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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Things 001: Transparent Plaster from Watsons

Ang sakit ng paa ko n'ung Sabado (May 19). I was already on my third film buff pit stop (first was at Video 48 where I got hold of a copy of Joey Gosiengfiao's "Temptation Island" and Lino Brocka's Cannes-invited "Jaguar" and second was a quick tour at the newest Ayala Mall in North Ave called TriNoma) when I decided to get a plaster. Tumatama kasi 'yung strap ng sandals ko sa paa at medyo maluwag s'ya kaya merong friction. Then I passed by at Watsons in Gateway and found this transparent plaster (a box of 20 pieces for only P38). Cool s'ya. What remains visible is the small square white cottony thing in the middle of a generic plaster. I think I earned 10 pogi points with that. Hahaha.

Movie Digest # 012

Gateway Cineplex, Cinema 6, May 14, 5:30pm

Entertaining and edge of your seat. One of those sequels who come off better than the original installment. No Danny Boyle at the helm but for sure, being the writer and producer, he still has his artistic say written all over the film. I love the OST, too. You might avoid Dinuguan for, err, 28 weeks (corny!). This film’s really, really gory.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who rock!

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 4, May 17, 10:50pm

Funny and feel-good. That’s it.

Friends who might appreciate it: ogres out there.

Gateway Cineplex, Cinema 1, May 19, 1:30pm

This one’s a guilt-free popcorn film. Talky but engaging, nothing artsy or unusual twist whatsoever. Ryan Gosling is an actor to watch. Kaya n’yang makipagsabayan kay Hopkins.

Friends who might appreciate it: Grisham fans.

Of Acrophobia and Claustrophobia

Acrophobia is the fear of heights (read: the cliffs in Mountain Province).
Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed space (read: caves in Sagada).

The real deal with the monthlong planned Banaue – Sagada – Baguio trip was not to have a plan at all. No hotel reservation. No bus ticket reservation. No itinerary. And last but not the least, no OC me. I discussed this with JR, a friend and a co-Amazing Race Asia contestant-wannabe (yes, we almost auditioned if not for my absence since I was in Belfast that time). Without batting an eyelash, the green light was on and “Boys Night Out in the North” – Chapter 1 was up.


OK, we broke the “no bus ticket reservation” rule. Our target date is from April 27 to May 1 and I can say that it’s peak season for travellers and tan catchers alike. We inquired through two bus companies that have transpo service to Banaue.

Option one is Autobus (+63 2 7358096). They have a station in España corner G. Tolentino just past UST from Lacson. Usually, they offer one direct trip from Manila to Banaue at 10pm but they added three extra trips (at 10:45pm, 11pm and 11:15pm) last April 27. I suspect that it has something to do with long weekend-ish weekend (some could be taking a day off on April 30 since May 1 is a public holiday).

Option two is Cable Tours (+63 918 5216790). Other than the usual service, this bus company also has collaboration with other groups that offer tour packages to Sagada (i.e. Nature Awareness & Conservation Club, Inc., / / +63 2 8061720 / +63 919 4839250 / +63 915 5101600). Their trip schedule to Banaue is earlier at 8pm and the bus station is along E. Rodriguez, right in front of St. Luke’s Hospital and Trinity College.

One week before the trip, we went to Autobus terminal only to find out that bus seats for 10pm, 10:45pm and 11pm were already sold out. From España, we tried to visit the Cable Tours terminal. It wasn’t easy to find at first. The place doesn’t look like the usual bus terminal, dark and the area was only lighted by the fluorescents from the bus which was Banaue-bound that time. We were asked by the driver to text a number and ask for a reservation. The next day, we received an SMS confirmation that no seat was available for us.

The trip, even we’re not starting yet, was almost over. Done. Dead. Finished. Gone! We facilitated the idea of reversing the whole trip, Baguio-Sagada-Banaue, though it’s less comfortable since the bus trips from Banaue are limited. And, yes, we also considered to take our chance as, err, chance passengers first before heading to any bus terminal to Baguio. But the force stopped us from being losers. Three days before, I rang Autobus to inquire about the “chance”. What I got was an announcement that an extra trip was being opened for an 11:15pm trip. The info guy/dispatcher even allowed me to reserve tickets over the phone so long as I can claim and pay up for those before 10 in the evening. I hurriedly got a cab and went to España.


From the 11:15pm bus trip (they really meant 11:15pm!), we reached Banaue, Ifugao at 8:30am on April 28, Saturday (fare costs P462, one way). A local lass got in the bus and welcomed us. She further explained that a reservation for a seat back to Manila is needed. We skipped that part and looked for Miss Doris Limangan (+63 910 4638647) instead. Miss Doris is the Autobus dispatcher in Banaue bus terminal. I got her number from Autobus – Manila when we considered the Baguio-Sagada-Banaue option. When we met her at last, she got a tricylcle for us that brought us to Halfway Lodge and Restaurant where we were billeted for one night in a small room with private bathroom. The place is very near Banaue Info Center and highly recommendable in terms of distance to the poblacion center.

The minute we arrived at the inn, we ordered for Halfway breakfast (omelette, toasts, strawberry jam, Star margarine, a piece of banana or a slice of pineapple and with either brewed coffee or orange juice). The staff brought the food to our room. Fifteen minutes later, two kettles of hot water for bathing were also delivered. By the way, they bill P15 for each kettle and another P15 for fully charging your celfone or camera battery. The room doesn’t have any electrical outlet other than those perhaps for the incandescent light in the ceiling.

At 10 in the morning, Rhenson (+63 916 7131679 / +63 916 8943194), our tricycle driver/guide, was already waiting for us at the inn’s restaurant area. We hired Rhenson to bring us to Hapao Hungduan Hot Springs, Hiwang Native Village and Brgy. Viewpoint. There’s a set price for every stop based on the official list distributed by the association of tourist guides in Banaue. For the three spots that we chose (Batad excluded since the famous rice terraces community requires at least one day to visit), we were charged P1,200.

First stop is the Hapao Hungduan Hot Springs. It’s situated in another town (or is it a barangay?) and took us roughly 30 minutes of rough (really, really rough) ride from Banaue Poblacion. There was a registration in their information center and that’s it. Rhenson brought us to the unofficial viewdeck (photo op is fine here) first before the actual viewdeck. Then off we went to an hour of guide-less rice terraces trek. Rhenson just pointed to us the “destination” and the “map” was on us. It was up to us which rice terraces “step” to take and that was the fun part of the whole trek. The other equally fun part was the actual trek since most of the “pilapil” are too steep. You could either fall in the muddy rice field part or choose the rocky edge which I think is not an option. Unfortunately, before we reached the hot spring, we realized that we took the wrong route and ended with a busy stream (too busy that we fell while stepping on a slippery rock and survived it). A local tourist from the hot spring saw us and lent a helping hand (literally).

The hot spring, which is immaculately fenced by rocks, is bigger than your standard bath tub. Its water is really hot (intensified by the summer heat, of course), as demonstrated by the tiny bubbles arising from the sand (as if it’s boiling!). Some stragglers who were having a picnic there offered us a hearty lunch but we refused because we were too overwhelmed or too tired to eat.

After more than three hours of trek, we went back to the viewdeck where Rhenson was waiting while playing tong-its with his ka-berks. Then off we went to the next spot, skipping lunch and accommodating ulcer.

Second stop is Hiwang Native Vilage. From Hapao Hungduan, we took the road heading back to Poblacion in roughly ten minutes and upon reaching an intersection, Rhenson turned left. The place is a small, hmm, village (or better yet, neighborhood with only two Ifugao houses which can be reached through uncemented steps). There’s a conservation/entrance fee of P20 per person. If you’re familiar with the Piolo – Juday film “Don’t Give Up on Us”, that’s the place where the two lead characters stay over night. The next scene has Juday admiring the rice terraces early in the morning.

Our pit stop is at Brgy. Viewpoint. As the name of the place implies, it has a makeshift viewdeck overlooking another set of rice terraces. The area is very accessible to Poblacion and I saw a lot of souvenir shops in the area. I bought my Banaue shirt there (cotton, P150 each) because Rhenson told us that items there are cheaper compared to the stalls in Poblacion. At 4pm, we, including Rhenson, were having “lunch” at Mexicali (no, it’s the same franchise that you can see in Glorietta). We had two servings of tinolang manok (yummy!), adobong manok and pansit bihon (all for P350+).

We reached Halfway Inn at 6pm and decided to sleep until 9pm and probably wake up for a nice beer or coffee. I woke up at 8:30pm only to realize that inns in Banaue close at nine in the evening. I hurriedly ask for the inn keeper to keep the “gate” open for me until I come back from dinner shopping.

On my way to hunt food, I noticed that the souvenir stalls, inns and sari-sari stores were already light’s out. Except for one big grocery store which was waiting for the locals to finish the free Christian movie being shown in the center/main square (I realized later that this is a part of a week-long cultural festival being held in Banaue). I bought our dinner from a carinderia (my one and only choice) near the center. I paid for roughly P180 for a serving of liempo, menudo, tortang talong and bangus plus the staple C2 and fruit juice in can (from the grocery, I got two SMB Lights and a bag of classic Chippy). Before I walked back to Halfway, I paused for a minute while absorbing the image of a public watching a film on a giant open-air screen. What a sight! This reminds me of my hometown when life was still simple and fathers bring their kids to watch a Charlie Chaplin film in the town plaza. How come they are not doing it again?


Wake-up call’s at six in the morning. That’s the official opening time for Halfway. This also means that that’s the only time you can ask for a kettle of hot water and a serving of nice breakfast. At 7:30am, we were already in front of Banaue Information Center where a jeep to Bontoc was being filled in by passengers. Please note that from Banaue, there’s only one jeepney ride that brings you to Bontoc and it’s supposed to leave when it’s already full (7:30am is the best time to go there).

Since there’s only one option for a public transportation out of Banaue and more passengers were still boarding in, we decided to try the topload adventure. Literally, it’s the roof of the jeepney where most of the luggages are put. I knew that the view from there could be heavenly since we won’t be obstructed by any passenger who’s also vying for a nice scenery when travelling inside the jeep. We were joined by two female tourists (namely Joyce and Julie, whom we got acquainted with later on), four Korean yuppies (we called them F4) and three or more local passengers.

Yes, it’s confirmed. The Mountain Province is best viewed when travelling in the jeepney’s topload from Banaue to Bontoc, facing the valleys. Best things are almost free (fare’s at P130 each). The morning drizzle helped romantize the photography buff in me. Only for the first 20 minutes. What followed was a series of small “death”experiences everytime the jeep tried to get through a one-way bumpy curve. You can get that roller coaster feeling as it swayed, as if you’re about to fall in the ravine. Yes, I sweated a lot even if it was really breezy.

The trip didn’t just end there. In the middle of the trip, something went pffft and panic was all over. I didn’t know how to react with the thunderous sound while the jeep was starting to lean on the side where we were seated. Then the leaning just stopped. Culprit: a flat tire. Saving grace: the jeep was wheeling through a small barangay road and not through a dangerous bend. Whew! Life’s indeed a bitch.

We reached Bontoc City after more than two hours. Manong driver brought us to the Sagada-bound jeepney station. This time, there are more options. Jeeps leave every 30 minutes (but I didn’t ask for the last trip schedule), the whole trip takes 45 minutes to an hour only and fare’s cheaper at P50 each. And yes, we decided to be a regular jeepney passenger this time together with Joyce, Julie and F4.

Sagada town proper touchdown at 12:45pm, rushed to Sagada Traveller’s Inn, checked in then hurried back to the information center to meet my kababayan, Zherwin, and the rest of the guys who were off for caving at 1pm (last part of their package trip itinerary in Sagada). The only thing I remember that I had for lunch was a pack of Fita – Spicy Tuna biscuits.

I thought that the Banaue-Bontoc topload experience was the highlight of my northern exposure trip. That was before I came face-to-face with a gentle cave called Sumaging. Prior to that, our guide Merden had us visit a hanging coffin valley and another cave for burials (a clever reminder of what was about to come).

Sumaging wasn’t threatening at first. Aside from the slippery downhill trek, everything went fine for the first 30 minutes. We passed by some small natural basins filled to the brim with water. Relaxing, if you may ask. The sound created by the drips from stalactytes was the ultimate chill-out. Then people started coming out from the dark and warning us that it was really difficult there. Let me call that a point of no return. Our guides (we now have a total of three guides, I wondered why) asked us if we wish continue. And almost everybody said “yes”. Hello, fear.

First challenge was a set of really small cracks. We were crawling and I really meant crawling as you’ve never crawled before. I wrapped my S60 around my neck and covered it with only clothing left with me. Second challenge was a small clearing wherein an abyss was waiting in the middle and the only way to get through it is a rope at the side. Now your life has to depend on the rope. And to your weight, of course. Then I gave my last smile for the noon and just went. I can’t remember how I survived that one.

While waiting to exhale, then came the third and most difficult challenge. We had to cross a water basin filled up to my chest. There’s a rope for rappelling down to that basin and that’s it. We had to jump and made a safe assumption on how deep it was. I think I left my balls there.

What’s supposedly the finish line for that route was the area I first called “point of no return”. Yes, we did return. There was a another rope waiting for us there which was for rapelling up to another platform. But that was a piece of cake. I don’t know but I felt braver and stronger after coming out of Sumaging. Everything seemed so easy to achieve. The caving experience in Sagada was the closest thing I could get to being immortal.

Then came sunset. And moonlight.

Evenings in Sagada are soothing. You can see lots of tourists around but I sensed no chaos. Everything seemed to be in a synchronized groove. I can say that this was my reward for being kick-ass in the afternoon. And the pricey dinner at Yoghurt House with yummy fried rice meal and a funny tasting strawberry yoghurt was just a lousy bonus.


After having a sumptuous tocino (was it grilled?) and freshly brewed coffee at Traveller’s, we rushed to the GL Trans bus station near the Sagada municipal hall and information center. First trip’s at 5am, 7am then an hourly depature until 4pm-ish. Together with Joyce, Julie and Lourdes, we took the 7am bus departure.

At 2pm, we were already in the Victory Liner bus station in Baguio, getting a ticket back to Manila for the next day. That’s where we were picked up by Patrick, a boardmate wayback college days, followed by a bye-bye moment with the girls (we’re Friendsters now!). Patrick had us billeted at Baguio Harrison Inn. Price range is from P500 to P600 for a room good for two. The cheaper room uses a common toilet which was fine with us since we availed the same accommodation in Sagada.

First adventure in Baguio, if you’re really going to categorize it as such, was an ATM challenge. My bancnet card was rejected by the first ATM we saw (PNB along Session Road). And again, in the second one (BDO). We passed by a branch of Equitable Bank but the queue was like Kennon Road. I can almost hear the P200 in my wallet protesting for a company. I was already considering asking Patrick later for money, worst case scenario. Then we found an RCBC branch, my payroll bank, still along Session. For the third time, my ATM card was rejected. Five minutes before the bank’s closing, I got in and withdrew money through the teller. Lesson for the day: consider having vacation on business days.

Next stop was at Don Henrico’s. Short and filling. I just wanted to check if my credit card was working. The seafood pasta was good though.

The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing and haggling through the “ukay-ukay” jungle. I think we’ve tried three buildings, a block or two apart, with three to four storeys each, looking for a gem (a jersey, a signature bag, shoes, designer shirts, etc.). We ended up just browsing. At least I can say that I have “been there, done that” (Baguio is said to be the original “ukay-ukay” haven).

Our semi last stop was SM Baguio. Honestly, the mall was my only itinerary for Baguio. I just wanted to see the open-air interior and the claim that it’s the only SM having that architecture must be certified. So off we went.

The mall is seated on top of Session Road. From afar, you can already see the building as if you’re looking at a castle in Far Far Away. Small souvenir shops will greet you at the façade’s ground level. They have shirts printed with (as far as) Sagada and Banaue. A fruit market is just erected nearby. We went directly to the terrace, the mall’s top floor, which is overlooking the city (nice view from there). The evening summer breeze provided a unique tranquility that only Baguio can offer.

Right before we left SM Baguio, we visited the Astroplus branch to score a CD (an old Sandwich album) and a VCD ("Umaaraw, Umuulan"). The magic sing (or is it magic mic?) was tempting us. And the sales clerk probably read our minds. One of us had to sing. And just like a true-blooded Amazing Racers up for a Road Block challenge, one of us sang “With a Smile”. No futher details, your honor, but for sure, it was fun.

At around midnight, we met Patrick and the rest of his badminton friends. We had late dinner (pizza, pasta and beer) at Volante’s (still along Session). We capped the night with one videoke song each (and more booze!) at a Japanese-inspired beer joint in front of Alberto’s.

In the morning, we have set our minds that everything should be back to reality. Vacation was over at 8:30am, Tuesday, May 2. We took a Victory Liner bus, where “Spiderman 2” was being shown, back to Manila. “Spiderman 3” was waiting for us at 9:50pm in Greenbelt 3.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Movie Digest # 011

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 2, April 19, 9pm

Nothing special. I’m just curious with Marky Mark’s love interest in the film. I don’t know if she’s underacting or she doesn’t really know how to act at all. I wanna see her on her next film.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who miss the old school action films but I’d rather not recommend this.

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 1, April 26, 8:35pm

A truly satisfying film. Walang masyadong “relate factor” pero it’s highly recommended. One of those films na sa tingin ko ay nag-swak ang vision ng manunulat at filmmaker. Material pa lang, sobrang sulit na. Bonus na lang ‘yung CGI n’ya at ‘yung pagkakadirek sa film at sa mga artista. Sa totoo lang, sa panahon ng digmaan, lumalabas talaga ang pagiging creative ng ilan. This is proven by most of the war-torn countries that brought us the likes of Einstein and Da Vinci. With this film, the whole material could be treated with endless possibilities. Pwedeng pathetic ang treatment kasi maaawa ka sa bata na nagkaroon s’ya ng sariling mundo dahil sa giyera. Pwede rin namang “feel-good” dahil ang mundong iniisip ng bata ay totoo pala. Pwede rin namang artsy o political na kung kelan nabuksang muli at nakapasok ang bata sa underworld ay saka naman nanaig ang mga rebeldeng nagtatago sa gubat. Galing!

Friends who might appreciate it: those who believe in films and fairy tales.

Greenbelt 3, Cinema 1, May 1, 9:50pm

Hmm… not as satisfying as Spiderman 2 but still well-made. I like the film’s consistent approach on Spidey’s celebration on being human . If the first installment deals with identity and the second, on responsibility, the latest one tackles a person’s dark side. At na-pull off naman ito nang maayos. Even the “evil” scenes are somewhat wholesome and funny. Siguro, nasobrahan lang sa mga eksenang madrama. Masyadong nagbabad. Just the same, enjoy naman ang CGI n’ya.

Friends who might appreciate it: those who like eating popcorn inside the moviehouse.
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