travel factor: batanes – day 1

This marks my third Travel Factor trip (Pinatubo | Pico de Loro), and my first time to travel with a group of strangers.

Since I booked this trip pretty early, I was a ball of anxiety during the weeks leading up to the flight. So many things could go wrong: canceled flights, bad weather, accidents, terrible roommates. I kept the anxiety at bay by not thinking of the trip at all. I did not buy anything new (I usually buy a new shirt or a new scarf before a major trip, just something small), and the night before the flight I found myself still digging around for a sachet of shampoo I could bring.

It’s funny, Batanes was never on my bucket list. Actually, that’s a strange way to put it, since I don’t even have a bucket list. I mean, it was never on my agenda. It felt like one of those (financially and geographically) unreachable places I would never see in this lifetime (like Paris, France). Plane fares are prohibitively expensive (they can go as high as PhP14,000), so taking a trip to Batanes never even crossed my mind.

And yet, here I am, after having spent three and half days in the country’s most northernmost province. I still can’t quite believe it.

*

I booked the trip and the flights early in the year (around April) and considered it a birthday gift to myself. The flight out of Manila was at 6 AM on a Thursday. I packed just one bag. (Another first! That bag would have been just my overnight bag, if I had allowed myself to get carried away.)

Batanes 2014

I checked in online to avoid the hassle. I met up with Aica, our Travel Coordinator for this trip, got my ID and my shirt, and waited for the call to board.

There was a moment when I heard the announcement about the aircraft being late, and I thought, Well here it is. Me and my imagination of disaster. But the flight left the terminal without a hitch. I got a window seat next to my roommate Lee (but I didn’t know this at the time), and enjoyed the view. It had been a while since I got on a plane and flew in the early morning.

This is Ate Remy, our Ivatan tour guide.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

This is where we stayed for the duration of the trip. Our group is composed of 15 people: couples, solo travelers, moms, fresh graduates, and urban professionals, from the age of 20+ to 50+.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

We had breakfast and had hours to spare. I took a nap before we started our North Batan tour.

Lovely view during lunch. I ate two snails!

Batanes 2014

This is Mt. Carmel Church. They hold Mass here only every first Sunday of the month.

Batanes 2014

Windy day.

Batanes 2014

Church interior.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

This view is in front of the Basco weather station. Batanes is unbelievably postcard-perfect. You can point your camera anywhere and still manage to capture something beautiful.

Batanes 2014

That’s the famous Fundacion Pacita in the distance. You can get a room for PhP8,000 a night.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

If it looks tiny, that’s because the hotel rooms are underground.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Approaching Valugan Boulder Beach.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Then we went to Rolling Hills. My fave spot. These stupid phone camera photos do not do the place justice.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Watch your step.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Oh man. I could sit here for hours.

Batanes 2014

Lighthouse. It’s pretty small when you see it in person.

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

Batanes 2014

I climbed up to take a photo of the sunset.

Batanes 2014

I love this blue door. Can’t resist.

Batanes 2014

Tomorrow we got up early for our faluwa ride to the island of Sabtang.

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alone in baguio, day 2

The night before, I asked the front desk to get me a cab by 9 AM. I don’t think they told the driver where I was going, because when I got in and told him, he looked like he died a little inside.

The BenCab Museum, which houses National Artist Ben Cabrera’s own paintings and personal art collection, is located on Km. 6 Asin Road. Go to Google Maps and see how far away that is from Baguio City Proper, not to mention from freaking Kennon Road.

I don’t care! I’m going to the museum!

My cab fare was PhP 144. Museum entrance (marked “donation” in the ticket) is at PhP 100. Be there early! The museum opens at 9 AM. Visitors entered the museum in droves just when I was heading out, around lunchtime.

I made it! Woohoo!

Cafe Sabel, the museum’s own restaurant, is located inside, so you can look at art, take a coffee break, and look at art again.

By the way, this is Sabel.

The memory of a slightly deranged homeless woman clad in plastic sheets billowing in the wind has inspired Filipino artist Benedicto Cabrera, better known as BenCab, for decades. He first started on his Sabel series (named after the woman) in the 1960s and has constantly revisited her image since then, over time abstracting those billowing sheets for example, showing them as elegant dresses. Yet, he had always done so on paper or canvas. (Source.)

Devote an hour or more to your museum visit.

Great view from one of the galleries.

I took a lot of photos but unfortunately was not able to take note of most of the artists’ names. My apologies.

“Portrait of a Woman from the Cordilleras” by Raymond Halili, an incredibly detailed 4 x 3 cm painting.

“A Good Night to Dream” by Welbart Bartolome.

“Graces II” by Gregory Halili.

Detail.

Norberto Roldan’s Assemblage called “The Beginning of History and the System of Objects”

Detail, and texture.

Leroy New’s “Psychopomp”

Julie Lluch’s “Lily for Georgia”

And here are two of BenCab’s erotica pieces, “Love Positions” and “Draped Figure XX”.

I have to say I love this one, Abigail Dionisio’s “Ready to Hope”.

Igan D’Bayan’s “Disco Purgatorio”

Detail.

Kawayan de Guia’s “Attention”.

Virgilio Aviado’s “Subdivision”, a collage.

Norberto Roldan’s “Medicine Cabinet No. 8”. Love love love the objects in this.

“Basic” by Ronald Ventura.

I was lucky to be there when Ben Cabrera dropped by. My thanks to one of the members of the museum staff for taking this wonderful picture.

I went down to Cafe Sabel, but took a picture of the surrounding duck pond and garden before grabbing a table.

Beautiful!

Inside Cafe Sabel. I ordered a Tomato and Basil Pasta, a sundae with chocolate and fresh strawberries, and coffee. Note that Cafe Sabel is a cash-only restaurant.

Took a cab back to the city, this time to Burnham Park.

Most of the roses looked pretty wilted, but this was a bright spot with these pink blooms.

It got pretty hot, so I walked back to the Cathedral (taking the stairs from Session Road – ugh, my knees), shedding my jacket, my cap, and my scarf, and sat for an hour and read a book. I also went back to the store I saw yesterday and bought pasalubong. I was too tired and too broke to go to Mines View and other tourist spots, so I just walked back to SM and took more photos before heading back to High Point.

Ended the night with another sandwich and a Red Horse. Heh.

Went on the bus back the following day. Thank you, Baguio, and see you soon. I hope.

Let’s see how much I spent this weekend.

Hotel – PhP 3500

Bus – 910

Handling fee for tickets – 100

Cab fare to Ruins – 63

Ruins meal – 300?

Cab fare to Hotel – 77

Cab fare to Session Road – 70?

Book – 525

Vizco’s – 110

Knitted cap – 50

Cab fare from SM to Hotel – 70

Dinner – 100

Cab fare to BenCab – 144

Entrance – 100

Cafe Sabel – 300?

Cab fare to Burnham – 80

Meryenda (Bread Talk in SM) – 180 (I ate a lot of bread okay)

Pasalubong – 700+

Cab fare to Hotel – 70

Dinner with drinks – 200?

Lunch – 200?

Cab fare to Victory Liner – 70

TOTAL: PhP 7800 + (around 170 US Dollars)

Yikes, those cab fares really destroyed my budget. I’m sure you can bring this down by taking the jeep and finding a hotel on promo or a transient house near Session Road. And maybe by not eating too much? But where’s the fun in that?

alone in baguio, day 1

The Victory Liner bus I would be taking to Baguio would leave the Pasay terminal by 6 AM. The ticket said be there 30 minutes before departure, and so, as I’d rather be early and bored than be worried every minute that I might end up late, I was there more than an hour early.

How to purchase bus tickets online

Victory Liner bus schedules

Ha! Take that, TIME!

The buses do leave more or less on time (the 5:30 bus left on the dot; ours left 15 minutes past 6), so, you know, just follow the schedule or else your seat will be given to chance passengers. (And there were a lot of chance passengers that Friday.)

I forgot to pee before the bus left, and had such a terrible bladder experience that the drive from San Fernando, Pampanga to Concepcion, Tarlac was pretty much torture for me. Take note: I rode the regular aircon bus (PhP 455 one way), which has no washroom inside, and which only has two stopovers. One in Tarlac, and another in Sinon, Pangasinan.

It was the Lunar New Year weekend, so traffic was heavy on SCTEX. I arrived at Baguio City past 2 pm, around 8 hours later.

The Victory Liner Baguio station is along Utility Road. I stepped out of the bus and felt a cold wind slap me, and instantly fell in love.

I took a cab from there to Shuntug Road to have late lunch at Cafe By The Ruins. I paid PhP 63 – and the driver gave me exact change. 

Wait-listed at the restaurant.

Got a second floor table, and here’s the view.

I ordered Ruins Coffee and 3 Mushroom Crepe. I loved the coffee. I actually wasn’t expecting much from the crepe, but it was surprisingly delicious and filling.

I hailed another cab to take me to High Point Boutique Inn & Restaurant, all the way in faraway Kennon Road.

Look, when I was looking up hotels online, most of the hotels located along Session Road were so expensive. High Point offered the best price at PhP 3500 for two nights (this is a Standard Room, good enough for two), including free breakfast.

Unfortunately, they’re located 15 to 20 minutes away from city proper. I did not realize this when I booked a room with them. In a city where mostly anywhere interesting is walking distance from each other, that’s pretty far. If you’re staying at High Point and most of your destinations are in Session Road, be ready to shell out cab fare. And I’ve had cab drivers refuse me because Kennon Road is “too far”.

However, if you have a car this won’t be too much of a problem. You can enter Baguio via Kennon Road, for example.

From Shuntug I paid PhP 77 to get to the hotel. The Standard Room is actually pretty spacious.

With the smallest hotel TV I’ve ever seen.

The hot shower takes forever to become hot. And then when it’s hot, it’s scalding. Could annoy some people, but I’m fine with it.

There’s a direwolf on my shirt, because winter is coming here. Sort of.

Outside the room.

So out I went, heading back to Session Road. (I told you. Cab fares. Expensive.)

When I said “Mt. Cloud Bookshop”, the driver looked clueless. So I said, “Casa Vallejo”.

Hello, Mt. Cloud. I’ve been dreaming about you.

I spent quite a long time here, pulling out a bunch of poetry books and deciding which one to buy. I unfortunately was not made of money, so I placed them all back on the shelf. Then I found something that caught my eye – Madame Apol‘s book! It’s a collection of essays about her move to France. I read a few pages and paid for it at the counter.

It was starting to get dark, so I walked along Session Road. Quite aimlessly at first, until I found the cathedral (Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral).

There was a little store near the church that sold Good Shepherd products. I took a mental note of that.

I stopped by Vizco’s Restaurant (just beside Don Henrico’s) for something sweet.

I tried their Strawberry Shortcake, partnered with black tea with honey. Yum.

There were a lot of people walking on Session Road. A lot. I walked toward SM Baguio to get a cab to take me back to the hotel. I climbed the stairs to the mall and was instantly winded – the sun was setting, the temperature was dropping, and my hands, which were uncovered, were starting to freeze.

I was just too glad to be back in my room and under the sheets.

Here I am, someplace else, reading about someplace else.

High Point has reasonably priced meals. I ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with fries, which cost PhP 100. You can have the food delivered to your room, plus 10 percent service charge.

It was a good day. Time to close all the windows, turn off the aircon, put on my socks, and sleep. Brr.

on traveling alone, 2

Lately my stories and poems feel bland. Whatever excitement about my writing that I had end-2013 up to very early this year had faded. So of course the first thought that came to me was: I need a vacation. Haha. Or, I just need to be elsewhere. Am I being too romantic? I feel like I’m being too romantic, but a new place can stir up new ideas. Not earth-shattering ideas, not The Great Filipino Novel ideas, but ideas. I was charmed by Bangkok and I ended up writing a short story (“The Missing“) set in it. I can’t wait to be charmed by another city. Baguio, Dumaguete, Singapore –

Well, of course, it’d be nice if I have a larger disposable income. But oh well. One goal at a time.

on traveling alone

I’m writing this ahead of time, right after I’ve booked the hotel room and my two-way bus tickets, but by the time this post goes up, I am already in Baguio, a city I have never been to before. (I know!) Hopefully already having lunch in Cafe by the Ruins, if everything goes according to plan.

Having lunch alone, which some people see as pathetic and sad, but which I actually find enjoyable. I’ll be with a book, a 3G network connection. I’ll be people-watching. I’ll be drafting a short story in my head. Anyone alone isn’t really alone.

I’ve always wanted to go to the City of Pines. The want got kick-started when my publisher asked me and my co-Visprint writers if we’re going to the Baguio Komikon. (I’m writing this mid-January and I still don’t know. Eep.) I broached the idea to J, who showed interest, but after I’ve looked through cheap lodgings and maps and transportation costs, he said he was actually trying to save money this year, and he just didn’t like saying no to me. Well. That’s understandable. But I still want to go to Baguio. Jan. 31 is a holiday, and it’s like a sign that I can actually go on vacation without touching my vacation leaves.

I have the means, but I don’t have the means to pay for two people, and you know what, I’ve traveled in groups – with old friends and new friends and my family – and I’ve had my frustrations. I like things to follow a set schedule, and more often than not my schedule doesn’t jive with everyone else’s. Either I want to stay in the hotel room longer or I want to get up early. It entails a lot of cajoling and coaxing and nagging, which leaves everyone very tired. I can think of several trips I have made with other people where I got angry (internally or externally).

Why you should have me take care of a trip: I will have checklists and everything will be in order. Why you should NOT: We might end up fighting if you don’t follow my checklist.

Lately my concern is fat-shaming. There’s always the “Why is your belly so big?” and “Looking at you in your swimsuit now, you look bigger now than when we were in ________.” And I’m seriously tired of it.

My issue is not with the word, which is simply a descriptor, but with how they use it, like there’s something inherently evil and awful in it. What they’re saying is glutton, lazy, no self-respect, no self-discipline. That’s what they’re saying when they say “fat”.

I’ve become so self-conscious that I couldn’t stand being with other people. (I bet they’re looking at my huge arms now. I bet I look like a whale next to _________.) I have turned down dinners and get-togethers because of this, and I am only now acknowledging that this is the cause, and that‘s sad and pathetic.

So this year, I am returning to solitude. I will try traveling alone, because most of the time I love myself, and I’m 27 and I’m not getting any younger and it’s time to walk with myself again.

Baguio isn’t that far, but it’s a start.

Where else can I go? What other solo traveler-friendly places do you have in mind? I have lined up Dumaguete and Melaka. Are you a solo traveler? When and why did you start traveling on your own? Leave your recommendations and thoughts in the comments!