Thursday, March 26, 2015

Adventurous Aurora

The last time I visit Aurora, I had both pleasant and unpleasant travel experience – both are memorable. It was my first travel to the province but during that time it rained during my entire stay in the province. And because of the weather, I only managed to explore few places of interest in the province. And to top all my travel mishaps, I had an accident in Museo de Baler where I got bloody wounded because I slipped on the wet floor because of the rain. But despite of it all, I still got to experience what Aurora has to offer - historical explorations, natural wonders and great food. It was memorable yet I still feel lacking in exploring the province. This is when I vow to return to Aurora again by summertime.

Overlooking to Baler town in Ermita Hill viewing deck.
Summer 2014 came. The weather is warm and sunny. And I’m looking a great place for my birthday trip. Aurora slip into my mind because of my last year’s quite spoiled visit. I thought this would be a great time to make a revisit since the weather is nice. I contacted Kuya Romel (0938.2760737) again, our tour guide/tricycle driver during my last trip to Aurora. We agreed on the trip and then I invited my friends to come with me since this will be a summer slash birthday trip. We rode on Genesis Transport again for this trip since this is the only bus that plies directly to Baler (Aurora’s capital town) from Cubao.

After a 6 hour trip, we reach Baler on a very warm and sunny weather of summer. We haven’t meet Kuya Romel first, because he quite busy in his other tour commitments. So we picked our accommodation first near Sabang Beach which is Jamjen’s Lodge (0929.2410298). After settling our accommodation, we had our first and the famous activity in Aurora – Surfing at Sabang Beach. Surfing is 200PHP person with surfing lesson and surfing board already. You can also rent surf boards only if you know how to surf already which are offered in the facades of the beach. My friends had a great time trying this thrilling activity and the rest of us did swim in Sabang Beach though the beach is really not good for swimming. Note, Sabang Beach has consistent wild waves that are good for surfing not swimming.

We're ready for Adventurous Aurora!
Jamjen's Lodge -  0929-2410298
Welcome to Baler!
I’m glad to meet Kuya Romel again, the following morning since I had a good time traveling with him last year. He was also glad to see us again and two of my returning friends whom he met on our first visit. Our tour of the province starts in the town of Maria Aurora. The primary place that we will visit is the 600 year old Balete Tree at Balete Park. The park has now a 10PHP entrance per person (as of March 2014) unlike before there wasn’t any entrance fee. The tree is still an amazing sight for its enormous size and shape. I and my friends took time to explore hollow roots inside the tree where at least 10 people can fit inside. We also tried to climb to its roots just to have souvenir photos. But at the end of visiting Balete Park, it was amazing to see a tree grow to hundreds of years and continues to grow amidst the mysterious back stories, old folklore and horror legends about it.  Maria Aurora is a 30 minute ride from Baler via tricycle ride.

Surfing lessons - 300 each including surf board and rush guard rental
Surfing Baler!!!
Summer? It's more fun in Aurora!
Girls just wanna have fun!
Adventurous Aurora begins...
A little surprise from my friends in celebration of my birthday trip 
to Aurora. 
Another great sight to see in Aurora is the Mother Falls, which is located in Baranggay Ditumabo of San Luis town The waterfall is also sometimes called Ditumabo Falls because of its baranggay location. This was our next destination to visit which was 30 minutes from Maria Aurora to San Luis. At the foot of the jump point to the falls, visitors must do a one hour hike to the falls with a challenge of crossing a strong current of river flow, 3 times! It was an exhausting physical activity hiking towards the Mother Falls. Crossing a strong current of river flow was the “buwis-buhay” challenge of the hike. Plus it rained an hour before we arrive there which makes the current stronger than usual. Additional caution must be taken since aside from crossing the river current, there are rocky steps and up and down steps to take to reach the falls.
It's nice to see the 600 year old Balete Tree again at the town of Maria Aurora.
Summer 2014 in Aurora!
We had fun but see how huge it is...
Looks like a portal to fantasyland inside the hallow roots of the old Balete Tree.
After an hour of hiking, we reach the beautiful Mother Falls. The falls is 140 feet tall and has a large pool basin where the water falls down. The current of the waterfalls is very strong at that time which sends thick mist of airborne water in the air making it difficult to capture via a camera. My camera lense will break if it continues to be exposed on airborne water. Although I still try to get a good capture of Mother Falls. It rained earlier before we arrived at the jump point of the trek to the falls which explains a strong current of water gushing from the mouth of the waterfall. And boy, did I tell you that the water is so cold?! The water was so cold but me and my friends couldn’t resist the enticing pool basin and plus our desire to be relieved from the body aches of an hour trek to the falls made us bath right away. I joined the fun with my friends in savoring the cold water of Mother Falls. I swam and played with the water. I even tease and throw waters with my friends since it was fun to play with the cold water of the falls and see their reaction when suddenly thrown by cold water. It was being child-like again but certainly a great memory to cherish with my friends. 

Just one of the 3 "river challenges" to cross to reach the Mother Falls.
These photo-opts lightens our 2 hour trek journey to the falls.
One of the "buwis-buhay" but fun challenge in Mother Falls trek.
Just few minutes before the Mother Falls reveals her beauty to us.
The best guide in Aurora - Kuya Romel (0938.276073)
The mother of all beauty of Aurora - Mother Falls.
I met the Mother Falls on my birthdaytrip! It is also known as Ditumabo Falls.
After enjoying the water splash of Mother Falls, we embarked on an hour hike again down to the falls’ jump point. We took a rest first from a tiring visit to Mother Falls and ate lunch to energize us. In the afternoon, we started our tour of the other sights to see in Baler. Kuya Rommel fetches us first to Ermita Hill. A park is situated at the top of Ermita Hill where one have a good stroll around the park but the highlight of Ermita Hill visit is the scenic viewing decks at the park. From the viewing deck of Ermita Hill, you can see an overlooking view of Sabang Beach and lined of hotels by its shores. You can also see the moving waves for surfing coming from the Pacific Ocean. And you can also see the jutting mountains and beautiful seascapes of Aurora province.

Our next stop is Tromba Marina which is basically a memorial sculpture commemorating the tsunami that hit Baler and almost wiped it out in 1735. The life-sized sculpture is found at the foot of Ermita Hill along the main road. It depicts how few families from the town were able to climb the hill and successfully survived the tsunami. Tromba marina means tsunami. You can climb the Tromba Marina sculpture and have your photo taken as souvenir just like what I did with my friends.

Ermita Hill's park at the top of the hill.
Sabang Beach and Baler from Ermita Hill.
Tromba Marina sculptures at the foot of Ermita Hill
Diguisit Beach with Aniao and Lukso-lukso islet.
We headed next to Diguisit Beach, a rocky beach but nonetheless the rocks made it charming and bewildering. In this beach, you see the Aniao and Lukso-lukso Islets. These islets seemed to be formed from soil and rock erosion by the air and sea over time. And those islets add beauty and charm to Diguisit Beach’s scenery – a dramatic beach shore with rock islets formations along the shore. Just be cautious in exploring the islets as there are sharp rocks, slippery surfaces and rocky platforms around it that could be cause accident and danger. Diguisit Beach has also shallow waters and rocky shores which I conclude that it is just perfect for relaxation and rest and even exploration rather than swimming.

Diguisit Beach is picturesque.
Serenity by the beach.
Diguisit Beach, though not recommended for swimming yet highly recommended for relaxation.
Eva Fonda 16 at Diguisit Beach.
It's time for our 2nd childhood moment!
The multi-tiered Diguisit Falls.
Perfect pasalubong from Aurora - Suman de Baler!
Just a few meters from Diguisit Beach along the highway is the simple beauty of nature of Diguisit Falls. The falls can be seen from the highway as its waters are flowing from the mountain side that joins down the road. It has no entrance to get there and the falls is a series of stair flows from the landslide which can be explored further up. Unfortunately, it’s getting dark already that why it’s difficult to see the rest of the falls. Its beauty is incomparable to the massive size of Mother Falls but nonetheless it was a beautiful waterfall and a pleasant sight to see in Baler.  And that was the last place of the tour by Kuya Rommel. Diguisit Beach, Aniao Islet, Lukso-lukso Islet and Diguisit Falls are all located in Baranggay Zabali of Baler which is around 30 minutes away from main town of Baler.

Tired and exhausted but we surely had fun adventure!
This time my trip to Aurora is now satisfying. I enjoyed most of its natural wonders which definitely involves an “adventurous trip” to explore! But what made this “Adventurous Aurora” trip, a memorable one is because this is my birthday trip shared with my friends. A birthday trip that has many memories to cherish! I’m definitely tired from adventure but I definitely had an unforgettable complete adventure of Aurora! These are just some random thoughts running in my mind as the comfy Joy Bus of Genesis Transport starts to roll. Now, I can fall into a deep sleep courtesy of its Business Class-like soft and wider seats.     

*How to reach Baler, Aurora.
Genesis Transport plies direct Cubao-Baler route in their Cubao Terminal. There is an ordinary aircon bus and executive buses branded as Joy Bus. Ordinary aircon buses has many frequency route and travels 6-7 hours before reaching Baler with multiple stops. Joy Bus has 1 to 2 trips a day only but travels faster than ordinary aircon buses since it has no stops and has an onboard comfort room and complimentary snacks. Joy Bus travels approximately 5 hours. 
On return, it is advisable to get first daily Joy Bus trip to Cubao at 0300H. Ticket must be purchase a day before the trip or much better upon arrival in Baler since seats on Joy Bus easily fills up and seat no is assigned and counted. Reservation time is 0800H-1700H. Contact person for reservation is Ms. Pia (0948-8848324). Taking a walk-in ticket purchase at the terminal will put you on standby as this is the earliest trip out of Baler. Joy Bus is suited for you if you're on a time constraint travel time but if not you opt to take the ordinary aircon bus. 

*Tour of Baler, Aurora
Kuya Romel, a Baler resident provides a tricycle budget tour of Baler and a certified by local DOT. His tricycle can fill up to 3 person and can contact other tricycle should exceed more.
Contact no: 0938-2760737.

*Accomodation in Baler, Aurora
Jamjen's Lodge
#96 Buton St., Brgy. Sabang, Baler Aurora. 
Contact no: 0929-2410298
Facebook: Jamjen's Lodge

Villareal's Bahay Kubo (Baler Nipa Hut)
Front, left area of Jamjen's Lodge, Baranggay Sabang, Baler, Aurora.
Contact no: 0927-6130556
Facebook: Villareal's Bahay Kubo (Baler Nipa Hut)

Adventurous Aurora is Part 2 of my Birthday Trip 2014 and second of my Summer 2014 travel trip that happened last March 26-28, 2014. This is my 2nd visit to the province of Aurora. To read my first adventure to this province, read Escape to Aurora.
It has been a long hiatus since my last post. I hope to be able post more travel stories in the coming months to make up for the long hiatus. I have so much to travel to share that happened to my last Summer 2014 up to Summer 2015. Feel free to leave comments and reactions below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Albay: Always Magayon

Wherever you are in the province of Albay, no one can deny that Mayon Volcano is its true beauty. You can see the perfect cone volcano anywhere you go in Albay. And you can't help but admire its beauty. But aside from this fabled yet fiery active volcano, Albay also boasts it's authentic Bicol cuisines, historical churches and fun activity adventures which makes up for a sizzling complete vacation. 
Mayon Volcano is one truly "Magayon"
One of my main quests in visiting the province of Albay is to see the perfect cone of Mayon Volcano on my birthday trip this year. It is an active volcano surrounded by many legends and stories but definitely the “must-see” when in Albay. It’s natural beauty will surely left everyone in awe but you got to visit it on a perfect weather like summertime where skies are clear and cloudless because most of the time, it is hidden by the clouds. My summer visit is just timely! I also want to discover the wonder sights of Legazpi City which is dubbed as City of Fun and Adventure – a perfect theme concept for my birthday trip this year!

My fun and adventure starts when I found that approaching Legazpi Airport, you will already be delighted by the famed Mayon Volcano from the airplane window. I was excited to experience Mayon first hand in the air, but unfortunately wasn’t seated on the window seat. Still, I saw a few glimpse of the perfect cone volcano from window seats across from my aisle seat.  And that only adds up to my excitement in visiting Albay province. 

Mayon from the Legazpi Airport tarmac.
Legazpi Airport is the most scenic airport tarmac that I have seen in all of my travels!
Upon deplaning, my disappointment for not getting a window seat on the plane subsided instantly when I was greeted by the magnificent sight of Mayon Volcano. She revealed her beauty on a sunny summer day to me! And I feel delighted like no other! I take it as a sign that the rest of my stay in Albay will be as beautiful as the Mayon.   

Mayon Volcano is an active volcano in the province of Albay! But don’t be afraid or fret to visit Legazpi, there are warning measures in case it erupted. You will be more at ease and relax when you see it because it is truly “magayon” (beautiful in Bicol dialect) in every angle! Actually, you can it almost view it in every open space in Legazpi City. For me, it is a sight to delight in my eyes whenever I saw the beautiful volcano in the city.

Welcome to Embarcadero de Legazpi!
Legazpi Port just beside Embarcadero de Legazpi.
One of the first places we visited in Legazpi is Embarcadero de Legazpi. It is a mall near the seaside Legazpi Port and facing a beautiful bay of Albay. The mall doesn’t just have stores and boutiques to cater for shoppers but also wide spaces and benches for visitors to either relax, sit around, chit-chat or just appreciate the beauty of the breezy bay. There are also jetski and rappelling activity in Embarcadero de Legazpi for those who seeks sporting activity and adventure.

After having our lunch at Embarcadero de Legazpi, we went to one of known Roman Catholic church in the municipality of Daraga – Nuestra Senora de la Porteria Parish Church, also known as Our Lady of the Gate Parish and commonly known as Daraga Church.  The church is known for its mixture of Renassance Gothic and Mexican Baroque church architecture built during the Spanish era out of volcanic rocks. The church was built by the Franciscans in 1772 under the patronage of the Our Lady of the Gate. It is built on top of a hill in barangay Santa Maria overlooking Mayon Volcano so the stair steps hike for five minutes is worth the trip.

The steps uphill to Daraga Chuch from the jeepney drop-off point.
I admire the old and classic architectural style of its façade. It was beautifully made with columns and engraved with Franciscan saints and religious seals like the coat of arms of the Franciscans order.  It was just lately I knew that its façade and walls are made of volcanic rocks which amazingly stood against time. I’m glad to learn that some parts of the structure especially the belfry was already white coating of lime for protection from deterioration because not only Bicolanos deserves to appreciates this beautiful church but also every visitors of Albay. 

Post-card perfect Albay: Our Lady of the Gate Parish set against Mayon Volcano.
A visit to Daraga Church is an appreciation of the old but stunning architecture of Spanish colonization area. One may feel eerie seeing the dark sections of the church or looking through its antique glass windows, but you will definitely be fascinated by the vast view of Mayon Volcano at the side area of the church.  There is an overlooking view deck at the side of Daraga Church where I saw an obstructed view of Mayon. The clear and sunny weather was up that day and it made up a beautiful sightseeing view of Mayon Volcano. It was an amazing sight! I felt that the weather was on my side since it is my birthday trip which makes Mayon Volcano as my biggest birthday cake! Daraga Church is 10 minutes away from Legazpi City via one ride jeepney.

By dinner we dined at Bigg’s Diner at Embarcadero de Legazpi.   Bigg’s Diner is the biggest and popular food chain in Bicol region with many branches in various Bicol provinces. Their best-seller is Baby Back Ribs, so I gave it a try even though I know it’s prone to higher cholesterol rate. The meat was soft, tasty and a hint of spice. It was delicious and the serving is enough to satisfy my dinner. 

Mayon seen inside Daraga Church's antique windows.
Our Lady of the Parish bell tower is architecturally stunning.
The following morning, we travelled to again to Daraga to visit the most recognizable landmark of Albay province - Cagsawa Ruins. A jeepney ride bound for Camalig, Guinobatan or Polangui will pass by Cagsawa Junction that takes about 15 minutes ride from Legazpi City. From the junction you can walk but I suggest hiring a tricycle to the site since the hot and sunny during morning visit. There’s an entrance fee of 10 pesos. Never did I imagine that this famed landmark of Albay that I only see on my elementary textbooks and postcards will someday meet my eye on flesh! It was a surreal experience! I’m glad that the weather was clear from clouds that morning because the ruins were set against a majestic back-drop of the perfect cone Mayon Volcano. Now, I get to shot my own photo of the postcard perfect photo of Cagsawa Ruins! 

The famed landmark of the province of Albay - Cagsawa Ruins.
The clear skies made appreciate more the beauty of Mayon as I can clearly see it from the ruins of Cagsawa. The site of Cagsawa where numerous ruins of stones and buildings to be found also serve as a perfect back-drop for photo shoots. Cagsawa Ruins are the remnants of an 18th-century Franciscan church, the Cagsawa Church built in 1724. It was destroyed by the eruption of the Mayon Volcano in 1814 and the remains of the eruption were what we see today in the ruins with most notably the belltower still intact and erect.  It is the most popular and famous landmark of Albay province so don’t miss visiting it when in the province.  Around the entrance of the ruins, there were numerous souvenir shops catered to visiting tourists.

The ruins of Cagsawa Church destroyed by Mayon Volcano's eruption in 1814.
Birthday Trip 2014 at Cagsawa Ruins!
Church of Cagawa marker.
The stunning Mayon Volcano from the view point in Cagsawa Ruins.
Then we had a lunch in 1st Colonial Grill Restaurant in Daraga town proper. It is a local and famous restaurant in the province where I sampled the best of Bicolandia cuisines. One of 1st Colonial Grill signature that filled my lunch was Tinapa Fried Rice – a complete meal dish of flavorful fried rice with tinapa flakes and slices of salted egg, green mangoes and tomatoes served uniquely in a small “kawali”. The gastronomic exploration of Bicolandia won’t be complete if you will not sample their famous Bicol Express which is one of my favorite Filipino dishes. Bicol Express is basically a pork dish simmered in thick coconut milk with lots of chili varieties to make it a one hot spicy dish. And in Bicol region I learned that there’s a 25 versions of this dish. We also tried their Boneless Bangus which has a sauce that plays in between sweet and mild spicy.
1st Colonial Grill is also home of the unusual ice cream flavors but distinctly a Bicolandia taste which catapult its fame among the must-dine restaurant in Albay. I did not let the opportunity to try these unusual ice creams – Sili Ice Cream, Malunggay ice cream, Pili ice cream and Tinutong ice cream.  I tried every ice cream and each is unique in its own taste. Sili ice cream has the sweetness of a usual ice cream but the kick of spiciness runs down thru your throat after a spoon of it. Maluggay ice cream tastes like munching on a vegetarian ice cream while Pili ice cream has a full creamy flavor of sweetened Pili nuts.  Tinutong ice cream on the hand tastes like a real tinutong (burned rice) but the cream also mistakes it as a champorado (chocolate porridge) ice cream!  

A taste of Albay - (clockwise left to right) Sili, malunggay 
and pili ice cream, the famed Bicol Express and Tinapa Rice.
Lignon Hill's entrance.
The road going up to the hill if you opt to hike it up.
Legazpi City, Albay Gulf and Legazpi Airport seen from Lignon Hill's view point.
The park on top of the hill.
Lignon Hill Nature Park is one of the places that one must visit when in Legazpi. The park boasts wider view of Mayon Volcano plus adventure activities that will delight sporty individuals and those into adventure-thrilling activities like – zip line. The park is basically a park above a hill where there are manicured gardens, benches and numerous viewpoints that overlooks Legazpi City. There’s an option to walk up to the hill or rent a habal-habal going up to the hill and vice-versa.  On the hill you can easily spot Legazpi Airport, and Albay Gulf.  But unfortunately, I didn’t have a clear view of Mayon that day since it was very cloudy that afternoon.   

Mayon Volcano in the air! Dios mabalos, paaram Albay!
From Legazpi City alone, I already have a good start of complete fun and adventure of Albay – from history, cuisine, nature up to adventure activity trips. It’s a complete package! So how much more when I have a chance to explore the rest of Albay province? I bet it will be a satisfying trip journey! Still at the end of it all, Mayon will still hold you for its marvelous and enigmatic beauty. And that makes Albay always Magayon!

Albay: Always Magayon is Part 1 of my Birthday Trip 2014 and first of my Summer 2014 travel trip that happened last March 17-19, 2014. It has been a long hiatus since my last post. I hope to be able post more travel stories in the coming months to make up for the longs hiatus. I have so much to travel to share that happened to my last Summer 2014 up to Summer 2015. Feel free to leave comments and reactions below.
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