Exploring the City in the Forest

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Just us girls. Left to right: Joan, Jalene, Ms. MC, Jana, Ms. Mich and Keeshia

Back in September 2015, Palawan was my first out-of-town destination for work that required a plane ride from Manila. Naturally, I was very excited to be able to see one of the most famous places in the Philippines with almost our entire cluster.  I think we were about nine or ten because we were going to audit around three to four of our offices there. I was part of Ms. MC’s team with Ms. Mich and Jana.

My teammates and I stayed in Empire Suites in Puerto Princesa which was conveniently located very near our auditee. It was very easy also to get a tricycle ride from the hotel to go anywhere within the city such as the airport. Our rooms were cozy although, being located along the highway, we could hear some noise from the vehicles passing by. There was also a rooster that crowed very early in the morning that my roommate, Jana, made it a point to wake up before it crows. It was as if there was a competition between them on who gets to wake up earlier. At least the rooster helped make sure we were never late for work.

What I loved about the city was the number of family owned restaurants that served very delicious food. I do not remember eating at the usual fast-food joints for the duration of our stay. However, I noted that these local restaurants opened only for a few hours in the morning and then will close for a few hours before opening again in the evening.

11215141_162087417463773_7879096516399614541_nThe first restaurant we tried was Kalui Restaurant where I had my first try of buko shake (I normally do not drink coconut water or eat young coconut because it makes my tummy ache). I liked it and fortunately, my tummy was fine since I was throwing up that morning.

I do not know the logic behind usog or balis, but I suddenly felt ill after being greeted and tapped on the shoulder by someone early that day. It was like something cold suddenly shot up my spine and sucked out all the energy out of me.

The sea foods we were served did not taste very “malansa” (is there even an exact English equivalent for this word?), which I absolutely hate in food. They were fresh and tasty so our tummies were happy.

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From Left to right: (upper) Me, Jana, (lower) Ms. Mich and Ms. MC.

The restaurant itself was already a sight to see with its native and colorful design and decorations. It had several Instagram-worthy spots where you can take lots of pictures before and after eating. Do mind, however, that they make you take off your shoes before going in. If you are not comfortable walking barefoot, you might want to make sure to have socks with you like I did.

IMG_0028On our second fieldwork day (technically our third day), we tried the halo-halo at Nokinocs Savory House. They also offered delectable lunch and merienda but we were really after the halo-halo after all the people in the branch we were auditing recommended that we tried it.

Indeed, the halo-halo was very refreshing! I can compare it to the minimalist halo-halo of Razon’s of Guagua because it did not have so much going on like in the usual colorful halo-halo. Although, I liked Nokinoc’s better. The ice was finely shaved but I think they froze the milk and shaved it instead. Regardless, this is a treat that everyone will surely love especially during the summer season.

The following day, we tried the food at Balinsasayaw Chicken Grill and Restaurant. I kind of regret not being more adventurous with my food choice for this place because I read that it served really good food. I think I ordered something very usual but I cannot remember and I was not able to take any picture before diving to eat. I must have been really hungry that time.

IMG_0289On day 5, my mom arrived in Palawan. My officemates were going to El Nido the following day (Saturday) and my mom knew I was not going to just stay in the hotel. I was going to be exploring on my own. Being the younger of two daughters, she was somehow very protective over me. So, to give her peace of mind, my sister booked her a ticket to Palawan so she could have a mini vacation with me. I treated her to Kinabuch’s Grill and Bar.

I am pretty sure we did not order any exotic food but I heard this place served tamilok (shipworm) and crocodile dishes. I was not about to upset my stomach with unfamiliar food since I had a vomiting episode only recently.

It was a good thing I did not join the El Nido trip because the van was just enough for all my office mates and some family members of one of them. At that time, I did not yet enjoy adventures that involved bodies of water so I was not too keen on joining. But I had to find activities for my mom and I to do so I booked us a city tour that the hotel offered.

Before our city tour that was going to start after lunch, I first found places to visit to during the day. Our first stop was supposed to be the Palawan Museum but it was still closed. So, we went to Divine Sweets while waiting for the museum to open.

Gosh! The place was super cute! I have a thing for coffee shops and cafes that look as if they came out of a fairy tale. Divine Sweets had adorable cakes and pastries that went well with the ambience they were going for.

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Soon enough, the museum opened. Unfortunately, there was no tour guide to discuss about all there was to see inside. I also tend to get bored in museums. For that reason, we did not stay there very long.

IMG_0430I brought my mom next to the Palawan Butterfly Ecological Garden and Tribal Village. It was half an hour away from our hotel but the travel was well worth it. In the garden were so many colorful butterflies and flowers of different kinds for them to get nectar from!

IMG_0428The last time I went to a butterfly house was in grade school and I terribly missed it because I loved how I got to coax these gentle creatures to hop on my finger and hold them up for a few seconds.

The ecological garden was also home to other animals like very fat worms, fishes, turtles, the Palawan bear cat and the Palawan Peacock Peasant. I did not see the peacock so much because it kept on hiding away from our view. The bear cat was sleeping all the time and the turtles seldom moved. Still, it was nice to see that these animals were being protected and well taken care of.

From the garden, there was a door leading to the tribal village of the Palaw’an people. It was like a door to a whole new world because it was my first time to see tribesmen who still dressed in their native outfits. To be honest, I wondered whether they just wore those clothes for the occasion or if they did still live the way their ancestors lived so many years ago.

One of the men played the kudyapi, a two-stringed lute which was the only stringed instrument played by the Palaw’an people. I was amazed by how beautiful it can play music with just two strings and wondered how the instrument was imagined and eventually devised in the olden times. It was also very nice to see it in person since I have only read about these instruments in my music classes in grade school.IMG_0459

They also showed us one of their hunting methods—using a blowgun called sumpit. The blowgun made use of poisoned darts that were so deadly, the tiniest wound can already kill their prey in about five minutes from being hit. Given the length of the sumpit, it’s awesome how they can hit with precision. They must have been very careful too in the past when they used this to make sure that none of their fellow tribesmen could be hit by the darts by mistake.

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At the end of their presentation, they showed us their friend snake that they say they have already tamed and trained to not attack the guests. I only ever had a photo with a yellow python on my shoulders when I was fifteen because I was assured that the fangs were taken out already.

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They allowed the visitors to take a picture with the snake but my mom gave me a very stern look to not even think about touching it. It’s okay though because I was not sure the snake was a fangless one and I did not want to be mistaken as a snack at any point in time.

After touring parts of the city on our own, it was soon time to take a tour of the city supervised by a tour guide. As much as I wanted to enjoy the ride going to our first destination, I have to admit that I got annoyed because our tour guide had nothing much to say except “this hotel here is one of the big hotels here” for every hotel we would pass by. I would have loved a discussion about the history of Palawan or something else more educational.

Our first stop in Barangay Irawan was the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center that housed the Palawan Crocodile Farm and Nature Park. Here, we found the skeleton and skin of the crocodile, Rio, that was 17.5 feet long. He was just a few inches short of Lolong that was 20 feet and 3 inches long. Like Lolong, however, Rio died because of the stress brought about by his captivity.

img_0481.jpgWe were brought to several cages of young and adult crocodiles. I think the facilities were built sturdy enough to not cause anybody to fall into the cages of these ferocious animals. Crocodiles were not much fun to watch though, unless they were being fed, because they usually just stay still with jaws wide open. I learned that opening its jaw was a crocodile’s way of cooling itself because it does not have sweat glands.

At the end of the facility tour, you will be allowed to take a picture with a baby crocodile. It turns out that it is easy to shut a crocodile’s jaw because the muscles required to open their mouths are not very strong. So, when I saw that the baby crocodile’s mouth was firmly (though not abusively) shut, I took the chance to take a photo holding it. My mom was displeased, of course, ha-ha. She had no choice but to take my picture.img_0494.jpg

The next stop on our list was the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm that was established way back during the American occupation. It turns out that during the Spanish regime, Puerto Princesa became a place where exiled offenders were brought to. When the Americans took over the country, the facility was set up where these offenders will be housed.

The penal farm was unlike the usual prisons I have seen in movies or read about in books. I saw a few men serving their sentences freely walking around the fields. They were probably checking on their crops. No wonder it is called the Prison Without Walls. Vocational activities were available to the prisoners to choose from so they can earn. A lot of them were actually very creative and skilled in making crafts.

All the way out of the prison farm, I badly wanted the tour to be over with already. The driver and the tour guide began a heated conversation about the families of Presidents Marcos and Aquino. The driver was siding with the Aquinos while the tour guide was exclaiming her adoration for Ferdinand Marcos and saying he was the best president the Philippines ever had.

Thankfully, the next place we visited was a very jolly place. Baker’s Hill, aside from the truly delicious baked goodies it sells, has a beautiful landscape that makes you think it is a theme park.

What I was really after in Baker’s Hill though was the hopia I have heard rave reviews about. I made it a point to buy a few boxes for Mom to bring back to Manila the following day and for my officemates to enjoy as well. They sold these at very affordable prices too! Despite being a tourist spot, Baker’s Hill did not take advantage of the crowd it draws by selling their goods at a very high price.

IMG_0535Next, we went to Mitra’s Ranch. It was owned by the late Senator Ramon Mitra. The wide hill has a viewing deck that offers a view of Puerto Princesa. Here, you could breathe in fresh air and take a few moments to just relax. IMG_0529They say you can get a view of the sunset here too and I bet that would be beautiful. For me, I chose to try riding a horse for the first time.

As a kid, I have always dreamed of going horseback riding like the royalties I have read about and watched in movies. I thought it was going to be easy because I simply needed to saddle the horse and then ride away. I did not know that I will have to use most of my leg and back muscles to keep my balance because every movement of the horse had me feeling like I was going to fall!

The second to the last stop was at the Binuatan Creations where you can still witness traditional weaving in action. There is a shop near the entrance of the center where you can buy products the weavers made.

The workers in the center were very friendly and would not shoo you away when you try to watch what they are doing.

The intricate designs in the woven products have always amazed me because I could not figure out how they are done. Despite having watched the weavers in action, I still cannot imagine how they could bring to life the designs in their minds. I wonder how much time they spent practicing perfecting their craft.

IMG_0551Our last stop was the Plaza Cuartel. Once a garrison of the Americans and the Filipinos until the Japanese invasion, this became a prison where around a hundred and fifty American prisoners of war. This prison eventually became a living hell when the Japanese burned the prisoners in one of the tunnels in December 14, 1944. Only eleven of them survived.

When the tour was over, Mom and I headed to Ka-Inato to have our dinner. The restaurant served Filipino dishes at affordable prices.  We did not order anything fancy because we just wanted to eat and then go back to the hotel right away to sleep since we were tired from the whole day of activities. I am glad Mom was with me though. It was our first time to bond out-of-town.

The following day, Sunday, I did not know anymore where else to go that did not require a tour package. So, I just researched another restaurant where Mom and I could have breakfast. Through Google, I managed to find the Gypsy’s Lair Art Café.

I love anything vintage, eccentric and paranormal. And when I got to see the café, I immediately fell in love! From the painted walls to the decor, the place was practically screaming Gypsy! Oh! It was my happy place in Palawan (and I even got my teammates to eat there on another day).

While eating (I loved their Pad Thai!), something happened to catch my attention. The place offered palm reading every Friday, Saturday and Sunday! I immediately inquired about it and was told to visit again in the evening since that was when the palm reading is held.IMG_0367

Mom went back to Manila that afternoon so she was not able to accompany me to the palm reading session. Just when I thought the session was already the highlight of my day, I found out that the palm reader was my uncle’s (mom’s brother) wife’s double first cousin! He was surprised too at how small the world is (or at least the Philippines).

For the record, he did not tell me my future, nor did he tell me where and when I’ll meet “the one.” But, he did tell me to see him again after five years because he will read the hand he did not read that night. Something about one hand being your destiny and the other hand being the story of how you followed or went against it.

What we talked about is mine to keep. But, he did get A LOT of things right about me and my personality. Mind you, he has never met me and my aunt-in-law has never discussed me with him prior to this meeting. And while I do not rely on horoscopes and tarot cards when I make life decisions, I have to admit that these things have always been something I was curious about. Try it out for fun.

The last restaurant we got to eat in before we headed back to Manila the following day was the White Fence Café. It was one of the highly recommended places for us to visit and it truly did not disappoint. Aside from the very delicious food (although a bit pricey), the place was also Instagram-worthy with its cute decors and country theme.

At the back, they had a playground for children. It’s good for kids who get bored while the elders eat and chat away.

For our remaining days in Palawan, we strived to complete the audit as best as we could. During our breaks, I enjoyed listening to my office mates’ stories about their El Nido and Underground River trips. At that time, I did not feel like I was missing a lot and I did enjoy my little adventures too while they were away. I think I’ll just go back to experience Palawan again in a different way. El Nido? Coron? Both?

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Leg Room? Yes, Please.

“I woke up not feeling too well. I got out of bed but found myself crashing on the floor. I could not walk anymore.”

I was five when it all happened. We just moved from our old home that we were renting in Makati to our own house in Parañaque. The subdivision we were moving to was not yet full of houses. In fact, I don’t think there were even fifty houses in a village that could has a capacity of seven hundred fifty. The spaces between houses (except for the streets) were filled with cogon grass.

We were told to stay away from the grasses. Not only were there fears of snakes, there were warnings about the nuno sa punso (old man of the mound). The nuno, in Philippine mythology, lives in an anthill or a termite mound. I am not sure what kind of mound was near our house or if it was just a pile of soil but to be safe, we always said “tabi tabi po” when passing by. It means excuse me.

There were other superstitious beliefs that we grew up being lectured about. We were not allowed to play beyond five in the afternoon because we were told that the duwende, (an umbrella word for creatures but are more close to goblins, elves, and dwarves) come out during that time. They say a duwende may be good or evil depending on their color (often black or white). You would not want to offend a duwende for fear of being punished terribly.

One day, I was playing a game with my sister, some friends and the boyfriend of my nanny. We were knocking down a tin can with slippers. Because I did not want to take my slippers off, I used stones instead. Unfortunately, I was not very good at hitting targets and was very mischievous at that time. My stones went everywhere, some landing on the grassy areas.

I went home after a few minutes of playing because I was not feeling like myself anymore. As a kid, I shrugged it off and went to bed that night without a care in the world.

The following day, I woke up not feeling too well. I got out of bed but found myself crashing on the floor. I could not walk anymoreI tried to scream for my mom but my throat felt so sore. All over my body were spots that looked like somebody tried tortured me with cigarette burns. Thankfully, Mom went up to check on me and found me in the state I was in.

We went to different doctors but they could not figure out what was wrong with me. They said it was not chicken pox or measles. They even tried hitting my knees with a hammer-like looking thing to check whether my nerves were still reacting to stimulation. My knee-jerk reaction was not impaired but the legs seemed unable to hold weight. The medicines given to me were not helping at all and were making me feel worse.

Because they pitied me so much already, they decided to try getting an albularyo (folk healer) to check what happened to me. Armed with a candle and basin of water, he said I hit a duwende with a stone so it was angered. Thus, the curse placed on me.

The albularyo said some incantations and gave me an anting anting (amulet) for protection. If they made any offerings to the creature I hurt, I do not remember anymore. I do remember getting better a day or two after. I wanted to throw up and my first instinct was to run to the bathroom. All I ended up doing though was to spit out blood, probably from my sore throat.

I had so many scars on my body that took years to get rid of. The more lasting effects, however, were my inability to stay still for long periods of time and inability to wear shoes that will not allow me to wiggle my toes. For that reason, I keep on going on bathroom breaks, moving in my seat and spend so much time when shopping for the most comfortable shoes. I need so much leg room so I can move or stretch my legs because staying still for more than ten minutes will start making them numb. Maybe deep inside, I am still afraid of waking up one day and being unable to walk again.

Have you had any unexplained illness or encounters with mythological creatures? Please tell me about them.

Suds and Bubbles

I was looking for activities to do over the weekend when I saw a post about a workshop on making soap. At around Php 5,000 (roughly USD 108), I was hesitant on joining since I also saw that it involved the use of lye. I read somewhere that lye does not have a pleasant smell so it was a big no for me because it might trigger an asthma attack for me.

So I researched about how to make soap without having to deal with lye and I found tons of articles that led me to discovering melt and pour soap bases. These are basically blocks of pre-made soap that you melt to mix in other ingredients you would like in your soap.

I found instructions on how to make lavender and rosemary soap from Mother Earth Living (click link for the recipe) and decided to give it a try. I have loved the scent of lavender ever since I was a kid and the fondness for rosemary scent was discovered just a few years ago. I wondered how they would smell together since I was more used to lavender being mixed with peppermint. I only used half of everything specified in the recipe.

The first challenge was to find where I could buy my raw materials. Fortunately, online shopping made things easier for me. Here’s a list of the stuff I was able get over Shopee:

Shop Name: PurpleButterflyCrafts

Melt and Pour Glycerin White Soap Base 1kg – Php 275 (I used only 1/3 of the block).

Lavender Essential Oil 15ml – Php 315

Rosemary Essential Oil 15ml – Php 270

Purple dye 10g – Php 90

Shop Name: Tiny Buddha

Organic dried lavender flowers 10g – Php 55

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2 packs of lavender flowers at 10g each.

First, I made my infusion of lavender flowers alone. It slipped my mind that we had dried rosemary leaves in the house already, ha-ha. Too much excitement on my part. My bad.

Please be careful in handling the steaming hot water to avoid any injuries. The flowers need to steep for around ten minutes so it is best to do this first since the rest of the steps can be done in no time. It will also give off a lavender scent in the air while you work on the base. img_4412.jpg

Next, I chopped 1/3 of my soap base into small cubes with a large kitchen knife. The base itself was not that hard (chocolate blocks are much harder) so I did not have to exert so much effort.

I placed the chopped up base in a microwave safe glass measuring cup that I got from the housewares section of the department store at Php 429.75. I opted to use glass because I am not sure how plastic would react with essential oils that will be mixed in later.

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Bought a purple silicone  whisk specifically for this because, why not? =)

I melted the base in the microwave, mixing every thirty seconds before putting it back to be heated again. It did not take very long for the base to melt and it did not splatter all over my microwave despite not having any sort of lid on.

I do not recommend trying to smell it yet at this point. I did and it was not pleasant at all.

I added 1/8 cup of my infusion to the melted soap base then proceeded to adding the essentials oils. The recipe called for more lavender than rosemary because the latter has a stronger scent. img_4416.jpg

When working with essential oils, one must be aware of the materials of the tools to be used because of varied reactions to the oils. Every tool I bought for soap making was intended solely for that purpose and will never be used for food preparation.

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Placed them in a muffin baking tray just to support the molds and help them keep their shape

After they have all been mixed, I prepared my silicone molds. I was hoping to get cute trays of molds from the baking tools section but all three places I went to ran out of them. I could not wait anymore to order from Shopee again because shipping takes some time. I had to make do with the individual cupcake molds (Php 149.75 for 6 pieces) because I am stubborn and could not be prevented from making soap today (I shopped for the tools yesterday). Again, these molds will never ever go into the oven. They are just for making soap.

I first poured the white base around 3/4 the size I wanted them. I then added purple powder coloring to the remaining base. I learned too late that I was supposed to dissolve it in oil so that the color will be consistent all throughout. Oh well. Lessons learned.

It is best to add coloring to base a little at a time because that coloring powder I got was potent. Really, truly potent! Thankfully, the color did mix into the soap mixture. I poured them over the white base and used a toothpick to swirl the purple color around. Try not to mix too much or you’ll end up mixing the two colors completely and lose the swirls.

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After pouring all the soap mixture, I sprayed the tops with alcohol because I watched some YouTube videos on DIY soap where I learned that this will help prevent formation of air bubbles on top.

The next part was to wait. At around 45 minutes, I could feel the tops harden already. I took out the molds from the pan that has already absorbed so much heat from the mixture so that the soaps will cool down much more quickly since the bottom half are still liquid at this point.

After another 45 minutes, the soaps were completely hard! The best part about silicone molds is the ease of taking out whatever you put in. So, I started popping the soaps from the molds, excited to see how the rest of the soap looked like. Tada!!!

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I tried one of them right away and discovered that they lather up really well but the lather has a purple tinge to it because of the dye. Not to worry, it did not stain my hand and rinsed off very easily. However, people with sensitive skin are advised do a patch test first before lathering themselves with the soap. This is to check for any possible allergic reaction to the ingredients.

The site where I got the recipe from classified this soap under soaps for blemishes. The soap can be drying (probably to dry out zits), so moisturize after use. The soap has a lovely scent to it though I could smell more of the rosemary than the lavender.

Since this project can pass as a success, I cannot wait to try to make other kinds of soaps. I will also try to find liquid dye because powder dye was a little too tricky for my comfort. I wonder what scents are great to combine and what other ingredients can I add to the soap base. No matter, I am sure that my next step will be to buy silicone molds intended for soaps. Luckily, Shopee has a lot of them.

 

A Mermaid’s Paradise

In October 2016, I got sent to Tandag, Surigao del Sur with Joan and Chimie for work. There was no direct flight to Tandag so we either had to land in Butuan or in Surigao del Norte. We opted to land in Butuan since we have not encountered anyone at work who tried going the Surigao del Norte route.

Once in Butuan, we took a van at Php 300 per person. The trip took around two hours, which allowed us time to sleep because we were tired at the time. We took turns sleeping because we were not familiar with the road to Tandag. Data connection was very weak so we could not use Waze to see where we were already. During our turns to stay awake, we admired the many beautiful bodies of water we passed by.

We stayed at Villa Maria Luisa Hotel, which seemed to be the best in the area. It is owned by a prominent political family in Surigao del Sur. The hotel does not look very modern like the hotels in Manila or Cebu but it has its charms. The rooms are big and during our stay, we got a room that could accommodate all three of us but still left plenty of space to move around.

The hotel has indoor pools and several huts with grilling areas, making it a good place for family outings. It also has a large restaurant in case you did not bring your own food. The restaurant serves very delicious food in large servings. If you are into sweets, the also have a small coffee shop near the reception area and they serve pretty decent drinks and cakes.

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Here’s Chimie enjoying the indoor pool of the hotel

Not very far away from the restaurant is a gazebo that offers you a view that will surely make your day. You’ll discover that at the back of the hotel is the sea! If you wish some alone and quiet time while at the hotel, you may try going to the gazebo before people arrive for their outing. The sound of the waves may help relax a troubled mind.

14368780_1425583387470887_492355626772955746_nWork was very tedious for this engagement as we were juggling two kinds of audit at once while our auditee was also being audited a third kind by another group. So, when the look weekend came at the end of the month, we made it a point to ensure our deliverables for that week were done so we could go on a little getaway.

15016334_367285196943993_6035284938218655707_oFirst on our list was the Britania Group of Islands that we reached by taking a boat from Mac Arthur’s Place.  From Mac Arthur’s alone, you will already fall in love with the sea as the walkway to the boat was strategically situated to excite you about what else is in store.

The ride to the first island was around 15 to 30 minutes max. It is best to go in the morning than in the afternoon because it gets dark quickly. You will surely want longer time to enjoy the scene, the sand and the water.

Britania Group of Islands has four major islands namely Hagonoy, Naked, Buslon and Hiyor-Hiyoran Islands. I am sure we went to Hagonoy first but I cannot decide whether it was Naked Island or Buslon Island that we went to next. Besides, it got dark quickly when we got to the second island so I did not enjoy it as much.

14991402_367285463610633_8245575129002954824_oHagonoy Island was like a painting of a paradise that came to life! The island was pristine and the water was very, very clear! There were lots of shells to pick on the shore, which I think the water guardians did not enjoy watching me do. Every time I got to pick one, the waves will come and hit me in the face!

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Here’s Chimie walking to the direction of what almost looked like a pirate’s ship.

That night, we stayed at O’s Landing Resort and had our dinner there too. The place offered charming rooms that can accommodate around ten to twelve people. The rooms look like small houses from the outside which makes them even more charming! However, the shower area is designed like showers in a locker room so you’ll have to figure out how to bathe without getting your changing clothes wet. And make sure to wear rubber slippers because the stoned floor can be slippery.

Except for losing power that night due to some power interruption and a large beetle that kept flying around and refusing to get caught, sleep was pretty comfortable. 15002440_367291316943381_9036774892324982215_o

We got up very early the next day to go to the Hinatuan Enchanted River. We also wanted to grab the chance to see the sunrise along the way, overlooking to Britania Group of Islands. There’s just something about sunrises that makes one feel like there are so many good things to come.

14991427_367293376943175_6959366246035897489_oSince the exciting event in Enchanted River wasn’t until noon, we first took a boat and went to Sibadan Fish Cage to have our breakfast. Sibadan is a floating restaurant with fish cages where most of the seafood you will be served are taken. We pitied the guy who had to dive and get fresh crabs every time there was an order. That meant fresh crabs though.

I saw fishes I have never seen in my life, in different sizes and in different colors! I also saw baby sharks (DON’T insert music here!) that were eating smaller fishes. You may feed the fishes but try not to throw excessive amounts of food because it will not do them good. 14884549_1413400622006809_1513665251108614235_o.jpg

On the other side of the smaller cages was the biggest one wherein guests can swim with the fishes and two stingrays.

Yep. You read that right. Stingrays! The owners removed the poisonous barbs already so they were safe at that time. In fact, one of them went up the water and latched on the back of one of our companions! She was not harmed but she was shaken and very much surprised.

14889955_1413406675339537_272020907689690132_oShout out to Vanessa Cañete for the picture of the stingray! This stingray loved the attention. He kept putting his head out of the water as if he wanted to smile at the cameras taking videos and photos of him.

And despite the shark cages being close by and the stingrays lurking at the bottom, I got persuaded by Joan and Chimie to take a dip. That was the second time I dipped myself in the sea, the first one being was when I was four or five years old. Boy, did I struggle with my life vest. But it was one hell of a fun experience!

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Joan loves being in the water. She’s our little mermaid.

We rode the boat back to the enchanted river which had me wondering how a river could connect to the sea. The water in the river was not salty and did not sting the eyes. How that could happen when it connects to the sea still baffles me.

15056347_367302906942222_4208182876659270994_nSo why is it called the Enchanted River? Locals say engkantos live in the river and that they take care of it. It is why no matter the natural calamities that the place has gone through, the water remains crystal clear. No one also knows how deep river is and one diver, despite his professional training, died while trying to do so.

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Another thing that makes it enchanting is that at a specific time of the day, a caretaker will play the Hinatuan Hymn. As if magic happening right before your eyes, fishes will come out of nowhere and pool together as they wait to be fed. Seriously! We were swimming in the water and there was not a single fish in sight but that music brought hundreds of them out from God-knows-where! And after the hymn, they will slowly disappear as if they were never even there to begin with. And mind you, they say that these are saltwater fish! They will not survive in fresh, river water.

15095559_367303823608797_7347587482235199365_nBefore going back to our hotel in Tandag, we stopped by Cagwait White Beach because our companions wanted us to see their version of Boracay that in my opinion, was without the hullabaloo. Cagwait was beautiful and has its charms. The sand was very fine and did not hurt one’s feet while walking around.

We were knocked out when we got back but we had the time of our lives! Fortunately, we still had one day left from the long weekend to rest for another week of grueling work.

Surigao del Sur, while not as modern as other places in the Philippines, was blessed with beautiful waters and natural riches that makes it very endearing to tourists. The people were very nice too and we have not had one problem about being overcharged for services or being hoodwinked. And even if we went home past midnight (yes, that was how grueling work was), we were not afraid about not getting back to the hotel safely.

And the seafoods! Oh dear! I made it a point to buy my stock of antihistamine just so I will not get allergic reactions to seafood. I have never had so many delicious shrimps and crabs for a long time and Tandag offered them, as fresh as they can be! Oh, the little things we tend to take for granted in Manila…

We still had one weekend left for another adventure. Unfortunately, Chimie had to go back to Manila for another assignment. Joan and I stayed because we were going to Cebu next for yet another two kinds of audit. I think I did not go home for almost two months.

Our last adventure was at Laswitan Lagoon in Cortes, still in Surigao del Sur. The road to Cortes was a rocky one so your ordinary sedan will not be up to the challenge. And since it was rainy at that time, the path to the actual lagoon was very, very muddy.

I hate mud and did not enjoy the walk at all. I had to use all my muscles to make sure I don’t slip and slide. But the walk was worth it afterwards because of what was going to happen next.15003433_367309336941579_3570407426088911058_o

Behind the huge rocks is the Philippine Sea! You can swim close to the rocks but do not go beyond that as it may be unsafe. After all, the waves can be gigantic and you’ll be swept to these huge rocks, which I am sure will not do anything beautiful to your body. But those scary waves do something beautiful to these rocks.

You know the feeling of impending trouble and the panic it brings you as it gets closer and closer? And the feeling when the world crashes on your shoulders? Then the feeling when you survive it all and come out stronger and wiser? Looks like this:

15002366_367309116941601_267905622898259977_oBecause it was cloudy, it looks kinda creepy. I bet it would be even lovelier when you visit it on a sunny day. There will be less mud too, ha-ha! But despite the weather, in person, it was breathtaking and spectacular! You will have to wait as the waves can sometimes be a tease and not give you a majestic waterfall effect afterwards. But when the giant waves come, it’s the most beautiful thing to see at Laswitan. After all, it got its name from laswit, which was their word for those huge waves.

Surigao del Sur should be in every tourists’ bucket list. I hope to go back one day because I have not yet seen the falls I have heard so many wonderful things about like Tinuy-an, Magkawas, Sian and Bao-bao. Despite that, I am already happy that I got to see wonders that  I only used to  imagine and see in paintings and in pictures.

 

Answered Prayers in Legazpi

My final assignment as a bank auditor in October 2017 was in our Legazpi City branch with Karen and Chimie. This was the second and last assignment I had while assisting Chimie in her new role as an audit manager (team leader) because I was leaving. It was going to be my last adventure for a while because my new job will not entail travelling. Travelling (for free) is something I’ll miss.

A day before our flight, I got a message from Cebu Pacific that our flight was cancelled. We had to take another flight to Naga instead and rode a smaller CebGo plane. I have no issues with small aircrafts as long as they can safely bring me to my destination. However, if a short person like me can still experience hitting my head on the overhead cabin, a tall person might find it difficult to move around and stretch his legs.

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I also wanted to take pictures and videos from the window seat but the huge propeller was blocking the view. What puzzled me however, was how my phone could capture the individual blades in the video and even in pictures when in real life, all I could see was a blur.

When we landed in Naga, we opted to ride a van to get to Legazpi. The ride was at Php 200 per person and took around two to three hours to get to our destination. I was not able to enjoy the scenery of Naga as much because it was almost nighttime when we got there.

For some reason, almost every hotel close to the branch we will audit was fully booked on most days of our stay there. It was only during the day of our flight that Chimie discovered Hotel Liatris. I forgot the exact cost of our accommodation but for two beds and an extra mattress, it was not over Php 2,000. It included breakfast which was delivered to our room because they had no restaurant or café in the hotel then.

True to their word, the hotel was simple yet very clean. It was also situated very near the branch we will audit and the Ayala and LCC malls. The staff were also very nice and attentive to our needs and requests. The bed was funny though because every time we would twist and turn, it gave off a sound that is like a person farting loudly. We would giggle every time we will have to move and would tease each other that it was our way of masking the real sound of our farts.

I found the people of Legazpi to be very gentle and agreeable people in general. For some reason, when I requested documents from the branch personnel, they replied with, “Sige po ibibigay namin. Thank you.” I was supposed to be the one saying thanks since I was the one asking for something but they thanked us every single time we were requesting them for anything related to the audit.

On our first day of audit, the branch manager and the branch operations head made us try the food at 1st Colonial Grill at the Ayala Mall. It was my first time to try pinangat, which is popularly known in Manila as laing. I was very hesitant at first to try it because I normally detest eating leafy veggies because they give me a feeling of being stuck in my throat that no amount of water I drink could get rid of. I did not expect to love it very much! I cannot believe I put off eating pinangat/laing until that day.

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Clockwise: Salabat, sili, pili and coffee ice creams

1st Colonial Grill is also famous for the sili ice cream so we made it a point to order one, including pili, coffee and salabat flavored ones. We tried the mildest sili ice cream so as not to shock our taste buds. It was not spicy when we had our first spoon but a few seconds later, we could feel the heat in our throats. I was not partial to the sili ice cream because I am very sensitive to spicy foods in general. That bright pink ice cream thankfully comes with a warning sign (a sili garnish) because one may be tricked into eating a cherry or red velvet flavored ice cream because of its deceptively vibrant pink color. I was more taken with the pili flavored ice cream though.

From the third floor of the Ayala mall, you should already be able to see the Mayon Volcano. Unfortunately, Legazpi was experiencing a rainy weather and could not see the volcano’s “perfect cone” shape.

Because we badly wanted to see the volcano closer, we decided to go on an ATV adventure ride. We were able to contact Bicol Adventure ATV which seemed to offer the lowest rate but came with rave reviews. We wanted to take the Green Lava Wall Trail priced at Php 950 per person that would last two to three hours but on the day of our trip, the weather was not so nice. We decided to take the Cagsawa Short Trail instead at Php 399 per person for forty-five minutes and to spend our remaining budget on a tour of the city.

With Bicol Adventure ATV, you are briefed first on how to drive the ATV and you practice within their grounds before being allowed to go on the trail of your choice. The ATV was not very hard to drive and the controls were beginner-friendly. You will be assigned a guide throughout the trail, with another staff assigned to take pictures and videos of your ride throughout the trail. Make sure to fully charge your phone and to hand over a power bank and charging cable in case you will not be using a camera with much longer battery capacity.

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All smiles as we prepare for driving practice.

22555319_532351037104074_717134879800305885_oThe trail was sometimes smooth, at times steep, and almost always bumpy. Our guide made sure to warn us if we had to go slower or to keep to one side. I had to make sure to keep my distance from my friend ahead of me when going through the steep paths because I might not be able to control the ATV and bump into her. The head gear can only do so much. One must still take caution and not drive like a maniac. But if I drove in Manila the way I did during the ATV trip, I bet all the cars behind me will be blasting their horns to get me to drive faster.

I also kept forgetting that it had four wheels! Because you run it the way you drive a motorcycle or electric bike, I kept thinking I had two wheels at the back and one wheel mid-front. For that reason, every time I thought I was avoiding rocks, I was driving over them with either the left or the right front wheel instead.

Upon reaching our destination, we were sad that it was so cloudy that we could not see Mayon’s grand beauty. At that point, we were told that Cagsawa meant owner (kag) and pythons (sawa). Cagsawa was home to snakes that went down to the villages during the most violent eruption of the Mayon Volcano in 1814. Fortunately, we did not encounter any python during our trip.

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Clouds were hiding Mayon’s beauty from us.

We were glad that we did not go for our original plan to take the almost three-hour trail. As soon as we parked the ATV, rain poured down. The Cagsawa Trail was already enough of an experience for the kind of weather at the time. After all, we have not completed our audit yet and could not afford to fall sick because we got soaked in the rain.

IMG_0312For our tour of the city, we first went to the boulevard. We prayed that Mayon will show up this time because the rain had stopped already. The blue sky would have made a perfect background for the volcano but there was just too much clouds around!

Their boulevard was very clean and was a good place to take up brisk walking or jogging exercises.

22519842_532357033770141_2153042758165412125_oNext, we went to Ligñon Hill Nature Park. This is one of the highest points of the city that also gives a good view of the Mayon Volcano (which was frustratingly still hidden by the clouds). It also features a zipline and a fifty-foot tunnel that was constructed by the Japanese during World War II. We did not try any of the two anymore because our attention was caught by the souvenir shops that sold goods for a low price! I bought a native bag as post-birthday present for my aunt and a pair of abaca slippers for my friend. You should check out the pili and sili key chains that they sell. So cute!

img_0171.jpgAfter the hill, we went to the Cagsawa Ruins where we found whatever remained from the 17th Century Franciscan re-built church after the volcanic eruption. What we saw was the belfry, still standing tall as if proof that one can remain strong despite life’s most difficult trials. After all, it was originally built in 1587 before being burned down by pirates in 1636. The church that Mayon Volcano ruined was a re-built structure of the church in 1724.

Rumor has it that the church was actually home to the pythons before being ruined during the volcanic eruption. Well, there seems to be no snake now. Still, while I think there’s no way to go inside anyway, I was not planning to try. Who knows what other creatures are inside?

Thankfully, there were no headless friars that showed up while we were taking pictures. That would have been very, very, creepy.

It was almost mid-afternoon but Mayon Volcano still would not show up. I was beginning to think that we will fly back to Manila without having seen its perfect beauty at all.

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Mayon still would not show itself. Humph!

Sumlang Lake was next on our itinerary. This new tourist attraction is Camalig Town is another top destination where one can get a good view of the Mayon Volcano. I could not believe that the Lake used to be covered by lilies! The residents cleaned it up very well.

 

There was not much activities going on in Sumlang Lake but it was a great place to bond with family and friends over a picnic. You could ride the rafts too if you wished.

Afterwards, we went to Daraga Church, certain sections of which are declared Natural Cultural Treasure of the Philippines. Like the Cagsawa Church, this was also built by the Franciscans in 1773 after Daraga became a settlement of people who feared being victims of another Mayon eruption.

IMG_0278The church retained its Baroque-style look which makes it more majestic today. The church front and its walls were said to be made by volcanic rocks that were obviously abundant in the area.

As usual, I made it a point to go inside the church and make a wish (to see Mayon Volcano). Rumor has it that every time you make a wish in church you are visiting for the first time, that wish will come true. I tried it thrice in my life before and I am glad to say the wishes I had were granted. I would like to think they came true because I worked hard to achieve them but it never hurts to pray in a new church. Just make sure you thank God first for all the blessings He has already showered you without your asking for them.

Our last stop was at the Albay Pilinut Candy store. The pili goodies here can be pricey but they are worth it because they taste so good! Try the Mazapan De Pili and the Crispy Pili. They make great gifts to friends and family back home. I do not recommend the salted pili nuts though.

The day ended without being able to see Mayon Volcano properly. We tried on the succeeding days to no avail. We were already losing hope of seeing it at all. We were going home very soon.

But on our way to the airport, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was blue! Well I guess the wish-making rumor worked for a fourth time. Good job to the person who chose the airport location!

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Tic…toc…

It was the morning of December 16, 2013. I was pissed off at my sister for not being quick enough and I felt like we were running late having not yet left the house at 6:15 am.

Living in the south of Metro Manila at the time, we relied on UV Express shuttles to get us quickly to Makati because they take the skyway. The queue of passengers waiting to get a ride to Makati can be very long and we have already estimated that if we wanted to get to work by 8:30 am, we had to have gotten a ride by 7:00 am.

From the gate of our subdivision, we took a tricycle ride to get to the jeepney loading points where one can ride to SM Bicutan. The UV Express shuttle terminal was at the back of the mall. Upon reaching the tricycle terminal however, there were no jeepneys in sight. Also, there was an eerie feeling that tells someone that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

We learned that a bus fell from the Skyway down to West Service Road where we pass to get to SM Bicutan. It fell where most jeepneys stop to get additional passengers before moving on the next subdivision. I do not know the exact time when the accident happened but I suddenly felt relieved that my sister took longer to get ready or we might have been injured too if the jeepney we would have taken happened to stop and wait for passengers right below where the bus fell off.

The road was completely blocked but work won’t consider it as an excuse to be late. We had no choice but to walk and pass by the scene of the accident. There were so many people gathered near the scene with their cellphones out, snapping pictures and videos instead of lending a helping hand. One of the rescuers was already shouting at them to just leave if they won’t be of any help since they were blocking the road for people who must go to work or school. No one listened.

Despite the thickness of the crowd around the scene, I still saw the bus that was upside down and completely wrecked. I also saw the dangling legs of the passengers who were still stuck inside. They were grey. Lifeless. A few meters away, there were seven bodies lined up on the road. Those were the bodies the rescuers were already able to retrieve—also grey. I do not remember seeing blood which made me think that all damages sustained were internal. Or maybe my mind blocked that from my memory already because I could not handle it anymore.

We managed to get a tricycle a few hundred meters from the accident scene that accepted rides to SM Bicutan. We managed not to be late for work. As soon as I got to my office though, I went to my friend from HR and cried. I could not get the images of the accident from my head and I was shaking and wanting to throw up. In my head, all I could think of was how their families were waiting for them at home that day, waiting to share stories and eat together. That was not going to happen anymore for the eighteen people who died.

I lived in a two-storey house with ten clocks. Six of them were on the first level. It seemed like everywhere we looked, a clock was looking back at us. My dad made it a point to make sure all ten clocks were working. Some of them were timed ahead of the actual time just to trigger us to move faster. He was very strict with punctuality and that was something he instilled in us. I grew up always looking at the clocks; always moving fast and always hurrying.

When I look back on that day, I realize that we can try to accomplish as much as we can in our lifetime but sometimes, it pays to slow down too. Regardless, we will probably end up wishing we spent a little more time on something or someone or a little less time with the things that do not seem as important anymore. After all, we cannot see the future to figure out how everything will turn out for us.

We cannot control time. It will keep on moving even if we do not want to and it will stop for us when it has to. It may be kind enough to give you warning signs but it is not obliged to give telltale signs. Time cannot be rushed but it cannot be delayed either. We can only try to live life the best way we know how. We can only hope to not have too many things to regret about when time is up.

Letting Go in Dahilayan

It was June of 2016 when I first set foot in Mindanao, particularly in the beautiful Cagayan de Oro. Again, this was for an audit engagement.

The flight to CDO was not a very smooth one at all, with one instance when the plane felt like it suddenly dropped two or three feet. This made me grab my team leader’s arm that made her laugh at me for being a scaredy-cat. For somehow who flies to different parts of the country as part of her job, I have not yet made myself immune from the usual shaky feeling inside the plane when there is turbulence. While I am not afraid of heights, I am mightily scared of falling. Unsecured and shaky rides scare the hell out of me.

In my attempt to get rid of that fear, I went with my team leader and three other girls auditing the other close-by business center branch within the city to Dahilayan Adventure Park, home to Asia’s Longest Dual Zipline. It’s the perfect place for people who are into extreme adventures and are not afraid to tempt death to chase after them.

IMG_0173We rode the Magnum Express Shuttle that was located near Limketkai Mall. I think the price for the ride to and from Dahilayan was around Php 350. It took around an hour and a half to two hours to get to Dahilayan, passing by Del Monte’s pineapple farm along the way. You will know you are at Del Monte’s grounds because you will be greeted by a giant pineapple decoration.

The total ride experience was 3 out of 5 stars. The ride was bouncy which made me dizzy the entire time. There was also this irritating screeching sound like the hinges of the ride needed oiling. Also, the driver drove very fast on the way to Dahilayan that he hit a dog along the way. Bad, bad driver!

Well, we survived the ride anyway and got to our destination without any scratch, albeit a little dizzy.

Attraction-PopUpTheir Facebook page appears to show that prices have not gone up since December of 2015. It does not show, however, the packages for combined rides. When we were there, we paid for the Php 1,100 package which included all three zip lines, the python roller zip ride, and the dropzone ride.

Fate was not gentle on us as we were made to take the 840m zip line first. First! They had no mercy at all!

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We were given our protective head gears and what seems to be what will carry us throughout the ride. Then, they made us ride a multi-cab that took us to the highest point of the mountain where we will be launched into oblivion.

The suit was heavy, to be honest. You also would not want to walk with big strides because you might trip and crack your head before the fun has even begun. Be mindful too of the length because you would not want to step on it either and bring your whole world crashing down with you.

Oh, do not worry about your things. You will be given a sort of locker (only grilled, so not completely inaccessible) to keep them while you go around and about so you can just worry about your life. I suggest you wear a jacket or windbreaker that comes with pockets with zippers, or pockets that are accessible from the inside. You can place your phone in there and your money too. That way, if you fall and miraculously manage to stay alive because you’re like a cat with nine lives, you’ll have your phone with you to call for help. Provided you’ll have a phone signal, of course. I do not know if money has much use deep down the forest though but you’ll never know when you’ll meet a peddler with a juicy red apple for sale. Don’t bring a chunky wallet with you anymore.

Because I wanted to get it over with, I decided to go first with my ever-fearless buddy, Joan. While she was happily posing for a picture, I was trembling and questioning my life choices. What exactly have I just gotten myself into? Oh boy, oh dear…13442350_296612264011287_4251567534452700120_n (3)

In case you’re worried about losing your eyeglasses during the ride, buy one of those laces to keep them in place. Because this trip was spontaneous, I ripped off the elastic bands from disposable face masks I happened to have on hand and used them to secure my glasses in place. After all, the view from high up is pointless if everything looks as blurry as to how your future became the moment you hopped on the zip line.

13466159_296788000660380_8827638474774979992_nInstructions were given and off they launched us like they wanted to get rid of us. I forgot I was supposed to spread my arms wide to slow down my speed and I was going very fast! I allowed myself to pass by the huge trees first that I might hit before I gained the courage to spread my arms wide. When I did, it was the most liberating feeling I have ever felt! The safe, secure feeling that the suit provided allowed me to relax and just enjoy the feeling of flying despite my lack of wings.

The view was magnificent and breathtaking! It was as if life was playing fast forward and showing you all the beautiful things it had to offer and you’re seeing it from a bird’s point of view! No wonder they keep flying around.

If your hands are not very shaky and can manage to hold on to a selfie stick, you may ride with one. While it may be fun to record a video of your reaction, it would also be nice to take a video of the view ahead of you to remind you someday of the beauty that you witnessed in your crazy, younger years. You can always hop on it twice though if you wish to take two kinds of videos.

Since I was much, much heavier than Joan and I forgot to spread my arms right away, I was done first. If you’re after enjoying the view and having longer flying time, please spread your right away so you’ll slow down a bit.

13466133_296785620660618_6871549972697250559_nAfter the five of us were through with the longest zipline, we hopped on next to the 320m and 150m rides. I rode at the same time with Chimie for this one. I do not know if it was a bad thing that we started with the longest one because the last two ones were not as thrilling anymore. However, this time, you’ll be in a sitting position with your legs dangling and no support at all.

Do not imagine yourself as Cinderella. Wear shoes that do not slip off because no prince will catch them for you.

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Our next ride was the Python Roller Zipride. It’s like a rollercoaster, only with you hanging without seats. The location? Well, at the edges of the mountain with a deep ravine to fall into and a spectacular view to make it a little sweeter.

Just a tip: Don’t ride alone. Ride with someone. That way, you can scream at your companion and threaten them for making you ride that contraption because it is way, way scarier than the zip line. That’s what I did to Joan, ha-ha!

Also, riding alone means you’ll be lighter. There might be an instance wherein you’ll be stuck in the middle of the track because you lost momentum. You will have to pray someone will hear your calls for help because they will need to pull you slowly to relaunch you again to continue. We saw it happen to one girl who rode before. Since we were five and not allowed to ride a second time without paying extra, they added weights on the ride for Chimie’s turn because she’s a very lightweight girl.

13413038_296613124011201_5577908718846010867_nAll that excitement made us hungry so we ate after the Python ride. There were many food choices in Dahilayan so one needs not to worry about bringing food to the place. Just make sure to walk around for a bit before hopping on another activity because you do not want to barf mid-air. That day, we opted to try the food at the Pinegrove Lodge Mountain Resort.

The last activity was the Dropzone wherein you’ll be lifted at around 120 feet the released so you end up swinging like a pendulum. You will be dropped first—the way you fall into temptation—just above the lake before being lifted high all the way to Jesus to meet your salvation. But because you’re hardheaded, you’ll go back to you the things that tempt you and allow them to drop you as they have always done your entire life. It will be the same routine as if you’ve not learned your lesson until you just stop because there was no point in it anymore.

I opted to sit this one out because people with back and heart problems were warned not to take on it. I have scoliosis and learned only in early 2017 that I have bradycardia too. This means my heart rate slower than normal. Well, it was a good thing I did not tempt fate because I am still alive to write all of this down.

The girls seem to have enjoyed the ride though, screaming expletives every high dip just to manage the uneasy feelings. Miss MC and Jalene played it safe by just going for the mid-point. Chimie and Joan, on the other hand, are very adventurous girls on their own. Combined? They can conquer the world. They were brave enough to get lifted at the maximum height without any hesitation.

13466341_296611884011325_6504130276693526823_nThey say the people you meet in life are no accidents. They are meant to teach you something along the way. I’d like to think that my friends were sent my way to balance my overly paranoid self and allow me moments to be carefree, brave and, from time to time, to feel like I have really, really lived.

Shaky plane rides still scare me though.

Bonding with Sea Turtles in Apo Island

Part of my previous job as an internal auditor was to go on fieldworks to different business unit sites across the country. While this means always being on-the-go and not being able to fully plan your year, the trips across different cities and provinces can be something to look forward to if you’re the adventurous type. I was not that type.

In early July of 2017, I was assigned on fieldwork in Dumaguete with Joan, Clare, and Claud. Those three girls are always looking for adventure and bucket list items to cross out when there are out-of-town trips. Joan, particularly, is quite the explorer and is very persuasive when it comes to making me join her little escapades. That time, they were set on taking the Apo Island tour which included snorkeling activities.

Apo Island is a volcanic island belonging to the municipality of Dauin, Negros Oriental. According to the instructors, the island is a protected marine sanctuary and is home to over six hundred fifty species of fish and over four hundred species of corals. It is also a great place to see sea turtles up close.

The girls were able to contact Harold’s Dive Center that offered a snorkeling package for only Php1,200/Pax that is inclusive of park fees, diving gears and equipment, transportation and boat transfers, licensed instructors, and lunch. We paid an additional Php500 to rent an underwater camera but the memory card had to come from us. It was a good thing that we brought power banks with us because we had to recharge the camera twice.

For the amount we paid, it was quite a steal already! I even heard from a friend who was also in Dumaguete that they paid thrice more than we did when they tried to plan their APO trip in a DIY fashion.

Being the paranoid member of the squad, I made sure to make everyone pack what I thought were essentials. Maybe it was a stroke of luck that I brought with me another duffel bag, intended for pasalubong like silvanas to bring home. The girls and I filled it with wipes, sunscreen, alcohol, power banks, first-aid kit, re-sealable zipper storage bags for wet clothes, water and snacks (in case the lunch included in the package was not to our liking). We started calling the bag the “Mommy Bag.”

IMG_0364.JPGOn the day of the tour, we went to Harold’s Diving Center to sign up and pay for the tour (but make sure to reserve a slot the day before). We were given our gears and the camera we rented. They provided the transportation that will take us to Malatapay, which was thirty minutes away from Dumaguete, where the boat was waiting for us. I recommend wearing your rash guards and swimming shorts already because the water where the boat is docked is quite high (reaches your hip especially if you’re not a tall person). It will save you from having to change in the small comfort room of the boat and wetting clothes you were hoping to wear on the trip back. This trip is just not meant for OOTD pictorials.

I also recommend bringing your own snorkeling gear because even if they are included in the package you paid for, you might feel more comfortable using one that you own and has not been used by a lot of people. I think I used a lot of alcohol and wipes initially and washed the ones given to me thrice before I could muster the courage to use them. The goggles, however, were perfect.

As someone who wears glasses, I had to use my RGP contact lenses that day. Those lenses, as fancy as they sound, always let me down when I wore them. But not this time. The instructor (forgive me for not remembering his name because I am terrible with names) assigned to me and the three girls was coaxing me to dip my head already in the water. I remember him telling me to trust him and that it was beautiful. DCIM268MEDIATaking a deep breath and praying that my eye doctor will not kill me for snorkeling with contact lenses on, I submerged my head in the water and opened my eyes. Wow! I did not regret it at all.

There were three snorkeling spots during the entire trip. Because I do not know how to swim, I initially struggled to be in the water during the first snorkeling stop. I also did not know how to breathe properly using the gear so I couldn’t keep my head underwater very long. I made it a point to hold on to the life ring that the instructor gave us (it was tied around his waist). He was very nice and patient with me, telling me to trust him, my life vest and the life ring. I realized that the more I worried, the more I struggled to be in the water. When I finally relaxed and figure out how to use the snorkeling gear properly so I could breathe underwater, I started to enjoy the trip more. I relied less on the life ring though I made it a point to have it close by so I can grab on to it when I must.

IMG_0055Joan, however, was having the time of her life! For someone who claims to not know how to swim, she was venturing out on her own and chasing after the sea turtles!

Beautiful was not enough to describe the underwater scene! It was very deep, in my opinion, but not too deep that the corals would seem too far and too small to appreciate. Fortunately, it was deep enough to keep a sea snake way below us!

There were fishes that looked like Nemo and Dory around! It was also my first time to see a blue starfish. I always thought they were just orange. The fishes do not shy away when they see people. Some will even swim past you!

IMG_0067.JPGI think we saw around three or four sea turtles. My golly, they were huge!

Slow as they may appear on land, they move a lot underwater so it was hard to take a picture of them or near them. Because they are not afraid to swim very close to people (one even accidentally hit my butt with his flipper!), one must make sure to be careful when kicking around in the water because you might hit them with the flippers you’ll be made to put on your feet.

I am not sure how these creatures act when they are crossed and I was not willing to find that out.

We tried several times to have a good photo taken with these lovely creatures but we either only get their heads or their hind areas. Since the camera we rented did not have a screen where you can see where you’re focusing, we ended up with some funny pictures to have a good laugh about! It will really be awesome if you brought your own underwater camera that you’re familiar with so you can take even more beautiful shots.

For the final snorkeling spot, we were told that we were going to meet the boat at another stop and we will have to swim all the way there. By this time, it was mid-afternoon already and the waves were quite strong already. I found that it was easier to stay underwater that to keep popping your head above the water because all you’ll end up experiencing are the waves hitting your face. Mind you, it will be a long swim for this final stop so make sure you reserved a lot of energy the day before.

For this stop, make sure to stay close to your instructor if you’re not a good swimmer. Also, try to stay away from the gigantic rocks and caves because the waves might send you crashing towards them. Be mindful of small boats floating around because they might hit your head like what almost happened to me. It was lucky I got to swim away quickly because it was a close call!

I am very glad that Joan persuaded me to join them on this trip. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the beauty that one finds only when going into the sea. I was going through a rough time during this period but for a moment there in Apo Island, I felt a little freedom. I really need to get swimming lessons soon.