Thursday, November 26, 2009

warning to US citizens in The Philippines

The U.S. Embassy in Manila condemned the killings. "Such barbaric acts violate the most fundamental principles of human rights and democracy," Ambassador Kristie Kenney said. "We strongly believe that a thorough, rapid, and transparent investigation must be conducted, and those responsible must be brought to swift justice."--lifted from Associated Press report in yahoonews.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

hypothetical job description

Aside from "travel writer and photographer", in the weeks that passed, it occurred to me that I also want to attached a new hypothetical job description to my virtual CV: chef.

It will take baby steps from my humble kitchen in the slope of the islands second tallest peak and inch my way to the cooking schools of Thailand, and eventually in Le Cordon Bleu. Now, that's wishful thinking!  At any rate, I have to learn how to cook.  Pronto! Otherwise, if this goal ain't done at week's end, I'll buy my colleagues some drinks. Blame this game I started.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Camiguin in two days

Rustic Camiguin offers endless feast for the senses ( I was on top of the jeepney earlier that day and the 360 degree view was just great!) The pastels, yema-flavored, are succulent and sweet, and the Spanish and American colonial architecture added charm, and the people are too good to be true. Over-all, with the distinct character the island evokes, the beat, perfectly slow, I'd have to say that this island born of fire leaves a jaded urbanite like me wanting. notes and photo from my first visit, summer 2005

For the second time, in the next two days, I will hit the the road, the sea, the road again and then cross the rough waters of Bohol Sea before taking-in the beauty of Camiguin Island in Southern Philippines. The 8-hour transit will find me from the port of Dumaguete to Tagbilaran via Oceanjet (ETD 7:30am; Php650.00 one way), then take the van-for-hire to the eastside town of Jagna where Paras Seacat fastferry (ETD 1:30pm; Php400.00 one way) bound for the Port of Benoni in Camiguin will be waiting.

I will be billeted in Enigmata Treehouse, voted in 2006 as one of the top 5 most eco-friendly hostel in the world by Here's a snippet from the web:
Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge, Camiguin, Philippines: "Channel your inner Swiss Family Robinson with a stay in this state-of-the-art treehouse, overlooking the ocean and surrounded by white beaches, soaring waterfalls and bubbling hot springs," says Hanratty. "Operated by a vibrant artist and environmental protection group known as the Enigmata Creative Circle, the treehouse's existence and operation is a testament to environmental awareness, offering biodiversity workshops and conservation seminars."

For starters, Camiguin, aptly called An Island Born of Fire because, as stuff of legend, rather geology would tell, was formed through underwater volcanic eruptions eons of years ago. There are four volcanoes in the island and several hotsprings. From the sea, the topography of the island is always liken to that of Hawaii with its rugged and sharp mountain peaks, swaying palm trees, fine beaches and clear blue waters sans the rows of the concrete jungle dotting the shorelines. Wkipedia has this to share:  
Camiguin is composed of four young stratovolcanoes overlying older volcanic structures. One of these, Hibok-Hibok, last erupted in 1953 and is still considered active. The other major volcanic edifices are Mt. Vulcan (671 meters (2,201 ft), northwest of Hibok-Hibok), Mt. Mambajao (1,552 meters (5,092 ft), in central Camiguin), Mt. Ginsiliban (581 meters (1,906 ft), southernmost Camiguin), and Mt. Uhay (north of Mount Ginsiliban). There are also domes and cones at Campana Hill, Minokol Hill, Tres Marias Hill, Mt. Carling, Mt. Tibane, and Piyakong Hill.

And then, there is the sunken cemetery (1871), white sandbar, church ruins and for the taste buds, lanzones and the succullent pastels!

my first published work in Mabuhay Magazine!

Finally, one of my works will see the light of day in the December Issue of Philippine Airline's (PAL) Mabuhay Magazine. WOO-ho! For now, it's a contribution for the funny signages section (NO! Neither the cover photo nor cover story yet, silly! I know. I know. I have to start somewhere, baby) which originally had a going rate of one grand per photo. A lot of money for a single frame! If only I could start pulling together a travel story. (photo lifted from the web)

re: contribution
from: eastgate publishing
to: RV Escatron

Dear RV,
I'm glad to inform you that we will be publishing your photo (Wanted Girlfriend) in our December issue. Kindly take note that we have changed our rates from Php1,000 per photo to Php500 per photo, while for the travel tales we have increased the rate to Php1,000. This is to encourage more people to send travel anecdotes. Cheques will be released one month after publication. I will inform you by then.
Have a good night!
Ira Inquimboy
Editorial Coordinator

On Sat, Aug 15, 2009 at 2:49 PM, RV Escatron <rv_escatron@yahoo dot com> wrote:

Mr. Simeon S. Ventura Jr.
Mabuhay inflight Magazine
Dear Mr. Ventura,
I have attached herewith a contribution for the funny signages section of Mabuhay. The photo was taken in Dumaguete City.
Thank you and kind regards,
Arvin C. Escatron

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Philippines to push for "Schengen" type visa

Big Boss, who is not from The Philippines (he got his Investor's Visa from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration in Manila just recently) and who has travelled extensively the world over, complained about the 21 days tourist visa for passport holders of his country. He started to compare how passport holders of his country could enter Thailand and stay for three months without obtaining a visa.

The ASEAN Region is pushing for a "Schengen" type visa in line with the ONE ASEAN Community by 2015. With this news, Big Boss will definitely have a big smile painted on his face.

“This common ASEAN visa is comparable to the Schengen visa being given by European countries where the holders can travel within European Schengen states,” Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said during an inquirer dot net interview.

Here's more from inquirer dot net:

Libanan said the adoption of a common ASEAN visa would bring huge benefits to its member-countries, particularly in the fields of trade, investments and tourism.

“It’s like a multi-country swing where a traveler can roam freely within ASEAN region. This is in line with the one ASEAN community by the 2015 as envisioned in its charter,” Libanan said.

The Philippines, through the Bureau of Immigration, is hosting the 13th ASEAN Directors-General of Immigration Department and Heads of Consular Division of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (DGICM) and 5th ASEAN Immigration Intelligence Forum (AIIF) that will formally open Monday.
Held every year, this year’s three-day DGICM meeting will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Makati City where all heads of the immigration and consular departments of the ASEAN will gather for a three-day conference.

DGICM was created when the ASEAN Ministers adopted the ASEAN declaration on transnational crime in December 1997. It was a regional tool to combat transnational crimes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Road (and lowdown) to Cambodia

After a 10-hour bus ride (USD18.00; 5 hours Saigon-Phnom Penh; another 5 hours Phnom Penh-Siem Riep) the bus stopped in front of the National Museum.

The heavy rain that night didn't dampen my mood. After all, I was holed up in a 5-star accommodation at a hostel price (Siem Riep Hostel; USD 8.00/night dorm room).

Did I mention there is an indoor swimming pool and every form of wholesome entertainment at each floor?!? and a USD 1.00 buffet breakfast of tropical fruits, cereal, toast and apple juice! Plus free use of bicycle! And it's just a 5-minute walk to Pub Street! A steal already! No wonder the hostel is voted as's BEST HOSTEL!

My tuk-tuk driver, Samuel, whom I hired to bring me to the hostel from the bus stop at USD 1.00 offered to take me to the Angkor Wat Archeological Complex at USD 8.00 motorcyle only (or add another USD 2.00 if I prefer tuk-tuk).

Of course, first to tick on the list is to see Angkor by sunrise (1 day pass at USD20.00).

Everything happened smoothly as planned except that by 10:00AM, my camera's battery went poof! Drained! And I was barely half-way through the whole complex! To make the story short, I asked Samuel the driver, to just show me around and bring me back to my hostel so I could recharge the battery and pretty much, I would be on my own until sunset in Angkor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Philippines: National Geographic's best new travel destination for 2010

                     photo from National Geographic screensaver

The Philippines, always portrayed in the West as land of savages, is named by National Geographic as one of the best travel destinations in the world for 2010.

In the article, it says:

In its November Adventure issue, the US publication cited the country's “ancient cultures, structures and biodiversity” as key reasons to visit the country.
The Washington, DC-based magazine described the Philippines as “harboring as many islands as the Caribbean and some of the most spectacular reefs on the planet.”
It described the Philippines and the 24 other destinations as “just right for right now” for "travelers who want their dollars to do more – for others, for the planet and for themselves.”
Among the magazine’s other must-see places were Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Costa Rica, Iceland, Ireland, Kenya, Laos, Nepal, Peru, Slovakia, and Sri Lanka.

The online article added:

Willy Gaa, Philippine ambassador to the US, said the inclusion of the country on the list “shows the global community is taking note of the natural and cultural wonders in the Philippines, as well as efforts to protect and preserve them.”
Last month, National Geographic-Traveler magazine named the Ifugao Rice Terraces as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime: Greatest Destinations in the World.”
It described the rice terraces in the Cordillera Administrative Region, declared by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, as “masterpieces of agrarian art” and “natural poetry.”

Ko Phi Phi or Palawan?

Whilst waiting for my class to start, I finger the pages of an old Thailand guidebook lying earlier at the reception desk. Otherwise, I would have picked my nose and pulled my brains out.

As I leaf through the last chapters, the pages on Ko Phi Phi albeit brown with age and written in an alien language (read: Korean), the photos, almost sepia, still has the pull to take me to its pages, check the limestone karst  and plant myself in one scene of Alex Garland's The Beach (1996) which has a film (2000) adaptation of the same title with Leonardo de Caprio on the lead. In no time, I find myself googling and oogling on photos of this "Darling of the Andaman Coast" with it's glassy, clear waters and clear, blue skies.

But I was disheartened to discover that the island, now on it's post-tsunami splendor (a volunteer organization working in the island was nominated in the Time Magazine Heroes of Asia award for its effort to rehabilitate the island after the deadly tsunami of December 2004 wiped out an estimated 4,000 people), is beyond my budget already. Buildings are now made, in every way possible, tsunami-resistant, therefore pricier than the huts and bungalows that used to dot its coastline.

An article from lonely planet dot com reads:

‘Ko Phi Phi is changing, there has been a drop in the backpacker population and an increase in the suitcase brigade, ’ Hood said. ‘Backpackers can’t afford to stay here anymore.’

It’s true. Although Ko Phi Phi retains a mellow backpacker vibe, cheap bungalows are few and far between, and those that exist seem overpriced for the cramped, dark and dank environs you get. The outlook is only slightly less dismal in the midrange and top-end bracket – expect to pay nearly double what you would on the mainland, for half the amenities and swankness..

Meanwhile, I met a couchsurfer from Canada this week. Over bottles of Red Horse, we talked for hours on end about traveling around Thailand and waxed poetic about how I love Chaing Mai--its food and weather while he, the beaches and islands down south. The downside though: he doesn't feel like going back because he wants to freeze the good memories ten years ago when it was still off-the-beaten.

That surely light up the yellow bulb somewhere. I am definitely hitting Palawan before hedonism will claim the island as its own. With the Php799.00 one-way Manila-Busuanga airfare, Palawan is now in my bluelist. Two-months paid holiday in the  Philippines "last frontier" is, I guess, pretty decent. I'm pulling your leg but I'll be in Palawan summer next year!

Monday, November 9, 2009

food for thought

 "Travel makes a wise man better but a fool worse."
--Thomas Fuller

popping my couchsurfing cherry in Viet Nam

Pop! And I never look back since then. This is shameless plugging but yes, my first couchsurfing experience abroad has been a blast so far. Not that I start off in a foreign country with an expat from my country who knows Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) like it's the back of her hand. But it's more on getting into the local vibe  none of the guide books has ever prepared me for. And that makes the big difference!

From Jackie Lou Lozada
Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
 Jul 1
Met in person CouchSurfing Friend,
I met him in Saigon for the first time. RV is very cool, smart, adventurous, open and a hardcore backpacker.hehe. a born traveller..learned some travel tips from him. looking forward to meet him again somewhere somehow. hey,you still owe me your travel stories!!!cant wait...

For Jackie Lou Lozada
 Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
 Jun 30 Met in person Good Friend, Traveled 1 days
Jackie makes Saigon her second home, in between Cebu and the world.
After breakfast in the backpacker's area that is off-De Tham St., she took me to Ben Than Market, then a charge-to-experience ride to the Notre Dame Cathedral & Post Office. WoooOoops! Hehe. And on and on, in many wonderful HCM landmarks. Never a dull moment with her! We had a great time talking about how HCM seems to be like Dumaguete; or Ayala blown into an epic proportion (despite her lack of sleep and hangover).

Such a dedicated woman and ahead of her time; and she knows Saigon like the back of her hand. She is AWESOMENESS spelled out in BIG BOLD letters.
See you in P.I. Jackie! In the meantime, have a wonderful Mekong Delta trip!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Heat is On (Even Before I Landed) in Saigon!

Couldn’t get more boring than this: standing for an hour, waiting behind yellow line before an airline personnel bursts your bubble: “Hey kiddo! You’re 5-country backpacking trip is botched! Forget about it. Go home and get some sleep!" Kidding.

My bloodshot eyes. These eyes, the airline personnel behind the counter took notice of. Must be the A(h1N1) scare. What happen to your eyes, Sir? (holy camote! She knows I am a teacher! She calls me Sir!) "Not enough sleep last night (rolls eyes, secretly), Miss." See. I could be hideous and brat altogether, if provoked. I just try to push it down. The green monster won’t sweat the small stuff, baby.

To backtrack: I got a one-way ticket to Saigon. And per silly Philippine law, I should get a return ticket. Since I will be working my way from Viet Nam down to three other countries before I exit through Singapore, I didn’t bother getting a return ticket from Saigon to Manila. Getting the return ticket from Saigon is downright stupid. Besides, it will further bust my long-been-stretched shoestring budget. Five counters to my left, behind the express counter, I can see the manager talking over the phone. “Waiting for a reply from Saigon Station, Sir” the personnel says. “Whadddda *toooot…*!” I hollered inside my head. “Here, take a look. I got this guidebook (Backpack Southeast Asia and parts of China by Robert Alejandro; Php390.00). The author did this route and there’s no reason why I can’t,” in the most polite manner possible, I informed the lady. She got the book and presented it to the manager.

So, here I am. In cold, standing in front of the check-in counter in NAIA Terminal 3. Wide-eyed and trying to contain the panic creeping its branches inside my chest. This is my friggin’ first trip abroad. Solo at that. I have done every imaginable research. Packed the necessary clothing. Done the necessary rituals (if there’s any). Kissed the appropriate arses (again, if there’s any). And the gospel truth is that, yes, Juan, I am flying to Saigon for crying out loud and do the 5-country backpacking trip before summer holidays officially come to an end.

Fast Forward: The plane lands at Tan Son Nhat International Airport 10 minutes ahead of schedule. As if it matters to me. What greets me is a sleek steel and glass arrival terminal and a relatively younger looking immigration personnel. I intensely dislike the comparison but just can’t help comparing the pot-bellied immigration personnel in *clears throat* where else--my lips are sealed. Passing through the immigration counter is a breeze. No visa necessary in the next thirty days for Pinoys. After breezing through the escalator and x-ray, I come face-to-face with Saigon’s midnight air beyond the gate and sense familiarity through a lady speaking over the phone, in Tagalog. Turns out she is from Antique and works as a household staff for an expat family in Hanoi. Minutes later, another Filipina joins in. She is from Sorsogon and works as a teacher in Pnom Penh, Cambodia. And so, like backpackers anywhere, we easily adapt to the culture of sleeping in airports. But by 3AM, the guard on duty, with a smile, informed us the airport is closing in a few minutes (read: go, find another place to sleep).

To cut the chase, the Hanoi-bound Pinay goes to the domestic terminal whilst the Phnom Penh-bound one gets into the cab with me. We are off to the bus ticket office for Cambodia. In a strange twist of fate, the ticket outlet is right smack in De Tham Street—the backpacker’s area in Saigon. But the hostels open at 8AM. To kill time, we grab a chair in a 24/7 pub and order breakfast with a strange coffee to-go.

By 7AM, I started looking for a USD4.00/night room. Slim chance. For solo traveler, I got a good deal: USD8.00/night aircon room with hot and cold shower and CATV. But I have to sweat my way up on a narrow staircase. The room is on the fifth floor. By 10AM, I was ready to meet my couchsurfing host Jackie—a kindred soul who makes Saigon her home between Cebu and the world.

FIRST STOP: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam where traffic is crazy! Forget about our Manila drivers because they actually look sedated, baby!

Thank you many times over Jackie--my Saigon CS host. Kita kits pohon~

backpacking with Php50,000.00 or less in SouthEast Asia: THE ROUTE and PIT STOPS

For less than USD1,500.00

I will:

certainly be wide-eyed like a first grader
and lose myself
in the middle of the crazy traffic
of Saigon on the way to The Opera House and 
Notre Dame Cathedral (so help me God)
and finally hop in for a cruise in Mekong Delta

take the bus, then a RORO for Phnom Penh and once in Siem Reap, speeddrive in a tuktuk to catch the sunrise in Angkor Wat in Cambodia

take the riverboat from Ayutthaya to Bangkok, gallivant in the historic cities in The Strait of Malacca after lining up in Petronas Towers and finally check out Sentosa and Esplanade in Singapore before taking the midnight flight back to Cebu

Christmas wishlist

a lil dose of poetry for Santa

Dear Santa,

Hey! How's it going?
The ice cap over there at North Pole is fast-a-melting

Your selective hearing doesn't work for me.
Please, I want this North Face Primero 70!

Waiting by the Christmas tree on Christmas eve,

The muse is effing like dwarfs these days. Pardon the revoked poetic license. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

changing the way we think about travel

After backpacking became the in-thing to do during the hippie-flower power days of yore. Ooops. Tongue-in-cheek. Yore sounds so ancient. Anyhow, yes, after backpacking became less and less of a novelty and international travel became less and less of a luxury with zero fares from Tawi-tawi to Kiribati (pun intended), touching down the runway early this year, tsadaaaang!: flashpacking--backpacking in style plus an Ipod, laptop and what-not. Of late, as I coordinate travel plans of yet another busloads of elementary schoolers (read: cutting short my Christmas holidays this year and early part of 2010), swooshed in the screen, bookmarked, right smack at number three, drum rolls please: RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL!

In the few months that I stayed with the Cuernos de Negros Mountaineering Organisation, nipped in the bud due to the demands at work, I browsed in passing the mountaineers creed "climb every mountain..." HU-wait. It ain't the creed. Rather "leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time." With the increasing awareness on environmental issues, an addendum suited best would be "leave nothing but a minimal carbon footprint." My point is, ingrained, in subtle terms, is responsible travel. I'm taking you on a detour just to fill this space to please my imaginary editor-in-chief at lonely planet dot com.

So what the frig, pardon my french, I mean in what friggin ways (again, pardon my french) can you travel responsibly? This is what I've stumbled upon:

Cebu Pacific Air Php1.00 seat sale to all destinations

Cebu Pacific News

CEB allots 100,000 seats for sought-after P1 seat sale to all destinations

For travel June 15-September 30, 2010

The Philippines’ leading airline Cebu Pacific (CEB) offers a ‘Go Lite’ P1 seat sale to all international and domestic destinations from October 31 to November 2, 2009, or until the allotted 100,000 seats are sold out. Travel period is June 15-September 30, 2010.
CEB flies the most routes and destinations in the Philippines, including Siargao, Laoag, Roxas, Virac (Catanduanes), Naga (Camarines Sur), Busuanga (Palawan), Cauayan (Isabela) and Kalibo (Boracay).
The trademark P1 seat sale also covers all of CEB’s 14 international destinations namely: Kota Kinabalu, Taipei, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Busan, Shanghai, Incheon and Osaka.
CEB flies to Hong Kong and Singapore direct from Manila, Cebu and Clark.
Passengers with check-in luggage will just add P100 upon booking. The P1 fare is exclusive of government taxes and administration fees.
“CEB’s piso seat sale gives even more people an opportunity to fly. It is our early Christmas present, and our way of saying thank you to the overwhelming support from our passengers,” said Candice Iyog, CEB VP for marketing and distribution.
“We also hope to stimulate local tourism, since the seat sale is available from international markets as well. Now, international travelers can come to the Philippines and discover the many exciting destinations we can offer,” she added.
She encouraged everyone to act fast and book the P1 seats online. This promotion is only available via or through travel agents using the Amadeus global distribution system.
Passengers without credit cards can also book online and pay via Bancnet Online or over-the-counter transactions at Banco de Oro.
Gokongwei-owned CEB has a fleet of 21 Airbus A320 and 8 ATR72-500 aircraft. It is the youngest aircraft fleet in the Philippines and one of the youngest in Asia.

visa-free travel for Filipinos: ultimate guide

It is estimated that 62 countries and territories granted visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to Philippine passport holders, while 41 countries and territories are visa free accessible (visa on arrival for free counted). Visa issued prior to arrival or pre-arrangement required for countries or territories not mentioned below (wikipedia).


South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
North America: Costa Rica, Dominica, Haiti, Turks & Caicos Islands
Europe: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
Africa: Burundi, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia
ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
Non-ASEAN: Hong Kong, Macau, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka
Middle East: Iran, Israel

Meanwhile, here is the global ranking from the world's leading specialist in international residence and citizenship planning--Henley and Partners. The entry below is lifted from


Visa Requirements

It is important to find out before travelling whether you need a visa to enter your destination or transit country.
While visa restrictions are primarily based on citizenship, the holding of a residence permit may also be of importance. For example, if you are resident in any EU country that is part of the Schengen zone, you may travel visa-free throughout that zone.
To check whether you need a visa, you can search the IATA database which is publicly available on a number of websites. Click here to go to such a website.

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index

The Henley Visa Restrictions Index is a global ranking of countries according to travel freedom their citizens enjoy. Henley & Partners has analyzed the visa regulations of all the countries and territories in the world. It has created an index which ranks countries according to the visa-free access its citizens enjoy to other countries. This is the first time that a global ranking shows the international travel freedom of the citizens of the various countries as well as the international relations and status of individual countries relative to others.
In today's globalized world, visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. Almost all countries now require visas from certain non-nationals who wish to enter their territory. Visa requirements are also an expression of the relationships between individual nations, and generally reflect the relations and status of a country within the international community of nations.

Score Rank
1 Denmark 157 14 Malta 139
2 Finland 156 24 Israel 118
2 Ireland 156 17 Hungary 131
2 Portugal 156 20 Argentina 127
3 Belgium 155 23 Brazil 122
3 Germany 155 26 Romania 115
3 Sweden 155 27 Mexico 114
3 United States 155 29 Croatia 108
4 Canada 154 35 South Africa 88
4 Italy 154 38 St. Kitts & Nevis 84
4 Japan 154 42 Turkey 75
4 Luxembourg 154 44 Dominica 71
4 Netherlands 154 53 Russian Federation 60
4 Spain 154 54 Taiwan 59
5 Austria 153 61 Thailand 52
5 Norway 153 61 Philippines 50
6 France 152 70 Saudi Arabia 42
6 United Kingdom 152 72 Bosnia and Herzegowina 40
7 Australia 151 75 India 37
8 New Zealand 150 78 Egypt 34
8 Singapore 150 79 China 33
9 Greece 149 82 Jordan 30
9 Switzerland 149 83 Korea, Dem People's Republic 29
10 Iceland 146 87 Pakistan 25
11 Malaysia 145 87 Iran 25
12 Korea, Republic of 144 88 Iraq 23
13 Liechtenstein 140 89 Afghanistan 22
14 Cyprus 139

*Number of countries and territories which can be entered without a visa by a citizen of the respective country