Bel-is: My Newfound Paradise

My Holy Week break this year has been memorable because I got the chance to come home in the province (Pandan, Antique) to be with my parents and siblings. Even if it’s just for a few days, still, the fact that your parents are happy to see you home and relaxing together with them are priceless. It also eases homesickness, which I still feel even if they are just a plane away.

I went home Maundy Thursday, around noon time, so that I don’t have to join the massive exodus of passengers going to the province which starts around Wednesday night until Thursday morning. It was also because I want to rest a little on Thursday morning before I fly out of Manila. Besides, I am not in a hurry because the flight only lasts 45 minutes (via Kalibo, Aklan).

The whole of Thursday and Friday I was only at home for the observance of the Holy Week. The town of Pandan, Antique (like any typical town) is devoutly Catholic and no merry-making should be done on those two holy days, to observe the death of Jesus Christ.

On Black Saturday, we are allowed to at least get some sun and sand because it is the eve of the resurrection (Easter Sunday). Besides, I am going back to Manila the following day and I don’t want to go back without some tan.

Panay Island, which comprises the provinces of Iloilo, Guimaras, Capiz, Aklan and Antique, is gifted with beautiful white beaches and abundant sea foods. The most famous beach tourist spot, Boracay, is in Panay, located in the town of Malay, Aklan. It is situated at the northern tip of Panay, bordering Antique. See the map.

I decided not to drop by Boracay because it is very crowded during Holy Week break. And I don’t like crowded places. So what I did was gather my high school friends in Pandan that time and go some beach which remains unexplored and not discovered.

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We were deciding on two beaches: Mararison Island (in Culasi, Antique) and Bel-is (in Buruanga, Aklan). Since Mararison is an island, we prefer Bel-is because it is more accessible (and nearer). From my hometown of Pandan, Antique, we rented a van going to Buruanga, Aklan via Libertad (Antique). It took us just an hour for the travel because the road is already paved. The scenery outside of the van is breathtaking because the blue sea is very inviting.

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My friends and I have never been there, so we have to ask (read: research) some basic facts about the place. Do we need to bring our own food? How remote or accessible is it? Are there resorts in the area? Things like that. To make the preparation part short, we bring our own food (picnic style), and sun block!

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We keep our expectations low on the place, all we know is that it is a white sand beach. When you google “Bel-Is” only one postcard type picture will appear. In short, not much visitors go there. A friend told me that the famous Ariel’s Point is located within the area, and that makes me excited because I saw an episode in Sports Unlimited featuring the place. But that was years ago.

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Going to Bel-is requires riding a motorized banca. It is not an island away from the main Panay, but because the place is rocky and mountainous, the best way to access the place is through sea. There is road going there, but the terrain is not car-friendly. It took us about 30 minutes to reach our first beach. From the banca, you can really see the clean, greenish water. A sight to behold.

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There are residents in the area, but only a handful. They are mostly fishermen. They are so blessed to witness nature’s beauty daily.

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The weather is perfect when we went there. The sun is out, not much cloud, and the blue sky envelops the water. The corals below are also visible. The sand is white, powdery even. It reminds me of Boracay during my childhood, when it is still unexplored, with no electricity. In Bel-is though, there are already resorts but these are just of low-quality. One of those we went to even have dilapidated facilities, a reminder that the place is not maximized. What a waste. Maybe the Aklan government can help in promoting this spot.

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Overall, we did not err when we choose Bel-is as our point of destination for Holy Week break. If the pictures are beautiful, it don’t hold justice when you see it real. That’s how beautiful the place is.

I am lucky to be residing in a place where all these beautiful natural resources abounds, and accessible. I will definitely go back there. Maybe with my Manila friends in tow? Before it becomes another Boracay, of course.

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Bugang River

Bugang River is voted consistently as one of the cleanest rivers in the Philippines. It is located in Pandan, Antique where I came from.  It deserves all the accolades because from the looks itself, it makes you want to throw away your shirt and jump over the cold water.

Yep, the water is cold because its source is  a cold spring where another famous place is located, Malumpati.

Last Easter Sunday, I invited some friends to dip in this river because the weather is just so humid and warm. Perfect time to go swimming, and since I already did sea swimming the previous day in Phaidon, a river swim is well-deserve.

They say that the famous Pasig River used to be as clean as this 100 years ago. I was fortunate to experience swimming in a clean river on this day and age of environmental decadence. I hope that the local government, and with the cooperation of local stakeholders, will maintain the cleanliness of this precious gift from God.

Summer Escape 2012 (Phaidon)

This year’s Holy Week break comes with a free one day extension because the Monday after Easter is a regular non-working holiday in the Philippines. That makes it five days of free time.

I decided to come home to the province in Pandan, Antique to recharge from the busy and stress of work life in Manila. Besides, I did not came home last Christmas break (2011) so it really was fitting and deserving to come home.

Aside from observing the cultural practice of a boy reared in Catholic upbringing, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is reserve for Church-related activities and reflection.

On Black Saturday, I invite some friends who also went home to go to Phaidon, just within our town. This resort is always my favorite get-to place because Boracay is already crowded, especially this Holy Week. Phaidon is secluded and with few guests (mostly foreigners), the beach is exclusively for me for the taking.

The sand is not as white as Boracay’s but its comparable in terms of pureness and powdery. It has an excellent sunset, too.

You can visit Phaidon’s official site here for more details.

I am blessed to be born in a place where fine beaches abode, and forest relatively intact for its residents to enjoy and explore.

Singapore Swing (Day 1)

The Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2011 is my first run outside Manila. And it takes months to prepare. I knew that this marathon opens its registration online around June 2011, but I cannot register then because my passport expired, and I need to get one. I immediately apply for a passport renewal in DFA so that I can register in the next 30 days (Passport # is a requirement in the registration if you are non-SG resident).

After I have my renewed passport, I immediately enroll online for the half marathon (21K) category. It’s a little expensive if you compare it to Philippine Peso, but my decision is final—I want to join an international race at least once this 2011. After the online registration, the next step is to buy plane tickets. I decided to purchase that of Air Philippines Express, the budget carrier of Philippine Airlines. It is the only budget carrier that flies directly into Changi Airport Terminal 2. The rest of the budget carriers (like Cebu Pacific, Tiger, Air Asia) dock in Budget Terminal Airport in Singapore. Yes, even the airport is being put into consideration. My plane ticket costs me roughly P8,000 roundtrip (net). That is exactly the same fare as, say, you want to go to Davao. Plane tickets going to nearby countries are affordable now.

So on a good Friday afternoon (December 02), I pack my bag and running shoes and go to Singapore. This will be a short trip (just the weekend), and I want to spend it as much meaningful as possible. I arrived in Singapore around 8.30pm of Friday, after a 3 hours and 20 minutes flight time. Immigration is a breeze, and I was not even ask by the officer. She just stamp my passport with a tourist pass. I immediately get my luggage then headed out of the airport.

I stayed with my friend there so accommodation expenses is not a problem. After we check out of the airport, we hop into the taxi and went straight to Makan Sutra Gluttons Bay for late dinner. It’s a hawkers area, but the food are just sumptuous and really good. We ordered fried rice, garlic shrimp, squid, and kangkong. Wash them all with sugarcane juice, which I must say is a newfound discovery (at least for me).

But I just have to say that there are a lot of Filipinos now there than two years ago. It’s like you never left Manila.

More of Singapore on my next blog entry.

TGIF: Ayala Triangle

Last Friday was my first time to eat in Wee Nam Kee inside the Ayala Triangle Garden complex. I am looking forward to this because of two reasons: 1) the famous dancing lights in the area (see picture), 2) free dinner of my younger sister.

The whole park is packed; could be due to the start of the weekend and the Christmas lights which is gaining attraction.

Even the restaurants located in the park are full. We have to wait.

I ordered Hainanese Chicken (steamed), their famous delicacy in Wee Nam Kee. My sister ordered broccoli in garlic and fried squid, which is also a must-try. The price is a little bit steep considering the small servings of the dishes. I hate their ice tea, a small glass but price at P40.

For ambiance, you might choose a day or night where its not crowded. But with the onset of Christmas, I guess, everyday is crowded there.

Bring your friends or family so you can enjoy the atmosphere there.

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Special Acoustic Evening with Jason Mraz

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It was a good night last night as I watch the special acoustic concert of Jason Mraz and his buddy Toca Rivera at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. The whole coliseum is jampacked, and was full up to the roof. An affirmation, indeed, that Mr A-Z has huge legion of fans here. This is actually a four-city Asian trip and Manila is his first in the itinerary. He will perform tomorrow (Nov 1) in Taipei, then Thailand and Bali, Indonesia.

The energy is really awesome, and the roar and thunder inside makes you deaf. And once he starts going to the stage, and plays his guitar, damn, the audience can’t stop joining him singing! Especially to his famous songs like The Remedy, You and I Both, Lucky and I’m Yours.

He looks like a travelling shaman donning a PEACE shirt, and a bandana. Which is true to his acoustic theme concert, which is more appropriate in a beach setting while the audience is holding an ice cold beer and cocktails.

Now, I am syncing all his songs in my iPod. Hangover.

*from imogen_ph