Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The beauty that is Bongao

The islands of Sulu and Tawi Tawi are almost always in the news. It seems that from the mainstream media's viewpoint, any of the islands beyond Zamboanga is strife country. So why did we venture here despite the bad press? Maybe it's a strange fascination with Mindanao. Surely, the country's second-largest island group hides beauty that seems to be gilded with danger. Maybe it's also an attraction to something distant and remote -- after all, it is said that Tawi Tawi got its name from the Malay word, "jaui" which means far.

Coming here, we wanted to look past the headlines and be more open-minded. so after nearly 17 hours on the sea, we finally landed in Bongao, the capital of Tawi Tawi. It was rainy. we were hungry. Oh, we were just eager to freshen up before finding something to make productive use of the afternoon.

The friendly people of the Tourism Council met with us as we were settling in at the Beachside Inn. We were in touch with them months ago but we thought it was just for mere formality. as it turned out, they were intent on taking us around.One morning, we surveyed the town from the Kapitolyo which is nestled on a hill. In the early hours of daybreak, the town appears a picture of tranquility (save for the many joggers who use the steep hill to test their mettle and perhaps work up an appetite). Bongao looks beautiful enveloped in the mists.

When the fog lifted, the lay of the land glimmered in the warming sunlight -- the Bajau village to the north and Mt. Bongao to the west. Ahh, this is indeed a beautiful place to be in.Visitors' info: The Tawi Tawi Tourism Council warmly welcomes guests, ready to provide assistance and coordination work. Contact Salvacion Rescadora, Provincial Tourism Officer at 0910.6716367 or Sirikit Arip, Supervising Tourism Operation Officer at 0919.4325553. Transpo precautions: Some motorcycle drivers we rode with early on charged us up to five times the normal rate so beware. Rides within town proper costs P20/pax. Outside, negotiate to get reasonable rates. Fuel prices in Tawi Tawi cost almost double than that of Manila prices which may explain the overcharging of some drivers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sailing on: From Zamboanga to Bongao

The ferry pitched and swayed somewhat like a pendulum as I lay on a second level bed. There were like a hundred others cramped on the economy deck of the Trisha Kristen, all bound for Bongao, Tawi Tawi. When we set sail from Zamboanga at 5.30pm, the sea was well-behaved. But nearing midnight, the sea turned unruly, tossing our vessel from side to side -- one moment i see the minute lights of bancas on the water, the next moment all i can see was the cloud-filled sky.Our trip aboard the slow craft was one of the few making the crossing following Christmas day.  It would take nearly 17 hours. We tried booking for the faster Weesam craft but because of the holidays, trips were put on hold. We also tried booking for the airconditioned cabin of this, the Trisha Kristen, but it was booked solid. We wanted to make the crossing to Bongao as soon as we can so off to this trip we went. But taking the slow craft in the cramped, often smoky quarters, gave us the opportunity to experience what a lot of Tawi Tawi locals go through -- squat toilets, cup noodle snacks and all. For wasn't it Paul Theroux who said that if you're not having trip difficulties, you're just having a vacation?

Hours past midnight, a squall came and sprayed our deck with moisture. Tarps came down and sleepy deck hands went back to dreamland. Welcome fresh breezes fan us in our humid beds (what a relief). People stirred in their sleep. Snores continued. Our ship sailed on. 

Tourist info: Aleson Shipping ply the Zamboanga-Bongao route on MWF; fare is P1,000 (economy)/P1,100 (aircon cabin) Good alternative transport is weesam fastcraft: Zamboanga-Bongao fares: adults (eco) P1,200; (first class) P1,400; students (P1,190/P1,360); senior citizens (P1,120/P1,280); children (P600/P700) • Weesam ticketing: (Zamboanga) (062) 992.3986/9923756; 0922.8998499 • (Jolo) 0905.8402540; 0926.8736976 • (Bongao) 0917.7997733 • (Sandakan) 0006089-212872 • SKEDS: Mon/Thu/Sat

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lagalog says thanks: 1,139 posts/5 years/60 months/240 weeks/1,825 days/4 cameras/many friends and acquintances later

This is my 1,140th post as Lagalog marks 5 years in the blogworld. When I first started, I was really clueless about blogging and asked myself what the heck was I doing writing an online journal. At first, it was to chronicle my day-to-day activities.L ater on, it evolved into a chronicle of my trips, hoping it would be of assistance to others. Along the way, I picked up lessons and made friends, some of whom are still with me up to this day.

Any way I look at it, 5 years is a long time to keep doing something like this. I'd like to thank you all my readers and friends for giving me the momentum to keep going, especially during times when I felt the compulsion to put this baby to the backburner. I also hope this blog was of use to you in any way. So, from the bottom of my heart, please accept my wholehearted thanks. I don't know what the future brings but here's to the next 5 years.Many thanks to my best buddy for this sketch; attribution: Ferdz Decena/ironwulf © 2008 • take note of the uncanny resemblance to Lagalog right down to the ubiquitous ipod headphones, hiking shorts & sandals, Nikon triangle on the camera

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Just passing through: Zamboanga's eats

Next to the people and the views, there's nothing that Lagalog digs more than the foodscape. my travel buddy, ironwulf, has been here in Zamboanga City before and is very familiar with the must-eats.S o when we're not out shooting, you can be sure we're sampling the food. 

(Eager for more servings of Alavar's, Jimmy's Satti, and Hai San restaurants? Do visit for the more complete account.Staying at Amil's Pension Inn on Pilar Street means we were just steps away from the best satti around -- Jimmy's. The grilled chicken or beef with tamuh or rice in a chilli-curry sauce was a breakfast staple for a lot of Zamboangeños as the crowds that continuously stream in during the morning hours attest.

Also high up on the list is tasting the much coveted Curacha (spiny crustacean that appears to be a hybrid of sea crab and spiny lobster) at Alavar's along Don Alfaro St. in Tetuan. It's not cheap at 600php++ for the big order but boy, was it really a treat. Eaten with the hands (kamotan-style), the meat is lavished with the Alavar coconut-based sauce, so much so that it's easy to forget your diet.For Chinese fare, a stopover at Hai San is a must, as most locals will recommend. A seafood market-restaurant, Hai-San is very clean and very inviting.I t's a popular eating place for locals of Chinese descent and that alone is a great incentive to try it when you're here in Zambo.Foodies info:  Alavar's Seafood House, Don Alfaro St., Tetuan, tel. 991.6806 • Jimmy's Satti, Pilar St., tel. 993.2254/991.9983 • Hai San Seafood House, San Jose Road, tel. 991.5506/992.1062

Friday, January 16, 2009

Just passing through: Zamboanga and Yakan Village

Visiting this premier city of the south over the long holidays means missing out on seeing some of its main attractions.I 'm not expecting vintas (they sparingly make an appearance -- only during special festivals and on postcards) but I was hoping to at least be able to visit the Fort Pilar Museum (closed) and the stilt village of Rio Hondo (no barangay official was around when we visited). But it isn't to say that we didn't enjoy our stay in Zamboanga, the so-called exotic pearl of Southern Philippines.The city's other moniker is city of flowers which comes from the Malay word "jambangan" or land of flowers. But it is also likely that the name comes from Samboangan, from "samboang" meaning 'boat pole' and "an" or 'place'.

The Yakan Village was mercifully open throughout the holiday interim. Located in the outskirts of the city center, it can be reached via jeep or the most common mode of transportation, the tricycle, in 35-45 minutes.S eeing the colorful, eye-catching (and most coveted) woven wares, it became very tempting to splurge even though I'm not big on bringing home souvenirs. Still, I wasn't able to resist taking home like a dozen small items as it would be a pity not to patronize these wonderful sellers and their acclaimed wares.In any case, we were using Zamboanga City as our jump-off point for Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, and later on, Dipolog up north. We found our home in Amil's which is walking distance to the popular Mindpro Citimall but lies on the quieter street of Pilar. 

Info: Amil's Pension House, tel. nos. 992.4296 and 992.0730 • Thanks to Jens Peters' guide for some of the info I used for this post.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Unflattering Sagada on NatGeo TV

Any publicity can be good publicity.B ut not the kind that Sagada got on a recent episode of NatGeo's "Banged up Abroad" series.T he episode talks about the tale of Cullen Thomas, an American who made a side trip to the Philippines from a teaching stint in South Korea way back in 1994. While in Sagada, he bought hashish and mailed it to a friend in Korea so they can earn a tidy sum of money. Anticipating the prospect of making money without splitting the profits, he bought a second time and mailed it to himself, hoping to get it when he and his girlfriend get back to Seoul. He was caught while trying to retrieve the package in South Korea and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.I won't play naive to the goings-on in Sagada where even up to now, hashish can be bought quite openly. I just find it sad that the beauty of this place becomes just a backdrop to this misdemeanor which happened 15 years ago. As a regular visitor, I'd like to say that not everyone who visits the place comes for this kind of high. Just makes one think that of the many things that can be featured about the Philippines, something unflattering like this would just like come out of the woodwork. In any case, a repentant Cullen narrates his ordeal on the NatGeo episode; if you want to catch it, tune in to the NatGeo Adventure Channel and find out what times they air the "Banged up Abroad" series. For updates on Cullen, visit Credits: image of NatGeo TV banner culled from the NatGeoTV website

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sonya's: In nature's sweet embrace

For covering a friend's wedding, Lagalog had the fortune of being treated to an overnight stay at Sonya's Garden. I've had a meal here quite sometime ago but this marked the first time I'm spending overnight in this place. Part of sonya's magic is the quaint charm it exudes. It may not be within view of Taal Volcano but entering the place is like entering an enchanted forest. Surrounded by all that lushness, everything one does assumes a sort of magical feeling.

I had the mint room to myself and it was swell. Just seating on the receiving area feels like chilling out already.T he room was located near the bottom of a ravine and save for the sound of the leaves swaying in the wind and the songs of crickets, it was serene.The air was nippy and the late afternoon mood was all-too-tempting not to slack off even for just an hour or so. With an inviting bed and overcast lighting, sleep became inevitable.When darkness crept in, the place became even more enchanting with lights that glitter in the cold breeze. For a while, time stood still and magic pervaded the air.  Info: Sonya's Bed & Breakfast is located at Buck Estate, Alfonso, Cavite in the vicinity of Tagaytay City • to contact, call (046) 413.2081, 0917.5335140, 0917.5329097 or visit

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Borongan: Beauty is in the details

I'm wrapping up my Borongan series with this post - a closer look at the details that make Borongan worth more than a cursory glance.T ruth be told, the province offers a lot more which gives one an excellent incentive to explore it and in my case, to come back for. For starters, there's intricate beauty in 'em details like the thatched roofs of houses in divinubo island.There's the raw beauty in the handcrafted skimboards of the young Boronganon wave riders. Each one bears the individual imprint of the rider as no two boards are alike. Made from locally-sourced wood, polished and painted by hand, they are a testament to the creativity of the Boronganons.There's graceful beauty in the bounty of the Borongan waters, fresh catch that is both eye-catching and mouthwatering. Being a coastal province, there's rarely a morning when you won't find freshly-caught fish from ambulant hawkers.Then, there's solemn beauty in the hallowed halls of the Borongan Katedral, a place where to seek solace, to thank the Creator for a bountiful catch or a safe trip. Put borongan on your itinerary before the crowds come. Only Seair flies direct to Borongan, flying every Monday. To book or get more info, visit

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lagalog 2008: A year in pictures

Lagalog spent the remainder of 2008 down south hence I wasn't able to cap last year with a honest-to-goodness yearender post. But I guess it's not too late to make amends. Looking back, I wasn't able to travel as much as i wanted to but I'm mighty thankful for the memorable trips immortalized in the following captures I would like to share with you all, my dear readers.T hank you for spending time with me, for enjoying the sceneries, discovering new things, meeting new friends, and wandering around.STARTING A COLORFUL YEAR WITH CARACOL • MAKATI CITY • JANUARY 08 - Starting the new year right with Caracol, a celebration in Makati City, coinciding with the feast of the Santo Niño elsewhere in the country. This event is named after the Spanish word for "snail" and according to my good buddy, Ironwulf, celebrates the environment and its preservation.NAGARAO, WESTERN VISAYAS • FEBRUARY 08 - Visiting the UNESCO Heritage Site in Niagao, we made a rainy side trip to the haunting island of Nagarao, southeast of Guimaras Island (we hope to come back in the summer months when the waves aren't as menacingly-threatening).  The site of a big oil spill years ago, the island seem to have fully recovered. We would love to come back here, where one can wander through the inland forest to get a glimpse of the sunrise and sunset, laze around, chill out under the stars, unmindful of the rationed power supply, albeit, even unmindful of the passing hours.SPENDING HOLY WEEK IN ROXAS, MARCH 08I missed going on an overseas trip due to financial and schedule constraints. In lieu of one, Lagalog made a trip to Roxas, more popularly known as Capiz, a place hewn from tales of aswangs and other otherworldly creatures of the night. We didn't find any aswang but saw breathtaking scenes like this one from Ivisan as evidenced in this capture which was published in the august issue of Philippine Airline's Mabuhay Magazine. JOINING THE PARADES • MAY 08 - May is the festival month in the Philippines and when Pinoys put on a show, what a show it would be. Here's one capture from the Makati parade of Aliwan Festival participants. Having missed the actual Aliwan Festival because of the monsoon rains, this was a welcome opportunity to get even just a glimpse of the pomp and pageantry that is definitely high on entertainment and full of high definition colors. HIGH ON HANOI • VIETNAM • JUNE 08 - My first overseas trip in a long, long time alternated between rainy and sunny and overcast days. Went to Hanoi on a whim with my best buddy, ironwulf, and it was providential as Cebu Pacific cancelled its Hanoi flights by fourth quarter of 2008. The UNESCO Heritage Site of Halong Bay is beautiful whether it be in the blue lighting of morning or the orange casts of dusk. BACK TO BATANES • JUNE 08 - I was extremely blessed to be chosen by Seair InFlight Magazine to shoot the cover of their August-September issue to celebrate their foray into the Manila-Basco route long monopolized by Asian Spirit. Having been here twice and missing the trip to Sabtang, I was blessed to make a daytrip on my third try. Next stop: Itbayat island off the northwestern side. SPENDING A LONG WEEKEND IN SILAY • NEGROS PROVINCE • AUG 08 - Not wanting to waste a long weekend made possible by a holiday, I, along with ironwulf and erick, ventured to the sugarlandia known as Bacolod and made a side trip to Silay, where the new airport is located. Suffered from a bout of food poisoning so this trip is very memorable as well. This image from Balaring is a nice keeper along with memories of great eats (talk about guapple pie and different variants of chicken inasal) and of warm, gentle people.RETURN TO SHANGRI-LA • SAGADA • SEP 08 - My third time in Sagada was spent mostly indoors, sampling the food, sipping mountain-grown coffee, savoring the fresh air and just chilling out. in any case, Here's a lovely view from a stopover in Kibungan enroute to this so-called Shangri-la of the north. DISCOVERING BORONGAN • EASTERN SAMAR • OCT 08 I missed out shooting for Seair InFlight's last issue but I was lucky enough to get another feature assignment, this time, to shoot this rather obscure surf/skimboard/caving/trekking/eating destination. Here's the beautiful sunrise unfolding on the rocky shore of nearby Divinubo Island which made the opener of the feature in Seair InFlight's December 08-January 09 issue. THE GIFT OF GASPAR ISLAND • MARINDUQUE • NOV 08 - Another long weekend seems preposterous to waste so made a trip to Marinduque with pals, ironwulf and lantaw. The trip is memorable not for the actual duration of the bus & ro-ro ride but for the long wait which doubled the travel time from 6-7 hours to 12. In any case, here's a sunrise keeper from Gaspar, one of the Tres Reyes Islands off Marinduque. COMING AGAIN TO CAMIGUIN V.3 • NOV 08 - 2008 marked the first time I visited three places for the third time. And I add Camiguin to the list of Sagada and Batanes. Not that i minded. Not at all, not even after losing my Nikon D200 in a nasty fall in Katibawasan. Seeing White Island back to its pristine state without the vendors and hawkers was just heavenly. If you dig beaches without the artificial fanfare, make it a point to drop by this sandbar of an island and see this wonder for yourself. BOUND FOR BONGAO • TAWI-TAWI • DEC 08 - The southern tip of the Philippines has always been on my radar for a long time. With a long Christmas-new year break, I wouldn't want to pass up the chance to go down, down south. far from being a picture of strife like what the mainstream media paints it to be, Tawi-Tawi was on the quiet side peopled by some of the warmest locals I've ever met. We would definitely want to come back to island-hop in the near future to explore more. Watch out for my posts on this destination coming up next.

This 2009, I hope to see you all again on this blogspace, and hope to hear from you as well as Lagalog reaches the 5-year mark this January 20. God bless and many happy trips to all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lagalog looks back and looks forward

Every new year brings new hope. As Lagalog looks back to the year past, he utters a prayer of thanks for so many blessings and graces, so many miles traveled, many friends and acquaintances made. Here's looking forward to renewed hope and a revitalized spirit for the new year. God bless everyone!  Lagalog apologizes for the late replies as he's on an extended break down south.  Hope to be back soon with fresh takes.


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