Caramoan with Family (Day 3)

April 17, 2016. Today is my mother’s actual birthday, the very reason our family went on a trip to Caramoan. As a devout Catholic, her first request was for us to visit the town proper of Caramoan to have mass in the church. The trip from the resort to the town proper was through a boat ride that took almost an hour. We didn’t get to town early enough, however, so we contented ourselves meditating in prayer inside the church.

Before leaving town, my parents made their usual rounds of souvenir shops for trinkets and other pasalubong to take back home.

The boat ride back to the resort was a rough ride against strong currents. After the turbulent trip, my mother claimed to have finished praying all mysteries of the rosary!

After lunch, my sister and I went to the resort’s beautiful infinity pool overlooking the cove and several islands, including Catanduanes province in the horizon.

Later this afternoon, we all went to a brief trip to the national park’s lighthouse, obviously atop of the park’s highest peaks, to marvel at the sunset and absorb further, in peace and tranquility, the sight of this majestic piece of paradise.

Caramoan with Family (Day 2)

April 16, 2016. Our second day in Caramoan was spent island-hopping.

Caramoan is a large rural municipality in Camarines Sur where Caramoan National Park is located. It boasts not one long stretch of beach but hectares of jungle with a coastline that boasts many coves and beaches, and dozens of islands scattered over the surrounding seas.

The beaches are as diverse as their number. There are beaches that have white, powdery sand, beaches that have huge rocks, beaches that have coarse pebbles, beaches that are secluded by towering limestone rock formations and thick foliage, there are beaches that are visited by many, there are those that lend visitors tranquility in isolation. Take your pick. It will definitely take more than a day to hop through all these islands and coves. My family was only able to visit a handful of islands and coves during this particular day trip.

Traversing the seas to go from one island or cove to another is like a boatride through Jurassic Park with all the foliage and mountains. It was a scenic trip that I had expected from a trip to Palawan, but not from a trip in Luzon. It was pleasant surprise. It was not, then, a very difficult decision for producers of the reality-show Survivor, in its many syndicated versions across the world, to pick Caramoan as one of their choice exotic settings. (No Survivor cast sightings here though!)

Caramoan with Family (Day 1)

April 15, 2016. It has become a tradition for our family during the summer to take a trip to celebrate my mother and my brother’s birthdays. This year, we went to Caramoan, in Camarines Sur.

Our first day was spent settling in our resort accommodation and going on one of their beach-hopping tours in Caramoan National Park.

We took the first plane in the morning to Virac, Catanduanes, and a shuttle to Codon, also in Catanduanes. From there, we took a speedboat to Tugawe Cove Resort in Caramoan, Camarines Sur. Located near the tip of Caramoan peninsula, Tugawe Resort is situated adjacent a small village separated from the rest of the municipality and town proper of Caramoan by the jungles of Caramoan National Park. Its isolation lends the place a very peaceful and exclusive feel, but likewise makes getting anywhere else journeys by themselves. Mobile network signal is likewise hard to get by, but who would really need that if you’re after a quiet and tranquil retreat? The staff are very hospitable and friendly. From experience, they go out of their way to grant specific requests to make their guests’ stay comfortable and memorable.

Side trip to the National Museum

March 26, 2014. A very spontaneous trip to the National Museum with my law school classmates. I had originally just planned to go to the City Hall to work out some papers, tagging some friends along, and we ended up passing by the National Museum along the way after one of us admitted never having set foot inside.

Trip to West Rizal with law school friends

Trip to Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal w/ Law School Classmates

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April 20, 2012. Some friends from law school and I took a day from our summer break to go on a road trip east of Metro Manila to the western towns of Rizal.

Our first stop was the town of Rodriguez, just half an hour’s drive from Quezon City, to frolic in the waters of the the abandoned Wawa Dam and its reservoir.

Situated upstream from Marikina River, Wawa Dam is an American colonial-era infrastructure nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains flanked by two majestic natural limestone walls covered in lush foliage. It used to supply water to Manila until the building of the Angat Dam in Bulacan. By legend, it was the infamous Bernardo Carpio who caused the separation of the limestone mountain which stood right where the dam is, as he was breaking free from bondage, and thus resulted in the flow of water creating the river that leads to Marikina.

Wawa Dam, Rodriguez, Rizal

Trip to Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal w/ Law School Classmates

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Antipolo Church, Rizal w/ Law School Classmates

We proceeded to Antipolo, further upland into Rizal where we paid a visit to Antipolo Church, a famous pilgrimage site, and to some waterfalls made infamous by a popular folk song, Hinulugang Taktak.

The falls, however, have all but lost its traditional charm, and nowhere is it near its folk song glory, having turned into a massive catch basin for detergent and other sewerage from residents upstream.

Before heading out of Antipolo, we dropped by the ‘pasalubong center’ to sample some local rice cakes to take home.

Restaurant near Masinag Market, Antipolo, Rizal Restaurant near Masinag Market, Antipolo, Rizal Antipolo Church, Rizal w/ Law School Classmates Antipolo, Rizal Town Proper w/ Law School Classmates Antipolo, Rizal Town Proper w/ Law School Classmates Hinulugang Taktak, Antipolo, Rizal

We were supposed to drive further east to the town of Tanay to end our day trip in the waterfalls of Daranak and Batlag, but my classmates didn’t think it was a good idea, as it was getting dark late in the afternoon.

Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Nemiranda's Art House, Angono, Rizal Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal

As an alternative, we proceeded south of Antipolo to a town along the banks of Laguna Lake, Angono, famous for its artisan families. We ended our trip with some drinks at Nemiranda’s Arthouse’s restaurant.

Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal

Law School Classmates at Nemiranda's Arthouse Cafe, Angono, Rizal

Lakbay Norte 2010: Rediscover the North

1,798 kilometers, 26 people, 8 provinces, 7 days, 1 bus.

Over the past week, I went with a group of print and online media representatives in a caravan around northern and central Luzon organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), a not for profit organization whose aim is to promote domestic and foreign travel in the region.

Onboard a special bus provided by Victory Liner, we visited the provinces of Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Benguet, Pangasinan, Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga. (We also passed through, though without stopping over, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Ilocos Sur).

Our accommodations, meals and activities were sponsored and hosted by local Convention and Visitors Bureaus and other local tourism stakeholders. The tour aimed to introduce northern Luzon as a re-emerging destination for tourism and trade. With growing infrastructure in the region and with the improvement of the North Luzon Expressway, travel to the north has been easier over the years and the tour aimed to encourage more people to “Rediscover the North”.

Indeed, it was a rediscovery of the places I’ve been to in northern and central Luzon, and a pleasant revelation of the places I’ve never been to–northern Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, La Union and western Pangasinan. If there was one word I could summon to give North Philippines, it is “potential”. The trip revealed how much is in store for the provinces of North and Central Luzon in terms of tourism and trade. The richness in he region’s natural wonders, in its culture and heritage, in its people make the north a viable destination for a robust and sustainable tourism industry.

Having a rich potential also means that there is a lot that can be done in terms of infrastructure and training in order to fully harness the possibilities and so that the people of the region and the entire country may benefit from the wonders North and Central Luzon has to offer.

Over the last few days I have written a chronicle of the places we visited and the organizations and establishments that have helped us “rediscover the North”. I hope one day, you also make the same discovery and rediscovery northern Philippines, and encourage others to continue and explore the vast potentials of the region north of Manila.

Lakbay Norte 2010: Clark, Pampanga

January 31, 2010. It was in 1903 when the American invaders established “Fort Stotsenburg.” For almost a hundred years later, the fort, which was later renamed to “Clark Air Base” became a major stronghold of the American forces in the Far East. It was considered the largest American military installation on foreign soil.

With the expiration of the base agreement in 1991, the Philippines reclaimed the air base and the government sought to transform the facility into a freeport zone. Clark has been a known as a destination for duty free shopping and leisure estate activities from swimming to golfing. The tourism offices in the area, however, have been promoting more activities for visitors to Clark.

For those who want to get to know more about the air base’s history there are tours onboard airconditioned “Jeep ni Juan” jeepneys provided by Castro Travel Solutions (+63 45 6256608) that you may avail. They also have packages for an afternoon at volcanic hot springs, a trek to Mt. Pinatubo and an even aerial tour of the infamous volcano.

Another new activity for visitors to Clark is horseback riding at El Kabayo Riding Stables (+63 09178122106). You can ride the horses around the compound or you can request for a ride around Clark. If you’re up for it, you can even take the horse for a ride along the Sacobia River to see the lahar canyons created by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

Across the Sacobia River from Clark is a nature and conservation park called Paradise Ranch which features gardens and zoo animals. The park features one of the largest butterfly gardens in the country and a “million-dollar” view of the entire Clark Freeport Zone. The place is more suited for kids and educational field trips. Adults, on the other hand, can hold team building seminars, retreats, camping and weddings in the garden.

With the development and expansion of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, Clark is now poised to become one of the country’s major gateways. The master development plan of the freeport zone seeks to transform the former US air base into an airport city and as a globally competitive international service and logistics center in the Asia-Pacific Region. While that has not fully happened, Clark Airport does serve inbound and outbound flights to and from many local and international destinations. It has flights to and from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, and even the Middle East.

How to get to Clark? One can drive from Manila by car through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and reach Clark in an hour and a half. Take the NLEX exit at Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga and make a left turn towards Angeles City and a right turn towards Clark. Clark may also be reached via the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). From the NLEX, continue the drive leading to the SCTEX exit. One may use either the Clark North Interchange (Panday Pira access road near Nayong Pilipino) or the Clark South Interchange (near Yokohama and Clark Main Gate) to enter Clark.

One may also take public transportation to Clark. Take a Victory Liner bus bound for Dagupan and alight at the Dau common terminal. Walk a bit towards the highway where jeepneys or tricycles are available that can take you right up to the Clark gate. Philippine Rabbit also has trips to Angeles, Pampanga, via Dau. Partas and Philtranco also has bus trips to Clark.

Lakbay Norte 2010: Where to stay and eat in Clark and Angeles

January 30-31, 2010. Angeles City and Clark have many establishments that cater to local and foreign visitors, from restaurants that serve local and international cuisine to budget motels to world-class hotels and leisure resorts to shopping malls. During our stay in Clark for the Lakbay Norte 2010 caravan, we were booked at Holiday Inn. Holiday Inn Clark is the only accredited international deluxe hotel in Central Luzon.

Holiday Inn Clark occupies a building that used to be called Chambers Hall, where bachelor officers of the former American airbase and some generals were billeted while on assignment in Clark. In 1996, after renovations, it stood as one of the first landmarks in Clark right after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. It has again just recently been renovated and refurbished in accord to the Holiday Inn chain’s global re-branding campaign. Like other international deluxe hotels, it features modern amenities and furnishings in all of its rooms and villas. Broadband internet access is also available in the rooms. It has three restaurants (Mequeni, Rodizio Rooftop Grill, Copa’s Bar) a swimming pool, a recreation and game area, function halls, a spa and fitness area, and since it is located within the Mimosa Leisure Estate, it also has a 36-hole championship golf course.

If you choose to stay in Angeles City right outside Clark, you may stay at the Oasis Hotel, which has been in operation for more than four decades, and is one of the leading business hotels in Angeles City. Unlike the Holiday Inn, Oasis occupies a sprawling complex of 124 rooms in apartment-like single-floor structures. On our last day in the Lakbay Norte caravan, we had lunch at Oasis Hotel’s Maranao Grill, where we were served with roast lamb and roast beef, together with pasta, baked mussels and roast duck in taco shells. Every Friday, Maranao Grill has an RST Buffet where they serve roast beef, roast lamb, sushi, sahimi and tempura all day.

We arrived in Clark Saturday night, and we had dinner right after checking in at the hotel at Red Crab Seafood and Steaks which is just walking distance from Holiday Inn Clark. We had generous servings of local staple viands and, of course, red crab.

After dinner at Red Crab, we were taken to Camalig Restaurant in downtown Angeles City where we sampled Armando’s Pizza–different kinds of “Kapampangan Pizza,” pizza with all sorts of combinations of local toppings, from salted eggs, to fried crickets. It was a sumptuous after-dinner treat.

Holiday Inn Clark Mimosa Drive, Mimosa Leisure Estate, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga (02) 845 1888, (045) 599 8000 www.holiday-inn.com/clark Oasis Hotel Clarkville Compound, CLark Perimeter Road, Angeles City, Pampanga (045) 893 3301 to 04 www.oasishotel.com.ph