Taal Lake & Taal Volcano Crater - Finally!

Finally! you see i've been wanting to visit the Taal Volcano Crater for the longest time now. this volcano that's so near and yet so hard to decide whether to go near or not. this volcano that in grade school made us a little proud knowing that this is the smallest active volcano in the world.

anyway to reach Taal Volcano, one would have to go to Talisay town in Batangas. Talisay is the community you see from the various viewing decks in tagaytay city. Upon reaching the Tagaytay City rotonda turn left and then after 1km. you should see signages pointing to Talisay. don't worry the view going down to Talisay is quite breathtaking so no need to complain and ask your driver "are we there yet?" every now and then.

From the many resorts available we decided that Taal Lake Yacht Club (TLYC) would be our entry point. entry fee per person was P100 and a cottage cost around P400 if my memory serves me right. a boat going to the crater was P1,500 for a maximum of 6 persons.

we didn't need too much time before getting on a boat bringing us to the volcano base. the trip will certainly get you wet especially during strong winds. the trip took about 30 minutes.

there are several fees again to pay upon reaching the volcano base. there's an entry fee of P10 per person, there's a parking fee for your boat also and of course the horse that can get you to the volcano crater faster and less physically demanding will cost you P500, that's for roundtrip already.

we agreed that the more adventurous way to go would be by trekking. we were told it will take about an hour to climb to the crater along the 3km trail. "no sweat!" said the group in unison composed of 1 in his 40s, 1 in his mid 30s (that's me), about 8 in their 20s and 4 in their teens.

to give you a more detailed description of the trek, let's divide the trail into 3 parts: above is the 1st part which is the "feeling out" part. be ready to get all powdered up by dust, every step of man and beast would turn everything in front of you in a cloud of dust. this is the hardest part, you'd think that the P500 ride might have been a bargain after all.

the 2nd part is the "thinking it over" part. because upon reaching this part, you will really start to question and blame yourself why you didn't bring that extra P500 bucks in your wallet. but don't forget to look back at TLYC because doing so will give you another breathtaking view.

many "colorum" horses will trail you up to this point thinking you can't go on. they will offer you a small discount coz you've covered some ground yet still far from the crater. a cousin's wife rode here coz she can't stand the steep trek under the heat of the sun no more.

this part is the easiest of the trail but then it is also here that you'll try to come up with an alternative route. we've been thought in geometry that the shortest distance from one point to another would be a straight line. well we kept that in mind and looked for another route so we could skip the curvy trail, some 4 of us from the group.

as you can see, there's no longer a trail ahead of us. most local folks were jeering us and laughing at our misadventure. we shamefully went back and our girl cousins were already ahead of us and already well-rested.

this is the last part of the climb i call "what the heck?" part. there's no turning back here. the colorum horses are no longer behind coz they know you're really keen on finishing it. this is the steepest part, here your legs get heavier every step. i tried dashing up the final 50 meters just for the heck of it and ended up drinking 3 softdrinks at the crater due to the added exhaustion of that mad dash.

this is the resting huts at the top of the crater. they offer refreshments like softdrinks, buko and beers yup beers, that good old pale pilsen.

kevin and kirby deserved free refreshments for keeping up with their older cousins.

the group!

the view!

another view!

from viewdeck!

judging from this foreigner's look, he's quite satisfied with the view.

so we headed back home. but keep this in mind: if you really think you can't make the trip back down anymore, try to haggle for the ride down. my teen cousins rode down at a haggled price of P130 per person. but i guess this was becoz 2 of them rode on 1 horse and besides they were small built so it's almost like carrying one big guy.

jump shot for a successful adventure.

on our way back!

if only these Crocs could talk, surely they would be complaining for the abuse they got from their masters.

we stayed here. i forgot the name but it's the 3rd house from TLYC. we got a room for P2,200 aircon room with 3 double occupancy beds. now, that's cheap for say 6 persons and an additional person comes at a relatively cheap cost.

was this trip worth it? on a scale of 1-10, i give this trip a 5. well the entire group didn't get to swim in the lake coz the water near the resort was too dirty. they did have a platform in the middle of the lake accessible by kayak or can be brought there by banka but it was too deep.

the taal crater climb was not that exciting either. if you rented the horse, it's not worth the P500. if you trek on foot, the sight at the top is not worth the exhaustion. then the P30 softdrinks will really disappoint you also.

sadly it's one trip a city-dweller should take due to its proximity to metro manila.

next stop ... baguio or punta fuego. BYAHE NA!

Pagudpud (Boracay of the North)

I intentionally didn't include Pagudpud from the Ilocos Norte page coz being the highlight of the whole trip i wanted to give it its own page it deserves.

the Pagudpud welcome arch is quite unique in the sense that it's the first welcome arch i've seen located just after a bridge and right before approaching a mountain road. Sad thing with Pagudpud's arch is some people who doesn't give a damn put a streamer of some sort on the arch almost covering the name of the town. couldn't they just place it on the side or even make a place where announcements should be properly posted.

that's why i took another shot at its alternative welcome marker, which is this pearl. it is where you will turn left to go to Saud Beach and the town proper.

from the marker, it will take you around 10 minutes before reaching the rows of resort lining up Saud Beach. Some of the notable resorts would be Terra Rika, Apo Indon and of course the upscale Saud Beach Resort.

if you prefer to be surrounded by other tourists, the first two are the preferred resorts. this is the view in front of the two resorts.

but if you want your beach experience to be a little more private and doesn't mind shelving out a little more pesos, Saud Beach Resort is the way to go. view from Saud Beach Resort.

There were henna tattoo, beads, seashell stalls along the shores. i had my henna tattoo on my arms, choosing a tribal dragon design. it costed me P300 for its relatively bigger size. but instead of being tattooed in their stalls, i opted to be done by the shore to enjoy the scenery and help out with being yaya to my son, Jaden.

here are some of my favorite shots in Pagudpud:

me, marie, papa, mama, jaden, my sister lei, my sis mei and her hubby richie

my family, four of us, the fourth is coming out this July 2008 :)

nature's colors blending well with each other.

my fave shot of Pagudpud, it's currently the desktop background for my computer

i took this picture of tourists taking their poses for their camera. i thought if they noticed they were going to get mad. good thing these tourists were my cousins. hehehe

i thought these pics looked like they were intended for some music album cover. if the sky would have been a little bluer it would have been perfect. chua family boys and yes i'm the eldest of them all. they even call me uncle for being the most senior.

this guy had it good. finding a bathtub formation along the rocky portion of the beach. all that's missing is a four season's drink on his hand. he never relinquished his post until we left.

the chua family vacationers, some 30 of us. one of my uncles just arrived from abroad, fetched in the airport, dropped his luggage at home, then went on the roadtrip to Pagudpud immediately. he won't be denied this year's family summer outing.

the family summer outing has been a family tradition for quite some years now so it's something everybody looks forward to every summer.

even local kids can't help but still get awed by nature's beauty.

father, son and God's art.

the 15 windmills supplying 1/3 of Ilocos Norte's energy supply can be seen from the beach. the windmills are located in Bangui town about 15 minutes away from Pagudpud.

due to the influx of tourists during the holy week, all resort accomodations were fully booked. walk-in tourists trying their luck were offered tents for their accomodation. and it's funny that i noticed some 5 of these tents lining up the shore. only in the philippines i guess!

Ilocos Heritage Tour – Part 2 (Ilocos Norte)

Ilocos Heritage Tour – Part 2 (Ilocos Norte)
Whew! Just got out of Ilocos Sur and boy was the place great. Bad news is I’m back driving on the road, the good news is Laoag City is only about 80kms from Vigan City. So it’s like a scooter ride compared to the grueling 400kms from Manila to Vigan. Not long after leaving Vigan we reach the Ilocos Norte provincial arch.

First on the itinerary was the sleepy town of Badoc. Badoc what? Is there really such a town in the Philippines? I guess so, if there’s a macabebe town or a tikol town, I’m sure there must be a Badoc somewhere. Now quickly name me five (5) national heroes of the Philippines… jose rizal, Andres bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, apolinario mabini and maybe ninoy Aquino right? Well Badoc is the hometown of one of our national heroes, who may not be on your top 5 names, Juan Luna. That guy with the moustache we read in history class when we were younger, who we were told painted the masterpiece Spolarium, that Juan Luna. Not the street in Binondo okay, but Juan Luna the Man!

Going in the Juan Luna Shrine I initially thought you can come from the most humble beginnings and yet can be capable of the most amazing things. I imagined the place circa 1870s when he was a young boy, streets were not paved and not as wide, population must have been low, transportation only on horse’s back, and how far must Manila have been during that time. To put it bluntly he came from nowhereland and yet achieved honor everywhere.

Inside we see the artist’s works including his masterpiece “the Spolarium”. You can also see four of his actual palletes used in painting and also find his brother Antonio’s uniform during the war. You could see the Luna family tree and some artifacts used during Juan Luna’s days.

As I get to tour the entire shrine, slowly my initial perceptions of the artist’s humble beginnings begin changing. It dawned on me that the house was definitely not a bahay kubo, the lot is big and made of concrete and it even had a garage.

If at first I thought Juan Luna was poor, at the end of my visit I could safely conclude that Juan Luna is from a prominent family. That explained how he was able to study in Manila, take up hobbies that were for the rich. Though it didn’t change my impression that he was a good artist and a national hero, I guess at least it put my image of him in the right perspective.

A few meters after leaving the Juan Luna Shrine, I glimpsed upon a church. Now you see, after seeing Vigan Cathedral and Bantay Church, my eyes had become aware of what a “beautiful church” is. With that slight glimpse I thought I saw one. So I parked in front and left wifey in the car and armed with my Panasonic Lumix LS-75 I was ready to conquer this church.

It turned out that this church’s name is La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc. It is said that the statue of the Virgin Mary is miraculous.
Inside, I was greeted by the churchkeeper and he told me to place the candles in front of the image and pray my wishes. Of course, the candles were not free.

The church’s exterior white paint at first can be considered mismatched with the belltower’s rustic finish. But the mismatch eventually grows on you and after awhile you can’t deny its beauty. As I was leaving the gate of the church, the bougainvillea flowers caught my eye and I thought it might be nice to shoot it with the church as background. The result was quite nice.

After Badoc, it’s time to search for the town of Paoay, famous for another UNESCO world heritage site … the Paoay Church. As with most tourist spots, the toured place will normally be fronting you as you arrive as if welcoming the visitors. But with Paoay Church, what will greet you will be its rear part. Not knowing this, we excitedly parked. But then again there was this basketball court at the rear part, so unconsciously I might have ignored which part of the church we were in. Anyway as I again went to shoot some hoops, a kid with a ball greeted me and showed me P50, asking me to outshoot each other for P50. I graciously turned it down coz I didn’t want to get beat by an 11-year old.

It was 12pm. The problem with shooting photos during this time of the day is that the sun will create shadows on your face so it was a challenge trying to come up with our “been there” shots. We just tried posing under some tree’s shadows and fired the camera’s flash. It somehow avoided the shadows on the face alright but I guess balanced lighting was not achieved.

The thing I loved with Paoay Church is the serenity of its surrounding environment. Roads are wider in the vicinity, streets are clean, not too many commercial establishments for crowds to gather in. Overall one can sense the peacefulness and tranquility of the place and maybe the people too.

Paoay Church is a thing of beauty one needs to appreciate in his lifetime.

We were supposed to go to the Malacañang of the North but our hotel in Laoag City kept calling asking us if we’ll be availing our reservation with them. So we decided to check in first and come back to Paoay if we still had some time on our hands.
After about 30 minutes we were in Laoag City, dropped by the local tourism office first for some brochures and checked-in with the hotel. I think tourists should always visit the local tourism offices for brochures and recommendations, we also did this in Vigan where its local tourism office was located in Café Leona at the end of Calle Crisologo.

Isabel Suites is highly recommended for every traveler. Our room rate was only P1,000 a night with free breakfast composed of longsilog and the rooms are great. Interiors and colors were very modern and staff were courteous. It also sits right besides a Jollibee branch.

By now we were starving, so we went to Christine’s Miki House just a couple of streets at the back of the hotel. It’s a small restaurant but sources from the internet say that it has the best “miki” or (pasta noodle) this side of Ilocos. We had a hard time finding it coz the signage was painted on their gate and when we passed by the gate was swung inward so we couldn’t see the sign. We ordered the miki, siopao and halu-halo and were quite satisfied with our late lunch. I knew it had a cult following coz tourists from Manila aboard a Fortuner and another group aboard a Starex were also eating there.

We took an afternoon nap and when it was almost sunset we decided to look for the “Sand Dunes”. Our car’s fuel indicator is already bugging us to refuel, but I went on. I didn’t know it was farther than I thought. It made my navigator wife nervous that we might not be able to come back and be stuck right in the middle of the sand dune desertI didn’t intent to go there just before sunset but in hindsight I’m glad we did coz it made the photos very dramatic.

As evening fell, we stopped by Dap-ayan ti Ilocos near the capitol for our dose of ilocos empanada. Dap-ayan is a foodcourt compound offering barbeques, empanadas and other Ilokano cuisine like the Igado and puki-puki. The thing I noticed with their empanada, it is still better than that of Vigan’s. I inquired the manangs why do they think they have the better empanada, they said that it’s because in Vigan they use repolyo while in Laoag they use papaya. It also helped that the Laoag version had a more generous serving of beef inside.

After dinner, we dropped by Fort Ilocandia Resort to book my family’s reservation for the following day and also to get familiarized with the route going there. After that we had to call the day off. I asked wifey to wake me up around 5am so we could have a headstart on our way to Pagudpud the following day.

By 6am we were already leaving Laoag and going further north to Pagudpud. It is 80kms away so assuming I’ll be driving at 80kph, we’ll be there by 1 hour, so off we go.

After 30 mins on the road, we reach the town of Burgos. We had to stop at the town’s pride the Burgos lighthouse or more officially known as Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. If I thought I was early to be there at around 6:30am, I was wrong. A couple of groups were already there before us.

I later realized that being this early was not good for the photos shot of the lighthouse. First, sunlight was not yet as bright yet by those times making shots dimmer. Secondly, when you shoot the lighthouse which is high atop the hill, the sky that serves as background to it is still not as blue yet. It was a liitle gray that time creating no contrast with the subject. This is totally different with shooting let’s say in Boracay early to avoid the tourists being captured in the photo. Here I learned that shooting early may be good in Boracay but not in Ilocos, meaning it may depend on the subject.

That’s why after leaving the lighthouse, the next stop would have been the windmills of Bangui. We skipped this and proceeded straight to Pagudpud coz I knew shooting that early will create dimmer photos.

We only dropped by Pagudpud to book a room for the following day, the day when we’ll meet the other families from my father’s side. Afterwhich, we proceeded to look for the slowly-becoming-popular “Blue Lagoon or Maira-Ira Beach”. It was about 20minutes away from Pagudpud and we noticed that a lot of resorts are being built all at the same time. My prediction is that it’s going to catch up with Pagudpud’s tourism draw very soon.

On our way back to Laoag, that’s when I decided to visit the Bangui windmills. At first I got lost trying to get close to it, ended up in a quarrying site. But it got me to a place where I got to photograph all the 15 windmills from that quarrying site. When we finally found the right route, it was all worth it. The windmills supplies 1/3 of ilocos norte’s energy requirements. These windmills makes sense since wind energy is abundant in our country and we won’t have to rely as much from oil with these operating.

Getting close to these windmills can get kinda scary, I tried getting under one and when I heard the noise from the windmill it really scared the hell out of me. I immediately tried to create distance between me and the windmill. Imagine the gore if the fan blade detached from the pole. I’m not joking, try getting under them and I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.

We got back to Laoag after that, and had to meet the rest of our family at Fort Ilocandia Resort. We booked them over the internet for a family package of P10,000 for a 3 days/2 nights stay inclusive of 4 free buffet breakfast. It was a steal since there were 6 of them that stayed inside the room so it really was value for money and they got to enjoy the resort’s facilities. FIR is the only 5-star hotel up north and has a casino catering mostly to Chinese neighbors from Taiwan and China. The thing with this resort is that you get to enjoy so many things like swimming, mini-zoo, all-terrain vehicle ride, archery, golf driving range, a lagoon boat-ride, beach, beach water activities and many more. So for those looking for an all-in-one stay FIR should be on top of your list.

On our last day, we spent an afternoon in one of our uncle’s brother in Dingras, Ilocos Norte. It is about 45-minute drive from Laoag. The hosts treated us to lunch and all 30 of us ate to our heart’s content. They suggested that we try out swimming in either Batac River or what they call Karingking River in Solsana. We chose the latter since we were told that we wouldn’t be as exposed to the sun there. Off we went, took us about 30 minutes since a good part was in dirt road slowing us down. But it was all worth it. My son, Jaden even got to spend some bonding time with his grandma and the water was crystal clear. The river was a little rocky but the background was just breathtaking.

We also passed by Dingras Church which is another one of the great churches in the Ilocos region. That’s why many devotees make their “visita iglesia” here in the region wherein they travel to 14 different churches. It make sense and it’s like hitting two birds with one stone, you get to observe your holy week penance and yet get to see these great churches the region has.

WOW! All these in just 5 days. It was a hectic schedule but as you can see it was all worth the 11-hour drive. It would have been nice to just hop on an airline and land in Laoag and borrow a friend’s car for getting around. It would have spared us from the long drive and we would’ve more time on our hands to go to other tourist spots. That’s all for now and hope you catch my take on Zambales soon.
So in behalf of Apo Lakay, agkikita tayun tu manin!