Family, TRAVEL

Our Apo Island Adventure (Persistence Pays Off! 2)

After our super fun and satisfying day in Manjuyod, we were scheduled to go to Apo Island the following day. When we woke up, it was raining. Staying at Bethel Guest House, we could usually see the Boulevard and the sea clearly. But because of the rain, the sea seemed foggy and the sky was dark and gloomy. King then asked the dreaded question — is it safe to go?

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View from our room in Bethel Guest House, on a nice sunny day.

I thought for a minute and also asked my mom. But before she answered, I already thought about a few boat rides we’d already experienced that were worse, also due to rough seas. I mean we got through okay. We didnt capsize or fall into the water or lose our things. So King and I both said that yeah, it’s fine. Persist we must, haha. Besides, we were assured by our tour operator that the waters going to Apo Island are more calm than in Manjuyod at this time of year.

We were picked up by our van around 7am and we got to the port maybe an hour later. We passed through a market to get there. It was a Wednesday so it was market day. They sold all kinds of stuff including different kinds of dried fish and even lechon, which of course my mom did not hesitate to buy. It was actually good. We also saw the area where the locals auction off their animals (cows, pigs, goats, chickens).

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On our way to our boat. Light rain and loud waves.

We were required to wear life vests as soon as we got off the van, and Gianna had to endure wearing hers haha. It was too big. Our tour guide, who was actually quite nice, told us that it was going to be rough out there but it was normal because of the Amihan (cool northeast wind). My mind immediately went to her words about it being more calm. But no matter. We were excited to see the turtles!

True enough, the boat ride was rough. Our things were secure underneath the boat floor. I was warned about my camera getting wet so I made sure it was safe as well. But it sure was rough enough to make Noelle cry. I had to cross over from where I was seated, to where she and my mom were. On that side, it felt like we were being lifted off our seats. It was like a wet and wild roller coaster ride! But really, it was fine. Thank God all it took was a prayer and mommy holding her. And thank God it took only 30-40 minutes to get to the island. Danae had no issues. Gianna was quiet, covering her face, while King held her.

 

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my view from apo island 

Apo Island is beautiful! Only 14 families, if I recall correctly, live there. There are only a couple of resorts. Power is only via generator. They have worked to protect the beautiful sea turtles, so now it is a conservation area. To watch and swim with the turtles, snorkelers are guided by the locals within a roped area. Like the whale sharks in Oslob, the turtles must not be touched. There are gear for rent and if you don’t have companions to watch your stuff, you can also rent a cottage. I was able to go with King and the girls while Gianna was with my mom and our tour guide, yay! It was actually also Noelle’s first time to snorkel!

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“marine turtle area”
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it’s dude crush!!! the picture does not depict its actual size.
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King and Danae witnessed this turtle swim!!! Noelle and I only saw the other one which was huge!

The guides lead a group of 2-3 to the turtles using a rubber tube, which you can hang on to when you’re tired or are a poor swimmer. There were a lot of sea cucumbers, tiny neon blue fish, and light blue starfish (too bad I have no picture!!!). We would have loved to see more turtles and swim with them, but Noelle and I only saw one, while King and Danae saw two. One of the guides said it was because the tide was low and so the turtles were out in the deeper parts. Still, it was one of the coolest experiences.

When we were done, we proceeded to the other side of the island so we could have lunch. It was nothing like our fresh sea food in Manjuyod, but it was okay. Our table was set in Apo Island Beach Resort, where the kids enjoyed the beach. Just be wary of foreigners who sunbathe in the nude, haha. My girls were baffled as to why some people do that in public.

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beautiful rock formations 🙂
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we went up a short set of stairs, to this….
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….and then, paradise!
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beautiful 🙂 

We left Apo island around 2pm because we didn’t want to risk travelling through stronger and bigger waves. Halfway through the boat ride however, we noticed the boat suddenly slowed down. The boat men said something broke. King thought it was the anchor or something inconsequential, but to me it seemed like they were talking about the rudder. I understand some Visayan, but unfortunately not the Visayan for rudder hehe. Everyone was relaxed, while I was observing the boatmen handle the situation. They dropped the anchor enough to create a drag I suppose. I heard a tiny hint of panic in the boatmen’s voices but they followed the instructions of the boat driver. I didn’t understand a word they said. Too deep for me, I guess. I also saw their interaction with the boatman of another pump boat that passed us. I was thinking that it would be good to have a boat near us just in case something bad happened. But our tour guide said nothing. Our boat driver seemed calm and confident. Noelle fell asleep on me even, no crying.

When we got to the port, they “parked” in the area that was a bit far from the shore. The tide had risen and the waves were strong, so it was difficult to get down. When our tour guide asked if we could move, they said they couldn’t because the rudder broke. I knew it!!!    Thank God our boatmen did not just say, “Um the boat is broken. Sorry. We’re basically sitting ducks here until help arrives.” Imagine the horror! But they kept going. They persisted. And they got us to safety. They got skillz, haha. Whoo! What an adventure!

Indeed, persistence pays off! Especially when it’s a matter of life and death. And indeed, the Lord is good. He protects and He saves. 🙂

 

TIPS:

Wear aqua shoes. The “sand” is rocky and painful to walk on barefoot. They have those for rent on the island as you pay for the sanctuary fees, but it’s always better to bring your own. We as well will invest on our own, especially the kids’, life vests.

Bring some cash. Some manangs (ladies) sell magnets, shirts, sarongs, and dresses in the island.

Go on a Wednesday, so you can experience Market Day before you board your boat to Apo Island. They end at 2pm so you’ll miss it if you wait ’til after.

Family, TRAVEL

Persistence pays off!

We just came home from our family vacation in the Visayas. We went to celebrate Noelle’s 8th birthday! I chose Dumaguete because I wanted to see the Manjuyod sandbar again with my family. I’d been there with my parents before, like more than a decade ago. The sandbar wasn’t visible anymore at the time we went, but we were able to swim. We also went dolphin watching and the dolphins gave us a show! I only had a regular, non-digital camera then, so I wasn’t able to capture much.

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A day before she turned 8, in Sans Rival. 🙂

 

My mom was the one planning the whole thing (haha, yes I chose the city and dates, but she planned almost everything), and she got our contacts through my cousin. She was told by one tour operator that it was not safe to go to Manjuyod in January because of the Amihan, or the cool northeast wind. My mom says it’s my hardheadedness (I call it my persistence and faith), but I just did not want to believe that we were going to Dumaguete and not be able to enjoy the Maldives of the Philippines. I needed to hear it from the tour guide/driver/boatman myself that it was not safe, before I was going to concede. We kept it in our itinerary.

Thankfully, our other contact assured us that the coastguard would advise the boat operators whether it’s safe to go to sea or not, and that they in turn would advise us. And it was a go! It was definitely safer than our boatride to and from Apo Island (our 3rd day), which we were told would be more calm haha. It was a little windy, but the twenty minute boat ride to the sandbar was uneventful. And the sandbar — massive and beautiful!

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On the boat, with the sandbar in sight. The sandbar is 7km long.

 

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With my mom, Gianna’s first boat ride ever. 🙂 

 

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King and I took a walk on the sand, but didn’t even get to any other end. It was huge! And we had to go back to our kids haha. Gianna didn’t want to leave the shore.

 

We got there at the right time. Good thing I researched and read a blog that said low tide was between 6am and 9am, and that by 10am the sandbar would be submerged already. You could still swim of course, but you would miss the sandbar. So we made sure that our van picked us up around 6am, and we got to Bais by 7am or so.

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the birthday girl happily playing with her little sister 🙂

 

When we got to the Bais port/pier, the boat owner’s wife asked us what we wanted for lunch because the boatmen were going to cook our food for us on the boat! She bought the ingredients for us in the nearby wet market, and in about twenty minutes, we were off to the sandbar. The water was so blue and just beautiful! The kids immediately got off the boat. The boatmen told us that we should just get our picture taken first with the sandbar and go dolphin and whale watching, then come back for lunch and swimming. But then Gianna was so happy on the beach, not even changing into her swimsuit, that we decided to just enjoy the sandbar. We’d gone dolphin watching in Bohol and swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob a few years ago already anyway.

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Gianna dumping sand on the patient starfish haha. Don’t worry, it was not harmed. 🙂 *No starfish was harmed by us on our vacation. We were gentle in handling them and putting them back in the ocean.

 

And our lunch! Grilled pork, sinigang na hipon, grilled okra, huge wild scallops, seaweed, coconut juice in their shell. Soooo good! We ate with our hands so I couldn’t take photos haha. The bonus was those wild oysters in vinegar that we bought from a couple of boatmen. They were selling the whole container for only 300 pesos. We opted to just buy 10 pieces for 100 pesos, because we had too much food already. And it was the highlight of our lunch! Unforgettably yummy!

The best part? Noelle kept saying “best birthday ever!”

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It’s alive!

 

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A tiny starfish family under a shell! I found them when I picked up the shell, but put it back right away. 

 

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Gianna wasn’t afraid to touch, but she was gentle as well. 🙂

 

 

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Beautiful spongy starfish 🙂

 

 

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Our boatman caught a couple of sea dragons and showed us. We tried to take a video in the water but they swam away way too fast! They literally zipped away as soon as manong released them to supposedly let Danae hold them. So he caught another and placed him in a container so we could take a good look. One of the coolest sea creatures ever, with a tail and dragon wings (fins). We put him back of course. 🙂

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Our boatman/diver/cook/boat owner. He found a crab to show the kids. Super cool!

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The tide was coming in at 930am.

 

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I think this was around 1030 to 11am. The sandbar was submerged in water already.

 

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Beautiful Philippines 🙂 

 

If I readily accepted what we were told from the beginning, we would not have been able to experience the beauty of Manjuyod! Persistence with prayer pays off! Faith with wisdom pays off! Thank you Lord for allowing us to enjoy and be captivated by the beauty of your creation. For surrounding us with your angels so we can safely travel on foot and by land, air, and sea. For giving us the opportunity to celebrate and build wonderful memories with our family. We are so grateful.

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Me and my forever travel buddy  ❤

 

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Me and my little sisters hehehe ❤ 

 

Family, FEATURED, THE BRAINY BUNCH, TRAVEL

Oslob! (Cebu part 2)

So on the 12th, my actual birthday, we left the hotel early to drive 3 hours to Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob. We got there, prepared our gear, and got on a small bangka (canoe-like boat with balancers on the sides) to go to the next resort to pay and attend the short briefing.

>We were told that touching of whale sharks is not allowed. There is a fine of 2,500 pesos if sharks are touched.

>Sun block poisons them, so we were told to rinse off if we had already applied some, which Danae did. Noelle was sure that she wasn’t swimming so she didn’t have to rinse.

>Splashing should be avoided because whale sharks tend to follow bubbles, thinking it means food, which one of them did because my cousin-in-law made too many bubbles while swimming. Haha that was scary.

>Boatmen are there to assist us in anything we need, which they did, even taking underwater videos for us.

>They only allot 30 minutes with the whale sharks, time beginning as soon as one is in view. They took us back to our resort afterwards. There are 4 or more resorts you can choose from as your take-off point. We chose the least glamorous one haha.

We paid 500 pesos per head for those swimming. Noelle was free. If you don’t swim with the sharks, you only need to pay 300 pesos. Life vests are included in the fee, except for the girls’ which were really nice and snug. Those were 30 pesos each. Other gear including underwater cams are available for rent as well, but we brought our own. They also provided us an umbrella as the bangkas don’t have any shade.

It was a good day to go because there weren’t many people. I think there were only about 3 other boats there. We were there at the right time, around 9AM. We were told that feeding of the sharks was only till 12PM. The sun wasn’t too hot, or at least we didn’t really burn even without sunblock.

We had food grilled in our resort, which we came back to eat after a trip to Tumalog Falls. The girls swam in the murky water for a bit. That gave me some anxiety haha, thinking of what bacteria they might catch — I think I’ve turned into a bit of a germaphobe in the last few years. But I enjoyed seeing their happy faces and taking pictures. The kids got a kick out of riding a motorcycle back to the top. Walking down was so tough, we agreed to pay 30 pesos each to ride the habalhabal (motorcycle)! Only King and my cousin Dencee hiked all the way up, back to the van.

We headed back to Cebu City after lunch, but not before passing by Carcar for some chicharon and locally made shoes, and Tabu-an market for dried fish and longganiza (sausages).

Click here for our awesome underwater video.

Click here to read about our first two days.

Family, FEATURED, THE BRAINY BUNCH, TRAVEL

Cebu, the Second Time Around

So we went to Cebu for my birthday! It was my second time to go.

My first time, in the summer of 2003, pre-King, was pretty memorable. We first went to Dumaguete to visit relatives at Silliman University. We also went to Bais to see dolphins and swim at this really nice white sand beach that disappears at high tide. We took the ferry from Dumaguete to Bohol to join family friends next, see the sights, and go island hopping and snorkeling. We then proceeded to Cebu so we could take the boat from Cebu to Cagayan de Oro, but due to some mishap, we had to stay overnight and take the plane instead. I only remember visiting Magellan’s Cross and the Taoist Temple, and my brother and I had fun hitting some balls at the nearby driving range with our dad. We even took a tricycle to and from the Waterfront hotel. In Cagayan de Oro, I went river tubing, jumped off a 20-foot (or more) bridge, hiked up a mountain and walked the canopy of some rainforest there. We went to Duka Beach Resort in Misamis Oriental for more snorkeling and canoeing sometime then. That was a packed vacation- definitely one of our many fun family memories!

This time, I went with King, the girls, and my mom. We stayed 3 nights in Crown Regency Hotel, so we could do their Skywalk and tower-to-tower Zipline, which turned out to be a complete bust because it rained the night we wanted to do it. They apparently close it down when it rains. We found out the next morning that they didn’t open till 2PM, and our flight was at 3:50PM. Bummer.

Anyway, we arrived the night of the 10th, checked in, and ate at my mom’s favorite restaurant, The Golden Cowrie. The one we went to, however, was the more “civilized” one since it was a new branch in the Ayala mall. They call it Hukad sa Golden Cowrie. Their food was good! Kare-kare, Blue Marlin, Sinigang na Hipon. Noelle and I especially liked their Chicharon Bulaklak haha!

The next day, we visited the Mactan Shrine and saw the Alegre guitar factory in Lapu-Lapu City. I found it pretty cool to be standing where our people fought with the Spaniards, where Lapu-lapu killed Magellan. I love that my girls learned some history.


The guitars at Alegre were beautiful! They use different kinds of wood to make their guitars, the most expensive of which is Maple wood. The ukelele I liked because of its dark wood, not that I play haha, costs 7,500 pesos. I guess it costs so much because it’s worth so much. My mom bought a junior guitar which cost 2,300 pesos. Danae is again inspired to learn to play. She wanted to buy her own, and Noelle wanted to buy the pink one just ’cause. They’re both okay with borrowing my mom’s for now.

We had lunch at CnT to try some of their famous lechon. Their food was almost wiped out by the time it was our turn to order. Their lechon was soft, tasty, and believe it or not, not fatty! The skin was crunchy with no layer of fat underneath it. It was good with just their soy sauce mix. Puso (rice wrapped in banana leaves) is popular in Cebu.


The rest of the afternoon was uneventful, except for our visit to Kenneth Cobonpue’s showroom and our purchase of some cool shirts at a souvenir shop. We did go to Magellan’s cross, Colon street, and the entrance of Fort San Pedro. We were tired and it started to rain hard, so we went back to the hotel without entering the Fort. The kids were excited to swim anyway.

Dinner was at Abuhan Restaurant. Their Pochero, which is Cebuano for Bulalo, was delicious! Super soft beef and yummy bone marrow! Even their Beef with Cauliflower and Pancit Canton were yummy. We decided to sleep early because the 12th, my birthday, was Oslob day!

More pictures here and here. 🙂