUR is an in-house workshop where woodcarvings and bricks are traditionally made. The tour starts at Casa Mexico and is held Tuesday to Thursday (9 am/3 pm) and Friday to Sunday (9 am/11 am/3 pm).
  • BATAAN TOUR PACKAGE – Please inquire at 09178329361 (Monday-Saturday, 8:30 am – 5:P30 pm) or visit their website mentioned above.
  • An ART TOUR is coming soon.

Dining outlets include: (1) The Beach Bar; (2) Café del Rio – a tapas1 bar at Casa Sta. Rita; (3) Café Marivent at Casa New Manila – a Filipino-Spanish restaurant at the 2nd floor of the said casa; (4) Cusina ni Nanay Maria – a Filipino restaurant located at Casa Unisan;  (5) La Bella Teodora at Basa Biñan – an Italian restaurant located at Casa Biñan; and, (6) La Parilla and Pica Pica – an open Filipino “street food and beverage” outlet located at Plaza de Castro. I enjoyed their turon (fried, sweet banana spring roll), bibingka (Filipino rice cake), puto bumbong (steamed, rectangular, purple rice cake) and salabat (hot ginger tea).

Other activities are (but schedules/prices/venue may be changed, so inquire beforehand):

  1. Carabao Parade and Race – A colorful parade which starts at 4 pm at Gate 2 and extends to the Beach Area every Saturday and Sunday. A carabao (Filipino swamp-type water buffalo) race and a “palosebo2” are also held at the Beach Area.
  2. Center of Filipino Arts and Culture – An exhibit at Casa Candaba, open daily from 9 am till 5 pm.
  3. Cockfighting – A famous Filipino pastime held every Sunday at 10am at the back of Casa Tondo.
  4. Cultural Show/Mini Fiesta – A show of traditional Filipino dances (maglalatik3, singkil4 and tinikling5) held every Saturday at Casa Hagonoy/Paseo de Escolta at 6 pm (sundown).
  5. Entertainment and Game Room – A room located at Casa Lubao, just a few steps away from Tulay ni Lola Basyang which offers billiards, darts and other board games free of charge, open daily, from 7 am till 7 pm. Contact a Game Coordinator for Filipino games like: patintero6, piko7, sipa8 or sungka9. Casa Lubao also offers fish feeding for 50 pesos.
  6. Fotografia de la Escolta – A professional in-house photography studio where you can schedule a photoshoot wearing the traditional baro’t saya10 or barong11.
  7. Music Shop – A guitar and ukulele shop located at Paseo de Escolta (beside Fotografia de la Escolta).
  8. Napiya Spa – The in-house spa and wellness center located at Paseo de Escolta (Room 212) which offers the traditional Filipino massages like “bentosa12”, “dagdagay13” and “hilot14”. It is open from 10 am till 9 pm.
  9. Pocket Performance – A performance held at the Tanghalang Tasulok every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am/11:30 am/2:30 pm/4:30 pm.
  10. Sunday Mass – A Catholic mass held at the church called Santuario de San Jose every Sunday at 10:30 am.
  11. Swimming Pool and Beach Area – A “batis15”-inspired swimming pool open daily from 7 am till 9 pm; the Beach Area is open from 6 am till 6 pm daily.
  12. Water Activities – Activities such as banana boat, boat ride, island hopping, jet ski, kayaking and wakeboarding16, subject to weather and current conditions. Make it to Yasa Point for a zip line ride, ATV17 ride, mountain biking and wall climbing for the younger members of your family.

 

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This property is part of Historic Hotels Worldwide and part of the Conde Nast Jahansens Luxury Global Collection and Peninsula Hotel’s Pencities Luxe Guide. It is also the 2017 Asia Awards of Excellence winner.

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Here are three “casas” and their stories:

11-A- Las Casas-Casa-ByzantinaCasa Byzantina, a 3-storey, intricately designed “floral” stone house from Binonda, Manila, built in 1890 by Don Lorenzo del Rosario, using Neo-Byzantine19 and Neo-Mudéjar20 influences with elaborate and delicate embellishments. It was demolished in 2009 and transferred to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

5-Las Casas-Casa Luna

Casa Luna, built in 1850 and owned by Primitivo Novicio, the uncle of the famous Luna brothers: General Antonio Luna (the first Filipino general who fought in the Philippine-American War) and Juan Luna (the renowned Filipino painter, sculptor and political activist). It was originally located in the municipality of Namacpacan (now Luna, in the province of La Union, named after the brothers). The house is symmetrically constructed and reflects the typical Ilocano18 stone house, with a “cochera” (a garage for carriages and “carrozas” as well as a storeroom for farm produce) at the ground floor, an “entresuelo” (a mezzanine for the servants), the main second floor for bedrooms, toilet and bath, the grand living room, kitchen, and an “azotea” (a flat roof/platform on the top of the house) at the back.

 

13-Las Casas-Casa Mexico-Pampanga

Casa Mexico-Pampanga, a stone house from the municipality of Mexico, in the province of Pampanga, salvaged from a junk shop and reconstructed based on an old photograph.

Overall and personally, this cultural escapade was memorable for me and my high school buddies. We had enough quality time to bond with each other amidst our leisurely strolls as well as “kalesa”/tram/jeepney rides. We had so many beautiful pictures to look back to in the years to come!

Did you find this post informative? Have you also experienced going to this destination site, either just for the day or overnight? I would like to hear from you. Simply scroll to the upper right corner of this post and click “Leave a comment”. Please scroll below and click the “Like” tab and “Facebook” to share this post. Thank you!

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1Tapas are small, savory Spanish dishes.

2Palosebo is a traditional Filipino game for boys during a town fiesta or on special occasions in the provinces using a long, straight, polished and greasy bamboo pole with a small bag or flag tied to the top as a reward to whoever could successfully climb, reach it, and retrieve the bag/flag.

3Maglalatik is a male folk dance from the Philippines where coconut shell halves are secured onto the dancers’ hands and on vests upon which are hung 4 or six more coconut shell halves. The dancers perform the dance by hitting one coconut shell with the other, alternately on the hands, on the shoulders and body, to the beat of a fast drumbeat. NOTE: The dance means “latik-maker”, from “latik”, a syrupy, caramelized coconut cream used as a dessert sauce or garnish, used in Filipino cookery.

4Singkil is a popular folk dance of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao (in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao),  performed during celebrations and other festive occasions, based on the epic legend, Darangen, the pre-Islamic Maranao interpretation of the ancient Hindu Indian epic, the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem which narrates the struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon king Rayana. This dance was popularized by the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, the oldest dance company in the Philippines, founded in 1957 by Helena Z. Benitez and debuted at Expo ’58 on May 27, 1958, upon the request of President Ramon Magsaysay. Originally, only royal women danced the singkil, as a conscious or unconscious way of attracting potential suitors. A kulintang (an ancient musical instrument composed of a row of small, horizontally laid metal gong kettles, upon a rack, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums, played by striking the bosses of the gongs with 2 wooden beaters) and agung (an ensemble composed of large hanging, suspended or held, knobbed gongs which act as drones) ensemble always accompanies this dance. The female lead dancer gracefully steps in and out of closing bamboo poles arranged in either parallel, rectangular, or criss-cross fashion, while skillfully manipulating either a fan, scarf or by just artistically waving ones bare hands. NOTE: The name of the dance means “to entangle the feet with disturbing objects such as vines or anything in ones path.”

5Tinikling is a Filipino folk dance which involves 2 people beating, tapping, and sliding 2 or 4 parallel pairs of bamboo poles on the ground (or on 2 raised pieces of wood) held by 2 or more sitting or kneeling “clappers” or “clickers” as a percussion instrument, and against each other in coordination with two or more female dancers, wearing embroidered baro’t saya19, and male dancers wearing barong20, who step over and in between the poles, weave through the rapidly moving bamboo poles with bare feet and ankles, traditionally danced to rondalla music, an ensemble of stringed instruments (e.g., bandurrias, guitars, laúdes, octavinas or ukuleles). Traditionally, the poles are tapped twice on the ground on the first 2 beats then brought together on the 3rd beat, with the tempo progressing faster and faster. The dancers need to be skillful and agile not only to follow the rhythm but also not to get their ankles/feet caught between the poles as they are snapped closed. The barefoot dancers start with their hands at their hips or clasped behind their backs, but when the tempo becomes faster, they hold hands, then end by letting go of each other’s hands and stepping out of the moving bamboo poles. NOTE: Tinikling means “to perform like a ‘tikling’, a local bird” which walk gracefully and speedily between grass stems and run over tree branches.

6Patintero is a popular, traditional Filipino street game, using 2 teams, an attack and a defense team, with 5 players each. The attack team must try to run along the perpendicular lines from the home base to the back end, and return without being tagged by the defense players, called “it”. The latter must stand on water/fire lines with both feet each time they try to tag attacking players. The player at the center line is called “patotot”. The perpendicular line at the center allows the “it” designated on that line to intersect the lines occupied by the “it” that the parallel line intersects, thus increasing the chances of the runners to be trapped, even only one member of a group is tagged, the whole group will be the “it”.

7Piko is the Filipino version of hopscotch where players stand behind the edge of a rectangular box, and each should throw their “pamato” (cue ball or flat stone). The first to play is determined on the players’ agreement on the placement of the “pamatos” on a designated line/location and whoever throws the “pamato” nearest the agreed place, will play first. The next nearest is second, etc.

8Sipa is a traditional Filipino game where players kick or toss a washer covered with colorful threads using a foot. A player is thrown upwards and the player starts to toss the washer and counts the number of times s/he does it successfully without the washer touching the ground. The player who has the most kicks wins the game. Sipa literally means “kick”.

9Sungka is the Filipino mancala game played in a wooden board and cowrie shells or stones called “sigays”. A boatlike sungka board has 2 rows of 7 small pits called “bahay” (houses), initially with 7 “sigays”, with an additional bigger hole at both end of the board for each player, called an “ulo” (head) or “inay” (mother) or storehouse, for the captured seashells or stones, owned by a player to his/her left. A player empties one of his/her small pits and distributes its contents in a clockwise direction, one by one, into the following pits including his/her own storehouse but passing the opponent’s storehouse. If the last stone falls into a non-empty small pit, its contents are lifted and distributed in another lap. If the last stone falls into the player’s onw store, the player gets a bonus move. However, if the last stone falls into an empty pit, the move ends and the player is “patay” (dead). If the move ends by dropping the last stone into one of your own small pits, you capture the stones in the opponent’s pit directly across the board and your own stone. The captured shells are “subi” (deposited) in your storehouse. However, if the opponent’s pit is empty, nothing is captured. The first move is plated simultaneously, after which the players take turns alternately. The game ends when no stones are left in the small pits. The player who captures the most shells wins the game.

10Baro’t saya is the national dress of the Philippines traditionally made of piña (pineapple fiber); the feminine equivalent of the barong20. This conservative attire is composed of a blouse is called “baro”, with butterfly sleeves, and the skirt is called “saya”, generally fashioned out of opaque plaid or striped cotton and sinamay varieties. An “alampay” is a square kerchief usually made of the same fabric as the saya, worn over the “baro” to cover the breasts which also doubles as a veil, later called the “panuelo”. An overskirt made of a darker and thicker material called a “tapis” is wrapped around the lower half of the woman’s body and tied at the waist or below the breasts. It is the pre-colonial clothing of the Tagalogs and Visayans made of silk in matching colors, exclusively worn by women from the upper class; those belonging to the lower caste wore a “baro” made from pounded white bark fiber.

 

11Barong is the short term for barong Tagalog, the traditional, lightweight, long-sleeved, embroidered, formal shirt for Filipino males. It is worn untucked over an undershirt. It is considered the national dress of the Philippines.

12Bentosa is an ancient Chinese method used to remove aches and pains and improve the circulation by cupping. It is also spelled “ventosa”. It has 2 types: fire cupping and dry cupping. Fire cupping uses a cup or glass to suction the cold parts at the back of the body which lack blood circulation and have blockages so that they will have normal energy flow. It is executed with a glass cup, candle and oil. Massage oil is applied on the back to create a better seal on the cups, then a candle is lighted with a cotton candle ball on the top. Once the candle is lighted, the cup is placed over the candle so the oxygen is removed and the suction will appear when the skin bloats or puffs. The red marks that will appear after the cupping will disappear after 1-2 days. Dry cupping uses a glass/plastic cup on the skin using a pump so the air is removed by suction.

13Dagdagay is a traditional Filipino acupressure treatment for the legs and feet, originally from the Mountain Province of the Philippines, a way of accessing the body’s entire immune system through the soles of the feet. It begins with a soothing foot soak on healing herbs in a huge clay vessel and capped with a relaxing herbal foot wrap and massage. The therapist uses 2 bamboo or rattan sticks, in pack of finger pressure, to stimulate the soles and cleanse/purify the feet.

14Hilot is the ancient Filipino art of healing in rural areas where, originally, a “manghihilot” uses chiropractic manipulation and massage techniques to treat musculoskeletal ailments, to reset dislocated and sprained joints (ankle, fingers, knee and metacarpal bones). Modern spas use this technique to relieve stress and promote rejuvenation and balance the harmony of the body, emotion and mind, using warm strips of (naturally ionized) banana leaves laved with virgin coconut oil applied on the body before and after a session. The therapist identifies areas of energy imbalance in the body through touch diagnosis. A full body massage involves a combination of slow moving fingers and hand pressure over various pressure points throughout the back and legs, and relaxing the tension in the head and neck.

15A batis is the Tagalog term for a small stream, river or brook.

16Wakeboarding is a surface water sport which involves riding a wakeboard21 over the surface of a body of water. It is a combination of snowboarding, surfing and water skiing. The wakeboard is usually towed behind a motorboat or personal water craft at a speed of 30-40 km/hr, depending on the board size, weight, and type of tricks.

17ATV, or All-Terrain Vehicle, is a vehicle that is designed to handle a wide variety of terrain and travels on 3-4 low-pressure tires with a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars for steering control. The rider sits and operates it like a motorcycle and is stable at slower speeds. It is used in some destinations for a thrilling ride.

18Ilocano is a term which refers to the ethnolinguistic people who live, or come from, the Ilocos Region in the northwestern part of the island of Luzon7, in the Philippines.

19Neo-Byzantine is an architectural revival movement in the 1840s in Western Europe, prevalent among public and religious buildings, especially in Germany and Russia. It combines the Byzantine style with Eastern and Orthodox Christian architecture from the 5th till 11th centuries.

20Neo-Mudéjar is a type of Moorish Revival architecture which started in Madrid, Spain, in the late 19th century, and spread to the rest of that country. It is characterized by abstract-shaped brick ornaments for facades, arabesque tiles and horseshoe arches.

21A wakeboard is a small, mostly rectangular, buoyant and thin board with the core usually made of foam, honeycomb or wood, mixed with resin and coated with fiberglass. It has very little displacement and shoe-like bindings are mounted to it. Metal screws are inserted to attach bindings and fins.

 

 

 

EL NIDO: Blue Lagoons – Part 2

Location: Province of Palawan1, MIMAROPA2 Region, Philippines

On our 3rd day in El Nido3 we had our 2nd tour, called TOUR A – BLUE LAGOONS, costing 1,200 per person. Join me as I recall this wonderful day!

We started the day with another hearty buffet breakfast at our El Nido hotel, Sea Cocoon! I packed my hard-plastic beach bag with my needs for the day: sun block, bottles of mineral water, comb, towels, sunglasses, cell phone and power bank, snacks, cash for renting kayaks and for purchasing fresh buko/cold drinks, etc. After breakfast, we all met at the lobby, trooped again to the beach, and boarded our big “banca” (boat) for the day.

The first stop was SECRET LAGOON which can only be accessed by swimming through a small window-sized cave. Again, no worries, dearest seniors, the kind boatmen will always be ready to assist us seniors, your “apos” (grandchildren), and whoever else needs assistance. Once inside, you will not regret entering this beautiful pool of clear water surrounded by limestone formation and thus, another secret no more!

Next was SMALL LAGOON, located at the cove of Miniloc Island, enclosed by rock cliffs. It is best to rent a kayak since bancas are only allowed to dock about 50 yards from its entrance. Talk about El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area4! The local government is really serious about protecting the areas in the various packaged tours.

Secure your safety vest, pay the kayak rental, ask someone you trust, or even one of your boatman, to join you in the kayak because the view is unforgettable! It is so easy to maneuver the kayak, just coordinate with your companion, get your rhythm, and voila, you are on your way to a beautiful site!

Of course, if there was a Small Lagoon, a BIG LAGOON would be next. This is the iconic symbol of El Nido, with 2 cliffs guarding the entrance. Again, rent a kayak to explore this lagoon. You can also snorkel, just be conscious of sea urchins.

2-El-Nido-Big Lagoon - 2- Ed Pingol

  Photos by Ed Pingol

The SHIMIZU ISLAND came next, ideal for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking. Our delectable grilled buffet was served in this island. Again our tummies were so happy while we devoured the yummy feast before us! The boatmen were systematic in clearing the make-shift dining area and disposed of all garbage! Now, this is how it should be; leave nothing on the islands except your footprints!

The last stop was 7 COMMANDOS ISLAND, a white sand party beach named after its original 7 inhabitants. Tourists tend to stay here to sunbathe, swim, snorkel, play volleyball, swing at the long-roped rubber tires, and for the men, girl watching! Now you can spend your cash for halo-lalo, mais con yelo, beer, cocktails, shakes, other cold drinks and other treats.

Personally, I appreciate the efforts of the local government to implement the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area4 in terms of tourism. Other than mechanized bancas which give livelihood to the local fisherfolks, there are no visible “gas-operated” water-sports like jet-ski, para-sailing, etc. Kayaks are used to explore the various lagoons and the motorboats are not allowed to go near them, thus, the water is not polluted in these awesome lagoons!

This was another amazing tour and a beautiful sunset awaited us along the shore, fronting our chosen restaurant for the night! Thanks, Gani Ricarte of Hello El Nido, for another unforgettable day! Just search for his website: www.helloelnido.com

Did you find this post informative? Have you experienced this package tour? I would like to hear from you. Just scroll to the upper right corner of this post and click “Leave a comment”. Follow me by clicking the “Follow” bar at the bottom right corner of your gadget. Thank you.

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1Palawan, according to the Wikipedia page, “Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, s a province in the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA Region of the Philippines, founded in 1818, and is now called the Philippines’ Last Frontier. SOURCE: “Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palawan.

2MIMAROPA, according to the Wikipedia page, “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, is an administrative region of the Philippines which is an acronym for its constituent provinces: Mindoro (Occidental and Oriental), Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan. It was designated as Region IV-B until 2016. It is now also called the Southwestern Tagalog Region. SOURCE: “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimaropa.

3El Nido, according to the Wikipedia page, “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, is a first class, highly urbanized city located in the western province of Palawan, the westernmost city in the Philippines, with 66 barangays, and the capital of Palawan. The airport is located in this city and it is also known for the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, named one of the New7Wonders of the Nature. SOURCE: “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

4El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA) is the largest marine sanctuary in the Philippines, according to the Wikipedia page, “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, It covers 18 barangays in El Nido and 3 barangays of its neighboring town, Taytay, involving more than 900 sq. km, using various forest and marine conservation and protection programs, to protect and develop the livelihoods of the seaside local population, amidst the development of tourist in the area. A very small (50 US cents) daily conservation fee is required per visitor. SOURCE: “El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

Please visit my first El Nido post EL NIDO: Heaven on Earth – Part 1

and

last post EL NIDO: Islands and Caves – Part 3

EL NIDO: Heaven on Earth – Part 1

Location: Province of Palawan, MIMAROPA1 Region, Philippines

My husband and I visited Puerto Princesa2, Palawan3 years ago. The former is a first class, highly urbanized city located in the western province of Palawan, the westernmost city in the Philippines, with 66 barangays, and the capital of Palawan. The airport is located in this city and it is also known for the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, named one of the New7Wonders of the Nature. Palawan is a province in the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA Region of the Philippines, founded in 1818, and is now called the Philippines’ Last Frontier.

We were invited by my high school buddies and their families to El Nido (a first-class municipality in the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan), from February 19 to 22, 2017. It was our first time to visit this wonderful destination known for its awesome coral reefs, white-sand beaches, unique lagoons and limestone cliffs.

We were likewise curious how tourism can thrive amidst the so-called El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA)4, the largest marine sanctuary in the Philippines, covering 18 barangays in El Nido and 3 barangays of its neighboring town, Taytay, involving more than 900 sq. km, using various forest and marine conservation and protection programs, to protect and develop the livelihoods of the seaside local population, amidst the development of tourist in the area. A very small (50 US cents) daily conservation fee is required per visitor.

We heard so much about El Nido’s beauty so we did not hesitate to join the group to discover this new destination which was part of our bucket list.

21-El-Nido

Everything was pre-arranged by my very dependable and travel-savvy friend from the US so my husband and I just paid for our share. Here is the first part of our unforgettable adventure!

Our group arrived at the Puerto Princesa Airport and two vans were waiting for us provided by Daytripper Palawan. The mini-packs of banana chips, bottled water and, of course, the professional driving skills of our drivers were very much appreciated. It was about a 6-hour trip from the airport to El Nido, and we stopped a couple of times for the “call of nature”, to stretch a bit, as well as have our lunch. Some of us appreciated the view while some slept along the way.

We finally arrived at Sea Cocoon, our hotel, and we all checked-in. We used the remaining time to explore the town, its market and retail stalls, the beach, and savored its local and fresh seafood for dinner along a seaside restaurant. We slept early the previous night because this will be the first of our 3 day-tour that will take us around this awesome destination.

We had a good night’s rest after a hot shower and slept soundly on a comfortable bed in our air-conditioned room. We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and the hotel’s sumptuous buffet breakfast was so good!

I am also lucky to have a well-organized friend who even provided durable hard-plastic beach bags where I could place all my (and my husband’s) needs for the day: sun block, bottles of mineral water for hydration, comb, towels, sunglasses, well-protected cell phone and power bank, snacks, cash, etc. Photos were taken after breakfast, all met at the lobby, trooped to the beach (which was just about 3 minute-walk from our hotel) and before we knew it, we were all aboard our big banca (boat) for the day.

My friend contracted Hello El Nido for the 3 packaged tours and may I say that my husband and I were very satisfied with the services of the management and all the boatmen/crew. Just search for his website: www.helloelnido.com

It also seemed that the local government has standardized the packaged tours of El Nido which is beneficial for us, first-time tourists. Our tour that day is marketed as TOUR C – SECRET ISLANDS AND BEACHES, costing 1,400 pesos each person.

We wore our safety vests and enjoyed the natural beauty – 360 degrees! Worried that you cannot swim? Don’t be! You can stay in the banca but I do not recommend that and I am so sure you will not because of the beauty of all the stops. All destinations are safe for all ages and all stops are worth the trip! So, listen up, it’s our first packaged tour of El Nido and I know you will be excited with me as I recall our tour.

The first stop was SECRET BEACH which can only be accessed by swimming and going through a small crevice in a rock wall. No worries, dearest seniors, I gained weight and still fitted LOL! Besides, the kind boatmen will always be ready to assist you: seniors, kids, and whoever else needs assistance. Once inside, you will be awed by this pristine beach and its beauty and thus, a secret no more!

Next was HIDDEN BEACH, surrounded by fantastic limestone rock formations. You can just float with your life vest or swim, just be careful not to be near sharp corals.

The STAR OF TALISAY BEACH was the next stop. It is a snorkeling site and was also our lunch stop. Now, I am sure you are curious to know about the buffet lunch. Let me tell you that all such meals for our 3 package tours were soooo good, thanks to Hello El Nido! The freshly cooked “inihaw” (grilled) pork and seafood (shrimps/fish/squids), along with fresh vegetables/seaweed salad, hot steamed rice, and fresh fruits were always a welcome feast for our group! Burp! Drinking water was also provided. Happy tummies always! My best advice is for you to bring cash for fresh buko (young coconut) or cold softdrinks sold in island stops.

1-El-Nido- lunch buffet

The MATINLOC SHRINE or the SHRINE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN, is located in an island maintained by the descendants of the original owner. Be prepared for a 100 peso-entrance fee. The shrine is serene and satisfies the religious among us seniors. The big old house seemed abandoned but you can imagine its splendor when it was new and operational. Our group went up a cemented area with steps leading to the peak where we had an unforgettable view for miles and miles!

Last was HELICOPTER ISLAND, a helicopter-shaped island when viewed from afar, ideal for snorkeling and diving.

This first packaged tour was indeed wonderful! Thanks, Gani Ricarte of http://www.helloelnido.com! Your kind boatmen returned us to our shores early so we can enjoy the majestic sunset in this picturesque island! We felt so lucky to have another dinner along the shore for us to breathe in all the good vibes while we savored the fresh seafood treats we ordered!

Did you find this post informative? Have you experienced this package tour? I would like to hear from you. Just scroll to the bottom of this post and type your comment in the designated box. Follow me by clicking the “Follow” bar at the bottom right corner of your gadget. Thank you.

Watch out for my next post and discover the other beautiful islands of El Nido!

Do visit my El Nido posts:

EL NIDO: Blue Lagoons – Part 2

and

EL NIDO: Islands and Caves – Part 3

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1MIMAROPA, according to the Wikipedia page, “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, is an administrative region of the Philippines which is an acronym for its constituent provinces: Mindoro (Occidental and Oriental), Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan. It was designated as Region IV-B until 2016. It is now also called the Southwestern Tagalog Region. SOURCE: “Mimaropa,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimaropa.

2“Puerto Princesa,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto Princesa.

3“Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palawan.

 4“El Nido, Palawan,” accessed November 29, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El Nido,_Palawan.