Saturday, June 28, 2014

7 Must-visit Secret Beaches in Negros

In the island where I am presently based, everydayness is a sugar-fine beach, crystal clear water, blue sky and swaying palm leaves. A trip to a marine reserve means seeing up close sea turtles, reef sharks and giant clams.

When I was still new here, long weekend means hopping on a random yellow bus and if the odds were in my favor--finding deserted beaches along the way.

I have compiled here a list of what I consider as the top 'secret' beaches in Negros Island. It's a list spanning five years and thousand of kilometers (all the rides I took combined). Let's call them 'secret' beaches despite their addresses being out in the open just because 'secret' has a certain ring to it like a secret doorway (that might lead to your own secret beach). It's also the thought bubble that screams 'your own nudist beach' 'swim naked' 

 7 must-visit secret beaches in Negros Island

1.  APO ISLAND, Dauin, Oriental Negros | This speck of an island between Negros mainland and Siquior is a diver's paradise. Chapel Reef is home to a teeming population of sea turtles while the other side of the island has the marine sanctuary. Pockets of secluded beaches hidden by rolling hills and limestone cliffs are scattered around the island. Secret beach: it's near the high school building. Take the cement steps going up and down the hill. Follow the steps until you reach a clearing. Turn right and follow the footpath partly hidden by thick vegetation. The secret beach is at the end of the path.

2. SIPALAY, Negros Occidental| It's a five-kilometer stunning stretch of fine sand right at the edge of a sleepy city. For those seeking for a quieter side of Sipalay, Sugar Beach is the perfect place. Hidden by limestone karst and accessible only via a raft crossing a tidal river or go direct by pumpboat from the city center. Secret beach: In Sugar Beach, if you are facing the sea, walk towards your right and find a cove hidden by limestone cliff. Enjoy skinny dipping!

3.  MANJUYOD SANDBAR, Manjuyod, Oriental Negros| Manjuyod sandbar, the shape of a crescent moon (depending on wind direction and tide) sits in the quietude of the aquamarine Tanon Strait. The long stretch of its sugar-fine white beach is the perfect spot to end the Bais dolphin watching tour. At high tide, what remains are the cottages on stilts which can be rented for the night. Oops! No secrets here! Unless you are the only person renting out one of the cottages in the middle of the sea and then staying there overnight.

4. DAUIN MARINE SANCTUARY, Dauin, Oriental Negros| The beach at Dauin has seen a boom in recent years. Despite the developments, it has remained a quiet beach destination. It has a marine sanctuary that boosts of a variety of underwater species. Sightings of seahorses and sea turtles have been reported in the sanctuary.The best part? Its only a few minutes away from Dumaguete City. No secrets, just 'secret' entrance so you don't have to pay entrance fee. Take the road leading to the marine sanctuary but instead of turning right near the beach and paying the snob manang the entrance fee, go straight until you reach the beach. There. Free entrance to the marine sanctuary!

 5. DANJUGAN ISLAND MARINE RESERVE, Cauayan, Negros Occidental| A deserted island. Secluded beaches perfect for skinny dipping. Clear natural lagoons. Sea to forest with a teeming wildlife like a colony of fruit bats and shiver of baby reef sharks make Danjugan Marine Reserve an ideal tropical getaway for educated and environmentally-conscious travelers. Visitors are limited to 30 only at any given day to maintain low-impact to the environment. Prior booking necessary. My Secret Beach is Tabon Beach. It's a happy marriage between Blue Lagoon and Castaway. I went there for an early morning skinnydipping. For a moment I thought I would stumble upon a soccer ball and call it Wilson.

6. PIGGY BANK, Bayawan City, Negros Oriental|. Surfers from as far as Zamboanga and Bacolod are starting to pick up the local surfing radar that Bayawan has good surfing spots--Piggybank (reef break), Sande's Point (reef break) and Bonawan (sand break). The wave doesn't form a barrel like the ones in Siargao and Guian Islands but it has enough power to get you stoked. Shaka!  

7. CARBIN REEF, Sagay City, Negros Occidental|. Because it's off-the-beaten and in the middle of nowhere, what you will find in any given day is just a group or two beachcombing on its tongue-shaped sandbar. The facilities are sparse and spartan--wooden tables with bamboo benches in makeshift shacks. No restroom. Not a tree in sight. Get the picture? It's perfect for those with Robinson Crusoe-esque persuasions. The number of guests you will share this sandbar with is 70 people max! Sagay City tourism advocates Sustainable and Responsible Tourism, so the management limits the capacity for the safety of the guests and for the environment. With that being said, prior booking is necessary.

courtesy: Sagay Tourism

What did you cross out on the list?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

the secret museum in Parian, Cebu (Museo Parian, 1730 Jesuit House)

The entrance won't give anyone a clue. For the curious, the only hint is the signage that hangs on the high steel and cement gate that says this is a museum.

Hidden behind this mountain of steel bars, dust and planks of wood is an 18th century structure built by the Jesuits. Walking past the screeching noise inside the warehouse, the guide leads me to a seemingly secret stairway.

Breaking traditions, I get inside the museum through the kitchen which makes the tour sneaky at its best. 

The tour continues to the dining hall and flows toward the bridge that connects the comidor to the main house. The main house has the bedrooms. A few furniture were added to create a turn of the century feel. The piece de resistance is an Eduardo Ah Tay four-poster bed repro (Ah Tay was a very famous Binondo furniture maker in the 19th century).

The tour snakes down toward the centuries-old main gate that opens to what used to be a busy road during the 1700s. The road now is quiet and the gate is fortified with steel. 

The tour ends in the restored basement which now hosts Sugbu Gallery—a display/collection of artifacts found during the restoration process plus some other memorabilia found in different locations in Cebu.

Colon Street, the oldest street in the country. Photo taken during at the turn of the century:

Museo sa Parian (1730 Jesuit House) is located in Zulueta Street, Parian, downtown Cebu City. 

entrance fee: Php30.00/head
opens daily 9:00-12:00nn-1:00-5:00pm except Sundays

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

swimming with the whalesharks (how to get directly to Oslob from Dumaguete)

How's the weather at your side of the world? .

photo courtesy:

It is all wet and gray here. From where I sit, the sea between Dumaguete and Siquijor in the distance looks rough. The ominous sky and weather report read 'not a chance of sunshine for weeks!' Unlike several weeks back when my Outdoor Education class traveled to Oslob to swim with the whale sharks.

The day trip was in tandem with the Marine Life class of my German colleague Larissa who organized everything. She got a very good rate from Harold's Mansion (telephone no 035.422.3477)--a backpacker's hostel in Dumaguete. The package included a 'backpacker' buffet lunch, snorkeling gear, life vests and the use of a big boat that can accommodate up to 25 people. The mala-yati nga banca even has an upper deck where I and a couple of students stayed all the time.

The best part? It saved us from the hassle of land-sea-land transfers because we headed to Oslob by boat right straight from the coast of Dumaguete. The jump-off point was at Silliman Beach. The trip from Silliman Beach to Oslob took us about an hour.

After the orientation, we went out to sea and meet the gentle giants in 'person' (pun intended). Here is one of our teachers posing for the underwater camera we rented (P500, unlimited photos, with CD) at the orientation hall.  

After swimming with the whale sharks, we headed to Sumilon Island where the boat dropped anchor. Lunch was on board. The rest of the afternoon was spent beachcombing and snorkeling in the marine sanctuary where I saw a 3-legged turtle in the vastness of the coral garden.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

10 x 10| 10 Cebu LitFest Activities x 10 People You Must Meet on that day

This is your chance to meet face-to-face the names you probably only see on the spines of books and bylines in local dailies. 

Over the years, my bragging right as a literary junkie is that I have amassed autographed books by major Filipino writers and have had photo ops with them. Ahem.

Cebu LitFest features Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Lawrence Ypil, and Linda Faigao-Hall. The event starts at 10:30 am and ends with a celebration of Cebuano music and poetry featuring performances by Cattski & The Wonggoys at 7:30 pm.
 So, have your ballpens and books or CDs for autograph signing ready!
Talks, moderated conversations, exhibits, demos, presentations, a book launch and a music and poetry jam! Best of all, its free!

 10 by 10| 10 LitFest Activities. Event starts around 10:30am
  1. Talk: Ten Things You Need to Know about Being a Cebuano Playwright in NYC by Linda Faigao Hall
  2. Presentation: Promoting Reading through Storytelling by Cris Evert Lato of the Basadours
  3. Presentation: Pechakucha by Jay Chiongbian of Pechakucha Cebu
  4. Interactive Demo: Storytelling though Songs by Cattski Espina of 22 Tango Records
  5. Presentation: Promoting Literacy across the Mountains and Seas by Andrew Buenaviaje of iLearners
  6. Presentation: How Stories have Inspired our Art by Mark Deutsch of Happy Garaje, followed by an exhibit of the sculpture "Children and Kings" as inspired by A Game of Thrones
  7. Moderated Conversation: Palanca 101 with Januar Yap, Shane Carreon, Jona Bering, Ian Rosales Casocot and Lilia Tio, to be moderated by Jane Frias 
  8. Talk: Seashells, Shorts and the Poetry of History by Lawrence Ypil
  9. Moderated Conversation: How To Get Published with Cebu Daily News’ Eileen Mangubat, Sun Star Daily’s Isolde Amante, and The Freeman’s Marlinda Angbetic Tan, to be moderated by Chloe Palang
  10. Talk: Cebu As Inspiration To My Writings By Cecilia Manguerra Brainard.   PLUS
  •  Moderated Conversation: Writing In Diaspora With Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Linda Faigao Hall, and Lawrence Ypil, to be moderated by Jude Bacalso
  • Book Launch: The Other(ed) Woman by Hope Sabanpan Yu
  • Concert: LitFest Jam, a celebration of Cebuano music and poetry featuring performances by 22 Tango Records' Cattski, The Wonggoys, and Jessica McYorker with the poetry of Ana Escalante Neri, Danessa Alinsug, Ester Tapia, Gilmin Royo Kakilala, Jeneen Garcia, Simeon Dumdum Jr, Estefanio Luceno, Malu Gayamat, Gremer Chan Reyes, Karla Quimsing, Christine Godinez Ortega, and Adonis Durado as read by Michael Karlo Lim, June Rabin, Andi Patena, Joanna Vasquez Arong, Clint Solante, John Paulo Agir, Shiela Pialago, among others.
More than 10 people really. More than a bargain for a day full of everything literary!  :)
For the full schedule, check out or call (032) 233-0452

#CebuLitFest on Friday, June 27 is co-presented by Little Boy Productions and the Cebuano Studies Center in cooperation with the Arts Council of Cebu, Ayala Center Cebu, 22 Tango Records, Happy Garaje, East West Café at the IT Park, Pepper Lunch, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Shakey's.

Monday, June 16, 2014

support Gilas Pilipinas' bid for 2014 FIBA World Cup gold and fly to Spain for free this August!

Over lunch yesterday, Max's Restaurant hosted me and Cebu's top bloggers an 'intimate' event. 

The event launched the #PusoToTheMax hash tag to rally all Filipinos here and across to globe to support Gilas Pilipinas (Team Philippines) in its bid, if not for gold which is rather ambitious, to be in the finals in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain this August. Mr. Bobby Simborio (Media and CSR Manager) who was there to personally meet all of us mentioned about surprises. I don't like surprises. So, will see how that one would go.

In the course of our dribbling (pun intended) the knife for the sarap to the bones goodness of Max's signature fried chicken and dunking each slice (with 3 different sauce to choose from: Hainanese, chilli and gravy; chilli was hands down everyone's favorite), the 'surprise' and 'intimate' catchphrases that were free thrown earlier were finally revealed: teleconferencing with coach Chot Reyes! WOW! Coach Chot gamely answered all the questions. He also gave out some juicy information about the national team. Foul! Just kidding. The vibe was light and fun through and through! 

The surprises did not end there. Max's Restaurant will be sending two lucky Filipinos to watch the match live! In Spain! All expenses paid including visa! WOW! I could not recall the mechanics. Sorry. So visit any Max's branch. Plus one more! By just posing with your fist on chest and with #PusoToTheMax hash tag posted in twitter will give you the chance to fly to Spain, too! All expenses paid.   

The last time the Philippine Team reached the final round of FIBA World Championship was in 1978. The year I was born.

During the 1974 FIBA World Championship in Puerto Rico. (left to right: Abet Guidaben (9), Yoyong Martirez, Tembong Melecio (6) and Robert Jaworski (7). photo lifted from

My first memory of basketball was 4 years later, a few months after electricity lines finally reached my sleepy town. My family owned the first television set in town. Word got around, so every night, the living room of the house was filled with what looked like the whole town watching and rallying for their PBA and NBA teams.  

Last year, the whole nation saw how our Team Philippines (Gilas Pilipinas) almost clenched the gold against Iran (71-85) during the 2013 FIBA Asian Championships held in Manila. That sealed our Gilas Pilipinas a spot for this year's FIBA World Cup in Spain. The games will begin in a couple of months.

Gilas Pilipinas belongs to bracket B (the games will be in Seville, Spain) with Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece and Croatia. Click here for the System of the Competition and here for the Group Standings.

The 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain is from August 30-September 14. Let's express our support and national pride by storming the social media with #PusoToTheMax hash tag!

Who knows, with our support (despite the chance being slim) Team Philippines might just surprise us with a trophy.

Friday, June 13, 2014

weekend in JPark Resort (formerly Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort & Spa)

Brunch weekend found me in the middle of Cebu's biggest breakfast buffet upon the invitation of JPark Resort.

Japanese, Western, Oriental and Fruits & Nuts buffet stations plus the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air were more than enough to confuse my senses. In a very good way.

After doing my math: group of bloggers + waterpark + food tasting  = hmmm. a contest that will involve fitness, possibly. So, I filled my plate with a high-energy breakfast of walnuts, almond, raisins, dried pineapple, green mango preserve and fresh papaya juice. Competitive! Hahaha

The press conference started soon after. Then, dish after delectable dish arrived for all of us to, number 1: per request of blogger Libotero, food photo ops. You know when you are in a room full of bloggers, the food has to sit there for 5 minutes for the ceremonial instagram shot by everyone. It was fun nevertheless. Then, the second and the best part: degustation! My personal favorite was the fresh pasta with smoked scallops, olives and truffle oil.

Lunch was at Ching Hai Chinese Restaurant. We were treated with the signature dimsum basket--an assortment of dumplings, noodles and buns. Php1,100 good for two people. I told bloggers Vanilla Housewife and Viajera Cebuana who were seated across me that this is by far one of the best Chinese food I've tasted. The stuffing was fresh you can savor its juice. That the meal, despite being big, ended light as opposed to the heavy and bidli feeling in other dimsum place. 

And sure enough, just what I expected, the afternoon was all about games! To cut the story short, my team (we call our team Team Bangan, pun intended) won in all three games! Yehey! The rest of the afternoon was spent in JPark Resort's piece de resistance--the waterpark! Cebu's biggest!

I'm getting used to 'the life'!

Now, it's time to rest at my quarters at the Royal Suite (Php137,000.00/night)! Meanwhile, Facundo! Have my Lifestyle Villa (with private pool) ready (photo below)!

JPark Resort (tel +63 32 494 5000) is located in Mactan Island, Cebu. 

Waterpark local resident rates: P2,500.00/adult; P1,500/child (5-12 years old). Rates are inclusive of free use of a towel and lunch or dinner buffet at The Abalone Buffet Restaurant or set dinner at Maru Restaurant, Coral Seaside Restaurant, Olive and Ching Hai Chinese Restaurant.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

7 secret things to eat, play and love in Dumaguete (and not necessarily illicit and dirty)

Food crawl in Dumaguete is fun! And because the downtown area is arranged in a grid and places to dine are lumped in one part of the city, it is easy for you to hop from one local joint to another. Never mind the searing heat.

For the uninitiated and playing safe, has recommendations for you but if you are leaning toward cheap and secret (and not necessarily illicit and dirty) local dining experiences, these are my recommendations:
 7 things to eat, do and enjoy in Dumaguete:

1. SILLIMAN CAFETERIA. Cheese Bread + Empanada. You must have heard about (and probably tasted) the cheese bread at Silliman Cafeteria and how these melt-in-your-mouth buns are quickly gone before 2pm daily. At first, I shrugged it off as just a hype. It took me a year to finally give it a try and I got hooked since then!  Now the other secret: empanada! Only a few locals know about how these deep-fried folded dough with meat, cheese and veggie stuffing is yes, a stuff of foodie legend. And the secret is all in the crust--crisp in every bite.

2. SANS RIVAL BISTRO. Sans Rival + Salted Caramel. While many turistas would buy boxes of the signature dessert sans rival to bring home as pasalubong to friends and families, only a few know that Sans Rival Bistro has one of the best-tasting salted caramel cake. It's soft, wonderfully moist with the right blend of caramel and sea salt.

3. ROYAL SUITE INN. Sizzling Bulalo + Quadruple Chocolate Cake. Royal Suite Inn has been known for the best sizzling bulalo in town but only a select few know that it has the best cakes in town and its piece de resistance is the sinful and decadent quadruple chocolate cake. Real dark and moist chocolatey goodness! If there's one food that is better than sex, for me, it has to be the quadruple!  

4. KRI. Bacon, Truffle, Angus Beef Burger + bun. I am not a burger person but KRI's bleu cheese, truffle and bacon burger made me a convert. The burger bun, while it is not the secret, has something that I and people who know their bread can agree on. Soft, a little sweet with just the right fluffiness.     

5. BYBLOS LIBRARY & ROCKS CAFE. Deep inside Silliman campus, hidden behind thick acacia foliage, is a library and cafe. Get into the laid back vibe of this university town. If you want to grab a book and a cup of coffee, this cafe is the place to be! For me, it serves one of the best macha green tea I've tasted. Open to the public. 

6. BETHEL GUESTHOUSE. My favorite halo-halo store along Silliman Avenue has since folded up. It took me a while to find a new one. But when I did, I knew then that I'd be sticking around for a long while. What more can I ask for? The best halo-halo and the best view of the boulevard. All in airconditioned comfort.

7. REJOICE HARDWARE.This is definitely a secret only a handful of locals know. This one was recommended by my true-blue Dumaguetena friend Sonia. One of the best home-made ice cream in town and yes, it is sold inside a hardware store near the public market.Tip: buko flavor is the bestseller!

Now that the secrets are out, enjoy them. Ato ato lang.