Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Camiguin Countryside Tour

Camiguin is indeed a small island. It is small enough that runners try – and often succeeds - in conquering the 64 kilometer road that goes around the island while being bewitched by volcanoes, mountainous terrain and the spectacle of the ocean. Camiguin immediately captivates and I can only wish that the island’s simplicity remains forever and that somehow I should have discovered it years before.

Camiguin's Contryside - a fusion of blues and greens

Camiguin’s countryside seems to be a fusion of green consisting of lush forests and vegetation while the ocean surrounding it provides a bluish contrast. With its volcanoes, Camiguin has been blessed with waterfalls, hot and cold springs, challenging mountains, white sand beaches and lavish underwater marine life. Its natural wonders are further complemented by historical and religious sites and relics.

Sunken Cemetery
Ardent Hot Spring

While a day is more than enough to travel the whole island, it is not enough to fully enjoy what Camiguin can offer. It practically has everything any traveler would like to see and experience. But as we explore Camiguin, it is like racing against time to be able to see and enjoy what used to be fresh, clean and simple.

Sto. Nino Cold Spring

After breakfast and after appreciating Paras Beach Resort coupled with a few quick rest on the hammock, it is time to head for the day’s “Camiguin Countryside Tour” courtesy of e-Philippines Travel.  Our tour with e-Philippines has been doing great so far. The moment we arrived at the airport in Mambadjao, our driver was already there for the drop-off at Paras and patiently waited for us to do the tour.  

We toured the whole of Camiguin. In other words, we went around the island. Our first sudden stop was a fruitless Lanzones tree along the road. In this kind of road trips it is not unusual for the driver of the van, car or jeepney to take the role of a tourist guide, thus our driver whose name I can no longer recall acted as one.

Our driver’s and tourist guide stories about how volcanoes have formed Camiguin awed us. It was nice to know how volcanoes or mountains have created a very amazing island. While in transit and excited for our next destination, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction on how Mt. Hibok Hibok’s vent and crater shifted to a new location.

As we have expected, Camiguin is generally clean with very few garbage on the streets. The drive around the island is an escape from that horrendous traffic of Metro Manila. We moved around in ease. While the van is moving fast, Camiguin seemed to be in a slow state - but in a good way. Yet facets of urbanism can be seen in some tourist spots such as in the Sto. Nino Cold Springs, Catarman Church Ruins and the Sunken Cemetery where settlers are definitely a vain to the area’s sanctity.

We enjoyed Ardent Hot Spring and Katibawasan Falls – the former being reminiscent of hot springs in Laguna and the latter a great prelude to similar majestic waterfalls of Mindanao. White Island and its beautiful sunset ended our  tour - definitely an experience to remember!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hello Camiguin!

Cebu to Camiguin via Cebu Pacific Aircraft ATR 72-500
Departs Cebu at 6:45am (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and arrives in Camiguin at 7:25am. The return flight will depart Camiguin at 7:45am and arrive in Cebu at 8:25am.
From Cebu, we took a direct flight to Camiguin – a pear shaped island off the coast of Northern Mindanao. A small province both in terms of size and population but definitely big in terms of tourist spots and potential.

On air, aboard Cebu Pacific, several mountains or volcanic formations welcomed our curiosity.  We had a not so good time in Cebu, that’s why we headed to Camiguin with somehow lame intent of chasing volcanoes, hot and cold springs, waterfalls, white sand beaches and marine life. Glad we were not disappointed except for some few pitfalls where we realized that the island, like most islands in the Philippines, is slowly waking up to the result, either good or bad, to the in flock of tourism.

As our plane landed in Mambadjao – Camiguin’s only airport which at this time is exclusive only to Cebu Pacific -  we were greeted with our much sought after simplicity. The morning dew still hangs on the air at 7, an indication that we are at somewhere pristine. We thank the good weather and while the sun is shining, Camiguin’s volcanoes and mountains provided a canopy of sort making us excited to explore the countryside.

Mambadjao Airport is still basking in its rural setting, clean, plain as if we arrived decades ago where all airports in the province is one great escape from the chaos that is Manila and Cebu. We could have gone to to Bohol, but the recent earthquake, made us think twice. While in that very disappointing hotel in Mactan, Cebu called Constabella, we booked a flight online to Camiguin. And here we are - admiring the beauty of the mountains, the greens and everything there is in Camiguin.

With the very few passengers aboard this small but steady propeller plane, we disembarked without any hassle.  I can count the passengers with my fingers and there was no long queue for the baggage. Everyone seemed to have the same idea that is better to travel where everything is hand carried. Travel light and easy.  Really, one good thing about Cebu Pacific is that they provide direct flights to areas not serviced by other airlines. Most of the time, barring air traffic and airport congestions, Cebu Pacific flights depart and arrive on time. In fact, we arrived in Camiguin a few minutes earlier than expected.

While there are few passengers aboard our flight, it is not of course an indication of the number of tourists that visits Camiguin. It was August – a declared lean month for tourism but I can imagine that during the Panaad (Holy Thursday and Friday), San Juan Hibok-Hibokan Festival (June 24) and Lanzones Festival (3rd week of October) the island is teeming with tourists and travelers.

At the airport, there is a small spot usually and commonly seen in other airports – a tourist and information assistance center manned by a very accommodating lady who gave us valuable information about the island and much needed help in taking our photos to document that we have finally arrived in this island “borne out of fire”.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Anatoly Karpov vs. Eugenio Torre (Manila, 1976)

Say the name Eugene Torre in the Philippines and everyone would think about chess.  His name is synonymous with chess and everything there is about chess. He has brought a lot of honors for the country. He is an icon and inspiration to all Filipino chess players.

Eugene Torre is Asia’s First Grandmaster. He obtained that feat at age 22 after winning the Silver Medal in the Chess Olympiad in Nice, France. At this time, Torre is representing the country in a record 22nd appearance in the Olympiad currently being held in Tromso, Norway.

Here is one of his most memorable game where he beat reigning World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov in a sharp Sicilian encounter - 

Friday, August 01, 2014

Bayview Park Hotel (Manila)

If you desire a quick escape from the unpredictable weather, try Bayview Park Hotel along Roxas Boulevard in Manila. Booking a room was a breeze.  I was able to book a room even without a credit card. When I called the reception, the girl with a very accommodating voice simply asked my name and the schedule of my stay at that’s it, I was able to reserve a Superior Room. Perhaps this convenience is due partly to the fact that the rainy season has already set in or the hotel has a very efficient booking procedure.

It has been raining lately and the unpredictable weather gives that feeling you just want to lay down and cuddle up in bed. With the rains - often on and off -  most out of town schedules are either rescheduled or postponed indefinitely.  There seems to be no way to enjoy the outdoors.

In the Philippines with only two seasons – the dry and wet – one has to be creative in enjoying the latter. During the wet season, that usually commence in June but due to climate change often extends beyond August, one of the best thing to do is to have that relaxing “staycation” I crudely define as the art of enjoying a very relaxing vacation in a hotel fully enjoying its amenities at the most affordable rate.

One weekend we stayed for a night at Bayview Park Hotel. This hotel is located in front of the US Embassy and the Museo Pambata.  It is a walking distance to Rizal Park and that newly renovated landmark – the Luneta Hotel. But, one thing great about this hotel is its being in front of Roxas Boulevard. In the morning, the whole stretch of this boulevard transforms into a jogging and a biking path.

I woke up early at around 6 am, got my folding bike and since it was a Sunday, joggers and bikers are all over the whole boulevard. As I biked from the US Embassy to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I really cannot help thinking about the fate of Manila Bay. It used to be a tourist spot. The famous sunset is still there but everything I hear is how to reclaim this bay and convert the area into a commercial and recreational center. Saving Manila Bay seems to have become the least priority.

I find the hotel staff of Bayview Park Hotel to be commendable. We stayed only overnight but they have rendered good service. The reception and almost every employee in this hotel appear to be service oriented. I think however that the hotel’s Wi-Fi, gym and the pool can benefit from some improvement and repairs.

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