Calaguas, an unspoiled beach destination for the Boracay-weary


I’m a contributing writer for lifestyle and travel website When In Manila and I wrote this piece on a remote, undeveloped beach in a province in the Philippines. Sharing this with my readers (all three of them)— despite the “third-worldliness” of this country, I love living in the Philippines and places like Calaguas being within reach is just one of the reasons why.

* * *

When in Manila, ask any urban-dweller about the best beach in the country and you are guaranteed a popular answer: Boracay. And why not? Boracay’s blindingly white powder-fine sand and its clear, azure waters have spoilt us Filipinos. The Philippines’ top tourist destination has set the bar for beach-goers who cannot help but compare other beaches they visit with that of Boracay’s sand quality and the clarity of the water.

This is not Boracay.

However, Boracay’s popularity comes at a price. With throngs of tourists flocking to the beach, it has been called β€œManila with sand,” capturing the essence of what Boracay is like during peak seasons where the beach is so crowded that running into someone you know from Manila is a regular occurrence. With the influx of more and more foreign tourists due to the Kalibo airport now an international gateway, and the degradation of the beach due to unsustainable tourism practices, people have started looking for alternatives. Fortunately, with over 7,000 islands to choose from in the Philippines, there are plenty, and you don’t even have to fly from Manila to get to some of them.

These are the easy and obvious choices: drive down south of Manila for the beaches in Batangas, a destination known for scuba-diving. A little further south of Batangas and a boat ride away is White Beach in Puerto Galera, Mindoro. Go north of Manila and there’s Anawangin Cove in Zambales, where you can camp on a beach fringed with pine trees.

But if you’re willing to go further and off the beaten path, away from the crowds, lying off the coast of the province of Camarines Norte is a group of pristine, virgin islands called Calaguas, a reward for those who make the time and the effort to journey into the typhoon-battered region of Bicol.


Continue reading “Calaguas, an unspoiled beach destination for the Boracay-weary”

Bacolod travel journal

Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal

Two trips in three weeks! Eagle-eyed readers (all two of them) might’ve seen my previous Wordless Wednesday entry and assumed I was traveling. Indeed, I was! I was in Seoul, South Korea last week but before I can get to that, I have yet to post a blog entry of a trip that came a couple of weeks before– Bacolod city, in the Visayan province of Negros Occidental, Philippines.

Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal

People go to Bacolod primarily for the annual MassKara festival (mass = many, cara (Spanish) = face, maskara (Tagalog) = mask), a street festival filled with colorful smiling masks and costumed street dancers. There are dozens of similar festivals in the Philippines but the MassKara festival is arguably the most colorful and happiest. Ironically, the festival started at a low point in 1980, when the price of sugar (the main export of the province of Negros Occidental) was at an all-time low worldwide. It was also during the same year when a ship carrying hundreds of Negrenses sank, and as many as 700 locals perished. To uplift the peoples’ spirits, the government decided to hold a festival of smiles, “…a declaration by the people of the city that no matter how tough and bad the times were, Bacolod City is going to pull through, survive, and in the end, triumph.” (Wiki)

With a festival philosophy like that, I chose to experience Bacolod’s MassKara over all the other Philippine festivals. I’m all for good vibes and positive thinking! I looked forward to taking photos of the extravagant costumes and street dancing.

As the date of my departure drew nearer, though, I found myself more excited about one other thing. Bacolod is a culinary destination, known for its desserts and native delicacies but above all, its CHICKEN INASAL. Now, I’m a HUGE fan of chicken– I can eat it everyday and not get tired of it. I like chicken first, seafood second, then beef and pork as a far distant third and fourth option (ie. only if there’s nothing else). My favorite fastfood restaurant is KFC for its wide variety of chicken dishes. I love chicken so much that, at the risk of oversharing, my ex’s pet name for me was Chicken. Err. Yeah.

Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal

When in Manila, I eat chicken inasal at inasal chains in the Metro but having finally tasted authentic inasal from Bacolod, I would say nothing comes close to the original.

Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal

I had chicken inasal for dinner three days straight– which wasn’t enough! I was hoping to have inasal at least twice a day for three days hihi. Inasal for three straight days was the highlight of my Bacolod trip, although the MassKara festival itself was a very close contender! πŸ˜› The rest of the trip in pictures, as the festival is a visual feast no words can articulate (also, because I’m tired of typing):

Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal
Wedgienet: Bacolod travel journal

Salamat, Bacolod! I’ve crossed off experiencing the MassKara festival on my imaginary bucket list, but maybe I’ll be back again some day for another three days straight of authentic Bacolod chicken inasal πŸ˜€

P.S. If anyone is interested in a Bacolod chicken inasal recipe, Market Manila has what looks like a good one here. Try it, then invite me over to eat as I don’t know how to cook, kthnxbye.

Illustrated travel journal: Sagada, Mt. Province, Philippines

(Tip: you can click on the journal pages to view a bigger version)

The inside front cover of my travel journal

While having breakfast with my cousin one day while on vacation in Japan, I brought up the topic of travel blogs. My cousin Miki, three years younger than I, is an avid traveler and has been all over Asia, the US, and Europe, as well as our own country, the Philippines. Miki’s a talented writer and has a flair for photography as well, so I thought she’d be great at putting up a blog of her travels. “I always say I’ll write about my trips,” she said. “But I never do.”

I told her I plan to blog about my trips as well, but with a different spin: I’ll document it in photos and in a sketchbook. Kind of like The Sketching Backpacker, except I don’t backpack. LOL. Miki gave me a side glance. “Yeah, riiiight,” she said with a knowing laugh. I knew what she meant. It means that when the trip is over, we all go back to our usual, daily routine (work/school/whatever) and all plans for writing about the trip, organizing photos, etc. are thrown out the window. The least you can do is upload 473 photos of the trip on Facebook (after selecting from the 1034 you took), oftentimes not bothering to write out captions because who has time for captions?!

That conversation with Miki happened in November 2011, but I actually started keeping a travel sketchbook two months earlier. I bought a red, pocket-sized Moleskine sketchbook in time for my trip to Sagada, a rustic mountain town in Mountain Province, Philippines. I got the idea to keep an illustrated travel diary from cartoonist Lucy Knisley, who kept one (and published it as a book!) during a trip to Paris. I have no plans to go that far with my travel journal though; I just think it would be nice to keep a visual account of the things and experiences one encounters while traveling.

Road to Sagada
A bumpy, washed out segment of the road to Sagada, taken while riding atop a jeepney, a mode of traveling called “toploading.”
Banaue Rice Terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces in Banaue, Ifugao, a stopover en route to Sagada

The thing is, I didn’t know how difficult it was to actually sketch and travel at the same time. Trip fatigue and the fact that you will spend your free time on the trip trying to access free wifi means you will end up doing very little work on your travel sketchbook. The Sagada trip was also a very physically-exhausting and challenging trip; my friends and I were all in bed sound asleep by 9 PM every night. Really, no time to draw or write. I ended up filling in my sketchbook two months after the trip– a feat harder than sketching while traveling, actually. But I managed.


I was also quite at a loss on how to approach travel journaling/sketching. Do I keep the events in chronological order, as I did on this first spread? Do I write about everything? Which experiences get written about and which ones get drawn? The bit about the conductor lying in the middle of the bus aisle was typed out into my cellphone as it happened, as it made an impression on me and I knew I wanted it to end up on the journal, but the rest were thoughts/experiences from memory long after the trip was over.

rock climbing
Rock climbing with just a rope!



I ended up including just the things that stood out the most on the trip, like “surprise rock climbing” as illustrated above. If I had been told we’d be clambering up rocks and walls prior to the trip, I might not have joined in the first place. Haha. But I’m glad to have experienced it all. I did not escape unscathed, though.

Bruised knee
A very bruised knee a day after I hoisted myself up on a rock and hit my knee hard on the ground. Too bad I didn’t bother taking a photo of this knee several days later, when it was green and yellow.


Hanging bridge in Sagada
Our group of 15 crossing a hanging bridge at the start of our 7-hour trek to the waterfalls.


river crossing
Crossing raging rivers. Photo from @ayladeeyosah, our trip coordinator from adventure travel/tour company, Travel Factor <3


My muddy feet and trekking sandals


I think this spread is too text-heavy.

Sagada is known for its caves, and a trip to the place is incomplete if one does not go spelunking. I always read up on a place prior to making the trip and I was looking forward to seeing the fantastic, bizarre, and ethereal cave formations in Sagada’s caves, but unfortunately, I was too busy trying to watch where I was going to marvel at the rock formations. Seriously. I’m not the most coordinated person and being acutely aware of that, all I saw were fleeting glimpses of stalactites and stalagmites as I was more concerned about not slipping and plunging to my death.

Me going down a waterfall in the cave… slowly, and carefully


Awkward climbing
Cave group pic

At the time of the Sagada trip, I was living a sedentary lifestyle and was a half-zombie as I was working night shift for a US-based job (while in the Philippines). I found out that being in that situation had an effect on my physical fitness and overall health, as shown in the illustrations above. I confirmed this several months later, when I went on several other physically-exhausting trips after I had resigned from the night job and went back to sleeping at night like most people do. Unlike in Sagada, I wasn’t tired and panting anymore after every physical activity.

I left out a lot of things in my Sagada travel sketchbook, belying the amazing (but exhausting) three days I spent there. That’s what happens when you try to re-capture moments in a trip long after the trip is over; you just can’t quite grasp those fleeting memories as well as you would when you’re experiencing them in that moment itself.

Echo Valley, Sagada

Good thing I had photos to base the drawings and memories on. It’s not the same though, and for future trips (I’ve gone on about 4 other trips since Sagada, and I’m leaving for another trip in a couple of weeks), I hope to actively set aside time solely for sketching while on the trip.

In any case, I’m glad that I at least have this hand drawn and handwritten account of my Sagada trip– I think this really pulls out and highlights all the standout memories and experiences that would otherwise get buried in a slew of batch-uploaded Facebook photos. I’m looking forward to documenting my next trips this way… and actually, I already have. I just haven’t scanned the pages yet πŸ˜‰