G.O.T Memories in Dubrovnik, Croatia

I did not go to Croatia (Dubrovnik specifically) because of the series, “Game of Thrones” or the relatively new Pinoy series, “Make It With You”. I was never a fan of  GOT and I am just recently liking the latter. My desire to to visit this Balkan country came about because a friend of mine had awesome stories (years wayback) prompting me to include this country in my travel bucketlist. The next thing thing I knew, I was already booked and the rest is not history, but is shown in this post.

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And so before I am totally corrupted by my laziness, feast your eyes on how charming Dubrovnik is through these photographs! Taking it from the GOT reference, Dubrovnik as an experience is Great, Otherworldly, Tantalizing (G.O.T)! The moments I had are now some of my all-time favorites.

Both the sunrise and the sunset are magical in Dubrovnik. The Adriatic Sea is just lovely when the golden glow wraps its waters.

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Old Town Dubrovnik is probably one of the most beautiful “old towns” I have visited in Europe! Every corner is picturesque!

They also have lovely beaches with crystal clear, turquoise water that is very inviting (only that it is freezing at this time of the year – December).

I was, for a moment, lost for words… and truly happy I got the chance to experience this place.

PS: All photographs were taken using my phone camera.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy.

 

Malmö o Mahal Ako (Sweden)

Malmö is a coastal city in southern Sweden that is in close proximity to Copenhagen, Denmark. It lies at the eastern end of an amazing man-made wonder, the Öresund Bridge, a long road and railway bridge–tunnel running to Copenhagen, Denmark. It is the largest city of the Swedish county of Skåne, the third-largest city in Sweden, after Stockholm and Gothenburg, and the sixth-largest city in the entire Scandinavia.

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Some noteable sights in the city are: Lilla Torg, a cobblestone square with cafes, half-timbered houses and shops selling local handicrafts; the Malmö Castle which is a 16th-century fortress that houses nature, history and art exhibits. The Turning Torso, commanding, neo-futurist residential skyscraper and the tallest building in all of Scandinavia. It was built and is owned by Swedish cooperative association HSB and is regarded as the first twisted skyscraper in the world.

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Here are some photographs I took during a day trip to Malmö from Copenhagen via train through the Öresund Bridge.

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Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. take it easy.

Musandam: A Dose of an Omani Dhow Cruise

I was in Dubai for a business trip when one of my UAE-based friends suggested that we visit Oman on a weekend. As neighbouring countries, Oman can be accessed by land. One frequently visited place is called Musandam. It was my first time to hear about this region in Oman and so I was prompted to google about it.

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Boy, I was surprised to learn that such natural wonder exists at this part of the Arabian Peninsula. So without much of my friends’ convincing powers, we found ourselves one weekend, on our way to Musandam. The land trip wasn’t really long and the sights along the way kept me musing.

We later on reached a gate where our papers/ documents were verified. It signaled that we have already reached the Sultanate of Oman. A few more minutes and we were already parked at an area that is so close to the waters. It was pretty impressive. My first impression is that Musandam is a place where the mountains meet the sea (in this case, the Gulf of Oman). We were then transferred to an Omani Dhow or a traditional Omani cruise boat. These kind of boats are very popular in this side of the world. They have been used to sail into the fjords and have been the perfect mode of transportation for a relaxing trip into the Musandam Peninsula.

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As we begin our dhow cruise, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the picturesque landscape and seascape of Musandam: from the lovely fiords (a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs), to the stunning contour of the Hajar Mountains, and the emerald to azure waters of the Arabian Sea. These sights of blues and browns are a total opposite of Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s steel and glass vista. No wonder this has become a famed getaway destination for tourists. The dhow experience itself is very relaxing as the cool sea breeze waff through my face.

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After an hour or so, our dhow stopped in the middle of the cerulean waters of Musandam. We were then told to get out of the boat and explore the waters. My friends and I decided to go swimming, snorkeling and later on tried the banana boat. I was laughing at myself because it was my first time to ride the banana boat. You see, in the Philippines, banana boat rides are very popular especially in Boracay and Puerto Galera. I have been to these beaches several times yet I haven’t tried going for a banana boat ride before. After we did these water activities, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch. Later on in the afternoon, we got to try boat fishing.

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The dhow cruise experience ended with a sunset view of the ‘Norway of Arabia’. True enough, Musandam is a remarkable blend of seaside fun and quaint mountain views. What a weekend getaway with friends (shout out to Elaine, Ela, and Hazel for joining me in this trip), and that truly makes you realize that “Oman is an island…” I mean, “No man is an island”. So what are you waiting for, “don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust”. Take it easy.

Aran Cave (Benguet, PH)

Spelunking or caving is about exhilarating exploration, discovering a furtive underground landscape of stalactites and stalagmites, caverns and crevices where seemingly creepy silence echoes. The ghostly feeling these concealed wonders, and all that it keeps like the delicate formations growing inside them and surprising finds like waterfalls and natural pools — are enthralling natural phenomenon.

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I trace my first caving experience wayback May of 2008 in Sagada. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but it definitely was one of a kind experience. The following year (January 2009), I got to explore the then unknown Aran or Tukang Cave. 10 years after, who would have thought I would get to explore this very same cave again. During the 1st time I went spelunking in Aran, I was with a good friend, Jelaine and some other new found Korean friends. We did some high-angle rappelling, rock climbing, river trekking and airsoft range shooting before we culminated our day then with a caving adventure. Those moments are still pretty vivid in my memory.

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Left photo was taken in january 2009 during my 1st Aran Cave exploration while the photo on the right was taken last February 03, 2019. A 10 year gap for these two captures! 

Last weekend (February 03, 2019), I joined a group (a big one) for an Aran Cave exploration at Camp 3, Tuba, Benguet. I was on tenterhooks the past days having come from a surgery a week ago. I was bound to resume work the following day following more than a week of bedrest. The required rest of just staying put at home made me bored and feeling uneasy. If you know me as a person, you will definitely say that staying put is a very challenging state for me. That is why during that weekend, I went on to search for an event I could join. Luckily, there is the Aran Cave trip.

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So how was the experience during this trip? I always have had a soft spot for extreme adventures. The adrenaline rush it gives me is just great and invigorating. Just like my previous caving experiences, it remains to be exciting. Caving in Aran is pretty unique since the cave boasts off several levels of waterfalls. During my 1st visit, we managed to go up to the 3rd level. This time though, due to the aftermath of a strong typhoon last year, some of the ropes going to the 3rd level were damaged hence visitors are only limited to visiting upto the 2nd waterfall. Nonetheless, the adventure inside is nothing short but amazing!

The moments I love the most during this experience includes the rappelling part, the worming-squeezing our way in and out of small crevices (really super exciting), and the freezingly cold dip into the cave’s natural pools. The part I most appreciate is when we reached a certain portion of the cave and our guide asked everyone to turn off their headlights. It was pitch black and the coldness inside felt a little colder. Kuya Arthur, our guide, shared some stories about the cave (like how the story of a giant named Aran lived inside these caverns). He also told us that the very narrow portion we had to go through was symbolical as we go out of the cave. It was like a form of rebirth.

That thought had me thinking. True enough, there are some experiences in life that would make us feel we are born again. Challenges in life (just like those we encounter inside the cave), will test our patience and determination. There are moments when we are close to giving up but we have no choice but to go on. And that if we do not endure these struggles, we will never know what would be instore for us at the end of the adventure.

This is the itinerary we followed during this trip:

0630: Call time at Jollibee, Lakandula near Shoppers Lane (here in Baguio City)
0700: Expected Time of Departure from Baguio to Camp 3
0730: Expected Time of Arrival at the Jump off of Aran Cave in Camp 3, Tuba (which is part of Benguet)
0730: Preparation and Registration of Payment.

A short orientation was also made wherein do’s and don’ts were given as reminders for everyone’s safety. Also, our group was divided into smaller group of 10 (since we were 40 something), guides were designated and a warm-up exercise was even initiated.

0800: Trekked our way to the Entrance of the Cave. Another short talk was given here wherein a bit of Aran Cave’s history was shared by one of the guides.

0815: 1st group entered the cave. I joined the 4th/ last group so we had to wait for a while. A 20-minute interval was given every after a group enters the cave (which is good so that it wouldn’t be too crowded inside). So this signaled the start of the spelunking adventure.

1100 The expected time of exit for the 1st group. I wasn’t sure if this was followed. Nonetheless, once the spelunking is over, the participants could shower back at the orientation area.

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1200: Lunch was supposed to be served but our group (the last group) managed to eat at around 14:00 since we were the last ones to exit the cave and arrive at the lunch place.

Side trips were made that included visiting two waterfalls along Kennon Road. These are the Colorado falls and the popular Bridal Veil waterfalls. It was a quick visit where we only took photos. I have a separate blog for these waterfalls along Kennon Road.

1630: We left Camp 4. A bit late than the original itinerary but it was fine. We arrived Baguio at around 17:30.

The trip costs Php650/ person and it included the following: transportation (back and forth), a really sumptuous lunch (pinikpikan, adobo, and the oh so delicious dinuguan + drinks), a deadlight and skull guard head cap were provided (which I so appreciate), entrance fee, tour guide fee, and environmental fee. No fees for the waterfalls.

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Activities like this usually require the following: the use of non-slippery footwear (whether shoes or slipper/sandals), the use of dri-fit clothes (preferably long-sleeved and maybe leggings since some of the rock formations inside are sharp), extra clothes, your own water/ energy drinks, some trail food, ziplock or dry bag for your valuables (since there are instances when you have to cross some pools inside), kneepad and gloves (since some parts require crawling and rappelling).

Life, as Helen Keller would say, is a daring adventure or nothing at all. The things we choose to do with it defines us and make living extra beautiful. So have the courage to squeeze your way through narrow caves, climb over slippery mountains and boulders, and explore all possible adventures out there. Along the way, you will get to learn more about life and the many things you are capable of.

***Grabbed some photos from Sir Clifford of IBenguetTourGuides2018.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy. Follow me on Instagram: @nojuanisanisland

 

Betcha Bye BALI Wow

After a grueling 2-week, work-related trips around Central Thailand and Java in Indonesia, I spent my then untouched annual leave in Bali.  My original plan was to go to Jeju Island in Korea but I wasn’t sure if my body was ready for a winter-y holiday so I ended up doing a 6-day staycation in the famed Indonesia island getaway.

So what did I do during that almost one week trip in Bali? Here is a rundown:

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1. Chased some sunset, surfed, and strolled along the beach. I stayed around the Kuta Beach and Seminyak Beach areas so a splendid sunset view is a regular. Plus, these beaches have waves one can’t resist to ride so surfing is a good option to do. Also, you can go to Padang-Padang Beach, a famous small beach on the way to Uluwatu temples. It is one of those places Julia Roberts filmed in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

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2. Went nature-tripping in Ubud. Perhaps the best place to relax — the greenery, the gimmickry (think giant swings, infinite pools in the middle of forests, photogenic picture taking corners), and some friendly primates make Ubud a must visit.

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3. Jaw-dropping seascape of Nusa Penida island. From the very scenic Broken Beach to the uber-mesmerizing Kelingking Beach, this island’s wonders shouldn’t be missed. I wish I stayed longer in this island as it seems to have more to offer.

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4. Bali, predominantly Hindu in religion, is filled with temples. Some of which are found near beaches, and cliffs adding beauty to seaside views. I really didn’t explore much of the other well-known temples of Bali as I had an overdose of these structures during my 1-week Thailand trip. I only managed to see Uluwatu and Tanah Lot – perhaps 2 of the most frequented temples in the island.

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5. Experience Balinese culture at the GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) Cultural Park, a cultural park about 10–15 minutes driving from the Ngurah Rai International Airport. It is devoted to the Hindu god Vishnu, and his mount, Garuda, the mythical bird who became his companion. Thanks to a very generous and kind local I met at the Jakarta airport, Sir Gunawan (an architect of the park) who invited and have shown me the beauty and vastness of this place.

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6. Lastly, probably the best thing I did in Bali — sleep and just laze around (doing nothing), and at times, spend some lovely time by the pool. Accommodation in Bali are some of the cheapest yet they have very comfortable, beautifully adorned rooms and relaxing pools!

So there… I may not have totally fallen in love with Bali, but I still enjoyed my relaxing and not so tight (in terms of itinerary) schedule. Maybe the next time I visit the island, the company of friends and loved ones would add more delight. Take it easy. Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust.

Aigoo, Agoo Eco-Park (La Union)

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir

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With the mere mention of La Union, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is the surf town San Juan. Ask further what else reminds them of La Union and most likely the following are the answers you’ll elicit: grape-picking in Bauang, Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel, the popular resto called Halo-Halo de Iloko in San Fernando City or even the Bahay-na-Bato in Luna. I am pretty certain that no one would mention about Agoo. Unless, perhaps, you ask a person what they think about this seaside town. Growing up in Elyu during my childhood years, I often associate the municipality with the following: the lovely Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, that giant concrete statue of an eagle called “Eagle of the North” (which is hard to miss when you take the Agoo – Pugo road going to Baguio, and the now infamous Miracle of Agoo that happened in 1993.

Recently, I have discovered (through my Instagram) a seemingly interesting place in Sta. Rita, Agoo. They call it “Agoo Eco-Park” which is a part of the Agoo- Damortis Protected Landscape and Seascape. I thought it is a newly developed area in this coastal town of La Union. I searched a little more, and I was surprised to know that it has been there since 2015. (Why haven’t I learned of this place earlier?)

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So yesterday, my brother, my nephew, and our pupperino Koukou went to check out this place. Since very little information can be looked up over the internet, we just took note of the barangay where it is located. This eco-tourism site is located at Sta. Rita West and Sta. Rita Central, in Agoo, La Union. If you are coming from Manila, you will have to pass by the town proper. The landmark you might want to take note is the Universal Leaf Philippines (a tobacco company that is hard to miss along the highway going to Ilocos). You will find a road on the left side with signage that says “Sta. Rita”. Go straight until you pass by the Sta. Rita Elementary School, and a local chapel. Then take that narrow, unpaved road to the left where a small guard station is seen at the left side. In here, you have to pay Php 15.00 per person as an environmental fee.

There is an on-going road improvement at the entrance. Go straight and the first part of the eco-park that will greet you are the lovely “agoho trees” beautifully lined on both sides of the road. Often mistaken as the common pine trees, these trees are actually flowering trees from the Genus Casuarina (Pharmacognosy 101 people) in contrast to Pine trees which are from the Genus Pinus. These trees have a resemblance with pine because of the apparent needles which are actually stems covered with dull-green scale leaves. These are the same trees one gets to see along the sandy shores of Zambales (think of Anawangin, Nagsasa or even Liwliwa).

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I personally like this part of the park. One can actually put up a tent or just bring out a picnic mat and you are ready to have a great time just staring at the trees and the nearby stream. There are no tables nor chairs (which I like) because it leaves that natural feel. I can imagine myself jogging or biking around the area too. Walking past this agoho-lined area are two eye-catching sceneries. To the left is a body of water (not sure if it is just a stream, a river, or a lagoon that adds beauty to the park; and to the left is a grazing area for cows with a small man-made like lake or lagoon (which I suppose is a source of water for the animals).

A few more meters of walking and you’ll reach the beach area. The very fine, gray sand – lined beach has a very wide and lengthy shoreline. It seems ideal for swimming, kite flying or just basking under the sun. There are also a few huts found, and a large space for parking is also available. If you still aren’t aware, this side of La Union offers a spectacular view of the sunset. That is why coming here in the afternoon is a perfect time – temperature wouldn’t be too scorching and of course, waiting for the sundown is a delightful experience.

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Another must-see area is the mangrove sanctuary of the eco-park. To get there, one has to exit from the road used as an entry point and go straight. A little over 50 meters, you’ll see a small road to the left, go inside until one reaches a small parking lot over-looking the mangrove area. Look to your right and you’ll find a beautifully constructed bamboo pathway to goes into the sea. Walk through it and I am pretty certain you’ll love the experience. This is perhaps my favorite spot. We further waited for the sunset at this side of the park. It was magical. I also saw a few birds in this part of the park and some locals fishing.

It was a surprisingly exquisite time spent at this eco-park. I wish to come back and maybe spend camping at night. It seems to me that this is a very promising eco-tourism destination in La Union. Kudos to those who have thought of planting the agoho trees. It really is a brilliant idea. In the coming years, I suppose, more and more people will come to see this area. I just hope that visitors (and the management) will do their fair share of keeping the park clean.

So there… Hope you get to relish this little adventure grounds La Union offers. Take it easy.

Don’t Hurry, Don’t Worry

Some six (or seven) years ago, I entertained the idea of wanting to set foot on all 81 provinces in the Philippines. The goal seems far-fetched until I noticed that after a couple years of local traveling, I have been to more than half. And so, I became more assertive to put that goal into fruition.

At one point, I went to a certain region for 5 days and visited one province per day. It was exhausting. Later, I realized I have missed a lot because it felt like I was racing just to see more. And as I am given more travel opportunities, it has dawned on me that it should never be about how many places you’ve been (provinces or countries or continents). No offense to my friends who are aiming at going to all 81 provinces, or those who have already achieved such a feat. I am close to ticking all 81 with just 5 more to visit, but it made me think that there should be more to this goal.

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My Europe trip in 2017 gave me a chance to visit countries I have always wanted to see. It was an almost 3-month backpacking but obviously, it wasn’t enough to see entire Europe. Not even an entire country. I didn’t even get to see all the “basic” sights of each key city I have been to. When I came to Europe, I have set my mind to take everything slow and easy, and shy away from the idea that “I should be able to visit all places that I want to see”. I didn’t see Spain or Switzerland and other must-see countries in Europe during that trip. And it was okay. I told myself that missing out some would serve as an inspiration for me to come back.

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Traveling taught me that when we are out there, we must slow down and try not to rush. It may not be true for everyone but, I have come to ascertain that people who do everything quicker also do it worse. I always say, “Take it easy” and it is but proper to really go slowly. Being in a new place usually makes us feel excited and it is no surprise if we find ourselves not wanting to miss out on anything. Hence, the tendency to try everything, see every place like a mental suitcase that’s one size too small. Every traveling person should battle this temptation because one will end up weary and worried and end up missing out the fun and the very essence of being in a certain place.

Ever since my Europe backpacking, I am becoming more of that “slow down and try not to rush” kind of person. I have been trying my best to take time in everything. I have learned to enjoy every bite of food I eat and at times closing my eyes, allowing my palate to relish every taste. Instead of taking a taxi and the metro, I have come to enjoy long walks at a slow pace and be more observant of the things I pass by. This allowed me to have more meaningful interaction with people I encounter along the way. Things like this one made me appreciate the importance of letting every other person finish their side of the conversation while I listen attentively. Perhaps, one of my favorite thing to do in every place I went to was to stop in the middle of the day, (whether I was in a park, a busy street, a food house), closed my eyes for some fleeting moments, and be aware of my breathing. And it felt so good.

Funny, and ironic it is to ponder that as we hurry more, we experience less. Although we may do more things, eat more food, or visit more places, in our haste, we end up seeing less of them. We end up feeling tired missing out on the actual fun, and that surreal sensation being in that place. From now on, remember that when you travel, make the most of what you’re doing by allowing yourself to remain in the present moment as much as possible.

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Of course, I still want to visit my country’s 81 provinces. BUT for now, I don’t want to see more, instead, I want to feel more, and BE more! And I will take my time. Take it, easy everyone.

Ka-Prague Tumibok ang Puso

Prague, Czech Republic’s capital, is a city you shouldn’t miss when you are in Europe. Here are 5 reasons how Prague swept me off my feet in a heartbeat.

1. Prague’s allure is like seeing a Disney movie, only that it is real. With its castles and other medieval-looking buildings to its narrow, cobblestone alleys, Prague will leave you in awe. The Prague Castle specially is a vision to behold.

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2. Prague and it’s view from atop offers a spectacular sight of the city. St. Vitus Cathedral has this view above, and so as the tower at Charles Bridge, where Vltava River showcases its splendor. Or maybe make your way to one of those hilly sites of the city, grab a beer, and watch Prague glow as night envelopes the city.

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3. I love sweet food. And the “trdelník”, a traditional Slovak rolled pastry originating from the Hungarian-speaking region of Transylvania, managed to tickle my sweet tooth. This delicacy is roasted over an open fire and covered in sugar (and at times, nuts). I had a great time observing how this pastry is prepared, more so when your tongue gets to taste it.

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4. Besides the gothic architecture evident around Prague, pastel-colored buildings (that looks like gingerbread houses), and unusual, modern ones do exist too. The contrast make the city more appealing, and pretty. The Dancing House is such a stand-out, you’ll find yourself having a selfie in front of it.

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5. Prague is a cheap city. Or maybe it is the entire Czechia that is affordable. From among the many European nations I have been to, this country stands out for its affordability – from the transportation to entrance fees to food.

Oooops, by the way, I also love their train stations. Each station seems to have a distinct character because of its artistic interior.

Have you been to Prague? What do you love most about this city?

Don’t be a wasted soul. Be JUANderlust. Take it easy everyJUAN.

 

Puraw-a-Darat: Poro Point, ELYU

I am glad that some things never change. (Okay, they may have changed but not very significant). Over the weekend (actually, it is still weekend while I am doing this piece), I went to re-visit a place I have been to 9 years ago.  It is a beach in La Union that remains to be relatively unknown to a lot of people. You see, when you say La Union or ELYU, most travelers, tourists, and even locals would storm their way to San Juan (for surfing and beach bumming), San Gabriel for a Tangadan waterfall getaway, or Luna for an artsy day at the Bahay na Bato Art Gallery.

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La Union is not really the best province to visit if you are after white sand dotted beaches and crystal clear waters for snorkeling. Nonetheless, this small Northern Luzon province have some little secrets. One place I have featured last time was Immuki Island of Balaoan. This time, I am introducing the not so familiar White Beach (or locally called “Puraw-a-Darat which literally means white sand) of Poro Point in San Fernando City, La Union. ♥

So how does one get here?

1. Get off the National Hi-Way in Brgy. Paringao, Bauang, La Union. (This is the most common jump-off point, and the one I have tried on two occasions).
2. Choose any of the many beach resorts lining the area. (eg. Coconut Grove, China Sea Resort, Bali Hai etc.) I have tried China Sea Beach resort way back 2009. And just this weekend, we went to try Coconut Grove Resort. Ask about their boat rental going to White Beach aka Puraw-a-Darat.

A small outrigger boat costs around 600-800php for a 2-hour stay at the beach. We haggled and got it for 700php. If you wish to stay there longer, you inform your boatman, but an additional fee needs to be paid. The boats are really small, with which it can only accommodate a maximum of 5 people plus the boatman. I am not just sure if there are bigger ones since all boats I saw were of the same size.

They also offer snorkel rental for 100php/ piece. (Which I think is pretty pricey). When we were already approaching the island, our boatman offered the snorkel gears again, but at half the price. (So kelangang lang munang magpababebe sa una para makadiscount pa. hahaha).

Going to the cliff and the hidden white sand beach of Poro Point takes about 20-30 mins depending on the waves. I find the experience not for the faint-hearted as the waves can be quite big and nauseating. Once you pass by the famed Thunderbird Resort, and you see a white lighthouse – you are already near.

The beach isn’t really a long stretch but is enough for a few group of people. It features some rock formations, pebble and coralline rock sand, and a clear water for swimming and snorkeling. The best part is a short walk up the cliff (which is generally an off-limits area), so one can only stay the edge part. This elevated part gives a really lovely view of the beach.

So in summary, the jump off to this place is the town of Bauang but the beach is actually part of Poro Point in San Fernando City. So the next time you want to be in the beach, try to check this place, and you might be surprised that you would find yourself having the entire area to yourself.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it easy!