Tuesday, June 28, 2011

cheapest way to Dumaguete

It's not a secret that there is an ocean of options on how to get to Dumaguete. As a traveler who knows the way to Dumaguete so well, I'd like to share with you a wealth of "getting there" information that will come in handy should you wish to drop by my (second) hometown soon.

Port of Liloan, Santader Cebu | photography: RV ESCATRON

I take this route, at best, on a weekly basis depending on my budget and whim. If I get lucky, like the last time I did which was Php50.00 all-in for a plane ticket on sale (though, dang! I had to pay 200.00 for terminal fee in Mactan Airport), I get there in no time at all. But between lucky days, I get to pay the regular fare.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

a lost photograph and early travels with Father

Father owned a sepia-colored (or at least that’s how I remembered it) 1977 Yamaha motorcycle. The color amber splashed on the gas tank, silver on the body and black all over the saddle.That was the first family motorcycle. And for posterity, Father with his sideburns and mustache and I with my bald one-year old head, posed for what I believed was our (Father, me and the motorcycle) first picture together.

It was probably a summer day. There was no hint of clouds in the sky and dead leaves carpeted the foreground. I can still retrace the exact spot where the picture was taken because behind whoever took that photo was a store. The shopkeepers were Grandmother’s tenant. They owned a pet monkey and secured the primate on a bamboo pole that ran above the backdoor until the breadfruit tree five meters away. In a string of bad luck, the monkey grabbed my hair and shook my head for what was like eternity, shaking my head like how a farmhand checks a coconut for water. I was traumatized forever.

Monday, June 20, 2011

how to breeze through immigration in 3 simple steps

Singapore Immigration | source
Okay. Truth be told. The reason why I always breeze through immigration is because I've nailed a hint or two tips from seasoned travelers. I am not as privileged as those select few who pass through immigration without queuing in long lines and speaking with poker-faced immigration officers. My years of clicking links and reading travel tips here and there has paid off.

I've read stories about Filipinos detained in immigration because of lack of documents or dubious what-not. There were a few who made it to a foreign country only to be sent home in the first flight out. Our Filipino passports don't help either (these topics are worth separate entries).

Anyway, back to business.
It's interesting how a hint of smile, some grooming and a little diplomacy can go a long way. Here they are:

  1. Look your best, create an impression. Yes. Like most novice Pinoys I kind of dread passing through immigration like how I dread going through job interviews but I try to push deep down the dreaded little monster so I look calm and composed. Happy thoughts and a classic number of a simple and understated no nonsense jacket would also help. There was this yahoo article on how one can score ticket upgrades. One trick is to wear a jacket like you are on a business trip but with my backpack as a dead giveaway that I am a budget traveler, I resigned to the fact that its a hit or miss for me until I got a free round-trip international ticket and was billeted for free in a deluxe hotel in Hongkong. Well, it's a long story. 
  2. For the boys, shave, lest you send the immigration personnel wrong signals. There was this article I read about how to, at least, make passing through U.S. Immigration a bit easy by looking clean-shaven. I don't know exactly the success rates since I haven't been to the U.S. myself. In my travels around Asia, it worked. At least for me, I was never asked to pull out the innards of my backpack or was never asked a question (save for two incidents in Bali and Hongkong where the immigration personnel asked for my name. I don't know if it was a trick question). haha
  3. Smile and go the extra mile. Looking friendly and harmless with a puppy-dog-eye do the trick! Just kidding. What I do every time I hand-in my passport is to smile a little. You don't know how boring an inspector's life could be sitting and putting stamps for eight or ten hours non-stop in a day, huh! I don't care if the immigration staff is as stoic as a statue, at the very least, I look good in their database! On the counter, there's always that alien-looking security camera the shape of a marble and the size of cow's eyeball. Guffaw! In Hongkong immigration, the lady behind the counter even made a small talk with me as she stamped my passport.
 *extra: never carry a stranger's luggage just because he/she asks you to dahil excess baggage daw siya. I encountered one time in Singapore but I politely declined.  Lisud! Mahirap na at baka may kung ano-ano pa sa loob!

Word of caution: this is my own experience and of course, in no way extensive and can, in no way guarantee to be fool-proof. Just for the fun of it.

In light with the recent traumatic experience of fellow travel bloggers Chyng Reyes in Bali, Indonesia and (probably the hilarious few minutes detention of) Marky Ramone Go in Hongkong, issues of racial profiling have resurfaced and has been the subject in many online forum. I hope that as we travel, we bring with us from the Philippines goodwill and yes world peace! Happy Monday all!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Calamba Joe's Saturday in Dumaguete (Jose Rizal's transit in Negros Island)

Dumaguete | RV ESCATRON
It's difficult to trace the steps of Philippine National Hero Jose P. Rizal in Dumaguete City where he was said to have whiled away time. He was on his way back to Manila after having applied and accepted by the Spanish government for a position as a medical doctor in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution. The clues leading to this and that places aren't strewn everywhere, save for a historical marker tucked across a Mexican restaurant along Rizal Boulevard and one entry in the hero's journal. 

In his diary, Rizal wrote the boat left Dapitan at midnight. I reckoned the boat arrived in the port of Dumaguete at cockrow. 

I tried to gather the sight and sound, the memories of what a fine morning it was, the day I arrived in Dumaguete. Probably the same scenery greeted Rizal that Saturday morning a hundred years ago.

Dumaguete Promenade | RV ESCATRON

It was the break of dawn when I arrived from sea. From a comfortable distance, the waxing moon hanged low in the mountains.  These mountains called Cuernos de Negros stand in the backdrop of the city.  

Dumaguete at the break of dawn | RV ESCATRON
The sea was as black as silk. The tender glow from the Spanish-style lamps that dotted the fringes of Rizal Boulevard was a tell-tale sign of beautiful things to come. 

The sight and sound and the familiar air that day of my arrival still lingered.

The first time I set foot in Dumaguete, that was eleven years ago. I was immediately smitten by its small town charm. And so was Rizal. In his diary, he wrote about visits to the Governor Regal, The Provincial judge and one house where a beautiful piano music  was played. Rizal wrote:
"I called at the house of Mrs. Rufina, a beautiful house, where after four years, I heard the piano expertly played."
I wonder which part of the city that house used to stand.

The observant Calamba Joe added:
"...the people of Dumaguete are fond of decorating their houses with plants and flowers."
Still holds true today.  Everywhere in Dumaguete, there are always pockets of garden. And what would clinch that fact is the annual Kabulakan Festival which loosely translated into English means Flower Festival.

One of the houses along Rizal Blvd | RV ESCATRON

Meanwhile, if the pensive Rizal was alive today, he would have loved the drive along Hibbard Avenue, the tree-lined artery that cuts through the century-old Silliman campus. As an artist, he would have probably rock the house during Reggae Wednesdays at Hayahay with friends who, like him, are also transient in the city. He would probably have raved about the desserts at Sans Rival and make a good excuse that diet plans can be put on hold. These are just some of the marrow that define Dumaguete as a well-loved city by writers, wanderlusts and those who are simply in love with life itself. Rizal after all was probably like anyone of us.

Monday, June 6, 2011

backpacking tips for the freeloaders

There is no way to cut corners from airport A to airport B but there certainly is a way to lessen the cost. It's either you find an alternative or teleport to the next airport (pun intended).

C'mmon, let's face it, travel may not be that hefty to some people but for travelers like me and maybe you na nagtatiyaga on a third world pay slip (come to think of it: our spending power is 80 times if you and I earned euros!), our savings has already been dented even halfway through the trip. And let's not even dwell on issues about discrimination of travelers holding Filipino passport. Save that for a lengthy forum. I'm bitter! Nax.

Going back, since you (just like me), my dear reader, probably earn just enough to splurge in some of life's guilty pleasures and if there's a way to save while on the road, why not? No investment. Just kapal ng apug lang ang puhonan! Hahah. Here are 10 tips to get some things on the road for free. Read on.

front row seat to the best beach in the world!
1. Save the Php75.00 environmental fee in Boracay by telling the counter attendant you work in one of the hotels in the island. But be forewarned that you should look the part and get ready to present an ID to support your claim. At its worst, you could be a con artist in the making.

2. Save all entrance fees to Royal Palace in Bangkok, Borubodor in Indonesia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and all the temples in SouthEast Asia by not dressing up like a tourist. Slinging the camera on your neck is a dead giveaway! This is tough. You have to dress the part and definitely talk like the locals. How's that possible?

3. For the culture vulture in you while in Hongkong, save HK$10.00 if you come and visit Hong Kong Museum of Art on a Wednesday. Entrance fees to this treasure trove of HongKong art are waived every midweek in this former British Colony.

4. At the National Museum in Manila, waive your Php100 to see the Spoliarium by the great Filipino painter Juan Luna. The museum charges nothing on a Sunday! And that includes the Museum of the Filipino People at the building next block. And chances are, you will have the whole building all to yourself.

5. Save US$1-3 per day in Siem Reap, Cambodia for bicycle rental if you choose hostels that offer complimentary bicycle use like Siem Reap Hostel near the Old Market. Look it up in hostelworld dot com.

6. Save ginormous cab expenses in Macau by taking the complimentary shuttle service to every imaginable big hotel and casino chain in the former Portuguese colony. Operating hours are usually from 6:00am until 11:00pm.

7. Save on snack near the St. Paul ruins in Macau by grabbing a bite or two (or more! who cares, in a foreign city, there's an unlikely chance that somebody knows you anyway. lol) of some munchies (read: free tasting) peddled by vendors in the cobblestone and winding streets of Senado Square.

8. From Waterfront Hotel in Cebu to Newport City in Manila, get free biscuits and free-flowing coffee at casinos everywhere! The world over! Adik!

9. Free mooncake tasting all over Singapore on dates nearing the Chinese New Year.

10. And last but not least, couchsurfing! Don't get me wrong. Couchsurfing is a community of travelers. The culture is totally different. It's not just about freeloading. The pathos is way deeper than free accommodation. Otherwise, get a hostel bed or sleep on benches.

So there. I can also include hitchhiking though it's uncommon here in The Philippines and the rest of Asia. And speaking from an Asian perspective, the risk involve is just tremendous!

I'm sure you have a baker's dozen tips to share, too. So, what are yours?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

backpack is home

to the secret world of backpacklife: attic
When I don't snug the backpack, I recharge my superpowers here. This room is precisely where I run naked every morning. A little inventory of assets and liabilities.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Palawan food porn and some tidbits from the green room

There was a story, an isolated case, about a lunatic in Palawan who butchered an enemy and to leave no trace of the murder, sliced the body and mixed it with the food for a banquet. The details as to how the guests at the reception discovered they unknowingly turned into cannibals is sketchy now but the news hugged the headlines many years back.

Then, there was the high-profile kidnapping and murder incident of guests and workers of Dos Palmas Resort by the terror group Abu Sayaff. The resort has long recovered and have beefed up security.  

Much of Palawan sit on  a jungle. Into the depths of its forest, there are tribal groups. As stories would have it, they are not keen on meeting outsiders. And because its natural growth forest is also thick and its swamp plenty, malaria is not uncommon.

Palawan's edges are peppered with deserted islands and pristine white sand beaches. In the cliffs, caves and limestone karsts of El Nido is a thriving multimillion industry of balinsasayaw (swiflet bird) saliva which are then exported to become bird's nest soup to feed on the voracious appetite of Hongkong and mainland China. 

In the island of Calauit, safari animals like giraffes and zebras seem misplaced in the tropical landscape.  In Culion, if the walls could only talk about its painful past as a leper's colony.

All these and more would perfectly fit the bill for a reality show. So, it didn't come as a surprise when I heard that Survivor France and Bulgaria shot many of the reality show's episodes there. Amazing Race also shot one episode somewhere in El Nido (Another production of Survivor is now being filmed at the equally beautiful Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur).  

Lately, Palawan figured in yet another media mileage-- thru National Geographic and Lonely Planet as they listed Palawan as a must-visit place for 2011! In no time,  people will come in droves to what is considered as The Philippines last frontier. And it holds the title so dearly by protecting its natural treasures from being raped by the greedy capitalists. Its a fierce and tough battle. Early this year, a staunch environmental advocate and mediaman was shot to death! 

Travelers of different persuasions come to Palawan. As for me, it's mainly work-related and the vacation part? It's secondary only. But it's fun just the same. I brought 10 of my students for a one-week holiday.

Years before though, I vaguely sketched a one-month plan to explore Palawan from end-to-end. My untimely visit this year was in a rush and covered only the vastness of Puerto Princesa. But no regrets. Gives me more reasons to come back!

Mactan Channel: The view from my window on flight 5J 227
The plane touched down Puerto Princesa Airport past lunchtime. As soon as we arrived in the pension house, I asked the staff if there's any place cheap for lunch, like a Vietnamese noodle house perhaps. With her bloodshot eyes, the staff answered that it's a few blocks away. A few minutes walk, we found it!

BONA'S CHAO LONG:Viet noodle for P40.00 a bowl + P25.00 baguette