“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
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28 January 2012

Mesmerized in Hiwang

Mesmerizing Hiwang

The surgical trip of Bontoc-Sagada-Bontoc-Banaue is one of the most visually rewarding travels I have ever had, so far.  Notwithstanding that fact that I have nurtured a special and intimate relationship with the Cordilleras, this trip, despite its long and winding trip, has made me more relaxed than physically exhausted. Why? It simply feeds something to my soul.  Maybe it's the culture.  Perhaps, it's the cool climate.  It could be the beautiful scenery.  Probably, its warm people.  The laid-back life. All these--when arranged in a beautiful and lyrical ensemble--becomes a source of an energy that lifts the soul and awakens the senses.

Such is my experience going to Hiwang.  

Nestled on a mountain top at 4,500 feet above sea level is the highest viewing deck in Banaue that gives you a perfect view of the Banaue Rice Terraces.  On a clear day, you can also see the Hungduan Terraces.  But since it was raining hard and the fog has already set in, viewing the Banaue Terraces is just as rewarding an experience, nonetheless.

Mesmerizing Hiwang

Specifically, this place is called Hiwang Native House Inn which is located at Hiwang Gohang, Banaue, Ifugao.  At the time we were in this place, it has five (5) Ifugao houses where guests can stay and experience living the rustic "Ifugao way".  Expect no other amenities than the beddings.  Complain not when you go to the outhouse, which is the "Ifugao way". We were told you can bring your food or order from the inn.

This place reminds me of the movie I saw on cable TV.  Yes, it is the location for the movie, Don't Give Up on Us, topbilled by Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual.  It was that morning scene when Abby (Judy Ann), after a word war with Vince (Piolo), when Abby turned her back on Vince, paused and cried simply because she was awed by what she saw--the early morning view of the beautiful Banaue Rice Terraces.  Okay, enough of that.  (Disclaimer: I am not a Judy Ann or Piolo fan...I just love re-runs that fills a void in my insomniac nights. LOL!) 

Mesmerizing Hiwang

And so, I thought it only happens in the movies!  Nah, I did not cry.  In my unrestrained excitement I blurted out "WOW!" a lot of times, then I heard "Shhhhhhhhhh!" from one of the huts!  It was siesta time when we got there, and apparently, the couple staying in one of the Ifugao huts was having a nap.  My bad!  Normally, they do not allow sightseers because it was supposedly a "private" place when there are guests.  But then we were good at explaining to the caretaker that we were scouting for possible training venues around Banaue--that is why we were allowed to peep.

Mesmerizing Hiwang

Hiwang Native House Inn, also features some artifacts in its souvenir store near the parking lot.  From here you can have a glimpse of an Ifugao culture.  There are many versions of wooden and stone carvings of their pagan god, Bulul, which is oftentimes associated with bountiful harvest and one who will guard your family from evil spirits and give you healing from sickness.  There are also other artifacts, decorative pieces, woven tapestries, and many more.

Mesmerizing Hiwang

Mesmerizing Hiwang

Of course, the most captivating part about this place is the beauty of nature that surrounds it, and the opportunity from seeing Banaue from a different view and perspective.

More photos at my Flickr Stream.


How to get there?

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23 January 2012

Vigan in 8 hours

What could you possibly do within eight (8) hours in Vigan?

Needless to say, you need more, right?  What if you are just there as a transient before you need to go to another destination? Say further up North, or if you had an official business next town, and say, have some hours to spend before the official business?  We had a scheduled presentation 1 PM and we arrived the night before, so we had some time to spare.  If you are in the same situation, you might as well, spend the free time to explore more about the culture and heritage of Vigan--without exerting too much effort on it.

Okay, so here it is.

We arrived around 8PM from Manila before the day of the scheduled conference, that makes us more rested and relaxed for the next day's activity.

8:30 PM 
At around 8:30 PM we were already billeted at Grandpa's Inn located at Bonifacio cor. Quirino Boulevard. By then I have already taken some photos of the Inn, and proceeded to Uno Grill right accross Grandpa's Inn for our late dinner.  This is where we had the famous poqui-poqui and bagnet!

Vigan in 8 hours

10:00 PM
After our dinner, we decided to walk along the famous Crisologo St., which is just two blocks away.  Here we did some "touristy" shots, (Smile!), while I attempted, even only with my handy portable miniature tripod, to get some postcard shots of the famed Calle Crisologo.  Contented with our smiles and poses, we proceeded to Plaza Burgos to look for the famous Vigan empanada, but we learned the stores in the plaza were already closed, so we had no choice but just walked around the Plaza Salcedo infront of the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral.  I wanted to do some night photography but I was limited with my wobbly tripod, so I abandoned the plan.  Again, I had to be contended being the official photographer of my colleagues.

Vigan in 8 hours

Vigan in 8 hours

11:30 PM
We made our way back to the hotel to rest after a long day of travel.  But we were not yet contented with our tourist photos that we found the Grandpa's Inn's interiors so inviting and irresistible, so we took photos of ourselves--again! You see, you do not have to waste precious moments like these!

Vigan in 8 hours

6:30 AM
We had our breakfast at Kusina Felicitas.  Of course, vigan longaniza should not be missed!  Sorry but I was not able to take photos.

7:30 AM
I was already out in the streets taking photos.  We agreed we will leave around by 8:00 AM.  But it turned out, we we left the hotel at 8:30.  The ladies seemed to have more penchant on buying pasalubong at Grandpa's Inn Souvenir and Gift Shop than roaming the streets. I could have roamed around more to photograph the cathedral. Be that as it may, it was a rewarding short street photography I had. 

Vigan in 8 hours

After that, we went on to explore more of Vigan.

First was the Bantay Church Bell Tower and the Shrine of Nuestra Senora de la Caridad.  I only took some photos of the Bell Tower.  I only regret now that did not even attempt to get closer.

Vigan in 8 hours

For the church, it so happened that there was a funeral mass going on so it did not augur well for a photoshoot, so I just had to make do with exterior shots of the church.

Vigan in 8 hours

My companions seemed more interested in Pagburnayan.  Well, in fact, there's nothing much to see in Bantay bell tower, anyway. It seems I was the only one who was interested in the architectural details. So I just went with the flow.  I thought, it is easy to go to Vigan and get more details, if time and resources would allow.

In fact, I am also very much interested with pagburnayan as I wanted to capture a potter in action. Truth to tell, I think I was the one they waited for this time because I had to make sure I have clear shots of the potter.  It was a very challenging and daunting task to shoot in low lighting conditions given the fact that I only had standard lenses and wtihout a tripod at that.  I was glad I succeed in some shots and even called it a day.

The potter

Vigan in 8 hours

I thought we would have more time to roam around the city streets, but then I realized the ladies were not contented with what they bought in RG's pottery shop. We moved to another pottery shop across the street, where some curio and souvenir shops are also located.  There I bought some for me, too.  I have a penchant for shirts, so I bought one for me.

Next itinerary would be the Vigan Public Market.  I did not go inside this time.  I only asked the ladies to buy bagnet for me--three (3) kilos of it! That is how "healthy-conscious" I am! (LOL!).  It took them a bit long.  It was almost noontime and it was sweltering hot! Nonetheless, this also allowed me to ask about the schedule of trips to Baguio, which was my next destination that night after our official business in Currimao.

Had there been more time, I could have dropped by Bassit Cemetery, where Simbaan a Bassit (literally translated as "old small church") is located.  From the car, I saw that that it would have been a beautiful photographt subject.  So if you have time, make sure you include this in your itinerary.

11:00 AM
A bit past 11 AM, we were back to the hotel and get dressed for the meeting at 1PM.

11:30 AM
We had lunch at Cafe Uno...again our usual fare of bagnet, but this time with ginisang mongo.  by 12:00 NN, we were heading to Currimao Playa Hotel for the presentation in a conference.

So there!  In 8 hours (actually, around 5 hours of exploring, less sleeping time, and dressing up and eating), you can do a lot in Vigan.  If you are not a pasalubong shop-a-holic, you can do a lot more to explore about its culture and heritage. Ours was not a planned itinerary and with no time frames allotted for each activity.

More than just an exploration of sorts, visiting Vigan brings me back to my Ilocano roots--which makes me more appreciate my forefathers and appreciate more of who I am and where I come from. Definitely, eight (8) hours was not enough.  I will make it a point for me to return and appreciate more about my own culture and heritage.
For more photos, visit Vigan in 8 hours in Flickr

Also, Vigan City is nominated in has been chosen as one of the New7Wonders - Cities! Thanks for Voting! Please Vote for Vigan and the Philippine Cities.

Here is the walking tour guide:

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21 January 2012

Asin Road's nature and man-made wonders


I have spent 6 years in Baguio City.  Whenever I see a jeepney with the sign, Nangalisan, I was always wondering where that place was?  I know it is somewhere the vicinity of Baguio City but I did not exactly know where this place was -- not until more than 20 years later when I had to accompany my wife to photograph some of their project beneficiaries in Barangay San Pascual in Tuba, Benguet.

It was a fine sunny day.  The sun shone brightly after days of rain before the trip. Now I know that going to San Pascual and Nangalisan would mean traversing Asin Road.  It was a smooth ride because most of the road all the way to Nangalisan is already concrete.

Asin road, which became witness to our frequent trips to a friend's house in KM 4, used to be an "abortion road"--it being a rugged stoney road back then. In the early 90s, I used to visit this area during my first NGO work--working with the woodcarvers of Asin. It was also a reminiscence of sorts when I recalled those overnight stays at my friend's house during college days, and the frequent field work trips.  To my surprise, however, the physical development in the area was unbelievable.  Where there were no houses sprang various structures--big and small.  Sadly, too, what used to be limestones (akin to those of Sagada) gloriously jutting from the mountain across the river are now merely leveled grounds for a supposedly subdivision.   In my mind, how could developers disregard nature and destroy such beauty?  Despite its close proximity to Baguio City, Asin road, back in the early 90s, used to have that laid back atmosphere and rustic appeal.  Needless to say, it was quite a reliever from the hustle and bustle of downtown Baguio as one can commune with Ifugao woodcarvers and natives of Benguet.

Be that as it may, I was relieved to realize now that beyond KM 4, Asin road has remained rustic and provincial.  It was my first time to go beyond KM 4, and was surprised of the beautiful landscape, especially when we reached Nangalisan and San Pascual.  And I realized, there was so much more to a usual Baguio trip--one just needs to see and try them for yourself.

Along the road, I saw interesting man-made and natural wonders.  However, I did not shoot yet going to San Pascual as we were rushing for the project.  But on the way back, despite some drizzles, I requested that we stop at interesting points so that I can shoot.

The Brown Madonna Shrine

The Shrine of the Brown Madonna can be found in KM 7, Asin Road in Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet, in a man-made tunnel that was intended for a railway system connecting La Union and Baguio. The tunnel was discovered by former Baguio City Councilor Nars Padilla in 1986.  The said tunnels were part of the two tunnels--poplarly known as Asin Tunnels--constructed in 1850s through prison labor but was abandoned in 1915 due to World War I.  Benguet Province's website further explains that it was abandoned because the cost of construction ballooned to 1000% of the original budget.

According to the article in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Padilla was instrumental in putting up the grotto by convincing his neighbors to build the shrine. Thus, it was through bayanihan, that the Shrine was erected.  The anniversary of the Shrine falls on the first week of October and has just celebrated its Silver Jubilee last in 2011.  However, you will notice that the photo does not depict a "brown" Madonna.  On special occasions, it is garbed with a brown cape, thus the name, Brown Madonna.

Asin Road wonders

Sipitan and Yanged Tunnels

These two tunnels are More popularly called as "3 days-2 nights" since going to Asin hot spring resorts, you would experience 3 times daylight and twice of darkness, thus the popular colloquial name.  Officially, these are called Sipitan and Yanged Tunnels. As explained above, it was intended for a railway system that was abandoned in 1915.

First Tunnel, coming from Baguio
Asin Road wonders

Asin Road wonders

Second tunnel, coming from Baguio City, which is the boundary of Barangay Nangalisan
Asin Road wonders

Asin Road wonders

The falls over and under the bridge

Not far from the tunnels is this bridge.  I could not remember the name of the bridge written on the marker on the top left.  It looked like an ordinary rickety bridge but you will be amazed of the beauty above and underneath.  One just needs to look at this carefully and appreciate its natural beauty.

Asin Road wonders

Asin Road wonders

Falls near the road going to Neverland

There is a new mountain resort in Nangalisan called, Neverland.  We stopped a bit to have our photos taken by the signage, but what was more interesting is this narrow falls right on the left of the road.

Asin Road wonders

Disoor Park (Picnic area)

Downhill to San Pascual, but still part of Nangalisan, one can see a big limestone boulder that majestically sits on the river (or perhaps marble because it was slippery when I stepped on it?) .  While locating this in wikimaps, I learned that it is called disoor, a local dialect. I was not contented by merely taking some photos from the road. Instead, I went down further and I was in awe when I saw the more beautiful part of the river.  Had it not been raining, and no one was waiting for me in the car, I would have lingered some more. It is a popular picnic and swimming area.

Asin Road wonders
A shot of the boulder from the road.

Asin Road wonders
The boulder up close

Asin Road wonders
Sedimentary rock formation and the boulder, forming a pool between them. 

Asin Road wonders
To the right is an inviting rapids and cascades!

The terraces of San Pascual and Aringay

Downhill further to the Southwest is Barangay San Pascual, which is already near the boundary of La Union province by the town of Aringay.
Asin Road wonders
The rice terraces of San Pascual

Indeed, one of the best things about traveling is not only the destination, but the journey itself. The rustic appeal of Asin Road boasting its natural beauty and man's creativity can draw your senses. The endless mountain ranges, the cascading river, cold streams and waterfalls are simply spectacular. For those coming from Baguio City, a road trip through Asin Road is a refreshing respite from the cold weather. More than the natural beauty it offers, however, it is my wish that I would have the chance to linger and have more chances to meet the people along the way--in that way, the journey becomes a more complete, wonderful and fulfilling learning experience.


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10 January 2012

When "It's more fun in the Philippines!" clicks, and when it doesn't

JU121091 copy

Filipinos are known for their sunny and cheerful disposition. Filipinos are also so adaptable and resilient that, in fact—as a way of coping, Filipino can still laugh and smile amid natural calamities, economic difficulties, and social tragedies.

Needless to say, it is this very trait that rallies the Filipino people, once again—through the power of social media, towards promoting the Philippines as a prime tourist and travel destination.

The Department of Tourism’s (DOT) new campaign slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” drew both positive remarks and negative criticisms. Prior to this, DOT’s “Kay Ganda ng Pilipinas” drew so much flak for it being a copycat of Poland’s tourism logo. Hence no other than the Philippine president ordered to junk the campaign logo and tagline “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda”. To this blogger, that is clearly an oversight.

Several months later after Former DOT Secretary tendered his resignation on August 31, 2010, the DOT under the new leadership of an advertising executive Ramon Jimenez, worked to define what would be the Philippines’ tourism tagline. Hence, they decided “it’s more fun in the Philippines” would nail it.

However there were some sceptics on the new tagline. It was reported that it was a copycat of Switzerland’s promotional tagline more than 60 years ago. But it did not stop the new meme to spread all over the world that it has gone viral in the internet—that photographers, travel bloggers, lifestyle bloggers and even Facebookers attempted to make their own version of the meme. Needless to say, Filipinos, literally, had fun with it.

When it is more fun in the Philippines, and when it doesn't?

To check on why it clicks, The Pinoy Explorer asked several travel bloggers and photographers, communications and media practitioners why they think this campaign slogan works for the Philippines, and here are their answers:

Edmar Gu-Quibb
Travel blogger, Edmaration, Etc.
It tries to balance the negative publicity around the world that the Philippines is a mischievous place for tourists (referring to Manila bus hostage crisis in Rizal Park), and for journalists (like the Magauindanao massacre).

Despite the brutal past that the Philippines had to face before the global community, the slogan "It's more fun in the Philippines" tells that if you have experienced something from other countries, the Philippines can offer better, which could be very catchy. If I were to decide, of course, I will choose the one with "more" fun.
Journeying James
Travel blogger - Journeying James
It is different from our neighbors in the Southeast Asia—most of the countries use a one-word adjective to describe their countries. We on the other hand, say loudly that we are offering better deals.
It clicked because Pinoys want to have their say on the tourism promotion. And they can do just that when they start to make "it's more fun in the philippines" captioned photos. It has gone viral now.
Roniel Macatol
Photographer, Travel BloggerEating halfway
Whether Pinoys found it a serious advocacy or just simply entertaining (I mean those who mock it by changing the "fun" to "funnier"), it positively awakened the creativity among us by coming up with memes on the photos/promo initiated by the DOT. It served well the purpose when DOT said that the campaign is banking on the power of social media.
Eileen Campos
Travel Blogger, Possibly Pinay
I absolutely support and love the new DOT campaign. Controversy aside, it is great because people are contributing to it and people are reacting to it positively.
It encourages people to create the content themselves to contribute to the campaign. I'd like to call it modern day bayanihan.

It is witty and it allows us to display everything Filipino—not just the Chocolate hills and the underground river but also people, culture and the way of life here. People can easily relate.
Chito Flores
Travel Blogger, Liquid Druid's Blog
There are lots of factors. Foremost is the fact that it gets people to be involved. Filipinos now have a sense that they themselves are responsible for the success of the campaign. As a result, this spurs creativity, humor, wit and whatever is best in being Filipinos.
It does help that most of what's going on is based in the Internet. Even those who are not creatively-inclined and who are content with just viewing the work created by others will most likely forward it to their non-Filipino friends.
Reuel Delez
Travel Blogger, Make Nowhere, Somewhere.
I think the new slogan works because it allows Filipinos to interact and play with the idea with a pinch of wit and irony. It’s a nice play which can sometimes be uberly exaggerated but can remain in line with the theme. I have seen funny ones but still showcases some of the events or whatnot, the Filipinos are and can be proud of.
One particular, just on top of my head are, the photo of our cebu inmates with a caption: “Jailtime. It’s more fun in the philippines.” Another is of a helicopter on decent, a lot of people below with a caption, “Miss saigon, more fun in the Philippines.” These are just some that gives me a good laugh, but, I think, will still send out an idea of what an eccentric but fun country the Philippines is.

As mentioned some of the photo posts are exaggerated but for me other than the campaign, it reunites us Filipinos in the idea of the DOT theme. Personally, even along with its glitches, it is an establishment of our character as a country.

Baba Gozum
DJ, Hongkong
Overseas Filipinos welcome the new DOT slogan.  Simple lang tayong mga Pinoy [We, Filipinos, are simple people]. Even the most cynical among us agree we are fun -loving people.

When it is more fun in the Philippines, and when it doesn't?

However, there are those who gave their divergent thoughts on this, and they sit well enough to carefully ponder upon amid the sea of people taking side with the new slogan.

Edmar Gu-Quibb further says:
[If the government] wants to attract foreign tourists, they should be ready first to welcome them. If we will overhype this slogan knowing that we have “one of the worst airports,” poor public security, unsafe and dirty streets in some parts of Metro Manila, the slogan will just turn to be a shame. It will just disappoint foreign tourists knowing that they are expecting better fun in the Philippines and not one horrible experience. If we will not fix the broken, the slogan will just turn to be a lie that will spread negatively as fast as forest fire.

Chito Francisco
Head Writer, Bubble Gang
I think the efforts of the DOT to promote Philippine tourism is commendable, and I would gladly support it in any way I can. The slogan, may or may not work. Personally, I find it corny and outdated. I don't even think they put much thought in coming up with that. But silly slogans and titles oftentimes create interest, that is why I stated that it could have a positive effect on the campaign. Here's hoping that it does.

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Essentially, there are and will always be a spectrum of ideas.

While we are caught in this whirlwind affair with the new slogan, we should not let ourselves be catapulted to the notion that it is always “fun in the Philippines.”

Undeniably, the Philippines have so much to offer. We have the finest beaches in the world. We can offer the best dining and cheapest shopping experience. We have the most exotic, idyllic and spectacular ecosystems that we can be proud of. We are the most hospitable people. We have the most fun and cheerful people to host the nations. We have rich history, culture and heritage as a showcase. However, we should not also miss the fact that we also have so much to work on.

The Philippines has yet to reclaim itself as the “Queen of the Pacific” or the “Pearl of the Orient” where every foreign visitor can always say “WOW, Philippines!” and perhaps learn to utter the words, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda!”.

The success of the tourism industry is measured not by the number of clicks alone or how has it gone viral in the internet, but by the actual number of visitors per year and the economic benefits and concomitant job generation. Here is hoping that it does not just be a meme.

Secretary Jimenez said that selling tourism is “as easy to sell as Chickenjoy,” I would say, it is in the buying and tasting that counts and matters.

The Pinoy Explorer should not be misconstrued. He supports the DOT's new campaign slogan and the initiatives for the Philippines’ tourism industry. While there is so much hype and excitement in the social media—when the selling has seemed to have succeeded, the DOT should not allow this excitement among travel bloggers and people using other forms of social media, to carelessly and irresponsibly take a dip. 

Just as travel bloggers have been unselfishly writing stories about the Philippines, who had been unwavering and championing Philippine tourism, there should also be a parallel move to make the tourism products worth selling.

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06 January 2012

Why "It's more fun in the Philippines?"

Life is...

That day, I got "lost" in Burnham Park. I could not find my family! I was so busy capturing people around the lake. Then I saw this young man walking briskly and enjoying his toy--a bubble toy! I immediately propped up my camera, and he did not mind getting the attention from the people around him and from me.

This is one of the reasons why it is fun to travel around the Philippines!

In the Philippines, you get to have fun by having simple pleasures like this--and is literally a "walk in the park."

Again, too many negative comments are arising from the new tagline of the Department of Tourism's "It's more fun in the Philippines". Filipinos, and travel bloggers, let us all unite to promote the Philippines! We are fun-loving people, and we must realize, bickering is not fun at all!

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04 January 2012

Eureka! : Glorious sunset in Pura, Tarlac

Sunset in Pura

Going home for the Christmas in Nueva Ecija, we traversed SCTEX and exited at La Paz, Victoria, and Pura all in the province of Tarlac. While at at Mabalacat area of SCTEX the boys keep telling me there is a beautiful cloud formation of on the left. of course we could not stop along SCTEX just to take a photo. You see the kids are already used to seeing beautiful sceneries knowing that I am a photography buff. Their eyes are trained, so to say.

When we reached Pura, Tarlac, I noticed a spectacular cloud formation on the left, and the boys (my son and my nephew) saw it too! So we had to stop for a while and I took some quick shots. I took this in RAW so I can easily adjust exposures later on in Lightroom, and I am just so happy it came out after tweaking on the exposure and colors.

No need to mention but I am a sucker for beautiful sunsets, and rarely do I chance upon a beautiful cloud with silver lining, with the rays of sun seeping through it. I think, this is one of my best sunset photos, ever.

And this is definitely a fitting photo for a eureka moment!

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