A week or so just before I left for India in 2012, I visited this paradise called El Nido in the northeastern tip of Palawan. There, I met Stepanka (in picture), a Czech woman, and Pedro, her Portuguese boyfriend (they now have a baby!). I did a one-day tour of the islands off the El Nido coast and got my seat in a boat where I am the only Filipino. I still remember the Russian guy (who claimed to be an astronaut but chose to be a trucker as it’s a more financially-rewarding job), and this guy who joined the tour but stayed on the boat (as he already saw most “visible” creatures under the sea in past travels), and this Canadian couple (who didn’t really say much but seemed happy and content). The tour was really worth it, to experience what a day in El Nido can offer. I vowed to return to El Nido one day and finally, tickets are booked! Though it’s not for a few more months, I am already looking forward to once again marvel in the natural beauty and diversity of El Nido and Palawan, above or under the sea.
Four weekends ago, amidst the threat of Super Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit), my friend Silia and I headed to Sitio Liwliwa in Zambales for the SSSF 14 weekend. SSSF, short for Sun Surf Strum Festival, is a yearly event organized by Ukulele Manila together with partners and sponsors.
True to its name, the Sun Surf Strum Festival lived up to the expectations of festival patrons — bright and sunny days, awesome waves and chillax music!
Roughly 4-5 hours from Manila lies Fortune Island, a semi-isolated-used-to-be-super-private island off Nasugbu, Batangas. They say this is as close to Greek’s ancient ruins as could be possible, with the clear blue waters as your backdrop! Who would have thought that the typhoon destruction to an uber exclusive island paradise would result to a steadily becoming popular destination for beach bums and island campers? Known for its picturesque rows of Athens-like pillars and half-destroyed half-gorgeous statues, Fortune Island gives each traveler a nice reward for climbing atop the stairway-lined hill that leads to it’s “viewpoint ruins” and, as my friends saw and experienced, cliffs and caves. To reach Fortune Island, take the San Agustin Bus line at Coastal Mall in Pasay, going to Nasugbu (3-4 hours, PhP 200-220 AC (about $5), PhP 130-150 (about $3.5) non-AC). From there, take a 15-minute tricycle ride to Fortune Resort Dive Center (pre-booking necessary with caretakers Mang Dante 09394895292 or Chris 09087225628 is necessary) which is the jump-off point to Fortune Island. The 45-minute 10 pax-max boat ride costs around PhP 6000/$135, plus PhP 400/$9 island entry fee (overnight price, negotiable; day trip is cheaper). With upper limit calculations, that’s about PhP 1250/$28. Add in food, booze and other expenses, a beach camping (yep, no rooms) weekend at Fortune Island would be about PhP 1700/$38 which, I must say, is quite cheap to “experience” Greece and of course, enjoy the Philippines’ endless summer with the company of family and friends under the sun and stars. [Special thanks to Hazelle for organizing this CouchSurfing trip back in May and providing all these info I’ve already forgotten.]
Who would’ve thought that a mere 2, ok, 2.5 hours public transport commute from Manila, you can already enjoy an awesome waterfalls retreat, more so that of Daranak Falls?! It was a fine Saturday morning when we trooped to Daranak Falls for a fun day trip. Armed with nothing but knowledge from other blogger’s post and personally, some worries from colleague-resident’s caution that Daranak Falls is no longer as clean and beautiful as it was before, we braved the zigzaggy road with nice mountain landscape (Sierra Madre?) scenes of Rizal and were not disappointed with what waited for us. The Daranak Falls was super impressive that day — full of water and full of life, from the people swimming and from the nature that’s inviting. For a moment, I stood in awe at the wonder before our eyes then, took a deep breath as I jumped from the small cliff into it’s cold waters. The swimming pool of Daranak Falls was not super clear that day but still, it kept us treading and playing in its waters for a while — even challenging ourselves to climb further up where the water falls and to take a plunge once more!
While I’m on a 15-minute break (which I’m not sure I can afford given my day’s to do list) after an official errand and enjoying an expensive coffee for the sake of a planner I don’t even use, I figured now’s as good a time as any to write about the Taal Volcano lakeception! Believed to be the smallest volcano in the world, Taal Volcano is one of the most popular natural wonders in the Philippines, with it’s craters being a lake within a lake within a lake. As a traveler, I’ve always had the image of Taal Volcano as in the picture-perfect crater cone you always see in Tagaytay, a popular highland tourist destination 2 hours or less south of Manila. The thing is, the “crater” we see is apparently nothing but a “dead” big mound of land. The actual crater, shown in this photo, is located in the island at the back (if your viewpoint is from Tagaytay) of the big mound. After a 20-25 minute outrigger boat ride (PhP 1500/5pax, PhP 500 for guide which I think you can skip) from the mainland jump off point and a 1.5 hour easy trek (PhP 50 or 100(?)/pax entry; normally it’s an hour only but we walked leisurely, taking photos now and then), we finally reached the crater. I’ve never been on a volcano before so I didn’t really know what to expect other than that of the photos. And nope, I was not disappointed! The Taal Volcano crater was calm and peaceful, the opposite of the exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping feeling you get when you stand near the edge of the “red lava” area (additional PhP 50)! If you have even just a spare day and especially if you’re with friends, you should totally do the Taal Volcano trek — it was really cool and awesome! 🙂