Friday, March 30, 2012

journey to Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande, Surigao: how to get there and other secrets

The howling of the waves last night and the thought of a tsunami after an earthquake jolted Siargao (magnitude of 5 in the richter scale earlier that day) left me sleepless. I couldn't wait to run away from the island. 

gameplan: quickest way out of Siargao possible!
habal-habal from Cloud 9 to Dapa (Siargao). Then, motorboat to Socorro en route to Sohoton Cove (Bucas Grande Islands)

google earth shot of Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande Island
I was ready to go and left Cloud 9, Gen. Luna, Siargao at 7:00am to catch the 8:30am boat to Socorro. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in the port of Dapa. I paid Php150.00 (after I haggled in Cloud 9 the initial public offering of Php300.00 by the manong habal-habal driver. hahaha. ang mahal oist! ). The fare was fine with him since I was his first passenger of the day. Unsa ko, lucky charm? ahak. haha

the unique habal-habal of the island. the roof as sun and rain cover that doubles as a rack for surfboards
a circus act! another version of habal-habal! scary potter! haha

With an hour to burn before departure, I did a quick photo walk in the pier. The kids were game enough to pose for me.

The hard knock life.

A local approached me and asked If I was a Japanese national to which I replied "Ne. Ohayo gosaimasu! Onamae wa nan desuka." Seriously, I said no. haha. That was the beginning of my friendship with Bimbo--the man about town in this part of Surigao.

The hundred peso motorboat ride to Socorro took an hour, passing through beautiful islands, a narrow channel before hitting the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

the very narrow channel. there were two back hoes dredging the area. it appeared to be a widening project.

I headed to the place reserved for me by a good friend and spent the rest of the day catching some sleep. Late in the afternoon, Bimbo hollered from the roadside and invited me for a spin around town.We headed out to the swimming pool then to a nice and quiet beach at the far end of town. It started to rain so we quickly dashed to town just in time for dinner.

For some excellent reasons (which deserve another post. clue: a waterfalls that meets the sea) it took me a couple of days before I finally arrived in Sohoton Cove. Where to sleep in Socorro? Click here.

It was during my third day in Socorro that the trip to Sohoton Cove was finally pushed through. The sea was rough that day but the water became calm as soon as the small banca we were riding entered a beautiful bay with an equally beautiful floating village.

the quaint barangay called Dona Helen

We stopped by two fancy resorts (with snooty caretakers) before we headed to Lake Tiktikan and waited for the rain to stop. But the water was so tempting we jumped at the slightest signal of riot in the water!

Lunch was nothing but the freshest catch of the day! Yum! As soon as the rain stopped, we set out for Sohoton Cove which is just a few minutes boat ride from Lake Tiktikan. Getting a knowledgeable local is very important in this part of the journey because getting stuck inside the cove is the last thing you want to happen.

This is the only access to Sohoton Cove. The current moving outside was very strong one wrong turn of the boatman would mean danger.

Getting there was a maze I stopped making mental notes on which way to pass on the way out. Instead, I just sit steady in the banca and enjoyed the mind-blowing view! I had my camera ready in anticipation of an explosive sight once we get inside the cove! (there was one explosive event too. it's an inside joke. only the group knows. hahaha)

Once inside, pardon the cliche but the silence was deafening. Thick iron wood forest carpets the terrain. The water was calm and clear and blue. But if you ask if I want to live here: NO! it's too eerily beautiful a place.

We checked out Hagukan Cavern--named as such because of the snoring sound inside the cavern during low tide.

My most favorite part of this adventure, cliff diving!

I was actually scared at first so I turned my two travel buddies into guinea pigs. When they popped out alive in the makeshift jumping board, I knew I was ready to go! haha

We entered a cave with amazing stalagmites and stalactites and climbed up the slippery boulder before reaching the other mouth of the cave.

From there, we found the wooden platform where we could jump into the deep blue water.

I couldn't get enough so I had to do the jump a couple of times.

No word can ever contain the beauty of Sohoton Cove. I declared right there and then, Sohoton Cove is more beautiful than Puerto Princesa Underground River primarily because one can swim, jump and shout in Sohoton unlike in the underground river.

We had to go out quickly before the tide turns. Otherwise, we would have to spend the night inside and that would mean no bed, no light, no nothing for the night. Sleeping with crocodiles and pythons was never a part of the itinerary.

stingless jellyfish 

We moved to the cove of the stingless jellyfish. And because it was not their season, only a few made guest appearances.

As it was getting dark, we moved back to Lake Tiktikan where we would spend the evening at the nipa hut (Php250.00/per person/night) by the lake. Tomorrow, at sunrise, we will head to Hayang-gabon (Php200.00) en route to Cantilan (Php80.00).

photos without watermarks are courtesy: James Abogada :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

where to stay in Dumaguete City (budget rooms)

Travelers on a budget may "occasionally" find it hard to score a cheap room in Dumaguete. 

the reason? 
Between lean seasons, Dumaguete hosts at least eight regular big events. There's Santacruzan and Kabulakan Festival (May), Silliman Founder's Day (August), City Fiesta and Charter Day (November) and Buglasan Festival (October). In between are Graduation Ceremonies in March and October plus a host of national conventions.

Dumaguete credits its youthful vibe largely to a young population--mostly students from other parts of the country who come to Dumaguete to study. The reason why city hotels and pension houses are always in full house during a certain week in the months of March and October when parents and relatives visit the city for the commencement exercises. But the biggest event would have to be in August when the city exudes a frenzied energy that lasts one week when Silliman University alumni come home for Founder's Day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

surf and sail camp resort in Siargao Island

In Siargao, surf and sail is an acquired taste like eating sea urchin sashimi with Tanduay rhum.

the massage area at the second floor
And just like surfing which was unheard of in the sleepy island until two expats introduced the adventure sport 30 years ago, one resort introduces a cherished (and in a hush-hush kind of way) adventure deep into the jungle, in a secret crystal cave network in the island. Just kidding!

Monday, March 26, 2012

backpacking and faith: an interview with Jimvic

For many young people, traveling can be a life-changing adventure. 

better or worse?
Others who backpack for months on end come home broke, jobless and depressed. Those who are lucky enough, come home with a job offer laid out on the table. Our featured Pinoy backpacker set out for a month-long journey across Southeast Asia between jobs and came home with a job waiting for him. Lucky fellow.

luck or faith?
Divine providence I'd have to say. Our featured Pinoy traveler is a man with unquenchable thirst to travel and with a fervent devotion to his faith as Christian. His name: Jimvic Po Dy. Jimvic was gracious enough to grant an interview in spite of his busy schedule.

Portraying street fighters on location in Shanghai, China—a dream come true...--Jimvic
In his blog he wrote: We complain that modern society is so dark, not realizing that the problem is not that the darkness is there, but that the light is absent.

Jimvic graduated with a Communication degree from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas-Cebu and  held various capacities (as Sales Manager) in Unilever and Glaxosmithkline prior to his present designation as Sales Manager for Information Technology Products at Samsung.

10 questions about travel for Happy Mondays Playpool. Let's get started.

1. Book or Kindle? 

2. Piano or guitar? 
    Piano. Grand piano.

3. Nikon or Canon? 
    Sony Cybershot. I believe great photos are primarily subject and composition.

4. What are your crazy ideas about travel 100 years from now? 
    The Moon and Mars.

5. What is the perfect way to spend a weekend in Cebu? 

    Edge Coaster ride on Sat morning, Mountain View afternoon til evening, then chill on the beach on Sunday.

6. What’s the most memorable part of your Southeast Asia backpacking trip? Would you do it all over again?  
    Yes. Everything about it. It was a well-paced month-long tour with great friends in beautiful but not-so-known cities.

7. How do you maintain a healthy marriage between your job and your travel? 
   The trick is always to plan ahead, and get the blessing of your superior ahead of time. It also helps if you have declared that traveling is your passion.

8. What was the craziest thing you did while on the road?  
    Seriously? This will be published, right?

9. What are your travel essentials? 
    My hygiene kit, iPad (or iPod Touch), a camera, Fita spicy tuna sandwich biscuit, toilet paper.

10. If the world would listen to you for 15 seconds, what would you say? 
      I'd say that there is no other time to explore the world but now. Nobody wants to save money during one's prime years then spend them cruising as an old person unable to fully enjoy the joys of travel.

 *You've just read 10 questions: Happy Mondays playpool, a series of features on discerning and inspiring (and of course uniquely silly) Filipino travelers. If you know of somebody who fits the profile to a T, please shoot a message at

*all photos courtesy: Jimvic Po Dy

Friday, March 23, 2012

Yap-San Diego Heritage House and Museum of Cebu

One fine Sunday morning, I visited Yap-San Diego Heritage House and Museum--one of the few remaining structures in Parian District that has withstood the test of time.

the yap-san diego heritage house is filled with many different stuff. though relatively new, it adds charm to the place  

Built at the turn of 17th century, the features of the house showcases the affluence of the owners in that period. The house is made of hardwood and coral stones and its roof is made of terra cotta tiles. The earliest known occupants was a Chinese merchant named Don Juan Yap and his family. The house, handed down from many generations, still functions practically as home (the guide said the owners sleep here during weekends). At present, the owner (and frontrunner of the house's conservation efforts) is heritage advocate and performing artist Val Sandiego of the well-known SanDiego Dance Company.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

a night in the museum: 2012 Gabii sa Kabilin

11 Participating Museums and 7 Heritage Sites. One ticket. One Friday in May.

Museo Sugbu 1730 Jesuit House in Parian District, Cebu 

“Gabii sa Kabilin” is Cebuano for Night of Heritage, and patterned after the long night of museums in Germany and other European countries. The event is designed to daw foreign and local tourists, but most especially Cebuanos, to visit the museums. It aims to reinforce the belief that local museums are venues for the understanding and appreciation of Cebuano history and culture. But beyond that it also discounts the stereotype of museums as mere repositories of “dead objects”; rather, as venues for live cultural activities.

The award-winning Gabii sa Kabilin is a program of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. in partnership with the Visayas Association of Museums and Galleries Inc. It is also supported by the local government and private sectors. This year, the participating museums are Casa Gorordo Museum, Cathedral Museum of Cebu, Fort San Pedro, Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, Museo Sugbo, University of Southern Philippines Foundation Rizal Museum, 1730 Jesuit House, Sacred Heart Alternative Gallery, Cebu Normal University Museum, Cebu City Museum, and Mandaue City Central Plaza, and featuring heritage sites—Plaza Independencia, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Basilica del Sto. NiƱo, Sacred Heart Church, Heritage of Cebu Monument, Plaza Hamabar, and Plaza Sugbo.

The only cultural event of its kind in the Philippines and Asia, the Gabii sa Kabilin opens the doors of participating museums beyond regular hours up to midnight on the last Friday of the Philippine National Heritage Month of May and culminating the International Museum Day.--PR

The event will start at 5:00pm on Friday, May 25, 2012. Ticket holders will be entitled to calesa rides within the Cebu City Museum belt. A service bus will also be provided for guests visiting member museums outside the belt. I've heard that Shangri-la Mactan Resort and Spa will provide five-star cuisine at street food price. 

For more information or ticket inquiries, please contact any of the 10 participating museums or call Casa Gorordo Museum at (63 32) 418-7234 loc. 703

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

tourists from 166 countries can stay in the Philippines visa-free

Short and difficult! Two words I hear from many foreign travelers re: obtaining a Philippine visa and the length of stay (only 21 days).

photo lifted from

Soon, tourists from 166 countries can stay in the Philippines for 30 days without a visa. At present, these  tourists can stay in the country without visa for 21 days.

Chinese Nationals have been granted a 30-day visa-free stay provided that they are part of a DOT-accredited tour group. Indian nationals are given a 14-day visa-free stay if they have visas from the US, Australia, Japan, Canada, Schengen, Singapore and the UK.

"We need to address the perception abroad that it is difficult to enter the Philippines. With these visa reforms, we will be at par with the entry policies of our neighbors in the region and, for some markets, more liberal. This will definitely help in achieving our target of 10 million foreign visitors by 2016," said DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez. 
Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia allow entry of nationals of most countries without visa for stay of up to 30 days. Tourists entering Cambodia are issued visas upon arrival valid for one month, except nationals of ASEAN countries who are allowed to enter visa-free. --DOT
Thumbs up to the Department of Tourism, Department of Foreign Affairs and Bureau of Immigration!

6 things to do in the off-the-beaten town called Cantilan

For a traveler who lacks local information, it is easy to skip Cantilan in favor of other known towns in Caraga Region.

an idyllic seaside fishing village | late in the morning in Cantilan

Cantilan, at first, may seem to look the part of a typical beach town in the Philippines but a closer look reveals that the town's charm actually lies in its beautiful secrets.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

irresponsible divers in Moalboal

Irresponsible divers!

here's the screenshot I took 

Three hours ago, this photo showing a sea turtle being recklessly held captive for a photo op by a group of Korean divers circulated in facebook. In a matter of minutes, the photo spread like wildfire. Here's the caption:

"This is how Korean divers behave while diving in Moalboal! I think divers who behave like this should be deported, blacklisted for good! 
Blue Star Dive Resort in Moalboal is responsible for this. Please send them an email and let them know your opinion: 
The owner claims he does not allow his divers to wear gloves but as you can see in the picture this is not really true. 
He also claims he is not diving all the time with his guests. Then, he should train his own divemasters to do this correctly like the rest of us do!"--Jesper Nyqvist

The letter of apology posted by Alex Chun of Bluestar Dive Resort came really quick.

A larger version of the letter:

But for a licensed dive instructor to tolerate such act? Oh, c'mmon, somebody should teach these kids a lesson.

Monday, March 19, 2012

the awesome lawyer-backpacker named Kim

I was a failed (my college friends prefer 'disgraced') mathematician until my family decided I should be a lawyer. Whenever possible, I try not to be a lawyer after sunset and during weekends, during which time I am a wanderer or an alcoholic, or both declares Kim Anthony Castro. 

If the statement is not enough to jolt you on your chair while he goes animated about a funny incident during one of his travels (that or he hollers to a friend across the bar and calls the friend many vicious names), either Kim oddly volunteers to teach you calculus or slaps you with a lawsuit for not drinking your beer. And yes, Kim isn't tipsy yet. Just kidding.

Kim, like most interesting travelers I have met, is uniquely crazy. His punch lines are muscled with wit, peppered with irony. Most of all, he is disarmingly candid.

He has extensively backpacked across Asia and Europe. Of the many destinations, it's Europe that he can't seem to get enough of. In fact, he is visiting Europe again (for the third time) a couple of months from now.

I immediately wandered around Zamin-uud carrying my backpack. It was my first time to see a ger/yurt (traditional houses of mongolian nomads) so I was amazed taking photos of them until I was stopped by the Mongolian border patrol. They asked for my passport and checked the photos in my camera. Convinced that I’m just a stupid tourist and not a terrorist or a spy, they let me go.--Kim

In the many times that I hang out with him, I'd have to say that he is one person who knows well how to have a good time, earning him the monicker awesome!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

food porn in Islands Restobar and Seafood Restaurant in Surigao City

In just a matter of two weeks, I've had the good fortune to swing by Surigao City again. This time around, though brief, it offered something lasting for my taste buds to remember.

Surigao is notorious for strong winds and rough waters being located in the edge of the Pacific Ocean. But what it lacks in tranquility, it makes up in secret islands, secluded beaches and of course delectable seafood!

sea urchin. tajum in Surigao, tuyom in Cebu, tujom in Bohol | source
tajum (sea urchin) dish. believed to be aphrodisiac. what happened to me after I wolfed on one plate of this? my lips are sealed :)

This would be the last leg of my Caraga backpacking trip. How apt to end my adventure with a feast! I've had the privilege to sit in such a yummy banquet upon the invitation of my relative Dupz Escatron Ravelo. He  supervises the place like a well-oiled speedboat.

I dig the tajum kinilaw dish (photo above). I always see people pick sea urchins and eat them dipped in vinegar in the shorelines of Panglao but never really got interested to at least try it. Ironically, I tasted this dish for the first time in a Japanese restaurant back in Cebu last year. My mouth had an orgasm! I got hooked! Here in Surigao, for a fraction of the big city price, I had my fill.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

how to get to Lolong--the world's biggest crocodile in captivity

With the international media mileage this ginormous crocodile is getting, finding his new home should be very easy. All I ever needed was the magic word: Lolong.

Apparently the mother who was seated beside me in the v-hire already had a slight idea that I was going to see Lolong. My backpack and camera bag were a dead giveaway. But it took her a few minutes before she told me that, only when I engaged her in a conversation. I was sandwiched between two equally funny women in the van I did not even notice I was in the junction of Bunawan Ecopark already.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

20 reasons why I dislike the Philippines

Where is that James "Jimmy" Sieczka guy of Channelfix? Teddy Locsin, Jr. has a few words for him:

screenshot from



This video has been doing the rounds in facebook . Writer Orly Cajegas says "Can somebody kill this person? I just did. I killed him with kindness." Atty. Nigel Keith Davide says "Constructive criticism."

What about you?

Panglao Island made it to Best Secret Beaches on Earth by Travel + Leisure Magazine

I am awfully happy to discover that my playground every summer made it to Best Secret Beaches on Earth by the prestigious American Magazine Travel + Leisure. There's a special mention too of my favorite food destination--Bohol Bee Farm. The treat of choice given by writer Lara Day is purple yam ice cream. Mine would have to be their malunggay (moringa) ice cream and squash muffins. 

The article reads:
"Panglao Island, Philippines
An hour-long flight from Manila to Bohol Island followed by a 25-minute drive across a 19th-century causeway brings you to this secluded Central Visayas isle, where the petite Ananyana Beach Resort & Spa (Doljo Beach; 011-63-38-502-8101; doubles from $220) occupies a prime spot on a mile-long stretch of sand. The 12 luxe thatched-roof huts have bamboo-framed king-size beds; the alfresco restaurant turns out Filipino-Mediterranean dishes such as penne with pork adobo; and the lounge is outfitted with regionally made rattan and abaca furniture. Hop a resort boat for dolphin watching, diving amid the drop-offs of Balicasag Island, or, for the ultimate castaway fantasy, a sunset dinner on deserted Puntod Island. Another option is to visit theBohol Bee Farm (Dao, Dauis, Panglao Island; 011-63-38-502-2288; lunch for two $35), which serves dishes with organic ingredients grown on site. The treat of choice: house-made ube (purple yam) ice cream. You can also head back to Bohol Island to check out the Chocolate Hills—a surreal natural wonder of 1,776 dome-shaped hills formed from limestone covered in grass.
Lara Day" lifted from travel + leisure March 2012 issue

But the deal breaker really is the cover: Puntod Island in Panglao, Bohol. Wow!

snap,shoot!| wooden bridge in Surigao

first days of summer in Surigao, in the lap of the Pacific Ocean

locale| Cantilan, Surigao del Sur

backstory| I just got back from my piece of heaven (a deserted beach that stretches maybe 6 or 8 kilometers) with good surf (imagine Kuta Beach, Bali without the crowd and buildings) when this scene presented itself. Without skipping a beat, I pulled over and snapped!  

The bridge connects the town to the old borough (wiped clean by a tsunami 150 years ago).

*snap, shoot! is a series of travel photos taken during one of those serendipitous moments, between beauty and madness. published every Wednesday.