Central Luzon, Philippines

Discovering Potipot

Potipot, an island located a few kilometers off the coast of Zambales was the chosen destination for my birthday get-away this year. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the beach and the birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity. I have also been hearing a lot about Potipot Island — how it’s the “Boracay” of the Luzon, how the sands are so fine and the water so crystal clear.

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So off we go to discover this little wonder.

TRANSPORTATION
First and foremost, going to Potipot Island is not easy. It’s located in Candelaria, Zambales — a six to seven drive or land travel from Manila. Since, I will be bringing the rest of my family with me, I decided to hire a van overnight. Good thing I still have my van service contacts brought by my stint in PR. I was able to secure a van service for PHP7,000.00 or about 167USD (on a USD1 = PHP42 exchange rate). This is already cheap because the usual overnight service for van (rental and driver only) goes for PHP9,000.00 to PHP10,000.00 for an out-of-town itinerary. Of course, toll fees and gasoline is not included in the quoted price. And since I am a long time customer, my contact gave me a discount of PHP1,000.00 as a birthday gift. This was additional savings on my part.

For those who would like to take the public transportation, Victory Liner (www.victoryliner.com) has daily trips going to Zambales. I think you can catch these trips at selected times at their Cubao or Caloocan stations.

A six to seven hour road trip is not easy, especially if you have an active bladder. Make sure to take advantage of the many gasoline stations at the North Luzon Expressway because as soon as you enter the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), it will be nothing but a long stretch of road, with no gasoline stations or functioning toilets anywhere in sight. I should know because I had to pee on a make-shift “toilet,” made of pieced together plywood with a sign hanging “donations please” attached on an old mineral water bottle, somewhere along the lonely desolate roads of SCTEX. The funny thing is, there was portalet nearby, just a few feet away, but let’s just say that it was “not functional” when we had our road trip. The people who should be doing the cleaning and maintaining was just too brilliant in NOT doing their job.

ACCOMMODATION
If you plan on spending a night at Potipot, note that there are no resorts at the island, though they allow beach-goers to pitch a tent. There was a functioning CR, but still if you traveled by van, have a bunch of senior citizens with you, plus a pesky, little kid (my cousin’s daughter) — you have to find accommodations.

Our choice was Sunbloom Resort (www.sunbloomresort.com), one of the best resorts available in Candelaria. An overnight stay at their Family Room, good for 12 pax, is only PHP4,000 and comes with an ensuite T&B plus parking privileges. Sunbloom also allows its guests to cook their own food within the resort premises. Their family rooms are newly-built — it was clean, spacious and equipped with two double decks and four queen-sized beds. Sunbloom also provided 8 towels and add-ons like 3 pieces of tissue rolls and 3 packs of soap so it was a pretty sweet deal.

Service within the resort is also very fast and efficient. Banca rental is just PHP100.00 per person for a round-trip to and from Potipot which is just five minutes away from the resort.

Sunbloom Resort beach front

Sunbloom Resort beach front

To rent a banca, you just have to inform the front desk and they will arrange a banca service for you. Last time of pick=up is 6PM.

That's me and my god daughter who won't let go of the giant inflatable plane. Yep, we carried the sucker going to Potipot

That’s me and my god daughter who won’t let go of the giant inflatable plane. Yep, we carried the sucker going to Potipot

POTIPOT ISLAND
Potipot is a very small island. In fact, it’s so small you can cross it from one shore to another in less than 15 minutes. As soon as we alighted the banca, we were accosted by a man who immediately asked for the PHP50 (less than 2USD) “entrance fee” to the island. No receipts or any proof of payment was issued and we were left pretty much to our own devices as soon as money was collected.

I read somewhere that Potipot is a private island, hence the “entrance fee.” And man, whoever the owners maybe — they are making a killing. There were people everywhere and in fact, it was getting a bit crowded for comfort. We headed to the sourthern part where we hoped to find less crowd but was immediately proven wrong. People were everywhere — along with tents and other camping implements. Finally, finding a spot, we parked our beach towels a few feet from the water and finally started to enjoy the fine sand, the crystal clear waters and…a full on PDA that lasted three minutes more than it should.

Here's my crazy god daughter looking like an adorable angel playing on the fine sands of Potipot

Here’s my crazy god daughter looking like an adorable angel playing on the fine sands of Potipot

I hate to say this, but while the beach IS indeed beautiful…it can be a bit underwhelming, especially if the image you had in your head is that of Boracay. It was also sad seeing people throwing their garbage just about anywhere:

cigarette wrapper ruining an otherwise beautiful view

cigarette wrapper ruining an otherwise beautiful view

To say that I am ashamed to share my nationality with the moron who threw his garbage in an otherwise pristine island is an understatement. I wish I could say that it’s the only garbage I saw while in Potipot, but there were quite a few especially on the side where bancas park to get their passengers. It was sad and frustrating seeing something so beautiful ruined by the carelessness of other people.

And oh, speaking about “carelessness” —

We saw these babies as we make our way to the banca pick-up area. A teen-aged girl was lovingly shoveling water on them while she arranges them in a “photo-worthy” pose worthy of an effing Instagram. I was tempted to give her a piece of my mimd, something like, “I am sure you’ll get many regrams due to these beautiful babies but by taking them out of the water, you’ve just managed to kill a good number of starfishes.” The dumb things we do in exchange for a good photo opportunity.

EXPENSES BREAKDOWN

potipot expenses

A few days before the trip, my sister and my mum agreed to shoulder the van cost as a belated birthday gift. I ended up spending PHP10,900 for an unforgettable road trip with my family. It was one of the best experiences ever and served as a good bonding activity for our family.

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Central Luzon, Philippines

The Climb – Mount Pico de Loro, Philippines

When I said that I am not the mountaineering-type, I really mean it.
First, because I am deathly afraid of snakes. Second, because I am aware that my poor body, especially my knees, cannot take the strain of conquering a mountain. And lastly, because I am the type of person who loves my little comforts.

So, it really doesn’t make sense why I decided to risk life, limb and my remaining dose of self-preservation by agreeing to be part of the mountain-climbing activity of my Fitness group.

The mountain in question is Pico de Loro, nestled in a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) sanctuary in Ternate, Cavite, Central Philippines. At 664 meters above sea level, Pico de Loro is considered a medium-difficulty level mountain for climbers and is perfect for a day climb.

Pico de Loro summit

Pico de Loro summit

In spite the raging alarm bells in my head a day before the climb, I still showed up faithfully for the early morning call time in our meeting place. From there, our rented van was able to reach Ternate by 8AM. At the jump off point, we divided ourselves into two — the advanced group where most of the people are, made up of experienced climbers and the athletic, active types in the group; and the beginners group, a ragtag group of 10 who were already having second thoughts even while still in civilization, i.e. the group where I was part of.

in to the woods

in to the woods

The trek started uneventful, until the 30th minute when one of my companions decided to get her knees closely acquainted with the rocks and protruding roots. In a span of an hour, she fell one after the another, collecting a series of abrasions and minor cuts along the way. In my head, I was a bit happy for my achievement — apparently, I will emerge unscathed from this activity. Well, almost.

After the gloating, I started getting acquainted too with the protruding roots and sharp, jagged edges of the rocks littering the forest. Nothing major. Just the typical war wounds I get even while sitting in bed. Moving a bit to inspect a tree *kzzzzzzh — knee connects with boulder* walking along the trail *kzzzzzh — stubs toe on tree root*. But, yep — I didn’t fall down one bit.

There are specially marked trees within the forest that served as trail and place markers, telling the next batch of mountaineers where to turn, etc.

I was already dying of exhaustion by the time our second hour rolled by, and we aren’t even anywhere near the first base camp where one can refresh, do the number one or two, and eat courtesy of the kind family who maintains a “kubo” (hut). Maybe we were too preoccupied with getting the job done that when we finally had the chance to look up, we realized that we were letting a lot of awesome views go by.

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While on our way to Base Camp 1, we chanced upon this cutie:

One of the resident "guides" in the area. He loved the KFC Chicken Burger I gave him

One of the resident “guides” in the area. He loved the KFC Chicken Burger I gave him

This handsome fella was one of the dogs raised in the mountain and calls the DENR office home. Our guide, JP told me that the dog pretty much guides the mountaineers who goes up Pico de Loro. JP suggested I give doggie something and true enough, the little schmuck immediately warmed up to me after the third piece of bread was given to him. But, after finding some of his “friends” (a pack of dogs) whom he proceeded to wildly chase around the area — the dog left us to find our way to the summit.

After a quick rest at the base camp, we proceeded to scale the rest of the way, finally reaching the viewing deck just when our friends (the advanced group) were finishing their lunch. It was clear that in the viewing deck alone, the pain (and the bruises) were worth it.

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I initially had reservations if I will push through with the final ascent going to the summit. From where I was standing, I can see that there were no trees to serve as guides or even safety nets. But I figured out in the end that I might as well do it. I was there, anyway.

On my way to the summit and trying to find my footing

On my way to the summit and trying to find my footing

And the picture above is my own definition to the term, “…hanging on for dear life”. Please note that I was desperately clutching a few clumps of dead grass.

After the ordeal seen above, I finally reached the summit and it was worth it.

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I keep thinking, “God, I really do have a beautiful country…” To our front was the Corregidor Island, a tiny island glistening in the middle of the azure ocean, further up was Bataan, while to our left was the beaches of Ternate, Cavite. And well, directly below us is a dense forest, where hawks circle the air just beneath our feet. It was simply magic.

Of course, we eventually had to go down (another death-defying stunt) and continue the trek down the mountain, until we reach civilization by 8PM. Yes, we got caught by sunset in the middle of the forest! Imagine, finding your way down with barely 3 flashlights (one was already malfunctioning) and with the moon just leading your way. I tell you, my over active imagination was on overdrive and I was close to crying already due to the insane fear of being in the middle of the forest at night. When we finally made it down, I was so profuse with thanks that I managed to do what I used to dread way back.

And yes, I managed to come out of the dark forest in one piece.

IF YOU WANT TO CLIMB PICO DE LORO:
1. Transportation going to Ternate is not easy. Best to rent a van and split it amongA your group.
2. Always make sure you have complete gear, especially the flashlight which will come handy should you get stuck like us at Pico de Loro at night.
3. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but memories.

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Central Luzon

Conquering New Heights…

I’ll be seeing you two months from now…

My next destination -- Taipei, Taiwan (Picture not my property)

My next destination — Taipei, Taiwan (Picture not my property)

Finally, after years of hankering for the land of the F4 (and Meteor Garden), the birthplace of the milk tea and of course, The Taipei 101, I finally took a big step and booked tickets for this wonderful place for March. Yes, this means that the mad ass researching and itinerary making begins now.

But before I head for the man-made wonder that is Taipei 101, I’ll be scaling this wonder first:

Please be nice to me...

Please be nice to me…

Close to heaven (photo from Pinoy Mountaineer.com)

Close to heaven (photo from Pinoy Mountaineer.com)

This thing of beauty is called the Pico de Loro, a medium sized mountain located in Cavite, Central Philippines. I don’t know how I get myself in things like this. I am a world-class klutz and I always somehow manage to hurt myself even just sitting down. Imagine the gall I have, setting out for a mountain such as this on Sunday!

Anyway, I expect to come home with an aching body and maybe memories of the wonderful time I have with the mountain. I am really excited, I only wish that I’ll be less of a klutz this Sunday so that I won’t slow down my fitness group.

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