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Breathing Adventure: Returning To the Waves of Baler


I can breathe in pure freedom as the salty air of the sea brushed off the city dust from my worn out shirt. The tossing of the waves drowned out the clicking sound of the keyboard in my head that has been whirling within me for a week (and for months, actually). I have returned to Baler for the second time around just to take a break and be with a friend who wanted to enjoy my company before she migrates to Europe.


The scene was thrilling as a few surfers were seen riding along the feisty waves from a distance, but the scorching sun waned that out. I realized I was already exhausted after that grueling seven-hour bus ride from Manila. My friends were just as tired. But the trip did not seem to faze seven-year-old Liam who kept on asking, “When are we going to the beach?” Or “When are we going to surf?”


Crispy corned beef with egg as breakfast. Trust me, it’s good. 🙂

One of the best things about going to far away places is the food. I never hesitate to enjoy a plateful of sumptuous dried fish paired with an egg or a giant glass of pure, authentic mango shake (trust me, no preservatives). Some locals would drop by the cafe to sell pearls or jewelry (I don’t know if they’re real at all), but I’d rather support this guy who sells rice cake doused in honey. It’s perfect for the afternoon coffee.


Surfing is always the highlight of Baler. An hour of surfing lessons only costs about Php300 (US$5.7) for local tourists. But my Php300 was washed away in the waves because I could never, ever master this craft. I don’t know why my balance skipped away during the surfing class. At least, I looked good for a fraction of a second.


I’m impressed with my friend, Marie, because she could handle Liam well while having fun with us. There were times they would argue badly, but she always made sure he’s in safe territory no matter how far he went. I guess this is one of the reasons why moms are superheroes.


Vacation, as old folks say, is one of the perks a single person like me can have anytime because I don’t have kids (or a partner) to worry about. But I guess this norm does not apply to my friends, who are both mothers, because their family gives them time to go out, relax and enjoy. Fun is not limited to single people because everyone has the freedom to choose and break out from their mundane routine from time to time. This was what the waves have been telling us for the past two days. Even as we left, they kept on inviting us to come back and share to our children the freedom we’ve tasted back in Baler.


On a sidenote:

Baler could be a bit far from Manila, but it is easy to access because there are buses going straight there. Joybus is one of them and a fare costs about P720 (US$14).

SMART Beach House is a recommended stay for tourists. It’s quiet (especially on weekdays) and clean. The hosts are also very friendly.



Breathing Adventure: Birthday On the Beach (Ilocos Tour Day 2)


My mom greeted me a “Happy birthday, darling” the moment I woke up. That realization did not sink in as my brain was still a bit fuzzy at 3 o’clock in the morning. All I wanted was munch on some churros we bought at a mall last night and hopefully, some coffee later in the day.

We left at 4:30 am for Pagudpod, which has a good two-hour distance from the hotel we’re staying in Laoag. I once thought that going around Ilocos was easy because I mistakenly had the impression the tourist spots in the region were only a few meters away from one another. Taking this tour with a travel agency was a wise idea then. We don’t have to get lost and pretend we’re listening to Waze’s monotonous voice.

Our driver first let us see Bantay Abot Cave. The wind was still viciously cold even though dawn was breaking beyond the Pacific’s horizon. What we came to see was not completely a cave but a rock formation where the blue waters could be seen rolling over the rocks and the beaches beyond. It’s unbelievable I am able to see, feel and experience such a beautiful place. What’s more unbelievable was that my mom was quicker than me in going down the rock formation. Looks like I’m too slow for a 34-year-old. 😞


Pagudpod Beach was just a few meters away. It’s amazing the waters were completely blue, even near the seashore. I was more thrilled when I felt the fine, white sand hugging my toes. Indeed, it’s a dream come true. Here’s the beach I’ve been asking for. Thank God for such a birthday treat! 🙂


We had a breakfast of longanisa, egg and fried rice courtesy of King and Joy Travel Tours. I rushed to the shore after drinking coffee (can’t live without it) and took a dip. I tried swimming away from the shore, but the waves kept on pushing me back. The waves were good for surfing, but I don’t have the guts to do so and endure the pain later.


There’s a zip line above the beach, but I find it too expensive (P900 for one person). I’d rather try to make some sand art, but the waves kept on washing it away. Except for this one. 🙂


The sun was already prickling our skin. We had to leave the sea and dust the sand off our feet before we reach our next destination, including the Patapat Viaduct, the fourth longest bridge in the Philippines.


Kapurpurawan Rock Formation.


The Cape Bojeador Lighthouse which is running for more than 150 years.


This lighthouse is powered by renewable energy, the main power source in Ilocos. They have solar farms and wind generators which is powered by the famous Bangui windmills.


Seeing them in real life made me awestruck. One of the tourists told us she cried when she saw them for the first time because she could only see them in postcards before. I gaped at the size of one of them. It’s almost as tall as a 20-storey building (or 23 storeys as some blogs suggest) and the wind sails made a low and loud whoosing sound every time it turned with the wind. The wind from the Pacific coast is powerful enough to keep a bunch of them running and the sails were attractive enough to keep the photobombers from getting away our pictures.



Everything was so sunny and blue in Pagudpod, I wish I could stay for even one day more (or maybe until my next birthday haha). But seeing my mom having fun was the real treat for me. Nothing beats a good memory as a gift for me. 🙂


Breathing Adventure: An Escape To the Sunny North (Ilocos Tour Day 1)


We tried to sleep during the eight-hour ride from Manila, but the bumpy highway made everyone in the van a bit jumpy. It’s my first trip to Ilocos and I brought along my mom with me. I wanted to make my birthday a bit special and adventurous, so going along in a sleepless ride is enough to brush off my doubts that everything that is happening is true.

I’ve been anxious for the past few days. Since I’ve booked a tour with King and Joy Travel Tours, I wondered if it was real because I have never tried joining a tour group before. I’m used to getting lost with a group of friends who rely on Google Map and crude instincts when we trek small mountains or search for beaches, only to find out it’s against every magical expectation. Relying upon really positive recommendations and comments, I guess it’s not bad giving the tour agency a try.

I could not believe the moment I’ve set my feet upon the cobblestones of Vigan’s Heritage Village hours before dawn. The cool air seemed to make the streetlamps give a more romantic glow against pitch darkness. About one or two souvenir shops were already open, expecting a few tourists to come see the village at nightfall and dawn. It is so different from the Vigan that is doused in the summer morn which we will see in the last day of the tour.


Our group went to Paoay after a 30-minute picture taking. Upon reaching St Augustine Church, the breaking dawn was already basking it in heavenly light. I was surprised that tourists were flocking in the region at this time of the year. I first thought that tourists only come to the Ilocos region during school breaks and long holidays. I guess adventures are not hindered by calendar dates because everyone wants a little escapade once in a while.



Now, my favorite part of today’s trip is the Paoay sand dunes. A 4×4 jeep brings tourists through a bumpy and sandy ride along the coast. My mom, who’s in her 70s, says no to adventures. She was with younger tourists, but that did not intimidate her from having fun while the jeep was going up and down the steep and hilly terrain. Oh, she was so happy she can’t hide it in pictures.


What I did not expect was her willingness to try sandboarding! The instructor was so scared to have a 73-year-old on board, he kept on telling her to listen to his instructions. She did not tumble down the sand, but she stopped screaming when the sand entered her mouth haha.



I had so much fun with sandboarding I gave it a second try. However, the sand kept me from yelling “Yahoo!”, too.


Our last stop for the day was the Malacañang of the North. This was former President Ferdinand Marcos’ abode during his reign. Love him or hate him, tourists still stop by to quench their curiosity in what they can find in these vintage walls.






They say Marcos used to ride his jet ski over this lake that now serves as a fishpond beside his old house.


Marcos’ old office.

The Marcos Mausoleum could have been a part of our itinerary if we came before he was buried at Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) a few years ago. That seemed to be a morbid place to visit, but I’d like to see whether it’s true that the one lying in the glass coffin was a wax figure after his death in 1989. But there’s no chance for that now. Instead, what was left in the Malacañang of the North were memorabilia of his regime.




We checked in our hotel early before 12 o’clock. It’s great we got so much time to rest before tomorrow’s long tour. What’s not so great was that the sand in our shoes were starting to stick on the shiny floor and clean white bed sheets. 😞

Breathing Adventure: Riding the Waves at Baler


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. 🙂

Breathing Adventure: Fully Satisfied in Baguio (Part 3 of the Atok-Baguio tour)

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.

Breathing Adventure: Reaching the Highest Point of the Philippines at Atok, Benguet (Part 2 of the Atok-Baguio tour)

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.

Breathing Adventure: Unveiling the Heavens at Mt. Timbak (Part 1 of the Atok-Baguio 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.

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