Saturday, July 31, 2010

Poro Point, La Union, sunny mornings and rainy afternoons

Thunderbird Resort - Lone Tree
Thunderbird Golf Course Greens
Like it or not, it's really the rainy season when it rains almost on cue during the mid- to late afternoon hours.  Hardly a good time to go to La Union if you're not into surfing.  But the invite to revisit Thunderbird Resort was too good to pass up, a nice time for an out-of-town break from a stressful project.

Revisiting the city of seven hills.  San Fernando is also known as the city of seven hills as well as the capital of La Union.  It's my second trip to La Union but truth be said, I've always relegated this province to a passage way to Baguio and Ilocos.  But this recent trip made me think otherwise.
Thunderbird Resort - Grey Skies Blue Dome
White against grey, topped with blue
Poro Point lies on the peninsula jutting out of San Fernando with a view of the bustling port on San Fernando Bay to the north and the South China Sea to the southwest.  Thunderbird Resort sits on a sprawling portion of this peninsula, a white spread of low rise structures topped with an iconic blue dome.  In the glare of a sunny morning, it seems like a snapshot from a Greek seaside town.  Against the grey of the gathering storm clouds, the white walls gleam like a splash of white paint in the growing darkness.

It was good that we had an extra day to spare for the habagat season almost always means sunny mornings and rainy afternoons and evenings.  I don't play golf but the well-kept, manicured green expanse of the nine-hole course draping the cliff edges wasn't lost on me.
Thunderbird Resort - Love Seats
Love seats, arches and patterns
On warmer days, it must be great to birdwatch under the canopies of the old trees.  But with the fickle weather, that would have to wait.  Not being the type to try my luck in the Fiesta casino about a 5-8 minute walk from the hotel, I would've taken a dip in the pool if it weren't for the prolonged squalls.  With no sunsets to shoot, it's tempting to just enjoy the chilly room and hide underneath the fresh sheets, listening to the hypnotic pitter-patter of the rain on the roof.

For more details on Thunderbird Resorts Poro Point, visit Thanks to Nica of Thunderbird Resorts for the invite and for making the trip a very relaxing and pleasurable one.
Backpack Photography Lake Sebu
Join us as Backpack Photography explores beautiful Lake Sebu.  Date: August 21-23. To register, email  For more details, check out

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Batanes: Postcards from the country's edge

BP Batanes Sabtang Dog by the Blue Door
Dog Day Morning • Sinakan, Sabtang Island
BP Batanes Mahatao Side View Mirror View
What a rear view! • Mahatao, Batan Island
For a change, I chose some favorite images I took in Batanes and let them speak for themselves. A lot of them are recurring themes in my blog, others are simple snaps. An aloof, lonely dog. A breathtaking scenery. A warm smile. An eye-catching silhouette. For one reason or another, I liked them so I'm sharing them with my readers. Souvenirs, nay, postcards from the northern edge of this corner of the world.
BP Batanes Chavayan Singing Kids
Three on top of their world • Chavayan, Sabtang

Batanes Naidi Lighthouse Sunset
Sunset Lighthouse • Naidi Hills, Batan Island

BP Batanes Radar Tukon Window & Solar Panel
Framed! • Radar Tukon, Batan Island

BP Batanes Silip Kid II
Slippers and a Smile • Chavayan, Sabtang

Batanes Itbayat Sta Maria Church Skywards
Red, White and Blue • Mayon Centro, Itbayat Island

Monday, July 19, 2010

Backpack Photography: An Invitation to Explore Lake Sebu

lake sebu morning fishing
Lake Sebu • Into the Blue
lake sebu
One funny memory was that we had tilapia fare every meal (name a tilapia dish and most likely, they'll serve it there -- from ginataang tilapia (Tilapia stewed in coconut cream) to chicharon tilapia) so much so that I think I abstained from eating the fish for two months.
<table align=It was sometime ago when we explored Lake Sebu in South Cotabato but the experience stuck in our collective memory.  It's really easy to see why.  The place is a picture of tranquility, especially in the early morning light.  The falls are incredibly riveting.  The people are so nice, we got offers of banana cue (we must've looked hungry after two transfers of vehicles from Gensan) even before our feet landed on the poblacion.  The T'boli crafts are simply exquisite -- I still have my treasured T'nalak cloth tucked away safely along with my Bajau banig mats I bought directly in Tawi-Tawi -- this sentiment coming from an avowed no-souvenir-save-for-a-ref-magnet traveler.  The T'bolis we met dressed in their colorful, eye-catching garb remind me now of the H'mongs we met in the highlands of Vietnam; come to think of it, even the cool climate harks back to Sapa.
falls two dramatic
Dramatic cascades of Falls Two
While I knew beforehand that the lake is situated some 300 meters above sea level, I wasn't quite prepared for the pleasant cool clime when we got there.   You can go around and hardly feel warm.  At night and in the early morning hours, it can turn nippy (all the better to huddle in the warmth of the thin blankets).  It takes some getting used to especially when one comes in from General Santos where it's either hot/humid or muggy (depending on the time of the year).  A good friend, Lantaw, told us excitedly that there are a lot of  new developments in the area; some good (zipline across some of the falls), some not so welcome (structures in the middle of the forest) so we thought why not pay a visit again.
Backpack Photography Lake Sebu
seloton netting
Lake Seloton Fishing
On behalf of Backpack Photography, I would like to invite you to our Explore Lake Sebu Photo Tour.  It's a photo journey into the T'boli culture and the wonderful sights around this inland lake.  

Participants in our past workshops/tours have come to know that here at Backpack Photography, we are not just interested in showing our participants the sights but also give importance to discovering and appreciating the local culture as well as interacting with the locals.  Our relatively small number of invitees also mean we can give personal attention to each participant for their every photographic query.  

For interested parties, please visit or www.ironwulf.netaddress. for details.  Or you can email us at this address.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Itbayat, Batanes: Catching a glimpse of the simple life and the simply breathtaking sights

Batanes Itbayat Sta Maria Church
Sta. Maria Church of Itbayat, built in 1888
Nanay Maria Gordo, the owner of a homestay on Itbayat, was so right about giving us each a mosquitero to go with the blankets.  When the power on the island went off at 12, the mosquitoes were only too eager to oblige to a midnight feeding.  We had a long chat with Nanay Tina Cano, Itbayat's tourism officer the night before.  But not before visiting the striking Sta. Maria church.  Fr. Dennis, the Spanish priest who has been here for 42 years, was preoccupied when we visited but after seeing me shooting on the grounds, he promptly sent one of the kids to open the church doors.

Batanes Itbayat Sta Maria Church For Men Only Back Pews
Back pews for men only
An old church with an interesting back story.  Inside, the church is simple though comforting in an austere way.  A glance at the back pews gave us the idea that not only is the church old (the stone structure was started in 1872, completed in 1888) but also reassuringly olden in its ways.  The back pews are reserved for the men while the women sit out in front.

The building of the church has an interesting backstory.   In the 1800s, the Spaniards who saw the locals' adherence to the new faith sought their free labor.  Thousands of locals lined up side-by-side the 1.7 or so kilometer distance between the town center and Pagganaman port where the stones were quarried.

We would've wanted to wander into the caves down south but it was wonderful to chat with Nanay Laura of Laurez Carinderia located just in front of the church.  She's a kind lady and a retired municipal treasury officer turned cook and craftswoman who's seen a lifetime of changes on the island and it is always fascinating to hear stories from the locals themselves.
Batanes Itbayat Fluffy Clouds Blue Sea Green Hills Grazing Cows
Clear sky, blue sea, green hills of Raele
Seeing the beautiful lay of the land.  Still, we've got time to spare for a look-see of Raele, one of the island's five barangays where the airport is being built.  Construction has been ongoing for the past two years and many are waiting in great anticipation (I included) when it will finally open.  This will greatly help bring in more visitors who are otherwise unable to visit as the 3-hour boat rides are not for the easily seasick.

After traversing tracts which are being reforested, we gape at the wide open expanse of green pastureland meeting the sea in a lot of places.  The way Ironwulf described it is "Batan's Marlboro Hills -- only much, much bigger".  I couldn't agree more.  The place really looked and felt like a huge postcard come to life.  At one point, in Tawran, one can see the peaks of D'inem, Riposed and Batan's Iraya side-by-side.  Amazing, indeed.
Batanes Itbayat Raele Vernacular House
Vernacular houses made from grass preceded the stone houses
Jason, our guide, took us to the vernacular houses of Raele which are cogon grass houses that preceded the more familiar Ivatan stone houses (It was the Spaniards who introduced the concept of building houses with stone).  Visiting one to shoot more details, we came across a boy and his father, the latter despite feeling that his house was unkempt for shooting, obliged.  Before we left, he gave us a pasalubong of two pineapples.  I forgot his name but I will never forget his kindness, nor of his kababayans.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Itbayat, Batanes: Stepping onto the corral island at last

Batanes Itbayat Pagganaman Crashing Waves
Crashing Waves at Pagganaman Port Cliffs
We were at the pantalan at a little over 6AM and it was already swarming with people eager to get seats on the only boat bound for Itbayat, the northenmost inhabited island of Batanes.  The one in charge of listing the passengers' names showed us a really crowded list.  Seems the first-come, first-served policy is not popular here (like in Sagada where the locals casually request that their friends' names be listed in their absence).  Uh-oh, looks like my twice-aborted plan to see Itbayat will have to wait a third time. A little backstory: I was able to hike up Mt. Iraya on my first trip but it took me three trips over four years  before being able to step on Sabtang. Will Itbayat be the same waiting game all over again?

Batanes Itbayat Rainy but Sunny Loading at Chinapoliran Port II
Chinapoliran Loading
As it turned out, the M/V Misubi, a steel boat that normally ply the Basco-Currimao route (or so the locals say) was getting ready to ferry back the spillover of the Batanes day celebrants from Itbayat. Finally, luck smiled on me as we are indeed going to one of the largest uplifted corrals in the world.  Even just for an overnight stay, I am eternally grateful.

The trip took almost three hours.  With the good weather, the sea was relatively calm.  Still, that didn't keep some passengers from using their share of barf bags which were distributed upon embarkation.  Instead of taking a straightfoward point A to B approach that's 21 nautical miles from Basco, Itbayat-bound boats go round the southern tip of the island to Chinapoliran, one of the three ports on the western side, some four nautical miles farther.

With its towering cliffs, Itbayat has no real coastline for the usual port.  I've long read about the tricky disembarkation process -- having to time one's jump to stable ground with the swelling of the waves -- something I've witnessed to be true.  The port hands were there to make sure we avoid mishap but we've seen how fickle the sea can be, changing from placid one moment to boiling the next.  I wonder how it would behave (or misbehave) in inclement weather.
Batanes Itbayat Chinapoliran Sloping Port from the Hillside
Chinapoliran Port Sloping View from the Hillside
From port to road lies steep stairways and a slope used for hauling supplies and sundry.  There is no sophisticated crane or hauling equipment but I give due credit to the locals for their tenacity and resourcefulness -- through a simple pulley system, a truck drives up the hills pulling a sled attached through a steel cable.
Batanes Itbayat Passengers Climbing Up Chinapoliran Port
Ascending Chinapoliran

In the late morning heat, we walked halfway towards the town center when a kind lady on a Nissan pick-up let us hitch the rest of the way.  The lack of sleep over the past days and the heat of the afternoon weighed down on us so we napped the hot noon hours away.

We chose to hike the 1.7 kilometer distance between the town center where we stayed in Nanay Maria Gordo's homestay to Pagganaman port to catch the sunset and observe the fishermen either coming home or going out to sea.  It was already dark when we came back to town, the clear night sky filled with stars.  The night was quiet save for our footfalls.  To borrow the lyrics of the Dream Academy's song, here's to the simple life in a northernmost town.

Info:  To reach Itbayat via boat, ride the M/B Intransa or M/B Ocean Spirit from Basco pier • Departure time: 6-7AM • Fare: P450/one way • Travel time: 3-3.5 hours • Recommended time to visit: April - June Accommodations: Around 6-8 homestays are available at around P200/pax/day • Via air: The airport, closed for the last two years, is nearing completion. There used to be Chemtrad or Cyclone 8-seater planes plying the route Basco-Itbayat; travel time is around 12 minutes though trips are subject to volume of passengers; otherwise planes are diverted to other routes such as Laoag and Tuguegarao
Batanes Itbayat Chinapoliran Green Cliffside View
View of green cliffs from the hill above Chinapoliran port

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Field Tests: Canon Selphy Printer, Sony Bloggie HD Camera and Eagle Creek Twist Pack 22

There's nothing like a trip to really test whether products can stand up to the rigors (and abuse) of travel, of being transported and used on-the-go.  And for our Backpack Photography Batanes workshop, we had the pleasure of having Canon Selphy, Sony Bloggie and Eagle Creek as travel companions.  
Canon Selphy
Canon Selphy CP780
CANON SELPHY - The CP780 model was a much compact unit that the ones Canon generously lent us during our Banaue workshop.  Considering the airline baggage limit, this smaller footprint and the lighter weight were a Godsend.

PROS: Nevermind the funky pink color, the printer was a hit among our participants.  And why not?  It was really easy to use, with no learning curve whatsoever.  The exercise was pretty straightforward:  insert card, choose file, choose number of copies, then press "Print". For the most part, the prints came out bright and impressive.  I really liked the overcoat that makes fingerprint smudges less of a problem when handling the prints; the glossy coating also made the colors really pop out.

CONS: Sadly, there's no facility for reading raw files which is tricky for dedicated raw shooters like me.  There was also a tendency for some images to come out too dark.  The unit loaned to us may also have a busted port for flash drives which limits the flexibility of this otherwise versatile and very portable device.

VERDICT:  Handy to have. Makes impressive quality prints. Wouldn't mind traveling with one.

Visit the Canon website for more details on this Selphy.

Sony Bloggie
Sony Bloggie
SONY BLOGGIE - hmmm, what's with the pink color?  We also were loaned by Sony a pink Bloggie to help document our trip so I guess pink's a popular color for tech devices.  Anyway...

PROS:  Really very handy camera.  Easy to shoot even with just one hand.  The swivelling head comes really handy during times when I forget to turn off the device as I just swivel it away to power down.  The 360 degree lens attachment is a novelty.

CONS:  Image tends to blow out in overcast conditions and suffer during low light.  The video, while of HD quality, IMHO, is much too compressed for practical use outside of sharing on youtube or social networking sites (must be a way to really lengthen recording times).  

VERDICT:  A gadget ideally targeted to internet users. Handy, yes. But replacement for your Handycam, not really.

Jump over to the Sony website to get a closer glimpse of the Bloggie.

BP Batanes Eagle Creek Backpack
Eagle Creek Twist Pack 22
EAGLE CREEK TWIST PACK 22 - I must admit I'm a backpack person through and through.  So when Primer, the local distributor of Eagle Creek, was kind enough to offer me to test the Twist Pack 22 for the trip, I happily obliged.

PROS:  Very roomy with space to spare for all my stuff for a week's vacation.  In fact, I could've contained even my carry-on camera bag inside.  

The zippers feel sturdy.  The front flap has a myriad of compartments for electronics, cables, books, etc.  The wheels are not prone to getting stuck.  The sternum strap is really very much appreciated as it helps balance the load when the pack is used as a backpack. 

The pack also looks more like a backpack than the usual boxy luggage.

CONS:  A bit heavy at 7.4 pounds as I'm very used to backpacks under 3 or 2.5 pounds (this would make a good main pack though). The pack dimensions are also bigger than the specifications for hand carry/carry-on luggage so this pack will have to be checked-in when traveling domestically.

VERDICT:  Good quality versatile pack that feels sturdy and looks stylish.  Wouldn't mind having one for future trips.

Take a more detailed look at Eagle Creek's Twist Pack 22 at this link.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Back to Batanes for Backpack Photography and a little bit of exploration plus a little more introspection

BP Batanes Basco Pantalan MV Legaspi
Shipwreck at Basco port
The green rolling hills of Sabtang were the first things that greeted my eyes as the plane banked and made a sharp turn towards Batan.  On this day blessed with good weather, there were white dots moving amongst the green expanse which were cows and goats grazing while vigorous waves formed white caps that untiringly dashed toward the foot of the sheer, rugged cliffs.  It's a sight I've seen a number of times before but the scene never grows old on me.

BP Batanes Viang Hills Cow Sunset
Cow sunset in Viang
My freelance writing work has grown more hectic over the past months -- a blessing really, though it leaves me with little time to travel so this break was a welcome respite.  This was still work as the trip was our second Backpack Photography workshop which I co-facilitate along with my best buddy, Ironwulf, though it was work literally out there in the green fields, not within the confines of an office.  We wanted the workshop to be a good mix of fun and learning, theories and field applications, action and interaction and from the get-go, it looked like our participants had fun, even if we came during the week of Batanes day celebration and the Basco town fiesta when power outages seem to be the norm.

Sure, the inconveniences were aplenty -- the long and frequent power cuts; the water supply that gets promptly shut off at midnight and would only resume come 5.30AM; the closing of shops at 7 or 8 at night (a bane for those who lack supplies for the next day's early trip); and the fact that in the balmy weather, a welcome sip of ice cold Coke or bottled water is a rarity. But looking at the land and seascape, one is quickly reminded that he/she came here for the sights as well as a chance to escape the usual and mundane.
BP Batanes Mahatao Fields of Gradients & Lighthouse
Mahatao Gradients of Green with a view of the Mahatao lighthouse in the distance
Going around Batan.  We had the benefit of having a jeep at our disposal to go around the main island of Batan on our first and third days.  Even so, there are sites that begged for more than a casual stroll to be appreciated like the Marlboro Hills.  Or enjoying the distant vantage points of Viang at sunset.  Or negotiating the rocky/boulder-filled Valugan shore before sunrise.  There are easier walks too like surveying Mahatao from Radar Tukon and visiting the Mahatao lighthouse.  And for a comedic turn, how about being chased by an ardent cow on the slopes of Naidi hills?
BP Batanes Marlboro Hills On the Hike Back
Hiking Marlboro hills
Oh, there were surprises here and there, some pleasant and others rather unpleasant -- like why did anyone ever painted the stone seating on the Chanarian viewdeck?  Or installed a hut-like structure on Imnajbu with no roof (guess no roof can ever last long with this kind of windy conditions) that made it look like a surreal four-poster bed overlooking the cliff?  How about the missing marker of the Songsong ruins that tell visitors of the story behind the ghost town?  It was a relief though to find a good lodging and eating place in the fishing village of Diura.
BP Batanes Group Shot on the Edge
Strolling down the slopes of Tiñan and having a blast
Escaping to Sabtang. Day two was spent going over to Sabtang.  The sea was calm and the crossing uneventful.  Going to Savidug, the group marvelled at the incredible vista of deep gullies, green forest cover and towering cliffs.  On the way to Chavayan, the group really had a blast strolling down the steep slopes of Tiñan and shooting away.  We found ourselves in Nakabuang Beach at mid-day, a bit sleepy from the power outage the night before and dazed by the food feast being served to us at mealtimes.  Tired, maybe.  But not from the sights, the experience, and certainly not from the good company.

Many thanks to our travel partners for helping make the workshop a success:
Seair for being our comfy travel airline to Batanes and back

Olympus Cameras for our blue caps which came very handy as it was very sunny;  
• DDD Habitat for being our home in Basco;  
Canon Selphy Printers which made printing our favorite pictures on-the-go possible;  
Sony Philippines for the Bloggie HD camera we used to document parts of the trip; 
• and of course, Primer Group and Eagle Creek which gave away those drool-worthy foldable backpacks to some of our lucky participants.  

Watch out for my field-test reviews on Canon Selphy, Sony Bloggie and Eagle Creek convertible backpack/trolley bag soon.


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