Wake Up, Philippines!

Paradise on a hillside

Posted in Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on June 17, 2009

By Tessa Prieto-Valdes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:13:00 06/14/2009

IT IS a rare thing when an experience matches the hype it has generated. How often are we told about the next great restaurant or the best hotel ever, only to find our visits… well, just okay. It’s the ultimate letdown, isn’t it?

Imagine then the mixture of anticipation and fear I had coming to the Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa, touted as the ultimate Boracay experience. On the one hand, I was truly excited to get there. On the other, I had the fear of meeting the mundane.

But all is well and there’s naught to dread. Breathtakingly beautiful indeed is Shangri-La Boracay, because it is paradise on a hillside, ’nuff said.

Shang Bora recently opened over the summer, offering an unrivaled experience of comfort and exclusivity, as the first five-star resort on the island. Walking around its 219 rooms, suites and villas makes one proud that our country has all this to offer the world’s jaded and well-traveled tourists.

Our pampering started upon arrival from our Seair flight, arguably the smartest, crowd-free way to get to the island these days. The resort’s staff immediately brought us to the private lounge at the Caticlan pier, from where we caught the resort’s Diwata speedboat on a 10-minute zippy ride to the Shang Bora.

We were met by Maggie Garcia, the resort’s resident manager, who introduced us to our personal butler, Joyce Caballero, who would be our 24/7 resource for planning the rest of our stay. Over the weekend, Joyce would produce such minor miracles as producing a band-aid at midnight when my little Athena got a tiny boo-boo, and arranging a quick parasailing escapade for my tweens, Annika and Tyrone, on the same morning as our flight home. Now that’s the sort of service that gets the family to squeeze in everything imaginable over the weekend!

The Shang’s kitchens are ruled by Aussie chefs headed by Geoff Simmons. I’m not much of a foodie, but for our poolside lunch with Andre Kretschmann, the Shang’s general manager, the staff outdid themselves. Between the prosciutto sticks, spring rolls, breaded prawns and calamari, I had a tough time finding space for my favorite dish, a veggie pizza with extra thin crust.

The Shang Bora is located over 12 hectares in the northern part of the island, with its own 350-m of private beachfront. Developed by the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (www.shangri-la.com), Asia Pacific’s leading luxury hotel group, the Bora resort is one of 62 hotels under the deluxe Shangri-La brand, with hotels and resorts all over the world, from Austria to the United Kingdom and almost every letter in between.

More impressive

Even more impressive to me is that this group has five hotels in our country, a testament to their faith in the Filipino.

Getting world-class developers to invest in our country is no mean feat and it is remarkable when they bring their international expertise and mix it with Filipino savoir-faire to create a fantastic experience. From the planning phase alone, great care was taken to ensure that the island’s bat caves would not be harmed, and that the ground’s natural terrain would be respected.

Thus, the Shang Bora has an Eco Center, the first one in all of Shangri-La. The Center provides an edutainment venue where guests can learn about the local flora and fauna through a series of displays and activities. More Eco Centers are planned for Shang’s resorts in Mactan and the Maldives.

At the Eco Center, I learned about the Shang’s efforts in managing and restoring the Punta Bunga Reef and Bunyugan Reef marine parks. I also got to see this up close and personal when I had the chance to go scuba diving with Melissa Ledesma, Shang’s director of sales and marketing. The scuba facilities at the resort are first-rate, provided by Scotty’s, who also manages the water sports at Shang Mactan.

The eco theme extends to the management of the resort itself. The Shang has over 300 solar water heaters and is installing a sewage treatment plant to support its water needs. It already recycles 100 cubic meters of water daily but will eventually be able to reuse 10 times that amount. As environmental issues are a key worry in Boracay’s overall development, it was great to learn all this at the Eco Centre.

Of course, my kids were in no mood for education but were up for the other “E” Center in the resort—the Entertainment Center. This center, with the adjoining Adventure Zone, is an ideal vacation spot for families. GM Andre explained that since Bora does get one or two rainy days a year, they wanted to make sure that kids would always find something to do in the resort. Thus, the Entertainment Center has everything imaginable from Wii rooms to billiard tables.

Of course, the Shang Bora also has a Chi Spa, the signature sanctuary of the brand, for those looking for even more indulgence and pampering. And various restaurants and bars throughout the resort already make it one of the island’s foremost dining destinations.

The best part of any new resort, of course, is that there are always various promos for the early triers. Until September 30, their “Kids On Us” offer allows children under 12 to eat, play and stay for free. Parents can bring up to two kids at no additional cost and with compli breakfast, lunch and dinner from the Shang’s children’s menu.

Various recreational facilities such as the Adventure Zone, trapeze, jet skiing, horseback riding and nature trail walking can also be enjoyed at no charge. Guests are also rewarded with a complimentary room for a night for future stay at any participating Shangri-La Resort within one year. What a way to get to know Shangri-La’s exceptional luxury!

(Find out more about the Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa by calling 036-2884988.)

So is the experience really up to the hype? Is Shang Bora the best resort in Boracay? Find out tomorrow at 7:25 p.m., when QTV’s “House Life” features Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa.

E-mail the author at seaprincess@inquirer.com.ph


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Samar town finds light in caves

Posted in Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on May 18, 2009

By Volt Contreras
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:28:00 05/18/2009

BASEY, SAMAR—When you lose your way in a dark cave, when the lamp finally goes out and panic sets in, you might as well skip all the saints in heaven and directly ask God to speak His famous words: “Let there be light.”

Not food or water, but light, is said to be the most important thing when exploring caves. Compared to other outdoor adventures, like mountaineering or scuba diving, caving seduces with its own set of dangers, mysteries and thrills.

And this town invites you, dares you, to discover them yourself.

For years, Basey’s Sohoton caves—part of an 840-hectare forest area that was declared a national park in the 1930s—have been drawing a modest stream of tourists, hobbyists, researchers and even treasure hunters. Back then, you hire local boatmen and guides, fend for your own lunch, and try to make it back to the city by nightfall—that’s basically it.

Last week, however, the trips to the caves ceased to be a simple come-and-go affair.

Residents offered a “tour package” with add-ons, such as river-cruise meals, trained and uniformed guides, a catering service and overnight lodgings.

Apart from donating equipment like kayaks, overalls, helmets and other safety gear, the Department of Tourism (DoT) last year started training some 60 villagers in this remote municipality on the basics of “visitor management,” eco-tour planning and marketing, food preparation and first aid, among others.

It turned mere guides into engaging storytellers, plain housewives into skilled cooks and project managers, and a laid-back barangay (village) into an energized community.

Alternative livelihood

Two community organizations have since been formed—one to manage the river cruise and the other, the cave tours.

Notably, more than half of the members are women, most of whom had previously known no other trades outside farming and mat weaving.

“We need alternative forms of livelihood since our town had been under commercial logging for over 30 years, when the only ones who got rich were the loggers,” Basey Mayor Wilfredo Estorinos said during the May 11 inauguration of a visitor center in Barangay Inuntan, the main takeoff point for the boats.

Apart from villagers who would be directly employed by the eco-tours, an initial 30 households were willing to provide overnight shelter to visitors, according to Estorinos.

Hours later, he would gamely do the Visayan folk dance curacha to entertain guests on board a wide, twin-hull river craft that serves as the tour’s “floating restaurant.”

Maiden cruise

The newly built boat or lagkaw can carry up to 30 tourists and a crew, including a singer and guitarist. It is said to be more spacious than the vessels similarly used for the Loboc River cruise in the nearby province of Bohol.

The DoT extended a P230,000 grant for the skills training and supplies, while the municipal government allotted a counterpart fund of P100,000 to construct the boat.

On its maiden cruise that day, the lagkaw glided leisurely down the Golden River, where the water wore the pristine tones of greens and browns, where petals—not plastic—dotted the currents.

A separate fleet of pump boats and kayaks took visitors to the Sohoton caves, where tour guides like Richard Alibado applied his training by putting on a good show.

Don’t touch surface

First, Alibado laid down some house rules.

“Don’t touch white surfaces once inside,” Alibado said in Filipino as he briefed visitors at the cave entrance that rainy Monday afternoon.

Oil smears from the human skin are like graffiti that could ruin the natural “growth” of the rocks and cause them to turn brown or black, he explained.

Still confusing your stalagmites with stalactites? Alibado offered a simple tip: The one spelled with the “g” crops up from the “ground,” while that with the “c” hangs from the “ceiling.”

As he led the group deeper into the shadows, Alibado turned from being a mere safety officer into a weaver of fantastic tales.

“What you discover inside caves depends on your imagination; you just have to give life to the rocks,” his prelude went.

Subterranean world

Alibado ticked off scientific terms to describe peculiar rock formations or surfaces.

But in Alibado’s guided tour, the Sohoton caves also became a subterranean world populated by “elephants,” “Ifugao farmers,” “the Holy Trinity,” “astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin” and even Michelangelo’s “The Pieta.”

“When my friends and I tapped this hollow wall and produced different sounds, we attracted a Philippine Eagle who has never left the cave since. You can actually still see the eagle’s talons to your left,” he said, stringing together one of his many myths.

But the biggest stars, Alibadon said, were the hanging formations just a few feet apart which he teasingly called “Mama” and “Papa.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer leaves it to future Sohoton visitors to find out why.

Continuous walk

Sohoton literally means “to pass through” in Waray. Indeed, one occasionally had to squeeze through narrow openings to get to the different chambers, some cramped and clicking with the noise of bats, others as big as churches.

But exploring Sohoton was quite easy since it required no risky climb or descent, just a continuous walk on mostly level ground.

“That’s why it’s a cave for all ages,” said Karina Tiopes, tourism director for Eastern Visayas.

“Don’t look at me!” said a smiling Tourism Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque Jr.

A jolly promoter who has been with the DoT for the last 32 years, Jarque noted that of the country’s 10,000 caves, only around 300 had been explored.

Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, who like Jarque was here for the inaugural river cruise and cave trek, cited Basey as an example of a community about to perform the delicate balancing act of promoting and protecting its natural wonders.

Durano said the DoT supported the town’s eco-tourism ventures because “we saw that the enabling conditions are here” for that balance to hold, mainly the willingness of the residents and local officials to do their share.

Respecting the caves

Sohoton is just one of the 30 caves found in Basey. To this day, none of them has been vandalized “because the community respects them,” according to Tiopes.

“The belief that spirits dwell in caves also helps keep people out, and the caves are protected that way,” said Jason Garrido, president of the Philippine Cave Guides Association Inc.

Garrido and some 200 other enthusiasts were in Tacloban City in Leyte (30 kilometers from Basey or 45 minutes by car) for the 9th Congress of the Philippine Speleological Society.

The five-day congress, held at the University of the Philippines-Tacloban, assured Basey of tourism visitors for its newly launched projects that week.


“Cave tourism in the Philippines is still quite young,” Garrido said.

“Through gatherings like this, we hope to learn the best practices. Most of our caves are still untouched so we can still contain whatever damage had been done.”

Caving, he said, could be more “technically demanding” than mountaineering, “[which involves] climbing, endurance tests and movement skills. But in caving, your primary source of security is light.”

Inside a cave, “you get to feel how small you are in the scheme of things. There would be times when you won’t even see the walls or the ceiling but only the small [illuminated] space around your body. The fear factor is higher.”

But the experience, Garrido said, could be rewarding: “It’s the chance to discover something—like a new species of fish or a secret burial chamber.”

Or maybe even lost treasures? But then, the folks of Basey, by fostering cooperation and turning to eco-tourism as a way out of poverty, may have already unearthed something just as valuable.


Shangri-La’s Mactan provides more reasons to go to Cebu

Posted in Hotels/Restaurants/Bars, Visayas by Erineus on May 12, 2009

Updated April 17, 2009 12:00 AM

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MANILA, Philippines – Vacationers heading to Cebu — this summer’s destination of choice — now have even more reasons to visit the island.

Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu offers guests who book a minimum of two nights an automatic complimentary overnight stay for two persons on their next stay.

The “Cebu Summer Getaway” package room rates start for as low as P7,500++ per night.

The package, available until June 30, includes the following:

• Accommodation for two adults and two children under 12;

• Daily buffet breakfast at Acqua or Tides;

• Unlimited use of non-motorized water sports facilities for adults;

• Free shopping pass;

• Access to the Health Club and use of the whirlpool, steam, sauna and gym facilities;

• Free broadband Internet access; and

• Free local city calls.

All these perks plus a complimentary gift certificate for two valid from July 1 to Aug. 31 await those booking a minimum of two nights.

All room accommodations are subject to space availability. The promotional offer is valid for Philippine residents only. Proof of residency is required for expatriates upon check-in.

For reservations or more information, call Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa at (6332) 231-0288 or toll-free 1800 8388 8388 or e-mail at reservations.mac@shangri-la.com.

The Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts currently owns and/or manages 62 hotels under the Shangri-La and Traders brands with a room inventory of over 28,000.

Shangri-La hotels are five-star deluxe properties featuring extensive luxury facilities and services.

Shangri-La hotels are located in Australia, mainland China, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sultanate of Oman, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

The group has over 40 projects under development in Austria, Canada, mainland China, France, India, Macau, Maldives, the Philippines, Qatar, Seychelles, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States.

What to do and not do in El Nido

Posted in Leisure, Resort and Park, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on May 7, 2009

By Ching M. Alano Updated May 03, 2009 12:00 AM

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Home sweet cottage: El Nido Resorts feature water cottages built on stilts amid limestone cliffs that are 250 million years old. Photos by Julius Fonte
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MANILA, Philippines – First off, the easiest and cheapest way to get to El Nido — that island


a lot of people are raving about that’s masterfully carved by nature

at the northwestern tip of Palawan, located 430 km. southwest of Manila — is to be a Smart Infinity subscriber. Hello! Haven’t you heard of the dream vacation package (on top of a free phone) with a minimal cash-out (so minimal it won’t cause a meltdown in your pocketbook) that comes with being an Infinity Plan 5000 or 8000 subscriber? Now, stop dreaming and get Smart!

The most premium postpaid service in the country today targeted towards the A and upper B markets, Infinity was the first to launch a three-day/two-night vacation package and a sunset cruise in 2007. The package comes with the following freebies: daily buffet meals for two — breakfast, lunch, and dinner; island tour and water sports activities (snorkeling, island hopping, etc.), private boat transfers for El Nido Lagen and Miniloc; sunset cruise for two on the largest trimaran yacht in the Philippines, M/S Vianelle; and cocktails for two on a most romantic sunset cruise — cruise your heart and hope to die — catered by El Nido Resorts. Don’t you just love freebies?

From here to Infinity? Infinity first did it at the Nami Resort in Boracay. Now, they’re doing it in El Nido. So, to El Nido, we will go!

The first “do” when packing for a trip to El Nido: Do pack at least a piece of swimwear — it will come in handy if you’re going to a place that boasts 45 islands and islets. They will provide you with the rest of the paraphernalia if you want to engage in the assorted water sports like snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, hobie cat sailing, etc. With all these water activities, expect your stay at El Nido not to be dry.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we catch our Transvoyager flight for El Nido at A. Soriano Aviation Inc. hangar along Andrews Avenue, Pasay City (note: not at the Manila Domestic Airport). We’re welcomed to the passengers’ lounge that’s got so-comfy sofas that are great for lounging — or sleeping on. We enjoy canapés and coffee while waiting. Then we have our luggage and ourselves weighed. Tension fills the air as the girls in the group fuss about excess weight — that is, their unwanted pounds!

Flying time on the 19-seater, twin-engine Dornier (let’s call it LET) is approximately 75 minutes.

Twenty winks later, we arrive at the El Nido Airport and get an instant taste of Palawan hospitality via a group of women in native costume welcoming us with a song. We snack on palitaw and coffee as they transfer our luggage to the boat (on the way home, they would serve us some brown delicacy, causing somebody in the group to ask if the white palitaw was burned this time). A jeepney ride that takes faster than you can say El Nido takes us to our boat. The boat transfer to our destination, El Nido Resorts on Lagen Island, takes about 50 minutes while it’s only 40 minutes to Miniloc Island.

We get our first glimpse of Eden as we alight from our motorized outrigger wearing our life jackets, which would be de rigueur for us for the rest of our stay in El Nido. Amid the haze, the postcard-pretty El Nido Resort on Lagen, our home away from home for the next two days, beckons.

At El Nido, brace yourself for a truly wet and wild time. Do prepare to take a walk on the wild side. For El Nido is home to over a hundred bird species, around 200 species of fish, three species of the endangered sea turtles, some reptiles, and an awesome number of marine invertebrates. You’re bound to meet some of them — up close and personal now — during your stay at El Nido. So, do remember to take along your eco-checklist (it’s provided in your room) wherever you’re going. One of these wildlife creatures found in the crevices of limestone cliffs is the edible nest swiftlet from whose nest, made of its saliva and plastered on the walls of caves, El Nido gets its name. The very pricey nido or bird’s nest (a kilogram can fetch as much as $1,000) is touted for its health benefits, from curing asthma and improving your voice to raising the libido. But if you can’t afford the real thing, there’s always the instant nido soup — just remember to add one egg.

To rattle off the names of El Nido’s prized denizens from our eco-checklist: whale shark, parrot fish, clownfish with anemone, jack, blacktip reef shark, giant clam, crown-of-thorns, barrel sponge, feather star, sea urchin, Bryde’s Whale, bottlenose dolphin, Palawan squirrel, the long-tailed macaque, tabon scrubfowl, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, water monitor lizard, banded mangrove snake, grey imperial pigeon, Palawan hornbill, lesser frigatebird, eastern reef egret, white-breasted sea eagle, and black-naped tern.

I guess we’re not too much of a bird watcher — rather, we’re bored watchers — because we manage to spot only the Palawan hornbill, but it flies and gets away.

When in El Nido, do remember never to mess with the place’s dangerous creatures. Our very concerned and versatile tour guide Christopher Sugali (he also makes those pretty hats and animal art made of palm) shows us some pictures, like flash cards, and identifies each one: box jellyfish, crown-of-thorns, stingray, stonefish, sea anemone, sea snake, lion fish, fire coral, striped eel, jellyfish (its mere sight can give you the itch), sea urchin, moray eel.

One of the most important sites of biological diversity in the country, El Nido has been elevated by the government from a marine reserve to a protected area. The people of El Nido have an unflinching respect for their natural resources that they’re so abundantly blessed with. There are, for instance, the oh-so-awesome limestone cliffs, estimated to be 250 million years old. And there are the placid lagoons that the people of El Nido have kept crystal clear — so clear it’s to dive for.

The people of El Nido are such staunch guardians of their environment — and all the creatures, big and small, in it — that killing a pawikan (sea turtle) can send you to prison for life.

El Nido Resorts make ample use of what nature has to offer. When you check in at any El Nido Resorts property, you don’t have to pay extra for the ambience — you
don’t even have to order one. There are the water cottages built on stilts, the beachfront cottages with a perfect view of the entire Lagen Island cove, fringed by a thick forest, and the forest rooms and forest suites built on the fringes of a tropical forest. Needless to say, all the rooms have a view.

Likewise, El Nido Resorts minimize the use of plastic by not serving bottled water in the rooms (so please don’t look for one in the mini bar, but of course, there’s clean water in the thermos). More, the resorts, managed by Ten Knots Development Corporation, work closely with the El Nido community to ensure that there’s no illegal fishing, to promote coastal clean-ups and environmental education campaigns, to monitor snorkeling and dive sites, and to install and maintain mooring buoys.

To do our bit for the El Nido environment during our brief stay, we observe this big do and don’t: Do properly dispose of your litter and don’t pick up anything on the shore (there goes our shell collection).

Again, we hear this friendly reminder: Leave nothing but footprints (and please cut down on the carbon footprint), kill nothing but time, and take nothing but pictures.

Of course, we take these reminders to heart by turning off all the lights when we leave our room, not littering, taking all the pictures we possibly could, and killing as much time as we could at the clubhouse, where we while away the eternal hours drinking and singing to our hearts’ — and lungs’ — content (but perhaps not to the other guests’ content). Since there’s no TV in our room, we whip up our own entertainment. What, no TV? Yes, there’s no TV in paradise. Adam and Eve survived without one, didn’t they? Of course, they were much too preoccupied getting more than a bite of the forbidden fruit. But c’mon, you didn’t come here to watch the news on CNN or the gore on CSI, did you? If it’s any consolation, there’s a CD player in the room and you can rent your favorite music. And yes, there’s Wi-Fi so you can still catch up on Facebook.

El Nido is home not only to a most diverse wildlife but also to some of the most gracious people you’ll ever meet in your life. On day one, you’ll meet your very friendly guest activity coordinator who will tell you what activities you can enjoy on the islands. There’s kayaking in the secret lagoon. Or you can explore the caves on the isolated islands, take a mangrove tour, snorkel with the colorful tropical fishes, go rock climbing, go scuba diving. Or if your idea of getting physical is simply lifting a finger or jumping to conclusions, you can always just sunbathe, have a picnic lunch on a secluded beach, have a relaxing massage or spa treatment. Or just enjoy the scenery that’s worthy of the cover of National Geographic magazine — lots and lots of it. Take your pick.

At El Nido Resorts, you’ll also meet some of the kindest and most skilled boatmen who know the waves and whims of the sea like the back of their hand as well as the curves of the hills and the cliffs like they do the shapes of their women.

And then there’s Randy Lucas, the small town boy from Iloilo who made it big via singing in the big city. He’ll regale you with old songs that are much older than him as you sip your favorite drink at the al fresco bar of the clubhouse.

But how’s the food in paradise? Simply heavenly! There’s a different set of buffet dishes for lunch and dinner, which include Asian and Western favorites. There are crabs and prawns, among the day’s freshest catch. A hot favorite is the Mongolian grill, where you can have fun mixing and matching all the fresh stuff available on the island. The breads are baked fresh every day. Mangoes and other fruits in season are aplenty. And of course, there are the terrific calorific desserts. But do go easy on the latter as you don’t want to end up with excess baggage when you leave El Nido, do you?

Surely, you don’t have to be reminded of this final “do”: Do come back — again and again and again. For once the sand of El Nido touches the soles of your feet, your soul will never stop longing for it.

* * *

To inquire about Smart Infinity, call 0918888 (INFO) 4636. For inquiries on El Nido, call 750-7600 or 894-5644. Fax 810-3620, e-mail holiday@elnidoresorts.com or visit www.elnidoresorts.com.

View previous articles from this author.http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=463506&publicationSubCategoryId=87

Sabado night at sea

Posted in Resort and Park, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on April 26, 2009

KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson Updated April 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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Sunset over the Calamianes Islands

MANILA, Philippines – In the past few years, on the evening of a Good Friday, every vacationing party girl and boy would start to drink quietly after dinner in the restos and bars on fabled White Beach in Boracay, observing a tacit arrangement that deferred to traditional Catholic conduct.

Until the clock struck midnight, when a collective whoop would shake the strip, loud music break loose, glasses clink together, voices rise, bodies shimmy — in riotous revelry that incandesced and thumped its way all over a kilometer stretch until the break of dawn.

It wasn’t so this summer. The serious penitents in the town council must have won out, urged on by parish priests, in forging a makeshift ordinance that prohibited partying from 6 p.m. on Good Friday to 6 a.m. the following day.

Well, some of the locals may have minded the ban, at least those who expected to see a spike in income with a full-blown blast of a party from midnight to daybreak. As it was, that celebration — live bands dishing deafening disco or rock or Latino, body shots, beer-quaffing contests, boogie-ing on the beach, fire dancing — had to be deferred to Sabado Night, with a coda of sorts on Sunday, before most everyone left to catch the start of a work week back in Manila, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu and Davao.

For the large assembly we were part of, it didn’t really matter much if any post-dinner revelry on Viernes Santo or Sabado de Gloria ever heightened past midnight. By evening we were back at sea, anchored in the channel a kilometer offshore.

Motorized lifeboats ferried us, some 150 passengers onboard the 7107 Islands cruise ship, to the northern end of White Beach after breakfast, and back by sunset for cocktails and dinner. Small parties returned to the island after dinner on Good Friday, and were ferried back from the closer jetty on the southern end as late as 2 a.m. of Saturday. Thus did the rest of us who stayed onboard receive reports of a tame night that broke with recent Bora partying tradition.

The Holy Week cruise started from Manila’s Pier 6 on Wednesday evening. First stop was Boac, Marinduque, where the ship docked the next morning, Maundy Thursday, allowing for a full-day excursion to watch the Battle of the Morions in a plaza by Boac River.

The costumes have become gloriously outlandish, with some of the usual Roman centurions adding a touch of sci-fi fantasy or whimsy to look more like characters in a graphic novel. Adding to the surfeit of creative imagination was a mutant’s mask that had three faces all morphed up, a lone reveler with a flowing cape made up of colorful woven strips of juice drink “tetrapaks,” and still another who had painstakingly assembled hundreds of nito rings for ersatz chain mail armor. Old ladies sported resplendent headdresses, while young kids joined the “battle” as armies of junior centurions.

Boac’s orderly grid of streets remained admirably bereft of trash, and altogether presented a quaintly charming throwback to colonial times with well-preserved two-story wooden houses, some of whose lower floors were given over to commercial business. Upper floors joined the circus of juxtaposition that’s typically, delightfully Pinoy, with fiesta buntings hanging over the streets in competition with tarpaulin posters advertising all kinds of institutional products, chief of these San Miguel Beer.

Before we knew it, our time was up at the Expo grounds where stalls sold handicrafts, butterfly-themed souvenirs items (since Marinduque prides itself on its butterfly havens) and assorted Moriones masks — ranging from elegant brass to carved wood to papier maché.

Laden with bagfuls of such souvenirs, we were herded back to several large jeepneys for the half-hour ride back to the port, in time for sunset and the magic-hour thumping on the pool deck by a five-man crew billed as the Boracay Drum Beaters.

Dinner at the Coron Lounge that can seat 200 in a theater/night club setting is followed nightly by musical entertainment from a large band and a featured performer, such as Marco Sison on our first night at sea. Everyone’s prodded to join dance lessons with ministering DI’s.

More sedate entertainment can be enjoyed at the smaller Boracay Lounge towards aft, with a pianist backing up the wonderful young chanteuse Princess Velasco, who teaches a marketing course at De La Salle. She’s been recently signed up by Viva Records, and is due for a pilot CD album release this year. Bonus gigs are offered by Armand TJ, a wiz on guitar and piano as he essays his own compositions — haunting island pop ballads such as 21 Days in Boracay, which is included in his first CD. And when he’s urged towards midnight to pitch in with his perfect pitch, former recording star Aris Demavivas, now the cruise ship’s GM after tiring of foreign gigs, also regales the late-nighters with his soothing solos.

Armand TJ is the cruise ship owner Steve Tajanlangit’s youngest son, while Aris is a fellow Ilonggo and lifetime buddy. Such is the nature of the family-type operations (distinct from mom-and-pop) that pervade the entire cruise experience, with passengers enjoined to join the floating family.

While docked at the Marinduque port, we welcomed Governor Bong Carreon onboard for dinner and drinks as a VIP guest, accompanied by family, including his sister, the book creator Bing Carreon-Buck. The ship’s entertainment features (and bars!) enhanced the instant camaraderie. Then it was sailing time close to midnight, for the 11-hour passage to Boracay.

Anchored offshore, Willy Revillame’s pair of yachts was pointed out as we were ferried past the stretch of White Beach by mid-morn of Good Friday. Our cruise party settled at the Boracay Terraces Resort or BTR with its restaurant-on-the-rocks marking the strip’s north end.

Here was where Steve Tajanlangit had started his pioneering tourism exploits, early in the 1980s when he purchased the property from the Tirol clan, well before he set up the underwater pipe system that transported water from the mainland. Since then he’s bought up more properties and figured as a friendly broker in the development of Fairways & Bluewater as well as the recently opened Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa that nestles on eight hectares of forest on the island’s northern headland towards Puka Shell Beach.

The media and video docu contingent is given a tour of the ritzy, classy affair that’s taken over the site of Steve’s modest, ecologically minded Puka Bora Resort. Steve had bought back over 50 hectares from the Ayala Corp., and thanks to Vivian Yuchengco, had passed on a beachfront chunk to the Kuoks. Another parcel has recently been acquired by San Miguel Corp. An inland part of the contoured zone is being developed by Steve himself, inclusive of an Eco Center.

We meet up with Vivian at one of the elegantly designed hilltop roosts that dot Shang Bora, overlooking the main beach strip. She recounts how Steve had taken her on a boat ride to the coves, and how a month later, her friends the Kuoks came knocking on Steve’s door. The fabulous resort opened last month, all of 219 rooms spread out over several layered structures, including condo-style tree houses fronting a second beach, replete with outdoor jacuzzis, as well as 36 pool villas and suites in secluded locations amid a veritable jungle with glimpses of the sea.

The appointments are as impressive as the residency rates, but it helps that the Brangelina couple was rumored to be recent guests. Motorized carts transport us all over the place, from the humongous main pavilion to Chi: The Spa, the swimming pools and main beach, water sports pavilion, an amphitheater that seems perfect for poetry reading, a marine center, and the entertainment center where no sun shines, but where excellent air-conditioning reigns over the billiards and football tables as well as an array of game consoles and Wi-Fi appointments that allow me a last-quarter appreciation of the Blazers’ upset of Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.

Lunch is at BTR, where PGMA has held Cabinet meetings and stayed overnight, in the Tajanlangits’ private quarters above the resto. Late in the afternoon, Steve herds some of us onto a dinghy that brings us to a borrowed yacht for a cruise past Diniwid Beach (fast being lost to erosion), Manny Pacquiao’s reputed resort-in-construction on shoreline rocks exposed to habagat winds (with a decidedly Vegas-type tackiness in the faux-Mediterranean alabaster walls that undulate above the water), Shang Bora’s beachfronts and jetty, and Puka Beach, before we head back to our own mother ship.

Next stop would be Coron on Day 4, where Gov. Joel Reyes joins us onboard on our first night at dockside. There would be the hidden lagoons and Kiangan Lake off Coron Bay to enjoy the next day, Mt. Tapyas’ giant white cross to climb up to, past 700 steps for an exhilarating panorama, and Maquinit Hot Springs for a soothing dip towards sundown. The next two days, the splendid islands of the Calamianes Group beckon, so we spend a full day each at magical Malcapuya and the snorkelling paradise that is Debutunay.

Then we’re off to Calauit to feed the giraffes and marvel at a magnificent Palawan cherry tree in full bloom, before we cross over to Lubang for garlic baskets thence Corregidor for a sunset tour on the eve of our return to Manila Bay.

The images and memories are all of a daze. If it’s Maundy Thurday it must be Boac. Easter Sunday means Coron town and the trek up Mt. Tapyas. If it’s Tuesday it must be Calauit where two stags among the roving herds of Calamian deer engage in lock-horns combat. Wednesday is the sail back to Manila by way of Lubang and Corregidor.

All that the photos can say now is that we’ve been there and done that, through an eight-day Holy Week cruise that certainly cleansed our islanders’ spirits.

* * *

For info and reservations for a 7107 Islands cruise, contact 7107 Islands Management Inc. at Palawan Center, 2/F, 832 Arnaiz Ave. corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City, with phone numbers 752-8255 to 57, fax 887-4590, or e-mail info7107islands@yahoo.com. You may also visit the website at www. 7107islandstravel.com

View previous articles of this column.


Negros execs vow no letup vs GMOs

Posted in BT Crops, Visayas by Erineus on April 24, 2009

By Carla Gomez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:44:00 04/23/2009

Filed Under: Food, Agriculture

BACOLOD CITY – The Negros Occidental provincial government will continue to enforce a ban on the entry of genetically modified organism (GMO) products in the province, Vice Governor Emilio Yulo said on Wednesday.

Yulo issued the statement even as another GMO corn shipment was intercepted in Victorias City and more sightings of GMO corn were reported in other parts of Negros Occidental.

Board Member Adolfo Mangao, chairman of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s committee on agriculture and author of the ordinance banning the entry of GMO products, said those criticizing the ban should have prepared for its enforcement since the ordinance was passed two years ago.

He also said that he stood by the ordinance he authored.


Dalaguete trains residents on tour guiding

Posted in Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on March 20, 2009

Cebu Daily News
First Posted 14:13:00 03/12/2009

THE local government of Dalaguete in southern Cebu has trained 30 residents as part-time eco-tourism guides to travelers.

This month, an in-depth training will be conducted in cooperation with Ocean Bay Beach Resort to hone the skills of the local tour guides.

In 2006, the Cebu provincial government officially declared Mantalongon, a mountain barangay of Dalaguete, as the “Summer Capital of Cebu.”

Dalaguete is also known as the “vegetable basket of Cebu.”

The mountains of Dalaguete, with its cool climate, are home to vegetable farmers, the endangered Cebu Black Shama, locally known as siloy; pteropus vampyrus, the largest bat in the world; a variety of ferns, orchids and shrubs; rivers; and cascading waterfalls.

The town also has a reef of more than 1.5-kilometer that boasts rich marine life and and heritage sites, such as the 19th century baroque church, centuries-old houses and buildings.