Monday, January 27, 2014

The Joke is on Us

We have been too engrossed watching Showtime that we forget there are more sides of the story and there are more stories needed to get the limelight. This "sympathy" with the celebrities made some of us act as if we know everything what's happening after the camera rolls. Some tried to dig who this girl is and those 'thugs' who mauled the very amiable, too generous comedian.

Sympathy and empathy is different with sensationalism. Don't be a part of this nasty ratings game. What you see on TV is not what they seem to be. We should think again. Or maybe we are no longer thinking. After all, escapism is easier to taste than swallow the hard realities. 

This "need" for our "care" for them compels us to show it in all forms of media. To have #JusticeforVhongNavarro and preoccupying our time with him over and over  (yes that includes reading articles about that incidenr and putting his video viral) yet disregards reading even the basic facts about the peace process is just laughable. Oh what peace process?

This is NEWS! The two panels just signed the Normalization Annexe , the  last of the four annexes to the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). It talks about the decommissioning of the armed wing of the MILF and outlines steps to disarm private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area. Yes, dismantling armies of political families not just in Mindanao but we should also reiterate that this be also done in other parts of the country. That should be relevant, right?

You talk about violence and justice? Then go beyond the walls, beyond those high rise condominium and  start to set our anger at the proper direction. Cry for Justice for the 58 media and civilians massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Cry for Justice for those who disappeared. Remember the names of Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empenio, among other desaparecidos.

And by the way, thank you mainstream media (yes you  ABS-CBN, GMA, your executives like Gabby Lopez, Gozons and even you Boy Abunda) for giving lots of your airtime to this brouhaha. This is the tragedy of our lopsided priorities.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


For our third and last day, we've done the most physically-challenging activity- spelunking at Sumaguing Cave. 

Just a reminder. It’s important to bring the receipt of payment made at the Tourism Office for monitoring. They won't allow you to go inside if you don't have the receipt. 

We wanted to try the cave connections (entry from Lumiang Cave and exit at Sumaguing) but Lumiang was closed due to very slippery rocks and highly steep entrance. So we did not insist for the 6-hour cave connection ordeal. Well the rugged terrain in the entrance is already a sign that it would not be an easy climb for the Sumaguing cave alone. We have no guide yet and we waited for about an hour. 
While waiting for our guide, we decided to re-create the John Lloyd and Bea's
" Miss you like Crazy" poster. *epic laugh* 
There were already 2 groups ahead of us: Three foreigners and another group of 6 siblings  (or probably cousins). The latter are all prepared - each has their own head lamps and waterbag. Their father took several pictures of them and lectured them about safety, and  the need to follow their guide. After 15 minutes the first group came up. They decided not to pursue it. We also later learned that the 6 siblings backed out. 

The hour waiting for our guide was not lost as we chatted with the woman in charge at the entrance. I asked her what is the meaning of Sumaguing and she replied: “Ma’am pumasok ka sa loob at paglabas mo malalaman mo ang ibig sabihin ng Sumaguing (Go inside the cave and when you went outside you will know its meaning).”  I was dumbfounded. That was the first time I got that kind of reply. When I am usually new to the area, I always ask the meaning of place names and the stories behind it. If Sumaguing is unexplainable in words, then I’m willing to take the depth of its dark abyss and uneven steps.

Our guide Taric from SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association) came. He proved to be a very jolly, helpful and energetic guide. The cave has three parts: the descent, the second phase under the bat colony and the difficult yet the most breathtaking part. The path is slippery, and you couldn't care less if it’s covered with bat pee or poop!

During peak season it would be hard since the way will be packed with tourists coming and going out at the single line. Thankfully, there were few people this time so we can stay longer at a certain point and adjust our senses to the darkness inside. On the second part, we were asked to remove our footwear and socks to take the Spider-like traction of the slope bridging it to the chambers. The rock formations here ask for our imagination to enable us to see the accompanying stories of a native pig pen with matching lechon still on stick, a mother and baby elephant and a “Dinosaur track” that killed the “turtle”. There’s also a Royal story wherein the King and the Queen made Princesses and Princes in the Royal Chamber. These formations are sexually suggestive and Taric had made us laughing. The most spectacular formations for me are the black chocolate cake and the chamber curtains! To get an idea what I meant here’s the pictures inside the cave taken by Jorge Golle:

The difficult descent 
at the native pig pen rock formation with mother and child elephant
going to the second part of the cave
Advance Happy birthday Boni! :p
chocolate cake rock formation.
The mystery of the missing head of the "snake"
The brothers and an Indian couple exploring the secrets of Sumaguing
The crocodile and the prey
The Royal Curtain where the "head of the snake" is hiding
The process gets challenging as we have to slip and crawl and for the vertically-challenged like me, I have to ask Taric to serve as a human ladder. 

There is a pool near the Royal Curtain rock formation that has a hole that is dark, unfathomable, you can’t see its surface. No one dared to measure its depth.

ice cold water and peer pressure
 The last and the most challenging part is taking the plunge in the ice cold pool! Six feet on the left side part and about ten feet on the other side. With ultimate darkness, you'll think of the presence of mermen who will lure you into the deep. 

I don’t know how to swim but it did not  stop me from taking a swim in a 10-degree Celsius water! Too cold that even the foreigners get out of the water the minute they felt the numbness.  It was very cold at the very first but very refreshing.  If you’re afraid to take the pool, there’s a mini waterfalls at the side.

The white specks on the walls are fossilized seashells and bits of clams
And did I mention there are a lot of fossils of seashells inside? Yes, it just proved that our country was once submerged in water. You’ll be amazed not just with the rock formations but the very rich history on its walls. Some not yet studied. We have a lot of archeological treasures uncovered. 

The survivors with Taric, the super funny guide. 
 The mystery of the cave made us speechless, lost for words and longing to stop the time, just to stay.And we achieved what we want: we came out unscratched, clothes clean and laughing till the top. 

The wounded gecko pine tree
Tree hugging is a therapy. :)

Sagada is not your typical sightseeing adventure. It is not for the fainthearted. It is for the people who wants to try to overcome their fears and to refresh their weary souls. It is the place for gastronomic adventure too. Thank you for filling always our hungry tummies in different ways. 
LR- Strawberry House's home made yoghurt, Salt and Pepper's etag, smoked meat cooked in vinegar, Yoghurt House's banana pancake, Masfere's chicken, veggies and large fries! We were not able to try Lemon Pie's specialty; they're closed and probably planting lemons. hehe  

Sagada, thank you for keeping alive your people’s hospitality, the genuine smile and stories of our ancestors etched in the rocks of the terraces, caves and waterfalls for us to continue to appreciate. Your pine trees are good secret keepers too! 

Carpe diem baby! :D

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Waiting for the fogs to clear

At 5:30AM, still sleepy and feeling cold, we waited alongside other tourists for Mr. Sun to come out at Kiltepan Viewpoint. In between waiting, we drank soju (yes like a  mouthwash!)  and joked around.
It’s a good thing we got another group (Mara Lopez and her 2 friends) to join us and share the van rent. 
Soju as mouthwash. :p

We waited for an hour, looked at the movement of the clouds and the thick fogs. Mr. Sun went out for only about 20 minutes and hid himself again. 
shattered glass
Photo by Jorge Golle

Since it’s already 700AM, we decided to go back the lodge, wash ourselves and prepare for the trek to Bomod-ok Falls. 

With Ate Gloria, our guide

The way to Bomod-ok Falls is an hour trek alongside the rice terraces with the cold breeze and the sweltering heat. We met Ate Gloria, our 49-year old guide who jokes around and pleasantly told me stories of their land passed from generation to generation and her children's schooling. She picked up sunflowers for me and offered to take my small backpack. She provided us with long thin bamboo sticks saying it’s our “helpline’ in slippery areas and for our uphill climb.  

It was an hour trek for a 1.9km way to the once majestic falls. Bomod-ok from the word, bod-ok (pushed from the rock) , is also known as the Big Falls. It used to contain water in wider area before it was tapped as drinking water and irrigation of communities surrounding it. Our three companions (Mara, Dian and Ian) swam at their heart’s content at the fall’s basin pool. They invited us but Ian’s nanginginig na taba sa tiyan (as Boni described it) is enough proof of the water’s coldness. And we have to trek back at high noon! So we contented ourselves dipping our foot and exploring the area amidst the big boulders. Gladly we’re here at off peak season, so we can almost say we got the place for ourselves.
Aiming at the Sun
After another hour of trekking, we went back to our lodge, too tired to move our muscles. Grumbling stomach made us walked again for the late lunch at Salt and Pepper Diner. Then we slept until 5PM. 
Too sleepy while waiting for our orders. Too hungry that we will eat anything. 

We hiked again to take a look at the Hanging Coffins. There are no more trails going directly to the coffins. Jorge and Boni were there before and they were able to get closer. It was closed because of the looting of the coffins, some bones were stolen believing it is a good amulet and some teeth which have gold innings. 

Like a child rediscovering the wonders of soundwaves bouncing, w
e shouted at our heart’s delight at Echo Valley. We shouted the names of the people we wanted to bless (or curse? Haha!). 

It won't be an authentic Strawberry House if it don't have the plant. They have pots of it; some were planted in bamboos and plastic containers.  
Then we trekked back to town proper and this time, tried the Strawberry House (it’s just beside our inn). Since we’re still full with our late lunch, I just ordered a sandwich and paired with the yogurt with fresh strawberry. Super yum and filling! Must try this at home. 

While the two of our companions were too tired, Boni and I on one hand,were wide awake and itching to explore. We wanted to have a feel of the local night life and hoping to find those three cute foreigner backpackers we've met during our arrival. And truth be told, we're up for another adventure *wink wink* But lo and behold, all shops close at 10PM!  So we walked and saw a bar with Bob Marley's tarp outside and ordered beers. We met three local guides who taught us how to take the momma with limestone added with tobacco. They shared stories of relative peacefulness (zero criminality!) in their area. When they left, Boni and I are the only ones around.  We were finishing the beer when this expat with dark blue eyes popped his head at the door and smiled, said good evening and asked me if I know someone who sells joint. Holy camote! He just easily said it in a conspiratorial voice.  He was almost begging since it’s their last night there and asked me thrice if indeed, I don’t know someone. He was testing me. For him, it's either I don’t know someone who sells or I have it but just don't want to offer it to him. The nerve! Well sorry honey, you brought along a girl with you and you won't believe me. We could have assisted you in looking for a joint but nah, you're a waste of time! :p 

So we left the bar and walked in the dark and eerie road. I was describing to Boni (in a somehow loud voice I suppose) the openness of marijuana coffee shops in Amsterdam, when this guy sitting outside that bar just butted in and said, “I am selling one. I left it at home though. I can get it.” And we stopped in our tracks. Bakit ngayon ka lang kuya? May naghahanap kanina eh! Should we? Hhmmm..very tempting. I nudged Boni. But crazy thoughts of murder, frame-ups and unused cell bars were running on his head. We said thanks to that guy and headed to our lodge laughing at our foolishness What a way to end our second day.♥ 

Monday, January 20, 2014


It started as a wild thought. The organizational annual planning on first week of January will be held in Baguio. Then Boni said, “how about a side trip after the planning?” The wanderlust in us was awakened.  A side trip to Northern Luzon and the thoughts of rice terraces, winter-like weather and good smelling coffee pushed us to seek permission from our Country Manager (CM). He said he will allow us IF we do it before the planning. We're afraid that was sort of a test for us. We have to prove that we will not be sleeping during the sessions and there's no other choice, so  Yes, we will do it. 

But as Christmas vacation was fast approaching, we were told that we will be rescheduling the planning session and we might not be able to pursue the trip after all. Our crestfallen faces made Manang Nikki (our Deputy Country Manager) talked to the big  boss again. “Yes payagan mo na yung mga bata!" our big boss said. We laughed. Three days of leave approved. Can anything be better than that? :)

So we spent the holidays with our respective families with the giddy feeling knowing that we will be jumpstarting the year to ease our itchy feet. In my part, I started walking and jogging around the fields in my hometown. 

My Dora backpack needs some stitching; its top pocket was ruined after the Bangkok adventure and it collected some dust. Come to think of it, I haven’t travelled outside of Mindanao for a year now. Last year, my former worked provided me the opportunity to explore the outskirts and the urban jungle of Davao, my second home. 
pink gloves (gifts from my Tita), pink socks and bonnets (gifts from friends)
Three hours and all of the essentials were packed- long sleeve shirts, thermal jacket, pink gloves and socks (I was even thinking of bringing a muffler!:p) , leggings, pants, trekking sandals and of course, my trusty leather boots. :D 

On January 5, we trooped to the airport by 11:30AM and found ourselves starving upon arriving in Manila. The three of us have large luggages and we would not want several security guards prying into things so we decided to eat at food stalls in front of Farmer’s Plaza before heading to E. Rodriguez Avenue for the Manila-Bontoc trip by Cable Tours. We took a taxi and tried to search for the bus. We were told it was just beyond St. Luke’s and beside Trinity College. We were already at the end of the avenue and we haven’t found it yet. It’s the sole direct trip to Bontoc and my companions were worried. We called Boni (our other companion who’s yet to come from Cavite and was tasked to buy the tickets beforehand, but failed to do so) and asked him for directions again. He reiterated the direction and other landmarks, with the help of google map of course. 

Sky as canvass

Instead of panicking, I asked them to just keep calm and enjoy the changing horizon. It’s already sunset. Good thing the taxi driver was also game for the chase wherever Cable Tours is.  

And just when I was about to capture Jolibee’s silhouette on sunset, I saw a very little sign informing that Cable Tours operations has been absorbed by Florida Bus! Lovely.

Manila traffic and beating the stoplights
So we asked Manong driver to drive us to Florida Bus at Sampaloc. We got there in time to purchase tickets for  the 8:30PM trip and waited for Boni to arrive. It will be a 12-hour travel and we got Bonamine (for possible dizziness), food and water! 

The last time I went to Baguio was in 2007 for the UP General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) and I was ill-prepared. This time, I have the experience of winter and trekked several mountains. I easily fall asleep during long trips. Just after taking the bus tickets, I fell asleep all the way to Bontoc (well except for a stop in Nueva Ecija). We brace ourselves for the colder weather as the bus traces a winding path to Bontoc proper. 
The Mother and the Baby Florida transpo
Goooooood bbbbrrrrrrrorning Bontoc!
We arrived at around 9AM in Bontoc. We asked around for the jeep that will bring us to Sagada. The trip is around 45 minutes. We’re faced with a minor dilemma: should we take the top load or just go inside. Our boss warned us not take the ride on top of the jeep as one former volunteer got herself injured badly when the jeep swerved in one of the curvy roads and she fell. But unlike her (a foreigner), we’re raised in the barrios and we take a lot riskier public transpo. 
Junction going to Sagada.
We embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. :)
We surmised it’s safer compared to the long habal-habal (motorcycle) rides we took in the mountains. Besides, the trip would not be as exciting without experiencing it. And peer pressure is even more potent than the mad eyes of our supervisor or security officer later. :p 
And we saw the envy from three foreigner backpackers who sat inside. Two of them went on top just to take a picture of himself alongside the baggage. Sorry boys, we took the risk better. :)

Indeed, we got the perfect view. It’s the exhilarating feeling of being outside and having a whole view of things around you and watching passing jeeps with full people on top, the sacks of rice and vegetables it carry and the people going on with their daily lives. We arrived in Sagada proper with smiles despite the painful butt and numb legs. We did it! 

The world is at your feet.
We walked down to Residential Lodge and rested for a while. It has one of the friendliest owner Tita Mary Daoas. Her daughter-in-law is from Sasa-11, Davao! And they gave us a room good for 6 people with a P250/night/person rate. The room is comfy and we have a good view of the pine trees. Our place is very convenient for the food houses we can’t wait to try. 
The Residential Lodge: Our home for three days.
For reservations you call or text these numbers: 0919-672-8744/ 0908-166-10770908-166-1077 or email:

Tita Mary and her two adorable grandchidlren. The youngest kid would only sleep if it's his grandma who'll attend to his needs.
We're starving and we walked to Yoghurt house and tried their specialty. Our rule in this trip is to have a culinary experience thus, we won’t be repeating any resto. We will try everything. J We have a sumptuous meal of meat and sautéed vegetables and banana and strawberry in home-made yoghurt. 

getting the feel of Sumaguing.
Then we started our adventure. We registered at the local Tourism Office, paid the Environmental fee (P35 each) and walked towards Sumaguing Cave (just to check its entrance, caving will be on our last day). 

On the road to the cave, there was this old woman who was bundling the dried abaca and I wanted to take her picture. I asked her permission. To my dismay, she declined. I could have just clicked the button and got away with it. But I wanted to test the boundaries of a free, prior and informed consent and the blurry lines of it especially in photography. We want to take photos that come off naturally, those candid shots of unguarded moments but it is also ethical to ask their permission first. And I don’t have long lenses anyway so that they would be unguarded. Most of the time, I take photos (especially of children)  and let them see it after. It was a test on my part to ask her. I know for one there are beliefs that photographs take away a part of their souls. Or to some areas where I have done fieldworks, taking photograph is a formal affair. They have to look pretty thus, one has to change clothes and put on make-up.

 When we’re back at the cross roads, Jorge asked if we would like to chase the sunset at Lake Danum. 
 We got an hour to do it but another trek to the other side of the mountain is not inviting. So we asked Tita Mary if we could rent her van. Kuya Marion picked us up and we took our way to Lake Danum. 

Sunset in Lake Danum.  
My first attempt in using filter.
The May and Boni Team-up! :D
It was cloudy though and the sun can’t get through. It would have been perfect to see the sun’s reflection on water as it’s setting. Kuya Marion told us he knows a good site for a good vantage view of the lake. He took us to the hill just before the entrance of the lake and we waited. 

 The sun started to set at the horizon and the clouds were parting, giving way for its glory. Sunsets are always spectacular.  With oohhss and ahhhs, yes we affirmed that the best moments in life are free and colorful.. ♥




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