Enthralled by El Nido

I found my paradise in the Philippines.

Spellbounding Siquijor

A brave girl's first ever solo trip was to this mystical island.

The Quiet Charm of Cagbalete Island

Outdoor serenity at its best.

The Rugged Beauty of Islas de Gigantes

The off-the-beaten rockin beauty of Northern Iloilo.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where to Stay in Concepcion, Iloilo: Sand Bar Island


We just stayed overnight in Concepcion at the Sand Bar Island Beach Resort. This is the only accommodation option in the island (which is privately owned). There was a family of caretakers inhabiting it.


our small hut


We availed of their Small Cottage for PHP 800 good for 2 pax but it can actually fit 4-6. Big Cottage would cost PHP 1000 good for 4 pax (but can also fit 6-8). They also have Open Cottages for PHP 300, good for day tourists.

The cottage is very basic, it's just literally an empty room. No fan, no nothing. Just a light bulb you can use at night at a limited time. Generator is only being used until 10:00 PM. You will just be given the beddings upon check-in. When we were there, we don't need a fan because it was so windy. I'm not sure during summer though. Cottage rates were a bit pricey, I know. Maybe you're paying for the privateness of it and you have no other option. 


dining area


Outside the cottage, you can dine under the tree with the lovely view of the sea and nearby islands while inhaling the fresh sea breeze.


t&b


You'll also have a conventional toilet and bathroom. There is an attached one to the small and big cottages. On the photo above is the common one. During our stay there in 2011, they don't have sufficient stock of fresh water for visitors. We had to bathe when we went back to town. But I heard recently that they now have a fresh water supply, but of course for a price.


kitchen area


You may also bring and cook your own food. The cooking area was covered when we were there because of the strong monsoon winds that keep the fire from burning. Please note that it's better to cook your fresh food first because there's no electricity here, so there's obviously no fridge. You may also opt to just bring "camping" food such as canned goods so it's spoil-free.


awesome view


The island being in the middle of somewhere gives you a sense of freedom and isolation. I think that's what you pay for here, aside from the gorgeous sand bar.



open cottages



I recommend this place mostly to a large group of travelers (4 or more pax). It can be very expensive for solo and couple travelers. Even the Island Hopping Tour is better done by a group. It is PHP 1000 for 3 islands and 1500 for 5 islands. You will not enjoy its worth if you think it's burning your pocket. But overall, we had a nice stay in the island even for a short time. We might go back too but probably with a bigger company next time.



Accomodation Information:

Sand Bar Island Beach Resort
Address: *Bulubadiangan Island, Concepcion,  Iloilo
Contact No: 09068197516
Room Rates: PHP 800 for Small Cottage; PHP 1000 for Big Cottage
Updated info: Boat rates going to the island is now fixed as of late 2011. PHP 1500-2500, depending on the number of pax.

*Note: They also spell the island name as Bolobadiangan.


Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥



This is Part 2 of my Iloilo travel series.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Iloilo Sand Bar Island Experience


Just 40 days after our Boracay getaway, we escaped from Manila to Iloilo. We were giving Panay Island much love that time. Rains and storms just couldn't stifle the travel itch. Yup, it was August. Typhoons were still in and out of the Philippine archipelago.

Beau originally conceptualized a Guimaras-Concepcion route. But I wanted to go to a more off-the-beaten path. I know Iloilo is huge so I kept looking for other places to go to. I stumbled upon the website http://www.exploreiloilo.com and saw other options. From there we decided to do Concepcion-Carles instead.


Iloilo Day 1

We took a morning PAL flight and touched down in ILO at 9:30 AM. It was raining when we arrived. From the airport, we took a shuttle (van) going to Jaro where the bus terminal to Concepcion is. We alighted in front of Jaro Cathedral and took a few photos there. Then we rode a jeepney going to the Tagbak Bus Terminal for a minimum fare.


Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral


We rode the HPQ Bus bound to Concepcion. You'll see it right away as they have big signboards in front. It is non-aircon by the way. The travel time is 2.5 to 3 hours. Fare from Jaro to Concepcion was PHP 110.


Our 1st Destination

We left at around 10:00 AM and arrived in Concepcion 1:00 PM. The first thing we did was look for the Tourism Office. We found a satellite-office near the port where we were entertained and asked to register. We immediately informed them of our intention to go to the Sand Bar Island. Then it came to the tricky part. The boat service negotiation. According to our research, the round trip boat fee is just PHP 800. We were extremely appalled when this guy named Ricky (of the Tourism Office) quoted us a price of PHP 1500! It's just a 30 minute boat ride! And there was just the two of us so we didn't need a big boat. After much arguing, we were taken to the island. We were actually surprised to see the boat with some people on it already. We were at least expecting it to be private by paying such a big amount. I was pissed off even more.


The sea was a bit rough because it was monsoon season. But it wasn't a scary ride. We disembarked at the island after 30 minutes. It was a relief that the island looked peaceful and nice. My annoyance started to dissipate.


the serene side


Yes, the mini-island is in the middle of the sea so it has two sides. In front is where the calm water is and at the back, is the rougher side. I believe that side is facing the open sea while the other was surrounded by other islands and islets blocking the waves.



going to the sandbar


We met the caretakers of the island. We told them of the "Tourism Office incident". They say that they want to start standardizing the fees which prevents tourists from hiring the locals' boats, in short they want all the money going straight to them. That was my interpretation. We've been traveling around and we kinda know how things work.

After securing our room, we immediately changed to our swimming clothes and headed to the sandbar.


the sand bar


This island's official name is Bulubadiangan Island. It just became known as Sand Bar Island for its famous sand bar which does not disappear even when it's high tide. Can you see the difference? There are waves on left and none on right. The caretakers said there's an abundance of corals on the rougher side.



going back


The monsoon wind made it unbearable for us to stay longer in the sand bar. The waves are fierce, the wind was so cold we couldn't bring ourselves to try dip in the water and most of all, the sands hit us like anything. It seriously hurt! Yup, the wind was that strong. It felt like a bit of a sand storm. We were also afraid it might get into our eyes so we just left and decided to go back in the morning.

We went back to our niche and just spent time chilling in the hammock. There was no sunset that day too. We were the only visitors in the island, so we had it all to ourselves. I enjoyed the silence and the surroundings. The sand, the sea, the waves, the trees and the wind. Just us and nature. I loved every moment of it.

Since there was no electricity (just a generator), we prepared our dinner and slept early. I wanted to wake up promptly the next day to catch the sunrise.


Iloilo Day 2

I woke up at around 4:45 AM the next day. I literally jumped from bed and ran to the beach, afraid to miss the sunrise. I was so lucky I caught it right on time.


my glorious sunrise

The island is a perfect spot to watch the sunrise. Once again, I was in awe. I so love watching the sun when it rises and when it sets.


Good Morning Iloilo :)

As soon as we finished breakfast, we went to the sand bar. It was so calm that morning, very opposite to what we witnessed the previous day. It was super low-tide too.


Mt Pan de Azucar on the backdrop


The care takers said we can snorkel on the back beach, but we opted not to anymore. We'll be pressed for time since we'll be leaving for Estancia that day too.



eyes squinting over flying sand


We just enjoyed our remaining time in the sand bar. We ditched the idea of an island hopping tour which was originally included in our itinerary. Things did not properly fell into place. You know, time constraints, the rough sea and the overcharging "Tourism" guy. It lessened my desire see more of the surrounding islands.

We left the island at around 8:30 AM. We just paid a total of PHP 1000 for the round trip boat services (instead of 1500). We were glad that the caretaker understood where we're coming from. We thanked him a lot for his kindness.


so long Sand Bar Island


During that time they only have a limited supply of fresh water in the island. The boatman took us to a local's house upon reaching the town for us to take a bath. We were so happy that they entertained us not as tourists but just like someone they knew. They even had someone to take us to the bus stop. How sweet of them.

We may have a not so nice encounter with the Tourism person charging us too much, but we still had a great time in Concepcion. I just wish they had a better way of  treating the travelers visiting their town. Blatantly showing them how much you wanted to make money out of them is a major turn off. It would have been a more wonderful experience if not for that. It was bitter-sweet.

I also think this island is better visited on summer months, when the sun is relentless and the sea is windless and waveless. I bet the sand bar looks more impressive when surrounded with aquamarine waters and snorkeling will be much more enjoyable too.



 Here is the link to my recommendation entry for the resort:

http://itraveltolive.blogspot.com/2013/01/where-to-stay-in-concepcion-iloilo-sand.html



Beach Rating: ♥♥♥

*This trip happened on August of 2011. I will post the updated rates on my travel guide coming soon.




This is Part 1 of my Iloilo travel series.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Boracay: One of the World's Best Beaches


Boracay Island. Home of the best beach in the Philippines. It is always being hailed as one of the best in the world by various travel agencies and publications. Just last year, it was commended as the Best Island in the World by the international magazine Travel + Leisure. It is that stunning.

I've been to many places all over the country but I've only seen her internationally acclaimed beauty on June of 2011. I always thought of Boracay as a beach party kind of place, a very crowded one at that. It contradicts my purpose of traveling, which is to relax and find peace and serenity away from the chaotic city. That was the reason why it took me so long to consider Boracay as a destination.


Beau had to convince me to try experience it. He'd been there twice already and he has lots of nice things to say about it. So when Seair offered a very tempting promo, I gave in. We booked the tickets 6 months ahead. Yes, super low fares to Boracay means traveling on the rainy/typhoon months. Traveling always requires taking risks. I've been used to it already that I now book tickets on whatever season, whether or not my Big Boss from Atlanta will be in town (meaning: no leaves will be allowed).


Boracay Day 1

It was our first time with Seair. I loved it that they fly directly to Caticlan. There was no need for the 2-hour land travel from Kalibo. But that was back then, at present, they no longer operate in Boracay Airport too. A couple of days before our trip, I received an email that our flight will be rescheduled at a later time that day. I did not believe it, they were probably just bumping us off the morning flight and just transfer us to the next because we had promo fares. I called them and negotiated with them that we're going to take it but - they have to resched our return flight a day later than the original date, free of charge. I was happy that they willingly obliged to my request. So our 3D2N getaway became 4D3N. Happy ending. :)


our 1st Seair ride :)

It was our second time riding a turbo-prop plane, first one was to Coron. But I guess this one was smaller. They even had to weigh us (the passengers) too. A typhoon had just left the Philippines that day. We were actually relieved that it went away just in time. We were very satisfied and happy with Seair's services. They had a free shuttle from the airport to the jetty port. We just paid for the Terminal (PHP 25) and Environmental Fees (PHP 50). We also left our tripod in the shuttle and it was returned to us in a few minutes. They were outstanding.

We don't have that much time anymore to enjoy the beach when we arrived. It was already 5:00 PM when we get settled in our guesthouse. I hadn't seen its beauty just yet because it was Day 1 post typhoon. We just walked at the beach and checked-out the shops. It wasn't fun though because some parts were flooded. I thought flood is only imminent in Manila. When the night falls, we visited Kuya Marty in Hobbit House where he works. He is my Beau's sister's godfather. He promised us a good time in Boracay.


pulutan galore
  
The next thing I know we were so drunk on tequila. I think we finished 4 or 5 bottles! I was knocked out. We woke up at 3:00 AM and successfully got home. I even wonder how haha. So first day in Boracay, basag! :)


Boracay Day 2

We woke up the next day at around 11:00 AM. After that tequila drink fest, I was glad we still managed to wake up kinda early that day. We were just in time for lunch, so we had it first in the D'Mall area. I ordered sinigang because I want a hot soup to make me feel better, still feeling a little bit dizzy hehe.

There was no more wasting time after that, we headed to the beach! It was my first time to appreciate its splendor sans the typhoon effect.


a piece of paradise :)

Wow! It was beautiful. Even though the typhoon has left the sea a little rough, it was perfection. Oh, that's what's nice in traveling during off-season. It wasn't crowded at all. I still found the tranquility I was looking for. On our first day there, at least. 


posing  with the paraws  :)

I excitedly went to the water and had fun swimming there for the first time. It was my favorite beach before I fell in love with Calaguas.


lazy Boracay afternoon

When exhausted in the water, we decided to just lay around the shores. It was low tide anyway. It was a breezy overcast afternoon. Perfect for parasailing and paraboarding. 


We just spent the day like that. Swimming, walking at the beach, lying in the sand and playing around. We also waited for the sunset but Mr Sun wasn't there that afternoon. When we felt tired, we tried the famous Jonah's Fruit Shake to refresh ourselves. And that's when I started having a problem! I had the Banana-Avocado shake. OMG, my stomach didn't like it! After a few hours, it started acting up. It suddenly became one of my travel pet peeves, LBM!

We were supposed to have buffet dinner that night and we canceled it because of that. Beau had Banana-Mango shake and he was fine. Lesson learned: Never have a Banana-Avocado shake again, ever. No partying for me that night too. I was walking around Boracay that night with a bottle of Gatorade. Totally not cool.


Boracay Day 3

Our activity for that day was Helmet Diving. I badly wanted to parasail but Beau didn't want to. So we just agreed on this one. We shopped around the other day for several operators and went with the one who accepted our haggled priced. We got it for PHP 250 per pax. We were fetched from our guesthouse which is nearer to Bulabog Beach, where all the water activities happens.


waiting for our turn

I listened carefully to all the instructions. I need to. I don't know how to swim! I'm just a crazy girl who's brave enough to try anything that spells adventure. All I have was courage. We were then submerged one by one. I memorized all the hand signs and mastered the equalization. I admit, I was a little nervous. But the heck, I ain't backing down.


i made it! yay!

The helmet itself was very heavy. The instructor said it weighs 10kg but we'll just feel 2kg underwater. I never felt an ounce of fear. I stayed calm and relaxed while I'm getting deeper and deeper into the seabed until finally I can feel my feet touching the ground.


hello fishes! :)

There wasn't that many fish. There were just a few live corals in the area. I got dizzy after 15 minutes. Maybe it was the heavy helmet and the water pressure. The dizziness gets worse the longer you stay underwater. I enjoyed it though. There weren't so much to see but the mere experience was swell. It was my first time to do that kind of undertaking. Honestly, I don't like our underwater photos. But then it was cheap, what can I say.


back to the beach

We went to the beach afterwards. We swam until we got tired. There was an ongoing wedding that afternoon too, so we watched it from a distance wondering how much did they spent for it hehe. Again, we waited for the sunset. We were fortunate that day, we finally caught the sunset. I think I've already mentioned on a previous post that I'm a sunrise/sunset kinda girl. :)


Boracay Sunset

When the night came, we were back in action. I mean bars and clubbing. As soon as we finished our buffet dinner, we headed to the Hobbit House again, where Kuya Marty and his friends were waiting for us.


the Hobbit bar

The bartender mixed something for us. It was that green cocktail on the photo below. I forgot what it's called. It tastes good but damn it kicks hard. I got a little tipsy after that drink. Next was the Long Island Tea and then there was another one. After the third one, I was vomiting. Yaiiks. Sorry, I'm not a hard drinker.


the night is young

And, it didn't end there. When I got a little sober after throwing up, we went to Epic to party. There, we had a beer drinking spree. After some bottles, we were dancing the night away. I can't believe we went dancing haha. Maybe I was so drunk. We went home 3:00 AM in the morning. Day 3 in Boracay, basag na naman. ;)


Boracay Day 4

It was our last day in Boracay. Good thing we had the very last flight with Seair. Though we partied hard the other night, we still had time to rest and sleep well and enjoy the wondrous beach for the last time.


quiescent morning

We swam for the last time that day. I was feeling a bit melancholic because we will be parting this eden soon. Another short love affair.


i will miss you Boracay

Time had come for us to go. In four days, I found out why Boracay became so famous world wide. Its too impossible not get captivated by its undeniable beauty.


departing Caticlan

Soon enough, we found ourselves again in Boracay Airport, but this time for departure. It's a small little airport that had just reopened that time. Only small planes are allowed here.


see you again Boracay!

I had a wonderful time in Boracay. I know I said I don't want the party aspect of it but I gave in! I was drunk on the two of three nights that we were there. It was so hard to resist. The island would infect you with this vivacious vibe at night. It makes people feel so happy they want to party.

I've been skipping Boracay on my travel list for the longest time. I'm glad I gave myself a chance to finally see its charm. Now I know what local and foreign tourists were raving about. The 5 km of ultra fine white sand and the clear turquoise waters were breathtaking. We can't blame international travel publications for adding it up to their world's top beaches list. It maybe "the" party beach of the Philippines, but it's still not as crowded as its Thai (Phuket) and Indonesian (Bali) contemporaries. It is one of the world's best indeed.



Beach Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, January 11, 2013

Back to Basics: Cave Men and Women of Kepayang Besar


Kepayang Besar is a big cave. They say it can accommodate up to 300 people. The entry may seem small, but that's how large it is inside. There were 4 groups of campers that night. Each group had their own spot. It was damp and cold inside. It felt colder after we all bathed in the river. We then fixed our sleeping area and changed into clean dry clothes. The body aches prevailed when we stopped moving. We all felt like we want to lie down and rest. But no, we can't! There's dinner that we have to prepare!


our candlelit "kitchen"

While Moon and Zaifu were preparing our supper, the rest of us were just talking and sharing stories. There was nothing much we can do to help because we only had limited cooking utensils. When the dinner was ready, everyone remembered how famished we were. I didn't even recall to take photos anymore. In Tagalog, "galit-galit muna" haha. We had chicken curry and a veggie dish which I really liked. Well, I guess Moon enjoyed it the most because she is a Vegan. I have to give credits to Zaifu's cooking. It was yummy. Just like the Nasi Goreng he prepared for us that morning.

We had these games after the dinner. Stupid, corny games haha. But it was fun and stupendous. We did it over a pot of tea. The 2 couples started to get sleepy, so we ended our game sooner. We let them retire and rest. Zaifu, Moon and I went around the cave to see what else were there with us that night aside from the bats at the cave ceiling.


a spider-cockroach?

We just saw some arthropods and insects.


spider

And well, amphibians.


a rock?

At first, I thought it was a rock. But it was a frog! Yaiiks!


no, it's a frog!

There were also a lot of this creepy-looking spiders. They have legs like roaches.


more weird looking spiders

There were a lot more but I wasn't able to capture them. Some areas were unexplorable at night. Aside from the darkness, the pathways were very wet and slippery. We decided to just go back to our spot.


the campers from a far

That's what you'll only see from a distance. Our candle lights. The three of us did some more chatting and sharing. I felt sleepy after a while, so I just let the two of them continue to get to know each other. Hehe. ;)

It was one hell of an uncomfortable sleep. Well, I expected it to be. It is a cave, so the ground surface is very hard. It didn't help with our already sore and painful bodies. Then, there was the water drippings from the cave ceiling. If you're unlucky, you may also get some bat crap in your face. If unluckier, in your mouth. Haha. I kept waking up every now and then. I probably just had two hours of sleep.



Malaysia Day 5

We woke up at around 7:00 AM the following day. Sunlight was slowly filling up the cave. Everyone were starting to get up. It was a cold morning. The first thing we did was drink our tea and eat our cookies. When breakfast was over, we started to pack-up. It was time to hike again.


chilly morning in the cave

We had to go through the same passage again. It was more difficult getting out. Below was the beehive I was talking about. You have to be very cautious not to disturb these guys.


the bee colony

Our trail that day was different than the one we trekked the day before. It was more arduous and challenging. Maybe 3 to 5 times more difficult! The obstacles were greater. The trails were maze-like. It was more freaking scary. There will be times that we can't see our guide or there were no pathways anymore. You have to be very sharp to figure out where the hell did they go. One wrong decision and you'll be very lost. It gets scarier when you shout and no one's responding anymore. The trees were much bigger too. It was hard to go under or over the fallen trees. I even wonder how did I manage to survive that.


exasperated much

I don't remember us having short breaks anymore. We were all longing to get it over with that day. The farther we went, the more difficult the trail became. There was this steep cliff with a ginormous log blocking the pathway, where the Dutch girl almost fell at. Yaiiks. We did a lot of balancing acts for us not to fell in mud. It was an action-filled day. The German girl fell flat on her face in one of the muddy rivers we crossed. It was a mud fest! On the lighter side, it was funny how we cheer for each other every time we have to pass through a difficult path. And no matter how dirty, stinky and wounded we were, we were all still laughing. :)

After four hours of non-stop trekking and hard-won hurdles, we reached Sungai Tahan (Tahan River). There, we had our break where at the same time we had lunch and swam. Maybe bathed is more accurate haha.


Zaifu cooking lunch

There were lots of dragonflies in the river. They come in different colors. They were also friendly, they kept coming to us. They were beautiful.


black dragonfly

We enjoyed the river while Zaifu prepared our food. The water was cold and it gets colder the longer you stayed.


soaking in

We didn't stay that long. It was so cold. We were also getting impatient with our food not ready yet haha.


Sungai Tahan in the midst of Taman Negara

I just sat there in the islet and looked around this marvelous place thinking "I am in this 130 million year-old virgin rain forest in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia". That was awesome.


"Hey Zaifu, how long till we can eat?" :)

That was my group. Those 2 tall people in front are the German couple and those 2 behind Zaifu are the Dutch lovers. Our lunch that day were curry noodles, stir-fried veggies and rice. I did the curry noodles and rice combo. It was good! I think I got 3 servings haha. I was that hungry. It was my first time to eat a curry noodle. I think all of us were so starved after that non-stop hike. Notice that there were no food photos again haha. What could be better than eating curry noodles with rice in a river somewhere in the oldest jungle on Earth? :)


turquoise dragonfly

We went on after that hearty lunch. It was two more hours before we reached Tembeling River where we will ride our boat back home. The first thing we did when we arrived there was bought a can of ice-cold Coke! Yay! That was the best tasting Cola in our entire lives hehe. We were dead tired and exhilarated at the same time.


Our boat came in a few minutes. We were just sailing in 10 minutes when it suddenly stopped. Uh oh... Something was wrong. We waited for somebody to help us. We were just floating there for 20 minutes. Fortunately, a local came to help. Our cruise back was more fun! The rapids were wilder. Moon and I were in front, so we got the most splashes of water. We were screaming the whole time too haha.
 

my jungle battle scars

We alighted after an hour and a half. We thanked and said goodbye to our trek mates. We were all heading to different parts of Malaysia after Taman Negara. When we got back to our chalet, we were like loonies. We were like "Oh yes, fresh clothes!  Shower! Comfy bed!". We were that ecstatic! It felt like we've been in a jungle for years.

It was one of those travel experiences I'll never forget. One of those moments that I felt so alive. The body aches, the gashes and bruises, the leech bites, the mud, all of them did not matter. I didn't regret trekking 16 km  for 12 hours (back and forth). I didn't mind the stink after that sweaty activity. Being surrounded with vast array of huge old trees and just breathing the fresh air from a virgin jungle were already a precious reward. I love the feeling of being one with nature. I know it sounds dramatic but I really do. I will always be in love with the Earth and its creatures.





This is Part 4-3 of my Peninsular Malaysia travel series.