Friday, April 7, 2017

Sipalay’s Vivid Skies and Wonderful Attractions

The 6th instalment of Kite Flying Festival in Sipalay City was held last March 29, 2017 and I was lucky to have been part of the celebration being one of the judges along with other kite enthusiasts from all over the country. It was my first time in Western Visayas particularly in the province of Negros Occidental and I was impressed by the beauty of this place considered as the sugar capital of the Philippines because of its huge sugarcane plantations. The kite festival in Sipalay is its major tourism event and in fact it has received citation from Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines as Best Tourism Event in 2016. With that, I am extending my greetings and congratulations to the LGU of Sipalay and to Tourism Officer Miss Rhea Carbajosa.

For six years now the wide skies of Sipalay looks very intense and vivid because of the colourful kites occupying the horizon every last week of March. It has complimented very well with the festival venue made up of fine white sand, crystal clear waters and the warm people. By hosting the kite flying festival, the Sipalay City government is sending a strong message that kite flying is one of the fundamental components of the Filipino culture and a clear manifestation of Filipino creativity.

I was once into kite flying when I was a kid but I have not been able to sustain the urge of playing the game as my age progresses. I realized then that playing with kites could be a good venue to appreciate the simplicity of life. Another good thing about this stuff is the excitement and patience in continuously chasing for stronger winds to propel the kite way up to the skies. And with Sipalay now being home to kite flyers, there is no way for this city to go but up, up and away.

Meanwhile, I had at least two spare days in Negros Occidental which allowed me to discover the natural wonders and incredible tourist spots in the area. Along with my friend from Padada Czaldy Garrote and the members of Saranggolistang Pilipino (Kite Association of the Philippines), we were brought to some secluded islands in Sipalay. Some sites are really captivating and other spots there have semblance to Mindanao’s Bucas Grande Island. While cruising through the ocean several rock formations, islets, resorts and fisher folks graced us. At far north we saw the dominant mountain ranges of Negros Occidental.

I and Czaldy took a quick tour up northeast through a hired tricycle and visited Perth Resort, the famous site in Sipalay because of its infinity pool laid out opposite the Sulu Sea. What was surprising of the visit was the rainbow that appeared in the extreme western part that added another ingredient to the beautiful landscape of the place.

Just 2 kilometers from Perth Resort is the Tinagong Dagat Resort. Unlike Perth Resort, this one is pedicured with a little adrenalin theme by putting up foot trails in almost all slope portions of the resort for visitors to trek. Tinagong Dagat is literally patterned to the resort’s geographic feature where a lagoon was surrounded with the canopy of terrestrial borders and is being connected with wooden hanging bridge.

Another remarkable identity of Sipalay is the gorgeous sunset which serves as portal for the people to enjoy every single day. Young and old alike always flock to the beachfront and while we think of them being used to the scenery already, they do just the other way around. Their sunset is a stage to conclude the day. For tourists like me, the Sipalay sunset is always a source of good vibes.  

Four days are practically not enough to complete a Western Visayas trip. With the abundance of wonderful sites I guess I have to go back to this place anytime soon to explore other towns in my bucket list like Dumaguete, Guimaras, Iloilo and Siquijor. I have no regrets spending my four days in Sipalay. This underrated destination is actually now making Negros Occidental appealing to tourists from all over the world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Visiting Brunei Darussalam

I went to Brunei Darussalam last February 24-27 to participate to the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge 2017. This is the second time I ran outside the country. The first one was last year’s Standard Chartered Marathon in Hongkong. I was accompanied by a very good friend  Oliver Enot and two equally nice buddies from Manila JDV and JP.

The Beach Bunch Trail Challenge is one of the runs I considered as having a better technical organization. Following a successful attempt of the run last year, this year’s Beach Bunch Trail Challenge is accredited by the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in Europe and Hongkong’s Asia Trail Master. I took the 30-kilometer category and finished it with an unofficial time of 4 hours and 26 minutes.

The route was made up of 60 percent pavement and 40 percent beach lines, my first time running a beach trail. In an unprecedented case I suffered extreme pain in my left knee which I thought was brought by the accumulated force I exerted in running the fine sand of Beraka Trail. It is very hard running in a beach trail.  The extremely hot weather in Brunei added another physical strain but was complimented very well with the sufficient hydration stations provided by the organizers. All in all, my second international run gave me a different perspective in enduring running at a varied trail features.

Meanwhile, Brunei is a beautiful country. It is a sovereign state nestled on the north coast in the island of Borneo and a prominent neighbour of the Philippines. It is the only independent state in Borneo, the remainder of which being occupied by the nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. For several years it lived up to its position as the “Abode of Peace.” It is evident that the economic growth of Brunei is one of the bests in Southeast Asia being attributed to the country’s oil industry. Infrastructure development can be seen all throughout the city. The people in Brunei also exhibited extraordinary level of discipline, resulting to very minimal crime rate. This is what I usually observed for countries who had long been a British protectorate.

Prior to the actual event our team took advantage of touring around the city for purposes of seeing for ourselves the prevailing destinations that Brunei could offer. As an Islamic country with rich economy, the best mosque structures are found in Brunei. These are also their best assets in terms of tourism.

The most dominant of all the mosques we visited is the  Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It is an Islamic mosque located in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei. It is one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia Pacific region and is also considered a major historical site of Brunei.

Omar Ali Saifuddien is the 28th Sultan of Brunei and that the mosque is christened after him because it was built and constructed during his time that serves as an example of modern Islamic Architecture.

A famous identity of Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque is that its main dome is covered with pure gold. It stands 52 meters high and can be seen from almost everywhere in Bandar Seri Bawagan. The main minaret is the mosque’s tallest feature. In a unique way it mixes Renaissance and Italian architectural style (Wikipedia).

The second mosque we saw along the highway was the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. We just spotted it while on our way to Jerudong from Begawan. The structure is really eye-catching as it is Brunei’s largest mosque and its four minarets are visible from the highway standing tall over other neighbouring structures.

The last mosque that we visited is the Masjid Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam located in Kampung Jerudong, which is just walking distance from Starlodge Hotel. The mosque is painted white with several green strokes in its external facets, making it very attractive especially in the evening when it is blended with the assorted light colors. 

The mosques in Brunei are not just places of worships but are also the premier tourist destinations. With the country having only a total of 5,765 square kilometres land area, or 2 Davao Cities being fused together, there are no other tourist destinations it can offer other than beautiful buildings in Begawan and  other areas outside the commercial center. Here are some pictures of some structures I saw in Brunei out of that 3-day visit.

Among the many ASEAN countries Brunei might be a silent target in terms of tourism  but visiting it for learning purposes and to internalize Islam religion can be a loftier option. Also, this is a place of peace and for the peace-loving individuals, that is why staying here for 3 days or more can be very valuable.

FEW NOTES: Nightlife in Brunei can be boring for night persons. Drinking liquor there is a major offense which can be penalized by fine of 2,000 dollars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Splash out your way at Laswitan Lagoon

After completing a tour off Bucas Grande Island last February 18, our group took a 2-hour drive through the town of Cortes in Surigao del Sur for a side trip in Laswitan Lagoon, a household name among Mindanao travelers. We used the easier route via Carasscal, Cantila, Lanuza and Cortes before we reached the city of Tandag where we stayed overnight in Shacene Hotel. Along the way we were able to witness how mining activity ruined the mountains of Claver. I thought of it then that despite being one of the most lucrative industries, mining operations of the country should be reviewed. In it I see the motives of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez as valid and at the peak of everything because the mountains where open mining are hosted are fast depleting.

Meanwhile, Laswitan lagoon is located in Cortes, 25 kilometers from Tandag downtown and some 30 minutes ride. It is one of Cortes’ only jewel and is now being visited by people from all walks of life. What makes it really exciting is the splash created when strong waves from the other side of the rock formation approach, making it an instant waterfalls and then suddenly fade away. You need to wait for another period before the cycle appears again which define patience as a virtue for visitors in the place.

Unlike any ocean destinations where one prays for a calm weather and small waves, your prayer when you go to Laswitan is the exact opposite. The focal point of interest in the lagoon is the big waves so that the visit is worth. Laswitan is a local term which means a place where waves from the ocean touch a solid formation.

The water that splashes through the rock formations accumulates into a natural rock pool and serves as spot for visitors to dip into while waiting for series of wave squirting. The beautiful cobblestones surrounding the place added another interesting scenery which could be scaled only when waves are smaller so as not to suffer injuries.

From a broader standpoint, Laswitan is a gray structure that serves as an eye course to the Pacific Ocean. For a photographer like me, there are a lot of reasons to visit Laswitan, even without waves, because the rockscape alone is enough to illustrate a place nowhere else on earth can be found.  

The locals of Cortes told me that Laswitan became a spot for tourists only in 2013. When it was featured in several national television programs more and more people are now interested in visiting the place, which allowed them to also prepare as a tourism community. The LGU is now starting to develop support mechanisms to make it more accessible like maintaining the road leading to Barangay Madrelino.

With Laswitan now a new craze in tourism, why don’t you just visit there and Laswit your way for an exciting Surigao staycation.