When Disaster Aftermath Leads to Nature’s Beauty- Mt. Pinatubo

Almost 26 years ago, it was the most devastating natural disaster that occurred, not only in the Philippines, but in the world. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales has gotten so many lives, and buried them underground alive. Many people were forced to leave their houses without any idea when they can comeback. The ashes from the volcanic eruption went as far as Hong Kong, and the world temperature for 10 years was decreased by 1 degree Celsius. I remember in the late 90s, whenever we spend our summer in Pundaquit, Zambales, we always pass by the province of Pampanga, and the remnants of the lahar look so fresh, and the surroundings were very much like a zombie land.

The calamity of yesterday turned out to be a beautiful disaster. As we trekked for 2 hours going to the crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo, we passed by several smiling Aetas, the locals of the area. Afterwards, we’ve seen the most rewarding view of the lake.

Mt. Pinatubo in a glance of a few hours (02.20.17)

My very good friend invited me to join their group, who will trek the Capas, Tarlac trail of Mt. Pinatubo. Without any hesitations, I said yes. I don’t normally do hiking, due to my very demanding work that requires me to sleep during my days off. I tried several before like trekking in Mt. Buntot Palos, and Mt. Isarog, and I have loved the rewarding view of the falls in those mountains. I strongly felt that I can do Pinatubo, since I got to experience spelunking at Biak na Bato, but heck that was in my freshman year in high school, almost 12 years ago. For someone like me who considers walking as a form of exercise, I got to reach the peak of Mt. Pinatubo without giving up.

In the Monday morning of Feb. 20, the group met in Ortigas. The trip was organized by my friend’s friend who happens to be working for Nat Geo, and they create new trails for mountains. Such a cool job, you get to discover a lot of new adventures. We were a group of 10, 3 of them were my batch mates in high school, and the rest were from the same circle of flying.

Our van left Ortigas, at 3:30am, and before the sun rises, we were already at the jump-off point in Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. We were required to register at the tourism office and once our 4×4 rides were available, we started our adventure.

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The ride was around an hour and a half, and we were the first ones to make a trip, so we created the path that will be followed by the other trekkers later.

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Toblerone-shaped lahar mountain

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We had a short stop-over at the Toblerone-like mountain. The mountains were created out of lahar.

After our 4×4 ride, this is when we started to trek. It was probably 3-4 kms in distance. They say that it used to be a very long trek, almost 7kms if I remember it right. However, according to what I’ve heard, some areas have been bulldozed to give way for “VIPs” who will be visiting/inspecting the area. Such a shame, it’s nature who will adjust for those people, and that’s the ugly truth.

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Another area for registration

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After several mins., i found a bathroom with water. Yehey!! I’ve been wanting to pee for the longest time, but I have to hold it or else, I’ll do it somewhere in the bush.

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Where do you belong?

After several walks again, we found a banner stating that it’s 20 mins. more to the crater. I saw some locals doing their laundry by the stream, and didn’t mind the scorching heat. There were families of Aetas living in that part, so please if you happen to go here, bring some snacks or anything for the kids. I’m sure they will appreciate it.

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Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations

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Finally!

At last, we reach the peak. It was 9am and the view was rewarding. My trekking was worth every penny.

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Happy, my hs batchmate & volleyball teammate during our varsity days

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Cat, beautiful friend since 2nd grade. 18 years of solid friendship.

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Kev, my good friend since 1st year high school

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Thank you to these beautiful people for the wonderful time

 

We stayed for an hour and camp by the lake. I suggest that you bring your own food and drinks and load up on carbs. There’s a lone store there, but the prices of his goods are way too high.

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High school never ends

Before we went back, we made sure that we didn’t leave any trash.

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Leave nothing but footprints

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The expenses for this trip was PHP 3100 per head for a group of 10. It includes transfer rides from Manila to jump-off point and vice-versa, registration fee, environmental fee and 4×4 ride. Pack light and wear something comfy that can cover you from heat.

After our trek, we took a shower in one of the houses near the jump-off point, and paid 50 bucks.

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Since it was still early to go home, we had a side trip in Angeles, Pampanga, and ate at Funnside Ningnangan.

For itinerary and budget, click Itinerary- Mt. Pinatubo 2017

The Blissful Paradise of Bantayan Island

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The island of Bantayan is at the northern most part of Cebu. It takes about 6 hours to reach this paradise from Cebu City. The locals from the island speak different dialects, because they are very near to the islands of Masbate, Leyte and Panay. There are two beaches in the island, namely, Alice and Sugar. I tried walking on both shores, and they’re just almost the same. There were tons of resorts to choose from, depending on your budget of course. I chose a resort located in the town of Bantayan, a bit of traveling before reaching the beach proper in the town of Santa Fe.

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Bantayan Island, Cebu in a glimpse of 1 day and 1 night. (07.30-31.16)

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Shore of Santa Fe, Bantayan Island

Land, air and sea.

The crowd in Bantayan Island are mostly tourists (foreigners and locals from Manila), and it could be time-consuming before you reach the island. 3 domestic airlines travel from Manila to Cebu daily, and flights are almost hourly. There are also available flights going to Cebu from our neighboring countries, Middle East, and USA. Domestic flights from the different provinces also fly to Cebu daily or weekly. Seat sale is offered by airlines months before your scheduled vacation, and sometimes even weeks before.

Manila flights are usually an hour and 30 minutes flying time.

Take a regular(white) taxi from the right side of the arrival hall of Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and tell the driver to take you to the North Bus Terminal.

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Scheduled trips from Cebu City to Bantayan Island and vice-versa via Ceres Bus Liner

There are scheduled trips going to Hagnaya Port, and it takes about 3-4 hours from the bus terminal to the port. It’s better to take the air-conditioned bus.

At Hagnaya Port, pay the terminal fee, and avail the next available trip to Santa Fe Port, Bantayan Island.

Where to Stay?

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The resort where we stayed

There are many resorts to choose from, depending on your preference and budget. I booked at Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort (09189408066). I called up the contact number I found online, and reservations were arranged after I made a 30% down payment. The resort is located in the town of Bantayan, and it takes about 20 mins. to reach the shore of Santa Fe. They picked us up from the port of Santa Fe.

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View from our hut

 

07.30.16 Food trip in Santa Fe

After 6 hours  of traveling from Cebu City, we finally reached this paradise on a gloomy day. The currents going to Bantayan were quite big, and I kept my fingers crossed that our trip won’t be cancelled. We were picked up by the resort’s “gardener”, and later on I found out that she is the wife of the owner, and we belong to the same circle of flying. She was a very gracious host, and full of energy. We were greeted by a resort that looks very natural: forest themed. It has a beautiful infinity pool, pool cave, mini zoo, library, etc. Our villa is surrounded by trees and has a nice view in the morning. A complimentary breakfast was also included in our accommodation. We planned to rent a motorbike, so we could go around the island, but it wasn’t available at that time. Instead, we availed the drop-off/pick-up to Santa Fe.

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Complimentary breakfast

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I enjoyed eating at the famous MJ Square, where various restaurants and food stalls are located. A variety of food that you can choose from, yet at an affordable price.

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Sumptuous meal for two

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Variety of meals to choose from

 

07.31.16 Land Tour in the towns of Bantayan, Madridejos and Santa Fe

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Aside from swimming, we had a tour around the island of Bantayan. A package is offered in our resort. It took 2 hours to complete the tour. We visited the towns of Madridejos- where the ruins of Kota is found, Bantayan- where the oldest church (2nd in Cebu) of Sts. Peter & Paul is located, and Santa Fe. We passed by Ogtong Resort, where we had our picture taken at the Ogtong Cave. The rest of the time, we just eat, swim and sleep.

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If you’re a seafood lover, this is the place to be. They offer it fresh and in a variety of seafood viands. Different cuisines can be found here too- from local to international. For people who have a sweet tooth, like me, your dessert cravings can be satisfied. I highly recommend the leche flan sold at Dessert Zone. You can never go hungry in this island, and they’re all affordable.

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Bantayan is far from the developed beaches in our country, and I appreciate it that way. It is comparable to the famous Boracay Island, however, it is its quiet and affordable version. It has so much to offer, that you can really enjoy your stay in the island.

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For itinerary and budget, feel free to click the link Itinerary- Bantayan Island 2016

I would love to visit this paradise again someday, and try out the water activities, that we failed to do due to weather.

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Overnight in Thailand

Bangkok may be known for spicy Thai food, temples, lady boys, and shopping. The latter, for me, is the most attractive, and that made me flew to Bangkok on a short notice.

Bangkok, Thailand in a glimpse of 1 day and 1 night. (04.29.16-04.30.16)

Everything was planned and booked last minute, but surprisingly it was not that expensive. It was my first time to try the Airbnb app. It’s an app that could let you choose your accommodation depending on your budget and preference. After browsing through different accommodations, I found a hostel fit for my preference. It is not in downtown Bangkok. However, it’s just a few minutes away from Chatuchak, the shopping destination. Our hostel is at PHP 793 per night plus a surcharge of PHP 94. It includes twin beds with toiletries and complimentary water and noodles. The front desk officer was very accommodating, and can speak good English.

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Room @ VIPA Hotel

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Our hostel from outside

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Hostel’s lobby

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Twin beds in a fairly nice room for only PHP 793 per night

I have searched online for the different tour packages available, and I found my most preferred through Royal Exclusive Travel. The package includes pick-up and drop-off from your hotel (hotels must be in downtown Bangkok or if you’re hotel is not within the area, like in our case, we had Asia Bangkok Hotel as our meeting place), elephant ride and floating market tour in Damnoen Saduak, English-speaking tour guide and a complimentary drinking water. You can book this tour at http://www.asia-discovery.com

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Waiting four group tour at Asia Bangkok Hotel

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Day 1- 04.29.16

We took the red eye flight MNL-BKK, and arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport at midnight. Since our hostel is 20 minutes away from BKK airport, we had no choice, but to take a cab. We rested for a few hours before we prepared for our tour.

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Another check on my bucket list: to ride an elephant

  • Elephant Village

It took an hour and a half before we have reached the elephant village at Damnoen Saduak. After a short briefing, we had our turns to ride the elephant and tour the forest. The “elephant driver” offered some souvenirs after our ride. Each souvenir costs around THB 150-300. It was my first time to ride an elephant, and it was an item to mark-off on my bucket list.

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While waiting for our turn to ride the elephant

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Forest bound

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Not your typical ride

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A view of the forest and wild monkeys from the elephant’s perspective

  • Floating Market

A few minutes away from the Elephant Village is the famous Venice of the East, the Floating Market. You take a canoe around the area and you can shop from a variety of Thai products. You can even ask for a discount especially if you’re buying bulk items.

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Bathroom break before we continue our journey

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A Thai local in their daily work

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Different items for sale

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Feel free to haggle when buying

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Souvenir items for sale

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Blending in with the tourists

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Plenty of tourists around

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After our tour, we were dropped off in downtown Bangkok. We were figuring out how to take the train, but there was no English translation and nobody speaks English. We were left with just one option, and that is to take the cab going to our hostel. Before we left, we walk along the streets and we found some local delicacies, and we gave it a try. We also passed by a stall that sells an authentic Thai milk tea.

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Authentic Thai milk tea & the ivory bracelet bought from the elephant driver

When we got into our hotel, we rest again for a bit, then went out to look for a temple. There is a Buddhist temple a few streets away from our hostel, and we paid a visit, because we could no longer visit the famous temples due to time constraint.

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A Buddhist temple we found near our hostel

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Light a candle, say a prayer and let it flow

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Or you may write down your prayers and hang it on the tree

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After a tiring and productive day, we got very hungry. There is a restaurant at the lobby of our hostel, and they serve authentic Thai food. I know that most of the Thai food are spicy, so I ordered for a mild spicy food. To my surprise, it is still very spicy, and to my friend who happens to love spicy food gave up too.

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Spicy bacon and rice

My friend needed to leave early, because she booked the wrong date of her flight, and I was left alone to do all the shopping. As a token of appreciation for my friend who came along even if unprepared, I bought her a passport holder.

  • JJ Market

Have you heard of shopaholics flocking Thailand to hoard items for business or personal use? Yes, it’s true that they sell quality stuff for a very low price. In fact, I tried to compare them with our very own Greenhills Shopping Center. They sell almost the same things but there is a big difference in the price.

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JJ Night Market

The front desk officer told me about this place beside Chatuchak. According to her, there is a night market every weekend that are preferred to be visited by the younger people. I checked it out, and it was indeed catered for the younger people. I started shopping at 7pm, and I ended at midnight, and got home with shopping bags on both hands.

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Passport holders

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How they customize it

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Shoes

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Find your stuff

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Day 2- 04.30.16

I was supposed to have the whole day for shopping, and taking the red eye flight going back to Manila. However, I realized that I have an early morning duty the next day, and I need to rest. As a result, I took the midday flight going home. Before my trip ends, there’s another side story I have to share. The night before I left for JJ Market, I told the front desk officer on duty that I’ll be checking out the next day at 7pm. I changed my mind and took the earlier flight instead, so I needed to leave the hostel at 7am. Unfortunately, there was no one in the lobby to inform that I’ll be leaving. Make things more impossible, the hostel’s location is in one of the alleys, so taxis don’t often go to that area. Good thing, the wifi was turned on, so I tried to use my Grabtaxi app. I made 3 attempts, 2 failed because they cannot contact me because I have no local number. Luckily, the 3rd one arrived, but he can’t speak English at all. I told him to take me to the airport. I remember I kept a copy of my itinerary translated in Thai, and I showed it to him. When we were near the airport, I know that he was asking whether we are going to the departure or arrival area. He cannot understand when I said departure, but I was in good fate, and I saw a translated sign of departure and I pointed it to him. I was really thankful for his willingness to understand, and to show my appreciation, I told him to keep the change.

For itinerary and budget, feel free to click the link, Bangkok 2016- itinerary

Hopefully when I have a chance to visit Thailand again, I get to see the famous temples, Patpong district, Phuket, Phi Phi Islands, and many more.

The Mystery and Beauty of Masasa Beach

Masasa Beach is approximately 3 hours away from Manila. Located in Maricaban Island, town of Tingloy in Batangas. It is neighboring to Mindoro Island, Isla Verde, and Anilao Batangas. It is near the famous Sumbrero Island, which they say that it’s part of Anilao (please correct me if I’m wrong). Among all the beaches that I have been to, this is the most quiet and cleanest. When I was walking in their downtown, it felt like I was transported in the old times. When you want some peace and quiet time, you can go here. It is under-developed and it has not been commercialized.

I’ll take you back in 2015, 2 years ago

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Masasa Beach with the over-looking Mindoro island

 

This DIY trip is the most buwis-buhay getaway in my entire existence.

It happened to be a long weekend, 17th of January 2015, because of the pope’s arrival in the country. Long weekend means time to pack our bags and go somewhere. Fortunately, it’s also the birthday weekend of my other half. I planned the whole trip and gave it as my birthday present to him.

A glimpse of Masasa Beach, Tingloy, Batangas in 3 days and 2 nights (01.17.15-01.19.15)

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Crystal clear water of Masasa Beach

We left our house at 5am, so that we could catch the JAM Bus Liner going to Batangas City Grand Terminal at 7am. The bus ride took almost 2 hours coming from Buendia, Makati.

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Bus ride to Batangas

Upon reaching our destination, we took a jeepney ride to Mabini Port, which took 45 mins to an hour from the city. The boats at the port are scheduled to leave every hour starting at 10am. Unfortunately, a storm happened to enter the country on that day, as a result the provincial government declared Signal no. 1, which means that no boats could sail. We were not informed that there was a storm signal, because the sun was out there, and not even a single drop of rain has fallen. But rules are rules- storm signal warning, strictly no sailing. We were stuck in the port for 4 hours, and I have thought of just going to a resort in Anilao. However, we saw some locals of Tingloy heading home. (so there must be a way to go to that island). He, first tried talking to the Tingloy locals, in his Batangueno accent, (so that they won’t assume that we are Manila kids & might take advantage) and asked if we could hitch a boat ride with them, and we’re willing to pay some extra bucks just to go to Tingloy. The very nice man agreed, and accommodated the 2 of us in their small boat with a capacity of 10 people. We sailed away. It was very smooth and we’re just passing through the shores of Anilao. The waves were very peaceful and there was no slight evidence of a storm approaching. We called the caretaker of the place that we’re staying, and told her that we will be arriving in about an hour.

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Waiting at Mabini Port in Anilao, Batangas

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The waves are very calm

When we’re about to cross the middle of the sea, I’ve started seeing giant waves. Waves that could make our boat sink. I could not make a single move from where I am seated, and it feels like, one wrong, all wrong and we die. I tried my best to hide my emotions so I wouldn’t scare the birthday boy. Mind you, we were not even wearing life vests, and if the boat will sink, I wondered if there are sharks out there to eat us. It’s impossible to be saved by another boat because we’re the only boat in that part of the sea. Prayers are already shouted in my head, and I thought of my family (feels like the end of the world). It was the longest 1 hour boat ride of my life, and thank you that we made it alive to Tingloy.

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Trike ride going to the shore

We took a trike from the shore going to our inn, and we were welcomed by the caretaker. After changing into our swimwear, we headed to the beach. It’s indeed a virgin beach! Crystal clear water, white powdery sand with a few pebbles, calm waves, and even if you go far, it’s still safe to swim. When we were walking along the shore, we saw a camp site of 2 pax, and they look very much chill.

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Passing by the green fields before you reach the shore

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It’s actually a 10-min. walk

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Met a carabao on our way

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And a goat too

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We returned to the inn when it was 6pm, and cooked our baon for dinner. The caretaker was so nice that she even allowed us to use their stove, and other kitchen utensils. We were even lucky that we get the house all to ourselves, which means that we don’t have to share the bathroom with anyone!

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All to ourselves

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The famous staircase, I’m not sure of the name

 

Day 2- 01.18.15

We got up so early, but it was raining hard. The caretaker informed us that there is still a storm signal, and we cannot go back to mainland Batangas yet, so we went back to sleep. We went to the beach at 3pm, and the whole beach was ours. Nobody wanted to enjoy the beach except us. Mr. Sunshine showed up in the afternoon, and it was just perfect to get my tan.

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Our campsite

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Getting a tan

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Mr. sunshine is about to set

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Day 3- 01.19.15

Storm signal has been lifted, and we could leave.

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Time to go home

On our last night in the island, we felt something strange. I mentioned above that we got all the house to ourselves. The house is relatively new. All the floors are made of cement including those in the 2nd floor. There are 3 rooms upstairs, and I noticed that there is also no ceiling. You can already see the roof, if you look up. There is also a rotating brown-out in the island, starting 11pm until 6am. We were already in bed at 10pm, then the lights are out. We only have the rechargeable fan and light. We turned it off because it was so cold. We were so silent because we both felt sleepy and tired, not until, I heard something. I went like, “Naririnig mo ba yun? (Do you hear that)”, and he goes like, “Oo, wag mong pakinggan (Yes, don’t listen)”. Then he covered my ears. Well, we just heard footsteps going towards our room. I’m sure it was not a cat, because the floor is made of cement. It was heavy footsteps. The wall in our room, doesn’t extend up until the roof, because there was no ceiling, so there is a space, and you can just peak outside our room. We knew what we heard, so I said, “Ang lapit na niya, papunta ata sa’tin (It’s near, I think it’s going towards us)” So we were under the sheets the whole wee hours and hugging each other tightly, and very scared. I never told the caretaker about it, because she was so nice to us, and I don’t wanna say anything negative because she’s very accommodating. Probably, it was just a welcome from the other side, but we got scared.

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I was planning to take my sister to Masasa Beach, not until I came across a very recent blog post about it. I suddenly felt sad, coz it was no longer the Masasa Beach that I was imagining. It was so packed with campers, and it felt like there was no space to pitch in my tent. The locals have made curfews for campers, unlike before that we can camp overnight. I hope I’m wrong, and it only looks like that during peak season, but you can barely see people before even if it’s a peak season.

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How to visit Masasa Beach?

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I wish it stays like this for a lifetime

From Makati or Cubao, take a bus ride going to Batangas City Grand Terminal, then transfer to a jeepney bound to Mabini. You may drop-off at Mabini Port. Ferry rides going to Tingloy and vice-versa are scheduled and available daily. Once you reach Tingloy, you may walk or take a trike going to your accommodation or to the beach site.

FYI:

The beach is a public beach so it is free. I suggest that you buy your food and toiletries from the mainland as these items are expensive in Tingloy. Prepare your budget on transpo and accommodation. The people are very nice, so please be nice to them too. Don’t forget to dispose your garbage properly. Keep the island clean and enjoy.

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Itinerary & budget for this trip