It is no secret that the open road is my travel terrain of choice. After all, “the dream” began on countless bus trips from my barrio to the city, in all my years in school.
Easter, as Jonat and I serendipitously came to reckon in 2011, is the perfect time for road trips. Whilst a four-day weekend is too short for an overseas trip, it is long enough to still have a holiday even with all the driving in between.
Last Easter was different: We took friends with us. On a test run on, albeit milder, a life lived out of a backpack.
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)
Amidst the debauchery— an oversupply of alcohol and an indulgence in second-hand smoke— I smelt brine.
Barely sober, I heeded the smell and waded out of the Jungle Bar mosh pit and into the silence and darkness of the nearby beach. By the time midnight struck to herald 2016, seawater had already soaked the hem of the jumpsuit I wore for the night.
Water was my element, I was certain, despite the stars of my birth insisting it was Fire.
On January 1, 2016, I was partying in Gili Trawangan, an island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, on what felt like the start of a new lap after accomplishing a whole darn lot in the years before then.
The boylove was on my tail, generous with the space he was allowing me to brood in. We met at a New Year’s Eve Party too, some seven years ago. I was keeping him, I thought. For on days that my soul isn’t comforted by water, his skin becomes the hearth where my fire is able to burn the wildest.
With finding fixture, came true understanding of the ways of my own heart. I found out that humans will always yield to the gravity of moments, of micro-infinities. Often to the weight of the ones that got away. Sometimes, of the ones who never left.
My heart will always flutter to a lot of things. But true love is a shelf that sits over and above everything else. That’s where Jonathan is.
That firework-laden midnight in my favourite island in the world, kicked off what turned out to be a year of triumphs. For the first time in the history of my wayfaring, I felt no need to leave.
Rather, I found value in taking root; in finding marvel at the retelling of stories from revisited destinations. It was a year of knowing places better and loving people deeper.
Australia: The Joys of the Wilderness
The wilderness tapped on my fancy early on in the year. My husband and I have been privileged to have started our marriage in a beautiful home with splendid views of the lake. Also nearby was the ocean. In between were woodlands.
A long weekend at the foreshore of the neighbouring Patonga opened up a series of outdoor adventures. These adventures consequently led us to drive 4 hours south to Sanctuary Point and Jervis Bay on Easter Weekend, and 7 hours up the Snowy Mountains in the winter.
Successfully pitching a tent before nightfall and managing to stay dry despite an overnight downpour were but small victories. But through those tiny triumphs, the camping grounds have taught me an invaluable skill: sensitivity to the song of nature.
It was through this new-found understanding that amongst many other things, we got to find pleasure in starlit dinners of salmon and asparagus, cooked over single-burner camping stoves and served on tin picnic plates and disposable cutlery.
In 2017, we plan to go more off-the-grid: to Barrington Tops, if time would prove to be of a constraint. More of Kosciuszko, if the mountain would have us again. Or if nature will be truly kind to us, to Outback New South Wales.
Philippines: A Month-Long Family Roadtrip
After my mother triumphantly defeated the mortal threat of cancer, the whole family embarked on a month-long road trip around Visayas and Mindanao in the Philippines.
Travel had always been my redemption— my way of communing with the soul when the body had fought hard enough. As Mommy’s battle was ours too, I wanted us to have that victory trip together as a celebration of a life of countless second chances.
Test-driving a 7-seater monster that I recently bought for Daddy, we spent a weekend in a log cabin in Dahilayan, reunited with Mom’s side of the clan in Negros Occidental and retraced Dad’s roots in the mystic island of Siquijor. In between were stopovers in Malaybalay, Dumaguete, Mabinay and Dipolog.
My siblings and I went on to explore waterscapes in Surigao City, Bucas Grande, Siargao and Hinatuan. We still have the rest of our home island, Mindanao, to tick off our list. But it was a good enough start.
As for my parents, traveling led them to unwrap a lifetime’s worth of gifts at once: of youth, of strength, of possibilities and of life.
“YOLO!” my mom would quip, complete with rocker hand signs and her Eminem-ish post-chemo hairstyle.
Indonesia : A Life-changing Trip of Wonders
Up to this day, I didn’t know how my name ended up on the ministry’s shortlist. I am a mercurial, if not lazy, blogger. I write monologues, mostly. In this day and age of informative travel blogging, I offer nothing but personal introspections.
But Indonesia happened, and with it came the need to tell more stories. It was perplexing, as the experience also showed me the business side of what I only otherwise attribute to as passion. I was confronted with the challenges of Discipline and Consistency — traits that I have managed to dodge around with the hipster label as a shield.
Wonderful Indonesia was my peephole to an industry I would love to give my all to, to get in. But because the heart is at stake, it has to take time.
2017, I hope and pray, is my time.
Malaysia: A Tapestry of Cuisine and Culture
Nostalgia appeals to me like light to a moth. For many years, Malaysia— its street art, traffic, food and history— has given me nothing but good memories. In 2016, I revisited Kuala Lumpur and relearned its tales through food. Time also permitted for a short sojourn to Melaka, catalyst of poetry and cradle of somedays.
For many, Malaysia is a stop-over. For me, it is a touchstone. It is my Polaris; my arrow towards new adventures and my guide back home. That it is also a gastronomic wonderland, is a welcome bonus.
2016 had been a year of kindness. More than ever, it was a time when the universe proved its faithfulness to me. It held a promise, almost spoken, that 2017 will only hold better things.
What with love, family, and an ever-present sense of marvel, the sky ocean is the limit!
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.