Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conquering Banahaw on a Budget

I was happy to discover another set of travel barkada that's fun, street-smart and hassle-free. 

The Banahaw Team on the way to their trekking adventure!

We bonded so much in Boracay and succeeding “concert sessions,” that we just HAD to have another getaway. This time, we went easy on the budget (breakdown below).

The Banahaw overnight package of Nature Villa was another shotgun-purchase, much like how we decided for Boracay. But as usual, the excitement of the getaway erased all doubts.
Our package, bought from an online discount voucher merchant, was sulit! It was for an overnight accommodation, inclusive of breakfast and mountain appreciation tour. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like a real adventure. 

At 4:00 am one Sunday morning, we boarded a bus going to San Pablo, where we were supposed to catch a jeepney going to Dolores. 

We slept most of the trip and at 7:00 am, hesitantly got off at a junction a few kilometers off Dolores Town, which was where the jeepneys stopped, the bus driver told us. We waited for a while, unsure if we were in the right place. After several plan-B sessions, our prayers were heard and we boarded a Dolores-bound jeep along with the day's catch, several bayongs of vegetables and smiling locals.

We mentioned sa Nature Villa po, sa Dolores mismo, and they all seemed to know where we were going. It was a relief. We were in the right jeep. And so went the uphill journey to Dolores Town.

A fellow passenger who lived in the area offered to walk us to Nature Villa's gates. We got off at a dirt road, went through a couple of stree
ts with people cooking in wooden fires. They seemed accustomed to people with backpacks passing by, so we said magandang umaga po as we exchanged nods and smiles.

We were quite early and had time for breakfast, which was a good thing. The mountain tour, which involved several hours of trekking, required steady muscles, strong disposition and, consequently, a happy tummy. 

Nature Villa's stylishly Pinoy Facade

 Our sun-shiny and camera-ready friend, Lani, 
while walking along the foothills

Together with our assigned tour guide, we explored the foothills of Banahaw the whole morning. We went through the “Kalbaryo” path, went to four “prayer” caves and offered lighted candles. Kalbaryo really lived up to its name. We had to climb our way into mostly steep, large, mossy rocks. At intervals, we stopped at clearings to catch our breath and get a feel of the mountain.

On the way to Kalbaryo

Finally, we went up to the entrance of the fifth cave, which was the famous “Husgado,” the most mystic of the caves. They say that those with impure hearts and impure intentions get hurt inside, or worse, get trapped. Our tour guide warned that we had to crawl a few kilometers all the way out because the passage is small. We hesitated.

Alas, we decided that it was not time to cross this path. I expressed my regrets because I am claustrophobic and that my thighs were killing me already, which was echoed by a couple of our friends.

We had lunch at a nearby karinderia. Food never tasted so good. We had sauteed canned tuna, some menudo-ish viand, fish and tons of rice. We finished lunch in ten minutes flat.

After the full and hearty lunch, we chilled for a bit at the inn and went on our way to the Sta. Lucia waterfalls. I did not know what to expect and was totally unprepared for about ten stories worth of mossy and mostly slippery staircase descending to a glorious stream of freshwater.

The downward journey was killer, especially in the last three flights of stairs, where each step was about only four inches wide. On top of it all, the rails were wobbly and the concrete steps were slippery from the trails of river water left by those coming up from the falls. We all made it slowly but safely.

Oh, but the moment we stepped into the water, we forgot all about the slippery steps and wobbly railings. Never mind that we had to make our way back the same flights.

View from our little cove

We were lucky that nobody else was in the semi-secluded cove somewhere upstream. We stayed there for a bit and reveled in the heavenly water, which was said to have healing qualities. We were also looking for the falls, but were told that it was way upstream. And anyway, we were too tired to do more trekking so we just stayed in our cove.

The way back was more manageable, except for the tight thigh muscles. But we survived the day and it's a giddy thought. We were all feeling fulfilled – and just a bit hungry. We took much-needed showers and went back to the same karinderia for dinner. Chicken adobo, rice and ten-peso-per-liter juice were, again, gone in ten minutes. Maybe the hungry part was underrated.

I slept so well that night. It was such a shame we left so early in the morning of Monday.

I was staring into the retreating dirt road as we left and I thought that I would like to come back someday.


Banahaw Budget

Php 160.00 Bus to San Pablo (DLTB)

Php 25.00 Jeep to Dolores
Php 575.00 Accommodations & Breakfast at Nature Villa
Php 130.00 Breakfast (Day 1)
Php 70.00 Lunch (Day 1)
Php 80.00 Dinner (Day 1)
Php 150.00 Pasalubong
Php 30.00 Jeep to San Pablo
Php 160.00 Bus to Manila
Php 50.00 Tip to Tour Guide and Hotel Staff

Total: Php 1,430.00

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Greener Pastures

My previous weekend I spent outside my apartment veranda, replanting seedlings I bought from Mang Tony, a landscape artist based in Tondo, Manila.

For several months, I have been populating my greens collection. After several trials and more errors, I realized that those that I got from Mang Tony far outlived those that were from somewhere else. His green thumb is really legendary. 

Hence everytime I visit hometown friends, I always make it a point to drop by his stall. Which also goes the other way around, if I wanted new plants, I would drop by his stall and consequently visit my friends. Each visit to Mang Tony, I snatch some impromptu greening tips such as better ways to snip leaves and best household fertilizers. I have a feeling I could be really good at greening! 

 Candy, my very photogenic peppermint

Anyway, since I was wrist-deep in dirt and so into the planting fun, I also took the weekend to organize my plant boxes which have fallen into disarray over a few weeks of neglect. It was the longest I spent with my green friends, so far. And I enjoyed it!

I loved the feeling of pride and fulfillment when I gazed at my lovely plants and my put-together and very organized plant boxes. 

 Plant boxes! Love them!

 Letty, the lettuce tree :)

The boyfriend said that if this plant-love-affair goes on, I might someday have my own farm. And that was a really good thought.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Boracay Bits (and some firsts)

I almost did not join the trip because, well, I have been there before. It was crossed off my list. I wanted to go somewhere I haven't been to.

But my choir-mates know me too well. I seldom can stand peer pressure. All of them were going and they were goading so darn bad that I really had no choice but to say yes. Some shotgun phone call that was – on a busy evening in May.

Almost immediately after I grudgingly said yes, I was excited! The trip would undoubtedly be great. I really do love Boracay! I could not wait to storm Jonah's and get my fill of heavenly fruit shake to last me until next summer.

Two months later, we hit the beach! We arrived at the homey Boracay Residences on a Thursday, at around five in the afternoon after a long journey from Kalibo. We were met at the Cagban Port by Kuya Allan, the resort's jack-of-all-trades (cooks breakfast, arranges tours, brings us blankets, et cetera).

 The sunset person in me reveled in this scenery.

It was evening when we decided to walk the beach. The powdery white sand was just as I remembered. Like a dream, smooth and pleasantly tickly on my bare foot. It felt like a sin to walk over in flip-flops and I saw my friends doing the same – picking up their slippers and skipping in the shallow waves.

I felt relaxed. I could not wait for the morning, when we'd see Boracay in its sunny glory.

We walked the length of Stations 1 and 2 before we called Kuya Ronnie, the resort's driver, to pick us up from D'Mall. Boracay Residences was not really that far from the beach, but we adored the transfer service after long walks on the sand! Kuya Allan and Kuya Ronnie were godsends.

We stayed three nights and each of these were spent in our two-bedroom suite, singing our “Greatest Hits” and recounting our infamous tales from Marian Choir days. Music brought us together, and in music, we will bond! 

 Days of sand and glory. Resting in between jump shot sessions

In the mornings, we toured the island, did gazillion jump shots – which were mostly practice for when Kuya Ronnie would get the few perfect shots. The photos were worth the aching thighs and sunburns.

I'm glad I made the trip. 


Travels are made more fun by “firsts.” And although it was my second time in paradise, the trip was made more meaningful by these bits:

First time I traveled with my closest Marian Choir friends, whom I loved to death even more because of this trip.

First time I flew with PAL, which was so-so, save for the “check-in” boo-boo (not my story to tell, though!).

First time I witnessed a fire dance. OOOOHH-EEEEMMM! Super amazing! I swear i found myself open-mouthed in amazement several times during various performances. These guys should be earning so much for this! 

 My friend, Angel, took this spectacular shot. 
I was too busy gaping to even think of my camera.

First time I floated on open sea! But with life vest, of course, because for the life of me, I can't swim.

A million thanks is not enough for the patience of Kuya Acy, who never gave up on leading me despite my frantic negatives.

Mag-papanic akooo! Ayokoooo! Hindi ko carry 'yan! 
(while holding on tightly to the katig)

I finally gave in to peer pressure when I saw all of them floating quite happily away from the boat, and the life-saving katigs. It was bliss! I can't wait to snorkel again!

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Love Affair with Boracay

Three years ago, when I first saw Boracay's White Beach, I fell in love at first sight. 

 i can walk this beach all day.

Three days ago, when I saw it again in broad daylight, I fell in a love a second time. I guess when a place is truly beautiful, it does not matter how many times you get captivated. You just do. Over and over again. Happily. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crazy Things I Did Today

Mind you, it's just Tuesday. 

Although, come to think of it, it's my workday midweek since I will be on leave on Thursday and Friday (yippee!). My whole being must be on holiday mode already because so far, today has been my ditziest day of the quarter (last quarter's was... well, let's not talk about it now).

First, I might have left two of my electric fans running at home. And yeah, I might have left the blower plugged, as well. It dawned on me as I was walking some two blocks away from the office – and running late as it is. Luckily, I had the embarrassingly eureka moment of calling the admin guards to check if my meter is running. You would imagine my “wording” dilemma. How do I manage this conversation without burying myself further in ditziness? Well, here goes the conversation. Please do not judge me.

Me: Hello, Kuya Ronald, quick question. Kapag ba umaandar 'yung metro, eh di ibig sabihin may umaandar din na appliance, diba?

Ronald: Yes, Ma'am.

Me: Sige, pa-check naman if umaandar 'yung sa amin. Hindi ko kasi sigurado kung napatay ko 'yung switch. Sorry ha. Tawagan kita ulit?

To my eternal gratefulness, Kuya Ronald confirmed that the meter was not moving.

Second thing, I sidetracked an assignment, which my boss ended up doing. In my defense, I was prioritizing another stint, which was more crucial in my understanding as it was a direct order from one of our top bosses. Anyway, I hope he did not hold it against me – which is most probably the case as i'm not yet fired right now.

Third and most yucky, I managed to spritz coke (as in Coca-Cola drink) on my department manager's table, around her files and on myself. I was chit-chatting and opening a liter-and-a-half bottle and the coke suddenly went spraying around in abandon. I closed the cap when I realized what was happening, but damage has been done and I stared helplessly at the mess. My manager friend, whose desk I ruined, laughed so hard when she snapped out of her shock. I was stammering my apologies and dabbing at my shirt front and surfaces I can reach.

It was horrible. I don't think I can open another softdrink bottle without cringing.

Copies of minutes were splattered with brown; my lunch was swimming in a puddle of coke, scratch pads were blotched and browned – and the floor! Our shoes kept sticking to it long after we wiped the mess with newspapers.

My friend was cool about it, for which I was thankful. I was SO apologetic, but she kept saying that such things happen. But really, the person who must have shaken the bottle crazy (which caused the build-up), must have a very troubled brain.

Funny day, this. Some are crazier than other, after all. I hope there won't be a fourth on the list today.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some Random Sadness

When I'm sad, I crave for really good food, sweets and strong coffee – in that precise order.

Last night was kind of gloomy (maybe because of the weather), so I called up Coach and asked him to come pick me up and feed me fried chicken.

We went to Sinangag Express. En route, I swore that if they did not have Chicksilog in stock, I would throw an all-nighter tantrum. Fortunately, they did have it. And I ate like a child at Christmas.

Dessert was tricky. I wanted to treat Coach to Ice Cream at Ritual, but they were closed for the night. So we walked several blocks to the apartment, figured that we'll just have hot chocolate when we got there. Ana was at home and we were looking forward to some cheesy jokes, which she would undoubtedly crack if we asked nice enough.

Suddenly, I wasn't gloomy anymore.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tagaytay Chit-chats (Warning: May Contain Some Corny Lines)

Because i can't stand not sharing these!

I'm putting a disclaimer because they might get back at me for posting these. We're not always this sabaw! :-P Just most of the time.

During dinner at one of the Mahogany Market carinderias, I donated half of my rice to Bonj and Kel.

Bonj: Diet ka, Anj?
Anj: Oo eh, sabi ni doc.
Bonj: Baket??!
Anj: Sumasakit na kasi yung lower back ko dahil hindi na nya kayang i-support yung weight ng upper body ko. Kailangan kong mag-lose ng 4 kilos.
Bonj: 4 kilos? Per day?
Anj: Pwedeee... Para next year wala na ako dito!
Bonj: Wag ka mag-alala, Anj! Isipin mo na lang tuwing oorder ka, andito lang ako.
Anj: Ang sweet mo naman.
Bonj: What are friends are for.
Candice: You can never can tell.
Bonj: Anj, basta, I got your back... your lower back.

On the way home, we passed by some pasalubong shops and I suddenly remembered to ask Kel about a small shop in Batangas.

Anj: Kel, meron daw sa Batangas na buko pie na super sarap?
Kel: Oo, meron! Pero.. nakalimutan ko na yung pangalan.
Bonj: Chismis ba yan, o totoo?
Anj: Totoo! Sabi nung friend ko sa office meron nga daw. Nakalimutan lang niya din yung pangalan.
Candice: So ganun siguro sya kasarap. Walang nakakaalala ng pangalan niya. 


Tagaytay in a Jiffy

Who cares if we'd been there before? 

View of the Taal from the Picnic Grove Eco-Trail

We made a new experience of Tagaytay! This time, we weren't in transit from somewhere else, or with family for Sunday brunch, or with colleagues on team-building session. We were with cozy, stress-free certified travel mates, out on a crazy and (relatively) unplanned weekend road trip. We five friends took our time, chilled overnight and spent less than we usually do during getaways (budget below).

First thing we did upon getting there was to look for a hotel. Remember, this was a carefree weekend. We did not make plans, nor reservations. And as luck would have it, the hotel we were eyeing had a room to spare! We checked in and immediately went to explore. It was late afternoon already and we wanted to make the most of daylight. 

 Aroma Apartelle facade

We had early dinner at the Mahogany Market Eateries. These are carinderias but with an edge. Everything is fresh! From the vegetables to the beef in the uber tasty bulalo! I'm sure you'll agree that hot soup and cold breeze go so well together. Dinner was sulit - all for Php 100+ per person! Oh, and did I mention that they offer bottomless bananas, pineapples and kapeng barako? Best hundred pesos you'll ever spend on food, I tell. 

 Caught the sunset at the Mahogany Market! 

We decided to walk off the full meal before heading out again. We shopped around the market, basking in the pleasant weather. I bought bamboo plants as companion for my money tree, Bounty. She has siblings now – Bambi and Bamboe.

We drove around, with our dear friend Bonj at the wheel, and listened to high-school-era music. The night was young and there were many things to laugh hysterically about, many jokes to tell. 

You absolutely CANNOT do a quick stop at the Bag of Beans. Might as well stay a bit :-)
At around eight, we stopped for coffee at the Bag of Beans. And upon setting foot in their al fresco garden, we decided to linger. We found a place among the casual tables set among charming trees and hanging lanterns. I felt warm despite the cool wind blowing. And soon enough, all five of us were cozily sipping and talking shop. I realize now that the place reminded me of Cafe by the Ruins in Baguio.

Never too full for dessert!

As soon as we had our fill of coffee and conversation, we went back to the hotel for video conference with our friend, Jaja, in Riyadh. Good times!

Before heading back to Manila in the morning, we looked around the Picnic grove and took some more photos to take home. 

Moleskine was only too happy to tag along!
The weekend was a winner! Let's do this again!

As promised, here is the costing for the whole Tagaytay Trip:

Transportation/Gas = Php 350 
(Van to Tagaytay and Gas pool – Thanks, Bonj!)
Food and Beverage = Php 600 
(Mahogany Market, Bag of Beans, Chips and Liquor from 7-11)
Souvenirs & Pasalubong = Php 300 
(Daing na Biya and assorted plants)
Accommodations = Php 640 
(Aroma Apartelle)
TOTAL = Php 1,890

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Papers and Papercuts

Today, our team at the office finished the preps for a major meeting tomorrow.

It's especially inspiring to see each one pitching their share in the workload, regardless of position levels. Our team does not care about that sort of thinking. Even if I am a manager, I can still staple and bind, right?

In the course of the month-long crunch time (and weeks of headaches prior to that), our senses have been crucially tested – sense of direction, sense of urgency, sense of humor. It's comforting to see that we can still laugh every now and then because of some particularly funny quip during paper sorting. Made us think we're sane, after all the chaos.

Also, it's not everyday that we get to do the fun mundane tasks – sorting pages, cutting loose edges, binding and running through stacks of bound papers to see if the pages were done correctly. It's a big break from the mighty computer and everything that entails.

It was also a chance to bond with the dear teammates. Such fun to chit-chat while at work! Seriously, we covered much in terms of “organizational information.” Yeah, most of them probably classified.

Come tomorrow, the fruits of almost two months of hard work and constant papercuts will have paid off.

It helps to know - we are a hundred percent, OC-level sure that all the pages are in their proper places. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Unplanned) Travel Cafe with the Best

Lazy Sunday afternoons are usually spent at home but we decided to hit the mall because... well, we missed going out. And we figured we could go to the Greenbelt Chapel for mass in the evening anyway. It sounded like a plan.

We were hanging out, three of us, at my best friend's pad when this lighbulb hit. We planned to hang out at some random popular coffee place and wait for the next mass.

But somehow, the thought of Starbucks or Seattle's was not very attractive. And I suddenly remembered this curious, quiet cafe in Greenbelt 5, the Travel Cafe Philippines. Coach had been there before and said he suddenly craved for their tea. Cielo, my best friend, said she wanted to try this place since Coach and I sounded positive about it.

We were pleased to see that there weren't many people in the cafe. Just a few of the many tables were occupied.

It was a treat to discover that we ordered all the right food. We shared among us the Manila-Style Barbecue with Lettuce Wraps and Mango Salsa and the Longganisa in Pandesal with native white cheese and sweet potato chips on the side. Cielo and Coach enjoyed their highly recommended Hot Tsokolate with Suman, while I sipped cold latte. 

 Manila-Style Barbecue with Lettuce Wraps and Mango Salsa

 Longganisa in Pandesal with native white cheese and sweet potato chips on the side

Hot Tsokolate with Suman
We got comfortable and we gradually adjusted the mass plans until we finally decided to attend the last one for the day. 
Oh well, we had not been sticking to any plan we made anyway.

Moleskine in Matabungkay

Last weekend, the Moleskine traveled with me and the office gang to Matabungkay Beach in Batangas.

The trip was sort of biglaan for me. I sent my regrets early on because of some family thing. But you know, things happen and I got peer-pressured. I never could stand a chance against that! And I'm glad the family changed their plans. Then I changed my mind without strings and guilt.

The office bunch are perky and fun-loving. We just laughed and ate (and ate more) and took loads of photos the whole day. Some time during lunch, a big, loud, shining videoke machine came on the scene. And it was party from there on.

I think the whole beach breathed a sigh of relief when one of us hit the first note. I'm sure it was a BIG break from the videoke belters of the opposite cottages, who must have found a place to hibernate after their failed concert. Kidding aside, my colleagues are really good singers, which is a good thing!

I was also aiming to get a bit of a tan, and I was ever so glad of the sunny weather (got traumatized in Camiguin). But well, the tan didn't happen.

The fun did, though! And it was a welcome break. Another adventure for the Traveling Moleskine! :) 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bounty, the Money Tree

My closest colleagues and friends got me an omen for my birthday. And it's just what I need!

Meet Bounty, my new Money Tree! I loved her at first sight (yes, it's a her). And I'm falling even more each minute. And the red jar! Gosh, really perfect for the house. I CANNOT stop smiling!

Thank you sooo much, guys! You know me too well. I really do appreciate the gift. 

I am also going to get that bamboo plant so that they'll be BFFs. :D

I'm so excited to take her home! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Twenty-Seventh Year

I super love my friends! 

No one forgot – well, this year at least. The wonders of technology are well into our lives, and I am not complaining at all.

Thank you all for the birthday greets! :-D

I decided to start my 27th with a pilgrimage-slash-field-trip.

Coach and I went to Manaoag for the day. It was his idea and I kept thanking him for bringing it up.

The trip was long and I took the time to do a bit of soul-searching. Which was just as well because Coach drifted off soon after the bus left the terminal. I covered many areas and came to several realizations. My journal had a heyday! Long trips are good for my soul. 

We arrived at noon - got off at the market near the church. The Manaoag Shrine was just as I remembered. Fellow pilgrims coming in and about, a hollow hush as we walked inside and the gradual cooling of air in contrast to the high heat outside. We took to an aisle in the front and started our prayers. 

There is comfort in the corners of this Shrine.
It's been sort of a tradition for us to take a photo of our feet when we travel.

It was Coach's first time in Manaoag and I could see he was amazed by the grand altar, with Our Lady of Manaoag's crown shining (literally). After we said our prayers, we took a tour of the candle shrine, which was a BIG improvement from my last visit. They built concrete and steel candle-stand structures around a giant statue of the Virgin.

There were many people in line to touch the Virgin's Mantle. We made slow but steady way, and soon we were in the small chamber, silently making prayer.

Soon after, we started our way back to Manila to catch dinner with the sister and mum at Amici.

Amici's Salmon Penne

Long day, but definitely worth the aching muscles!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

[The Sagada Chronicles] See You Later, S

First Published on November 23rd, 2006

November 5, 2006

Just as we were getting acclimatized, we had to leave.

Although, for the life of me, I could not imagine how we were able to go down the inn stairs and uphill to the town center with all our aching muscles and sore feet. For all that, it was still a glorious morning.

For our last hurrah, we had breakfast at the Saint Joseph Inn before shopping our hearts out and haggling for souvenirs and stuff.

Upon leaving the inn, we were so thankful that the George Guest house had a shuttle service up to the Bus station! Hallelujah!

We took a jeep down to Bontoc. We found that all the seats on the 9am trip to Baguio were taken. Lesson: get a reservation next time! Never think "yeah, yeah, this is a small town, we'll get seats alright." And - lightbulb! - it was Sunday, as well.

Upon reaching Bontoc, we decided to wait out for the Cable Tour, which would bring us directly to Manila. We had three hours to kill.

After a light meal, Jaja, Candice and Ivee went to the market. Candice bought some veggies for home. Ramil and I were left in the Cable Café to mind our stuff.

It was a fast three hours. We were boarding the bus (from which, an additional blooper arises). And then we were going down to Ifugao. It became a panicky ride when it started raining. And then somewhere along the way, it started to get really foggy. As in I-could-not-see-the-roadside-anymore fog. It was a good thing that the driver apparently knows where he was going. Upon realizing we were safe, I started to doze off.

The trip took 14 hours instead of the estimated 12, what with the fog and the rain. We even had a minor hitch in Nueva Vizcaya. It was a blessing that we had engine trouble there and not up the mountains.

At past four am on Monday, November 6, we arrived in Manila laden with pics, pasalubong, some scratches, bruises and a whole lot of Sagada experience!

[The Sagada Chronicles] The Immersion

First Published on November 12th, 2006 

November 4, 2006 

Mornings are misty and foggy in the mountains. 

From our penthouse view, we could see the outline of nearby ranges capped with clouds. Splendid is the sunshine, solid and vivid. Wonderful especially when it hits one’s sleep-cold face. The city felt like a lifetime ago. 

So we went down to breakfast. Masferre’s Country Inn and Restaurant is a dream. Streaming sunlight on wooden floors and tables add to the country feel. And the food – simply heavenly! It was the perfect way to start that particular day. 

On the menu: Cheese Omelet for me, Continental Breakfast for Ramil (most recommended!), Farmer’s Pancake for Jaja, Filipino Breakfast: Tocino for Candice, Tapa for Ivee

Getting Lost, Going Forward, Finding the Way

Armed with maps, confidence and guts, we braved the road to Kiltepan Tower, the highest viewing point where one can actually see the Banaue Rice Terraces. It was supposed to be an hour’s hike away.

We didn’t make it.

To Kiltepan, at least. The first track we found was actually the wrong way. We were told to take the jeep to Bontoc, but decided it was too far for the morning. We took the road to Echo Valley instead. We’re not to give up hiking, after all. 

We passed by the Episcopal Church, with Candice hoping that there’d be a workable restroom. She was not rewarded. So we went on to the trail hike, with a grouchy friend in tow. 

Little did we know that the map has its own way of reading. We got lost along the way. We hiked upward steep, slippery ravines. All the while questioning “how the hell are we going back this way?!” 

We got passed by two foreigners, father and daughter, asking if that was the right way to Echo Valley, we said we’re just groping around as well. They, bless them, went back to the Municipal Hall to get a tour guide. We found that out later, when they passed us yet again on the right path. 

So they went back and we went even farther up searching for the echo (which will obviously mean we were in the right place already). I was screaming murder when I nearly slipped on a particularly steep climb. There was still no echo. I was pushed upward from behind before I could slip (thanks, friends!). And then it was Calvary Hill, although we did not know the name at that time. 

Ivee, Ramil and I chilled down under the big cross on the hill while Jaja took off for the rock terraces beyond, not giving up yet on the Echo Valley. Candice went to the bushes and did her long-awaited business. 

From the rock terrace, Jaja found the Hanging Coffins way, way down below. And there, my friends, was the Echo Valley. To think that we were so high up there, and the valley was about fifteen stories down. Funny thing when you get lost. 

Good thing there was someone down to lead us to the right path. “Manong” (from way down below) told Jaja to take the path to the right. And we were on track. Finally. Candice, feeling all new after her stint, decided to take on the hiker-leader-mode. “Energy, team! Energy!”

So we went down to the valley, passing by the cemetery, another cliff road and steep rock formations. Halfway down, there were the two foreigners, Sarah and her Father, with their tour guide.  They went past us, as we were too slow on the down slope. 

We finally get to see the Hanging coffins up close. And there was the echo, at last. We also caught a whiff of some information from the foreigners’ guide. A little awkward, it seems we’re just tagging along. 

Okay, so now we go back up. A little tricky, what with our scratched fingers, shaky leg muscles and sore backside. But we managed to get ourselves up alright. It was bothersome when Candice started cracking jokes in the middle of a Cliffside climb. We all had to stop for a while to laugh it out first, lest we break our neck falling down. The Nth Blooper. 

We came back exhausted and hungry. On to Shamrock III for a big lunch!

On the Menu: Vegetable Fried Rice with Fried Chicken for Ja, Vegetable Fried Rice with Pork Steak for me, Buttered Chicken with rice for Ivee and Ramil, Fried Tilapia for Candice

Sumaguing Cave: God’s Mysterious Work

It makes me feel blessed and thankful that I was able to experience Sumaguing Cave once in this lifetime. Inside the cave is an exotic and mysterious aura that is purely nature. 

On the way there from our Inn, we were saved from a long walk by a passing fierra. We were only too glad that Kuya Biag (Biag means “Life” in Ifugao), our tour guide, knows the driver of the vehicle so we were able to hitch a ride up to the crossing. From there, it was still a 15-minute misty hike to the caves.

The road to Sumaguing was winding and scenic. We stopped at intervals to photograph beautiful rice terraces bordered by mountains. 

It was gone 2pm when we reached the Cave entrance. The rock formations were majestic even from there. We almost hesitated when we saw the immediate steep drop made of massive rocks. We were made even more panicky when Kuya B took a while to make our gas lamp work. After several tries, we finally had a stable light. 

On we went to the steep drop of rocks, which was actually only the start of a series of extreme rocky plunges. We made the most of the “hand, feet and rear side coordination”, which Kuya B (or Kuya Life, as Candice prefers) suggested we do. It was crucial, he stressed, as we would hike down a slippery path of limestone. He was right. 

The coldness of the cave interior did not matter as we were hanging on rocks and dirt. Bats residing at the cave ceiling were probably laughing at the awkward positions we made while going down to the promised spectacle below. 

We hiked past various huge rock formations, the names of which are beyond my memory now. At that time, I was only concerned with which rock I was going to step next. 

The key to survive during those kinds of escapades, I realize now, is the ability to concentrate on the now. It was crucial not to lose footing, as it could be fatal. The act of a simple step could make a difference to the whole journey, to everyone who is with you at that moment. I myself slipped a couple of times (fortunately at the least deadly spots), because I was thinking of something else. Subconsciously, the adrenaline flows in relation to the level of danger we were faced. 

Upon reaching the bottom, the “sandstone country” as I termed it in my head, we were asked to leave our footwear to one side and proceed barefoot for the rest of the way. 

Sandstone, as Kuya B explained, is not slippery as long as you walk through it flat-footed. Though water flows through every surface, we were able to hike without hassle.
Downward still, we were confronted with a series of small lakes and cascades of little waterfalls. There was even a place they call “King’s Palace” where smooth, pillar-like, asymmetrical structures makes up one wall. It was such a glorious view that I forgot all the pain we went through going down. I did not even know such a place existed in our country! I thought of all the trouble the natives went to preserving it, and felt a surge of pride for them. I said a prayer of thanks to the God who made all these.

We were yet to come to the bottom of Sumaguing, where we would have to pass through a small opening and wade through an underground river. During a meeting of sorts (yes, underneath the cave) I and Ivee decided not to go through the last leg, as we were claustrophobic. Ramil and Jaja opted not to go, too. Candice was ready to trek on her own. Fortunately for her, Sarah and her Dad, the two foreigners from early on, came on the scene. 

So Sarah and Candice, with their guides, hiked down to the rest of the drop. We stayed on the other side to wait for them to come out. 

So then we rappelled upward to start the rest of the journey to the mouth of the cave. It was kind of easier going up, though still slippery nonetheless. It seemed faster, too. I guess that’s because the anticipation of going down adds to the delay. Still, we were able to breathe many sighs of relief when we reached the top. Flatland once again! 

This time there was no fierra to bring us home. We hiked all the way to the Inn. That’s when we all learned the true meaning of exhaustion. We were dead on our feet, having hiked all day. Add to that, the adrenaline was wearing off. We were walking in all directions, bumping to each other along the way, stepping on each other’s foot. We were only too thankful to be back in our room, to have that well-needed hot bath. Oh, and the dinner was a thrown-in sort. 

On the menu: Mr. Chips, Snickers, Piattos, Pan de Sal ala Pan de Manila (from Candice’s Baon) Coke, Yoghurt for all!(We suddenly had a craving, so Ramil, Candice and I went down to Yoghurt house to take out some yummy dessert. Sort of a treat for having survived Sumaguing!)

You would think we’d all drop on our backs to sleep after the bath and dinner, but no. We decided to recap all the bloopers we have so far. Below is the account of the ones I remember. 

Blooper Summary:
The Taxi incident (Ramil) - “Magkano share ko?”
The Gate incident (Candice —late kasi!)
The Laundry Confusion (Ramil) - “Sa Sagada mo na lang sana ipina-laundry!”may offshoot pa yan na “Sana dinala mo na! Eh di may extra bag ka pa! O, diba?”
The Head Butt Incident (Ramil & Anj)
The Yoghurt House Scene (Ramil) – “Hello, Direk!”
The Kiltepan Joke (The whole team)
The Echo Valley Blunder (The whole team din) – “Are we, like, lost?!”
The Cliffside Joketime (Candice) – “Lean to the right.. and shake it to the left!”
The Bat Spell inside Sumaguing (Ivee) – “Eww!”
The Cave Novena (Ramil) – “This is so not worth 100 bucks!” na one hundred times niya atang sinabi!
The Slip-over (Ivee) – “Salamat mga friends. Love ya all!”
The Almost-Domino Effect (Jaja) – Na buti na lang eh hindi natuloy! Hahaha!
The Cave Excuse (Ivee and Paul) – “Eh nasa loob kaya ako ng kweba non!” – On a phone conversation with Paul on Saturday night. We assume na nagtanong si Paul kung bakit hindi sumasagot si Ivee ng phone earlier that day.