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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tana Toraja: From Errie To Eccentric

Tana Toraja Day 2

As if nothing happened the day before, we continued to explore Toraja. Though my body was still a bit sore from the cuts and bruises caused by the accident, we went off again with the same motorbike. This time, much more careful. It didn't dampen my adventurous spirit. :)

it's always nice to be out!
Soon enough, we found ourselves enjoying the wind in our faces and the beautiful countryside again.


Lemo

From Rantepao, we traveled 9 kilometers down south to Lemo. This is located north of Makale. Similar to Londa, this is another popular grave site. It is a short trek passing through some rice paddies which makes it more enjoyable.

not your ordinary grave yard, isn't it?

Up close, you can see the graves carved from the cliff face. Do you see those small square wooden doors? Those were the graves. And if you wonder what are those little statues, they are called Tau-tau. The Tau-taus are the wooden statues representing the dead people inside the grave and they believe it becomes the home of their spirit.

say hi to the people Lemo... i mean dead people

If you will look at them closely, they look real and alive because of their eyes! Some of them even have their hands reaching out which make it seem like they're inviting you to come with them. I admit, it felt a little creepy haha!

the Tau-taus are welcoming you :)
If you will hike up a bit from the cliff side, you will find more graves sans the tau-taus. I was more amazed by these graves though. The cliff in this side is much higher and I can't imagine how they make these holes out of a very hard rock. I guess Torajans have no fear of heights.

their graves literally rock!!!
Just by their grave sites, you can already tell how they value their dead and how unique their culture is.

awesome wood carvings to take home
Lemo has some souvenir shops near the entrance. This was were we bought some cute wooden stuff. You can haggle for a good price. We also enjoyed talking to them. ;)

Entrance Fee: IDR 10,000 for Local Tourist; IDR 20,000 for Foreign Tourist


Makale

Tana Toraja is divided into two regencies with Rantepao and Makale as their capitals respectively. Rantepao (where we are staying) is the cultural capital, while Makale is the seat of their local government.

it's always a scenic drive in Toraja
Lemo is the only tourist attraction we were interested to see in Makale but since we were already in the area, we decided to go see the town center.

Hello Makale!
After another 9 kilometers, we reached the center of Makale. It seemed to be a very peaceful town.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church
One thing that stood out was this church. At present, this part of Indonesia is predominantly Christian. Prior to colonization, they were known to be animist. The Dutch introduced Christianity to the animist highlanders because they feared the fast spreading of Islam in other parts of South Sulawesi.

beautiful town center of Makale
We didn't do anything much here and just drove around to sight see. When we were already pleased with what we saw, we headed back north to Rantepao.


Ke'te Kesu'

We drove back approximately 15 kilometers from the center of Makale to reach Ke'te Kesu'. The location of this site is really suburb. We passed by hectares of rice paddies and very traditional villages. There were hardly other vehicles passing by aside from the ojeks (motorbikes) of the local people.

the colors are unreal, but they are!
Among all the attractions, Ke'te Kesu' has it all - starting from the fantastic landscape surrounding it. While entering the village, you will be stunned by just looking around.

glimpse from the path to the tomb
Behind the village, you can find their own grave site. The more graves we see, the more we get used to it. It didn't feel weird anymore seeing remains of dead people after a while. I mean after seeing a lot of them.


It is not as well maintained as the other tombs. Piles of coffins and human skulls and bones can be seen at the cliff side.


They have their own ceremonial grounds (activity center) where traditional rituals and gatherings are being held too.

this my  friends, is Ke'te Kesu'
There are 12 granaries and 6 traditional houses (tongkonan) in this compound. We figured that one of them is actually a museum. Unfortunately, it is closed so we didn't get to see what's inside.

tongkonans
Much like those in Pallawa, the houses were adorned by buffalo horns signifying the social status of its owners. We were still enjoying our time here when it began to pour. We went to balcony of one the tongkonans thinking it'll just be a quick rain shower but we were wrong!

shelter from the rain!
We got stranded here for almost 2 hours along with another group of local tourists. We tried waiting it out but the rain seemed endless. It was already getting dark when we decided to go. It was one of the coldest days of my life! Imagine riding the motorbike while raining without a jacket or a raincoat! Brrrr...

Entrance Fee: IDR 10,000 for Local Tourist; IDR 20,000 for Foreign Tourist


***

Our Torajan adventure was full of action. Road accident on Day 1 then getting soaked in the rain on Day 2. That was epic! But let me tell you something. Though we saw majority of the tourist attractions, we missed one of the highlights of visiting Tana Toraja.

It is the attending of actual funeral rites for their dead. You can easily arrange this with a tour guide once you arrive in your hotel. We intentionally skipped this because I may not be able to take it. It involves sacrificing (slaughtering) buffalos and sometimes other animals too. I am very weak-hearted when it comes to animals, I can't bare to see them getting killed. :( But if you are a brave soul who wouldn't mind watching it as it happens, then go! It will surely add to your list of mind-boggling experiences. :)

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, get busy living or get busy dying." ~Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption


This is Part 5 of my South Sulawesi travel series.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Beauty and Madness of Tana Toraja

Tana Toraja Day 1

Tana Toraja is located in the central highlands of South Sulawesi. We traveled almost 8 hours from Makassar to reach this mountainous destination. It reminds me so much of Sagada (in Mountain Province, Philippines). The winding road as we go up, the cold weather, the lush surroundings and the coffins in the cave!

We never let Day 1 pass without exploring this mystical place. After renting a motorbike and getting a map from the hotel, we were out on the road!

Londa

The first place we found was Londa. It is 5 kilometers from Rantepao, where our hotel is. It is one of the many popular grave sites in Toraja.

kinda look eerie

Toraja is known for their unique culture and out of the ordinary funeral rites. Here in Londa, there are two places where the coffins are placed, at the cliff face outside and inside the cave.

hanging coffins outside the cave

The photo above and below are those that are outside the cave. They were arranged according to their family lineage.

more coffins outside

We also went inside the cave. There is a lone guide waiting at the entrance. You can get his service for a very cheap price so there's is nothing to worry about. If you're wondering why he's just the sole guide there, it is because Tana Toraja is not a touristy place. It is off the beaten that's why I like it. :)

disintegrated coffin exposing the dead

Going back to the guide, he will guide you and will light the way for you inside the dark cave full of dead people! I'm sure you'll have a lot of questions (like us) after seeing what's inside. Even if his English is not very good, he'll be able to explain it to you.

everywhere you look inside the cave

The guide also have his deceased family members inside the cave. One of the things we asked was "what about those cigarettes?". He said that whenever they visit their dead, they bring them what they like when they were still living.

one of the more recent ones
Quite mind-boggling for a first stop, right? But it made us more excited to explore the rest of Toraja.

Entrance Fee: IDR 10,000 for Local Tourist; IDR 20,000 for Foreign Tourist
Guide Fee: IDR 20,000


Pallawa

We went farther north from Rantepao and found this traditional Torajan village also known as Tongkonan Pallawa. There are 11 tongkonans and 15 granaries in this village.

welcome to Pallawa!

Tongkonan is what you call the traditional ancestral house of the Torajan people. They have a boat shaped saddle-back roof which make them extra ordinary.

before
When we arrived, there was an ongoing construction which gave us a glimpse on how these houses and granaries are being built. It surely is a laborious task but after seeing the outcome, it will definitely make you say "wow".

after
Aside from the boat-shaped roof, I also like the how the exteriors were painted.The only colors used were black, white, red and yellow. The patterns were also beautiful.

a wealthy family's home

One more thing you will notice among the houses were the numerous buffalo horns hanging in front of them. Part of Torajan's funeral ceremony is the sacrificing or offering of buffalos. So the more horns displayed in your house means the wealthier you are. Yes, those horns can tell your status in the society.

some cute souvenirs

Pallawa has a souvenir shop located at the back of the granaries. You can check them out if you love wood carvings.


Entrance Fee: IDR 10,000 for Local Tourist; IDR 20,000 for Foreign Tourist


Batutumonga

We didn't know what to expect in Batutumonga. We didn't even know how to find it or how it looks like. We just saw from our map that it is doable from where we were at the moment.

one of them hillside houses

Still north of Rantepao, we decided to take the road heading there. We passed by isolated traditional houses and mini-terraces.

i love countryside scenery

We occasionally saw graves carved in big stones along the road which I actually think very cool.

a stone grave

The road became curvier and steeper as we go along, but the views became more stunning too.

define stunning

We rarely saw other people taking this road. From time to time there will be one or two overtaking us or heading to the opposite direction.

just green, blue and white

When we reached a point where we saw quite a number of people looking out at the view, we thought "this is it". Maybe this is what we're looking for. We stopped, took our helmets off and there she is...

oh wow...

With an altitude of 1300 meters above sea level, you will see the beauty of the surrounding valleys of Rantepao. Not much to do but just feast your eyes with this breathtaking view of nothing but nature.

are you for real?

The sky colors of Sulawesi is so surreal it almost looks like edited but it is not. It is really that marvelous!

Absolutely No Entrance Fee :)

***

Our adventure was cut short after leaving this place. On our way down, we had a minor motorbike accident. The road downhill had some scattered small rocks in it which made the road slippery. Our motorbike's tire slipped, we fell with it. I suffered the impact more than Beau, so we had to go back to the hotel immediately to observe whether I'll need a doctor or not. Thank God, I only had negligible injuries. I just spent the remaining hours of the day in the four corners of the hotel room.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a ride!' ~Hunter S. Thompson


This is Part 4 of my South Sulawesi travel series.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Where to Stay in Tana Toraja: Hotel Pison

"We're here!" I told Beau as I looked out of the window. After our 7.5-hour bus ride from Makassar, we finally reached Tana Toraja. We arrived so early in the morning, around 4:30 AM and it was freaking cold! We had no idea at first that this hotel is just along the highway, so we disembarked in the town center. Good thing it was just a short ride from there and just paid IDR 10,000 for a trishaw to take us.

view from our balcony

We made our booking online just before we go there. We were glad that they accommodated us even if it's still too early before the check-in time. The check-in process was fast and we got to choose a room. There weren't that many guests that time.

our colorful bed

We selected a Standard Double Room at the second floor. It is easily accessible from the Reception by the stairs and it is near the wifi router. Oh yes, we had a fast wifi in our room haha!


The room is spacious enough. There's a little seating area and some bare wardrobe for your stuff. I am satisfied with the overall cleanliness of our room too.

I said "bare" right?

It also has en suite toilet and bath complete with a bathtub, shower and a heater.


Another bonus is the balcony in each room. It is nice to sit out there for some fresh air and just to appreciate the cool mountain view. It is surrounded with lush mountains and plantations.

my fave spot - the balcony

The hotel also has a restaurant. We didn't try dining here though as we were always on the road and we just ate whenever we feel like stopping.

This is an excellent budget hotel in the area. Located in Rantepao, it is near to the big markets and some restaurants catering for travelers.

the restaurant
You can also rent a motorbike from them for a very reasonable price. We rented one for only IDR 70,000 a day. We used it for touring around Toraja by ourselves which was fantastic. They will also provide you with helmets for your safety. Some tourist attractions are just 10-minute drive from the hotel. Awesome.

The staff were also nice and helpful. We didn't have problems approaching them when we need anything. Aside from the early check-in, we were also allowed to do late check-out. They also called the bus company to request to just pick us up from the hotel when we were already going back to Makassar.

If you are a backpacker on a budget or a traveler who doesn't mind very basic rooms, then this hotel is perfect for you!


Accommodation Information:

Hotel Pison

Address: Jalan Pongtiku II, No. 8, Rantepao, Tana Toraja, Indonesia 91831
Contact Nos: +62 423 21344
Website: none but they can be booked through Agoda and Booking.com
Rates per Night: IDR 200,000-230,000 for a Standard Double Room with Balcony

Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Samalona Island: White Beach and Ship Wrecks


 Makassar Day 2 (continued)

After having so much fun in Kodingareng Keke (KK), we went to Pulau Samalona on our way back to the city. Pulau is the Bahasa word for island. It was where we rented our snorkeling gears, so we definitely had to stop by here. It is just about 30 minutes tops from the city.

it welcomes you with white sand and crystal clear waters

It is one of the islands that can be found in the Makassar Strait. It is not too distant from the city. You can actually see the city skyline from this island and vice versa. Unlike KK which is completely uninhabited, Samalona has a thriving small community. It is owned by a family who lived there for generations.



The families living here have spare rooms for guests wanting to stay in the island. But don't expect too much. It is a very basic accommodation. If you can bear a life without electricity and running water, then try it! It is the real island life! Rates range between IDR 250,000 to 300,000. I'm not sure if it's negotiable because we never intended to stay. We were only there for a day trip.

it's like a small town island
Honestly, I wasn't as impressed here as I was with KK. Some of the broken structures and the abandoned debris were a bit of an eyesore for me.

rough around the edges

The beach is not too pleasant for me. I don't know. Maybe it's just me or we came at a wrong time. Much like KK, it's better to swim with your group of friends and not to get too far from the shore because there were parts where the underwater current suddenly changes.


The sand is fine and the water is very clear too. There are parts which aren't very nice, but there are also parts that look stunning. You just have to find your own perfect place to enjoy the beach. They say sunset in Samalona is also spectacular but we didn't get to see it because we left a little early.

the seafarer is happy to see a ship passing by
The main attraction of this island is really under the water. It is more of a divers haven but snorkeling could be fun too. The island is surrounded by seven shipwrecks, most of them Japanese vessels that sunk in the area during World War 2. Add to that some cargo ships which also sunk around the island. They've all became coral reef sanctuaries which are now home to colorful marine animals.

too tired to snorkel


We weren't able to explore this island that much but still we had a good time.


Total Expenses for this Day Trip:

Boat Rental: IDR 400,000
Snorkel Set:         100,000
Food for 4 pax:      71,500
--------------------------------
Total             IDR 571,000
or                  PHP    2,118


*This covers both Kodingareng Keke and Samalona islands. Access to the islands are free.

This will be way reasonable if you'll go as a big group. Remember, the boat's capacity is up to 10 pax excluding the boat driver. Imagine if you'll divide the rental cost among 10 people, it'll be very very cheap!


So if you find yourself in Makassar, don't forget go island hopping and visit their nearby beautiful beaches!


The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh


This is Part 3 of my South Sulawesi travel series.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014: When Fate Loves The Fearless

It's 2015! Another fresh start and it's time for me to restart earning and saving my leave credits, so I can take off and travel again. On 2014, I decided not to travel a lot. It was a conscious decision I made even before the year started. Unlike the previous year, when I said that money ain't a thing, it mattered to me this time. I am not in a big financial trouble, okay? Just so you know. Haha! You will find out the reason unfolding this year. So watch out for it. ;)

Here's a look-back on where I spent all my 2014 vacation leaves:

Batanes: A Place Where Dreams Come True

I was very happy to have Batanes as my first destination for 2014. Who will not be? I almost got “unfriended” in Facebook by some of my friends after I posted my status of being there. All the more when I posted my photos haha! They were too jealous! It is everybody’s dream destination and I couldn’t blame them.



The best moment I once lived were the ones I absolutely forgot to take pictures of. Batanes did that to me. I often found myself just looking around, breathing and savoring each moment. I even missed taking pictures of some of the most photographed places there!



It is worth all the praises. It is beyond beautiful. There’s something about it that will mesmerize you, you’ll never want to leave. Since then, I’ve been convincing all of my friends to go see it for themselves!


Burot: Unplanned Trips Are the Best

It sucks when you got everything planned then it suddenly don’t happen. Been there, had those moments. Last summer, we had one of those “Tara, beach tayo!” and then voila! The next day, we found ourselves in a bus terminal with our backpacks and we were heading to Calatagan, Batangas.



The beach is as lovely as they say but the crowd, oh boy the crowd. Well, it was summer so we don’t have the right to complain.


But then it was a wonderful quick getaway from the very hot and humid Manila. It was also nice catching-up with our awesome travel buddies.


Boracay: Undeniably Still Beautiful

It was a first for our family to go on a vacation outside Luzon. We finally found a place where we can safely leave our pets, yehey! It was Hello again, Boracay for me.




I’m glad it’s still as pretty as I remember it from before. It also brought me joy that my parents got to appreciate this paradise and that they somehow got the idea of what makes me happy every time I head out on the door to travel.


To travelers who skip Boracay because it is crowded, you are totally missing out! It isn't one of the world's best beaches for nothing!


Zamboanga: Let Your Faith Be Bigger Than Your Fear

“Wow! Ang tapang mo naman,” that was the common reaction of people who saw me right after I arrived from this trip. Zamboanga is still deemed to be a dangerous place by a lot of people and it makes me kind of sad.


Zamboanga City has interesting places to see and has gentle people. I hope people will open their minds and will stop making generalizations about this part of Mindanao.



The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. ;)


Tawi-Tawi: There’s Nothing More Dangerous than a Closed Mind

I was very excited to reach this part of the Philippines. After reaching the northernmost province of the country earlier in the year, I was heading to the southernmost before the year ends. Yay!



Much like Zamboanga, I received tons of questions about Tawi-Tawi too. Most of them were very concerned about my safety while I was in the islands and I was like “Huh?”



Tawi-Tawi left me speechless by its beauty. What amazed me the most were the locals who took us into their homes. We weren't like visitors to them but family. And to be honest, I never really felt scared while we were there.


You can’t just dream about paradise. You have to go find it and see it for yourself!


Thailand: Count The Memories Not The Calories

Everybody knows how I love Thai food! I will always, always come back to Thailand for the food.


It’s not only because it was cheapest to transit here going to Delhi but I also secretly wanted to go binging while in Bangkok and of course to go–all together girls: shopping!!!



There goes my two other weaknesses. ;)


India: Great Things Never Came From Comfort Zones

This was my longest trip by far and the roughest when it comes to backpacking. I conditioned myself that this is going to be the case and somehow prepared for it by doing a lot of research before we embarked on this journey.



But guess what? I still came unprepared. No one’s going to be prepared for India. With all the unexpected madness and the entrancing charm that comes along with it, you-just can’t-be.


I was glad hearing my friends say that I’ve changed their perception of India by the photos I'm sharing. I had to remind them that I just took the photos. It is already splendid as it is.


You just have to open your mind and your heart to see what is real and beautiful. India is truly incredible!


Bataan: Because Old Places Have Soul

I spent my birthday with the old houses of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. Much like Burot last summer, this was planned last minute and it pushed through! I honestly never expected too much from this place but I was somewhat impressed by the nice photos we were able to capture.

 
It was a nice enough place to spend your birthday in. And if you’re into old houses, you’ll absolutely love this place.


Thank you Richard, for bringing us with you! It was a lovely birthday gift! :)

***

I had a lot of canceled trips too (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Morocco and Sri Lanka) and replaced Japan and Korea with India, but it doesn’t mean I enjoyed the year less. I hadn't traveled as frequent as before but I was still able to cover Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. I also had the chance to indulge again with my all-time favorite Thai food and finally able to sail the River Ganga. And for that, I love you, 2014! :)

So what did I learn from 2014?

Spontaneity. I used to be very OC. I can’t leave without prior planning. This year, we had trips that just happened out of the blue and it turned out to be really fun!

To focus on my bigger goals. If you have a lifelong dream and you want to achieve it, you’ll do anything to make it come true. Even if that means minimizing your trips and giving up luxuries you’ve been used to.

Discipline. I learned to totally ignore the always tempting Piso Fare and other sorts of Seat Sales. Haha! Gone are the days when I’ll just book to wherever, whenever I want, without thinking of what lies ahead.

She who is brave is free. A lot of my friends were surprised with some of my chosen destinations. I keep telling them that if you really want to see what’s out there, you really have to get there. No excuses. I don’t want to live my life regretting about things I didn’t do, so I just go.

Kindness is everywhere. I keep learning this every year, everywhere I go, but I'll still mention it. India is entirely a different world. It will test you. Just when we're about to lose it, somebody will turn it around for us. That is an amazing feeling. I do not believe we were just lucky.  I believe the world is really full of kind people. 

So that was how my travel year went. Every year is distinct but we always learn something from it. How we make it, is always up to us. :)


I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. ~Anaïs Nin