Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tips for the Coron Island Tours

The  island municipality of Coron in Palawan is actually made up of several islands, the largest three being Busuanga, Coron and Culion, surrounded by the clearest waters in the Sulu Sea in the east and the West Philippine Sea in the east. This presents excellent island hopping, scuba diving and snorkelling opportunities. 

All around Coron are signs advertising island tours. The tour package we got from JY Travel and Tours included two days of island tours. 

Our group of eight was given a good sized boat with lots of room for lounging, with a small kitchen and toilet at the back. It also came with the requisite safety gear - the crew was pretty strict about having us wear life vests.

And the on board lifesaver ring later served as towing ring for tired swimmers like us.

Tip 1.  After checking into the boat, check out the local market right in the wharf area for fresh seafood. The tour package included lunch and bottled water, but since the wharf was right next to the market, and the boat crew had cooking facilities right on the boat, we decided to look for seafood. We were not disappointed. 

Tip 2.  Rent your masks, snorkels, fins, and other scuba/swimming gear from the small stalls by the market.  

Even if you have no plans of going snorkelling, rent a set just the same. You will regret not having done so when you see the clear waters and schools of fish.

It would have been nice if there were kayaks for rent, but we didn't see any. Or, we just didn't ask. 

Tip 3. We forgot something very important on the first day of the island tour, but we were prepared the next day. Beer, soda and all kinds of drinks, ice and snacks are available at the market, too. Our boat came equipped with a cooler. 

The longest trip from one island to another took 1.5 hours. It was the perfect chance to enjoy the scenery...

...or allow oneself to be lulled to sleep..

....or watch the marine life all around. During a one-hour stretch, we saw hundreds of flying fish, several huge jellyfish bigger of all shapes and types bigger than basketballs, and one giant sea turtle chasing fish. An experience of a lifetime, indeed!

We dropped anchor at one of the islands for lunch.

The tour's standard lunch usually includes grilled fish, a vegetable dish (we loved their version of vegetables in coconut milk!) and a seafood dish (blue crab or squid, usually), fruit (we had bananas one day, and watermelon the next), and lots of steamed rice. The crew provided the usual Pinoy dipping sauces - vinegar, soy sauce, calamansi, salt. We asked them to grill the fish and steam the crabs, slipper lobsters and prawns that we got from the market, and they did it perfectly. 

Note that the boatmen even managed to make tomato roses to decorate the chili crabs.

....And a happy time was had by all!

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air."- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Ultimate Coron Adventure

Since we started posting photos of our trip to Coron, Palawan in our Facebook pages, friends have been asking us about contact numbers of accommodations and tours. We were very lucky we got a very good package and tour agency, so we are sharing our experiences here. We trolled the 'net and found JY Travel and Tours, and got a very good value-for-money package.

We were eight in all, and we paid P5,600. per person (roughly US$127.00)- the cost per person could  be higher for smaller groups. The amount covered the following:
a.  Airport transfers aboard a large and comfortable van; we think it is important to have the airport transfers pre-arranged because the trip from Busuanga airport takes about 45 minutes.

b.  4D/3N stay at Coron Ecolodge, a relatively new, pleasant and clean hotel right in the center of town with basic amenities like wifi, and free breakfast
b. A half-day city tour that included a hike up Mt. Tapyas and ended with a refreshing dip at Maquinit Hot Springs

c.  Two days of island tours including lunch

So, see, we only had dinner to worry about. The day we arrived, it was Tony's birthday. The hotel staff somehow got wind of it and presented Tony with a birthday cupcake. Nice touch!

Even the van and tour crew got in on the fun.

Make sure you ask for Bernie as your tour guide - he was the quintessential tour guide - accommodating, entertaining, knowledgeable and patient. 

On our last day, Bernie and the other JY tour guides surprised us with a song-and-dance number right on the wharf. Maraming salamat, Bernie and JY Travel and Tours!

To contact JY Travel and Tours, call Emily at +639178956108 or +639205532361, or check out their Facebook page: Jy Travelandtours at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006320795175&pnref=story or 

"You don't have to be rich to travel well". - Eugene Fodor

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sagada Diary 1. Getting There

Sagada. For a long time, it seemed like a far-off, unreachable destination. It used to be a 12-hour dusty ride on a rickety bus over the spines of mountains, solid rock on your left and a sheer 80-foot drop to your left. But not anymore these days; travel to sagada just got a whole lot easier. There are two options - to go from Manila, or from Baguio. We chose the Baguio route. You may check other websites to find out ways of getting there. As for us, we rented a van from Baguio, and the trip took a little over six hours, including rest and meal stops. 

We left Baguio at 6:00 am, had a quick breakfast at a fastfood in La Trinidad, and were soon on our way. Sleepyheads, be warned...if you so much as blink, you'll miss a lot of amazing scenery. Very soon, we were surrounded by vegetable gardens. No, not your ordinary vegetable gardens - they looked like this

Sometimes the fog rolled in and covered the mountains

We saw calla lilies growing by the roadside, along the edges of the farms, and just about everywhere - some planted in farms that supply Manila's florists, some just growing wild. Of course we were not able to resist them.


The vegetable farmers use chicken dung as fertilizer, so we could smell it everywhere.  Some sights along the way:

Farmers loading cabbage onto a truck

"Etag" (salt pork) drying in the sun

Vegetable vendors jostle for commercial space

Oh, those glorious mountains!

Pit stops for cofee, rest ...

..snacks, and restrooms

At one small town, we had to knock on the door of the tiny police station to ask if we could use their restroom. The two cops on duty graciously let us in.

How would it feel to live in one of the houses nestled among the vegetable terraces?

A quick picture at the highest point of the Philippine Highway System (7,400 feet above sea level)

A few waterfalls here and there

A river below us

Disturbing a "resting" potato plot

A few more turns and we were there! We're not sure which was more refreshing - the fact that we had arrived, or the promise of San Miguel. Well, both actually! 

"Oh the places we'll go..." - Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Group's Travel Rules 101-8. Put Down That Camera...for a while!

Or, How To Make Sure We're Still Talking To Each Other At the End of the Trip - 8

Sagada, Oct. 2012

Well, yes, of course everyone wants to take pictures! After all, in some places, they're the only things we're allowed to take. We take photos to help us remember, to preserve the moment, let us show family and friends the things and places we've seen.  

By the hanging coffins, Sagada

We take photos to show others where we've been, what we ate, what we saw, where we stayed....or, as Anna's King would say.."etcetera, etcetera!"  We take pictures of ourselves having fun, or just being there. 

By the entrance of Sumaguing Caves, Sagada

How many times have we come face to face with a centuries-old church, 

or a postcard-pretty river scene, or a waterfall gushing out of a rock by the highway

or a simple but beautifully-plated breakfast

and the first thing that comes to our minds is, "Facebook!"

But, picture this: you're on a small boat in the middle of Lake Sebu. It's just you and the lake, because you can't see anything else because of the fog surrounding you. Everyone on the boat  reaches for his/her camera, busy clicking away for facebook. In five seconds, the fog lifts, and you only notice it because the reflection of the sun on the water hurts your eyes. And you realize you missed the experience of being on a boat on a lake totally shrouded by thick fog. You were there, but you missed it. And worse, all you can see on your pictures is something like this 

(Photo from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dense_Tule_fog_in_Bakersfield,_California.jpg)

Trust us, we're talking from experience and we learned from that. 

By all means, take pictures, lot of pictures!  But don't just take pictures of the locals;  talk to them. 

Vegetable vendor along Halsema Highway

Don't just "shoot" the food ....savor it, ask how it's made, how it's grown. 

Pancit Luglug, Bangkerohan Public Market, Davao City

Shoot the scenery, the windows, the beach, the mountain...but also stay long enough to just keep still and savor the moment....savor the view,  "swim" in the experience of being there. No, drown in it! 

so that there are as many pictures in your heart as there are in your camera. 

"Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." - Ibn Batutta