Saturday, April 30, 2011

Summer's sunniest

Summer is the time when days are hotter than the ordinary days. This is the perfect time that we engaged in physical activities like playing new sports or trying new hobbies that will let our time pass by. But undoubtedly, summer is the perfect time to travel.  A good time to see or  discover new places that will enrich our experience and let us have a stress-free environment  that all we can do is relax, relax and relax. Look for that ideal summer destination that awaits you this summer. It could be just the simple province of your relatives or a beautiful beach that you often see in the magazines. Have yourself enjoy those places this summer... After a tiring trip in Tagaytay for a first taste of Summer 2010, we made a stop to rest for a while in a mall. And while waiting for our travel companions, I captured this noticeable bright sunlight of summer sun gleaming from a mango tree that reminds me that its high time for summer!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cebu Accomodation: Sampaguita Suites Plaza Garcia

One of the most affordable place to stay in Cebu is Sampaguita Suites Plaza Garcia.  It is conveniently located in the city capitol grounds and a few steps away from Cebu's famous and historical landmarks like Basilica de Sto. Nino and Magellan's Cross and the chapel that houses it, along Magallanes Street, fronting the MCWD office.  A few blocks away, you'll find another historical site of Fort . What I also do like about Sampaguita Suites aside from the affordable accommodation rates, is that they have free Wi-Fi internet service that lets you go online and in touch with your family and friends through internet anytime you want. Plus one of their amenities is Glam Nails, a hand and foot spa that offers massage services, reflexology, body scrub, praffin treatment, waxing,  nail art, foot and hand spa, manicure and pedicure. My travel mates tried their room service body massage during our visit.

Sampaguita Suites Plaza Garcia is conveniently located in downtown Cebu.
A view of Cebu from the window.
During our visit in Cebu we availed their "Barkada Room" where 4 people can be accommodated for only P1,298 per room per night. Isn't it affordable for friends traveling on a budget but still gets quality hotel services? The furnishings of the hotels are new and well-maintained.  Staffs are friendly and accommodating too even during we had to be charge for not checking out on-time.  Moreover, The room that we stayed also a had a good view of the Cebu City Hall building overlooking with the famed Cebu's landmark - the chapel that houses Magellan's Cross.  Their location is very convenient for tourists who want to visit the must-see landmarks in Cebu as it is just near the hotel.  Access to public vehicles is also easy with the hotel's location as it is just near the main roads where various public vehicles can be taken by visitors.

Reception Area.
Sample rooms from Sampaguita Suites website.
With 39 rooms and a 24-hour coffee shop and restaurant and service elevator, Sampaguita Suites – Plaza Garcia has a meeting room that can accommodate 10-12 persons and a rooftop al fresco that can easily seat up to a 100 guests. Sampaguita Suites-Plaza Garcia also offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, ferry and fast craft terminals. But this is only in a certain limited time. You can call their office for the schedule of the free shuttle service.

For more information and reservation, visit Sampaguita Suites-Plaza Garcia website.
Sampaguita Suites - Plaza Garcia, Plaza Garcia Building, Magallanes St., Cebu City (near Sto. Nino Basilica and Magellan’s Cross)
Telephone nos (032) 505-3978 and 505-3979

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bohol's Island Escapades

The beauty of Bohol is a natural beauty like no other. One of the best ways to explore this natural beauty is to discover its marine world and island seascapes that will surely let you utter the words - awesome, stunning and wow! The natural beauty of Bohol does not end only in Tarsier encounter or seeing its famed Chocolate Hills in the land but continues to the underwater bloom of its marine life and its pristine island beaches surrounding it.  These authentic natural wonders can only be found in exploring the natural beauty of Panglao Island and its nearby isles - Balicasag, Virgin, and Pamalican Islands.
Seaward to Bohol's islands.
Panglao Island is known for its diving locations and tourist resorts. At the pristine Alona Beach, tours can be organised to world famous diving sites. The dive sites that can be found on the northwest tip of the Panglao Island are Doljo Beach, Napaling and Puntod. These sites are deep and the currents are strong. Panglao island is the site of Habitat for Humanity's "Tabalong Habitat Village". The village, still under construction, has capacity for 500 houses on land donated by local merchant Alturas. So far, around 200 houses had been built and inhabited.(Source) Politically, it is divided into two municipalities: Dauis and Panglao, part of Bohol Province. Panglao is located southwest of the island of Bohol and east of Cebu. Currently Panglao is one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines, famous for its beautiful dive spots and its coral reef, as well as many several islet ideal for beach bathing like the islets of Gak-ang and Pontod.(Source)

Good morning Bohol!!!
Island hopping starts 6 in the morning
A fresh start to explore na marine world and islands of Bohol is through island hopping and dolphin and whale watching in the waters of Panglao Island. Through an arrangement with our guide, Kuya George (0918-3858084/0920-80221714), we decided to have island hopping in Panglao Island and it nearby islands the following day after .  I am very excited in this activity since it also my first time to do whale and dolphin watching. Together with my travelmates, we leave our hotel room at 6 in the morning, since it is advised that in this time that dolphin watching it best viewed.  Alona Beach in the morning gives a scenic view of beach life. The beach is beautifully lit by early sunrise light. But as we sail seaward our banca (motorized boat), we encounter motor boat malfunction that cause the reason for us to miss dolphin watching.  At that time, I was not worried if our boat will be work again or someone must rescue us, I'm more concern on missing the dolphin watching. Hadn't we had this unfortunate incident we will able to see the dolphins swimming in the wild. I really felt "sayang" in the opportunity.  We missed our first activity and then proceeded to snorkeling at Balicasag Island after one of the tour boats from dolphin watching rescue us and pulled us to the island.

The marine sanctuary island of Balicasag.
Special shoes for the underwater world of Bohol.
Balicasag Island marine sanctuary.
We love Balicasag Island!
I didn't know that fishes loves mocha cake too...
Balicasag Island is approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour away from Panglao Island. In Balicasag Island are some of the best dive sites in the Philippines. It is also declared as a marine sanctuary. You will find a 400 meter marine sanctuary of healthy corals with plenty of pelagic visitors characterized by vertical walls over deep waters with strong currents.There are many things that one can enjoy when in Balicasag Island. You can dip in the water or watch countless colored fishes as the swim by the shallow water. If you want to see the underwater beauty of Bohol seas, go snorkeling or scuba diving. You can rent snorkeling or scuba diving amenities from the resort. On shallow waters, one can spot corals and fishes that's why it is a good spot for snorkeling. Balicasag is perfect for snorkeling because of the water is shallow and beautiful corals are everywhere.

Snorkeling at Balicasag Island is one great summer activity.
The shores of Balicasag with the tour boats.
We were transferred to a small banca (boat) for a fee to the sanctuary where we can snorkel because the large boat can't dock on the sanctuary area. And it is truly living to its famed word-of-mouth that it is a perfect spot for snorkeling because of its rich marine biodiversity.  Corals are plenty and the colorful fishes are countless that swims around with you. The whole marine sanctuary of Balicasag is guided with a buoyed cord so you know where the limits are and it is safe. Under the buoyed cord border you can see the sloping down of underwater land where there are more corals and fishes that can be seen. I think that area is the entrance spot for scuba diving at Balicasag.  Snorkelers can still enjoyed that underwater view of scuba world by holding in the buoyed cord and snorkel around. I am particularly fascinated with schools of small blue fishes in the marine sanctuary.  They look nice swimming together under the sea.  The small violet fishes were nice too but they seemed to stay often in the deep waters.  Fishes here are used to human so most of them are not shy and afraid to swim with visitors.  This is a perfect summer activity. The water is clear and the weather is good. I enjoyed snorkeling at Balicasag! I think in my over excitement in snorkeling I think I saw a "tilapia" in the water! It is also here that I learned that the fishes also like to feed on mocha cakes! That's how they are used to human visitors in the sanctuary.

After an exhausting but exhilarating snorkeling, we rest for a while in the island where there are a hundred families are inhabiting the island. Most of them rely on tourism and fishing industry so its good to buy or eat something in their businesses. It adds to their income. There are no resorts in the island as it mostly inhabited by the locals and few establishments of restaurants only catering to tourists can be found.  Electricity is regulated in the island. Only 6 hours of usage for a whole day according to the locals. So it definitely has a rural-feel to stay in the island but it also laid-back and relaxing at the same time. After a 30 minutes of rest, we were told that our boat is now ready (and no more motor malfunction, it was fixed at Balicasag) for next island to explore.
Seagreen! Going to Virgin Island.
As we sailed through the ocean, our boat is greeted with warm sunshine of summer with the cool breeze blew by the sea.  The cool breeze of the ocean is relaxing.  It you gives a taste of summer.  Where the sun is crispy hot but elicits lovable mood to enjoy summer. The ocean view is marvelous. I can see the island slowly growing small as we sail away. The colors of the sea are interplaying with the vast layers of shades of blue, cerulean and sea green. Ocean views at Bohol are definitely picturesque worthy to be treasured.

The stunning Virgin Island and its sandbar.
Approximately 20 to 30 minutes we reach Virgin Island, the last destination of island hopping and the last island we explore.  Virgin Island is actually not an island but a sandbar.  The island is crescent moon-shaped with two arms extending to a shape of a crescent moon made of up of white sandbar. The sandbar as the main feature of Virgin Island is a perfect spot for picture-taking. When we arrive, I am delighted to be greeted by a marvelous view of one of the crescent arm sandbar of the island where we docked.  The island is so scenic with its beautiful sandbar.  The pure and fine white sand is perfectly blending with the blue color of the sea. Then some locals greeted us and sells live sea urchins to eat. It is said to have been a good source of energy and an aphrodisiac.  My travelmates try it but I didn't bother to try the exotic treat. According to them, it taste like raw mussel (tahong).

Sandbar of Virgin Island.
Sea Urchins for sale
Exploring Virgin Island
At the center of Virgin Island is a lush vegetation. It is also also dotted with coconut trees without too much crowd of people or visitors. It makes you think that you own the island or you've been stranded to an island paradise. Exploring the first arm of sandbar, I noticed the thriving starfishes in the sea-grasses around.  I'm fascinated by these sea stars! There are so many of them lying just beneath the surface of the sandbar.  We walked towards the main island where the vegetation is located.  This is the spot where some visitors are camping for day trip or overnight stay.  It is a good spot for camping because large and tall trees that gives a perfect shade from the hot summer rays of the sun.  No hotels or accommodations to stay here to maintain the island's unspoiled beauty. But arrangement can be made to do overnight camping in the island as some visitors does in our visit.
Even under the scorching hot summer sun, together with travelmates, we explore the second arm of Virgin Island's sandbar. This sandbar is partly submerged in the water. Maybe 6 inches like walking in a flood. The submerged part of the islet is a good spot to take photographs because it gives an illusion of walking over the water. In this area, we saw a lot of starfishes just lying at the bottom of the sand.  Some were even mating! They thrive in this area probably because of rich sea-grass also thrive in the area.  Aside from these star creatures, I also find a lot of sea urchins thriving in the area. They are also scattered all over the sea-grass filled area of the submerged sandbar.  Sea urchins or urchins are small, spiny, globular animals which inhabit all oceans.

Starfish living in Virgin Island's sandbar.

The lush vegetation at the center of Virgin Island. 

The second sandbar of Virgin Island that is partly submerge in water.
Can you see paradise beyond?

After exploring the sandbar and sea creature encounters, we returned to the main island to explore the other side of it.  On the other side of the island, one will definitely appreciate the beautiful mountain views and scenic sights of Bohol island adjoined by the vast ocean view as this side of the island faces the main island of Bohol.  Sea shells can be collected in this area as they are scattered all over the shore.  As the noon sun continues to shine high, we walked through the beach of Virgin Island that gives a stunning reflection of light in the water.  Whilst, the reflection of sun made the sandbar whiter added a dramatic of effect in viewing the seascape of the whole island.  It was a sight to behold at Virgin Island that I won't forget.

Several locals were selling ornamental sea shells and buko (coconut) juice for refreshments in shaded tents of the sandbar. Some were consistently convincing us to try the sea urchins again.  I said no. It is not a must to buy from the locals but buying their commodities somehow will help in their rural livelihood.  I wonder how they reach the island since it is uninhabited.  We did try the refreshing buko juice to ease the heat of summer while continue to admire the alluring sea views of Virgin Island.  This is a perfect way to experience island life in Bohol.

Walking in the water.
Scenic seascape of natural beauty of Virgin Island's sandbar.
So many stars in Virgin Island!
Unspoiled beauty: the back side of Virgin Island.
We left the island sun-kissed skin but the visit to Virgin Island's unspoiled paradise is worth it. This is one of the best island hopping I had in my travels. Just near Virgin Island is Cat Island, so called because these are where stray cats are dumped. I'm not sure if because of overpopulation of stray cats but when we sailed near the island it seems no feline friends can be found there only lush vegetation. We didn't bother to stop and see it as it seems nothing spectacular to admire in the island unlike the sandbars in Virgin Island.

Virgin Islands stunning sandbar...
Enjoying summer to the fullest at Bohol.
Island life.
Sidetrip: Pamilacan Island is a small island which is part of the municipality of Baclayon. It is between the deep sea of Bohol and Mindanao. It is only a 1-hour pump or outrigger boat ride from the town of Baclayon. It is home to more or less 200 families that relies livelihood mainly in fishing, and in the past has gone after whales, manta rays and dolphins. In the local dialect, Pamilacan means “resting place of the mantas” though some local folks say that the name of the island was derived from the word “pamilac” or harpoon, a common fishing implement used to capture whale sharks, manta rays and dolphins. Blessed with white sand beaches, the island is also a tourist destination because of magnificent dive sites nearby which gives the diver a breathtaking view of giant gorgonians, tunicates, sponges, anemones as well as other unique marine life. Aside from the beautiful white sand beaches and magnificent dive sites and bountiful marine life, the island  is popular for dolphin and whale watching, where boat tours can be arranged to see different species of dolphins and whales. Pamilacan Island also boast a 200-year-old Spanish fort.(Source) The island is out of our island hopping itinerary as it is far from Panglao Island and its nearby islets but it is worth a try to visit it as a sidetrip.

No cats in Cat Island.

Reflection of light in water.
We sailed again for roughly 40 minutes to reach the shores of Panglao Island's Alona Beach, where we started our island hopping itinerary. It was timely when we arrive past 1 pm as the weather spells gray heavy clouds and starts to pour small raindrops.  We were barely quite soaking wet when we reach the hotel that we are staying. It rained long until the whole afternoon.  The rain is  also the reason why I missed sunset viewing in Panglao because it continued to until early evening.  And though I missed the sunset at Bohol and seeing the dolphins in the wild waters, I'm still satisfied and in awe with the natural beauty that I saw and experience from the islands above to underwater wonders of Bohol. The unspoiled islands, scenic ocean views, natural sights and marine biodiversity encounters is one escapade that one should not miss when visiting Panglao Island and its nearby islands. I remember the simple yet alluring and unforgettable seascape, the beautiful reflection of light in water that I earlier saw.  It is one image of Bohol's natural beauty that I won't forget. A natural beauty like no other.  

Home bound to Panglao Island.

Bohol's Island Escapades is the second part of my Bohol: Allure of Natural Beauty series that happened last March 15-17 on my birthday week. This trip is memorable as this is the first time I traveled and celebrated my birthday out of home.  This is a true experience of a lifetime trip!

You might be interested in reading the other parts of Bohol: Allure of Natural Beauty.
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