doing something fun

As you can see, this section is no longer called “Blog”, as I’ve decided to blog over at This Should Be Fun. I’m talking about our recent Hong Kong trip there. Visit me?

This Should Be Fun is the artist otherwise known as Eliza Victoria.

Eliza Victoria is the author of several books including the Philippine National Book Award-winning Dwellers (2014) and the novel Wounded Little Gods (2016). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Stone Telling, Room Magazine, Story Quarterly, The Pedestal Magazine, High Chair, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies. Her work has won prizes in the Philippines’ top literary awards, including the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

bulacan to bataan: visiting the shrine of valour and las casas filipinas de acuzar

The city makes you miss the idyllic pastoral life (which only ever looks idyllic when you’re looking from afar; after a while, it becomes tiresome and you miss the city again). I don’t look forward to the commute, or the lack of air-conditioning (listen to me whine), but I do look forward to the peace and quiet.

I traveled with my closest high school friends from April 27 to 28 from Bulacan to Bataan to Tarlac and back again. We met up in Malolos City early in the morning of the 27th to travel to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan. We stopped by the Mount Samat National Shrine, also known as the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour), in Pilar, Bataan, since it was a special request by our designated driver. (Since he’s the driver, and he owns the car, we actually have no choice. I’m glad we went, though.)

Mount Samat National Shrine

The shrine complex and the Memorial Cross were built to honor the Filipino and American soldiers who fought during the Battle of Bataan (January to April, 1942).

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

  • Entrance is PhP 30 per person.
  • The elevator has been under repair since early this year, so we were not able to go to the top of the Memorial Cross.
  • There is a museum in the basement of the complex.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Manila was declared an “open city” during the Japanese occupation in order to avoid further damage.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Gen. Edward P. King, Jr. was an American military officer who led the Bataan troops against the Japanese. This is a photo of his surrender. I can’t keep my eyes off the man on the left with his face in his hand.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Fairy lights illuminate the Death March route and the sites of struggle.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

POWs in UST wash their hair.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

“Salute to the Japanese soldiers when you meet them…Don’t be fooled by false propaganda.”

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Above: Japanese propaganda, according to the Americans. The truth, according to the Japanese. I wonder what the Philippines would have been like if they just left us the f– alone. But alas, history happened.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

I kept reading this as “azucar” due to the azucareras of nearby Tarlac, but this heritage resort is named after its owner: The Houses of the Philippines by Acuzar. Jose “Gerry” Acuzar & team started dismantling, transporting, and rebuilding Spanish houses and mansions in Bataan in 2003. The houses came from Manila (Tondo, Binondo and Quiapo), Quezon City, Bulacan (there were a LOT of houses from Bulacan), Pampanga, La Union, Ilocos and Cagayan.

  • We got two rooms at a discount. We paid PhP 1,800 per head. (There were eight of us.)
  • The room we got was HUGE. Taking a bath will literally tire you because of all the square meters you’ll have to cover.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • I did not read up on Las Casas, so I was surprised by how large the resort was (400 hectares). There is a jeep and a tram that goes around the resort to bring guests to and from their hotel rooms.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

wheeeeeeeeeeee

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • Precisely because I did not read up on Las Casas, I didn’t know it’s near a beach or that it has a pool. Bring swimming gear, for the love of god (or you’ll end up buying overpriced swimming gear on the way to the resort).
  • They have a nice pool.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • We rode a Banana Boat and I scratched my face when we fell into the water. I hate water sports. Whose idea is this? I thought we’re just here to soak up some culture???
2016-05-02_05-40-04

Look at me, so happy. Pre-gasgas sa face.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Post-gasgas sa face but still smiling because there’s a camera. #mahapdi

  • Cafe Marivent is where you’ll have breakfast if you’re an overnight guest. We decided to have lunch here as well. A bit of a bad idea. Food is expensive and comes in small servings. If your group has a car, you’re better off driving to the Bagac Public Market. (Which was what we did for dinner. Consider: Halo-halo at Cafe Marivent costs PhP255. Halo-halo in the public market is PhP75. Sa palengke ka na lang, di ba.)
  • They serve a pretty good buffet-style breakfast.
  • Bringing food inside the resort is discouraged. Corkage fee is a whopping PhP500 per head.
  • During the tour: Wear footwear you can easily remove and slip back on again. You’ll be asked to remove footwear before entering the casas.
  • For pasalubong: They sell pearl jewelry and some good cashew butter at their panaderia. Bread is expensive. They sell cheese bread for PhP50 a pop! But I thought the sweet and creamy cashew butter at PhP265 a bottle is worth it.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Lola Basyang tells a story in front of the Lola Basyang Bridge.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

There is a Heritage Tour that meets here (see photo above) every hour. I enjoyed the tour. I love old houses and historical tsismis.

While waiting you can check out the games in the entertainment room. (The second floor is part of the tour.)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

According to Mica, our tour guide, Las Casas has 27 heritage homes. The hour-long tour will give you background info about the houses’ origins and previous owners, and how they ended up at Las Casas. Among the houses featured is the home of Jose Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo (Casa Biñan); the house that served as the first University of the Philippines (Casa Hidalgo), and the home of the Novicio clan (Casa Luna), to which the Luna brothers’ mother belonged.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Outside Casa Hidalgo

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Inside Casa Biñan

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Mica sharing some juicy Alonzo family tsismis.

Below is a not very good shot of the exterior of Las Casas’s newest luxury casa. You can rent all three floors for PhP150,000 a night, and you’ll get a butler and unlimited cookies and coffee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A better shot, using my friend J’s GoPro:

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Inside:

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A recreated Escolta.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Pastoral pee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

We woke up early the next morning for a walk along the beach.

Look at this Venice-like view outside our room.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

My friend presenting the West Philippine Sea. Guests are allowed on the beach from 6 AM to 6 PM only, for their own safety. The pool is open until 9 PM.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

More than the place and the history, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, whom I have known since 1999. We talked about everything from our idiotic teenage worries to amortization payments to ophthalmology appointments to maintenance meds to Wacky (don’t ask). A few years more and we’ll be talking about menopause and rheumatism.

I can’t wait.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

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.

traveler

This is absolutely pathetic.


My Lakbayan grade is D.

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Just look at Mindanao on my map – it’s blank.

That should change.

The contents of my ATM must change first, though.

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Got this from Paul, who’s whining because he had a C. Hmp. Go visit Lakbayan to get your own map. Site creator Eugene Alvin Villar blogs here.