Category: Travel

Weekend at Nagsasa Cove, Zambales

I live (and work) for weekends like this. As much as I love going out to party with friends; hanging out at a bookstore, a resto, or a cafe; or shopping, there is nothing like relaxing by the beach, as far as I’m concerned. I was never keen on beach camping until my previous trip to Anawangin, which I enjoyed so much. 
Like most people, I do look for certain creature comforts before I can say that I enjoy any particular activity.  However, due perhaps to the craziness that life has thrown my way in recent months, any travel outside Manila which allowed me the opportunity to unplug–from the web, from social media, from email or texting—has been more than welcome. And still more, doing so in some far-flung pocket of the country with just me and nature (okay, amongst friends and on good weather) is something I will always look forward to.
I joined a group of friends and colleagues over the weekend for an overnight camping trip at Nagsasa Cove in Zambales. Nagsasa is a massive cove some 1.5 hours away by boat from the nearest take-off point in Pundaquit Village in sleepy San Antonio town. However, despite the extra one-hour boat ride, I would always choose it over Anawangin, as it is about three times bigger and the water is definitely cleaner/clearer. You could also be some 50 meters out on the shore and the water would only still be chest-deep, or shallow, whichever you prefer. Ergo, if you are not the best swimmer in town, there is less danger of accidentally getting into sudden drop or getting oneself dragged by waves.
Pundaquit, Zambales, Nagsasa
We reached Pundaquit a little before 8:00 AM and immediately prepared for camping. Mind, going to the cove is not really for the faint of heart, particularly because only small pump boats or bancas took campers to the site. 

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
A small vessel could load up up to 10 people, plus camping gears, food chests, luggage, and whatnot. Because the cove is quite far, you may ask your camping guides to stop off at nearby coves for rest and picture-taking. 

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
Island-hopping is also included in the camping package, which depending on the number of people in your group costs anywhere from P1,000 to P2,000, and it includes tent rental, boat ride, 3 to 4 camping guides/helpers, wood for bonfire, food, and a quick snorkeling stop.

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
Our group was lucky enough to get an early start when the waters were still calm. 
Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
Me and my home girls
Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines, Bacardi Apple

Picnic huts are provided for campers for resting while the sun is at its merciless. The best time to hit the water is around 4 PM when one has finally rested or taken siesta.

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
Because it faces the west, Nagsasa Cove showcases fantastic views of the sunset.
Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
In the evenings, bonfire parties with good old-fashioned drinking, roasting marshmallows, and music are a  must. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries for your mp3 players and speakers. On the other hand, it’s best to bring a guitar if you are so inclined to play some familiar tunes, so everyone else can join in the merrymaking. 
Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
We were blessed with fantastic weather during the trip, and this picture does not even begin to give justice to just how  beautiful the place is.
Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines
On the way back to Pundaquit, a short snorkeling stint near Anawangin proved to be a great treat. 

Fifth Time in Singapore, Lah!

To celebrate his birthday, one of my teammates, David, decided to visit Singapore and invited me to come along. I thought since I had only been to the city-state four times, why not make it five? Just because.

We were lucky to catch a good deal with Singapore Airlines, as airfare for the same flight a few weeks later nearly doubled. It was my first time to fly with SIA and the PHP12,000 or so that I paid was well worth the excellent service, fantastic food, free-flowing wine, and entertainment aboard the aircraft. Oh yes, we left NAIA3 on time, too.

Day 1 – Arrival and Marina Bay

After clearing immigration, we took the Airport Shuttle that brought us directly to our hotel. We stayed at Amara Hotel on Tanjong Pagar Road, just on the outskirts of the Central Business District.

We arrived two hours earlier than check-in time, so we decided to walk towards Chinatown, which was just three blocks away, to have lunch. Afterwards, we decided to take a bus going to Alexandria Road to check what we could buy for our respective apartments from Ikea. Verdict: Nothing much, except for the usual kitchen utensils. I wouldn’t want to have to ship stuff all the way back to Makati.

We got back just in time for checking in and freshening up, then off we went to Marina Bay. We took another bus going to Marina Bay Sands. I was glad I took the trip, as I had never been to Marina Bay before, and this was the first time I set foot on the other side of the bay area.

Marina Bay Sands is lovely at dusk, when the setting sun is reflected on its west facade.

We walked around Marina Bay and were lucky to catch some air show of sorts–there were half a dozen fighter jets flying over Marina Bay / CBD. It looked like they were celebrating a national holiday, but what it was, we did not bother to ask around anymore.

The Helix Bridge, 7PM

Day 2: Sentosa, Universal, and Chinatown

We left early-ish for breakfast at Tanjong Pagar Plaza. For SGD4.70, I got a plate overflowing with fried noodles, fried rice, eggs sunny side up, fish cakes, and luncheon meat, plus the famous drink, teh. That was all I need to get me through a day lining up for rides at Universal Studios.

Going to Universal, we stopped by Harbour Front shopping centre to look around. It was a good thing that they had opened the rooftop water park. It was soo hot and humid, all I wanted was to walk barefoot into the water.

We reached Sentosa mid-morning and the lines to Universal was already crazy. It took us roughly 20 minutes to get tickets, and once we were in, we had to line up some more to get into the attractions–some kiddie rides, musicals, movie making special effects, and the Transformers 3D ride, which I totally enjoyed! I gotta try it again on my next visit. We didn’t have the guts for either Battlestar Galactica or The Mummy, though. And getting soaked on the Jurassic Park ride didn’t appeal to us. I’d tried this ride before, but I don’t think it was worth waiting at another super long line this time. 
Waterworld Show: Sit on the wrong section of the stadium if you wish to get drenched.

Madagascar super kiddie attraction, where you have to take a boat that takes you through a river running through a tunnel where you’ll meet characters from Madagascar. Totally kid stuff. We felt we sooo belonged in here!

And the rest:

Transformers 3D Ride

Battlestar Galactica, Universal Studios-Singapore

After Universal Studios, we took the monorail going to the next station, near the beachfront. After a quick look-around, we took the Sky Ride going back to the top of the island where the cable car station was located. The cable car was the best (though not the most affordable) way to cross back to the City, as it provides stunning views of Sentosa and Singapore.

Cable Car, Sentosa Island, Singapore

For SGD26, the cable car takes passengers from Imbiah Lookout Station on Sentosa to Mount Faber, where they were provided with free non-alcoholic drinks. Of course, we opted to pay for beer instead. After about an hour at Faber Bistro, we took the Cable Car going towards the nearest station to Harbour Front where we took the MRT to Chinatown for dinner and souvenir.

Cable Car, Singapore

Faber Bistro, Singapore

Hawker’s dinner on Smith Street

Smith Street in Chinatown district is famous for super cheap hawker’s food. You just have to be a little less queasy about the idea of eating your dinner on the street that can get pretty crowded. The tough part, however, is choosing what to have for dinner, as there are so many dishes offered at various stalls. I usually get either the chicken

Smith Street, Singapore

Tiger Beer
Singapore’s ubiquitous beer. Unfortunately, they only sell this fantastic brew in 500ml bottles, and there was no way I could down that much in one go.
Chicken and Pork Satay
Pork and chicken skewers with peanut sauce.

I wish I had discovered this kitschy neighbourhood just across Chinatown going to the CBD direction. I just love looking at the facades of the small buildings around the city, as if their government made a conscious effort to keep things sort of old-world in some districts, where things hark back to the 60s (or earlier) before skyscrapers started to change Singapore’s skyline. These structures house cafes, restaurants, boutiques, delis and pubs.

Scarlet Hotel, Singapore
The Scarlet boutique hotel. 

Day 3:  Breakfast in CBD, Last-minute shopping on Orchard Road and Bugis, and flying back home

We wanted to have a meal at a more “proper” restaurant, so we were so lucky to discover this little gem of a restaurant in the middle of CBD. How about a proper western breakfast after two days of noodles, rice and milk tea? Visit the Coffee Club at Raffles Place.

Coffee Club at Raffles Place, Singapore

Since we lived in a metropolitan peppered with massive shopping malls and bargain centers, it did not make a lot of sense to do a lot of shopping in Singapore. The only reason for me to visit a shop was because it was not available in Manila, so H&M and Cotton On were worth checking. Otherewise, there was good old-fashioned window shopping and comparing Manila, SG, and Australia prices. For the most part, SG prices were even steeper than Australia. Really??

H&M on Orchard Road, Singapore

Ngee Anh City Orchard Road, Singapore

Orchard Road
Add caption

Bugis Street Shopping Centre
Prices at bargain center Bugis is way way waayy more expensive than, say, Greenhills.  Their stuff are less interesting, too.

Ion Orchard
Ion Orchard is always worth a visit.

Henri's Pub Changi
Last stop before our flight: Henri’s Pub for wine at Changi Airport

Trekking Mt. Pinatubo

At this point, I’ve got at least one one item crossed out in my list of “35 before 35″. Taking the Mt. Pinatubo trek should be included in anyone’s bucket list in spite of, or perhaps even because of, all the body tiredness, the worries, and the body aches.
The plan for another out-of-town trip with the badminton buddies finally pushed through last week. Pinatubo proved that we didn’t have to leave Luzon (or the Philippines, for that matter) to seek adventure and excitement. Thanks to sources on the Web and the various bloggers who have shared their hiking experiences, we were able to plan or itinerary somewhat properly.
Leaving for Pinatubo
We left Manila via Victory Liner-Pasay at 3:20 AM for Capas, Tarlac. It’s great that Victory Liner’s buses leave on time and queuing up for tickets is not at all a hassle. Moreover, the bus company assigns proper seating arrangements, so unlike the other buses that ply the Luzon routes (i.e., Baliwag, 5Star, Genesis, etc.), there are no extra passengers that occupy the center aisle and make it difficult for other passengers to alight at their stops.
Getting a tour guide
By 6:30 AM, we reached Capas and immediately looked for a tour guide. There are various groups that provide guided tours to Pinatubo, and it’s imperative that those who wish to hike up to the crater get their services. They are the ones who provided the 4×4 jeeps that take hikers from the towns that surround the mountain to the camps at the start of the trekking route and of course are the ones who are familiar with the terrain. Some provide tents, helpers, and food, but most of all, they process hiking permits, since one cannot enter the Pinatubo grounds without approval by the PH army. Some parts of the valleys near the mountains are used in military exercises, sometimes with visiting foreign forces…if you know what I mean.

Taking the 4×4 jeeps
At 7:30, after a short orientation about the hike, we left on two 4×4 jeeps. A jeep rental costs around P5,000 so it is best to share it with a group. A jeep has a maximum capacity of five passengers, plus one guide. Before entering the Pinatubo lahar valleys, we had to secure permits at the Mt. Pinatubo Spa Town where the local tourism office was located. Checking and rechecking permits took about 15 minutes, as our guide was also hosting three other groups.

After getting our permits, which should be presented to the army checkpoint afterwards, we drove off to the lahar valley. The entire jeep ride from Capas to the Pinatubo camp took roughly two hours. Depending on the season, the terrain could be either dry and dusty or wet and muddy; either way, you are assured of a rough and bumpy, albeit fun, ride. As it was already July, we had to cross streams and shallow bogs on the way to the base camp.
Hiking to the crater
Again, depending on the season, your route to the crater could change. As it was already the rainy season and Central Luzon had just been recovering from the massive rains and floods brought on by Tropical Depression Falcon the previous weekend, our group took the long way. During dry season, the route called the Skyway, is open to 4×4 jeeps and cuts hikers’ trek by more than an hour. Instead of the 2-hour hike, the Skyway cuts hiking time to 45 minutes.

For more than two hours, we had to navigate the lahar valley which still was flushing ankle-deep streams of muddy waters.  In spite of what you see on the Web, it’s never advisable to hike Pinatubo wearing flip-flops, Crocs, or those pricey trainers and running shoes; they will get soaked in mudwaters, slip amidst rocks and pebbles that litter the valley, or fill up with rough sand.

And oh, no matter the season, wear sunscreen.
The lahar valley is a sight to behold. It became apparent to me that the mountain walls on both sides of the valley were not the usual mountainsides at all, but simply piles upon piles of sand and rocks that could erode at any time. They looked like majestic cathedrals, but at the same time I could not shake the thought that if I was not careful, I could find myself buried amidst tons of sands that Pinatubo spewed 20 years ago and enveloped the hills around these valleys.

We reached a rest stop on the last 30 minutes of our hike. I think that this was also the best part of the hike. Although we had to manage a steep incline, at least we had to take the last portion of the climb amid lush vegetation and cross clear and cool streams.

Beholding the beauty of the crater
We reached the crater by noon, and the first reaction was…Wow!
Mt Pinatubo Crater

Pinatubo Crater
The crater was something else. It was magnificent. Fantastic. Exhilarating. Who would have thought that the biggest volcano eruption in recorded history of the planet would result in such magnificent beauty that was the Pinatubo crater.  The two American tourists that I chatted as I was resting on the way up were right: all the troubles of the hike were worth it. Not just because I had no other choice but to finish the rest of the climb, but because the beauty of the crater is hard to match.
Of course, one should remember that it was still a crater of a semi-active volcano and the walls of dried lahar that surround the crater lakes could erode at any time. You could gape at its wonders but at the same time be reminded that underneath it all lurked certain dangers.
If you are so inclined, you could go to the lake’s shore, bathe in its waters (it’s never advisable to swim in the 300-foot deep lake), take a boat to the other side, or simply set up tent and relax while having your lunch. We opted to stay on the viewing deck or park, as we didn’t relish the thought of having to climb another 160 steps back to the deck. The other group who hiked with us decided to go to the lakeshore, however, and they all seemed to have a great time.
In spite of the heavy breakfast that we took prior to the hike, we were so famished by the time we reached the crater. Note that there are no food sold at the crater park.
On the way back to camp
After two hours of lunch, picture taking, and soaking in the beauty of the crater lake, it was time to pack up. Again, during dry season, you could stay as late as 3 or 4 PM. However, rainy season poses certain dangers along the route. A little bit of rain could result in the surge of lahar flows down the valley, which could further mean accidents, getting soaked in mud, or worse, encountering landslides. It’s best to watch out for rainclouds as well as the behavior of the caretakers of the park. I noticed that while they didn’t not voice out their thoughts about an impending rainfall, there was a bit of panic in the way they carried out their work.

We noticed that there was  indeed a surge in lahar streams on our way back. Certain parts of the valley filled up with murky waters where there were none when we passed by on our way up. The currents were remarkably stronger on certain parts as well, but thanks to the guides from our group, as well as those in others’ we managed our trek back safely and without any incident. I just felt bad that a couple of senior Korean hikers had to be carried on the way down, as one of them started cramping half-way through, while the other must have hurt her feet because she was wearing…wait for it…clogs! I don’t think the tour guides should have allowed them to take the trek without wearing proper footwear.

Seeing the 4x4s gave nothing short of relief, as it meant we could already scramble our way out of the valley. The drive back to civilization took longer because yet again, we had to manage through more waters and find safer paths. I was so tired from the climb, that in spite of the bumpy ride, I snoozed on the way back.
We reached the Spa Town just time. About 15 minutes after we jumped out of our 4x4s to relax, give tips to our helpers, and pay for shower, heavy rains started to fall. I couldn’t be happier that we made it out on time.
After the backbreaking hike, you could relax at the Pinatubo Spa Town by getting a massage, some sort of mud spa, or taking a shower to shake off the dust and grime. The shower was not cheap at P100 where the only things included was a used tiny bath soap, towels, and bag storage; no shampoo and conditioner. A Swedish massage costs P600, and so does the mud spa.
Sharing food and drinks with helpers
This is very important: The tour helps do not pack their own food. Guests are the ones who provide food for them, but it’s a deal that’s well worth it for the service that they give to hikers: they figure out the paths, help hikers cross lahar streams (this ain’t no easy feat), carry heavy bags, etc without complaint. Do not forget to share some food and drinks to these helps, as they are just as hungry and thirsty as you are. If things get dangerous, they are your lifelines.

For a day’s work, they are paid by guides between P230-P280. We thought it wasn’t enough, so we gave them a couple of hundred bucks more for their assistance.
Also, bring some food, such as biscuits, chocolates, and chips to give to Aetas around the lahar valley. You could drop the goodies as your 4×4 passed them by on your way to the mountain.

Third visit to Singapore, lah!

This trip wouldn’t have pushed through if not for the dogged insistence of my sister to go so she could visit Universal Studios SG. First, there was a major boo-boo with our flight booking; then the hotel reservation almost got cancelled; and then the foul weather late last week was a true cause for concern. Nobody wants to fly during stormy weather, and even if one does fly in the middle of a storm, the flight could prove to be bumpy one.
So instead of flying Cebu Pacific from Clark, we opted for Tiger Airways from NAIA 1 (which is my least favorite airport) at the break of stormy dawn last Saturday. The moments after take-off were nothing but frightening–think of it as, you were riding in jeep on an unpaved, pockmarked road. But instead of being on a somewhat level ground, you were climbing thousands of feet above sea level.

NAIA1, Airport, Tiger Airways

We stayed at Temple Inn on Chinatown and spent most of our time window-shopping, riding trains, visiting malls, taking pictures, buying knick-knacks. To be honest, I sort of missed all the walking that we had on our first trip last year. Apart from the Universal Studios trip, we especially enjoyed a visit to a local grocery, of all places and things to do!, to purchase food items that we couldn’t find anywhere in Manila, such as our favorite brand of milk tea, instant noodles, chips, biscuits, etc. 
When I first visited Universal Studios last year with friends, the park was still in its soft launch, so a lot of attractions were not yet available. As my sister and I were were such scardy cats who also hated lining up for hours, we ended up watching a lot of musical shows and indoor attractions. 

Two scary/exciting rides, depending on how you look at them: Battlestar Galactica and The Revenge of the Mummy roller coasters.

Waterworld…a.k.a., prepared to get drenched!

The only ride that I tricked the sister into taking LOL!

Abs, pare! 

Although it was still the “great sale” season, most of the items that we checked were a lot more expensive than the ones sold in Manila, so we thought we might as well look for things that we couldn’t find in our local malls or supermarkets, i.e., food items sold only in either Singapore or Malaysia. 

I have a feeling that two of the guys from this group are Pinoys.

Some field of dreams installation by the Universal Studios’ entrance

I’m not so brave to get onto this ride. It’s fun to take pictures, though.

Where not to sleep

BTW, our verdict on The Inn at Temple Street: never again. Worst. Inn. Ever. I have never been at a place that had more molds than this inn. I thought that we were the only ones who were unlucky enough to be assigned to a windowless, smelly, moldy room, but the next morning, I heard another guest complain about his room to the front desk officer. The front desk officer at this place was very nice and accommodating, but apart from her  the only thing that was going for this hostel was its location. Nice furniture, though.

Nope, the inn doesn’t have elevators.
You wouldn’t know that this room was crazy damp like crazy from the pictures except for the mould stains on the walls. Yuck!

Eats Singapore

If you are a budget traveler, you will save a lot from dining on dimsums on Chinatown. Smith Street has the most number of dimsum joints at super affordable prices…as long as you don’t convert them into Philippine pesos.

Around Chinatown

Building facades around the district seem to have been made to look really pretty on photos.

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade, Ye Olde Cuban, Pub

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade

Chinatown, Singapore, Facade
On Smith Street in Chinatown, Singapore