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The Calayan islands: Chasing a Humpy Tale

In Adventure,Culture,Environment,Hiking /Trekking,Landscapes,People,Photography,Portraits,Travel on August 8, 2009 by ayshey

Bigger Fish

I got back fifteen days ago from a wonderful but exhausting trip to Aparri up north in the province of Cagayan Valley. We also ventured into the un-touristy areas of Camiguin and Calayan Islands–both part of the Babuyan Islands. In fact, the Philippine maps are wrong when they refer to these islands as the Babuyan islands when in fact, they are the Calayan Islands. I should look into this again soon just so I can be more firm about my facts.

We left the bedlam of a Florida bus station in Espana at 10:30 in the evening. We were waiting for H  who was late–should I say, again? But she arrived in time and we then settled back into our nice Super deluxe seats. J had the misfortune of being seated next to a hyperactive little boy who wanted to befriend everyone that night. The Holy Week season always sends stressed-out people from Manila into the places we call “provinces”. And so  the bus rolled out of Manila and into the highway to the North.

It was the usual gang of R,C, J,H and myself. R had this brilliant idea of looking into these islands that no one seems to know much about. She asked someone from her Makati office if anyone knew of the area where the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) volunteers had sighted the humpback whales, where they do research. Looking back now, I think R wasn’t really into the humpbacks really–and there was no promise that we would see any since it was already April and they usually come around the Philippine waters in February and March. The idea was just to check out the islands because we have never been there before  and it was a “let’s just see what the place has to offer”. I think that was the attitude. That was good enough for all of us.

Canon G10 performs

I had a Japanese dinner with N and T –it was almost their birthdays, these photographer friends of mine. And then Wena arrived with her brand new Canon G10 and there was a short lecture on how she can maximize her camera while on her Tibetan trip–yeah, this was  another adventurous Pinay friend who will be traveling on her own to China. It’s a trip i would also like to do. But that’s for another time.

We arrived in Aparri at noon the next day. We went straight to St Patrick’s Hotel. We got this idea of staying at this hotel in Aparri from a guy we met on the  bus. He seemed to be the team leader of a group of backpackers. St. Patrick’s was reasonably priced and it was AC! Aparri was terribly hot and any cool air was welcome. That evening, we bought our supplies for the next few days. We also bought lunch and bottles of water for our boat trip to Camiguin, our first island for the trip. We enjoyed  the sweet custard cakes at Criselda’s. Later,we  decided to buy big plastic bags at the market  to protect  our food supplies and our backpacks when we cross the big blue sea the next day. R had to work so she went to a nearby cyber cafe. The rest of us went back to the hotel to repack our stuff and to take our much needed showers. Wake up call the next day was at 4am but we put our alarms at 3:30am. Geeze.

Rock

Next morning, while our bodies wanted us to continue lying in, it was Day 1 of our journey to a place /places we had never been before. We gathered our packs and struggled down to the main lobby with our  plastic bags of  food ( vegetables,red and white eggs,canned goods of corned beef,sardines,a bottle of gin,etc. ). We were ferried to the pier by a white pick-up which was probably owned by one of the guests, we really didn’t ask anymore. It was 4am! The pier was dark and there were voices speaking in Tagalog. I could hear the locals saying in Ilocano that the small banca will be bringing the visitors to the bigger boat first. The rest of them will just have to wait. Hmmm. That was so Pinoy –to think of the “bisita” first before the locals. But it was the rule of the morning it seemed. We got on the small banca with our stuff. It was still dark but light was coming up soon in the distance. Then we were on the boat called The Saint Vincent. We sailed for Balatubat, Camiguin island at around 7:30am after a Coast Guard inspection. The other locals had to go down because we were too crowded. J sighed in relief. Maybe I should have too but I was too busy thinking of things to shoot, what the stories will be about.

Balatubat, Camiguin. It is the center of Camiguin island. It is also where we would be based for the rest of the days but we didn’t know that yet. We went straight to the house of Manang Awit whose husband was waiting for us. Manang Awit’s son Jun Jun helped us with our stuff as we got down the smaller boat to land on Camiguin. Manang Awit’s house was the usual base for WWF volunteers, we learned later. It had a kitchen,a bathroom, rooms and beds and plenty of water. It was also near the beach where we spent much time playing around with our cameras. It had  great sunsets too.

Camiguin is just like any island town in the Philippine archipelago. There were rice paddies, mountain vistas,a water falls (Tappao Falls), and a fiesta.We arrived on the day of their fiesta. We did not go out to check  the action later that night. We were tired and had agreed to go to Calayan island the next day after R talked to the boat captain…After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

That same afternoon we arrived, we went to eat halo-halo at the nearby center of town. The fiesta mood was just beginning and the ice drop, the junk food, and other food was being sold.

I will just post pix  here so the story will be more complete. Enjoy!

Wreck 1

Wreck 2

I spent much time shooting these metal parts from some ship or other. I enjoyed the quiet time i spent on the beach. Great travel. Thank you, Ranhel for fixing this trip. Much appreciated.

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Postcards

In Adventure,Culture,People,Photography,Travel on June 7, 2008 by ayshey Tagged:

Sipalay Negros, 2008

H in Lobuche, on the way to the Everest Base camp


Banaue, Ifugao. 2005

Carmen , San Francisco. 2004

Embarcadero, SF. 2004

Atlantic City, 2004

Atlantic City, 2004

NYC, 2004

NYC, 2004Subway NYC 2004


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On Travel

In Adventure,Culture,Photography,Travel on June 6, 2008 by ayshey Tagged:

I have been looking at where I’ve been all this time. I realize I’ve traveled to places but still want to go off and check out some more new ones. So far, I’ve been to rural and urban Mindanao–and it is a fascinating place of people and landscape. And in the Cordillera, I feel at home. The sheer beauty of the pine-clad mountains and the clouds above summits where we would sometimes pitch our tents, are always inspiring. In the Visayas, I like the warmth of the people–it’s always a joy as a traveler and a photographer.

Then there’s Nepal where I have been blown away by the massiveness of the Himalayas. As a longtime outdoor enthusiast,seeing the snowcapped mountains was a dream fulfilled last year. That was a trip that will still be in my mind for years to come. I traveled with friends but I decided to stay behind to look beyond the picture perfect snow mountains of Nepal. Bangladesh was also a joy for me as an imagemaker. I think there’s a special alertness and awareness in you as a traveler when you’re alone. I think its because you know you are dealing with each experience purely on your own instincts. I think it is always exciting and very enriching. There’s a lot to be said about solo travel.

The first time I did the Bangkok- Cambodia trip in 2005 was also an eye-opener for me. It was beautiful to be immersed in the Southeast Asian cultures I found. There was rarely any English spoken except when Caucasians were my fellow travelers. I still have to do Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos,etc. The list goes on for SEA.

In the summer of 2004, I traveled with my camera and backpack across the United States after finishing a photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was about 7am, I remember when I dragged my backpack from that busy hostel ( forgetting to leave my room keys–sorry ) to the quiet roadside and waited for a ride. Then I decided to hitch a ride with a young woman in a green car. She asked me where I was going and I simply said the nearest Greyhound bus station . She said that next time, I should not just flag down any car because you never know. I nodded but I was just grateful someone brought me to the station. Then I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona. I joined a 50USD tourist trip to the the Grand Canyon ( it’s awesome–as Americans would say) , then I switched to the Amtrak and went on past several small towns until I got to Chicago (at the Union Station, I left my bags inside a rental locker ) and I had the chance to walk around and check out the “Windy City”. I liked Chicago. Then I got back on the train and went to New York City. I arrived at Penn station at 3 am. It was too early to call a friend who I was supposed to meet so I put my arms around my backpack and pulled my lightstand close by and slept till 7am. Glad it was ac . I called my friend at 7am and before 8am I was eating breakfast at R’s studio apartment near Central Park. Nice place.

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Mt Ampacao, Sagada and Mt Polis, Bauko

In Adventure,Culture,Hiking /Trekking,Travel on February 1, 2008 by ayshey

sagada cemetary 2007

sagada cemetary 2007

boys in bauko 2007

boys in bauko 2007

The bridge to Suyo.
Ricefields in Suyo as you go up to Data and Sabangan.
Houses in Data/ Sabangan.
View from Polis. Tadian on the extreme right.
Bagnen town. Never imagined I would get here.

G and I made last minute preparations to go to Sagada on the last week of December to escape the city’s noise during the New Year. We wanted to trek and smell the roses and not the smoke and smog of firecrackers! Sure, there were no roses–more like rice terraces and mountain vistas, blue skies and pine trees. Wow. Fresh air too. Anyway, off we went to Autobus on Espana and took the 10 pm trip. Funny how Manila “arty” folks like to “id” their “friends”. Some guy smiled back at me simply because I was smiling at everyone inside the bus–and said “Ateneo?” Hahaha. Hindi po. Peyups po. So fucking what? But I just smiled. Anyways, I am getting sidetracked. So, we got to Banaue at around 8am. It is really a slow trip. Literally. I couldn’t sleep. G was seated next to this nice guy from Banaue who was probably texting his gf and his mobile was always beeping. It annoyed G and she said to him with a sweet smile” please lang, paki-silent mode mo lang ha–gusto ko matulog kasi.” He did. But it was maybe just a few minutes of peace when we heard this boy screaming” San na tayo?”. We were on the Dalton Pass, boy! G and I wanted to throw the boy out the window! I think maybe the city has deranged him.

We got to Banaue, ate at Las Vegas hotel and looked out to the fantastic view of the terraces outside. Our breakfast was red rice and some vegetable dish. We then hiked up to the jeep station where we got a Sagada-bound jeep.He was going to pick up some passengers who had contracted him. He wanted us to pay P300 until Sagada but we said we would get off at Bontoc to see the Igorot Museum. We left and were a kilometer or so from Banaue when we picked up two white guys who were probably in their late 40s. They grinned and said hello. G and I were the only passengers. They were a bit flirty and engaged us in banter. Sometimes we would laugh at their jokes and smile. Other times G and I would lapse back in Tagalog and talk about our hiking plans.
We reached Bontoc but decided against going to the Museum because we wanted to get to Sagada early. Maye we would check out the museum on our way back. We reached Sagada at 4pm. We got down and quickly went to check if Mr Daoas’ inn had a vacancy ( I forget the name of his inn now but it overlooks the market and sits on that corner when you walk up to go to Lake Danum). There was no vacancy. We then walked down till we saw steps going down to a nice looking house-the Olabinan Inn of Manang Hilda. We booked a room and were quite pleased with the room. The bathroom was great too! After we had dinner at this place that used to be partly owned by Koreans and which was few minutes from our lodging place, we slept a good sleep.It was cold! We woke up early and put our baon of sandwiches and water for our hike to Ampacao. It was a nice hike too because this time,we were able to follow the correct trail to lake Danum. Last time, R and Lester got lost but we were able to reach Lake Danum anyway. That was in 2005, I think.

The Trail to Mt. Polis. At dinner that night,we seemed to be the only people wanting to go hiking on January 1st.We looked again at the route pasted on the resto wall describing Mt Polis. Next day we checked out Suyo and asked an old lady there if it was possible to reach Mt. Polis via Suyo. She said yes. G and I had a great time looking for the trail leading to Mt Polis –a mountain that no longer sits on Sagada turf but is on Bauko instead. But we didn’t know that earlier. We woke up bright and early on January 1 and put on our trek clothes, grabbed our small daypacks ( G had a cute bear hanging from the back of her denim pack). Manang Hilda from the Olabihnan Lodge would later worry about us because there was one guest who was a Caucasian guy who came back late at night from Mt Polis. He got lost. Well, we didn’t. Here’s our route — Suyo to Nacagang—to Data Sabangan–to Bagnen (Bauko proper) –to Gutang–to Balintoogan–to Bugang and then finally to Ambasing. Nice.

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How Grey was your Adventure? A Pinatubo Story

In Adventure,Environment,Hiking /Trekking,Travel on December 12, 2006 by ayshey Tagged:





At the unholy hour of 3am, Jette and I were woken up by Sally’s call from her cellular phone. I imagined her saying “Jette,we’re here at Pasay Victory terminal na…”. Jette confirmed it as I stood up from the floor bed where I was camped for the night at Jette’s cute apartment. It was time to go meet the rest for Pinatubo adventure. I gathered my things,went to the bathroom and changed into my outdoor clothes. In a few minutes, I had stuffed ziplocked cooked rice into our packs. Jette, the team leader of our adventure, and myself- the photographer were ready to go. We took a cab to the bus terminal and met the rest of the 35 plus trekkers for this Pinatubo dayhike which we had organized. With the cool air and raindrops sliding down our backpacks , I felt the adventure already begin.

At Victory Liner Pasay terminal, many of Jette’s friends had already arrived. Edsel, Alex and Dennis who are some of my photo friends were there toting their camera bags. The atmosphere was one of excitement. But it was drizzling and I was a bit unsure about the weather. Heia, our co-organizer who had called Mang Edwin (the 4×4 jeep driver) the night before said everything was fine and that it wasn’t raining in the Pinatubo area . Again, Heia, wanting to make sure that heavy rain wasn’t pouring in the morning of our adventure, called Mang Edwin from the Victory Liner station just to check. It was 3:30 am. Again, the answer was satisfactory. So, we piled into the Victory Liner bus and got comfortable. Identification cards were distributed just so people would at least get acquainted. I noticed many corporate types (forgive the term-I was one too) in the participants and concluded that people from the city really needed to get away from the concrete jungle once in a while. I hoped the day would be magical for us all.

Philip,Leander,Riza,Clinton in Dau.We arrived in Dau at exactly 6 am. The 4×4 jeeps were all ready and waiting for us. After a quick briefing from team leader Jette for the transpo assignments, we also had to announce a delay because the group’s lunch had not yet arrived. It was in a separate car driven by our friend Roskie who was also our cook. The delay turned into an hour. By then, I was fidgeting and impatient with the turn of events even if Chincha, our fourth co-organizer and food preparation head was in that car with Roskie. People were naturally wondering what had happened. We found out later that the food folks had gotten lost and took the route to Mabalacat and ended up in Santa Ines. Geeze. So that was not a good thing. X mark for us, you might say.

Our 4×4 driver Mang Minyong had to gas up and so we drove off to Petron together with Mang Edwin,the head driver. But minutes after driving off ahead of us, we saw that Mang Edwin had parked on the side of the road and was on his cellphone. He had just received word that two 4×4 jeeps that had gone ahead to Pinatubo with foreign guests were asked to turn back by the Philippine Airforce. Whaaaaaaaaat? Darn. What now?


Jette talks to the Major. Jette, who was on another vehicle had to be informed about the events.Then she asked to talk to the Airforce guy who was in command. Communication was choppy. In the end, when we saw the skies turning a nice light yellow on the east, we thought it best to just proceed to the Pinatubo hot springs at least. There we could probably negotiate for a positive response to our request to climb Pinatubo. We did throw the idea of going to JEST in Subic as an alternative plan just in case we wouldn’t get past the Airforce command. But Pinatubo was the reason we were all together that Sunday and maybe we could persuade the guy who was in charge of the Pinatubo area.

We all drove to a barangay that was closest to the Airforce Major’s headquarters. Jette and Roskie were tasked to go and negotiate with the major. After an hour, they came back and said we had been allowed but up to a certain area only. The skies were still grey and gloomy and so were some of the faces that I could see from the open 4×4 windows. I had already scratched out the blue skies and green water pictures from my mind. I was thinking that maybe the landscapes would be better in black and white.

We drove on again past carabaos grazing in the field, Aeta families walking to and from their homes with the children grinning at us from the road, and a landscape of wide rivers,lahar sand and slight jagged mountains that were the beginning of the Pinatubo terrain. As I gazed out of the 4×4 jeep, I remembered trekking the Pinatubo trail via Zambales a few years ago. That trek was not as wide nor as lonely as the vista we were now seeing.

I guess I think it’s lonely because you notice how a person can simply be a small dot on the horizon in a landscape like that.

The rest of the land is stamped clear as Mother Nature’s turf.

At a certain place called Durungawin,we were met by 3 Airforce personnel who had feared that we would ignore their command and just drive on. Their detachment was just nearby. From there, they raidioed their headquarters and said that we had arrived and were just looking around. Many of the would-be trekkers got down from their 4x4s and brought out their cameras and walked around to see what the place was about. I felt heavy disappointment in my heart. This was an unexpected situation. The 4×4 drivers had driven guests before under worst weather. If it was just drizzling, why must we be kept from climbing to the crater?


A few hours later—after playing in the lahar sand, we came back to the Airforce detachment which was next to an Aeta village and met the man who had asked us not to proceed to Pinatubo. His name was Major “Hellboy”. Major “Hellboy” announced that we are not allowed to climb Pinatubo. Well, why not,Major Hellboy?…I don’t need to ask the reason why he is called that. Anyway, he explained that there were students who had been rescued a few weeks ago and that took a lot of effort on their part. I guess, in other words, he didn’t want to do the same thing for a bunch of Manila tourists who were raring to go up the volcano. Bad trip, I thought! In the Philippines, the military have a way of lording it over even the local government units. And that’s an understatement. There’s also this certain view of things emanating from a particular mindset–maybe from their barracks environment, perhaps? But that’s another issue altogether…Sigh.

We ate Roskie’s menu of delicious chicken adobo, steamed vegetables, ensaladang talong,grilled porkchops (which was supposed to have been the surprise dinner for everybody), and fried bangus. There was enough food for all and the military personnel got to eat too plus the untouched food were given to the Aeta families in the village.

Although the sight of the Aeta families peeping at us from their huts also made me think. The Aetas there live in the barest minimum possible

After lunch, when everyone seemed to have had a fill, Jette announced that instant coffee would be available. We brought out the Salazar goodies of brownies, choclate cupcakes and other breads. Those that had a sweet tooth made a beeline for the sweets. In dire situations like that, instant coffee could be gold. Maybe because it was cooked mountaineer-style on an MSR stove?

Then it was time to visit Tambo Lake, which was formed after the Pinatubo eruption. It was a 45-minute drive from where we were through the same rough terrain. The Tambo Lake was suggested as a small way to make up for not being able to get up to the Pinatubo crater. And it is usually bypassed during normal Pinatubo treks by the DOT or the local tourism unit.So, it was a good chance to see it. Even with the grey weather still hovering above us, it was a nice treat to see a freshwater lake in the vicinity. Normally, I’d already be splashing about or swimming and having fun in a lake like that on a bright f16 day. But not that day . So we all wandered around with our cameras. I photographed some local women fishing. Then there were Aeta families just standing around near us. They had their children with them. But there was not much time to linger and get to know them.Maybe I could document their life near the world-famous volcano sometime.

After Tambo lake, we all got in the 4x4s again and headed for the Victory Bus terminal in Dau, Pampanga. It was back to the city, to the reality of a Manila life of jobs, bosses, deadlines, traffic, smog, business concerns, email, mind-deadening television, and the general routine of the weekend warrior. But we had plans of coming back to reach the Pinatubo goal next time. Maybe it will be blue skies and green crater lake water by then.

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Junko Tabei, 1st Woman Climber to Everest in Mt Apo

In Adventure,Hiking /Trekking,Inspirational,Travel on October 21, 2006 by ayshey



Junko Tabei on top of Mt Apo. December 2005

Everest team leader Regie Pablo sent me an interesting text one morning in December 2005. He had made arrangments for Japanese climber Junko Tabei-the first woman to summit Everest in 1975,to join the First Philippine Everest Team in a climb to MtApo, the country’s highest peak. I jumped at the chance! It had been a while since my last climb to any major summit in the country but I was confident since I had trekked various routes to Mt Apo before. Climbing also with the Pinoy Everest team was not new. I had been in one climb or other with many of them in the past. We were all members of a local mountaineering network called MFPI. I was more worried about taking photographs while trekking with a famous woman climber! What gear to bring? What if it rains? Will I bring film as well? Will the digital withstand the cold on Apo? I was excited.


Lake Macadac.

So we first met Junko Tabei at the NAIA on the day she arrived from Japan. It was also our flight to Davao that day. I was surprised to find a trim 63 year-old woman coming towards us. She looked strong and brimmed with positive energy. The climb would certainly be interesting for all of us.


Junko Tabei nears the summit.


One of the several routes to the summit.
We waited a little more for the Pinoy group to arrive. Expedition leader Art Valdez, Dr.Ted Esguerra, Janet Bellarmino-one of three women climbers of the team, JB Anonuevo, Ariel Amabayec, Larry Honridez, Regie Pablo, Fred Jamili and myself would meet up with the Mindanao group when we reached Davao. Christopher Eyao or Tupe and Rey Sumagaysay would be at the airport to meet us. It was a short flight to Davao and uneventful but we met up with the whole team at the Davao airport and got whisked to Kidapawan right away. We were going to climb the easiest and quickest route to the summit. It seems that people had only a few days to spend on this climb and then it was back to the urban jungle again! But it was a climb worth remembering because it made me feel proud climbing with a woman who has spent her life climbing the many important summits of the world.