Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Western Pangasinan

Pangasinan is among Luzon's most populous provinces.
The province is bordered by La Union to the north, Nueva Ecija to the east, Tarlac to the south, and Zambales and the South China Sea to the west.

The western side of the province, if coming from Manila, starts with the municipalities of Mangatarem and Aguilar, further north-west to Bugallon, Labrador, Sual, Alaminos, Bani, Anda and Bolinao; also the towns of Agno, Dasol and Infanta.

Among the major tourist spots in this part of the province are:

(1) Mangatarem:

a) Mangatarem church -- lots of bats living in the church! they sleep at daytime, come out evening to look for food. The church is still being used for mass and other activities; the bats don't harm people, they just hang up there on the high ceiling. The church is in the town proper, just beside the highway.

b) Manleluag hot spring -- plenty of trees, managed by the DENR. It has 3 swimming pools, one for children, 2 for adults; the biggest pool is from 4ft to 10 feet deep; entrance fee only P15/head, but can have plenty of people at times especially during holidays. The place is
about 7.3 kms. from the highway, 5kms. dirt road, the rest is paved.

(2) Aguilar:
a) Aguilar church -- middle between a modernist and old church; there are also a few bats on the ceiling, but not as many as those in Mangatarem church. This is also in the town proper, and right beside the highway.

b) Sitio Mapita -- an agricultural village by migrants from the Cordillera, mostly from Benguet. This is about 15 kms. from the highway, the road is narrow and mostly unpaved; paved or cemented roads are in steep portions to avoid landslides and early road deterioration. The view at the top is good as you will see the lowlands and mountain rangers, except that the mountains are mostly bald and heavily deforested.

(3) Bugallon
a) Mt. zion Pilgrim mountain -- it has a chapel and retreat house on a hill, shiny and expensive-looking statues, elaborate altars, chandeliers and marble tiles. On another side of the hills are the 14 stations-way of the cross. Here, the concrete statues are more than 6 feet tall; station 1 alone ("the last supper") is about 15 meters long. If you want to walk from stations 1 to 14 ("Jesus resurrection"), that will be about 400 meters walk, the last station on a high hill, but with 360 degrees view of the surroundings.
The place is about 5 kms. from the highway, 4 kms. paved, the last km. rough road, but manageable even for small cars.

b) Millent Agro-forest farm -- this is the farm that I am managing. Mostly mango and forest trees plantation. Our mangos are all fruit-bearing, average age of around 20-25 years old. Our forest trees are mostly mahogany (average age of 10-13 years old), with patches of acacia auri, gmelina, narra, and molave. Our place is about 1 km. further from the pilgrim mountain. More of this in another posting.

(4) Labrador
a) Covelandia du Labrador -- a new and modern resort, clean and big swimming poools, or one can plunge into the sea which is just a few meters from the pools.

(5) Sual

(6) Alaminos
a) Hundred Islands -- a famous tourist spot...

Rizal province

We are writing a travel book!
Yes, I and 3 other friends -- Elma, Llana and Francis.
Actually, our plan is to write a series of books, one big province, one book.
And for our first book, we will write about Rizal province, Metro Manila's eastern and closest neighbor. So far, we have visited all of the province's 13 municipalities and 1 city (Antipolo), took pictures of some of its cultural landmarks (churches, parks) and natural tourist attractions like waterfalls. Below are portions of our upcoming book:

I. History

The province of Rizal was named after the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. It was officially created in June 11, 1901 through Act. No. 137 of the Second Philippine Commission. As the existing unicameral legislative body at that time, the aim was to establish civil government after the Filipino-Spanish and Filipino-American conflicts. Rizal then was composed of twenty-six (26) municipalities, fourteen (14) of which came from the old province of Manila—Las Pinas, Malabon, Makati, Paranaque, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Navotas, Muntinlupa, Taguig, Pateros, Marikina, San Mateo and Montalban, with the balance of twelve (12) coming from the Politico-Militar Distrct of Morong—Angono, Binangonana, Cainta, Antipolo, Cardona, Jalajala, Morong, Pililla, Tanay, Taytay and Teresa, and with Pasig as its seat of provincial government....

II. Geography

The province is relatively flat on the western side, and mountainous on the eastern side. To its north is the province of Bulacan, to its east is the Sierra Madre mountain ranges (and further east is the northern part of Quezon province and the Pacific Ocean). To its south is the province of Laguna and Laguna Lake, and to its west is again, Laguna Lake and Metro Manila (and further west is Manila Bay). Thus, the province is unique because it has a large urban sprawl (eg, Cainta and Antipolo City) whose commercial activities and night life approximates those in many cities of Metro Manila. At the same time, it has rural fishing and rice farming villages and municipalities. Since the lake has freshwater, the water can irrigate rice fields, some farms even produce 3 cropping seasons or whole-year round (like those in Jala-jala).

Beyond the urban sprawl and vast lake, are hills and mountains with their rugged terrain and forest vegetation, some thinly, some thickly forested areas. In fact, just an hour and a half from Ortigas, a famous commercial and financial center of the country with its tall skyscrapers, there are some sitios and/or barangays of Tanay (eg., Brgy. San Andres) which until now do not have electricity yet! But you have lots of low-lying clouds and clean creeks over there....

III. Socio-economic conditions

Rizal will be the 7th most populous province (out of 80 provinces) in the country this year. It has the fastest population growth rate among all provinces between 1995-2000; the last census was made in May 2000. Thus, what many people perceive as migration of people from the poorer regions to Metro Manila, may not be true after all. What happens is that people land in Manila via boats, airplanes and buses, but they ultimately settle in Rizal, Bulcan, Cavite and Laguna. This is shown by the fast population growth rate of these 4 provinces in 1995-2000 of 4 to nearly 6 percent, vs. Metro Manila’s 1% population growth rate, shown in table below....

IV. The Municipalities and a City

(1) Rodriguez (previously called Montalban)

It is the province’s northernmost part. To its north is Bulacan province, Sierra Madre mountain range and north Quezon province to its east, San Mateo and Marikina City to its south, and Quezon City and Caloocan City to the west. Wawa Dam in Montalban Gorge was built by the Americans in 1909 as an important potable water source of Rizal and now Metro Manila. It was closed in 1962. The gorge is in the Philippine legendary stories where legendary hero and Filipino strongman Bernardo Carpio, was said to have stopped the 2 fighting hills, with Bernardo Carpio in the middle, and this created the Gorge. Below the gorge where water from the dam drains are huge white rocks, boulders of marble-like rocks. In a sense, even if it just a folk story, Bernardo Carpio can be considered as the first Filipino “rocker” for having played with huge rocks :-)

The dam can be reached by a barangay road, now fully cemented, about 5 kms from the main municipal road. You will pass by a stone quarrying area on one side of Marikina River. On some parts, the quarried area is wide enough. The barangay now collects P20.car as parking fee. There are big and tall rain trees (commonly known as “akasya”) in the main parking area. From here, you need to walk about 400 meters passing by a small cluster of houses and mini-stores, rocky sides of the mountain, a short rock tunnel, flat walls that some rock climbers would ascend.Wawa dam is a beautiful sight to see.

The seemingly white water as they fall from the dam and the strong rumbling sound of the falling water on huge white rocks below is the main tourist attraction here. There are temporary nipa huts near swimming and picnic area of the river, both below and above the dam, put up by enterprising locals who rent out the huts for P100 each per day. These are just temporary structures put up only during the dry season. During the rainy season, the river can swell to high levels, swamping all weak structures in and near it.

Other tourist attractions of the municipality aside from the gorge and dam, are the following:
(a) Pamitinan Cave, a place where Andres Bonifacio and 8 other Katipuneros declared the first Philippine Independence from the Spaniards in April 1895. This is near the river.
(b) Avilon Montalban Zoological Park, in Brgy. San Isidro. You need to pass by dirt and bad roads to reach here, a 7 ½ hectares resort. We went there last year, around October. Entrance fee was high, P350/head, as the municipal government imposes a 30% amusement tax on the original entrance fee. This 30% local tax is big, almost 3x that of VAT (12%), and yet the municipal government seems to be doing nothing to improve the unpaved rough barangay road leading to this resort.

The church in the municipality is called Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. Nothing so spectacular or "must see" in this church. On 2 wings on both sides of the altar are the statues of Virgin Mary.Beside the church is the town's municipal hall. It's clean and air-conditioned. There's a municipal tourism office that gives away a nice, glossy pamphlet that highlights the town's historical and natural tourist attraction, as well as the mayor's master plan of modernizing the municipality's public facilities. There's an on-going construction of gallery-museum and botanical garden at the Wawa Park.

Going there:
(a) From Commonwealth avenue going to Fairview, Quezon City, turn right at a highly populous part of the city called Litex and Payatas. It’s going a bit downhill, passing by several garbage redemption centers (where recyclables are deposited and sold elsewhere) as this is where many garbage trucks pass by to dump garbage in Payatas open dumpsite.Roads are mainly 4 lanes (2 lanes each way), except on some narrow parts of only 2 lanes (1 lane each way), winding and uphill-downhill; the cement fence of La Mesa watershed area in the left, houses and other structures or idle land on the right. Further on you will pass by near the Payatas dumpsite. There’s a good panoramic view of Rodriguez and San Mateo from the La Mesa watershed area, before turning downhill on some tricky corners, down to a bridge across Marikina River, then to Rodriguez public market and the town proper....

(b) From Cubao, there are jeepneys plying the route at Aurora Blvd.Fare is around P35/head.San Mateo is about 5 kms. south of Rodriguez. Its municipal hall is a glass building with seemingly no windows. Hence, it's fully air-conditioned. The offices inside are clean and neat.

(2) San Mateo

Unlike Rodriguez, has no municipal tourism office; but a staff of the Mayor handles tourism-related concerns. They have a wide streetmap of the municipality, it's very useful.Among the famous resorts and tourist spots in the municipality included in their wide street map are Shunji's Resort, Villa Diaz Resort, both Malanday; Villa Apolonia Resort and Hotel in Sipac Maly.Rodriguez and San Mateo are relatively isolated from Rizal province's contiguous towns and a city. After San Mateo, you are in Marikina City, part of Metro Manila, where the roads are wider and less congested...

(3) Antipolo City

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje) is among the most prominent tourist attraction of the city. The cathedral is where the 300-years old Virgin Mary statuette is said to have protected ships sailing the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route during the Spanish era. As a result, anyone who wished to travel made a pilgrimage there in order to pray for safe passage. More recently, car owners have brought their brand new cars there to be blessed by the priest.

One thing to note is that the route to the church may be confusing to first-time travelers as roads are narrow with no visible landmarks on how to reach the church which sits on a hilltop.When we went to Antipolo last February, there was a sign for antipolo church. Early on, there would be men standing at corners waving at you- church, church, they would shout. They would point to the right, then left, then start jogging after your car, very disconcerting, irritating and sad. Shades of Pagsanjan.What is irritating is that they seem to deliberately send you in the roundabout direction to get to the church. Once there, there were loads of hawkers asking you to buy stampitas, candles, cashew, fruits, suman and others. There were actually only about 8 semi-permanent stalls lined up in the plaza below the church. One of cashew and suman, 2 of candles, and other geegaws....

7. Binangonan

Among the famous tourist attraction in this municipality are: (a) Lake Island Business Resort (b) Vicente Manansala shrine located inside a subdivision, not far from the highway. This national historical landmark showcases some original works, art paraphernalia and his relics. (c) St. Urusula Parish church (d) Fiesta Casino Resort. There are many signs along the road, indicating a resort that should be sizeable. Turning off from the main road, it was a bit of a drive before we saw anything. Still, there were enough markers on the road to remind us that we were on the right track....

14. Jala-jala

This is the southern-most part of the province. It is 19kms. from Tanay, and jeepneys (fare is P23 per head) would normally take about 30 minutes to reach the municipality, passing by the town of Pililla town proper, which is just adjacent to Tanay. The town’s name was derived from “halaan” shells; later on, people started calling it jala-jala. The road to this town is generally lined with trees – narra, rain tree, gmelina, mango, etc. Vehicles are few. With its proximity to the lake, some farmers are able to plant rice even during summer, or 3 crops a year (one rice cropping season is 4 months). Some agricultural lands are planted with sweet potato (“kamote”) and other root crops....

Meanwhile guys, if you know a lot about this province, or one or two of its 14 municipalities and city, please send us a page or more. Write to galangpinoy@yahoo.com.ph, or noysky_oplasky@yahoo.com. We will put your name in the acknowledgment section, and we'll give you complimentary copy/ies of the book once it's out. We hope to have it ready for sale by June this year.


Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Hibok-hibok, 1994

It was good Friday I think, when we travelled from Davao City (from Mt. Apo) to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. There were no buses plying that day, so we rented a jeepney. We took the newly-constructed road, mostly unpaved, route via Buda, Bukidnon; this means we will not pass the Agusan provinces anymore as this is a much longer route. The jeepney took about 6-7 hours to reach Malaybalay! We thought it would take us only 5 hours.

From Malaybalay, Bukidnon's capital, we rented another jeepney that would take us to the municipality of Manolo Fortich, the last town of Bukidnon bordering the province of Misamis Oriental and near Cagayan de Oro City. One of our members in Congress Mountaineers, is Malou Acosta, and she and her family are hostic us in their house in M. Fortich. Malou's mother is also a Congresswoman, representing Bukidnon's 1st District.

Mt. Kitanglad is Mindanao's 2nd highest mountain, and I think the country's 4th or 5th highest mountain. Climbing this mountain, however, is not as difficult as the other mountains. There were plenty of telecomms towers and structures at the summit! The jeepney can reach up to 2/3 (or 3/4?) of the summit, so we had to walk only about 1/3 of the distance from the highway.

Mt. Hibok-hibok, Camiguin

Camiguin is an island-province north of mainland Mindanao. To its north is Bohol province, to its south is Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Norte provinces. Per square kilometer of land, it has the most number of volcanoes in the country. It has around 7 volcanoes, 6 are inactive, and only Mt. Hibok-hibok is active. The province is also known for white sand beaches, sweet lansones, a tall waterfalls, and other natural attractions.

From Bukidnon (after climbing Mt. Kitanglad), we went to Cagayan de Oro City. Took a bus to a municipality of Agusan del Norte, took a boat from there to Camiguin. Climbing this province's highest and active volcano is not difficult. We actually climbed it and went back in about 5 hours. You will pass plenty of steaming holes around the volcano approaching the summit. These are the volcano's vents, along with hot springs, and they help taper the volcano's potentially dangerous fury. Hence, despite its being an active and always steaming hot volcano, there are no dangers of serious and dangerous eruption....

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mt. Apo, 1994

Mt. Apo is the Philippines' highest mountain. Standing at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, it's actually less than 1/3 the height of Mt. Everest (29,000+ feet). Nonetheless, climbing the country's highest point is a dream for many new and aspiring mountaineers. Our group, Congress Mountaineers, planned a 1-week, 3-mountains to climb in Mindanao, on holy week of 1994. Seven of us -- Peachy Tiongson, Coco, Jules, Toto Gestuveo, Jun Velasco, Gene Penas and myself, set for this trip. Within 1 week, we should be able to climb Mt. Apo (Davao-Cotabato provinces), Mt. Kitanglad (Bukidnon), and Mt. Hibok-hibok (Camiguin), in that order. We wanted to save, so we took the Superferry from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City (about 35 hours), then bus from Cagayan to Davao via Agusan provinces (about 9 hours).

First stop was rest and recreation at Seagull resort, Davao City, owned by then Cong. Dureza, Toto's cousin. It was a full night of swimming, drinking and partying! We woke up the following day a bit groggy, but happy. We left the city late in the day, and travelled to Kidapawan, North Cotabato; we slept on a mountain resthouse in a barrio, where a vehicle will pick us up the following day to bring us to the jump-off point of Mt. Apo.

After an early breakfast, a 4wd vehicle picked us up. We started the trek around 8:30am on a river. It would be a river trail at the beginning. We passed by a PNOC geothermal production or exploration plant in the mountain. No logging activities, except those in cleared areas where the power plant is located. We saw many huge trees, mostly dipterocarp species, but the biggest that I saw on the trail was a huge almaciga tree, circumference about 3-4 people on a circle arms spread apart.

We reached Venado lake, a wide open area that becomes a swampland during the rainy season, about 2pm. On summer months like this, the lake is small, the dry flat land is wide. This place is about 3x the area of UP Diliman's sunken garden, I think. Most climbers would rest here for a night, have party in the evening, and climb Mt. Apo's summit the following day. That was also our original plan. However, we got some momentum, and didn't find staying in the place too inviting, so after a few minutes rest, we decided to continue the climb up to the summit on the same day!

That was a decision that would prove to be discomforting later. At mid-afternoon climb, we were covered by trees, then tall grasses (cogon/talahib) at a deforested area protected us from cold winds. By 5:30pm however, the tall grasses are gone, so we got exposed to chilly winds and the cloudy sky was getting darker, our visibility getting murkier. So we had to walk faster to keep our bodies warmer, but it was simply getting colder. We were separated from each other temporarily as the stronger ones were on the front while the more tired ones were left more than a hundred meters behind. I reached a relatively flat camping area a few meters from the summit around 6:30pm; by then, it was dark, I was chilling, and I could not find the others. I got scared and thought that I got lost!

A few minutes more and I could hear their voices calling out those who were left behind. I was appeased and went straight to the first tent that was set up to rest and put on 2 layers of jackets. We sensed that there could be some mild typhoon coming because the weather was rather harsh. After eating dinner and a few shots of vodka (Gene's favorite), we slumped our tired and cold bodies inside our warm tents.

We woke up past 6am refreshed, cooked and ate our breakfast, and headed to the summit. To the top of the country's tallest mountain! There weren't big and tall trees on the top, only dwarf trees and plants, including dwarf bamboos like those in Mt. Pulag. We took pictures, sat at the summit, and waited for the thick clouds to disperse so we can see the lowlands, the provinces of Davao and Cotabato. We waited for more than 2 hours. When we realized that it's pointless to continue waiting as the cloud seemed to be as thick as they were 2-3 hours ago, we decided to pack up and leave the place. Our original plan was to stay here for another night.

Since we started late (almost 10am), we descended fast. We moved fast on our way to Venado lake. After the lake, we met many climbers, both mountaineers and ordinary hikers who just plan to have a picnic at the lake, brought with them live chicken and small pigs/goats to slaughter and cook in the lake. We slowed down as we had to give way to those who were ascending. We reached the jump-off point where we started the other day about 5pm. The driver of the vehicle nearby that would meet us was surprised and unprepared since he was supposed to meet us the following day. Actually he was surpised I think at how fast we climbed and descended the mountain.

From the mountain, we went to Toto's place in Digos, Davao del sur. So happened that there was a family or clan reunion at Toto's place, so there were lots of food and beer that night. Some of us got drunk and were knocked down to the sofas later that evening.

The following day, we savored once more our achievement of reaching Mt. Apo's summit and descending safely. Of course, stories of how drunk some of us were the other night added spices to the laughter.