August 25, 2017

Dingalan, Aurora

Longing for a delicious solitude?

I know a lovely, serene place where the rugged mountains meet the raging sea. It is an almost-secret paradise of Aurora province, a mere five hours away by bus or car from Manila. It is dubbed as “Batanes of the East”, for it resembles some of the famous landscapes and seascapes of Batanes. It is the picturesque coastal town of Dingalan, a former barrio and district of the province’s capital Baler.

Most of the local tourists visiting Dingalan usually sign up for a group tour. It’s cheaper and more convenient. Since I’m often impulsive on my travels, I just commuted following my own DIY itinerary.

I left Manila an hour past midnight, taking Cabanatuan- bound bus. I arrived at Cabanatuan Grand Terminal by 4 am; rode a van bound for Dingalan, which left the terminal at 6 am. Two hours later I was greeted with the life-size landmark signage “I Heart Dingalan”.

The town proper is covered with green, lush vegetation; and the pink church is the most conspicuous structure from afar.

There is a handful of natural attractions in Dingalan; the best ones mostly require hiking.

Tanawan has an amazing mountainous backdrop from the highway up to the hiking trail leading to Tanawan Falls. Tanawan may be inspired from the Filipino word tanawin; and the view or tanawin at every vantage is simply breathtaking.

From the jump-off point, it took me 30 minutes to reach Tanawan Falls. I didn’t dare swim. But I was already contented dipping my feet in its almost freezing waters. It was as if the cascading waters have this therapeutic effect on my body.   

Beach resorts and picnic day huts abound in Butas na Bato and Matawe, which can be reached via 30-minute bumpy, tricycle-ride from the town center. The popular attractions in the area are the Sea Ranch and Matawe Bay Ocean Front Resort.

White Beach is a well-known beach among the locals, and often jampacked on weekends since it is the jump-off point going to the Lighthouse and the Mountain View. I rented a boat and hired a guide at the Feeder Port going to the beach. Para sa mga nagtitipid, it could also be reached by almost an hour of walking on a rocky shoreline.

It usually takes 30 minutes to hike both the viewing decks from the beach. Mountain View offers a more gorgeous scenery than the lighthouse. Closed na kasi ang lighthouse to the public thanks to this pasaway tourist who stepped on the solar panels (and broke them) while attempting to (perhaps selfie and) find a good shot of the surroundings. Pasaway ampota. Because of the unfortunate incident, the LGU drastically decided na ipagbawal na ang pag-akyat ng lighthouse. Ayan tuloy hindi na nasilayan ng mga sumunod na turista ang incredible 360-degree view from the tower. Unless ipa-open uli ni Mayor.

Anyway, I was in awe with the extraordinary beauty of verdant mountains and rolling hills, jagged rock formations and the deep blue sea from the Mountain View. I sat on the long bamboo chair and quietly savoured the moment. It was like heaven on earth. And hell is the absence of people you love and long for.

Lamao is another equally stunning destination, just a boat-ride away from White Beach. It is a series of caves along seaside cliffs, eroded and carved thru time by the mighty swells of the Pacific Ocean. My hired boatman maneuvered the boat into one of the caves and let me experience swimming under the clear, turquoise blue waters. 

I had the time of my life; another unforgettable pre-birthday celebration. 

My gift for myself aside from this adventure - enjoy every free time I have. Because time is the only luxury in the world. It is the only thing you can never ever get back.

From Manila, take a Cabanatuan-bound bus (Five Star, Baliwag or Genesis in Cubao). Better take the 2 or 3 am trip. From Cabanatuan Grand Terminal, take a van bound for Dingalan. In Dingalan town proper, take a tricycle going to Feeder Port. At the port, hire a guide and rent a boat going to White Beach, Lighthouse, Mountain View and Lamao. There’s an option to walk going to White Beach. To visit other sites, rent a tricycle. Take note that the last trip of bus/van from Dingalan going back to Cabanatuan is 3 pm. There are several resorts and inns in Dingalan. Perhaps the most convenient would be the Shalom Guest House which is just across Feeder Port.

August 16, 2017

Siama Hotel, Sorsogon

Childhood is a phase in life that is often a source of beautiful, happy memories. Katherine Rodrigazo Naval knows this by heart for she had timeless treasure of memories growing up in her home province in Sorsogon, especially at a time when her Lolo Siama was still alive. Her grandfather whose real name was Luis Lee, an immigrant from Amoy, China, had a sprawling coconut plantation on the outskirts of the province’s capital. He was then engaged in the copra and abaca business. In an era when there was still no FB, Twitter, IG, Netflix and state of the art gadgets, young Katherine’s past time was playing around in this expansive, exotic field and greenery.

Many years later, Katherine married Milo Naval, a famed furniture designer who mainly uses indigenous materials in his works, which are exported worldwide. The couple decided to build their home and eco-friendly boutique resort on the lush family property of Katherine because of its promising location. They named it after her Lolo Siama. They opened it to public way back in 2013, and ever since it has been dubbed as a showcase of native-modern Filipino architecture and design, truly Milo’s magnum opus.

Though the resort is still within Sorsogon City, it felt like I was in a far-flung barrio because of its seclusion. The place is surrounded by countless coconut and fern trees, a sight I rarely see in the city. It is a perfect homebase when exploring Sorsogon’s diverse natural sights and attractions. 

A giant ball made of coconut husks adorn the gate of the property. It looks like a unique foreign object as if from outer space.

The resort is a hybrid between a modern dwelling and a traditional Filipino hut.  

The open lounge area and sala of the resort has comfy and cozy lounge chairs, wicker chairs and arm chairs made of rattan and hardwood for lazing and relaxing. Sinamay was creatively used as sunscreen. Locally made pieces and decorations such as Christmas trees and pendant flower lamps made of shells are work of art and ingenuity.

Across it, is the dining area with three gorgeous acacia tables with woven rattan and leather circular seats. Some coconuts were also made into decorative ornaments.

If guests want an authentic Bicolano food, they should be ordered in advance. But anytime, their chef could whip a good gourmet meal be it a pasta or sandwich.

The resort is naturally ventilated with its outdoor-meets-indoor design. I was fascinated with the airy feel of wooden slats, which is one the resort’s aesthetic trademarks.

There are over 30 rooms with minimalist, Zen style design spread all over the resort. Most of the rooms has a four poster bed with spotless white sheets and a slatted bamboo headboard. There are also live plants inside the room, making it more homey and relaxing.

The architectural beauty of Siama is complemented by its cool, flourishing surroundings. Peacocks roam around the resort freely, while birds and crickets provide a soft background music.

A modern forest pool is the main attraction of the resort, a tropical oasis that simply makes Siama a haven that is truly breathtaking and an exquisite contrast of sort – provincial yet modern, a hotel yet a home.

I was simply captivated. I know love is better shown than spoken.

From Manila, take Sorsogon-bound bus (terminals in Cubao, Pasay or Malate). Travel time takes about 12 hours. In Sorsogon City, take a tricycle going to the resort (about 15 minutes from the city proper). But the fastest way would be to take a plane going to Legazpi City. From Legazpi City, take a van or bus bound for Sorsogon.

Siama Hotel
Sitio San Lorenzo, Bibincahan
Sorsogon City, Sorsogon
Tel. No.: 0917-8816497, 0998-9828101