Mount Kalugong (Benguet, PH)

“I like the mountains because they make me feel small,’ Jeff says. ‘They help me sort out what’s important in life.” — Mark Obmascik, Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled–and Knuckleheaded–Quest for the Rocky Mountain High

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Having lived in Baguio for over 15 years, I was able to see and experience places near the city not many people knew about. Being a self-confessed mountain-enthusiast, my weekends then were spent either pigging out in various Baguio City restaurant or sauntering my way to several mountains in Benguet. Now, if you are interested in marveling at a 360 degrees vista of the La Trinidad Valley, a chill and quick climb (less than an hour) to Mt. Kalugong Eco-Park is a place you might want to check out. It’s an eco-park, I know, however it is still a mountain top of sorts.

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Going through my write-ups about Benguet (and Cordillera) mountains I have scaled, I am surprised that only now am I making one for Mount Kalugong (considering that this is actually one of the first few mountains I have climbed in the area). Moreover, this mountain that boasts a beautiful rocky promontory in La Trinidad, is one of the well-known peaks in the capital town.

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By the way, the name Kalugong is a local term for “hat” as the rocky peak looks like a hat from afar. The climb actually is pretty easy as the road going to the park itself is established (at least at this point in time, unlike my first trek wayback 2009 when trail was not as good as what is now). The problem one might encounter now is when you start your walk while sun is already up or when it rains in the area (as the pine needles and rocks can be slippery).

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During the heyday, the main points of entry were a road in Barangay Tawang, and or via Sitio Tabangaoen in Barangay Balili (requiring someone to enter the premises of Benguet State University/ BSU). My friends and I would often use the latter as our point of entry and the former as our point of exit. Now a private property, the eco-park has undergone some developments that included a new entrance point which is via Barangay Cruz.

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Today, noticeable improvements were made that include traditional Cordilleran huts/houses, and some picnic tables. The highlight of going to Mount Kalugong is of course, making your way to the peak which is made up of amazing rock formations. Though it can be quite challenging to some (especially to those who have fear of heights), standing atop the sharp, naturally carved rocks is an adventure itself. The view from there is more than picturesque as it gives an outstanding vista of Baguio City and the La Trinidad Valley.

Another must experience is to have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake at the Kape-an, the cafe atop this mountain. Besides the great selection of hot and cold drinks, sumptuous cakes – the view of the entire La Trinidad valley is just impossible to ignore.

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How to Get to Mount Kalugong (the easiest way):

From Baguio City, take a jeep going to La Trinidad. Make sure that the jeepney passes by Barangay Upper Cruz and inform the driver that you are getting down at the Baguio Memorial Services in Barangay Cruz (upper). You will see a post that indicating which road leads to Mount Kalugong. Walk your way up through the road until you arrive at a fenced area, proceed inside and continue walking til the end of the road where you can see a welcome sign that indicates you have reached the eco-park.

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Don’t be a watsed soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’.

Buguias: Northern Philippines’ Vegetable Basket and More

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Most often over-shadowed by other Benguet towns, Buguias primarily serves as stop-over or just that regular town being passed by buses carrying visitors to Bontoc, and Sagada. Recently, its neighbor Atok is slowly gaining the limelight for its flower farm, and other growing number of attractions.

Truth of the matter, one would rarely find travel blogs or write-ups about this quaint town in the Cordillera. But if you truly have an eye for beauty, you would have probably noticed those beautifully planted vegetables along the Halsema Highway when you passed by this town. Besides, Buguias would not be considered the Vegetable Capital of Northern Philippines if not for these seemingly endless vegetable plantation. (By the way, around 70% of vegetable supplies – whether its potatoes, carrots, cabbages and the like, are grown in this municipality and is distributed across Luzon and some other parts of the country).

The vista of these vegetable grounds, plus the stunning serrate of the mountains being kissed by clouds, whenever I pass by this town has since then ignited my curiosity. There should be more to this town besides its vegetables. And so I tried to google information about Buguias, and to my dismay, very little information can be obtained. So the next thing I did was to seek the advise of some friends who are from Buguias or who have visited Buguias. Thankfully, Doc Cecille and Lenny (both of whom were my students before) gave some really interesting recommendations that led me to contact Buguias Tourism officer, Sir Payangdo.

So, with only a weekend to spare for a quick getaway outside Baguio, two of my very good friends (Claro and Robi), joined me in this Buguias trip. After communicating with Sir Payangdo, and a little more patience searching for information over the internet, we went to Buguias to explore a mountain and have an up-close encounter with their vegetable terraces.

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We rode a van bound for Buguias at a petrol station located in Km.5 La Trinidad proper. The earliest trip is at 4 am, and the time travel is around 3 hours with 1 stop-over at Sayangan, Atok. Since we were spending a night in Buguias, we stayed at Alpine G Lodge (which by the way, is the only one we could find when searching for an accommodation in Buguias). It is really a nice lodge with a café/ restaurant that serves good food with generous servings. After settling our things, Sir Payangdo said that the FX-like transportation that will take us to the jump-off site of Mount Nato-o is waiting for us outside our lodge.

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Climbing Mount Nato-o.

Based on what I have googled, Mount Nato-o is a potential natural attraction found in Sebang, a barangay that borders the provinces of Benguet and Ifugao. This is a small mountain located within the vegetable valley as described by the Benguet Province official website.

The travel to Mount Nato-o from Abatan took almost an hour. We were actually lost for a moment because our driver wasn’t sure as to where the exact jump-off is located. After asking some directions from the friendly locals, we managed to find what we were looking for. We were met by a local official that was contacted by Sir Payangdo. We were then given a local guide, who happens to be one of the barangay kagawad too, and off we went to climb Mount Nato-o without much expectations.

Along the trail, we were joined by 4 local kids. Our guide told us that it has been a while since the last time visitors came to Mount Nato-o (the last being students from a university in in Baguio who came not to really trek but to collect some plant samples for research purposes). You see, this mountain, just like most Cordillera mountains, are known for unusual and interesting flora.

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The trail to Mount Nato-o starts off with passing by vegetable terraces that eventually leads to a steep, grassy one. This to me was the challenging part as the trail was almost covered by tall grasses that could cut your skin. We had to make a few stops since the assault was quite tiring. The last leg of the climb is through a mossy forest reminiscent of Mount Pulag’s. Well, you could say that this is my personal favorite. We also passed by an area where a supposed tower will be put up, and a grotto site where a mass was once held. Our climb ended with an “apparent peak” surrounded by pine trees sans a view. I wasn’t really convinced that, that was the peak. Maybe, the mountain isn’t really that explored just yet. (And maybe, that is the reason why they haven’t officially opened this mountain to trekkers and visitors). The descent was pretty much faster and easier as to when we scaled it. In no time, we were already inside our ride going back to our lodge).

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Just when we thought our mountain escapade is all-good when our driver told us to pay more than double for our ride. The tourism officer said we were only to pay Php1000.00 but when we got back to our place, he was asking us to pay Php2, 500.00. He was a bit scary and aggressive. It really was disappointing. We ended up haggling and paid Php2000.00. I instantly messaged Sir Payangdo, the tourism officer, about the incident and told him that things like those would turn away potential visitors. I hope it won’t happen to other people visiting Buguias because it is such a turn off.

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“View”tiful Vegetable Terraces.

Of course the highlight of our Buguias trip is getting up-close and personal with endless vegetable fields. Almost every barangay we passed by have these man-made wonders. True enough, these terraces are Buguias ultimate gem. During our visit, carrots and cabbage were the main vegetables planted and being harvested. Walking along the fields is such a delightful experience – the air was unsullied and fresh, and the Buguias weather is cool enough to make one feel relaxed.

There are other potential attractions in this town. They are not yet fully opened to visitors and hopefully, I would be able to come back and visit again. Some of those that were mentioned by a local I have talked to are: several Burial Caves (with Apo Anno Cave as the most significant), a hotspring in the poblacion, other mountains like Mount Kitongan and Mount Apanderang; a waterfalls called Sabeng Anito; Tabeyo lake, and more vegetable terraces.

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

 

 

 

Let’s Talk about ATOK

For most people traveling this side of the Cordillera region, Atok, a town in the province of Benguet, has become the usual “stop-over” for buses, and other vehicles that are plying the Halsema Highway system. But lately, this chilly municipality is slowly gaining local and foreign tourists’ attention. Looking into Benguet’s map, Atok is centrally located, and it looks like a heart, hence the moniker – “The Heart of the Highlands.”

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My first encounter with Atok was in 2008 when my friends and I went to Sagada for the first time. The 1st stop-over of our 6-hour bus ride to Sagada is actually in Sayangan, Atok. A friend of mine even said that we should not miss the “siopao” at this stop as it is really good. That was the highlight of my first encounter with Atok, buying and eating a siopao.

Well, kidding aside, the town has been famous for two other reasons. One, it is where the Philippine Pali is located. This is the “Highest Point of the Philippine Highway System,” which is a part of Halsema Highway. And second, Atok is home to the 3rd highest mountain in Luzon, Mt. Timbak or Mt Singakalsa. I was fortunate to have scaled this mountain on two different occasions (first in 2009, and then in 2011).

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After seven long years, I got the chance to re-visit Atok together with my Couchsurfing guest, Justin. So one weekend, we decided to explore Atok a little more. Here are the other places one could visit while in the heart of Benguet. Read along.

Northern Blossoms Flower (and Vegetable) Farm

This two-hectare farm has been supplying some of Metro Manila’s top society gatherings and hotel chains with their flowers. The farm boasts a wide variety of beautiful flowers and other plants like a cabbage rose, larkspur, snap dragon, alstroemeria, amaranthus, delphinium, eucalyptus leaves and many others. They are such a sight to behold! I am pretty confident that anyone visiting the farm will be smitten as to how lovely these flowers are.

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Going to Northern Blossoms is pretty easy. When one arrives in Sayangan, locate the municipal hall so that it can serve as your point of reference. From the town hall, walk your way down, and on the left side of the road, you will see signages indicating where the flower farm is. It is a short road that goes down further.

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The owners Mr. and Mrs. Ganayan, are two humble and hospitable individuals who have been in the flower business for quite some time now. They have decided to open their farm to both local and foreign guests. They have a 2-unit lodging cottage/ homestay should visitors decide to stay longer in Atok. My friend Justin and I stayed over-night since we wanted to witness the sunrise at the farm.

For further inquiry, you may contact Mam Lany at +639081513368. Entrance fee at Northern Blossoms is now Php250.00 per person while an overnight stay is at Php350.00 per person(subject to cange without prior notice). I highly appreciate that after a tour around the farm (with a very knowledgeable guide), a visitor is treated to a hot coffee and bread. Perfect for the frigid weather in Atok. (Mind you, during our stay, the weather went as low as 4 degrees Celsius, and the range of temperature was from 5 to 9 degrees Celsius the following day). So it is a must to bring with you some warm clothes.

NOTE: The flower farm is close every Monday for maintenance.

The Benguet – Kochi Sisterhood Park

I am pretty sure a lot of us have been dreaming of seeing a sakura flower. I saw some when I went to Taiwan last year, and most people I know books a flight either to Japan or Korea to see these pretty flowers. Well, Benguet will soon have its sakura park, and it is located in Atok.

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In 2016, about 40 Japanese Sakura trees were planted at an area in Paoay, Atok, Benguet. Two varieties of these famed flowering plants were planted: these are the Sindaya (white flowers) and Yakiwari (pink flowers) Sakura varieties. I was happy to see that during our visit, the Yakiwari Sakura trees already have flowers.

The park is notably cold and seems to me a perfect place for the growing sakura. I could already imagine how lovely it would be when the time comes that all the cherry blossoms would be blossoming. The area is also surrounded by vegetable farms and mossy forest.

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Mount Cotnon and Bosleng Grotto

Around 30-45 minutes’ walk from the Sakura park, one could visit Mount Cotnon, a mountain with rocks atop and a stunning view of some vegetable terraces. A few turns from this mountain is a man-made attraction called Bosleng Grotto. It is a cave underneath big rocks with an icon of the “Lady of Lourdes.” Just like Northern Blossoms and the Sakura Park, these areas have a cold climate. Locals say that the cavern has served as a pilgrimage site for them and other visitors.

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Philippine Pali

Located along the Halsema Highway, this is considered the highest point in the country under the Philippine highway system. It has an elevation of 7,400 ft above sea level. The name Philippine Pali was coined because of its similarity with that of Pali, Hawaii. It has a view deck, and some local stores are found in the area. Aside from the greenery brought about by vegetable gardens, a commanding view of Mount Timbak also serves as a picturesque background.

Osocan Tunnel

A potential man-made attraction added to the Atok Tour Packages, Osocan Tunnel is a Spanish Trail. It was constructed as a horse trail during the Spanish Period that exists up to this time. It features three man-made tunnels carved through colossal rock formation about 10 meters long each. This though is something I have yet to see.

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Mount Timbak

As I have mentioned earlier, I have already scaled this mountain twice. During the 1st time, my friends and I camped out on top of this mountain after visiting the mummies of Kabayan. During my 2011 visit, we did a day hike. It is a pretty easy climb. My recent visit though was a surprise. One can already reach the mountain by not spending much time trekking. As a mountain enthusiast, I was somehow disappointed that the registration and guide fees are priced at Php 50.00 each (so one person will have to pay Php100.00). Moreso, the climb to the peak now has become way too short and easy.

One can avail of tour packages being offered by the Atok Tourism. They have combined these attractions into various packages that include guide and transportation fees. You may contact the following number for inquiry: 09301892757 or 09465147799.

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How to Reach Atok from Baguio:

Ride a bus or van that passes by the municipality of Atok in Halsema Highway. These include public transport going to Sagada, Bontoc, Mankayan, and Abatan/ Buguias. You can find these at the Dangwa terminal behind Center Mall in Magsaysay Avenue. There are also buses at the Slaughterhouse in Magsaysay Avenue. Earliest bus is a Sagada-bound Lizardo bus which leaves at 3am.

Inform your driver to drop you off at Marosan’s Restaurant in Atok or in front of Atok’s municipal hall. The fare for the bus is Php 73.00 while van fare is at Php100.00. The travel time is 1.5 to 2.5 hours. There are on-going road works that could slow down the trip.

Also, there are vans (which leaves as early as 5am) in La Trinidad and Baguio (back of Center mall) that passes by the town of Atok, so that is another option for travellers.

Going back to Baguio, you either take a van or bus. These public vehicles only stop by Atok so the availability of seats has no guarantee. Time of transportation availability is also not fix.

If and when you miss the early morning bus (especially if you are after the sunrise at the flower farm) one can hire a taxi in Baguio City. Now depending on your haggling skills and your fate to meet a really nice taxi driver, then you can go for this option. During my second Atok visit, we didnt get to ride the 3am bus because apparently, its peak season and bus tickets should’ve been purchased on reservation. Since we didnt want to spoil our trip, we opted to try our luck and talk to a taxi driver. We met Kuya Hans who is probably one of the nicest driver I have met. He agreed with our proposed budget for transpo and he took us to Atok. He also waited for us and brought us back to Baguio. We got his number and now I am sharing it in case you want to get him and his taxi going to Atok. Here’s his number 0912 878 5098, Hans Deleña.

Also, visitors are encouraged to register at the Paoay Barangay Hall located near the municipal hall.

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

A Walk Through Singapore’s Southern Ridges Trail

Whenever I sense an overflow of negative emotions, I have always thought that it can be useful to “walk it off.” To me, walking is a cheapo, moderate peril and easy form of exercise. It is best combined with nature – verdant sights and scent of unsullied air – can be a very prevailing, under-utilized stress buster.

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On several occasions that I was in Singapore for work, I maximized my stay there by exploring various sites during weekends. One time, feeling the toll stress has brought against me, a few colleagues and I went to “walk off” along with The Southern Ridges.

The Southern Ridges is a 9-kilometre trail that connects various parks along the southern ridge of Singapore (hence the collective name). The trails boast off its greenery and connecting bridges. It is indeed a perfect place to go on a hike where one can enjoy the serenity of the great outdoors, and a majestic, panoramic view of Singapore City.

The Southern Ridges connect the following parks: Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve – all of which can delight any walking, photography, and nature enthusiasts.

Mount Faber Park is one of the oldest parks in Singapore and probably one of the most popular tourist destination because of the cable car ride. The park is connected to Telok Blangah Hill Park by Henderson Waves Bridge. The park houses the Marina Deck, Palm Plaza, Jewel Box, and Faber Point.

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Telok Blangah Hill Park is a 34-hectare park which is said to be a favorite site for wedding couples. With its semi-circular terrace garden located at the top, no wonder it is a favourite for photo shoots and prenuptial events.

The Henderson Waves is my favourite spot. This 899-foot long pedestrian, wooden bridge suspended at 118 feet above Henderson Road, is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. It connects Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park. It is called such because the bridge has a waveform made up of seven undulating curved steel ribs that alternately rise over and under its deck. The bridge also has shelters with seats within.

Kent Ridge Park is a 47-hectare public park between the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Science Park. Due to its undisturbed habitat and abundant plant life. So if you are a bird-watching aficionado and a lover of plants, then a visit to this park might just amuse you.

There are several trails at the Southern Ridges. There are Marang Trail, Faber Trail, Hilltop Walk, Forest Walk, Floral Walk, and Canopy Walk Trails. Each of which offers a relaxing walk through foliage.

The Southern Ridges of Singapore is a “fresh air and greenery” personified. It’s probably all that and more. There is something about its great outdoors that gives walking, running a little kick. So when you find yourself in the Lion City wanting to commune with nature, and you want to feel more alive, energetic and optimistic – walk your way to the Southern Ridges.

Credits and Big thanks to a good friend and workmate, Allan (@kislap96) for some of the photographs used in this write-up.

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

Nagcarlan Fun (Laguna, PH)

Just keep taking chances and having fun. — Garth Brooks

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A few days before Valentine’s Day this 2017, instead of sulking over the fact that I have no V-Day date (for the 7th consecutive year), I opted to join a group of nature-enthusiasts for a weekend getaway in Laguna. I have actually been joining random groups of people since the 1st week of January for some weekend climbs and more.  

So here are the things we did in Nagcarlan to have fun:

TREK MOUNT MABILOG:

Mount Mabilog
Elevation: 428 MASL
Difficulty: 2/9
Location: San Pablo & Nagcarlan, Laguna
Jump Off Point: Brgy. Sulsuguin, Nagcarlan
Features: Grassland, Banana, Coconut & Corn Fields.

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There are three established trails to Mount Mabilog. The western trail via Brgy. Sta. Catalina, the southern trail accessed via Brgy. Sto Angel (both in San Pablo town); and the eastern trail from Sitio Yambo, Brgy. Sulsuguin in town of Nagcarlan. Our group opted to take this trail since we wanted to spend time at Yambo Lake.

About the hike: The ascent is pretty easy and relaxed. One gets to pass by lots of coconuts, banana plants and even cassava plants. Since it rained the previous day, the trail was a bit muddy but manageable.

As one goes further up, the canopy of various trees culminates in a steep ascent that goes to a summit that serves as a campsite and a viewing area at the same time. From the peak, a stunning view of the 7 Lakes of San Pablo (with Yambo Lake as the most visible), and the imposing Mounts Makiling, Banahaw, Cristobal are seen. Other mountains like  Malipunyo Range, Mount Kalisungan, and Mount Atimla can also be viewed. Mount Mabilog is a desirable day-hike for newbies and can be very much visited together with other nearby attractions like the lakes and some waterfalls.


BALSA CRUISE at YAMBO LAKE:

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Yambo Lake, an oligotropic lake (one that is characterized by a low accumulation of dissolved nutrient salts, supporting but a sparse growth of algae and other organisms, and having a high oxygen content owing to the low organic content – in a more appreciated term, you can go and swim all you want, haha) is the twin of a  more popular lake called Pandin Lake. They are separated by a narrow strip of land, that may require a good 10-15 minutes. The place is suitable for swimming, “balsa” cruising, and picnicking. The ride may cost Php 180.00/ person, and if one opts to go food, it will cost one person Php 360.00.


SWIM at BUNGA TWIN FALLS:

Bunga Falls, 15-meters twin waterfalls located at Brgy. Bunga in Nagcarlan Laguna is a good place to cool down after a climb at Mount Mabilog or if one wants more swimming after some time at Yambo Lake. FYI: According to locals, it is called “Bunga” as it is named after a palm tree called betel nut.

Bunga Falls Information:
Entrance Fee: Php5.00/person
Cottage Rentals: starts at Php200.00
Overnight Accommodation (cottage rent): Php400.00
Life Vest Rental: Php70.00
Activities: swimming, camping, water tubing
Parking Fee: Php20.00 (vehicles), Php15.00 (motorcycles)

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VISIT the UNDERGROUND CEMETERY:

A unique attraction in the town (since it seems to be one of its kind in the Philippines) is the Underground Cemetery. This is a burial site located beneath a church that used to serves as a secret meeting place of Filipino revolutionaries or Katipuneros during the late 1800s. There are no fees collected. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Taking pictures is allowed, however, the use of flash is strictly prohibited. One may find the place eerie but I think that adds up charm to the place.

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This fun-filled weekend getaway was made possible by a group of nature and “voluntourism” advocates spearheaded by Sir Ralph of We VolunTours. I have joined his group already on several occasions and I must say that there’s has to be one of the most organized, enjoyable and adventure-packed. Thank you to all new friends I have met. Special shout out to Baguio peeps I have come to know in this trip.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

 

Mount Marami (Cavite)

I love being in the mountains and climbing.  For me, being in the mountains draws in a sense of liberty and relaxation. It just feels at home.

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Mount Marami, or Mataas na Gulod Boulders, is a dormant volcano in the province of Cavite, Philippines. It rises to an elevation of 405 m (1,329 ft) above mean sea level. The rock pillars, which are the main features of this hiking destination, was once called as Nagbuo by the locals. Later on, the mountain was called Marami (English for many or plenty) pertaining to the multiple rock-strewn peaks.

Information from Pinoy Mountaineer:
Jump-off points: Sitio Bangkaan, Brgy. Talipusngo, Maragondon, Cavite or Brgy.Ramirez, Magallanes, Cavite
LLA: 405 MASL (1,328 feet)
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 2-3 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-3
Features: Rocky outcrops, scenic views of Cavite including bird’s eye view of Pico de Loro or Mount Palay-Palay, Tarak Ridge of Bataan o a clear day, and Mount Batulao and Mount Talamitan of Batangas.

The trail going to the summit of Mount Marami is not that technical. However, it is not that easy either because of the long trail ahead. The trek can take around 3 to 6 hours from the jump-off to the summit (depending on the pacing and the many stop-and-rest one would do along the way).

PHP500.00 Guide fee (Good for 5 person)
PHP20.00 Registration fee

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

Mount Binikayan (Rizal)

It all started with climbing a mountain that eventually led to another making me unstoppable. I owe my knack for adventure from scaling mountains. And I am so glad that I am finally back doing it since I haven’t been active for the last 2 years (2015 and 2016).

My trilogy climb during the 1st week of 2017 reminded me of how much I have missed (and why I will always be fascinated by) climbing mountains. It is the counterparts between climbing and living that enthralls me. It is such a great opportunity to unravel and to appreciate my strengths and limits. A recent trek to one of Rizal’s climbing destinations proved to be an amazing way of assessing these metiers and borders of mine.

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My frustration of not being able to join the invitation of a good friend (KOTheExplorer) to saunter Mount Binikayan (also Mount Binicayan) — a mountain famous for its incredible rock formations and a sea of clouds, ultimately prompted me to go see it (even if it meant doing it on my own). Luckily, two university-mates joined me as we join a group I contacted on Facebook.

So this was our actual itinerary for our Mount Binikayan

03:30 AM – Meet up at Jollibee, Cubao (near Araneta Gateway)
04:00 AM – Expected time of departure via van
04:45 AM – Expected time of arrival at registration site in Brgy San Rafael, Wawa, Rodriguez, Rizal
05:30 AM – Start of trek (which I find pretty late as we may no longer see the sunrise and the sea of clouds – which what eventually happened)

The climb was pretty easy at first until we reach the parts where one has to scramble over several rocks. I find these parts of the trail to be really nice though. The adrenaline rush is just heart-thumping. And of course, as we get higher, the view becomes more stunning.

06:10 AM – we reached the first viewpoint where there are sharp rock-strewn crests of Mt Binikayan. At this point, I was still hoping I would see that famed sea of clouds my IG friends saw a week earlier. I was quite disheartened when only a “stream” of it came floating to my eyes, and when I have realized it was a tad cloudy that Mr. Sun won’t show up. As we continued the trek, we had to pass through more rock formations (please be careful as they are really sharp and could literally puncture your clothes and integument). We had a lot of stops because we don’t want to miss the chance to capture every moment and every breath-taking scenery.

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We were almost near the summit when the sun started to peep through the clouds. We had more photos taken at the ridges where we had to do our own version of some death-defying poses. Do not do these if you are faint-hearted. After exercising much of our zygomaticus muscle through that seemingly endless photo-ops, we made our way to the main summit of Binikayan.

07:00 AM – Reached the Mt. Binikayan Summit. Because of the number of people who went on to climb that day, it wasn’t surprising that there was actually a queue to the summit. Our group decided not to wait for our turn to go up the summit. My friends and I, together with 4 new found friends, decided to descend earlier so we can spend some time at the Wawa Gorge. Good thing our cool guide permitted us.

07:30 AM – Start of descending. Going down was surprisingly more challenging with some of my companions getting down and (quite) dirty. I, on the other hand, enjoyed every bit of it. There were moments where I caught myself smiling. It has dawned on me that I really missed doing this activity. It brought some previous climbing memories. And that I became more eager to climb more mountains whenever I can during the weekends. As we each approach the jump off area, a lot of thoughts were racing – happy and insight-filled. I was so excited to put them into words, ironically, it is only now that I got the chance to finally share them.

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8:15 AM – Reached the jump-off, logged out, and had breakfast.
08:45 AM – Went for a quick visit to Wawa Dam and took several photos.
10:00 AM – Expected time of departure from Wawa. Took a tricycle to Montalban center.
10:45 AM – Expected time of departure from Montalban center via van to Cubao
11:45 AM – Expected time of arrival in Cubao Araneta Center

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It was a half-day trip that was filled with moments and realizations. The sense of disappointment of not having seen the sea of clouds turned into a satisfying feeling one only gets to experience when climbing mountains. Climbing is not really about the Instagram-worthy posts one would achieve atop. It’s about standing on the peak feeling empowered and unparalleled imparting a sense of achievement. Climbing is about people, about friendships, and sharing various moments. Climbing teaches us to enjoy the small luxuries in life. This is why I climb and why I love it. So, go climb a mountain and you, yourself will finally understand why the mountains are calling.

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By the way, you can also check out my friend Olivier’s awesome write up about this mountain HERE.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

Lalayag/Nalayag Monolith (Batangas)

It was yet another stressful week at work… Feeling the need for a weekly de-stressing activity, I found myself looking for a weekend event I could join in. There were a handful of choices actually – from beach getaways to out-of-town day tours to mountain climbing sprees. I just came from a weekend climb last time and I felt it wasn’t enough and so I opted to join another climb with random people.

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A newly opened mountain along the coast of Lobo, Batangas called Lalayag Monolith or Nalayag Peak — is making a buzz and is slowly luring a number of hiking enthusiasts. Since I like off-beaten destinations, I chose to do this climb with an Instagram friend. A day before the event, I tried to look for some articles about Lalayag but I didn’t find any except for a Facebook event page and a Youtube video. It wasn’t surprising since it just opened its doors to outdoor lovers late last year.

So I promised myself to make a write-up about it after yesterday’s climb. Here it goes. I hope this would help my friends who have been asking about this mountain since I posted a photo on my Instagram.

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Lalayag (or Nalayag) Monolith is actually a rock formation with three peaks. It is part of a mountain in Lobo town of Batangas called Mount Masalukot. (FYI: Lalayag came from the Filipino word “layag” meaning sail, like that of a boat because it looks like one; while Masalukot comes from the local term “salakot” a kind of hat).

This was our itinerary:
01:00 am – meet-up at Kia Theater in Cubao (near Gateway) – pretty early, I know…
02:00 am – expected time of departure to Lobo, Batangas
04:30 am – expected time of arrival in Lobo Municipality
* Here, one has to register at the Police Station and have a group photo (yes, they require visitors to have a group photo); in case you need to buy anything,  there is a 711 store near the plaza. Then off we go to Sitio Balibago (which is the jump off of the climb).

05:30 am – expected time of arrival at Sitio Balibago (where one registers again) and guides are obtained. There are several stores in here so you can actually buy some trail food.
06:00 am – Start of Trek (There is a water source along the way, ask the guide about it). It’s pretty easy if you ask me, and the only thing that could possibly make the walk a bit challenging is when the sun is already up as this part of the trek is quite exposed (so better start your climb early).

07:00 am – One reaches a part of the trail called “Bukuhan” (as the area abounds with coconut). This signals the start of the more challenging part of the trail as there is an obvious assault. Ropes are strategically placed in most segments of the ascent towards the rock formations. Be careful as in some parts, the soil is a bit loose.


08:00 am – Arrival at the base of the monolith. As I have mentioned earlier, there are three peaks of varying height.

*The monolith may be reminiscent of Pico de Loro’s monolith (although I believe Pico’s have a larger space atop). The highest of these 3 rock peaks can accommodate approximately 10 people or less, the 2nd one with 2 to 3 persons, while the smallest peak can only accommodate 1. In order to reach the 1st peak, one has to ascend via series of stairs made of wood and ropes. It could be really, really scary if you aren’t used to this kind of adventure. The 2nd peak also requires a bit rappelling and a lot of courage. The way to the top is made a bit scarier by the strong wind. So be extra, extra, extra cautious.

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Once you reach the top, all that weary, frightening feeling will subside (or maybe not) as you will be greeted by a super awesome 360 degrees view. Verdant mountains at one side, and the azure Batangas beachscape on another side. You look up and you see how infinite the azure sky could be, and if you look down (now don’t over-do that), you’ll see how high you are and you might get giddy. Hahaha. As a person who likes the adrenaline feeling high places bring about, it was an amazing ephemeral experience. I would have loved to do my signature jump shot BUT that is a no-no for one’s safety.

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Since the peaks can only accommodate a specific number of people, you can have merienda/ lunch at the monolith’s base while waiting fpr your group’s turn . There is actually a good spot also for taking photos with the view of the sea as your backdrop aside from the main peaks.

After conquering Lalayag’s Peak, one has the option of traversing to Mount Masalukot’s Peak. But since our group’s plan was to have a side trip at the Malabrigo Lighthouse and a beach resort, we didn’t do this. Moreover, the photo-ops and the queue to the peak took a bit of our time since we were the 3rd group to arrive at the monolith area. We spent roughly 3 to 4 hours here.

12: 00 noon Lunch time/ Siesta
01:00 pm – start of descent (again be extra careful as the way going down can be as challenging as the way up. It can be knee-trembling if you haven’t climbed for quite some time. Be mindful also of the several beehives along the way making sure not to disturb them or else, not even cetirizine may save you. Harhar.


02:30 pm – expected time of arrival at the jump-off (Sitio Balibago). Several households offer food for lunch, merienda and you can even take a bath or do your wash up.
04:00 – Side trip to Malabrigo Beach & Lighthouse for a short dip or even sunset viewing. (Sunset at this side of Batangas is really stunning!
06:00 – Expected time of departure from Lobo town proper
08:00 – had dinner along the way (we had ours in Calamba)
09:30 – Home sweet home!

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Expenses:
Since I joined an organized trip, the cost of which is Php 1, 000.00 that included transportation (we rode a van group for 16 people), environmental fee, guide fee, entrance to resort and our dinner. Actually, it isn’t bad at all. (At least I get to skip the hassle of commuting and hopping from one transportation vehicle to another). Big thanks to Sir Jefrey Hila (09951456488) for accommodating me and my friend Dee to join your group. If you want him to organize a Lalayag trip for you and your friends, just send him a message (or you can check him out on his Facebook HERE.

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To those who would want to do a “do-it-yourself” trip, you can follow our sample itinerary and these instructions. So if you will commute, and would come from the Greater Manila Area, make your way to Buendia-Taft in Manila. Take a Batangas Pier-bound bus then ask the conductor to drop you off at the Grand Terminal. From the Terminal, hop into a jeepney that plies Batangas City – Balagtas Route. Inform the driver to drop you off the Lobo Terminal. Finally, at Lobo Jeepney Terminal, ride a jeep bound for Lobo. Once in Lobo proper, make your way to the police station for registration. You have to contact their tourism office to arrange transportation going to Sitio Balibago (the jump-off site).

You may contact the following personnel for your guidance.
Mr. Rolly Magtibay or his wife, Marissa Magtibay (responsible for guide designation) – 0919-975-6465
Sorayan “Ayan” de Mesa (for transportation arrangement) – 0995-496-0103

Fees:
Environmental Fee – Php20.00
Barangay Fee – Php20.00 (paid at Sitio Balibago)
Guide Fee – Php550.00/ 5 pax

It was a great day to commune with nature again. It was an experience made even better by meeting new people with whom you get to share your stories and passion. Special shout out to my friend Dee for coming with me. So don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

Campuestohan (Negros, Philippines)

Nestled between two of the most advanced cities in the province of Negros Occidental – Bacolod City and Talisay City, Campuestohan Highland Resort is a massive, 5-hectare property overlooking Mount Makawili. In recent years, this theme park has attracted locals, and other visitors further catapulting the island region as a tourist hub.

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The highland resort, that gets chilly in the afternoon and at nighttime, have the following amenities/ facilities: swimming pools, a restaurant pavilion, a coffee shop and ice cream parlor, children’s playground, gigantic statues (from King Kong to various Marvel superheroes), spa service, photo services and a function hall.

If one intends to do a day trip, the following should be noted: An entrance fee of Php150.00 per person although children 2 years old and below are exempted from paying the fee and from the headcount.  If a child is over 2 years, he/ she is subject to paying the entrance fee at the same rate as adults.

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Various cottages are available. From a Big Cottage (Good for 20 persons – P1,000.00) while a Small Cottage (Good for 12-15 persons – P600.00). If you are a group of 10 and below, an Umbrella Hut can be rented for only P500.00.

Overnight stay would be great as the resort have several unique and picturesque accommodations to choose from. These ranges from a Log Cabin (P3,000.00 to P5,000.00), Bonita Huts that look like hobbit homes (P2500.00), Indian Teepee Hut Family Room (P5,000.00), and King Kong Room (P6,000.00). These are provided with en-suite bathrooms, while some of them have air-conditioning. Also, breakfast and park entry are complimentary.

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The most exciting features of this theme park are its various rides that include the following:

RATE of VARIOUS RIDES

Zipline P200.00/person Hamster Wheel P 100.00/person
Rope Course P200.00/person Grand Carousel P 30.00/person
Sky Bicycle P 100.00/person (one-way) Mini Train P 30.00/person
Horseback Riding (15 minutes) P150.00/person Wave Pool

I have heard that more exciting rides will be opened soon.


So, what are you waiting for? Bring your family, and or barkada or even workmates in this mountainous playground. Take note that reservations must be made at least 3 days ahead if resort visit will fall on a weekend and at least 1 day before if coming on a weekday.
Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy ebri”juan”…

Stobosa Murals (Benguet, PH)

There are three specific places I would like to see in Brazil one day. One, the gigantic Christ, The Redeemer statue; two, to trek the Amazon, and three, to have a photo shoot at its famed favela — slum in Brazil within the urban areas turned into a giant mural.

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I am a sucker for anything artsy that is why I included the favela. While that dream of going to Brazil seem to be a far-fetch reality as of this moment, I am more than glad to learn that La Trinidad – Benguet’s capital and the closest municipality to Baguio, is slowly turning several communities into one humongous mural.

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Passing by Benguet’s capital would mean enduring the traffic especially along Kilometer 3. I used to grudge about it since you’ll get stuck without any form of entertainment (unless you are preoccupied with your phone). Now, with the multi-hued Stonehill community just above the Balili River turned into a favela-like masterpiece, getting stuck in traffic becomes more pleasing, at least to the eyesight.

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The Stonehill community is comprised of 3 sitios. These are Sitios Stonehill, Botiwtiw and Sadjao (all part of Brgy. Balili). This mural project has been called Stobosa, named after the three sitios. According to an article, I have read, there are about 180 houses in this area. With the supervision of Baguio City’s Tam-awan Art Village artists and the sponsorship from a paint company – the once dull set of houses sitting along the mountains of La Trinidad have become more delightful as they are converted into a humongous painting.
Today, La Trinidad has a new moniker because of this. Besides being known as the vegetable capital and strawberry capital of the Philippines, the town is being promoted as the “Valley of Colors.” It is worthy to mention that the residents of these sitios have actively involved themselves in this project. The project is almost into its completion. Tourists who flock Baguio, have also considered checking out the mountain of houses in various colors.

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I went to see it myself one sunny day. It could be easily spotted when you are on your way to La Trinidad town proper. While I was thrilled to see it, there are also some other things that caught my attention. I like the idea of turning the houses into this big mural – yes I do. What I didn’t like are the many electrical wires hanging. I don’t know if there is a solution to this. More so, I hate that a giant tarpaulin of the paint company that donated the paint used in this project is more distinguishable than the houses themselves. It is such an eyesore! Well, they could promote their product in a way that it wouldn’t take away the beauty of the place. Lastly, I have noticed some garbages along the road fronting Stobosa (actually a turn-off). I hope the locals and tourists alike, would do their fair share of keeping the place clean.

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Nonetheless, the project is a good start and such a good welcome treat when one is making his/her way to the strawberry farm, or would go to Atok and Sagada. Maybe, soon, they would also consider painting the opposite side so that the area will be bursting with so many colors.

Good job to the REV-BLOOM campaign of Department of Tourism (DOT) Cordillera which aims to promote a more sustainable tourism in my beloved CAR!
¬Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy ebri”juan”.