Hi. I'm Kara Santos, a freelance writer and photographer based in the Philippines. Level up and gain experience points in the real world through a journey inspired by Travel Up. This travel blog is highly influenced by the video game concept of taking on quests and challenges, getting stronger and achieving life lessons along the way.
A couple of days before we were supposed to ride through lahar in the foothills of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga, I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to actually ride. There was an overwhelming sense of excitement and dread forming in the pit of my stomach. Excitement because damn it would be cool to ride through the post-apocalyptic landscape of volcanic mudflow formed by Mount Pinatubo. Riders even have their own hashtag for it: #Lahardcore.
Additional photos courtesy of MotoWorld
Dread because I could already envision myself crashing and falling royally in front of all the seasoned riders and motoring journalists who’d be ready to capture every move because “semplang” shots always make more dramatic video footage.
The sickening feeling grew when I heard what bikes were to be used: Yamaha XTZs. Most guys would probably be thrilled at the prospect of using these off-road machines, but these bikes are pretty tall for someone of my height. I’m generally afraid of riding any two-wheeled machine that looks too big on smooth pavement. Driving one I had barely any experience using through unpredictable sandy terrain with loose rocks and stream crossings galore sounded like a suicide mission.
Just because I like sightseeing and hunting for nice places to eat using a scooter does not mean I can drive through lahar, I told myself. That’s freaking lahar! My thing is casual road trips, riding around small islands, enjoying the scenery and going to beaches and stuff. What makes me think I can ride through the extreme terrain of volcanic debris and pyroclastic material especially in this sweltering summer heat?
It didn’t help that organizers asked for my blood type and emergency contact in case anything happened. Nah, I’ll probably just shoot the event instead to be safe. But I found myself bringing my helmet, gloves and other riding gear just in case.
And I’m glad I did because getting to ride through this otherworldly landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tolkien film or Final Fantasy video game felt pretty damn amazing.
Metzeler Lahar Experience
The jump-off for the Metzeler Lahar Experience last April 17 was Angeles City, Pampanga, roughly 80 km from Manila via the North Luzon Expressway. After a filling breakfast of kakanin and pancit at Susie’s Pampanga and a briefing from the tourism officers of Angeles City, we geared up and chose our rides for the day. The event, organized by Motoworld, Metzeler Philippines, Yamaha Philippines and Imprint Customs for media was a sneak preview of the Lahar Challenge happening on May 3-5, 2019.
We got to use the Yamaha XTZs, motorcycles designed for offroad travel. With a 260 mm ground clearance and 180 mm stroke front suspension, this sporty bike is aggressive enough to tackle any kind of terrain both on and off the road.
The bikes had been fitted with brand new Metzeler MC360 mid-soft off-road tires purposely designed for extreme use on a wide range of terrain. The tires are street legal, so we could drive both on the city streets and the lahar area using the same bikes.
“Ang taas!” was my first impression. The bikes looked pretty intimidating. I asked which unit was the lowest as if that would have made any difference for me. As expected, I could barely reach the ground by tiptoeing when the bike was slanted to the side.
After driving on the pavement to the jump-off point, we made a courtesy call and learned more about the route we were taking in Sapang Bato, which is part of the ancestral domain of the Aeta community. The area is private and is only open to riders for special events such as these.
They’ve had incidents in the past where tourists ruined crops and endangered lives of residents by trespassing without guides and driving around recklessly with their own vehicles. Tourists are asked to register and come on 4 x 4 tours with proper guides and coordination beforehand. Barangay chief Roman King, a motorcycle enthusiast himself, asked us as visitors to respect the culture of the native Aetas and their ancestral land.
I first went to Sapang Bato in 2012. Back then I rode around with friends on board a 4 x 4 jeep and we all got buried under lahar sand for a spa treatment at Puning Hot Spring. I remember how steep the road was going to down and how it felt like to be almost tossed out of the open jeep passing through the canyons. It was thrilling to be back on a motorcycle this time.
You wouldn’t expect to find this amazing off-road adventure destination so close to Angeles City. Most people think of Capas, Tarlac as the jump-off point to Mt. Pinatubo, but this alternative route passing through the Golden Trail in Porac in Pampanga offers a different experience altogether.
The terrain is not as harsh, open and desert-like. The area is vast but the air is cooler here with rugged canyons carved from lahar providing shade over the shallow streams that snake all over the landscape. The hills of towering ash are covered in green, forming ravines with stunning rock formations. Along the trail, you can find hot springs and waterfalls. It’s one of the most unique landscapes you can ride through in the country.
For safety, Motoworld lent me a more appropriate offroad helmet and some armor. After familiarizing myself with the bike in lahar and almost running straight into a deep section of the river, I started to get the hang of it finding it pretty fun.
It’s trickier to ride in this type of terrain especially since I had a hard time putting my feet flat on the ground. Every time I had to hit the brakes, it meant I’d be immediately put off balance and have to shift my weight so I could reach the ground. This made shifting the left foot pedal more challenging. Taller people who can put their feet down easily on both sides will never know this dilemma.
Camiguin is an island province in the coast of Southern Philippines. Dubbed “The Island Born of Fire,” the island’s volcanic origins and eruptions have brought forth an abundance of natural sites. It’s currently the second smallest province in the country after Batanes. But despite its compact size, this lovely island has a lot of natural sites to offer from sea to summit and all around the island.
Drone photos courtesy of Rhonson Ng
Camiguin is the type of place you wouldn’t mind going back to again and again. Aside from the natural attractions, it’s the friendly vibe and local hospitality that will keep you coming back.
Where exactly is Camiguin?
The pear-shaped volcanic island is located 714 kms. South of Manila, 120 kms. Southeast of Cebu and 90 km North of Cagayan de Oro in the southern part of the Philippines. Camiguin used to be apart of Misamis Oriental until it became a separate province in 1966.
Camiguin is currently the second smallest province in the country after Batanes and has a peaceful laid-back island vibe. While Camiguin is geographically part of Region 10, Northern Mindanao, which includes Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Misamis Occidental, it has the same vibe as other smaller islands in the Southern Visayas region like Bohol and Siquijor.
How to get to Camiguin
Starting May 2019, SkyJet will be launching direct flights from Manila to Camiguin. The island is also accessible by connecting flights from Cebu and sea travel from Cagayan de Oro and Bohol.
From Cagayan de Oro City, take a bus from Agora Market to Balingoan Port in Misamis Oriental. Ferries from Balingoan bound for Camiguin make the one-hour crossing to Benoni Port in Mahinog, Camiguin. From Bohol, Super Shuttle caters the Bohol-Camiguin route, which docks at Balbagon Port, Camiguin and Jagna in Bohol. Fast crafts are also available from Jagna in Bohol to the Benoni Port in Camiguin.
Getting around Camiguin
Camiguin is a small island composed of 5 towns namely Mambajao (the capital town), Mahinog, Guinsiliban, Sagay and Catarman. The island measures just 29,197 hectares and has a well-paved 64 km-circumferential road that is very easy to navigate.
Most locals get around via the motorela, a local version of the tricycle that originated from Cagayan de Oro City, which contains an extended jeepney-like cabin at the back of the motorcycle that can seat from up to 10 passengers.
Motorcycles and mountain bikes are available for rent in various places around the island including Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin and Camiguin Rent a Scooter for visitors who want to explore the island on their own. Rates for bikes cost P200 a day, while it’s P350-P500+ for scooters and motorbikes depending on the make and model. Camiguin Rent Scooter: Contact 0966-9343300. 0975-0455951
Camiguin Mountain Bike Rentals offers mountain bikes for rent and guided trips. For inquiries, contact: 0917-3010338.
What to Do / Where to Go in Camiguin
Hike up Mt. Hibok-Hibok
Camiguin is gearing up its mountain tourism program. As of 2019, the local tourism office has identified at least 14 volcanoes in Camiguin, which offer challenging hikes for trekkers. The most popular is Mt. Hibok-Hibok while the tallest is Mt. Timpoong. Other popular volcanos include Old Vulcan, Mt. Uhay, Mt. Ilihan and Mt. Mambjao.
Scaling Mt. Hibok-Hibok
involves a challenging but rewarding trail over loose rocks and boulders, densely
forested areas and slippery slopes. The summit offers a view of the crater-like
lake and stem outlets as well as a panoramic view of the island and Bohol
The Timpoong and Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument is recognized as an ASEAN Heritage Park and is the center of biodiversity on the island. The heritage park hosts an important watershed and serves as a sanctuary for endemic birds such as the Camiguin hanging parrot and Camiguin hawk-owl, rodents such as the Camiguin forest mouse, various amphibians and medicinal trees rattan and ferns.
Note: The mountains are currently closed for hiking due to El Nino
Mantigue Island Nature Park
Mantigue Island is a 4-hectare land declared as a marine sanctuary. This tiny island is home to a verdant forest and picturesque white sand beach.
The island contains a short, but scenic forest trail, picnic huts where you can enjoy meals on the beach and snorkeling areas nearby where you can see turtles in the wild. It also offers a great view of Mt. Timpoong, Camiguin’s highest peak.
I admit I’m not really a big fan of museums. I usually equate museum visits with school field trips and history lessons. But not all museums are created equal. Did you know that there’s a museum in Intramuros where you can actually drink liquor including Siok Tong, a Chinese herbal wine that’s been around for more than 150 years?
Destileria Limtuaco, the oldest and largest distillery in the Philippines founded in 1852, opened their liquor-themed museum in Intramuros to the public in 2018.
This liquor brand is behind some of the most popular distilled beverages and spirits in the country including Toska Vodka, El Hombre Tequila, Maria Clara Sangria, Orchid Lime Juice Cordial, White Castle Whiskey and the famous Siok Tong Chinese Herbal Wine, to name a few.
If you grew up in the Philippines, you probably have fond (and not so fond) memories and encounters with one or more of these beverages from drinking sessions through the decades.
In recent years, the liquor company has come up with their own line of Philippine Craft Spirits like sugarcane wine, mango rum, premium lambanog or coconut vodka, and coffee liqueur highlighting local flavors and ingredients.
If you like drinking and are looking for something unique to do while going around the Intramuros area, visiting the Destileria Limtuaco Museum is a fun addition to the regular museum circuit. It’s a relatively small but well-curated museum that you can finish touring in less than an hour. Allot more time if you’re going to do liquor tasting.
With drinking buddies Liza and Sab
The museum is located along San Juan de Letran Street, a narrow alley near Lyceum of the Philippines University in Intramuros, Manila. It’s a bit hidden, but is walking distance from other top tourist spots in the area including Casa Manila, San Agustin Church, the Intramuros Wall and Bayleaf Hotel. Since it’s relatively new and not that well-known yet, it does not get as crowded as other museums in the area.
Destileria Limtuaco Museum
Carved from an old “bahay na bato” (stone house) where the family of Limtuacos used to reside, the museum houses artifacts of the brand that go decades to more than a century back. Interestingly, the museum has actually been standing there since 1982 as a private family museum before the family decided to open it to the public last February 2018.
The first floor is where guests can learn the process of making a bottle of alcohol and learn about the brand’s roots. They have a mini-distillery where you can learn about the process of making rum and whiskey and see how different types of liquor bottles.
Travel back through time and see liquor bottles from as far back as the Spanish colonization to more modern versions that the historic distillery has produced over the years.
You can check out the old machinery, bottling equipment and different types of bottles and what types of liquor they were traditionally used for.
The second floor displays items of great value to different generations of the Limtuaco family starting from Chinese immigrant born of a merchant family Lim Tua Co who sailed to the Philippines in 1850 to fifth generation leader and current president Olivia Limpe-Aw, the first female head in the predominantly male-led business.
The museum showcase vintage family photos, clothes, office equipment, family heirlooms, and personal effects of the family. There’s a shelf display of all their bottles and products, videos and other materials showing how label designs have evolved over the years.
Looking for a road trip destination with friends and family this Holy Week and summer season? Baler, the capital of the province of Aurora is becoming increasingly popular. This chill coastal town offers accommodations for every type of traveler from budget-friendly digs to more luxurious resorts.
We personally got to stay, eat and visit different inns, hotels and resorts in Baler during the #LakbayNorte8 media tour earlier this year. If you’re looking for places to stay in the area, here are some of the establishments you can choose from.
Cube by Costa
Cube by Costa is the newest hotel destination in Baler by the Costa group of Hotels. This hip newly opened 80-room property boasts of an all-white exterior container van community laid out in a grid set-up. Rooms are cozy and modern with LED TVs with cable channels, showers and free toiletries.
The property has an exclusive outdoor pool, kiddie pool, surf-inspired outdoor showers, a social lounge area in the middle of the space, poolside dining and a bar that serves creative appetizers and cocktails. It’s also right next to Myrtle Park, a hip outdoor food hub and skate park.
Address: Cube by Costa. Seta Street, Barangay Sabang, Baler, Aurora
Costa Pacifica is one of the largest and most popular beachfront resorts along Sabang Beach. All of its 78 well-designed suites and one-bedroom accommodations have private verandas where guests can get enjoy courtyard or ocean views. You can enjoy a quality beach vacation with the whole family including fur-babies, since the resort is pet-friendly!
If surfing isn’t your thing, you can enjoy hanging out in their outdoor pool or just lounging around in their hammocks in the garden. Costa Pacifica Baler has a large in-house restaurant called Beach House which serves excellent buffet breakfasts and meals.
Address: Costa Pacifica Baler. 80 Buton St, Baler, Aurora
Good for: Families with kids & pets, business/leisure travelers
For those looking for a fun, vibrant place to stay, 18 on Buton is a good choice. This cozy hotel across Costa Pacifica has rooms with cozy rooms with quirky details, a game room with a foosball table, air hockey table and PlayStation games for rent.
From the artistic mural of coconut trees adoring the facade to the pink LED sign in the lobby, 18 on Buton is full of fun and youthful details that kids and kids at heart will appreciate.
Address: 18 on Buton. 18 Buton Street, Sabang Beach, Baler, Aurora
Good for: families with younger kids & teens who want access to indoor games and activities, barkada getaways
Price range: P5,000 /night
Nalu Surf Camp
For outdoorsy types looking for a place to rest in between surf sessions, Nalu Surf Camp is a good choice. This casual beachfront hotel has modern rooms set in thatched-roof type cottages, plus a surf school, board rentals and a relaxed cafe where guests can enjoy good coffee and board games.
The laid-back hotel offers privacy and is located just a few minutes away from the main dining strip in town and about a 10-minute walk from history exhibits at the Museo de Baler.
The original Bay’s Inn Resort, built back in 1995, had humble beginnings as the the first beach front resort in Baler. Over the years, the low-key resort has grown and evolved to cater to a clientele of tech-savvy travelers. They now have 50 newly refurbished airconditioned rooms which are clean, crisp and modern with pops of colorful made-for-Instagram details.
Currently on soft opening as of early 2019, TheBoardwalk Restaurant at Bay’s Inn Resort offers a wide selection of dishes and pastries from their bakery served every day. Bay’s Inn is a good choice for business and leisure travelers who want to enjoy hearty meals with the best view of the beach.
Address: Bay’s Inn Resort. Buton St, Sitio Labasin, Baler, Aurora
Good for: Business /leisure travelers, families
Price range: Php 3,600 – Php4,600/night
Nature Green Forest Resort
For those looking for a quiet place with unique non-surfing activities, Nature Green Forest on the outskirts of town is a pleasant place to stay. This budget-friendly family resort is located in a forested area where the river meets the sea. The property has a private beach area and a garden. Plus, it’s also pet-friendly!
Sagada is a scenic town nestled in the Mountain Province in Northern Luzon of the Philippines. For those coming from Manila and the rest of Luzon, it’s one of the best destinations you can travel to purely by land (no air or sea travel involved). The roads leading up offer the most spectacular view of mountains and cliffs. Once you get there, you can enjoy the cooler climate because of its high elevation and soak in the well-preserved culture of the Cordillera region.
Where exactly is Sagada?
Sagada is a town in the Mt. Province about 391 km or a 10-12+ hour drive from Metro Manila via Baguio, La Trinidad, Bontoc Rd, Halsema Highway and the Mountain Trail.
Why it’s great for riders
If you want a long ride from Manila with great views through the mountains and lots of twisties, this is a good choice. While you can sleep on an overnight bus or van trip to get there, getting there by motorcycles offers a long and satisfying road trip. Combined with stays in Baguio City and La Union, which are along the way there and back from Manila, this route offers a complete vacation getaway showcasing some of the best of the Northern Philippines.
Baguio, Sagada and La Union are all tourist-friendly destinations with lots of accommodations, dining options and tourist spots for sightseeing.
Our previous trips here back in 2006 and 2013 involved long and bumpy bus rides. Though we rented motorcycles once we got there to ride to Banaue and back on a day trip, I’ve always wanted to ride all the way up from Manila. But my motorcycles aren’t exactly fit for long rides. I’ve actually been planning to get an upgrade, but since Kymco lent me a new unit of theirKymco Like 150i with Noodoe Navigation for a long-term review, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to test it out.
Last February 2019, we finally had enough time to visit when Art got a leave from work. Here’s what I can share from our ride that might help others plan their trips.
Route Map for Road Trip (small displacement bikes)
While some riders opt to ride all the way up to Sagada in one go, those riding smaller displacement bikes like scooters can’t pass the expressways (NLEX, TPLEX). In the Philippines, only motorcycles with 400 cc displacements and up are allowed to use these highways. It’s a highly discriminatory rule. Don’t get me started on this. I’d probably travel more to the North by scooter if not for that stupid rule. FYI, there’s a maximum speed limit of 100 km/h on expressways even for 400 cc motorcycles which scooters are also completely capable of achieving if there’s no traffic.
If you’re taking small displacement bikes, the most direct route means you will have to slog through the Service Road getting in and out of Metro Manila which involves passing through highly congested towns in the CAMANAVA area (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela), roads being dug up, lots of trucks and very slow public transport vehicles blocking the main road. The traffic was pretty bad in the portions of Malabon, Malolos, Calumpit and only got better once we got to Pampanga and Tarlac.
An alternative route is to pass the Del Monte-Norzagaray Road leading to Angat and San Rafael in Bulacan, though other riders warn that a lot of trucks also pass there. Just plot your route on Googlemaps and click the “Avoid Highways and Tolls” options.
Experienced riders suggest leaving very early in the morning (like 3am) to avoid the traffic. But if you’re like me who doesn’t like driving at night for safety, the horrible traffic is something you’re just going to have to deal with before you get to the good part. To make the trip more manageable, I suggest you split the ride by spending the first night in Baguio City before riding up to Sagada, which will take roughly 10 to 12 hours coming from Manila. Instead of riding back straight, we made a detour at the surf town of La Union.
Ideally, you will want to spend at least 4 days for the ride or more to enjoy sightseeing around Baguio, Sagada and La Union. But you can cut this shorter if all you want to do is ride. Part of my goal for this ride was to visit craft beer destinations up North that I hadn’t been to yet. After a long ride, all you want to do is chill out and drink good beer and these three destinations offer that.
Day 1: Quezon City – Baguio City, Benguet (259 km)
Day 2: Baguio City, Benguet – Sagada, Mt. Province (154 km)
Day 3: Sagada (free day; optional)
Day 4: Sagada, Mt. Province to San Juan, La Union (167 km)
Day 5: San Juan, La Union to Quezon City (322 km)
Major Towns & Pit Stops
Coming from Quezon City, our first major stop after 4-5 hours of riding lunch at Max’s Restaurant in Plaza Luisita, Capas, Tarlac. There are lots of fast food options to choose from here and secure parking areas for the bikes. Before that, we passed through some scenic spots in Pampanga with a view of Mt. Arayat National Park and welcome arches. After passing Pangasinan and La Union, we finally arrived in the province of Benguet!
Day 1: Baguio City, Benguet
There are several options to get to Baguio City from the highway, but the two main routes are Kennon Road or McArthur Highway. We decided to pass Kennon Road, which at the time was one-way going up. This route has less traffic and you get views of the Benguet marker, the Lion’s Head and Kennon Road Viewpoint which as a nice view deck overlooking the road. However, this route is sometimes closed due to landslides. We reached Baguio City around 4:00 pm but passed through a lot of high-traffic areas and one-way roads just to get to the hotel.
Start point: Quezon City
End point: The Podium Boutique Hotel, Baguio City
Route: EDSA – MacArthur Highway / Manila North Road / R-9 and Kennon Road
Type of road: Moderate to high traffic + long highway stretches
We stayed overnight in The Podium Boutique Hotelalong the McArthur Highway, which has comfy rooms, an amazing view, secure parking area for bikes and an in-house restaurant and craft beer bar. So you don’t have to go far to eat and drink given the traffic.
Mention Marinduque and most people immediately think of the Moriones Festival. This island province is best known for the folk-religious festival celebrated during Holy Week where men and women in masks and costumes replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers, roam the streets.
But aside from being a festive destination during the Lenten Season, Marinduque is a destination you can visit all year-around. Visit beaches and heritage sites, go food-tripping, enjoy the serene and laid-back island vibe and experience the warm and genuine hospitality from locals.
Previously, the only way to get here from Manila was by a 4-5 hour bus ride to Lucena port plus 3-4 hour sea travel for a total travel time of 7-9 hours depending on the traffic and sea conditions. According to locals, this can last even longer during peak season like Holy Week because of the waiting time for sea vessels. Trips can also be cancelled because of typhoons, leaving residents stranded for days.
Last April 1, 2019 Cebu Pacific Air launched direct Manila to Marinduque and vice versa flights just in time for Holy Week and the summer season, providing a faster alternative for tourists and residents. Cebu Pacific is currently the only airline to operate this route commercially. The thrice-weekly flights last just under an hour. Here’s their flight schedule for reference:
For those planning to visit Marinduque, here are ten things you can do in this peaceful island province any time of the year.
Watch the sunset from the center of the country
Marinduque is known as the “Heart of the Philippines” because of its shape and location. The island also happens to be the geographical center of the archipelago. The Luzon Datum of 1911 in Balanacan is a stone marker that serves as the primary geodetic reference or central reference point for all maps and surveys made in the country.
A newly constructed tourism road has made the historically significant site, which is being developed as a pilgrimage destination, more accessible to all tourists. From the jump-off point, visitors just need to climb up 468 concrete steps to a view deck that provides a panoramic view of the Northern part of the island. Great view during sunset!
Chill out on uncrowded beaches
For beach bums, there’s a nice stretch of beach in the coastal town of Torrijos. Poctoy White Beach Resort is the prime destination on the mainland with a long stretch of white sand, crystal clear waters and a picturesque view of Mt. Malindig on the horizon.
The public beach is popular with locals and tourists for camping and water sports like snorkeling and kayaking. Most of the resorts here are family-style resorts where you can book budget-friendly dorm type rooms, beach cottages or pitch tents on the beach.
A more upscale beach resort with private cabanas ideal for couples and business travelers is currently being constructed in the area.
One of the best destinations in Marinduque is Maniwaya Island, a small island just off the shore in the town of Santa Cruz. Maniwaya Island is where you can catch the best sunrise and sunset views.
Spend the day swimming in beaches with sparkling blue waters, go snorkeling, and visit the Palad Sandbar and Ungab Rock Formation on Mompong Island. Because of the limited passenger boat trips to and from the island, overnight stays are recommended. Bigger groups can also charter a boat from Santa Cruz for whole day island-hopping trips.
Loop the island on a sightseeing tour
With over 150 km of fully paved circumferential road, Marinduque is a popular destination for cyclists and motorcycle riders who bring their own rides and cross over via ferry to loop the island. Marinduque offers a laid-back cycling and moto-camping destination for riders and solo travelers who want a safe and quiet destination to ride and camp out on the beach. I really enjoyed our 3-day bikepacking trip here in 2018. Hopefully, local operators will think of offering mountain bike and motorcycle rentals on the island for those traveling by air.
Visiting the 81 Provinces of the Philippines has been a major travel quest of mine for a while now. The idea of geographically exploring all parts of the country is sort of like a video game thing for me. For those who don’t know, before I started traveling, I was really into video games. Some of my fondest memories growing up involved inviting childhood friends over to play Family Computer and SEGA.
We would swap game cartridges and spend many afternoons just watching each other play old-school games like Super Mario, Adventure Island and Lode Runner. Back then, games were really tough. Actually completing a game involved a lot of perseverance, blistered fingers and angry walk-outs and resets. Your lives were limited. Two-player games like Contra, Battle City and Twin Bee demanded cooperation.
Later on, when I was given the choice to celebrate with a birthday party or get the money, I took the money to add to my savings so I could buy a PlayStation 1. I got interested in games like Tomb Raider, Spyro, Legend of Legaia, StarOcean2 and Okami. I moved on to PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 games through the years with amazing games like Uncharted and The Last of Us.
When I started this blog “Travel Up” in 2011, I was inspired by the whole video game concept where you “Level Up.” In the virtual world, the more worlds you explore, the more experience points or XP you get. Reaching a level cap is considered an achievement. This is especially true for action-adventure, exploration and Role-Playing Games or RPGs.
There are two types of gamers. There are those who just breeze through a game with the intention of finishing it in the fastest time possible. Forget sleep during weekends. Let’s just skip all the cutscenes and beat the final boss to see how it all ends so we can move on to the next game.
Then there are those like me who take WAY too much time grinding to get levels up and doing random side quests that they forget where they were supposed to go in the first place. My favorite parts of RPGs like Final Fantasy and Star Ocean were the side quests. Usually, these quests are not essential to finishing the main story, but I always found them fun to do.
I enjoy hunting for rare (but completely useless) items scattered around the world and seeking out difficult bosses hidden in secret dungeons just to acquire a trophy. Gathering collectible items and gaining the reward is more about the thrill of the hunt.
This mentality has carried over to my real-life travels. I find myself attracted to destinations that are more challenging to get to out of curiosity because few people have been there.
I really love maps. In RPGs like StarOcean, the game tracks your “Map Exploration Rate” or how much you’ve traveled on foot around the playable area. There’s a sense of satisfaction of seeing it reach 100%. It’s really frustrating to see your rate stuck at 97.08% and not know where to go to get that remaining percentage. I want to be able to visit the most extreme or significant points on a map just for the sake of stepping foot there.
During my trips, I’ve found myself collecting random stuff like photos of more than a hundred room keys of different hotels and resorts I’ve stayed in. I’ve collected (and am actually on an extended bonus round) for what started as a quest to try 99 bottles of beer. I revisited destinations featured on Philippine currency just so I could take photos of the bills in the landmarks. I collect everything from road markers, unique tricycles, exotic food, and woven fabrics.
Collecting things and experiences gives me a sense of purpose when I travel. Happy victory theme music plays in my head whenever I add something new. I like looking back at photos in an album with one theme. There’s a feeling of achievement to see a personal collection grow.
But for the longest time, I’ve had mixed feelings about completing this long-term travel quest to visit the 81 provinces of the Philippines. Instead of a personal quest, it sometimes feels like a competitive game especially in this age of social media. And I really don’t want to compete with anyone but myself. That’s why I like single-player exploration games in the first place.
There are debates within the travel community about what constitutes “setting foot in a province.” Most believe that just passing through (for example if you’re on a bus and never even went down in the province) that doesn’t really count. Others say that you have to have slept at least one night in a place. For some, it counts as long as they have a photo or a “proof shot” with an iconic landmark or tourist spot in the province even if they only stayed there for just 30 minutes. There’s really no right or wrong way to travel.
Travel is a personal experience. We all have our own basis for determining where we’ve been. I’ve always gone by my personal sense of satisfaction I’ve derived from visiting a place. Beyond stepping foot geographically in a destination, I like visiting natural attractions like beaches, waterfalls or mountains that locals are proud of. I try to make an effort to do something active to soak in the essence of the place.
Biking, hiking, motorcycling or any type of extreme adventure always seems to do it for me. Other people like visiting churches, Provincial Capitals or popular landmarks in the capital. It’s up to you how you want to do it. Just enjoy the journey. Kanya-kanyang trip!
For some of the lesser-known destinations and younger provinces I had no idea about, I asked travelers who have already gone there before me what the most interesting place to see or what to do there was. Or I asked locals once I got there. Kind of like consulting a walk-through when you get stuck in a game.
I know I could have done this much faster if I had just set aside a couple of months to take a break from the real world and traveled non-stop with just this goal in mind. But I’ve found that when trips and destinations are too close apart they become a blur. You want to give justice to each place. To savor the experience before rushing off to the next.
As much as I love to wander around aimlessly, lately I’ve been feeling that staying home and settling is not such a bad thing. We all need to recharge once in a while in between adventures and nothing restores your HP and MP fully like sleeping in your own bed.
Travel can get pretty expensive so I’ve been capitalizing on travel assignments, vouchers, free flight tickets won from raffles, mileage points, and other means just to achieve these personal goals. In the course of completing this quest, I’ve sought out a lot of obscure..
There are destinations where you ride fast just to get to where you need to go and other places where you just want to take it slow. And I wanted to savor every minute and every mile while going around the island province of Camiguin. This compact island has a 64-km circumferential road, which locals say you can loop in just over an hour or so if you wanted to. But why do that when you can just stop and admire the view?
Camiguin is known as the “Island Born of Fire” because of its volcanic origins. It’s home to 14 volcanoes, including Mt. Hibok-Hibok, Mt. Timpoong, Old Vulcan, Mt. Uhay, Mt. Ilihan and Mt. Mambajao. The eruptions have resulted in a number of natural sites like hot springs, refreshing springs and waterfalls, all of which are easily accessible by land.
Drone photo by Rhonson Ng
I wish I could bottle the essence of the simple laid-back island vibe and drink it every day. Getting anywhere in Manila on a motorcycle involves slogging through traffic-choked streets, playing patintero with buses and jeepneys, breathing in toxic fumes and dealing with ninja traffic policemen hiding in corners just waiting to slap some penalty on you.
The fact that there are no other vehicles on the road and the scenic view is a reward in itself. Similar to other small island provinces like Batanes and Siquijor, Camiguin is very easy to navigate and you can safely ride around here solo. That feeling of movement, the blur of scenery, and fresh sea breeze as you ride makes you wish the road wouldn’t end.
I’ve been itching to ride around the island since my first trip a couple of years ago. When we arrived at the airport, I felt that spark of excitement when I saw the well-designed Camiguin Tourism brochure which included a map of the island and an “Adventurer’s Travel Sticker Pack” which encourages visitors to collect stickers by visiting the different tourist spots. It’s an easy and fun interactive checklist of sights. It’s like the mission and quest had been laid out for me. Challenge accepted!
If you’re in a big group, the easiest way to go around is by motorela, van or jeep but if you’re a solo traveler or traveling in twos, it’s more convenient to just rent a motorbike to go around. Fully automatic scooters and motorbike rentals are available around town for about P350 – 500/ day depending on the make and model, giving you that freedom to explore on your own. Camiguin Rent Scooter: Contact 0966-9343300. 0975-0455951
Cyclists will also enjoy spending the day looping the island by bicycle. Tackling uphill roads are always more rewarding when you can take a dip in springs and waterfalls in between. Mountain bikes are available for rent in tourist areas and resorts. The well-paved coastal and mountain roads and variety of tourist spots you can visit in the island’s five municipalities make it an ideal destination for cyclists and riders for a half-day to whole day tours.
After hiking up Mt. Hibok-Hibok and spending a day on the sandy shores of White Island and snorkeling in Mantigue Island just off the shore the previous days, I was really dying to get some saddle time no matter how short. It was great to be able to squeeze in a quick joyride aboard a rented Honda BeAT around the island and revisit some of the inland attractions.
Travel buddy Celine and I started off and ended the ride at Villa Paraiso Resort in Mambajao going counter-clockwise on the island guided by Google maps and the well-marked tourist signs around the island.
Our first stop was Ardent Hot Springs, where visitors can relax in the 4-tiered pools with water temperatures that reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. The resort has been developed with cottages and picnic tables and is popular with the weekend crowd, but since it was a Monday morning, we ended up having the whole place to ourselves. Always a bonus.
On our way to the Sunken Cemetery, we passed this cool view deck that offered a great view of the Old Volcano and the coast, where we stopped for some more photo ops.
Next stop was the iconic Sunken Cemetery in the town of Catarman, one of the most unique cemeteries in the country. In the 1870s, a volcano erupted causing the cemetery along with the capital city surrounding it to sink below sea level. The giant cross that stands in the water serves as a remembrance of their last resting place. The area around it is now a dive destination. I haven’t tried diving or snorkeling there yet, but the idea of snorkeling among graves sounds both eerie and fascinating.
Bambike is one of the most popular locally-made bicycle brands in the Philippines. These unique bicycles made from durable and all-natural bamboo and abaca materials are hand-made and crafted by builders from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based community development organization. Bambike aims to be one of the greenest bikes on the planet.
Aside from crafting and selling sustainably-made bicycles, Bambike is known for offering Eco-Tours, which give tourists a chance to explore the country’s tourist spots aboard these cool bikes.
For first-time international tourists visiting Manila, there’s no better place to try riding a bamboo bicycle than in Intramuros, the Historic Walled City of Manila. Intramuros is the oldest district and historic core of the capital of the Philippines. While the rest of capital is mostly chaotic and modern, in this district, you can still find old Spanish-era structures, well-preserved churches and get to pedal along cobblestone streets right next to vintage horse-drawn carriages.
The Bambike Headquarters is located in Plaza San Luis Complex. Real St, cor General Luna St, Intramuros, Manila City. This is the same building as Casa Manila Museum (which is worth a visit on its own), with a facade that’s made to look like a house that was built in the 1850’s.
At the HQ, guests can choose from a wide variety of Bambike designs which include their signature Ligtasin Cove beach cruiser, Victoria city bikes and other Bambike designs.
There are vintage-looking bikes outfitted with baskets so you can carry your things easily as well as sportier bike models. Each Bambike is unique, so you’re sure to find something that suits your taste and style. The HQ has lots of cool bike-related stuff and bamboo products for sale including Bamboo Shades.
The Intramuros Bambike Ecotour is a 2.5 hour guided bike tour goes through 8 – 10 major historical and cultural sites inside Intramuros. Tourists who want to hear from a knowledgeable guide and get a background on the history of each destination can avail of this tour for about P1,200 per person. The main stops include:
Plaza San Luis
Puerta Real Gardens
Baluarte de Dilao
Puerta Del Parian
Plaza Roma/Manila Cathedral
San Agustin Church
The Express Tour is a 1-hour tour where you can choose from the sites you want to visit above for P600 per person per hour. Tourists can really cover more ground than walking around. Biking also provides a more active and fun way to get around compared traveling around by motorized transport, making this a great activity for friends or families. Solo travelers can also join up the schedule tour groups.
But if you want to explore the Intramuros area on your own without a guide, you can simply rent bikes for P200 per Bambike per hour. Since biking buddy Outside Slacker and I are based in Manila and are familiar with most of the sites here, we decided to just bike around the Intramuros area on our own. It’s a fun activity especially for those staying in one of the hotels in the Pasay area and have a morning or afternoon to spare or if you just want to rediscover Manila with friends.
The major landmark you can and should visit is Fort Santiago, a citadel and defense fortress of the walled city considered one of the most important historical sites in Manila. National Hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned here before his execution on 1896 and the Rizal Shrine museum displays memorabilia of the hero in their collection and the fort features, embedded onto the ground in bronze, his footsteps representing his final walk from his cell to the location of the actual execution.
The historic Manila Cathedral is another popular stop. This cathedral was damaged and destroyed several times since the original structure was built in 1581 while the eighth and current structure of the cathedral was..