Back in the day, I used to brave windowless hostels with shared bathrooms devoid of toilet paper. Cost, back then, sat on a priority shelf way above Comfort. But gone are the days of frugal backpacking, thanks to my diminishing tolerance for below par accommodations, which frankly, came with age.
But what also came with age was a brand of wisdom that I used to only see in my mom and aunties. In our Japan trip for instance, we were able to find places to stay, which aced both cost and comfort; experience, too!
On our way home to Sydney from Manila, Jonathan and I decided to unwind a bit in Hongkong with a day-long side trip to Macau. His parents, both retired, decided to tag along with us, together with an aunt who was visiting from Vancouver.
To our pleasant surprise, Hongkong had impressively discounted rates for senior citizens (people aged 65 and above). So if anyone is planning to take their parents out on a holiday, Hongkong would be a good idea!
Each year, a dreamer longs to do something of epic proportions. Jump out of airplanes, quit the day job, chase after the one great love, and the list goes on. Mine, however, was an ode to the dauntlessness of my ancestors. Albeit less maverick, it sure carried more weight for me. (way more for the boylove who was dragged into my mission LOL.)
Buscalan was hard to reach, and we only had a couple of days to spare. But it happened, and we went home with the lifetime bragging right of having been marked by Apo Whang-od, the country’s oldest living mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist).
This guide is for fellow corporate rats (and students, maybe!) who only have the weekend– the long weekend, at most– to spare for bucket lists, travel goals, and whatever else you may call making-dreams-come-true.
A Friday night departure, for example, would have you back in Manila by Sunday night and be at work on Monday.
Please note that this is based on the actual trip that we did. There may be other options, and I will try to be as informative as possible. However, if this may come off as inadequate, please feel free to browse other blogs.
If traveling during the holidays, it is best to book way well in advance to secure seats. We’ve had to book ours a day later than intended as everything else was fully-booked until then.
Reservation is only over-the-counter, unfortunately. For the adventurous spirit, you can embark on the adventure of being a chance passenger. But during the holiday season? I’d rather bungy-jump.
Departure (Kamias, Quezon City)
Victory Liner – Kamias Station
Fare – 700PHP/person (regular aircon)
Departs at 7PM (As we weren’t sure how long the trip would take given the traffic situation, we booked the earliest trip for the night)
Tip: Wear a jacket or get a blankie as the bus’ aircon can get really cold. It’s been said that drivers purposefully turn the aircon up to the maximum to prevent themselves from sleeping on the wheel.
Stopover (Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya)
Late Dinner / Midnight Meal – Lugaw (with egg – 40PHP; with chicken – 50PHP; with chicken and egg – 60PHP)
Bladder break – free/donation only; very clean toilets
Tip: In the Philippines, you have to bring your own toilet paper when using a public toilet.
Arrival (Bulanao, Tabuk)
5AM arrival – Disembark in front of St. William’s Church (note that this isn’t the final destination of the bus, so be sure to tell your driver in advance that you will disembark in Bulanao)
The first trip to Bontoc isn’t until 7am. Whilst waiting, have coffee in a nearby carenderia. Ironically, eateries only serve 3-in-1 coffee
HideOut Restaurant – 3-in-1 coffee (10PHP)
Depature (to Buscalan, Kalinga)
7am – Ride a Bontoc-bound jeep/van/bus
All transport– Jeepney, Van, Bus— leaves Bulanao at 7am. We took the Jeepney to Bontoc as it arrived in the terminal first.
Fare – 150PHP/person
Tip: Ask locals, as there is no fixed terminal/parking for vehicles bound for Bontoc. It can be across the church or in the corner of the next intersection. (worry not, it’s all along the same main road.)
1030am – Stopover in Tinglayan for Brunch
time of arrival in Tinglayan depends on the frequency of stops and road situation.
Good Samaritan Restaurant – Tinola and Rice (50PHP)
11am – Disembark in Brgy Bugnay (where your guide will meet you)
recommended guide – Kuya Eddie (+639128097578) [EDIT: 0928 402 4973 – New number! Kuya E’s cellphone was stolen] – it is advised that he is contacted in advance
Guide Fee – 1000PHP (flat-rate per group)
Ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Turning Point (around 10-15mins uphill). Your guide will pre-arrange this.
Fare – 100PHP/person
Sometimes, there is a Bontoc-bound jeepney that goes all the way to the Turning Point, but there was a landslide in the area during our trip, which makes the road impassable for larger vehicles.
Trek to Buscalan (Butbut Tribe Village) downhill and a very steep uphill. The trail is paved most of the way, so you can never get lost.
Along the way, you’d pass by the refreshing Tumaniw Falls. A quick dip is in order!
Charlie Knows – homestay (inclusive of sleeping accomodations, meals and unlimited coffee. If you are as lucky as we were, you’d have free grog too! 😀
Kuya Charlie – +639397484707 / +639981888697
Cost – 250PHP / person / night. (Couples can request for the Fertility Room at no extra charge).
Grog – Red Horse Beer is deemed “too strong” and is not sold in the village — buy your stash beforehand. The local guides won’t mind a bottle or two of kwadro-kantos (Ginebra San Miguel Gin) though.
Meals – Your guide will prepare your meals. They provide unlimited rice and coffee. For viands, you can either have what they cook for you (usually eggs, chicken and vegetables), or have some of the grocery items you brought– canned goods, noodles– cooked for you.
Candies / Food for kids – when giving food to kids, please remind them to dispose wrappers properly. There are garbage sacks all over the village that you can direct kids to throw their empty food wrappers to.
Tip: Bring grocery items to share to the locals (canned goods, sugar, salt, medicines, biscuits/candies for the kids, powdered juice, toiletries etc.)
ACTIVITY / OTHERS
Lachilad Souvenirs – native necklaces at 100PHP; good idea for pasalubongs (souvenirs to give to friends/family on your return).
Kapeng Barako (Native Coffee) – 100PHP / 250g
Pasipat – a practice wherein couples who are wanting to conceive go around the neighbourhood elders to ask for their blessings. The elders then tie a beaded bracelet around the woman’s wrist while chanting a prayer. In return, the couple would give the elders a piece of bread (in our case, doughnuts – 100PHP for a bag of 20)
Tattoo – it is customary NOT to ask for the price prior to the session. The mambabatok (tattoo artist) will tell you after the session. Prices usually start at 500 PHP.
Apo Whang-Od Signature (three horizontal dots) – 100 PHP
Design – a design board is available for you to choose; you can also have Apo Whang-Od pick the design for you. She generally does what is requested, but sometimes suggests a better location or design.
Other tattoo artists – Whang-Od has since trained other women in the community to keep the tradition alive. (I even had one of the apprentices, Renalyn, ink my back, as I particularly liked how clean her lines were).
You can keep the thorn used after your session, and the guides will give you a replica of the bamboo they use in tattooing as a going-away present. (This can also be bought in the souvenir shop at the entrance of the village).
Tip: Never haggle. Help the community by helping the locals.
All of the above can be done in one afternoon, or at the latest, until early the next morning. Tell your guide of your plans and they will do their best to make arrangements in accordance to your schedule.
BACK TO MANILA
9am – We spent the night in Buscalan and left after breakfast the next day. The trek back to the Turning Point was easier than the one going to the village. We still had to take the habal-habal though, as there was a landslide in the area.
Fare – 100 PHP / person
10am – We caught the 10AM jeepney to Bontoc (there were buses due at 11AM and 12NN respectively, according to our guide). Since the ride to Bontoc was only an hour, we went toploading. From up there, the view was twice as epic!
Fare – 100 PHP / person
Other option – go back to Tabuk instead and go back to Manila from there. I understand this was the shorter/faster route.
11AM – Arrived in Bontoc; disembarked by the gate of MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and walked to the bus terminal via the overpass. There was a Tourist Police Assistance Desk nearby, where we got information on transport options.
Fall in line for the Baguio bus (no advanced reservations available)
Departs at 1PM (GL Lizardo Bus) – terminal is near the public market/ central Baguio
Fare – 210 PHP / person
Can have lunch in Bontoc. We didn’t. (Bottled water – 30 PHP, Softdrinks – 25 PHP)
Let me let you in on a secret: the secret to sensible packing is photographing what you pack. For hand-carry bags, for instance, it is imperative not to overstuff lest your shoulder is prepared to bear the yoke of overpacking.
So how does photographing helps? Whatever doesn’t look good in the photo, goes.
Genius, right? Right!
On a trip home to Manila, I tried this formula (and will prolly start a series after this), and am so stoked it works!
My favourite people in the world are Malaysians. Four trips to the country and countless of airport layovers in between, I stand by this claim with the conviction of a traveller who’s only had smashing reminiscence of the country.
It started with Jabidi, an old neighbour whose stories of coming to the Philippines by small boat from his native, Sabah, bequeathed my first glimpse of Malaysia. Then it continued with Tasha, whose food blog was spiced with family secrets from her grandma’s recipe book. Lastly, with Teoh, the most disarming gentleman I’ve ever known in this lifetime. (and you know how “disarming” stalls all else into standstill, but that’s for another blog post, so…)
On my recent trip however, Wilson, Nicole and Casey took centerstage. They did right, primarily, by taking me out on one hell of a gastronomic adventure.
To pay the thoughtfulness forward, here’s an Ultimate Kuala Lumpur Food Trip Hack from sunrise to midnight with local expertise courtesy of my Malaysian friends.
1. Instant Mi Goreng with a Gourmet Twist
Because really, who were we kidding? What with the fast-paced KL metropolis and its ironically severe traffic jams, nothing spelled convenience than a pack of instant Mi Goreng.
Then again, I was in posh Mont Kiara and somehow, there was a need to live up to the prestige. To the rescue were few drops of truffle oil and a perfectly fried egg and voila! Gourmet Mi Goreng ala Casey.
(Nota bene: I actually had this at dinner, but for this exercise, let’s pretend it’s an all-day breakfast.)
Technically, we drove out of Kuala Lumpur and to the neighbouring city of Petaling Jaya for lunch. It appeared that we actually drove against the direction of traffic too, which was half-genius, half-miraculous.
Village Park Restaurant
5 Jalan SS21/37
47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
2. Nasi Lemak
One cannot claim to have been in Malaysia until one had gobbled an entire plate of Nasi Lemak up. To Malaysians, nothing is Nasi Lemak enough unless it is the one at Village Park in PJ.
The hero of this national dish is in how fragrant and well-cooked the rice is. Usually cooked with coconut and pandan, this rice dish is often served with meat, anchovies, hard-boiled egg, vegetables and peanuts.
3. Milo Dinosaur
Common in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore, this a traditional (street) drink made of Iced Milo topped with an excess of undissolved Milo powder.
Cheap and easy to make, but surprisingly a refreshing palate cleanser.
Jalan Alor is most alive at night. Proximal to the backpacker haven of Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor is KL’s street food Mecca.
From sundown onwards, this whole street transforms to a series of outdoor restaurants serving a variety of local dishes: a true reflection of Kuala Lumpur’s multicultural identity.
Triple Gold Kitchen
67-69 Jalan Alor
50200 Kuala Lumpur
4. Mo Mo Cha Cha
Also called Bobo Chacha or Bubur Chacha, it is a traditional Nyonya Dessert. Comprising of root crop like taro and sweet potato, it is cooked in coconut milk and added with tapioca, banana and other fruits. It can also be served hot or cold.
5. Oyster Omelette
Oyster Omelette is a savoury dish comprising of an oyster-filled egg-and-flour battered omelette. A common street food in Taiwan, it can be attributed to Fujian and Chaozhou origins, and is widely available in many parts of Asia.
6. Grilled Stingray
Basically, this dish a grilled/barbecued stingray, laden with sambal topping and served on a banana leaf. It is widely popular in hawker stalls across the Malaysian peninsula and nearby Singapore.
7. Yin Yong
The duality of Yin and Yang– the harmony of two oppositions, is what this cultural dish represents. Basically two types of noodles are used: a dry one (usually vermicelli) and a wet one (usually flat noodles), which are then fused into a dish of contrasts, with vegetables, protein and other spices.
8. Kuey Tiao
Infamous in Penang, Kuey Tiao is a flat noodle dish that is stir-fried in lard and mixed with a variety of protein and vegetables. Often, it is served on a plate of banana leaf to further enhance the aroma of this Malaysian staple.
9. Hokien Noodles
Also known as Hokkien Char Mee, this soy sauce- braised yellow noodle dish is another hawker stall favourite that is widely served in many Asian countries.
It’s one thing to rough it out at a roadside eatery. It’s another to polish up to the heights of luxury immediately after roughing it up. That’s precisely what we did when right after Jalan Alor, off we went to the very exclusive Fuego Sky Dining at The Troika.
At first we weren’t sure if we’d be allowed entry in shorts and sandals. But my friends made calls and luckily so, we were gracefully received despite being under-dressed.
Reminiscent of clandestine rendezvous amongst the most influential, the atmosphere in the towers were almost eerie in its silence. We were led to a lift, to a dim-lit foyer and finally through a narrow corridor. I wasn’t prepared of what greeted us thereafter: panoramic views of the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur’s best-known landmark.
Fuego Troika Sky Dining
Level 23a, Tower B, The Troika
19 Persiaran KLCC
50450 Kuala Lumpur
10. Churros and Salted Caramel
Fuego Sky Dining is tapas for the high society. I was fine with cocktails. But then Nicole insisted we try the Churros with Salted Caramel dip. And my golly was she right. If not for our very heavy dinner, I would’ve downed the entire jar of dip, spoonful after sinful spoonful.
It was such an experience that even before leaving, I was already planning on coming back: one day soon, and always, until I have sampled all items in their menu.
I have been to Kuala Lumpur many times in the past. But after this Food Trip, the country took on a new form in my eyes. The city’s gastronomy, I realize, somehow mirrors the identity of the nation: boldly open to fusion, but proudly rooted on tradition.
In the late 90s, my once progressive home city lost its clout as The Industrial City of the South. Public amenities were sold to private operators. Housing projects were abandoned, half-built. The largest steel mill in Asia was closed down and left rusting. Jobs were made scarce. Even beer houses, once frequented by husbands whose wives didn’t care so long as they were provided for financially, turned their lights off for good.
Iligan City was stripped off of prestige.
The City of Majestic Waterfalls
But when one is forced into nakedness, one learns to love its own skin. When progress left, nature stayed.
Fast forward two decades later, the city has risen up to the national stage, viciously proud of a new monicker: The City of Majestic Waterfalls.
There are twenty-four, to be precise. But Iligan is best-known for two: one for its power; and the other, for its beauty. I know both for its legends.
What the people in my far-flung hometown lacked in luxury, they made up for in imagination. I grew up in those: in stories woven from the very fabric of nature.
The Lore of Maria Cristina
Perhaps the more renowned of the two is the mighty Maria Cristina, the heartbeat of Agus VI, a hydro-power plant that lights up most of Mindanao. Imagine the force.
In intangible terms however, such force can only be equated to two emotions: love and hate. Coincidentally, these are the legs on which the saga of Maria Cristina Falls stands on.
Once upon time, on the coast of Iligan Bay, there lived two sisters who were famous for their beauty. Maria and Cristina were very close as siblings, but were often compared and pitted against each other.
There came a time when they fell desperately in love to the same man, who in turn, deceived them both. Unable to take the heartbreak, Maria leapt into a ravine and plunged into death. Guilt-ridden for her sister’s untimely demise, Cristina followed suit. Deeply saddened, the townspeople then put a boulder of a tombstone on the spot where the sisters jumped, to remember them by.
Soon after, river water started to flow and fall into the ravine, between the boulder. This created the twin waterfall that was later named after the sisters, Maria Cristina.
But as the playwright Congreve once said, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
In the years that followed, the waterfall and its surrounding waterscapes, were noted to have been claiming lives of men: motorists mysteriously driving over the bridge and into the unforgiving water turbine under it; swimmers winding up dead, their carcasses floating in the nearby BucanaBeach; and fishermen going missing for days— some, never to be found.
Maria Cristina Falls, to this day, exudes radiance. But like a maiden who never got justice, it also rages twice as bad.
Maria Cristina Falls Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney and disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark just after Agus Bridge.
From Lanao del Norte – disembark just after Agus Bridge.
Travel Time – from the city centre, depending on the traffic, 15-30mins.
PUJ Fare – 7PHP (within city centre); 12-15PHP (Ma. Cristina, Buruun, Linamon)
From Agus Bridge, walk to the gate of NPC Nature Park (approximately 10 minutes from the highway).
Entrance Fee – 35PHP (adults); 25PHP (kids)
Shuttle Fee – 10PHP (return)
The power plant controls the flow of the falls, except on weekends where it is usually on full blast.
The Lure of Tinago
In the last decade, news of a modern-day Arcadia seemed to have caught the fancy of curious outsiders. People have come in throngs, garbed in bright orange safety vests to frolic in the other-worldy waters of Tinago Falls.
Nestled deep in a cavernous gorge between the suburbs of Ditucalan, Buruun and the municipality of Linamon, is most probably the country’s most spectacular waterscape. To get to the basin, one has to descend at least 436 steps down a concrete set of stairs– a small price to pay for such precious a beauty.
But nature, just like all else in life, is a double-edged sword. Unbeknownst to non-Iliganons, behind the charm of Tinago Falls, lies a lore of darkness, whose extent was never before gauged.
To start off, the depth of the basin is not known. Many have tried, but not one has succeeded. The accounts of those who neither died nor disappeared varied from pleasantly enchanting to downright harrowing.
One of the few, non-horrifying versions of the Tinago narrative, was about a rainbow that appeared every afternoon, and whose end dipped into the waterfall. It was said that behind the cascade was a cave. In the cave, was a pot of gold guarded by a giant snake.
Another version recounted how an entire coconut tree was once dropped into the falls in an attempt to measure its depth, but it did not float back.
But the most nightmarish of all, told of a tale of a diver who surfaced out in sheer panic after hearing voices at the bottom of the falls. When prodded, the poor man reportedly, eerily described the voices as “wailing in suffering, as if it was the very doorway to hell.”
The truth to the mystery of Tinago Falls may be something that no one can ever get close to in this lifetime. But maybe too, there are truths we do not have to pursue. The way of nature is something that needs not only to be respected, but also, accepted.
In Iligan, we recognise that our realm, may sometimes overlap with that of others. There is good; there is evil. But the humankind is gifted with the most powerful magic of all: freewill.
It means get to choose our own versions of truths. How I choose the pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow version of the Tinago story every time, for instance.
Tinago Falls Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Iligan line bus) – take a city-bound jeepney and disembark at Zoey’s Cafe in Aguinaldo Street. Then catch a Buruun line jeepney.
From the North Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – (if on an Ozamis /Dipolog/Pagadian/Zamboanga line bus) – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From the South Bound Integrated Bus Terminal – take a jeepney (either Buruun, Linamon, Kauswagan, Kolambugan lines) and disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From Lanao del Norte – disembark in Buruun or Linamon crossings to Tinago Falls.
From Buruun (my favourite route) – from the highway (Buruun crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls.
Accessible through the ruins of the old Tinago Falls Resort
From Linamon (the most convenient) – from the highway (Linamon crossing to Tinago falls) – hire a habal-habal to Tinago Falls Highland Resort.
Maintained by the local government. Roads are less steep and more paved, plenty of parking spaces and easier access to the falls.
Entrance Fee – donation only (10PHP minimum)
Live Vest – 25PHP
Bamboo Raft – 10PHP
Table – 75-100PHP
Visit on weekdays as weekends tend to get very crowded.
This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ November 2016 Blog Carnival, with the theme, Stories From My Hometown, hosted by Celine Reyes.