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Trip to magical Cape San Agustin  

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(PHILIPPINES) If you ever want to experience the feeling of standing at the edge of the world, head out to Cape San Agustin, the southernmost tip of Governor Generoso in Davao Oriental, Philippines.

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Up at the very tip of this quiet municipality is one magical destination known to many but dreamed about by more and continuesto draw visitors from all over the world.

Pundaguitan is the last town in Governor Generoso where the buses either make the round trip to Davao City or sleep for the night. From the bus stop, my photographer buddy Arjoy and I hired one of the motorcycles for 200 pesos per passenger and up we went to passing barangay Lavigan heading to the famed Cape San Agustin.P1220473

I had been to the Cape twice in the past, but a lot has changed in the last decade. The once-rough road that I used to call stomach-churning, butt-numbing motorcycle ride as drivers try to reach the destination without falling into the deep ravine was now smooth and paved snaking its way up and around the mountain until we reached a clearing on top of the hill and then we were there.

There was no one at the Cape aside from a family with a small child who takes care of the property. I was back to one of the places I consider my favorite on earth.P1220391

I wanted to stand at the very edge of the Parola and watch the endless stretch of blue ocean merging with the blue skies, dotted by the red and yellow sails of a couple of fishing boats in the far distance but Arjoy and I got to work right away. For the next couple of hours, I forgot about everyone and everything and only my camera and the magical place I was in mattered.

A few meters away from the very end of the cliff we were standing on was The Islet which looked like a small piece of the island chopped and pushed off from the cliff a bit farther.P1220421

Under the cliff facing the Last Islet is a hidden cave that opens out into the ocean. The waves come in through the small openings in the rocks. The best feature of the Pagoda is the three lighthouses, with the oldest built in 1938 featuring an external spiral staircase

I was looking forward to climb hundred-plus steps to the top of the middle lighthouse but the door was locked and our guide/motorcycle driver told us the key keeper was out for the day.

The top of the lighthouse offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the Cape and the point where the raging waves of Celebes Sea blends with the peaceful calm of Davao Gulf.

From the Pagoda, we made our way down the hill under tall coconut trees to the Pagoda Beach below. The ocean seemed angry at the interruption and sent out huge waves rolling to the shore but it was not even scary, only mesmerizingly beautiful. A few hundred feet away is the Altar, an extra-ordinary rock formation believed to be the place where the Spanish missionary St. Francis Xavier, the Spanish missionary said his first mass in 1550. I’ve climbed it in the past but didn’t have time to do it on this trip as we had to catch the last bus that leaves at 3 p.m. to stay the night in a delightful fishing village but that is another story.P1220558

Half the fun is in getting to Cape San Agustin. The four-hour trip on a public bus from Davao City takes you through green lush forests and picturesque coastal views past quaint fishing villages, vast rice fields, jungles, limestone walls, mountainsides and breathtaking cliff lines. It is where goats and cows rule the road and won’t budge so that buses and other vehicles have to go around them to pass through.

When in the southern part of the Philippines, don’t miss a visit to Cape San Agustin. It’s a place that never ceases to mesmerize everyone.

Getting there

From Ecoland Terminal in Davao City ride any of the public buses to Governor Generoso. The buses travel daily from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. at one hour interval. As an option, check out the L300 vans outside the bus terminal.  Travel time for L300 vans is about two and a half hours.

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Bye 2014, hello 2015

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The sun sets for the last time at 5:30 p.m. from my favorite spot at the Fishing Base in Garapan, Saipan.

SAIPAN–From my corner of the world, I joined the thousands of photographers from all over the world in what has become a common practice– to capture the last sunset of the year. The sun did a favor to all of us. It was round and full and did a slow show of dipping into the horizon until the last trace of it was gone, and my most favorite moment when the skies take an orange fiery glow took over.

This spectacular photo is not just another must-capture last-sunset-of-the-year but is one of the stunning and romantic sunsets that Saipan has to offer to locals and tourists from all over the world all year round.

Welcome 2015!

 

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Grilled Isaw

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Isaw is one of the most popular street foods in the Philippines. It is made from barbecued pig or chicken intestines. The intestines are cleaned, turned inside out, cleaned again and again for several times before they are boiled, or grilled on sticks.

Isaw is best eaten with your hands, dipped in vinegar or sukang pinakurat, a Filipino version of vinegar with onions, peppers, garlic and other spices.

Isaw is usually sold in the streets especially during late afternoons and at night but I had this stick of isaw at Bacolod Chicken, one of the restaurants at the Mall of Asia in Manila. This stick costs 45 pesos but you can get this around 10 pesos in the street sides. Dare to try it?

 

Destinations Luzon Philippines Travel for everyone

‘Caged’ at the Zoobic Safari

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IMG_0295WHEN you watch tigers inside the zoo, you enjoy it but when its you who is inside a cage and the tigers are circling your cage looking for a possible opening and licking their tongues while poking their paws at the grills to get at you, that’s a totally different story.

You don’t have to go on a Safari trip to Africa for a close encounter with tigers and other wildlife but let’s go on a quick tour to the Zoobic Safari at the Subic Bay Freeport in the Philippines.

From the Pub Hotel we were staying in, Susan and I rented an SUV for 2,500 pesos (around $55) for the day, including the driver to take us on a tour of Olongapo City. We started out around 9 a.m. and drove past the Subic Bay Freeport and into the cool jungles of Olongapo until we reached the Zoobic Safari, a 25-hectare wildlife sanctuary

The first half of the two and a half hour Zoobic tour includes a quick briefing and a glimpse into the indigenous culture of the Aeta tribe through their dances, then off you go for a walk to the Zoobic park to see exotic birds and animals you don’t see everyday like the otter, cougar, wild boar and Rodent World. I skipped the Serpentarium tour, not wishing to get up close and personal with serpents or iguanas and used the time to gobble a hot sandwich at the restaurant instead.

 The drive-thru tour came next. We boarded the open tram for an additional 50 pesos (roughly $1.15) and off we went to the Forbidden Cave where you have to walk on a shaking hanging bridge to see live and stuffed animals. Driving through the Savannah, you can see different animals from ostrich to camels and more. The last destination was the Croco-loco Park where you get to see thousands of crocodiles of all sizes and ages in one setting. The platform is screened and safe so no need to fear.

We saved the best for last, up close with the tigers. This time, we got off the tram and boarded a jeep with windows barred by thick grills then into the tigerland we went. At first I didn’t see any tiger when then the jeep stopped, we held our breaths. A huge tiger spotted us and was heading toward us. Then came another tiger, baring his fangs as he circled the jeep and peeked at us and tried to poke his giant paws in. Our guide fed them with raw chicken meat through the slats in the window. The other tiger jumped onto the roof of our jeep and we cringed as the 400 lbs tiger landed, shaking the jeep. The tiger peeked at us from the roof through the glass. Excitement was mounting when another tiger from somewhere growled. I’ve seen movies of tiger safari adventures in Africa but when you are inside the jeep that suddenly feels too frail when surrounded by tigers, it becomes a different story. My mind started a marathon of what-ifs, what if all 30 plus tigers charge toward us and crush the jeep. Luckily it was all in my imagination and we were back and out of the fenced tiger zone in no time.

We saw more tigers after that, but this time they were in cages and we were out. That felt a lot better.  As an option, you can go for the Night Safari for a ‘roaring night of fun’ when most of the animals are at their best element. That would have been more exciting.

Zoobic Safari also offers photo sessions with the animals. With the supervision of a staff, you can cuddle up to a tiger or sling a big snake on your shoulders, an adventure I was not brave enough to dare. The Zoobic Safari is the only tiger safari in the Philippines that has made the Subic Bay Freeport as a prime tourist destination. If possible, try to go on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays to see animal show and animal parade. Unfortunately, we missed that.

Entrance to the Zoobic Safari is PhP 495 per person or about $12, less PhP 100 for kids 4 feet and below) and PhP 650 (around $15) for entrance with a set meal. The next time you and your family take a trip to the Philippines, visit Zoobic for this unforgettable tour. It’s one experience kids and adults will remember. For more information and directions on how to get there visit www.zoobic.com.ph.

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Crocodile ice cream anyone?

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DAVAO CITDSC03570Y—After months of seeing photos and reading about the crocodile ice cream from local, national and international publications, I finally had the chance to try this classic dessert with a unique (spelled scary) dessert some weeks ago at the Crocodile Park, one of the most popular attractions in Davao City.

I was looking forward to try this crocodile ice cream whose popularity has already spread far and wide, but when I saw the photo of the crocodile standing up and holding a cone of ice cream at the green hut with hot pink stripes, I begin to have second thoughts.

The mind is a powerful enemy, and images of bits of crocodile flesh and scales sticking out of my ice cream or if I’m lucky to dig out a tooth or a nail made me walk slower but my companion and I were on a dare. We were not going to go leave the Crocodile Park without fulfilling our mission, and that is to eat crocodile ice cream.

Ok, so be it! I convinced Rox to get the crocodile pandan ice cream, promising her I will take a bite from her scoop. I ordered the ostrich vanilla, trying to shake away the feeling that I was going to take a bite of an ostrich in a cone.??

There is nothing extraordinary or scary about crocodile ice cream. My ostrich ice cream which is made from ostrich eggs looked nothing out of the ordinary too. With its light brown color, it looked like ordinary ice cream.

I studied Roxanne’s crocodile ice cream for long seconds but I didn’t see any bits of flesh or meat or scales in it. Except for the extra creamy and smooth texture, we were eating ordinary ice cream, or was I just trying to convince myself?

We learned later that crocodile ice cream is actually made from a combination of milk and crocodile eggs. Each crocodile egg is about (80 percent egg yolk which makes the ice cream creamier and thicker than regular ice cream, but contains less cholesterol and gives more protein than an ordinary chicken egg.?????? H

The Crocodile Pandan ice cream and ostrich vanilla sells for 80 pesos per scoop. Durian crocodile ice cream is also available and this one you should try—especially if you haven’t tasted durian yet. The funniest description of durian I encountered yet is “a porcupine-looking fruit with a smell that stinks to high heavens.”

I love durian, but only the native species so there was no need for me to try it. Other traditional flavors available are maple bacon, coffee rush, strawberry and mango mazing for 60 pesos, langka, cookies and cream at 50 pesos per scoop, and chocoloco and cheese cheese at 40 pesos a scoop.??

With the growing popularity of crocodile ice cream, isn’t it time time for the horses, camels, lions, unicorns and other wildlife to start hiding? Just thinking…

Lick the soft creamy coolness of the crocodile ice cream and forget about visions of biting a crocodile. On another note, why not? The chance to bite a crocodile doesn’t come to anyone’s way often.

Adventures Destinations Philippines Surigao del Sur

Carrascal zipline adventure

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We were zooming so fast toward the ditch they dug and I held my breath waiting for the moment when we would finally smash straight into the rough stones lining the pavement near the landing area, our faces deleted and replaced by gnarled unrecognizable mess and mass of tangled and bloody torn flesh sticking to our scalp.

CARRASCAL, Surigao dIMG_8826 (4)el Sur—There are ziplines and more ziplines have been sprouting up everywhere to challenge one’s stamina and endurance. Ziplines differ in location, elevation and distance and you can do it batman style, sitting, suspended upside down or whatever way you prefer but they all share the same the common denominator of making you watch your life flash back as you compose your last prayers before you die.

I admit I was kind of hesitant to try the 1.1 km zipline in Carrascal, Surigao del Sur last month and was glad when Roland, one of the photographers I was with, convinced me to go tandem with him.

Four or us strapped into a cable car which will take us to the starting point of the zipline, crossing a river and above the tree tops. The cable car seemed to take forever, crawling at a speed of -.001 miles per hour. I could feel my stomach beginning to get queasy as we crawled past the nipa plants, above the river, past the jungles and heading toward the mountain. I wished there was some way to speed the cable car up but it was designed that way, according to the staff.

We finally reached the end of the cable and mounted a few stone steps leading to where the zipline adventure was to begin. Only one staff was there to assist us into the harness, and that doubled my initial hesitancy. The first time I tried zipline there were so many assistants but whatever, we were already there.

The staff strapped Roland first, and I followed, scared of the seemingly low cable and our closeness to the treetops. Before we got a chance to change our minds, manong released the safety belt and off we went zooming toward the trees at neck-breaking speed.IMG_8741

Talk about having your face deleted from the earth at a speed of a thousand miles per hour and having your body parts scattered hanging all over the trees. We crossed the river in split seconds and real terror set in. Roland raised his foot and his face shot forward lower! We were zooming so fast toward the ditch they dug and I held my breath waiting for the moment when we would finally smash straight into the rough stones lining the pavement near the landing area, our faces deleted and replaced by gnarled unrecognizable mess and mass of tangled and bloody torn flesh sticking to our scalp.IMG_8682 (3)

Of all the ziplines I have seen, it was the closest to the earth they had to dig a ditch near the landing area. There is supposedly a platform where zipliners can land safely but the assistants said that was what everyone was scared of- having their face deleted.

I learned that was the unique feature of the Carrascal Zipline Adventure—the feeling that you are going to zoom straight to the ground. We landed in one piece, and with our slippers still strapped on our backs, and our cameras still in our hands.IMG_8689

Roland went for a second spin, wanting to erase the horror of our tandem ride. Jess went for another round too, this time sitting down. I wanted to go again but the 20-minute cable ride was no fun. I decided to stay behind and shoot. Alex came zooming out of the trees past me so fast in a sitting position, looking like a cuddly teddy bear hanging on for dear life at the harness. The rest of our companions did not dare to try the zipline and they missed a lot.

The Carrascal zipline has an elevation of 75 meters. The Carrascal Extreme Adventure Park opened for business in March this year. Plans are in place to put up more facilities so watch out and don’t miss one of the attractions that is drawing people to visit Surigao del Sur.IMG_8666

The zipline is located at the side of Carrascal Cultural and Sports Center. For updates visit Carrascal Extreme Adventure Park on Facebook or check http://carrascal.gov.ph/ for directions on how to get there.

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Pastil: budget meal on a banana leaf

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Pastil is steamed rice wrapped in banana leaf and topped with shredded chicken, and one is enough for a regular meal,at least for me.

pastil2PASTIL was one of the first food items that I looked for when I finally got back to Davao City last month, after over six years of being away. Pastil is one of the most popular delicacies in Maguindanao and Cotabato, particularly at public market areas and at restaurants.

It is not that common in Davao City but I remembered a couple of food stalls sell it near Ecoland Bus terminal so off I went scouting for pastil. I found it at a very unlikely place—a bakery. It was on a plastic tray and there were only two pieces left. I bought one for P15 and off I went looking for my favorite partner for the pastil which is hard-boiled egg and soy sauce or better yet bagoong with a piece of sili.

Pastil is steamed rice wrapped in banana leaf and topped with shredded chicken, and one is enough for a regular meal,at least for me. Maguindanaons serve pastil at any time of the day either as regular meal or snacks, so it is always available the whole day through. Sometimes they use shredded fish but I like shredded chicken better, and you can make it extra special by adding slices of hard boiled eggs.

The banana leaf is wilted over hot embers to make it soft and pliant and then folded and sealed on both ends. It resembles suman but only it’s a bigger and flatter version.

It is considered as a budget combo meal especially by the Maguinadaons. If you travel from Davao to Cotabato City, this becomes commonly available in the towns of Matalam, Kabacan, Pikit, Midsayap, Pigcawayan and in Cotabato City.

If you are in non-Muslim areas, try looking for Halal restaurants and chances are pastil is available.

Pastil is best eaten with your hands but I use a spoon and fork. Pastil reminds me of my childhood days when our lunches were packed in banana leaves. It smells so nice, unlike the commercial smell that comes with the Tupperware and disposable lunchboxes people are using nowadays. I’m on my way to look for banana leaves. I’ve already shredded some chicken for a homemade pastil. Want to have some?

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