Posts

In my previous post, I talked about how I forgot about the time when I snorkelled at Apo Island. How true it was; we almost forgot our lunch, good thing our hungry tummies never fail to remind us to eat.

Lunchtime

Hungry Pack

Hungry Pack

Grilled Fish and Rice

Grilled Fish and Rice

For our late lunch, we bought a freshly caught big fish from a local vendor and asked them to grill it for us. They also cooked us rice and bought us softdrinks and “sawsawan” (Filipino liquid seasoning), all for a very affordable price of course. We had a hearty lunch under the scorching heat of the summer sun. I highly recommend you buy freshly-caught fish from locals and let them grill it for you.  It’s a refreshing experience, especially if you’re used to having fast food in the city. After that sumptuous feast, we were all geared up for our second dip.

Clown Fish City

Clown Fish City, Apo Island Photo from Tommy Schultz

Everyone knows about the fish with bright orange and white stripes.  Thanks to the movie “Finding Nemo”, we already knew that clown fish exist and that they live in sea anemones. And when we talk about sea anemones, the island has a lot of them. I read before that Apo Island is said to be “Clown Fish City”, and indeed, it is! It was then that I knew, mature fish tend to change into a darker orange hue as they age. Clown fish go on swimming and playing happily in and out of the anemones, just like what I saw in the Disney movie. They went on with their daily lives not minding the five humans swimming overhead.

Marine Sanctuary

Marine Sanctuary

The tide was beginning to get low so our guide had to stop our snorkelling escapade after an hour of snorkelling. We returned all the gears we borrowed and headed to the port where our pumpboat was religiously waiting for us.

Sea Turtles

Going to see the Turtles

Going to see the Turtles

But before reaching the boat, our guide led us to a place where we could see big “pawikans” (sea turtles) up close. The place where we snorkelled was not as attractive as the Marine Sanctuary but we were amazed to see big (as in, really big) sea turtles swimming lazily and eating sea grass every now and then.  Locals said that big sea turtles are a common site, one can always see their round heads bob up and down the water, that is if, you know where to look. We swam near the “pawikan” that our guide was pointing at yet we didn’t get to go really close because sea turtles are really shy. They tend to swim away when they see someone going near them. So after half an hour or so, we decide that it was about time to travel back to the city.

Going Home

Going Home

Going Home

The trip back was a nasty one.  It was twice as rough as our morning trip and the waves were really not friendly because of the grumpy weather. The sky was really gloomy and raindrops were pouring every now and then. There was a time when our boat man had to kill the boat’s engine so that we could dance to the rhythm of the sea and avoid being capsized. The captain mentioned that the waves we encountered were just mild compared to the waves during the stormy season. I just closed my eyes and said a prayer for a safe trip and before I knew it we were already nearing the port.

I highly recommend Apo Island to all the people who wanted to experience marine life at its best. I’m not a diving/snorkelling expert but I have to say that the island’s marine life is absolutely breathtaking; absolutely worth your while, despite the rough sea trip.

Please drop by again next week for another snorkelling adventure with me, Wynna. :)

After a night of partying, my college friends and I had a whirlwind of a plan: we decided to go to Apo Island the very next day. We went home at a quarter past 12:00 and needed to get up really early to go to the island. If that’s not a crazy plan, I don’t know what is.

I was the one to set the alarm, and get up early. I knocked on their doors to wake them up one by one. Good thing we live in the same apartment. After knocking around for an hour, while everyone was still in a groggy mode, I started packing my swim wear, snorkeling gear, sunblock and wallet.

The Bumpy Ride to Apo Island

Jeepney Ride to Malatapay

Jeepney Ride to Malatapay

If you’re from Dumaguete City, you need to take a bus or a jeep going to Malatapay Market. It’s around 30 minutes from the city; you just have to tell the driver or conductor that you want to be dropped off at Malatapay. If you’re don’t want to go to Apo Island, you can still visit the market during Wednesdays because they sell all kinds of delicious Filipino food especially the world famous roasted pig called “lechon”.

From the bus drop-off point, you have to walk around 5-8 minutes before reaching the market and the mini seaport where all the pumpboats are docked. After signing the waiver and paying PHP 3,500 (USD 87.5) for the roundtrip ride, eight sleepyheads went aboard the big pumpboat. Expected duration of travel is 45-60 minutes.

Big waves made our white vessel bob up and down the deep blue sea; I didn’t know the ride would be this bumpy. If I had known, I wouldn’t have volunteered  for the trip. After  50-minutes of excruciating sea travel, the now wide-awake gang became giddy with excitement. I made arrangements with the pumpboat captain to wait for us ‘til 3 in the afternoon.

Docked at Apo Island Port

Docked at Apo Island Port

Fees before Snorkeling

On the way to the Marine Sanctuary

On the way to the Marine Sanctuary

You need to pay an environmental fee before you go swimming, and since we were locals and students at that time, we paid PHP 10 (or was it 15, I can’t really remember) each. A local guide, who also served as our snorkelling guide, led the way to Apo Island’s Marine Sanctuary. We paid PHP 100 (USD 2.5) for each of our bright orange life-vest, and PHP 150 (USD 3.75) for our guide, we chose to have him because not all of us are swimmers and the strong currents might take us away without someone to lead us.

Water Paradise

Getting ready to Snorkel

Getting ready to Snorkel

We  got into groups of five so it would be easier for our guide to keep count of his disciples. I was one of the first to go snorkelling. In all honesty, I was really troubled because a lot of people had already mentioned that Apo Island is said to be shark-infested due to its teeming marine life; and being the selacophobic that I am, my anxiety level was quite high. My beloved friends already knew about my unique condition so they made sure I was always in the middle; even our humble guide made sure that I was always near him so that he could easily guard me, if ever something unexpected came our way. And to be honest, I was really touched with all the effort in making me feel comfortable as much as possible.

But when I first dipped my head in the deep waters, all my anxiety evaporated into dust; I was dumbfounded, I even forgot about my worries about seeing a shark, all because of the beauty I saw underwater. I’m not really knowledgeable about the names of marine fauna and flora, but with the little knowledge that I have, it’s already enough to say that Apo Island is indeed a water paradise!

Colorful corals tower up to give shelter to variety of fishes. There seems to be a busy metropolis of sea creatures down there. It’s just too bad I didn’t save for an underwater camera to bring on this trip. My SD card would have been fully loaded with pictures of eels, star fish, big stone fish, and colourful familiar fish with names I can’t even remember. There’s always a lot to see and I could spend hours just swimming and observing the marine animals doing their daily routine. It already felt like eternity but when I did a time check it was only 12 noon.

So much to write but not enough space so I guess I have to cut this post into half. TO BE CONTINUED :)

I was going to write about my trip to Moalboal and what led me to decide to go there but changed my mind as soon as I discovered Naomi’s Bottle Museum. It was the weekend, I had nothing to do but had to stay in Cebu because of work commitments the following week. I didn’t want to be stuck in the four corners of my hotel room so I decided to go on an adventure trip to Moalboal – no plans, no purpose, not even my scuba gear (and to think that I am going to a popular diving destination!).

So packed a few clothes – discovered I forgot to bring my swimmers, sunnies and sunscreen…what the hell, I will just buy from there, there’s bound to be a mall along the way – booked a hotel, organized my transport, checked that I got all my gadgets…and I was off in no time for a 3-hour trip to the southwestern part of the island of Cebu.

More about that trip on another post, but for now I want to talk about a rare find – a bottle museum.

I saw the museum when I went for my early morning jog (a new found obsession) around town and made a mental note to come back when it opened. The bottle museum is located about 200 meters to Panagsama beach in Moalboal and owned by Myrna and Lito Alvarez.

Surprising find in Panagsama Beach, Moalboal

Surprising find in Panagsama Beach, Moalboal

The Bottle Museum is a cross between “Letters to Juliet” and “Message in a Bottle.” This place is full of positive vibe and radiates a warm fuzzy feeling. When Lito Alvarez opened the gate to let me in, I felt a heavy weight had been lifted, as if Lito extinguished my worries as soon as he shook my hand and welcomed me. Myrna greeted me at the door and it felt like being welcomed back to my mother’s arms, her talking voice was like a warm embrace telling me, everything will be alright.

Myrna and Lito Alvarez - warm, loving and so full of joy!

Myrna and Lito Alvarez – warm, loving and so full of joy!

The museum is a shack with every nook and cranny filled with bottles, books, paper and the couple’s memorabilia. But what it lacked in space and order it made up for character that seemed to get imbibed by its visitors.

Collage2

The Love Shack exists!!!

Myrna greeted me with a gift. She asked me to pick a scroll from a huge green bottle. This is the scroll of wisdom, sort of like the fortune inside a fortune cookie but much less cryptic and not as generic. I sat to read my scroll and got emotional at its content. Myrna said that no two scrolls are alike, each is unique and meant for those who picked them…and it certainly felt that way!

Lito said that it started when they moved back to the place and found that the resorts are having problems disposing their empty liquor bottles. At that time Lito had books from Spain that were given to him by his great grandfather and he was having problems with storage and didn’t know what to do with them. He then decided to tear the pages and put them in the bottles and called them wisdom bottles. The idea caught on and soon tourists were also donating books and magazines. Myrna started using the magazines as material for baskets and also started writing messages to put in them. She called these messages “Tsurtidogni” and they relate to everyday existence and serve to inspire the receiver. The messages were indeed very inspiring and dug deep into what I have forgotten and ignored. They spoke to me with such clarity, giving me directions and a renewed passion to pursue my course.

Collage3

Tsurtidogni anyone?

I will definitely come back to see Myrna and Lito to thank them for opening my eyes and rekindling my spirit by making me release the messages from my once lost bottle.

 

Dont look at the rearview mirror!

It was the weirdest feeling ever! My head felt it was growing yet becoming light, while the hairs on the back of my neck felt like they were standing from a very cold sensation running down my spine. It was the first time I’d felt this way and I was starting to freak out. But, I had to remain calm, cool, collected and not scream like a 17-year-old girl. After all it was my boyfriend and my third trip out-of-town together and it was too early in the relationship to show how freaked out I get with an unseen, but felt being. But who was I kidding?! My boyfriend is a psychic and he was already feeling what I was feeling. Turned out we had picked up a “hitchhiker”, unknowingly.

We didn’t know it had happened until we felt the weird sensation. Last thing I could remember was  travelling on our way back to Manila from a dive weekend in Batangas along the STAR Tollway. We started talking about my father who died a couple of years ago and had lived in Batangas. We continued talking and as we passed by the town of Lipa, which is where my father was originally from, I smelled candles burning. I asked my boyfriend if he smelled it and he nodded but did not say a word. Then the sensation followed.

My head felt like it was getting bigger but only from the right side and I felt the hair from the back of my neck to my right arm standing. Then my boyfriend asked, “How are you feeling?” I said, “I feel weird,” and described the sensation. Then he said, “Okay, don’t freak out, but we picked up something and it’s staring at you from the backseat.” Ahuh, yeah I am not supposed to freak out while “something” is staring at me from the backseat that we picked up while I was driving at 120kmh!!!

Is there something behind me?

As soon as he said backseat I couldn’t look at the rear view mirror. My eyes were glued to the road while my feet started to press harder on the accelerator hoping I could shake our “hitchhiker” out of the car. But the sensation started to grow stronger and I could start to feel my right arm getting numb. I asked my partner in my most calm and non-hysterical voice, “What’s happening? My right arm is getting numb.” He said, “The hitchhiker is closer to you now, about an inch.”

SO DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREAK OUT NOW!!!

SInce we were talking about my father when the weird sensation started, I asked, “Is it my father?” My boyfriend said, “No, I can’t figure out what it is.” What?! There are different kinds? What’s going to happen now?

He gave me a rundown of the different possibilities of what we may have picked up, but it was definitely not the spirit of my dad. It may have gotten curious about our discussion and the energies we were sending out and I am sure with my partner’s psychic energies. Ever since I got into a relationship with him I’ve started being more aware of the supernatural. I was a non-believer of these things but my encounters made me question and at least open up to the possibilities.

Apparently, the objective of our “hitchhiker” is to get me tired and fall asleep, thereby causing an accident. The STAR Tollway is one of the more treacherous roads in the Philippines, especially at night. Its poorly constructed and not well maintained. My partner kept talking to me while he was doing some kind of incantation to persuade our un-welcomed passenger to get off. I was still in a state of disbelief and was starting to doze off, but the weird feeling kept me aware. The feeling started to subside as we exited the expressway, some 20 kilometers from Lipa. We decided to have dinner in one of the roadside eateries where we debriefed.

Talisman?

He said that these beings exist on a different plane and sometimes they get curious and muster up enough energy to interact. They didn’t mean to hurt, most of the time, but their energies collide with ours, sometimes with devastating effects. As travelers we need to be careful not only with what we see but also with what we don’t see. Awareness and openness to possibilities are very important. Further, we shouldn’t challenge, but respect beliefs and traditions of places we visit.

There were more stories that followed after this. My partner is a magnet and I am experiencing it by association. It is spooky, but interesting.

Trying to contain my emotions

I didn’t want to make the trip, almost succeeded in avoiding it, which I would have regretted! There were a lot of challenges coordinating the trip and I was milking all the reasons not to go. I mean who looks forward to business trips where you go to interesting places, don’t get to do anything but work all day long, and by the time you are ready to do a bit of exploring, you are either too tired or there is nothing left to see except the familiar night life, if you are lucky enough to be in a major city! Plus, I really hate traveling while nursing a hang over from the previous night’s partying. There just aren’t enough barf bags!

The main problem is the distance of the destination. Isabela is about 460 kilometer (285 miles) away from Manila and I have to go there by land since I also have a stop over in one of the provinces along the way. I really can’t stand long land trips, especially when I am not the one behind the wheel. But work pays the bills, and I have lots of bills, so I have to endure the uncomfortable ride to Isabela.

Isabela is primarily an agricultural province. Located in the Cagayan Valley, it is one of the richest provinces in the Philippines and dubbed as the rice and corn granary of the country. It’s fertile rolling hills and plains, bordered by the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges, make it a vision out of a postcard!

But what excited me the most about the trip was the prospect of making a side trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces. I had a look at the map and found that it is only about two hours away from where I was staying. Quickly, I researched on how to get there using public transport just in case my companions didn’t buy the idea of a side trip.

Meanwhile, short of making a PowerPoint presentation to convince my companions to do the side trip, I planned in my tree house cottage of Villa Diana. Knowing that some of the people in the group were first-timers in the Philippines and had some sense of adventure gave me entry points to exploit.

My Tree House in Villa Diana

Armed with my arguments, I came down to dinner with the group only to realize that the conversation was about how close we were to the famous landmark. Perfect! I didn’t even have to open my mouth because the decision to do the side trip on our way back to Manila the following day, was made quickly. My inner travel diva was jumping for joy and swinging from the branches of the tree house!

We left Villa Diana at eight in the morning and hit the road to Banaue. By about 10 AM our van started negotiating the zig-zagging road leading to the viewpoint. It took us another 30 minutes before the majestic structure came into view and directions pointed us to the best vantage point.

It was truly a majestic site! A living example of a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, the terraces were carved by ancestors of indigenous Filipino people dating more than 2000 years ago, using minimal equipment and harnessing the power of their natural environment. The terraces were built on the sides of the mountains for the indigenous people to plant crops and tap the water source from rain-forests on top of the mountains for irrigation. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity, architecture and engineering of the structure that resembles the pyramids of Machu Pichu.

Banaue Rice Terraces @ the View Point

We had lunch in one of the local hotels. Their restaurant was right in front of the rice terraces and I was told that their deluxe rooms also open to this majestic view. I could just imagine waking up in the morning to this glorious site and I was almost tempted not to leave.

The Banaue Rice Terraces have peaks reaching as high as 1500 meters above sea level and are considered as the 8th Wonder of the World. They have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1995. There are several hiking sites, which can take you for a closer interaction with the structure and the community around it. Sadly, it is experiencing a major preservation challenge as the current generation have little interest in maintaining traditional, agricultural lifestyle. But in its present state, it still evokes so much emotion – a mixed feeling of achievement, pride, joy, anger, sorrow and triumph.

Pyramid

Too bad I only had an iPhone to capture the moment but I vowed to come back and explore the various hiking sites for closer interaction.

On any given day, a city or a town somewhere in the Philippines surely has a fiesta going on. Colorful and vibrant, Filipino fiestas are always happy occasions for Filipinos. It is a tradition that’s hard to break because its roots go back so far in time.

The Philippines were under Spanish conquistadores for more than 300 years and surely much of  Spanish culture and tradition has been absorbed and imbibed by the locals. Needless to say, Filipinos got the celebration of fiestas from the Spaniards, who were sworn Catholics by hook or by crook. The extravagant celebrations are to thank patron saints for the blessings, or to commemorate the passage of the seasons.

The inherent jovial and lively spirit of the Filipinos is what makes them stand out. Music, street dancing, feasting, processions, sports competition, beauty contests; you name it and Filipino fiestas have it. So to name a few of the grandest festivals in the whole country, I’ll give you my personal top three list.

1. Sinulog Festival

Every third Sunday of January, locals in Cebu, Philippines get all festive and celebrate Sinulog Festival. It pays honor to the origin of Roman Catholicism in the country which started in the Queen City of the South, Cebu. Patron saint of Cebuanos is Santo Niño, the image of the baby Jesus.

Rainbow colored costumes of street dancers flood the street to heighten the merry making on the final day of the celebration. The term “sinulog” comes from the word “sulog” or water current, which describes the buoyant forward-backward movement of the festival dance. For the whole month of January, locals make all sort of merriment both for religious sake and general spirit of celebration.

Kids Street Dancers

Kids Street Dancers

Even street dancers take a lil break

Even street dancers take a lil break

Sinulog Festival

Sinulog Festival

2. Feast of the Black Nazarene

Just before the Sinulog Festival, on the 9th of January, devotees of the Black Nazarene deluge the streets of Quiapo in Manila, Philippines. Six to eight million devout Catholics pay tribute and take part in the procession when the statue is brought out for public veneration.

The Black Nazarene or the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno is a dark wooden sculpture of Jesus carrying a heavy cross. It was originally fair-skinned but it became dark when the ship carrying it from Mexico caught fire. Followers from all over the world believe that by touching the life-sized sculpture all sorts of ailments can be healed.

The Millions of Devotee by Bernard Testa

The Millions of Devotee by Bernard Testa

The Black Nazarene

The Black Nazarene

3. Masskara Festival

In a painful period of crisis, the province of Negros Island specifically Bacolod City, came up with a life-changing event just to lift up the heartbroken spirits of the Bacoleños. With the combined efforts of the tourism community and some artists, they came up with a brilliant suggestion for the first ever festival of smiles since Bacolod City is known to be the City of Smiles.

And since that third week of October some thirty years ago, the locals of the city have the grandest and the most vivacious celebrations every year. Merry making of all sorts is seen everywhere on the streets, but the most famous is the vivid and lively street dancing where all the dancers wear fascinating masks with big wide smiling faces.

The Big Wide Smile of a Masskara

The Big Wide Smile of a Masskara

with our own Masskaras

with our own Masskaras

Street Dancers with their Smiling Masks

Street Dancers with their Smiling Masks

So whatever day, week or month you want to visit the Pearl of the Orient, the Philippines, you’ll surely find an exciting festival that will get you hooked.  You’ll not regret the merry making you’ll experience during any of the Philippine fiestas because then again, it’s always more fun in the Philippines.

641 kilometers (398 miles) south of Metro Manila in the Philippines lies, what’s been dubbed as,The City of Gentle People – Dumaguete (doo-mah-get-eh), the capital of the province of Negros Oriental. A captivating hodgepodge of sun, sand, sea, food and endless supply of good vibes. Legend says Dumaguete was coined from the Visayan word “daggit,” meaning “to snatch” owing to alleged frequent pillaging attacks of pirates and snatching of its beautiful women. But Dumaguete preys on its visitors and snatches our will to move on as she imposes her natural beauty, gastronomical excesses and laid back, sleepy way of life! It’s the Lair of the Lotus Eaters that devours all our stress and negative vibes replacing these with laughter and affirmation that life truly is beautiful.

Our journey started off to be quite a stressful one. I was running around like a headless chicken the day before, attending meetings and doing some last minute errands and shopping. Our flight was at 7:00 AM the following day and I just completed all our packing by 1:00 AM. We grabbed a couple of hours’ of Z’s and headed to the airport at 4:30 AM. In our haste, my partner accidentally left his iPhone in the cab. Further, the ATM was offline and we only had enough cash to pay for the airport fees and we knew our luggage was over the weight allocation…luckily they accept credit cards. My partner was also dreading the one hour flight since he can’t sit for long due to his slip disc.

But arriving in Dumaguete changed everything! The sun shone brightly and we were greeted by our gracious host for the trip – Rene Juntereal – with his infectious smile, a booming reassuring voice, warm hugs (which never run out), and an equally warm and friendly entourage.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

We stayed at Obdulia’s Business Inn, right next to Saint Catherine Cathedral at the heart of the city. It’s not an uber posh accommodation, but its clean, conveniently located, and had friendly staff to assist at any time. We were given our room assignments, unpacked, checked our itinerary for the day, found an ATM and set-off to experience our first Dumaguete delight at the market – Budbud Kabog (a local delicacy made of millets instead of the usual glutinous rice) served with local hot cocoa and sticky rice.

Market

Budbud Kabog

Fabulous Rice

After our brief walkabout we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our 2 dives for the day in Dauin, about 12 kilometers from the city center. Dauin is a quiet, rustic, and low-profile destination easily accessed using the local transportation (jeepneys or tricycles) and regarded as the diving capital of Dumaguete because of its rich marine life. The abundance underwater is masked by the simplicity of the bamboo cottages, shanties and a small number of resorts along its coast.

Finding Nemo

Lion Fish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Dinner that night was at Dumaguete Royal Suite Inn, and this was our first taste of the gastronomical feast in store for us for 3 more days! Dumaguete Royal Suite Inn is the home of the famous Dumaguete sizzling bulalo or whole beef shank, complete with a morsel of bone marrow waiting to be scooped out of the bone for those brave enough to challenge their mortality or who brought extra anti-hypertension medication. This dish is to die for and could literally be lethal for marrow-guzzling-gluts! Taken in moderation, if you can stand the temptation to order extra plates of rice and munch on the fatty joints, this dish is scrumptious with a fabulous explosion of flavors making you wish you had extra bellies to stuff.

Sizzling Bulalo

I was challenged to do a Man versus Food episode on desserts featuring a slice of leche flan (caramel flan) and a slice of tiramisu cheesecake…and I never back down on a food challenge, especially dessert! I prevailed.

Caramel Flan

Tiramisu Cheesecake

The next day started early with 3 dives scheduled around Apo Island. Fantastic dive sites with beautiful creatures like turtles, rays, groupers, bump heads, unicorn fish, barracudas, and beautifull coral formations. Unfortunately some of the sites were damaged by the recent storms but there was still plenty to see.

Sea Turtle

Giant Clam

Barrel Sponge

Lunch on the boat was another Dumaguete feast with an assortment of grilled sea food, pork, chicken and fresh fruits. I missed out on thoroughly enjoying this after feeling sick from the dive because of the strong surge at the shallow levels as I was exiting the dive.

Dinner that night was a segue to a party at Hayahay – a restaurant along the coast of Dumaguete City. We got a long table at the tree house, ate to our bellies’ bursting capacity and drank jack Daniels, beers, margarita, pina colada, and mango sling to insanity.

Celebrity Smiles

The dive the following day started late as everyone was nursing a hangover from the previous night but the sea hugged us in its cool comfort and showed more of its treasures. I got a fabulous shot of a sea horse – not bad for a newbie underwater photographer – and that made my hangover float alongside the bubbles I expelled. Lunch this time was more classy with pate, bread, salad, ham and chicken.

Lion and my Piggie

Divers in Action

Taking off!

Dinner that night was at the Blue Monkey. They served traditional Filipino dishes. After dinner we went for drinks at the Honeycomb on the Boulevard.

The last day was more relaxed. No more dives, just chilling. We all had brunch at Casablanca, again on the Boulevard, where I had tuna ceviche with oven baked potatoes – a weird combination that turned out to be quite exquisite.

Baked Potato with Ceviche

Make mine rare!

Parfait

On our way back, everyone recalled how they were smitten by Dumaguete. Plans of going back are underway including the possibility of staying longer, even putting up businesses and settling down. You’ve done it again Dumaguete…we’re hooked!

Siquijor is an island in the Philippines known for its enchantment. They say that this magical island is full of witches, shamans and sorcerers who are practicing black magic. They have varying ways of putting curses and diseases to people who get in their way.

Their most popular method was using beetles and other small insects to attack a victim while sleeping. Through dark magic, the witch can instruct four beetles with a thread to get in a victim’s stomach and lay eggs to it. These eggs have hazardous elements that a beetle is immune but a human is vulnerable.

If the attack is successful, the beetles come back with blood on its thread. Some people come to them and pay them an enormous amount to put a curse on someone they want revenge on.Then, those cursed people come to them later and ask for help to dispel their curse for a fee. After that, these people buy healing potions and amulets in their shop to protect them from spells.

Business was good on the island. It was so good that people from nearby islands started coming to them and would pay them well for their great service and products. The number of clients increased so quickly, that they had to hire and train more people to be able to open up new branches on the island.

A treasure hunter heard these stories from a friend and just laughed at him. He said it’s just a hoax to scare the people away from the island. The real reason behind it is to protect their ancestral treasures. The treasure hunter’s friend found out later that he went to the island alone.

He never heard from him since then for almost three years now. The treasure hunter would usually come back from his quest within just six months. In a far away island, a woman was getting disturbed by her dreams. Her dream’s setting varies but it always ends in the same exact scene. A scene where there are glowing fishes crying for help and they are closely guarded by a stone man.

She went to a fortuneteller. She tested the fortuneteller by asking her if she can tell what her dream is by just looking at her palm. The fortuneteller told her that she was dreaming about riding a Pegasus, her encounter with fairies, meeting her man of her dreams and all kinds of stories but none of the things she said matched her actual dream.

The fortuneteller said that she must have been getting visions of her older dreams instead of the latest ones. So she explained her dream to the fortuneteller and how it ends up in one ending, then she asked her if such a place really exists. The fortuneteller who happens to be a native of Siquijor Island recalled a place with her description.

She advised her that the place is somewhere in Siquijor Island but she can’t remember exactly where on the island. She warned her about the potential dangers from curses and bad spirits. But the woman was determined and went to the island to find her peace.

Upon entering the island, giant trees greeted her on her way in. The trees felt alive and creepy. Its midday but the place is cold and she can feel the hairs of her arms standing up. The woman thought that it might be just a mild fever since she didn’t get enough sleep.

Old Enchanted Balete Tree

She went to the town’s nearest church and prayed for protection. She noticed that the area surrounding the church felt a bit warm and relaxing. When she left the area and lost sight of the church she started getting that chilling feeling again that she can’t explain.

St. Isidore Labradore Church

She asked a local resident about the nearest springs, rivers, ponds and beaches in the island so she can check if one of those contain the fish she keeps on seeing in her dreams. The local resident directed her to the nearest waterfalls in her spot then gave her directions on how to get to the beaches and springs in the island.

Cambugahay Falls

She searched the whole place but found no glowing fish in the area. The woman recalled her childhood experience when she saw a friend glowing, but her others friends can’t see the glow. A few days later, her friend died in an accident. She is having second thoughts if her dreams are related to what has happened to her before.

Salagdoong Beach

After making sure that every spot in the waterfalls area was completely explored, she decided to go to her next stop, the beach. This was a bit more challenging because the area was wide and a very long walk is required to be able to explore the whole beach front.

She went up a giant rock to have a better view of the whole beach to find signs of the glowing fishes. She saw a school of fish near the shore, but those are ordinary fish with gray scales and not the glowing and colorful ones like the fishes she saw in her dream. After reaching middle part of the beach, she rested a bit.

While resting, she was thinking hard about the things that she saw in her dream. She kept visualizing the entire scene over and over hoping to get a better clue on where the place was, but nothing came to mind.

Salagdoong Beach

She started walking again while closely looking at the beach for signs of the glowing fishes. She reached the far end already but found none. Her last hope was the nearest spring on the island. She rushed to the spring before twilight then started exploring it thoroughly.

It only ended in frustration. After a tiring search, she checked-in a resort to relax and ponder on what she needs to do next in this journey. As she explored the resort, she noticed something bright from afar. After she got closer to it, she got the biggest surprise of her life.

“It’s the glowing fishes!” she exclaimed.

People nearby heard her and gave her an odd stare. She cupped her hands in her mouth and blushed after realizing that only she can see the fishes glow because of her undeveloped third-eye.

She sat in the pond then touched the water—the fishes moved as if it’s just one big fish then immediately came to her hand to kiss it. Their glow slowly faded away after that close encounter. The fishes started moving in different directions and stopped moving like its one big fish.

The woman’s mind was filled with wonder. She can’t explain the meaning of what just happened to the fishes or to her. She can’t really tell if she was just hallucinating because of dizziness caused by a whole day of searching.

To be continued…

Sunset at Coco Grove Beach Resort

Activity Holiday cast

White water rafting, swimming with dolphins, zip lining, SCUBA diving, firefly watching and neighborhood photo-walkabouts over 6 days – it was the dream activity holidays are made of! We dubbed it as the Mindanao adventure with the activities spread across 3 provinces.

The gateway to our adventures is the city of Cagayan de Oro or CDO as the locals call it. We took a 2-hour flight from Manila to CDO where we meet up with our advance party. Sadly we were not able to go with them for the white water rafting and swimming with the dolphins and had to be content with their stories and photos. Work seem to always get in the way of fun!

White Water Rafting in CDO

Introduced in the Philippines as a hobby by a group of outdoor enthusiasts back in 1995, it took 10 years for the activity to catch on as an attraction for both local and foreign tourists. White water rafting is an activity that uses a raft, usually made of inflated rubber tubes, to navigate a river or any body of water.

Excitement flows as the raft negotiates its way through varying degrees of rough water and passengers try to hang on and prevent the raft from capsizing or worse hitting the rocks. Best enjoyed with a group, however anyone can go alone provided you bring your friendly spirit to meet new people and build relationships.

Swimming with Dolphins

Another one we missed because this happened on the second day of the adventure trip. The dolphin infraction is in Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park or MOAP. It’s about a 30 minute ride from Ozamis City to Sinacaban.

The interaction happens in Dolphin Island, not a real island but a facility built in the sea accessible inside MOAP. It’s a real interaction where you can snorkel and swim with the dolphins. Stories of people being scared at first but then soon replaced by extreme joy as these creatures are so friendly they facilitate the interaction. They literally welcome you to their environment and make you feel at ease.

I was really disappointed to miss this one and still curse commitments to clients to this day!

Ziplining in Bukidnon

Zip Line – Check!

This was where we caught up with the adventure. We arrived early in CDO airport from Manila and our team picked us up from the airport at about 6:30am. We had a quick breakfast along the way and set off to Bukidnon to experience the longest zip line in Asia found in Dahilayan Adventure Park.

The trip from the airport is about 2 hours and half of the time is spent going through the Del Monte pineapple plantation, where hectares of pineapples are grown for cannery purposes. Past the plantation is a community and loads of fruit bearing trees, owing to the fertile soil of this region, then after a short while you will see Dahilayan Adventure Park. They have 2 zip lines and and another attraction called Zorb where you go inside a giant transparent ball that goes down one of the cliffs.

We only had one purpose and that is to ride the longest zip line in Asia, superman style! The ride was exhilarating, especially the anticipation as they strapped us with the protective gear. The zip line is 840 meters long suspended at about 100 meters from the ground and travels from 60-100 kilometers per hour.

It was fantastic and I felt like Peter Pan as I watched my shadow flying on top of trees. The ride took only about 2 minutes but it was one of the bet 2 minutes well spent! I wanted to go again but we had other things planned and getting quite hungry, especially since we were told that there is a restaurant inside the pineapple plantation that sells pineapple fed steaks.

SCUBA Diving

In action in Mantigue Bay, Camiguin

We are avid SCUBA divers and the Philippines is one of the perfect places to go to explore a rich marine life. We went to 2 areas to dive – Mantigue Island in Camiguin and Duka Bay in Medina.

  • Camiguin has at least 20 top dive sites but the most spectacular ones are:
  • Mantigue Island – nice drop off reefs often compared to Maldives.
  • Sunken Cemetery – not a real cemetery; great siting for turtles and soft corals.
  • Tangup Bay – perfect for beginners with soft and hard corals and some interesting rock formations.
  • White Island – beautiful black coral forest, strong current and requires advanced diving skills.

Camiguin was the first time I used nitrox and it was an interesting experience as the air felt lighter to breathe and seemed to give a happier after dive effect compared to compressed air. Some minor set-up required for dive computers needed as calculations of bottom time and surface intervals change.

Turtle

Duka Bay has 3 spectacular dive sites:

  • Paradise Garden – I love the colorful damsels in this site and the corals are so colorful. The crater features canyons and overhangs – truly a paradise under the sea!
  • Aquarium – first time I saw thermocline where cold freshwater springs out of the sea floor mixing with warmer salt water.
  • Japanese Garden – a shallow dive but not to be missed for the colorful and abundant collection of fish and corals!

It’s good to have your own dive equipment but even without your complete set there are rentals from resorts at very reasonable prices.

Firefly Watching

In one of the nights we rented local canoes that took us inland among the mangroves to watch fireflies dance.. Each canoe had a boat man that rowed for us and a navigator that ferried us along the shallow waters of the mangrove forest while we drank beer and sang a few tunes. Fireflies are not something you see everyday especially in the city and seeing them in their natural habitat brings back a lot of childhood memories. The canoe ride along the calm waters with just our flashlights to light the way is very romantic.

Neighborhood Photo Walkabouts

Medina is loaded with history and culture so we packed our cameras one day and did a neighborhood photo walkabouts. Visiting heritage houses taking photos of the local flora and fauna and interesting sites around. This is one way to get to know the locals and the surroundings just make sure you leave the abrasive and patronizing attitude at home and pack a lot of positive energies.

It was certainly one of the greatest activity holidays we’ve ever been a part of. What’s even better is being hosted by our dive instructor who originally came from Medina. Its always good to have someone who can show you around and really get the most out of the experience.

We’re planning to go back September 2012 but this time the eastern side of Mindanao and we’ll make sure not to miss the dolphin interaction.