Monday, March 24, 2014

Cuenca: Mountain, Lake, Volcano

Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas is one of the mountains close to Manila and its proximity to the city makes it a favorite among mountain climbers. People who want to climb Mt. Maculot are advised to register first  at registration sites in the town. A guide can also be hired to help you with the trek to the Rockies. The Rockies is a popular site of the mountain so called because of its rocky terrain. Once you reach the top, you can see a breathtaking view of the Taal Lake and Taal Volcano below.

But unlike mountaineers who follow the trail to the Rockies, I was led to a different route to see Mt. Maculot, the Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. I went to Brgy. Dita, Cuenca  to visit family friends. They live in the Dita side of Mt. Maculot, hundreds of meters above sea level. The air up in the mountain is so cool and the forest supplies fresh oxygen. Fruit-bearing and other kinds of trees abound in the forest but what fascinated me most was the lovely, colorful flowers and ornamental plants, some of which I saw for the first time.

A view of the towns of San Jose and Lipa City from Mt. Maculot

From Dita, our friends’ 78-year old father drove us to the next barangay, Balagbag, so I can have a view of the mountain peak from afar. Maculot is a wide mountain and we were on the other end of the Rockies, but they told me that I can also view Taal Lake and Taal Volcano from Balagbag. We found an elevated spot that gave us a panoramic view of the Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano. The lake was so placid. Some parts were blue, other parts were sparkling like emerald. From a distance Taal Volcano protrudes. From where we were, the place was framed in green foliage with birds flying into the scene, and chickens cackling in the background. A gentle, cool breeze brushed me. Inspired by the scene, I breathe in the fresh air. No pollution, no distraction. I felt at peace.

Philip Yancey said, “Wilderness announces to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untameable God…the world cannot contain the delight God inspires.”* After going up to Mt. Maculot, I begin to think that maybe mountaineers are drawn to the mountains because when they are up there, they sense the presence of God. And indeed, God displays His beauty and power in the mountains, in the volcano, and in the lake. Our appropriate response is awe and praise to Him.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
 Let the rivers clap their hand
 let the mountains sing together for joy.”  Psalm 98:4-8

Here’s an old gospel song about a mountaintop experience with God.

*Source of quotation by Philip Yancey: Our Daily Bread

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Change of Plan

The sky was dark, threatening to pour rain. The TV screen on the airport flashed the typhoon signal numbers hoisted over the different parts of the country. We were getting restless as we waited for our flight black to Manila. An airline crew has announced on the PA system that Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 654 would be delayed for a few minutes. A super typhoon was expected to directly hit Eastern Visayas in less than 24 hours.

My husband and I started talking about contingency plans. If our flight is cancelled, we, namely the two of us, our two teenagers, my sister-in-law and her husband would re-book our flight and go back to the hotel where we previously stayed overnight. We didn't really plan to stay in Tacloban, Leyte on November 6, 2013. Seven months earlier in April, I took advantage of a promo fare and booked a flight for our family to Tacloban. From there we would travel by land for three hours to Biliran Island. The island, located north of Tacloban, used to be part of Leyte but became independent in 1992. 

Biliran is not yet a popular tourist destination unlike Palawan, Boracay, or Bohol. But we became interested in this fourth smallest province in the Philippines when we saw it featured on a travel TV show. We were enticed by the host's lovely description of the volcanic island and shots after shots of its waterfalls, islets, sand bars, rock formation, hot springs, and white beaches. It has many natural attractions and accommodations are budget-friendly. Biliran seemed a perfect choice for our next vacation. We envisioned the trip to be a time for bonding, relaxation, fun, and adventure.

But on November 4, on our way to the airport, it drizzled. I uttered a prayer. Lord, we waited months for this trip. Would you please stop the rain? The rain stopped but when we reached Tacloban airport, it began to rain again. We were grateful that the following morning, November 5, the sky has cleared and we were able to chase three waterfalls--Tinago, Casiawan, and Casabangan. We were also able to dip our feet in the Mainit Hot Springs which is rich in sulfur and other minerals. Along the way, we saw rice stalks heavy with golden grains in rice fields and terraces. And the air was fresh and cool. Biliran offers such refreshing rural sights!

However, that night we heard the news that super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) was gaining strength and expected to land in Leyte and Samar by Friday, November 8. Our family prayed for the storm to weaken and hoped that we can still enjoy another day tomorrow. We were planning an island hopping adventure to Higatangan and Dalutan the next day. Since we traveled all the way to Biliran, we wanted to make the most of our trip and see what other natural wonders the place has to offer. Before we slept, I suggested that instead of going to Dalutan Island, we just go to Agta Beach. At least, we could swim, walk along the beach, and take some pictures for our Facebook profile. But my more adventurous son and the husband of my sister-in-law tried to cheer us up. "Tomorrow will be a brighter day. The rain and wind will be gone by tomorrow," they said. "Let's go island hopping!"

The following morning, November 6, we were greeted by the sun when we woke up. Despite news of a coming storm, it seemed that this day wasn't going to be spoiled after all. But we were still cautious. The report said that it's gong to be a super typhoon and even the President warned the people to take all the necessary precaution. After discussion, we decided to spend only half the day in Dalutan Island and then leave Biliran for Tacloban in the afternoon. We would leave Biliran a day earlier and stay in Tacloban. Our return flight to Manila is on November 7. At least, if it rains harder, we would be in Tacloban already and closer to the airport, closer to home. 

But finding an accommodation in Tacloban at that time became a challenge for us. Because of last minute change in plans, we didn't have a reservation in any of the hotels or inns. If I had known about Wego back then, maybe our search would have been easier. We hurriedly moved from one hotel to another apartelle, from one pension house to another lodge in search of an affordable place we can stay in for the night. Finally, we checked-in at a hotel along J. Luna St. 

The rain began to pour intermittently on November 7. Anxious not to be caught in the storm, we went to the airport more than four hours before our flight. We waited along with the other passengers for our plane to arrive and when it finally did, we clapped and sighed in relief. It was the last Cebu Pacific plane out of Tacloban bound for Manila that day. The following morning, we were appalled when we saw how viciously Yolanda pounded on Tacloban. For weeks, I could not get over the thought of what could have happened to us if we were stranded there. 

I will never forget our family trip to Biliran Island via Tacloban that first week of November 2013. It's a reminder for me that whether we're on the road, in the air, at sea, at home or at work, we may plan and hope that all will go smoothly. But sometimes things happen beyond our control. We have to rely on God's help and change plans. There will be delays and calamities, surprises and revelations. Timing is critical and trusting God's leading is essential. These will help us move on to our next destination.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Casabangan Falls of Biliran

Biliran Island in Eastern Visayas is known for its many waterfalls. The last of the three waterfalls which we visited in November was Casabangan Falls in Brgy. Cabucgayan, Biliran. The falls we had earlier visited were Tinago Falls followed by Casiawan Falls

Unlike in Casiawan Falls where you have to descend first to get to the falls, in Casabangan, you have to ascend a very steep road. But our climb was made worthy by the view of the sea once we reached the top of the hill. 

Here's a video of Casabangan Falls.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Chasing Casiawan Falls

Biliran Island in the Visayas is known as the Island of Waterfalls so part of our itinerary in this family vacation was to chase waterfalls. After our trip to Tinago Falls, we headed to Casiawan Falls in Brgry. Casiawan, Cabucgayan. The place is also accessible from the highway and is right beside the Casiawan Elementary School. The area surrounding the falls is maintained by a private entity and we had to pay P20.00 to enter the area. 

To reach the waterfalls, we descended a series of cemented stairs that led us to a smaller catch basin of a cascade. But this was not the main Casiawan Waterfalls. Looking  farther up, we saw the waters dropping from a higher point. That was the Casiawan Falls. We climbed another series of stairs to reach the waterfalls. Compared to Tinago Falls, Casiawan Falls has a lesser volume of water that's why the area below the waterfall was shallower. 

We dipped into the shallow stream below the falls then later, at a hut, we ate our lunch of grilled mackerel tuna (tulingan), chop suey (stir-fried mixed vegetables), sea weeds, and sweet lanzones. After our lunch, we were on the road again to chase another waterfall, the Casabangan Waterfalls. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Tinago Falls of Biliran Island

Biliran Island deserves to be called "Island of Waterfalls" because it's endowed with many waterfalls scattered over the small province. Some of these waterfalls are Cabadiangan, Ulan-Ulan, Casiawan, Tiglaw, Tomalistis, Kasabangan, Bongabong, Recoletos, and the most popular--Tinago. Our group's driver and tour guide, June Murillo (a local of Biliran) said that a day is not enough to visit all the waterfalls. Some waterfalls are not close to national roads and hiking for 30 minutes to one hour is required to reach them. 

We only had a day to chase the waterfalls so we were able to visit three only--Tinago, Casiawan, and Kasabangan. Tinago Falls is nearest to Naval, the capital of Biliran Island and our base for this trip. Tinago Falls is located in Sitio Tinago, Brgy. Cabibihan in the municipality of Caibiran. It's accessible from the national highway and the area is maintained by the provincial government as a leisure park. 

From Naval to Caibiran, we saw golden rice fields and rice terraces with farmers winnowing the grains and carabaos grazing lazily on the plain. The mountains are thick with trees and in some fleeting moments, their tops are covered by clouds. These refreshing rural scenes were a preview to the exhilarating sight and sound of the Tinago Falls. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In Naval, Biliran

Biliran Island, located in Eastern Visayas, used to be a part of Leyte Province but it became independent in 1992. It is now the smallest province in the Visayas and  is connected to Leyte by a bridge. On November 4, four days before super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit the region, our family had a vacation in this volcanic island also tagged as an undiscovered paradise because of its numerous scenic attractions such as waterfalls, hot springs, and white beaches that not too many tourists know about. I will share about the waterfalls and island we visited, but for now, I'd like to share about the town of Naval, the capital of the province, where we had our base. 

The town proper of the municipality of Naval is so small you can walk around it in less than an hour but there are many sikad (a bike assembled with a passenger seat and shade) to transport you from one street to another. For longer distances, one can hire motorcycles or habal-habal (motorcycles with extended seat and also shade). These ubiquitous motorcycles made the area look like a busy street scene in Vietnam. 


We found barbecue stands in the pier, eateries, and a small pizza restaurant, but we frequented Weluisa Food Court and also Estong Manok & Liempo just across El Roman Pensionne where we stayed. In every street corners there are stalls with whole chickens being roasted over charcoals on a rotiserrie. It seems that Naval is fond of lechon manok and bread too, since we saw many bakeries there. 

Lato (seaweed) served at Weluisa

During our stay in Naval, Biliran, we had the chance to watch the sunrise and sunset over the placid sea along the Naval Pier. Days later, Biliran was ravaged by strong winds and heavy rains brought by Yolanda. I pray, like many of us do, that the province will recover soon from its ruin. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Enchanted by Wartburg Castle

When I visited my aunt and uncle in Germany in 2006, they brought me to a castle. Thousands of medieval castles still remain today  in Germany, and one of them is the Wartburg Castle in the Eisenach town of the state of Thuringia. 

Entrance to Wartburg Castle

Built in 1067, the Wartburg Castle became significant in German history as it became the residence of St. Elizabeth of Hungary who was known for her charitable work and was canonized as saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The fortress also became the hiding place of Martin Luther when he was ex-communicated by the Church. It was in one of the rooms of Wartburg Castle that Luther translated the Latin Bible into German during the earlier part of 1520s. The castle also became a symbol of German struggle for unification during the 19th century. 

That visit to Wartburg Castle was also significant for me as it was my first time to see and step into a castle built from the Middle Ages. I was impressed by the drawbridge, towers, spacious courts and rooms, and armor displayed in the museum inside the castle. 

We also saw Lutherstube, a room inside the castle where Martin Luther devoted his time in translating the Bible into his native German. I also translate books, though not the Bible, but seeing that room and hearing the tour guide say something about Luther's work of translation made the experience really unusual. 

I didn't find my Prince Charming at the Wartburg Castle but I found a lot more historical pieces that enchanted me. The Wartburg Castle was declared in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and described as an "Outstanding Monument of the Feudal Period in Central Europe". 

The forest and hill outside of the castle
My aunt and uncle didn't let me leave Thuringia without tasting
its specialty Thuringian sausage