Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mahabang Buhangin, Calaguas Islands, Camarines Norte

WHERE: Mahabang Buhangin, Calaguas Islands, Camarines Norte
DATE OF TRAVEL: May 14-15, 2011

1) It is one of the best beaches in the country: think crystal clear waters, powdery white sand, clean beach & nature at its finest! Trust us, it's paradise!

2) While a lot of happy campers are discovering this by the day, it's still not a "commercialized" area so hurry before it becomes the next "Boracay!"

3) Their forest at the back is home to many birds - perfect for birders and nature lovers.

FEES: P75/ head entrance fee

It takes really long to get there (at least 5.5 hours but usually more!) and there are no accommodations. If you want to see Calaguas, you will have to stay overnight which means you have to "camp". No pain, no gain :)

The Calaguas Group of Islands are located off the Pacific Coast of Camarines Norte in the Bicol region. About 2.5 hours by boat from Vinzons, Camarines Norte, Mahabang Buhangin, a 3.5 km beach boasts of powdery white sands, crystal clear waters, vast green forest, numerous birds and breathtaking view of the sky as it changes color at dusk and dawn.

As of writing, there are no commercial establishments in the island. There are a few open cottages that you can rent for the day, however, and a small sari-sari store which sells drinks and chips. There is also a rustic bathroom and a toilet for campers, but you need to pump your own water should you use them.

You need to bring your own camping gear because going to Calaguas means staying overnight. Camping will be so much easier if you bring your own tent, food (cooked or bring cooking utensils), flashlight, sleeping bag, etc. Portable mats and hammocks would help make camping more fun, too! Also, while there's a sari-sari store in the island, you'll never know when they'll run out of stock so make sure to bring your own drinkable water.

At the back of the beach is a field and a forest where birders can spot, watch and observe crows, swallows, cuckoos, etc. Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars and a guide book if you want to go birdwatching.

The boat ride going to Calaguas is not always calm, but a scenic one. Taking the Vinzons route, we passed by a beautiful river with a view of Mt. Balacay before going out to ocean where big boats are needed to brave the rough waters. Hours after the view of the open sea, you are again rewarded with rolling hills, beautiful rock formations and white sand beaches. Seabirds fly near you once in awhile, and flying fish may also be seen along the way. Just note that since the waters are rough, your stuff will most probably get wet. So make sure to bring waterproof bags to protect your things, and a raincoat if you don't want to get wet. Another wise option is to wear your swimsuit already so you can just enjoy the splashes of water without having to worry about your outfit! The best time to go is during the drier season, but just to be sure, you can always shoot an email to the Camarines Norte Tourism Office (camarinesnorte_tourism@yahoo.com) to check the weather.

This is how we did it:
1. Flew to Naga, Camarines Sur (45 mins flight)
2. Took a cab from the airport to the van terminal going to Daet (20 minutes, P250)
3. Took a van to Daet (2 hours, P145 each)
4. Took a tricycle to the jeep terminal going to Vinzons (5 minutes, P8.00 each)
5. Took a jeep to Vinzons Public Market (15-20 minutes, P16.00 each)
6. Took a tricycle to the boat area going to Calaguas (5 minutes, P8.00 each)
7. Chartered a commuter boat going to Calaguas (2.5 hours, P4,000/ big boat/ overnight)

You can also catch a bus going to Daet, Camarines Norte from Manila. From there, you can either head to Vinzons or get a boat from Paracale (about 2 hours away). For information on Paracale, click here.

Another option is fly to Naga, Camarines Sur but instead of taking the van to Daet, hire a cab all the way to Vinzons, Camarines Norte. Rates start at P2,500. This is probably the fastest option to Calaguas Island.

Or...you can also drive from Manila all the way to Paracale, Camarines Norte since it's nearer Manila than Vinzons is.

NOTE: Whatever option you choose, be prepared for a loooong journey. Take note, too, that a lot of the boats are either fishermen or commuter boats and not really intended for tourists. Don't expect boats with comfortable seats. Also, in our case, getting to Calaguas took us more than 2.5 hours because we had to stop by a town where our boatmen dropped off the town's water supply. It would be best to respect their time and just enjoy the ride. :)

NOTE2: If you're alone and willing to join a big group, several travel groups organize tours to Calaguas. Prices range from P1,800-P4,000 per head. Here are some of them:


Personally speaking, we prefer the DIY option. But if you want everything planned for you, you can try those groups. We haven't tried them and we cannot vouch for them. :)

HELPFUL LINKS: http://www.lakwatsero.com/destinations/calaguas-islands/

CONTACT: Bhuls, boatman for Calaguas - +639493187597 (P4,000/ big boat, roundtrip)

*portable hammock
*portable mat
*small pillow
*sleeping bag
*off lotion
*sunblock/ tanning lotion
*flashlight and headlight
*portable speakers
*cooked food
*first aid kit
*3L of drinkable water
*snorkel and mask
*waterproof bags

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Bagasbas Beach, Daet, Camarines Norte

WHERE: Bagasbas Beach, Daet, Camarines Norte
DATE OF TRAVEL: May 15, 2011

1. It's a surfer's paradise! It has fast waves with a wide shore and fine gray sand.
2. Even if you're not a surfer, this is a great place to hang out, fly a kite or try skim/ bodyboarding! Sometimes, kiteboarding is done here, too. You can also just sit on your mat while watching surfers catch the waves!

P400/ hour - surf lessons (board and instructor included)
P200/ hour - board rental (long and short surfboards)
P200/ hour - surf instructor
P100/ hour - boogie board and skim board rental

NOTE: Beware of currents. Bagasbas beach is notorious for its fast moving currents spread all over the Bagasbas waters at random spots. If ever this happens, swim/ surf sidewards to get out of the current.

Approximately 4 kilometers, Bagasbas beach is Camarines Norte's famous surfing spot. Blessed with fine, gray sand and fast-moving waves, this beach has become home to many surfers and those learning how to surf. Locals flock here to swim on weekends, too.

During surf season (October or whenever there's a typhoon), waves can reach 8 feet or more! On regular days, the waves range from 2-4 feet, but take note that they are quite fast. Make sure you're with someone when you swim or surf.

The beach's length will leave you lots of spaces no matter the number of people in the beach. There are also a few cottages for rent as well as simple bathrooms along the beach in case you need to wash up or take a bath.

Right across the beach is a strip full of simple accommodations, surf shops and carinderias (small restaurants) in case you get hungry or you need a place to sleep in. Surfer's Diner, one of the inns, can book a seat for you on Philtranco and Amihan buses going back to Manila.

If you're not a surfer and don't want to try surfing, Bagasbas beach is still a fun place to hang while you're in transit (whether you're waiting for the bus going back to Manila or you're stopping over Camarines Norte to get some fresh air before you head further down south).

If you're a surfer or would like to try surfing, you can check out the wave forecasts here:

Or you can call the contact (Ate Mabel) below to ask about the waves in time for your arrival.

1. Fly to Naga, Camarines Sur (45 mins flight)
2. Take a cab from the airport to the van terminal going to
Daet (20 minutes, P250)

3. Take a van to Daet (2 hours, P145 each)
4. Take a tricycle of jeep to Bagasbas Beach (P100-150/ tricycle)

You can also catch a bus (Philtranco, Amihan, Superlines) going to Daet, Camarines Norte from Manila. From the bus terminal, just take a jeepney or tricycle to Bagasbas Beach.

Hangloose Surf Shop
Ate Mabel - +63909 5312869/ +63906 5737968
JB, her son, is a surf instructor, while Ate Mabel is in charge of the shop's operations.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Corregidor Island, Cavite

WHERE: Corregidor Island, Cavite
DATE OF TRAVEL: December 30-31, 2008 and April 08, 2011
1. It's a great place to have an adventure and learn about our history at the same time.
2. It's one of the most underrated destinations in the Philippines!
3. All the tour guides of Sun Cruises are well-trained and funny!
4. It's so near Manila YET you're transported to a totally different world!
FEES: Day trips start at P1,999 and overnight packages start at P2,500 (for that small difference, we highly recommend doing an overnight trip!)
NOTE: It gets really hot during summer so make sure to bring lots of water and wear light clothes.

DESCRIPTION: Just 48 kilometers west of Manila and a little over an hour travel by ferry lies one of the Philippines’s most treasured gems and one of the best destinations in the country to learn history: Corregidor, an island which in Spanish literally means “to correct”. One story says it was called Isla de Corregidor because this was where all ships entering Manila Bay stopped to have their documents checked; another version claims that it used to be a correctional institution during the Spanish era. No one exactly knows the real story, but one thing is for sure: ever since man had laid foot on this island, it has become witness to this country’s colorful and oftentimes painful history.

In 1898, the Philippines was bought by the Americans from the Spaniards for $20 million. Shortly after, this island was organized as an American Military Reservation. While it is only 6 kilometers long and 2.4 kilometers wide, $150 million was spent for this tiny island, making it one of the best American bases outside the United States. You probably wonder why, and the answer lies in its strategic location. Corregidor Island is the biggest out of the five islands that surround Manila Bay, then the finest natural harbor in the Orient. It was said that whoever got Corregidor, got Manila Bay, which was why the Japanese were exerting so much effort on Corregidor’s fall. As long as the Japanese were denied the use of Manila Bay, they could not continue their future conquests. Some say Corregidor saved Australia from Japanese attack during the war.

The siege in Corregidor began on December 29, 1941, but the Filipino-American heroes held out until May 6, 1942, 27 days after the famous Bataan Death March, long after their ration and reinforcements were gone. Afraid that the Japanese would capture thousands of helpless, wounded men in the Malinta tunnel, General Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese, making Corregidor the last standing military camp of Filipino and American soldiers in the Philippines.

On February 26, 1945, Corregidor was finally recaptured by the Americans, but as they say, freedom is not free. It took thousands of men and women before peace was regained in this tiny island.

Today, the ghosts of the past are seen through its ruins. Virtually left untouched since their destruction, this island transports you back in time, as if war has just ended. But even though this place serves as a perfect destination to get hold of the past, Corregidor is anything but dark. With a population of only a little over a hundred (with no permanent residents), one can expect a well-maintained, nostalgic, peaceful and quiet surrounding.

Corregidor is definitely a must-see for history buffs, and it is also the perfect weekend getaway for photography enthusiasts, adventure seekers, nature lovers, hopeless romantics and Filipinos looking for some patriotic inspiration.

Below are the best ways one can experience Corregidor:

1) Join The Historic Daytour of Corregidor –Especially for first timers, this is the best way to see Corregidor. With a replica of the historic tranvia as your transportation and knowledgeable tour guides to take guests around, one will not go wrong with this tour. You will be taken to all the major points of Corregidor Island including the ruins of the barracks, headquarters and cinema, batteries, tunnels, memorials and museums.

2) Experience The Malinta Tunnel Lights & Sounds Show – For an added P150.00 during the Historic Daytour, this 30-minute light-and-sound show chronicles the significance of the Malinta Tunnel during World War II. This is where former President Manuel L. Quezon and Vice President Sergio Osmena took their oath for their second term in office. Named Malinta because many leeches (which in Filipino is called linta) were found in the area, this tunnel served as a hospital, arsenal and fuel reservoir where thousands of Filipinos, Americans and Japanese died.

3) Stay Overnight and Avail of Corregidor Inn’s Activity Package Tour – For an additional P150.00, this tour will take you to Battery Grubs to watch the Manila Bay sunset, Malinta Tunnel at night to explore its lateral tunnels (with human bones left on site), Hospital Ruins for some ghost hunting, Eternal Flame to catch the sunrise and a short hike and little adventure at a Japanese tunnel.

4) Join The Corregidor Adventure Challenge – This Amazing Race style of adventure is perfect for a group of 4 or more who want to experience Corregidor in a different light: explore the fortress’s hidden tunnels, discover the shortcuts, view the ruins from the other side, solve puzzles, exercise teamwork and race through the island’s sloping terrain. This activity will definitely test one’s physical, mental and emotional skills. Win or lose, it is definitely a challenge to remember!

5) Climb The Spanish Lighthouse – The view of Corregidor is already breathtaking from the ground, imagine what more once you climb the lighthouse? This lighthouse is no longer the original one, but offers the same effect A few steps up will definitely make a big difference!

6) Spend Time At The Beach – The last thing one associates Corregidor with is beach. But its South Beach is actually a swimmable area near the inn. Once all the daytrippers are gone, you will have South Beach all to yourself. Needless to say, a mat and good book (probably one that covers the history of Corregidor?) can be your best buddies for the afternoon.

7) Take A Photo of Mile Long Barracks – Even though it is not really a mile long, this barracks served as the quarters of 2,000 US officials including General Douglas McArthur. It is the most photographed area in Corregidor. While there, look for the ruins of the swimming pool.

8) Visit Kindley Airfield – Kindley Airfield is not usually part of the regular Tranvia tours, so you might have to ask your guide or driver to bring you there. This airstrip is where the Moro youth were massacred (now known as Jabidah or Corregidor Massacre) on March 18, 1968 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the Marcos regime. In wanting to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia, the Philippine government wanted to establish special military tasks so they recruited Sama and Tausug Muslims from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and trained them with a promise of a monthly allowance as well as membership in an elite unit in the Philippine Armed Forces. When these men discovered the real reason behind their training, in addition to the non-payment of their supposed monthly stipend, they demanded to go home because their mission would not only involve killing their fellow Muslims, but killing their relatives and friends living in Sabah (since Sabah is very very near Sulu & Tawi-Tawi). Tricked into going home, they were lead to the airfield where they were executed by machine guns by their military handlers. There was a sole survivor, Jibin Arula, who supposedly jumped from the cliff to the ocean and attached himself to a driftwood long enough to be found by a fisherman from Cavite. As fate would have it, the person who interviewed him about the incident happened to be then a young man, starting his career as a journalist. This young man was no less than Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, and he played a very important role in letting this story out to the public.

9) Visit The Pacific War Memorial Museum – Even though small, it does make up for the countless war memorabilia you can find inside. Don’t forget to look for the first US flag flown to Corregidor with only 45 stars in it.

10) Learn History Through The Filipino Heroes Memorial - This 6,000-square meter complex has 14 murals depicting heroic battles fought by Filipinos from the 15th century up to the EDSA Revolution. It was designed by Francisco Mañosa, while the murals were sculpted by Manuel Casas. You can also find the Lessons of War exhibit by Lideo Mariano and the newer Sergio Osmeña Park where several statues were raised in memory of Filipino heroes.

11) Explore The Forests – With hike trails ranging from easy to challenging, one can surely imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers who navigated the island. If you’re lucky, you may just find World War II or even pre-war remnants such as dog tags, old grenades, etc which you can surrender to the staff so they can return them where they rightfully belong. They say Corregidor's forest are home to numerous bird species, too. The island, practically uninhabited, surely becomes a favorite of many birds and definitely a paradise for birders too. (no birdwatching tour operated by Sun Cruises as of the moment)

12) Jog/ Bike/ Run – Corregidor’s sloping terrains serve as a perfect jogging, running or biking area for those looking for a challenging yet scenic way to explore the island. While no bikes are being rented out, one is encouraged to bring his/ her own.

13) Walk From Eternal Flame To The View Of Corregidor’s Tail – After visiting the all steel structure designed by Aristides Dimetrios which symbolizes the flame of freedom burning eternally, walk all the way to the tail end of Corregidor, where you will see why it looks like a tadpole from above.

14) Get An Adrenaline Rush At Corregidor’s ROCKet Zipline – While it’s short and low, the slope and the speed will not disappoint. Rocket Zipline is an extra P150.

15) Say A Little Prayer For The Lost Souls of Corregidor at the Pacific War Memorial - Made in memory of the Filipino and American soldiers who died in Corregidor, this was completed in 1968 at the cost of $3 million. The dome is shaped like a parachute (which was crucial in the recapture of Corregidor) and right in the middle of this dome is a hole. Each year, during the Solar Equinox, the sunlight goes directly inside this hole and lights the memorial right beneath it. That date is May 6, exactly the date of the Fall of Corregidor.

Corregidor’s list of activities is continuously growing. Birdwatching and meditation activities are now being developed for tourists to enjoy. Camping, Island Hopping and Rock Balancing are offered to tourists and perfect for those who are staying for more than two nights.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest and fastest way to get there is through the Sun Cruises ferry ride which departs from CCP Bay Terminal A, inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Metro Manila.

Another way (which is not under Sun Cruises anymore) is to take a ferry from Bataan. Details soon!

CONTACTS: For inquires and reservations, you may call Sun Cruises at+632 8346857-58 or +632 5275555.

HELPFUL LINKS: You may also check their website www.corregidorphilippines.com for more information.

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