Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced


I knew I’d be on my own on this trip, but I was eager to pack my waterproof bag. Almost six months have passed since my closest travel buddy had left the Philippines to try her luck abroad. I was left wondering what adventures I would try next but was scared to do so on my own. I felt lucky when my swimming school opened up a trip to the north. What drew me there was the nature, the ocean and surfing.


Baler is known as a beach break paradise for surfers. It takes a five-hour trip from Manila to see the end of the Pacific, feel the hollering waves and experience heaven on earth.


There are a number of beaches and resorts at Baler, but we only have two in our itinerary. One of them is Diguisit Beach, a waterfront which appeared like an endless dream. Its huge waves crooned over the blue waters like a siren calling us out into the dreamy ocean. Rock formations rising from the blue waters try to lure guests for a good cliff dive while snakes are treacherously waiting for its next victims on the boulders’ peak. The rocks littered in the white sand are spoilers though. Still, that did not stop us from having a good time.





Sabang Beach is the one to die for, especially if you’re a surfer. It’s more isolated, except for a number of surfers skirting over the waves like eagles riding the wind. The waves were a bit strong because of an approaching storm, but the coaches assured us we’ll be fine. However, it seemed that my brain had jumbled all the instructions given to us. The fine, black sand hugging my toes tried to calm this poor, panicking soul down while waiting for my turn for that one-hour surfing session. What the heck am I doing here anyway?


My instructor, Kristian, was amazingly patient. He always encouraged me I could do it although I kept on falling from the board numerous times. Balance is a stubborn fellow to capture in this feat.




It’s a miracle I was able to stand on the board for a significant number of seconds at my last attempt. Surfing is not easy, folks. I sacrificed strength, will and tears just to get to this moment. Hurrah!



I came home with my own battle scars that include a sore body and a number of bruises. Learning a new thing comes with a price, but that does not stop me from not getting any further adventures. 🙂

Our two-day escapade in Benguet would not be complete without dropping by in Baguio. Despite the rain, we did not let it spoil our last hurrah. A little food trip would be a great finale before we venture into our five-hour trip back to Manila.


I heard that this restaurant has another branch along Session Road in Baguio, but this one near La Trinidad is enough to curb the hungry dragon from within. My friend, who’s a native of Baguio, told me that “calajo” is derived from a word from their dialect which means “Welcome” or “Come in”.

Actually, meal prices in Baguio are way cheaper than those in Manila. Even so, their meals have huge servings. Most of what we’ve ordered are made for three people, but it seems that there’s more room for one more foodie.

Pumpkin soup and pancit. Just right for the cold and damp weather.

Their salad is made of strawberries, raisins, green apple and lettuce, topped with strawberry vinegrette. I couldn’t believe this is made for three, but we managed to finish it. The yellow fritters are called dokto. These are made of camote fritters, and they are made sweeter by cinamon sugar. My friend said they’re better with coffee, but we can try that combination in another recommended restaurant next time.

All of these cost less than Php500. Not bad for the tired and hungry traveller.

Baguio Craft Brewery

This brewery has been making unique crafted beers along Marcos Highway since 2014. The weather was getting a bit dull and boring, but the homey, garden-like vibe of the place made us feel warm and upbeat.

We were allowed to taste four beers before finding the one that is for our liking. Going beyond four would confuse the taste buds, so we have to choose wisely. I admit I’m more of a wine person and not a beer fan. But these crafted beers made me appreciate the drink as they don’t have a strong, pungent scent, and their flavors stand out from one after another without leaving a bitter aftertaste as most commercial beers do.

I went for a pale ale called Englishman In New York. One of my friends opted for a light, fruit beer called Fruit Swine while my other friend ordered a strong, black beer called Russian Stout, which has dark chocolate aftertaste.

We were lucky because we have arrived at the brewery’s happy hour. Visitors dropping by the place between 1 and 7 pm on weekdays are rewarded with a 10% discount. Not bad for first-time visitors.

I guess I have to wrap up at this point. Since there are more places undiscovered in Benguet, I’ll make sure I’d be a regular visitor. I just hope that tourism and industrialization would not fully wreck this province, which has brought so much romance and serenity to our souls polluted by Manila’s toxicity. I hope people my age would find the time enjoying a whole new world away from the lowlands and find a whole new perspective to our country’s hidden treasures.

As the clouds begin to settle on Mt. Timbak’s lush farmland, we finally embarked on our tour around Atok. Atok currently offers three tourist spots as the Northern Blossom Flower Farm is temporarily closed due to replanting season. Besides, the area has only opened up to tourism early this year and tourism authorities are still discovering new sites that can be visited.

Highest Point

Actually, the Highest Point is not a mountain, but it is the highest point of the Philippine highway system. Google says it sits at 2,255 metres or 7,400 feet above sea level (no wonder the road from Baguio was elevating at every turn). A view deck has been established to view Mt. Timbak before we can finally say goodbye…unless, the clouds try to intervene. The best views could be captured early in the morning.

Yours truly with Lans and Tina

Bosleng Lourdes Grotto

The grotto was born after a mysterious, celestial light was found pointing upon this humble rock formation surrounded by cabbage and sunflower farms. This place has become the pilgrimage site for the faithful of Atok since then.

Every visitor is invited to climb atop the grotto and stand in awe before God’s creation.

Just be careful in descending the rock.

This place is also surrounded by other interesting rock formation like Mt. Cotnon, which they say is a gravesite for an old hermit who lived on this mountain.

Plants, especially cacti, make the place even more beautiful.

Sakura Park

This site is quite new. The white and pink cherry blossom trees have been planted by a group of Japanese people two years ago, but they’re expected to bloom later. A sneak peak would not be bad, though. Besides, we predicted that tourism in Atok will boom once the sakura fully blossom. I might find myself here again three years later.

Why not a jump shot ’cause we’re excited for the sakura to bloom soon?

The tour only lasted for two hours, but I honestly enjoyed it. I guess more sites will come up soon, so tour packages might become a bit more complex in a year or so. The tour guides were kind enough to bring us to the bus/van station going to Baguio where we’ll have another set of tour.

The cold weather at Baguio was nothing compared to the freezing temperature at Atok in Benguet. Still, I was confident in my three-layered clothing as we arrive at Baguio’s Dangwa Station. The two-hour 74-peso ride to Atok was a thrill in itself. Atok is an almost untouched abode as the pine trees tower proudly along the meandering Halsema Highway, which goes higher and higher to one of the highest points in the Philippines.

The blanket of clouds, the lush green mountains, the cold, fresh air and the ocassional whiff of chicken dung were signs we were already in Atok. The region’s climate is perfect for farming and agriculture. Patches of cabagges and lettuce could be seen lined up on the side of the mountains. Wild flowers are vibrantly growing in some of the farmland. We were enjoying the view while getting a bit dizzy in this rollercoaster ride. The bus was old and a bit rugged, but the aged driver has managed to smoothly pass the freaky sharp curves and winding lanes that could go on forever.

We were instructed to register at Atok’s Municipal Hall in Sayangan before beginning any tour. My heart sank when we learned that the Northern Blossom Flower Farm was closed,* but the young tour guides have offered us two packages. We opted for the one with Mt. Timbak. It costs about Php1,500 because it includes three other tourist spots and a van that would take us to these places. The price is meant for five people, but my friend and I were willing to take it at any cost.

If taking that tour option, I suggest you should start with Mt. Timbak first. The travel time from the jump-off point to the top of the mountain could take about 15 to 20 minutes through car (or van in our case). Otherwise, it could be taken in an hour by foot (or two hours if you take loads of selfies). Ice, our tour guide, offered us to stay for a night at a transient house on the mountain before we continue with the rest of the tour on the next day. A night at a transient house costs only Php200. But if you are brave enough to brace the cold weather in a tent, one night in the mountain costs only Php100.

The potted plants at our host’s house. These are sold from about Php25 to Php100, depending on their sizes. I’m just afraid they won’t survive in Manila. 😦

Our host, Josie Camsol, told us that tourism plans at Atok has only started on February this year. She said her family is used to mountaineers dropping by their house. She admitted she does not want to charge her visitors, but representatives from the Tourism Department have instructed locals to do so. I believe these instructions are made to help Atok’s residents as tourism is a financially viable industry.

White astromeria are quite common in Atok, as well as other beautiful flowers.

Cactus thrive in Atok

Locals don’t advise you to eat these berries, but they say some are brave enough to try them and found out that they were edible…although not tasty.

The afternoon became lazier as the clouds have completely covered the scenery. We tried to pitch a tent on the balcony, but we ended up spending the night inside the house.

By the break of dawn, we trekked the summit to catch the sunrise. We were lucky because our host’s farm is located on the summit. I was amazed with the astromerias and the daisies that stood stoic in the cheery, cold wind. The cabbage heads, although not ripe for harvest, appeared sumptuous as they were covered with dew. They became more alive when the golden rays touched them. The sun was already stretching itself from sleep behind the nearby mountains.

As the third highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Timbak offers a grand view of nearby towns like Kabayan. The sea of clouds could be seen on the nearby mountains. Mt. Pulag clearly hovered the others on the other side. Hello, pet, it’s been three years since I first fell in love with you.

A station of the cross sits solemnly the other side of Mt. Timbak. One can pass there upon descending. Everything around the mountain is simply breathtaking and I cannot help but thank God for His wonderful creation.

We thanked our host and her family for accomodating us before we embarked in the second leg of our tour. It was 8 am, but the clouds were starting to descend upon the mountains again, slowly covering the lush farmland. The heavens seem to have given us a sneak peak of Mt. Timbak’s beauty only for today. But the place is enveloped into their sanctuary again because they want to preserve this treasure for generations to come.

From right: yours truly, Josie Camsol, her husband and my friend Tina.

* As of this writing, the Northern Blossom Flower Farm will re-open on Sept. 25, 2018. It is currently closed due to the replanting season as the flowers were already harvested.

I was always fascinated with the sea, but I always ended up on the shore because of the fear of drowning. Swimming, I thought, was only for fishes and mermaids. Only realized recently that swimming is a necessary life skill. Actually, missing a number of cliff jumping moments during travels has triggered me to enroll in a swimming school…finally.

Among the swimming schools I’ve looked into, I prefered Swim Central. Students can choose their preferred time and venue. Basic lessons cost only Php3,920 (US$75), but it took me two years to overcome my stingy ego. The best thing about this package is that it includes survival lessons, which I badly, badly need.

T’was a cheery, sunny day to swim at Ultra in Pasig. Just get ready to have a perfect tan.

The coaches are always on time. They help improve every student’s skill level even though everyone in the class have different skill levels from one another. You might think they are leaving you alone after teaching the skills for the day, but they’re actually watching over you. I get a lot of corrections after finishing a few laps, to which have become very helpful.

Every class was an agitating moment for me. I actually felt like a newborn thrown into the water at first (actually, newborns might be more fearless than me). The coaches would always assure us we would not sink, especially during the survival phase. Deep inside, I was freaking silently, especially when the coach told me to let myself go into the 14-feet pool. I had to jump into the water over and over again until I felt comfortable in the deep. The downside was that I kept of dreaming I was swimming upwards. I guess I wanted to dive into the water more.

The 14-feet pool at Mares in Makati. For now I find this comfortable because the deep is placed in a controlled setting.

I have this sense of fulfilment after learning a new skill. After a few weeks, I have learned to befriend the water. I have to let go of every anxiety because I was determined to become an improved human being. As one coach said, people don’t die because of the water, but because of the fear. We only drown in the water when we’re heavy with panic. I don’t have to envy my friends who know how to paddle like a dog (because I can now do that, too :D) nor do I have to worry that my head will bump on the side of a cliff if I try to do some tombstoning.

Let’s go to the beach! This time, I’ll dive without a lifejacket. 😉

We were going nowhere as we had no plan to live by. The sun was beating hard on the small, dusty Batangas road, but we kept our chill as we searched for the nearest beach. Borat Beach was already closed, and Google did not give an update about that. Stilts Beach was a romantic one, enough for a couple in love to own the place for themselves to fulfill their dream wedding on a scorching Friday morning. We were on our own and we were depending on Google Maps, who pointed us to a small beach called Manuel Uy Beach.

Manuel Uy is for the budget warriors, costing only Php200 per head for the entrance and Php150 for an overnight stay. We had two tents in store, making me live off with my remaining Php650 for the food. I did not mind the leaves falling or the sand flying above our heads, because I felt like a little kid having a picnic by the beach for the first time.

Road trips are never adventurous without Tina and Lans. 🙂

Now, I don’t know why is the beach named as such (we can only assume that it was owned by some rich, Chinese scion called Manuel Uy). It looks a bit boring at first. The heat was enough to melt us beneath the tree, unable to imagine why the people were scrambling to the middle of the sea in the midst of a hot, cloudless, summer midday.

We spent the whole day dozing off and trying to shield ourselves from the sun, which seemed to follow us because it disapproved of our remaining fair skin. Somehow, this is the camper’s life I’d like to live on a sleazy, Friday day-off. For once I’d like to forget my desk, my computer and the thought that I was a robot.

Our duo tents that were never slept in. 🙂

Exploring the beach became a part of our game when the sun was beginning to set down. It was still hot, but the waters were a bit warm and comfortable enough to forget the scorching heat that persecuted us the whole day.

The beach is safe for kids because the deepest part of the waters were five feet (just don’t go beyond the line and don’t be a stupid parent). The fun part was trying to show off some swimming skills, but it looked like a bad idea because I forgot my cap and my googles. So, I just settled with some fancy sunset photos.

One thing I had anticipated in this trip was stargazing. Sleeping under the moon and the stars was a lovely idea, except when you’ve forgotten to carry a mosquito-repellant lotion. The breeze made me cozy as I slept with my face up to Orion and the rest of the constellation, who showed up when I was in the middle of my dream.

I almost could not sleep as I tried to wait for some obscure shooting star in the wee hours of the morning. The dawn broke very early at 5 am and we rushed to the refreshing waters again. We wanted to have one final soak before we leave at around 8 am, the time when beachgoers were beginning to flock the beach on a sizzling, summer weekend.

Ah, the summer roadtrip…the trip home was made better with bulalo (cow bone soup) and buko pie (pie filled with coconut meat). These are just some of the things I miss about Batangas. The next time we come there, we’ll try the other beaches. I just hope nobody’s getting married that day.

*Would like to thank Valcres, too, for accompanying us on this trip! We would not have survived without you. 😃

One invaluable treasure I would always take home from my travels (aside from all the ref magnets I’ve accumulated) would be the insights about the culture the locals are living in. Just as I’ve expected in any first-world country, Hong Kong exemplifies discipline and innovation. These traits are just some of the things I would like to bring home and share to my own people and country.

The transportation system and the MTR Hong Kong’s transportation system is impressively neat. From the airport to the very edges of this country, the trains, buses and trams all depart and arrive on time. I just could not associate the reality that drivers here drive on the left-hand side of the road since vehicles in the Philippines are driven on the right-hand side.

The most efficient mode of transportation for me here would be the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). It’s fast, reliable and safe compared to Manila’s MRT (Mass Rail Transit), where endless, monster queues and horror stories abound in a daily basis. MTR has ten rail lines and transferring to another line is easy because all connecting lines are literally adjacent to one another. The glass railings themselves are a plus for me because they ensure that no one would fall into the rails.

All transportation system in Hong Kong are also tourist-friendly because they are all clear and are all written in both Chinese and English texts.

I’m sure it would be very unlikely for foreign tourists to get lost because all road signs are clearly written in the same manner.

The High Level of Trust

I have already mentioned about the unusual level of trust in my last blog about Hong Kong’s night life. Imagine leaving your valuables under a bag rack beneath the table without getting paranoid with the other customers in the restaurant. I guess having an immense diet of news about scheming thieves in Manila made me suspicious about the people around me most of the time. That’s why it amazes me that people in Hong Kong have this high level of trust towards others.

The MTR itself is proof of this kind of trust. There are no guards around to check everybody’s bags and luggages. Even their malls and their airport do not need one. I think tourists, especially the sensible ones, would not dare to horse around despite having these measures in public places.

People also don’t need anyone to remind them that they should only walk on the left-hand lane towards their destination, especially in the MTR. I’ve noticed that the locals are just being mindful of themselves while ensuring they do not bother anyone.

Strict Work Ethic Most people are aware that East Asians have a strict sense of discipline, especially at work. My friend working in a call center has told me that their Hong Kong bosses think that Filipino workers are just playing around during the work shift because they would take a breather by talking to other workmates, at least once in a while.

Observing a few humble workers in Hong Kong, I got to understand why they think Filipinos seem to be more lax compared to them. Staff at food stores served food speedily without making any small talk with fellow cashiers or servers. That’s what I call fast food. Some cashiers in most Pinoy restaurants and fast food chains cannot help but gossip in front of their customers. I believe having this kind of talk in front of customers is very unethical, even though customers don’t know what or who the staff is talking about. I have observed that Hong Kong restaurant staff are just focused on delivering to their customers, the reason I have enjoyed and appreciated simple dishes like this one.

Despite preserving their own culture and traditions, I appreciate Hong Kong for its continuous improvement. I believe their discipline is a factor for innovation as they strive to reach their long-term goals, particularly in infrastructure and business. I just hope and pray my own countrymen would have the same level of discipline to themselves and not satisfy their egos with short-term assignments. A first-world country could only become as such if the people would shake off the poverty mindset and move forward in breaking forth wider horizons for the next generation.

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