Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Crashing in a First-Class Resort

Traveling with a very limited budget can be such a drag. For Ron and I, this meant getting only the cheapest accommodations available. We have stayed in a motel still fresh from the tryst of its last short time clients, with an air conditioning unit blowing a gush of dust mites by the second, because it only costs P380 a night. We have bumped rumps trying to fit ourselves in single beds that many hotel owners seem to have taken as double. And we’ve had bathrooms without window or any kind of exhaust system, floods when you take a shower, with broken wooden curtains as doors, and with faucets and showers too rusted to make way for an abundant flow of fresh running water.

So just imagine my sigh of relief and disbelief, when after all the scrimping, the wall-hugging attempts for a fresh shower, and the many allergy attacks I had to suffer in what had only been a two-week low-budget travel, Ron and I finally got to stay in a fully air-conditioned twin-bed suite, that is elegantly designed, with cable TV, Wi-Fi, soft cushions and duvets you wouldn’t want to get out of, real paintings by the bed and even inside the bathroom, and customized toiletries in a first class hotel, with a great view, warm pool, and white-sand beach—ALL FOR FREE.

We owe this sudden change of luck to Ron’s friend, Bianca, and her dad, Doy Nunag, who happens to own Amarela in Panglao Island. The resort had only been operational for a year but exudes the charm of old Bohol and stands as the only resort in the area that truly represents everything good about the province. Thanks to its owner who has always taken pride in his Boholano roots.

The massive wooden doors in the entrance as well as those in the lobby, the lattices, the railings, and the floorings in the resort were from an old house Tito Doy had fond memories of while he was growing up. The house usually had the biggest wooden belen, which many locals go out to see during Christmas time. He saw the house’s rundown state during one of his visits to the province and decided to save and preserve its charm by taking what’s left of it and use the pieces to compliment the resort he was then still conceptualising.

He collected antique furniture from everywhere around the province and employed former habal-habal drivers from his hometown, Antiquera, to refurbish his finds or create faithful replicas using old logs and scraps of wood found for him by his many friends and workers. The ladies of the town, which is also known to be the basket-weaving capital of Bohol, also added their ingenious touch to the lamps and other small fixtures in the resort by wrapping them with woven nito strips.

Tito Doy then commissioned his old high school classmate, Tonio Indino, to make wooden carvings of interesting decorative pieces, such as Bohol’s very own tarsier and the resort’s longest-staying guests, the geckos. Soon, his mom also started to bring in an old eggbeater and other interesting antiques that his father used to randomly collect when Tito Doy was growing up.

Paintings of local Boholano artists also get their much-deserved space in the resort’s many walls, along with the many paintings that the owner have collected all these years, the many pieces freely given by friends who visit the resort, and those that were painted by Bianca, who has obviously inherited her dad’s appreciation of art.

The resort also serves good old Boholano comfort foods such as the unbeatable combinations of suman and ripe mangoes and champorado and dilis; hot chocolate from melted cacao tableas; halo-halo; and stingray in coconut sauce.

The best advantage of our stay here is to actually meet most of the people who were involved in making Bohol look truly a first-rate province through this first-class resort. We visited the town of Antiquera, and saw the make-shift work area where the hired carpenters work on their make-shift machines; met Tonio, who was then busy making wooden souvenir pieces for the resort in the shape of seahorses and geckos; and met Tito Doy’s mom, who I assume, was the person responsible for developing in him the appetite of a true Boholano.

After a couple of nights, Ron and I had to transfer to the Presidential Suite with Bianca and her very amiable cousin, Margaux, since all of the other rooms will be occupied by a touring group of Taiwanese. We stayed there for three nights. From the balcony, we’d stare at the beach that gets very inviting for a swim during high tide and truly interesting to watch-- with locals fishing for sea urchins-- during low tide.

We’d swim in the pool after every dip in the beach. Then we’d either watch TV, write, take our pick from the resort’s wide collection of books and DVDs, or share meals with our hosts.

In the afternoons, either Bianca or Tito Doy would take us for a drive to neighbouring towns: We had Halo-halo in a Montana Cowboy-style restaurant serviced by deaf and mute locals in Tagbilaran. We visited the school for the deaf and the pension house that helps fund it.

We took in the rustic charm of the nearly 200 year-old Casa Rocha_Suarez at the heritage town of Sitio Ubos. We marvelled at the hand-painted ceiling, elegant detailings, and coral stone walls of the cebnturies-old church and convent in Dauin. We watched the birds flock to nest on the bare branches of the old trees in the plaza at dusk.

We had good barbecued liempo at Leopoldo’s and had a saccharine feast at the Bee Farm. We had some drinks at the touristy strip of Alona Beach. And went on a trek to the very secluded Pangpang Habog falls in Antiquera and watched the kids dive into the cold pool of the more popular Mag-aso Falls in the same town.

After our six-day stay in Amarela, Ron and I felt pampered and rejuvenated. Our stomachs were constantly filled with sumptuous food, our body de-stressed in the comforts of great accommodation, and our mind continuously stimulated by new learnings and discoveries. We left Bohol with a renewed enthusiasm and energy for further travels, and sincere gratitude to Bianca, Tito Doy, Margaux, Jojo, Yaya Ida and everyone who made our five-star complimentary stay in Amarela truly worth the detour from our supposedly lowbrow trip. It was everything we thought we truly needed, and more.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Visit to an old friend in Dipolog

When I planned my sputnik adventure a couple of months ago, I already had in mind that I’m dropping by Dipolog. Faith, a very good friend of mine,lives there. I thought it was the perfect time to reconnect with an old friend, as we haven’t seen each other for a year.

Faith and I go way back. We’ve been friends for about ten years now. We were in the same batch that went to Seattle, USA for a three-week exchange student program. It was both our first time to travel on our own, without our family and just be with other high school students from different schools. We’ve shared so many memories travelling around Seattle, sitting-in at a public high school and living with a foster family. It was definitely something for the books as the experience helped shape the person that I am now. In the short span of time we’ve shared in Seattle, we were able to build a friendship that will last a lifetime. We were able to keep our friendship intact despite the years that had gone by.

I felt a bit nostalgic on the way to Dipolog. I realised how time passed by so quickly and we’re now living different lives. Faith has her own family. She has a loving husband and a very beautiful daughter, whom I have never met. As for me, I was fortunate enough to have finished my degree in Australia a year ago and now working in media. So many things have changed in the past ten years so I was anxious to catch up with her again like the old days.

We arrived at the pier in Dapitan by noon. Faith patiently waited for us at the parking lot for almost half an hour, as the travel time took longer than expected. It was refreshing to see Faith again after a very long time. She still looked the same, just the way I imagined. If there’s one thing that reminded me of her all this time, it would be the clothing brand ‘Roxy’ as it seemed like she has every design and colour of it. She doesn’t wear anything else but ‘Roxy’. So there she was sitting at the driver seat, wearing a white roxy shirt, jeans and flip-flops. Her first words to me were, "Ronald, you’re so dark already bwahahaha!" Yes, that’s how we say hi to each other. We laugh our hearts out first before asking how we’ve been. Just reminded me of the times before, when we’d be laughing all day and night, along with Tita Cecil, our group leader in the exchange program in Seattle. I surely miss those days.

We then went to Dipolog, which is about ten to twenty minutes away from Dapitan. I finally got to meet Faith’s other half, Jonas. We had lunch at their friend’s house and then went to Faith’s home, where we crashed for the night. I also met her adorable daughter, Chloe, who definitely looked like her Mom and Dad. There was an instance, where I took a photo of Faith and showed it to Chloe, she then grabbed the camera and kissed the monitor and said ‘Love you mama!’ She was the sweetest! It was so moving to see Faith with her daughter as I was witnessing her being a Mom for the first time. I realised that we’re no longer teenagers; we are grown-ups now with our own responsibilities and obligations.

The next day, Faith was so kind to have coordinated a trip to a fishing village near Dipolog called Selinog Island. I’ve never been to a fishing village so I was ecstatic to go. And the thought that we’re finally going to an island that tourists don’t frequent had definitely made me look forward to it even more. It’s something off the beaten path I suppose. The boat ride took an hour from Dipolog to Selinog Island. The sea was so calm and relaxing, so the cruise was definitely enjoyable. Looking at the island from afar, all I could say was ‘Wow!’ as the island looked so pristine with it’s white sand and blue water surrounding it.

The population of the island is pretty small with only 848 people. The predominant source of income in the island is fishing. Electricity in the island is scheduled as a generator powers it. Outriggers were parked near the shoreline and fishing gears and nets were neatly placed on the shore. I said to myself, “This is definitely a fishing village”.

I was amazed to see how the people in the island live their lives--simple yet fulfilling. The fishermen starts their day usually at the wee hours of the morning, as it is the best time to fish. If they’ve had a good catch then they’d sell it to the fish markets in the mainland. The wives of the fishermen spend their morning making hand-woven mats or cleaning their humble houses. While the kids as young as ten-years-old fish in the morning too. In the afternoon, you’d find the fishermen relaxing at the beach, sheltered by roofs made out of woven coconut tree leaves. They occasionally have a few beers and maybe hit a few notes in the karaoke. If you come to think of it, it’s a very slow life they have in the island as compared to the city life where everything seems to be so fast, you can hardly breathe.

The view from where I sat was a stretch of white sand bar and calm blue ocean floor. It was beautiful. The warmth of the sun and the sea breeze were so relaxing I fell asleep atop a pile of fishing nets.

Later that night, Faith decided to check us in at Dapitan’s famous beach resort called ‘Dakak’. Our Dipolog trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting this beach resort. I’ve been to this resort before and I’m glad that they’ve maintained it pretty well. The pristine beach still remained as beautiful as it was before. Although I’ve noticed that the water is greener now, as it used to be in a shade of blue. But the constant downpours might have made it look green. Nevertheless, the water was still crystal clear.

The three days we’ve spent in Diplog were too short to catch up with an old friend. But I’m really glad I dropped by as it was great to see Faith again and finally meet her family.

Dipolog and Dapitan are surely places that everyone should visit. These places are rarely talked about yet they have every right to be explored.

Til then,

The Lost Sputnik

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Shrines of Our Times

It’s been a sweet coincidence to find ourselves in Jose Rizal’s old home in Dapitan at the very day of the annual commemoration of Philippines’ independence from Spain. Ate Glo advanced the celebration a day earlier, the same day we stepped on the port of the “shrine city”.

Rizal lived as an exile in this town for four years before his trial and consequent execution in Bagumbayan. The old compound, where the national hero used to reside, faces a panoramic view of Dapitan Bay. His life-size statueis the first monumental landmark in the area to greet visitors. Scattered across the historical grounds are sawali huts, which are faithful replicas of the houses where Rizal once lived with his family, treated his patients, taught young locals, and sheltered his chickens.

Faith, our host who is the daughter of former Dipolog Congressman Roseller Barinaga, has nothing much to say about the shrine. She has toured too many visitors to this place her entire life and has probably come to realize that there’s really nothing much to tell about the park that one cannot read in history books. Imagine our surprise, and sudden fit of laughter, when Ron suddenly confessed that he thought it was where Rizal was actually executed.

Most streets in Dapitan were named after places, people, and things connected to the national hero. There was one named after Josephine Bracken, an American girl Rizal met, fell in love with, and later married in Dapitan. Maybe during their courtship stage, the charming Pepe would ask the young Josephine to attend mass with him at St. James’s Church, so that he could later wow her lady love with his very own grass rendition of a Mindanao relief map--said to be designed based on the hero’s brilliant memory—from across the street.

However, I’ve noticed that Dapitan’s take to its title as “shrine city” has somehow gone beyond merely being a city that gives tribute to some of our national hero’s most memorable days. Based on the many banners posted all over the place, the title seems to have already been stretched to mean the shrine city to the efforts and establishments put up by the town’s most powerful political clan. The largest of these shrines is a humongous local resort that has a good stretch of white-sand beach, two pools, a golf course, a chapel, a large garden for wedding receptions, restaurants, bars, a game house and numerous big cottages.

Dapiitan seems to have also stretched its title a little further to accommodate the buena familia’s tribute to those they seem to hold dear, such as the new Libis-type recreational compound they named Gloria de Dapitan. The compound has a high-end steak house and an equally high-end bar, boutiques, a carousel, a poker house, and a circular arena for cock derbies.

But what I came to love most about Dapitan, is it’s also a shrine city to the good old “kamayan” tradition. Except for the breakfast we had in Dakak, I couldn’t recall any other time in our two-day visit there when I ate using spoon or fork. I must have added a few pounds savoring every meal with my bare hands. Every dish—from kinilaw to barbecues, from ginataang alimango to bottled Spanish sardines—were finger lickin’ good.

We truly had the most unforgettable meals in Dapitan, thanks to Faith’s overflowing generosity: the grand dinner of crabs, squid, crispy pata, sinigang, tinola ang kinilaw at Kamayan ni Manay (the temporary home of Lab Kamayan, Dapitan’s most popular seafood restaurant); our lunch with the locals at Selinog island, where we had a feast of grilled flying fish and Montano’s Spanish sardines (locally made in Dipolog); and our barbecue dinner at Sunset Boulevard, which was Dapitan’s version of Manila’s Baywalk.

But while it seems that I have only been paying tribute to the city of Dapitan with accounts of the experiences Ron and I had there, what I really want to do most is to pay tribute to the hospitality shown to us by our hosts in Dipolog. Our rich experiences, though mostly situated in Dapitan, would not have been possible without the kindness of Faith and her family. They have accommodated us in their home for two nights, made our stomachs constantly happy with sumptuous meals, arranged for us a rare trip to the beautiful remote island of Selinog, and treated us to an overnight accommodation in Dakak.

They have proven to us that the proverbial Filipino hospitality is still very much alive, especially in the most remote provinces of the Philippines where it is readily offered without any other agenda. How I wish more Filipinos could be living shrines to this good old trait.


How to get there:
Take a Delta fast ferry from Dumaguete (or Tagbilaran). The fare is only P160. From the Siquijor port, you can take a multicab or tricycle to your resort. We were charged P150 for our tricycle ride to the Coral Cay Resort in San Juan.

Where to stay:

Villa Marmarine
Cheapest Cottage Price: P1,200
- no aircon, with cable tv, one double bed, loft with two single beds, gas range, cooking utensils

Candanay Sur, Siquijor, Siquijor Island, Philippines
Tel. No. 63.035.480.9167
Mobile: 0919.465.9370

Islanders Paradise Beach & Restaurant
Sandugan, Larena, Siquijor, 6226 Philippines
0063 918 3320 906
0063 919 5907 516

Coral Cay Resort
Cheapest cottage price: P750-800
-garden room with one matrimonial bed, fan
Solangon, San Juan, Siquijor, Philippines 6227
0919 269 1269

Kiwi Dive Resort
Cheapest cottage price: 450-800
Beside Islanders Paradise Beach and Restaurant in Sandugan

What to do:

Take a tour of the island (can be done in a day). The best beaches are in Sandugan and Salagdoong in the town of Maria. Siquijor has a few falls and caves to visit as well. If you want to tour the island contact, Fulgen Jamito Mobile number: 09208154747

Help the students of Siquijor

When Toshito "Dagman" Harada, a retired Japanese teacher, first arrived in Siquijor, he discovered that at least half of the exisiting public schools in the province have no toilets or water supply. There was even a school in Pisong that only had 13 students from Grades 1 to 3, all sharing one classroom and one teacher. Most of these students stop studying after Grade 3 since their parents could not afford sending them to other schools to further their studies.

Dagman has since dedicated his life to help out these kids. He has sought the support of the Rotary Club in Japan to work with the Rotary Club of Siquijor Island to initiate projects for school children in the depressed areas of the province. This has resulted to the construction of restrooms and water systems in various schools.

With his "help-the-children-of-Siquijor-Island" campaign, Dagman has also been extending his appeal for help to common Japanese citizens by publishing his petitions on Japanese newspapers, inviting Japanese broadcast journalists to visit Siquijor, and even by standing at Japanese local train stations to ask for donation as he holds a box saying "Help Siquijor".

Dagman is now based in the province, where he has a resort called Villa Marmarine. Part of the income he gets from this business goes to the funding of the scholarship grants that he is extending to selected students of Siquijor. Three of his scholars are now taking up college in Larena while another one’s taking up nursing in Cebu. He hopes to send 10 more grade school graduates next year to college, and even more in the future.

You can also help Dagman help the children of Siquijor. You may get in touch with him at:

Villa Marmarine
Candanay Sur, Siquijor, Siquijor Island, Philippines
Tel. No. 63.035.480.9167
Mobile: 0919.465.9370

Sunday, June 17, 2007


We braved a visit to Siquijor with a certain degree of caution. We made a mental note not to take food or drinks randomly offered to us by strangers and to try our very best not to argue with anyone. Though most Siquijodnons are already caught in the reel of modernity, those we met still could not deny that witch doctors still live in the province, ever able to concoct potions that could either heal or kill. A staff in one of the resorts we stayed in honestly admitted that even they still get scared sometimes.

The thing that Ron and I soon realized is that despite all the talks about witchcraft and magic spells in the province of Siquijor, hardly anyone ever mentions that which has truly lured many tourists to dare a visit and eventually stay in the island: the magic brew of Siquijor’s saltwater scent, white-sand beaches, cool and clear ocean, and welcoming smiles. Take them all in and the result would be enchantment beyond belief. This was the potion that has kept Ron and I spellbound even up to the time of this writing, and probably years and years after our first visit. No exaggerations here really. We were truly dumbfounded by the beauty of the place.

I remember feeling so happy one morning as I was lying down on a native hammock, which was tied on to a couple of coconut trees atop the cliff from which Villa Marmarin sits overlooking the ocean. With my eyes closed I listened to the sound of the wind as it kissed the shade of leaves above me—a hushed cluttering that seemed like rainwater trickling down the rooftop during a minor drizzle. But it was a clear day, and as that lovely Streisand song goes, I felt truly part of every mountain, sea, and shore, hearing words I’ve never ever heard before.

That day, I woke up with the sunlight just coming in our bedside window. As I looked out, I saw Manong Fulgene, our hired driver cum guide in Siquijor, waiting for us to wake up. We met him at the Siquijor ferry pier, along with a swarm of multicab and tricycle drivers offering us their services. He won over the throng with his 150-peso price offer for a tricycle ride to San Juan and a promise to drive us through various resorts until we find one we like. He was also the one who took us to Villa Marmarin in the capital town of Siquijor during our second day on the island.

That particular morning, he was supposed to take us to the pier where we should be catching a trip back to Dumaguete for our onward trip to Dipolog. But Ron and I just couldn’t muster enough strength just yet to leave our beautiful resort, our large cottage, the beach, and the chance to listen to the story of Dagman (pronounced Damang)—a retired Japanese teacher who owns Villa Marmarin and has dedicated his years in retirement to help out the students in Siquijor. I told Manong Fulgene to just come back the next day because we had decided to stay another night.

The day before this, Manong Fulgene gave us a tour of the island. We didn’t get to see much because his tricycle had a flat tire and fixing it took up the entire morning. We were stranded at Enrique Villanueva for almost two hours and we just sat there as an old man fixed the tire. We didn’t feel even a bit irritated despite the long wait, which I found really surprising. If travelling makes me more patient, understanding and sensitive to other people’s plights, then let’s comb the world!

We were only able to stop by two places during our afternoon tour, but they were all that we wanted to see. He first took us to Siquijor’s public beach, Salagdoong Beach Resort in the town of Maria—a five-star beach for a measly 10-peso entrance fee. The water was so clear and the view was just awesome. The food from the canteen was also very cheap, and you can even while away time practicing your karaoke skills for just five pesos per song.

After shoving Ron’s confidence to the side with his rendition of Raymond Lauchengco’s “So It’s You,” Manong Fulgene then took us to the string of resorts fronting the long white-sand stretch of the Sandugan Beach. These resorts offer cheaper accommodations that’s why more tourists frequent the area. We would’ve stayed in one of the resorts if we knew about it earlier. But then at Villa Marmarin, we don’t only get to stay at a beautiful large cottage with a good view at a discounted price, we also get to help out the children of Siquijor since the resort helps fund the projects that Dagman puts up for them.

We passed by the market before heading back to our cottage so Ron could cook dinner. Just more than a week into our journey and we were already missing home-cooked meals, that’s why we got really excited when we found out that our cottage was equipped with its own gas range. We feasted on a grand meal of calamares, sweet and sour lapu-lapu, and the jumbo shrimps we ordered from the resort’s restaurant.

Our entire stay in the resort has been restful, happy, and insightful. The staff were really friendly and the owner was truly inspiring. The night before we left, we even got invited to a small party that Dagman threw for one of the workers who was celebrating his birthday. It was a simple feast of pancit, adobo and tuba but grand in thought and generosity. The workers’ families were also invited, and a young student that Dagman invited from Japan was there to keep them entertained with origami and balloon shaping.

Manong Fulgene was sitting right at the same spot when I looked out the window the morning we finally had to leave Siquijor. Honestly, I woke up hoping he would be late and we would not be able to catch our trip, but Ron’s friend was already waiting for us in Dipolog where promises of new discoveries lie in wait. So while it truly broke our heart to leave the white sandy shores of Siquijor and its beautiful people, we had no other choice but to move on.

This time, I made a mental note to come back soon and share the beauty of Siquijor to anyone who'd brave a visit. The province, as I came to realize, is its best potion and we all should come and enjoy the brew!

--The Other Sputnik