"a caterpillar doesn't just grow into a butterfly. a caterpillar must undergo metamorphosis, and a cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all: enters total chaos, undergoes total rebuilding, and is born to a new way of living. only in taking the risk of entering that inert cocoon can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

the continuation: island hopping in the southern seas, island hopping in tawi-tawi

"Tropical the island breeze, all of nature wild and free,
this is where i long to be -- la isla bonita!"
-- part of the lyrics of Madonna's La Isla Bonita

our island hopping adventure in tawi-tawi
this is the continuation of the fifth part of a series entitled breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier.

day 3. april 23, 2011. black saturday.
adventure 1: island hopping -- bongao, tango, panglima sugala, sangasiapu, laa, pababag, pasiagan
adventure 2: destination: bud bongao
adventure 3: destination: balobok rock shelter in brgy. lakit-lakit
adventure 4: destination: provincial capitol

day 3, adventure 1 | our starts and stops
island hopping adventure in tawi-tawi
image source: google maps
(i provided the blue labels)

after visiting tango island and experiencing our fair share of that private island's underwater and above water visual delights, we set out to see more of the southeastern side of mainland tawi-tawi and reached batu-batu in the municipality of panglima sugala.

destination: batu-batu, panglima sugala
a place with fertile lands and deep natural harbor

the foremost impression i had as we approached the main cove of panglima sugala was "picturesque! very picturesque!" the place was very visually appealing. the greens of the forested areas stood out against the equally striking blueness of the glassy surface of the calm sea and the summer sky. the images of the stilt houses lined along one side of the cove beautifully reflected on the water. there was no doubt in my mind that my eyes were beholding another piece of paradise in the southern seas. 

panglima sugala | "picturesque! very picturesque!"

panglima sugala | mesmerizing reflections on the glassy surface of the calm sea

panglima sugala was, for quite sometime, called as balimbing -- the star fruit. according to kuya jan and alvin, the place was renamed after a valiant and respected person, panglima sugala. the term "panglima" refers to a rank or honor while "sugala" refers to the very identity or name of the person. the name of the place is similar to "general santos."

panglima sugala | a flag like this means that somebody or a family 
with royal lineage dwells in the place

we included panglima sigula in our island hopping itinerary because we knew it was accessible by boat. before we made the trip to tawi-tawi, i learned from the local tourism officer that people who can't go all the way to sitangkai due to boat schedule and budget constraints can instead go to panglima sugala.

batu-batu | panglima sugala

batu-batu, panglima sugala | amazing!

the area -- in particular, the pretty cove which we entered -- is referred to as batu-batu. it is rich in natural resources and also serves as a local commercial hub where barter trade is still practised.

destination: sangasiapu island
my "la isla bonita" of the south

from panglima sugala, our literal dreamboat of the day -- dream lover -- brought us to sangasiapu island. i do not know how long or short it took us to reach sangasiapu. the steady sound of dream lover's motor, the calm sea, and soothing blueness of tawi-tawi waters against the beautiful sky made me unmindful of time despite my excitement to finally experience sangasiapu.

island hopping in tawi-tawi
a glimpse of the beautiful disturbance that dream lover made

i was really looking forward to setting foot on the island. we passed by it the previous day on our way back to bongao from simunul island and it commanded attention as it glowed with sunset colors. therefore, i already knew sangasiapu to be a pretty small island in the middle of nowhere but the sea.

the island in the middle of nowhere but the sea

the island is awesome! even from afar, it is undeniably tropical and very, very delightful to see. the body of water around it is tranquil and very clear. while nothing beats actually being there, the pictures i took of the place can do the rest of the talking.

sangasiapu island |  my la isla bonita of the south

sangasiapu island | interacting with the residents of the island

there's a small community of about 2-5 families living simply in sangasiapu island and we had the privilege of interacting with them. we bought dried and salted lapu-lapu, which they sold to us for 85 pesos per kilo.

sangasiapu island | dried and salted lapu-lapu

what's not to love about sangasiapu island? nothing.

tropical trees, white sand, off-shore corals -- beauty, bounty, and tranquility in one! sangasiapu instantly became my own la isla bonita. i soooooo love the place!

experiencing sangasiapu island

the kids of sangasiapu island and their own slice of paradise

our next stop that morning was about 8 kilometers away from sangasiapu and it's called laa (or la) island.

destination: laa island
that pretty island with a chinese name

laa island used to have a notorious reputation for being a "pirate sanctuary where bandits take refuge." the location of the island is strategic and, although it is officially part of the municipality of simunul, it has its own beguiling character and looks isolated.

the silhouette of laa island as seen from the shores of sangasiapu island

like sangasiapu, laa island beckons the attention of seafarers from afar. it is a pretty small island but has a bigger area than sangasiapu and it also has a larger community of inhabitants as can be gauged from the number of dwellings.

laa island

laa island, with its large expanse of white sand and sand bars, is alluring. the sea gently laps the shore and numerous coconut trees sway in the tropical breeze. like in sangasiapu, the sights in the area represent tropical beauty and tranquility.

laa island | wish you were here! 

in laa island, we got to see the remains of a japanese bomb shelter. during world war 2, the concrete structure was meant for storing treasures which included silk and other expensive goods but nowadays the damaged shelter is just filled with coconut husks.

laa island | world war 2 japanese bomb shelter

laa island | ice candy treat and a group photo with the local leader (in gibo green)

the local head was around. we got to talk to him under the shade provided by the towering coconut trees while we enjoyed eating fat ice candy tubes, which alvin brought from a store within the island. we stayed until after we finished eating lunch -- grilled fish, grilled chicken, and puso (hanging rice), which we brought all the way from bongao. we ate picnic-style on the white sand.

destinations: pababag and pasiagan
going back and reaching the mainland again

from laa island, we headed back towards the mainland and went to the coast of pababag, an island adjacent to bongao. this is another very tropical destination with white sand beach, many coconut trees, and healthy mangroves growing near the naturally beaten-to-shape sea rocks.

pababag island

pababag island | white sand beaches, you want? tawi-tawi has lots of them!

after allowing our eyes to feast upon the beauty of pababag island, it was time to go back to the mainland for our next adventure, the bud bongao trek. dream lover stayed close to the shore as we approached pasiagan and we were able to appreciate the terrestrial and residential features of bongao, tawi-tawi from the sea.

enjoying pasiagan | tawi-tawi

pasiagan | tawi-tawi

up next: from many angles: tawi-tawi's bud bongao

breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier | the series

Friday, October 19, 2012

island hopping in the southern seas, island hopping in tawi-tawi

"There is no life that does not rise
melodic from scales of the marvelous."
-- Robert Duncan 

our island hopping adventure in tawi-tawi
this is part 5 of a series entitled breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier.

day 3. april 23, 2011. black saturday.
adventure 1: island hopping -- bongao, tango, panglima sugala, sangasiapu, laa, pababag, pasiagan
adventure 2: destination: bud bongao
adventure 3: destination: balobok rock shelter in brgy. lakit-lakit
adventure 4: destination: provincial capitol

day 3, adventure 1 | our starts and stops
island hopping adventure in tawi-tawi
image source: google maps
(i provided the blue labels)

our third day in tawi-tawi started in rachel's place hotel and restaurant, where we waited for kuya jan to arrive in bongao from the nearby university town of sanga-sanga.

from rachel's place, we reached ridjiki boulevard, the public market, the old chinese pier, tango island, panglima sugala, sangasiapu island, laa island, pababag island, and pasiagan.

kuya jan
a friend from tawi-tawi

kuya jan is a resident of tawi-tawi and a member of the math and science faculty force of MSU-TCTO (mindanao state university - tawi-tawi college of technology and oceanography) a.k.a. MSU-tawi-tawi. we know each other because, some years ago, we were classmates in some major physics subjects in MSU-iligan.

the welcome gate of MSU-TCTO a.k.a. MSU-tawi-tawi 
as seen from the highway in sanga-sanga

last year, when kuya jan learned from basil -- a common friend of ours who also teaches in MSU-TCTO -- that i was heading to tawi-tawi with a travel buddy, he helped us in finalizing our itinerary and enthusiastically agreed to accompany kat and me in going around the area.

rachel's place hotel and restaurant
ilmon street, brgy. lamion, bongao, tawi-tawi

rachel's place hotel and restaurant

prior reaching tawi-tawi, kat reserved a room for the two of us in rachel's place, an easy-to-spot gated compound along the street not far from the town center. this two-storey hotel with a neat garden and restaurant was a convenient choice for our accommodation.

meeting alvin and kuya ibra
a fine morning in ridjiki boulevard, the bongao public market, and the old chinese pier

rachel's place and the old chinese pier in one map
image source: google maps
(i provided the blue labels)

kuya jan fetched kat and me from rachel's place and the three of us rode on a tricycle that took us to nearby ridjiki boulevard and the bongao public market close to the old chinese pier. a short walk along the busy boulevard and into the bustling public market brought us to one of the food shops there where kuya jan introduced us to two other locals -- his relatives, alvin and kuya ibra. both alvin and kuya ibra were especially requested by kuya jan  to accompany us in our DIY (do-it-yourself) tawi-tawi island hopping adventure.

kuya jan and alvin

kuya ibra | the seafarer

kuya jan really made sure that we had what we needed to cover without glitch the starts and stops which we listed in our itinerary -- our small group had a liaison guy in the person of alvin and we also had an able head seafarer in the person of kuya ibra whose boat, dream lover, was docked at the pier and ready to take us from island to island.

ridjiki boulevard (top), grilled fish & chicken at the public market (bottom left),
and part of the old chinese pier (bottom right)

before we set out to see our island destinations, we secured key supplies from the public market -- food for us and fuel for the boat. we bought puso (rice in coconut leaf pouch a.k.a. hanging rice), grilled fish, and grilled chicken for our planned picnic-style lunch.

dream lover
a literal dreamboat for tawi-tawi's crystal clear waters 

then, it was time to meet our boat at the pier. we walked on wooden planks which extended the bongao public market to the sea. everyone there seemed to be moving about and it's quite a really busy area. we passed by various business stalls and we had to move with caution around makeshift display areas to avoid hitting and/or stepping on assorted items for trade along the wooden walkway.

 docked at the pier | dream lover, the cute boat

amidst the hustle bustle, dream lover with her tranquil vibe, stood out. her combo of ivory white exterior and mint green interior gave her an over-all cool and cute look.

 kat and i with kuya ibra and dream lover

as soon as everyone -- kuya ibra, kat and i, kuya jan and alvin -- got on board and us passengers were comfortably seated, kuya ibra manoeuvred dream lover from her docking space and made her motor roar to life. we pulled out from the pier and set out to the blue, blue sea.

dream lover was at home in tawi-tawi's waters and proved to be up to her task of taking us from one island destination to the next in good time!

dream lover in tawi-tawi | the boat that brought us to our island stops

our first stop after leaving the vicinity of the bongao public market and the old chinese pier was a private tropical paradise known as tango island.

destination: tango island
the private island

tango island | tawi-tawi

tango island is surrounded by turquoise seawater and is blessed with a pretty coastline. the water around the island is so clear and calm that, despite the depth, healthy coral reefs are visible from the surface.

glimpses of tango island's natural treasures |  tawi-tawi

there is no need to snorkel nor to scuba dive to behold the natural underwater garden around this small island.  the place has white sand and is an ideal island paradise for those who love the sea, sun, and sand.

even the birds love to spend time there!

effortless birdwatching :) in tawi-tawi's tango island

to be continued...

breathtaking tawi-tawi: our journey to the philippines' southernmost frontier | the series

Monday, October 01, 2012

strolling in balisong country

"i'm walking on sunshine..."
-- walking on sunshine, lyrics

15th of november 2009
taal: the balisong and barong tagalog capital of the philippines
enjoying a sunday afternoon in this old town of good repute with claire and marissa

in southwestern luzon lies the heritage town of taal, one of the 31 municipalities of the first class province of batangas. it is a charming 4th class municipality located along the pansipit river, the main outlet of the famous taal lake to balayan bay.

the welcome marker to the heritage town of taal

taal is an ideal walking tour destination. within its territory are well-maintained ancestral houses and heritage structures -- a number of them are national historical landmarks -- which date back to the spanish colonial period. taal --  the idyllic town itself -- is a national historical landmark. it is also the balisong (butterfly fan knife) and barong tagalog capital of the philippines.

where is heritage town of taal in the province of batangas?
location of the municipality of taal with respect to the municipality of sto. tomas, batangas
image source: google maps
(i provided the red and light green labels)

it was one late morning on a sunday when claire, marissa, and i pursued a roadtrip to the town of taal from sto. tomas, batangas.

how we got there
bus ride from sto. tomas to lipa, jeepney ride from lipa to taal

we were supposed to ride a lemery-bound bus from the public market of sto. tomas but the buses that came our way were few and full. we opted instead to take a bus going to lipa and got down at the lipa bus stop in front of the local big ben. from there, we rode a public jeepney bound for lemery, batangas. we made sure not to go beyond our sunday afternoon destination by informing the driver that we're only going to the town of taal and not all the way to lemery.

destination: the heritage town of taal
walking around the national historical landmark

we knew we were in taal because we saw this! ,'-) | taal park 

when we arrived in taal, the streets were deserted. manny pacquiao's firepower fight with miguel cotto was still being aired on TV that time and, as expected with every pacquiao fight, most of the people were off the streets and busy paying attention to the bout. just as well for us girls who only wanted to hear about pacquiao's victory -- we were able to walk and look around taal's public market without being persistently approached to buy this or that and/or be asked if we wanted this or that.

our first stop, after taking a look at the public market and after having our sumptuous lunch of adobong dilawsinigang na maliputo at a local restaurant, was the taal basilica.

st. martin de tours basilica (basilica de san martin de tours)
a national historical landmark and the biggest catholic church structure in the far east

basilica de san martin de tours
"the church measures 88.6-m long, 48-m wide and 95-m high
with a 44.5-m high cupola."

dominating the town center of taal is the basilica de san martin de tours, a massive church built atop a hill overlooking taal lake and balayan bay. the existing adobe-and-coral structure was constructed in 1858 as commissioned by fr. marcos anton and designed by don luciano oliver but its history of being built, relocated, and rebuilt goes back far to the last quarter of the 16th century.

the church's interesting history is complete with volcanic eruption and destructive earthquake backdrop stories!

the basilica from different angles 
taal folk tip: go five steps down the stairs and you'll get a full view of the basilica in your frame

the basilica de san martin de tours, which is also often referred to as the taal basilica, is not just noteworthy in terms of size but also in terms of style. the southwest facing facade of this magnificent church is baroque in style but its main altar is doric. plus, its tabernacle is said to be one of its kind in the philippines as it is made of silver.

the main altar of the st. martin de tours basilica

left to right: the nave of the basilica and the right wing

the chandeliers, the pews, the floor, and the pulpit of the basilica

the right side entrance of the basilica

stairs that lead up to somewhere at the right side of the basilica

escuela pia
a national historical landmark and the taal cultural center

the present-day structure of the escuela pia, now the taal cultural center, was built by fr. aniceto aparicio in 1885. it is part of the taal park and stands close to the taal basilica.

perspective | part of the escuela pia in taal park and part of the taal basilica

according to the historical marker, the escuela pia is considered as one of the oldest educational institutions of the country. it was established as a church-supervised school and was named after the order of the piarists, the congregation established by jose de calazanz in the 17th century. the augustinians established it in 1839 and their convent served as a school for the underprivileged youth of taal. the escuela pia was also the central school during the american period.

the escuela pia | taal, batangas

walking around taal
more sights to see

within the immediate vicinity of the taal basilica in the town center are the rizal college, OLCA (our lady of caysasay academy), and the municipal hall of taal -- the casa real.

the rizal college of caysasay

gregorio agoncillo mansion
the white mansion in the poblacion

along taal's calle j.p. rizal is an attention-grabbing white mansion with manicured lawn. this is the house of don gregorio r. agoncillo, which is also known as the gregorio agoncillo museum, a national historical landmark.

the gregorio agoncillo mansion
the house where felipe agoncillo, the first philippine diplomat, was born

displayed in its front garden is a statue of felipe agoncillo, don gregorio's uncle and the first philippine diplomat (as he was appointed by general emilio aguinaldo to represent the philippine republic to the united states and to the treaty of paris in 1898). felipe agoncillo was born in this house -- this is probably the reason why the site is also sometimes referred to as the felipe agoncillo mansion. the house has a choice collection of period items and edwardian and spanish-inspired antique local furniture -- from the 1800s and early 1900s.

if the name felipe agoncillo does not ring a bell, perhaps the name marcela mariño agoncillo does. she was the woman responsible for making the philippine flag and felipe agoncillo was her husband. both of them were from taal, batangas.

the ylagan-de la rosa house
a heritage house along calle j.p. rizal

standing close to the white agoncillo mansion is the ylagan-de la rosa ancestral house, which is recognized by the national historical institute as a heritage house.

old world meets new world | the ylagan-de la rosa heritage house

walking on the streets of the heritage town of taal is like being transported back in time. if the ilocos region has vigan, southern luzon has taal.

some of the other old houses we saw in taal

calle for street and clinica for clinic | taal, batangas

yes, i think of taal as southern luzon's vigan and vigan as the ilocos region's taal. ,'-)

because "knife cuts like a knife..." :)

on our way back to sto. tomas, we made sure to stop by first in taal's brgy. balisong. why? because taal, batangas is THE balisong country!

taal is known for its national historical landmarks and well-preserved ancestral houses. it is also known for the piña cloth, the barong tagalog, fine needlework and high-quality embroidery by hand (burdang taal). it is also very known for the balisong (butterfly fan knife), which is also known as the batangas knife.

glistening batangas blades |  choose your balisong

top of the line stainless steel blades |  mga balisong sa brgy. balisong

it is in brgy. balisong that these pocket utility knives are traditionally well-crafted in various sizes and handle designs. when we went there, i finally saw for myself a real deal viente y nueve traditional balisong -- a 29-cm long butterfly fan knife.

see the comb? i soooo wanted the balisong comb (a comb is concealed between the handles instead of a glistening blade). i did not buy it because i really couldn't justify to myself a php600-worth stainless steel comb when a 5-peso plastic comb would do for my long hair. still, it's a neat piece of handiwork and very nice to have.

but... i did buy my own batangas knives from brgy. balisong that sunday afternoon. (--,) actually, i bought three -- 2 functional ones (1 with old wood detail & another one with horse bones) and a mini balisong keychain.

marissa, claire, and i | sunday afternoon bliss in taal, batangas

i like it there in heritage town of taal so going back there should be in order soon. for one, i want to see the ruins of st. martin de tours church in brgy. san nicolas. i also want to visit the other sites that are listed here and shown on this map which we missed during our afternoon tour -- the marcela agoncillo house, the leon apacible museum, the villavicencio houses, the san lorenzo arch & steps, among others. plus, i want to taste again sinigang na maliputo and adobong dilaw and to experience the rest of taal's food treats. if possible, i'd also like to take a look at the silent "king of bells" housed in the restored dome of the taal basilica.

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