Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When in Coron: Day Two -- Adventures in Mt. Darala

Welcome back! 

Depending on whether you followed my advice in my last post, you may have had a second day in Coron that is quite different from the one we had. We chose the road less traveled, the rough road -- upwards. MT. DARALA or Tundarala is the highest mountain in the Calamianes. Rising at an amazing 600 MASL, this wonderful giant gives one a majestic view of Busuanga and the rest of the Calamian Group of Islands. 

Told ya it was majestic
We left early  a bit late than what was recommended. And we committed some errors (one of many) which are quite fatal errors. Our first stop for that day was the Tourism Center near Lualhati Park, hoping to find anyone who could give us information or, at the very least, a map of Coron. We found, to our great dismay, an abandoned shell that smells faintly like the Quezon bridge. We were on our own. Armed with information we got from blogs we set off to find a tricycle going to Darala's jump-off.

The tricycle driver we asked had no idea where the jump-off was which, according to pinoymountaineer.com was at Brgy. Balisungan. Luckily, a friend of the tricycle driver came by and lo and behold, he's a fellow mountaineer! The friend told us that there were, in fact, two trails heading up to Darala. He suggested the one that didn't go to Balisungan, which, he claims, had a steeper trail and to use the Mabentangen Trail, named after the river and waterfalls in that area. The mountaineer told the driver where to go and we were off. 


Also being early won't hurt. Especially when you are planning on hiking up Mt. Darala. If your hotel offers free drinking water, please do re-use your containers, besides having less impact on the environment you'll be saving yourself some money.

The whole tricycle ride only costs us 80.00 per person but I suppose if there are a lot of you going there you could probably haggle your way into a more affordable rate. Or you may just not ride a tricycle and walk all the way to the jump-off, which is also possible if you have enough energy to do so. The ride going there was quite a bumpy one, passing through the Coron-Busuanga Road and then turning towards a road that passed by BISELCo. and some hotels that were located behind Tapyas. Some stretches of the road leading to Darala's jump-off were muddy red, owing to the fact that it has been raining in Coron for the past few days. Once we arrived a woman-resident greeted us and told us where to go from there... along with answers to my question of whether or not there are still tricycles here going back to the town.

"There are some tricycles" she told us. The word some made me feel a bit uncertain on what fate lies for us after the hike up Darala. We registered at one of the stores. A quick glance of the entries revealed that no one else dared hiking up Darala, with us two being the only entries and the rest being entries for people who used the trail in going to the Maquinit Hot Springs. A short chat with the woman handling the logbook reveals that the water might be high in some parts but that was still uncertain.

Tiny Falls
From the main wide trail starting from the registration area one will also find a tiny spring. If necessary, use this opportunity to drink and refill your water storage. The trail passes by parts of the Mabentangen River and Dam, which is also one of the water sources in the town of Coron. Several incredible examples of Coron's diverse flora and fauna is evident throughout the trail.

The water in this river is actually quite cool

There were no serious river crossings through this trail. But the trail could get quite steep at some parts for some individuals who are not that used to climbing up mountains. Hence:

If one is planning on hiking this wonderful place I suggest that you should bring a good pair of hiking shoes. It doesn't necessary need to be metal-toed, military boots, just ones that won't easily get damaged. (More on this later on) Along with this, consider using sunscreen. 

The hike upward, though a bit tiring, was quite rewarding by itself given how many interesting plants  and creatures one sees along the trail. After a wooded area, the trail leads to a several slopes. Several butterflies and birds abound in the place. We also spotted several hammerhead worms during our ascent, and even more during our descent (more interesting details about this later). This little buddy underneath this paragraph was found along the rocky steep trail almost near the summit. The pitcher plant was a fascinating find, since neither I nor my companion has ever seen one in the wild. 

Hello there, buddy!

Some parts of the trail were gentle curves, sloping up and down. One must still exercise full caution since one wrong step and you might end up tumbling down. The trail is paved with lots of small rocks. There are some parts that have loose rocks, which are often the cause of slips. 

The views that we encountered as we neared the summit was breathtaking. At some points clouds would cross near our paths, or hover a few meters above us, sending a bit of a drizzle on our heads. As we neared the top we found several other trails, one of them was, I supposed the Balisungan Trail. I took several stops as I struggled to climb up. (TIP: If there are other people around and you are too shy to stop and rest, pretend to take pictures. This gives you an excuse to rest and admire the view) And finally:

The Summit

The summit! The towers marks the highest spot in the entire island group. From there one could see the Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary, Mt. Tapyas, the town of Coron, and the other islands and mountains in the entire area. We first tried to get a bit nearer to the tower. Right beside the tower was a deep pit, a broken transmission dish (which made me imagine riding it all the way down in some fancy adventure), and a shed. The intense smell of gasoline coupled with the sounds of the generators kinda made the summit feel a bit too human. A closer inspection of the shed revealed two workers, both of which were sleeping, a pack of soy sauce, and a container that had rice. We stayed away from the workers and walked to a trail that led from the fenced area of the tower. 

Beautiful view of the mountains of Busuanga Is.

Exercise EXTREME CAUTION when trying to take pictures near the mountain's edge (or encountering humans). Sure, it looks cool but your selfie is not worth your life. Areas which may appear too risky should be avoided. Speaking of selfies, the mountain, surprisingly has strong mobile network signal. It was actually so strong that I could chat with my friends and post pictures using my phone the whole hike. 

After half an hour we decided that we should head down. 

Rain clouds were coming in and before we knew it -- we were drenched by the rain. A snake of some sorts crossed our paths as we headed down. As always, the way down is always the hardest. We considered using the other trail as a transverse but then we judged it far too risky, given how near we were to sunset and the lack of water stores. Curiously enough, there was another person in the mountain, some local possibly, who was taking a shower just a few meters from the summit. Waterless and snackless, we relied heavily on sugar packs and salt pills (which I liked fairly much). The rain just got worse and soon the trail was a muddy steep mess, with the both of us clinging from tree to tree. But we carried on -- even despite the damage in my shoes.

My toes were already peeking out from my shoes. 

The rain clouds would visibly pass by us and curl up the slopes, covering the tower and making it look like a haunted hill. The rumble of thunder only made us rush a bit more, fearing lightning strikes. Along the way, we spotted more hammerheads, now in abundant numbers as they search for their prey, the humble earthworm. We spotted several hammerheads devouring their prey. I suppose that this behavior was something they would always exhibit on the onset of a storm, knowing that their meal would come out of the mud.

I was thirsty, far too thirsty by now that I started gulping rainwater, no matter how few got in. Hence, again, do not make this mistake and please do bring water. I entertained the idea of me drinking from the river once we cross it once more on our way down, only to reject the idea once I considered the fact that I may drink something else that would jeopardize the rest of our plans in Coron. Finally we reached the bottom, or at least the near bottom, where we drank a lot from the springs, which drew its water from some higher source up the trees. 

We were far too thirsty to stop. 

We waited at the store, again, hoping a tricycle would come soon. The woman from earlier today saw us and told us that we can't expect any other tricycle to come anytime soon. It was 5 PM, and everyone was already on their way home, even the tricycle drivers. The best we could do, she said, was to walk and haggle with whichever driver was saw. And so we walked on, and on, until we found ourselves walking all the way to the highway. 

May luck be with us.

- end of Part Two -

SOUTH BIKE is open to your comments, suggestions, corrections, and other related material.
SOUTH BIKE owns all rights to pictures, videos, and other related media published on this blog unless stated otherwise.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

When in Coron: Day One

Coron: A town nestled in the gentle arms of the deep blues and greens south of the islands of Luzon and Mindoro. The town compromises half of Busuanga Island, Coron Island (which will be discussed further on in the next posts), and other islets that form part of the Calamianes, which was once a province of its own during the Spanish rule. The island group boasts of clear waters, a rich history, and an abundance of food. 

Overall this... is overwhelming for a first time traveler to Coron. Like me. But you need not fret! This blog will give you what you need when in Coron.

Ride an airplane from Manila to Busuanga? Done. It was actually my first time to fly anywhere. I was as giddy as a kid, far too excited to see the world from high up. I excitedly pointed out islands to my dear companion and girlfriend, Celine Harz, as we passed them by: the tadpole island of Corregidor and the massive island of Mindoro, and the many other islands that lie isolated from the reaches of the other islands. It was marvelous. And oh, by the way, before I go on recounting my trip there are some things you must consider when flying to Coron:

One must take note that the Busuanga airport is fairly warm since it lacks air conditioning. Yes. You won't need that jacket that much, dear. I personally suggest that you wear and bring clothes that are comfortable. Jeans? Not much of a necessity. Proper shoes? Yes. If you plan on hiking and cycling as what we did (and will tell you about soon). You should also consider bringing sunscreen and mosquito repellent, since some areas have a lot of mosquitoes. Consider bringing an umbrella during rainy months. Snorkeling gear and underwater cams are a must but if you don't have any you can rent them in Coron. Snacks at the airport could be kinda expensive. If you can resist it, don't eat there just yet. The trip to Coron only takes a measly 30-45 minutes, depending on cow and goat traffic. Beyond and above all this, if your hotel of choice offers van services from the Town of Busuanga to your hotel, grab it. It only costs 150.00 Pesos per person. You'll need it.  

No. Do not book your tours while in Manila. I swear, this will be the most important tip that I could give you for now. Follow me and my blog and you won't be spending too much on this trip. Be saved from the likes of spending on unnecessary tours and going to overpriced meal stops. 

The Massive Cross of Coron -- may you be saved from expensive stuff in this town

Upon landing at the Francisco B. Reyes Airport at roughly after lunch. We immediately looked for our van services. I asked the van operator if they were going to wait for the van to be filled and they said no. We were, in fact, the only two passengers for the trip. The van even had a television screen that gave an orientation about Coron: A bit of history about the Calamian Island Group, and some destination suggestions. I mostly slept through most of it.


If you arrived there a bit early, go ahead and do the full itinerary. Especially if you are staying for only a few days. From the hotel (the one we stayed in was the Coron Eco-Lodge) we could walk towards the Municipal Hall (right side) or the Wet Market, Lualhati Park, and the not-functioning Tourism Center (left side).  A walk around town is good since you get to check out the tours that they are offering and choose the best that meets your needs. The cheapest ones could come for as low as 650.00 per person and that's for a day tour, with buffet! Walk along San Agustin Street, there's a tarp that says that they offer that tour. The whole stretches of San Agustin Street, Real St., Don Pedro Street, and Coron-Busuanga road has a lot of tour operators. Choose wisely, but then again, all of them offer almost the same kinds of tours for the same amounts. 

One of the places where one could admire the beautiful view
Just before sunset, do climb up MT. TAPYAS which has a viewing deck where one could have a marvelous view of the entire town of Coron. You won't miss this mountain. It's visible wherever you go and will possibly be a good point of reference if you ever do get lost in Coron. It is very walkable. You don't need a tricycle going to where the steps start and you will be rewarded with an incredible view once you get to the top of 700+ steps of Tapyas. BRING WATER unless you seriously want to get thirsty, like we did. Multiple times. There are no stores going up Mt. Tapyas, not anymore. What was once a park with stores, the stall and its grotto is now full of graffiti, quite a pitiful sight that could have been a major source of income for the locality. Also, if you linger a little bit longer you will find fireflies on your way down. Surprisingly, there aren't that much people that climb up Mt. Tapyas. 

One could also follow the trail from the cross to some band stand like structure. This is a much better option when there are far too many people at the main viewing deck. Also, one may witness an odd display of biceps and abs from people taking topless pictures at the viewing deck. Do not be alarmed! These are gentle creatures who simply admire their body. Observe these creatures from afar. 

FUN FACT: The mountain/hill is called Tapyas because it looks like part of it has been cut off. This is more visible when one views the mountain from the sea. According to some locals, the hill once had a bigger cross which was then struck down by either lighting or the strong winds. 

Look at all those expensive places.
One could also consider going to LUALHATI PARK, which is quite near the tourism center (which does not ever function. Don't dare entering. Smells a bit like comfort rooms that are uncomfortable) -- or not. You're most likely going to pass by this seaside plaza when you go to your destinations later on anyhows since it is near the boat stations. We went back anyhows, since I wanted to see how the viewed looked from there at night. There are cheap restaurants near the Coron Central Plaza, along with more tour operators. But... you also have the option of going to STEVE'S, a restaurant that was quite near the park. It has good food (we ordered sisig and kamote fries), good service (hell, the waiter could chat with us! One of them was from Manila and he decided to work here), and WiFI for all you people who need to post where you are right now. 

FUN FACT: Lualhati Park is reclaimed land, just like Pasay. It was named and built in memory of the mayor's mother (just like in most government structures in the Philippines) 

View from Lualhati Park. Listen to the sound of the waves... and the distant sound of budots (local party music)

If you are on a tight budget, there are silog meals in Don Pedro Street. Or if you are on a tight-er budget there are some streets that have INIHAW, basically, grilled food. The one in Burgos cor. Don Pedro Street has good grilled food. Typical fare for the locals. Don't worry if the food isn't that "unique" for you since the restaurants there mostly offer the same stuff that you would find in Manila, except for the Crocodile Sisig. Yum!

- end of Part One -

SOUTH BIKE is open to your comments, suggestions, corrections, and other related material.
SOUTH BIKE owns all rights to pictures, videos, and other related media published on this blog unless stated otherwise.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hidden: The scattered gems of Quiapo

A FEW are familiar with this image: The "Birhen sa Eskinita", and far fewer know the story that accompanied the image, of how this large image of the Virgin Mary on top of a globe ended up in the middle of the urban jungle of Quiapo. 

Hidden away in the shanties, behind walls and in the middle of homes, lies the few gems of what was once the majestic Ocampo garden, a one hectare property that was filled with religious icons, fish ponds, and statues of female nudes of different races, all surrounding the Pagoda-like structure that stands as the centerpiece of Don Jose Mariano Ocampo's "fantasy land" of sorts. The Birhen was his ode to the patron of the local parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and it was his own version of a grotto (a grander one at that; compare it with the grottoes we had in our own homes)

Don Ocampo had a great fascination for Asian Culture but has never traveled abroad: All the designs he used on the Pagoda were taken from what he had read and seen in the various books about Asia, hence giving birth to the mix to a whole compound adorned with various designs. Shachis, which is seen in most parts of the compound, are said to invoke aid against fires.

Come to think of it, this may have worked. The compound, according to the residents, has never suffered any serious incidents of fire. But they attribute this mostly to the Birhen de Eskinita. So ardent was their faith to that image that one could frequently see candles laid out at its base. The smoke of the candles blackened the globe's bottom. At times one could also find strings of sampaguita and rosaries hanging from the fingers of the male nudes holding up the globe on which the Birhen de Eskinita sits. The marble base of the image had prayers, in Latin, English, Spanish, and Filipino (and maybe some other languages too) all etched in markers. A sample of one of these markers could be seen in one of the pictures in this post.

During the time when the Birhen de Eskinita was being transferred, they still feared that some form of misfortune would befall them. 

The residents have lived with the religious images. It had become part of their lives. At times, the residents would even be happy to show the curious travelers their hidden treasures and tell their tales: How it was once a cemetery (dubious, but plausible), and how they knew men who once worked on the making of the Ocampo garden. They would even happily show people a tarpaulin that had an old picture of the Pagoda in its heydays, still intact and pristine. They still even use the flower pots that Ocampo made for his garden, playing basketball where his fish pond and bridge once was, gossiping beside the perimeter wall of the garden, and going about with their lives under the gaze of the statues of the saints, in the presence of gems that time had forgot.

SOUTH BIKE is open to your comments, suggestions, corrections, and other related material.
SOUTH BIKE owns all rights to pictures, videos, and other related media published on this blog unless stated otherwise.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Time of Processions

 The heavy smell of smoke from the ancient censers began to waft through the crowds of people as the sounds of prayer begin to echo from the sun-cracked lips of the people, joining the smoke that rises up from their own candles, swirling up to the heavens. The adobe rocks of their centuries-old church begin to bathe in the golden sun, a silent witness to this offering of the devout. In the dying sunlight of the remote town of Cavinti, at the foothills of the fabled mount Banahaw: home to the mystics of old, a ceremony begins. This is the Holy Wednesday procession.

All throughout the archipelago, the faithful members of the Catholic Church join this yearly procession on the eve of the Lenten triduum, the apex of the Lenten season where the faithful commemorates the passion and death of Jesus. In Cavinti, however, the town faces a much more challenging approach in showing their faith. The town’s streets are all inclined, some of the roads tilting to as much as by 45 degrees. With each “carroza” weighing as much as your average car, the devotees assigned to push the images all face the inevitable difficulty of doing their duty.

Kaya naman, may kahirapan lang pagdating sa may matataas na kalsada” (I could handle it, It just gets harder when the roads get higher) says one of the faithful. According to him, he has been doing his duty for years now ever since he was a kid. The task was much harder in the past, with most of the roads extremely damaged by constant use by vehicles, motorized and animal-drawn, passing between the farms to the markets in the nearby lowland cities of Quezon and Laguna. 

The whole procession passes through most of the town. After the hour-long procession, owners of the images generously give the people food and water after the ceremony, a simple reward for their hardship. Owners of the images have taken care of their respective images for centuries, as a form of thanksgiving and a sign of devotion. In some cases, the images have been passed on from generation to generation, a family tradition of taking care of the images much like how some families take care of heirlooms. Thievery, however, has started to become a problem with some families. Much like in olden times, these family images depicting scenes from the Bible are also made wear finery and jewels that are considered to be priceless as a sort of show of gratitude for favors received. One certain image, the Nazareno (Nazarene), an image depicting Christ carrying the cross, used to wear a crown of thorns made of silver. As the owner recounts, the crown was stolen after a procession, much to the anger of the caretakers who have always taken much care of their heirloom. A crown of thorns fashioned from barbed wire was all the image could don for the Wednesday procession. 

A hundred kilometers away or so from the town of Cavinti, another town sets the stage for the Lenten Triduum. 

One of the mother towns of Tayabas (now Quezon), Gumaca is one of the oldest settlements in the region, even in the entire country as some people suggest, having been a proper settlement even before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors. A good distance from the metropolis, the town serves as a gateway to Bicolandia. Once a walled town like its sister, Intramuros, the town still holds mementos of its days as part of the empire of the Spain; the kastilyo (castle), acannon-armed fortress facing Lamon Bay reminiscent of days when pirates still threatened the coastal towns of the Philippines. What was once a massive wall that sealed off the town from the outside has now since been leveled, serving its current purpose as a promenade where people could ride bikes and cool off under the shade of the trees.  

A short walk from the Kastilyo sits the Cathedral of San Diego de Alcala, the seat of the Diocese of Gumaca. There, against the backdrop of the Narra trees and the walls made of coral, images ready for the Good Friday procession wear their best attires for the evening, in contrast with the solemn black dress of Mary grieving her son’s death on the cross. Like a funeral itself attended by the whole town in the silence of the twilight, accompanied by sung prayers and the music of a violin, people walk alongside the glass coffin of the dead Christ as he is sent off to His final resting place, the Church, waiting for His time to reign triumphant once more.Some choose to stay, however, to spend the night sing the Pabasa, a book sung like a hymn. The Pabasa tells of the Bible story, from Adam  and the Garden of Eden culminating with Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

The sad tone of the evening of Good Friday gives way to the joyous songs of the midnight of Easter Sunday.

What starts with a procession ends with a procession. With only candles as their light in the dead darkness of the night, the faithful, each separated to their respective groups, walk together in the century-old practice of the Salubong. The womenfolk join the image of Mary as she rounds the town in her mourning veil. Gleeful in white, children dressed in white and wearing wings sing about Mary as they remove her veil, rejoicing over Mary meeting her resurrected Son. 

A procession of a different kind, however, follows Easter Sunday.
The processions of old are now echoed in the streets by cars. Along with the rush of devotees coming to local pilgrimage sites such as the Kamay ni Hesus (Hand of Jesus) shrine comes the exodus of the people from the metropolis, back to return to their homes or to retreat to the beaches far south – and back to the cities as Monday approaches once more.

For some, the ancient wooden and ivory statues serve as a link, human to the divine, to others a reminder of a simpler time, when houses of old lined up the streets, lit up by candles and torches as the procession passes by – of times long gone when the sound of the church bells commanded the pattern of the day to day life, a time of processions.