Bone-chilling cold, 14% beers, and the 9-hour trek to Pulag

So here we are, after 10 years of living in Baguio — our first time in this part of the Cordillera.

So like everyone else in our group — two from Manila, one who’s just come home from two years in Saudi Arabia — Owen and I didn’t know a thing about what was waiting for us. Part of us was counting on a decade’s worth of living in the Baguio cold to withstand whatever awaited in the mountains of Pulag, but as the day wore on, as thick fog descended on our candy-colored tents and as darkness crept in, so did a kind of chill that was strange even to us.

Pulag, Benguet

We love the occasional serious adventure, and this — our year’s first trip — was as serious as any can get. We had everything every self-respecting tourist would have in serious times like this: emergency blankets (the flashy, noisy ones that will probably save you from the cold but not from the guilt of sleeping very noisily), sleeping bags, headlamps, a hundred layers of clothing, and the thickest damn jacket the ukay-ukay at Harrison can give.

Of course, apart from our stash of Andok’s chicken and Jollibee burgers, we also had beer to ward the cold off. Owen brought these canned Royal Dutch beers with 14% alcohol content in them — which turned out to be quite the perfect choice: very potent at a far less baggage. It was enough to give us a few hours of shut-eye (could have been more had one group of pesky tourists not decided to go shouting at midnight).

Pulag, Benguet

Pulag, Benguet

We were to start our trek at 1 AM directly from the Ranger Station where we were camped (the usual camping grounds halfway up the summit having been closed earlier due to heavy rains). Yep, we were going all the way to Pulag in one go. And back.

The reality of what we were doing dawned with every step we took in the darkness, with every layer of clothing that we slowly peeled away as we began to feel the brunt of the steady climb. For four hours, we walked seeing nothing but patches of mud in front of our feet — the only view that our headlamp could afford us. There was no sightseeing, no picture-taking.

Up we climbed, along endless grassy paths and slopes that steadily went from manageable to miserable. The last few minutes passed by in a fit of feverish climbing, all muscle pain forgotten as we pushed farther and faster, because the first of the morning was breaking in a gigantic sliver of orange. We didn’t go through all that trek only to reach the peak late.

And yet, we did not see the sea of clouds of Pulag.

We did see the sun rise, yes. But this sunrise was borne out of a clear day, its rays bathing us all gold — the grass, the slopes, the countless groups of people who had climbed with us that Tuesday morning. Its warmth was welcoming, glorious even. We sat there, looking over the vast mountains of the Cordillera as they slowly took shape.

And then it was all over in a few minutes. We sat there, pink-faced from the cold and sore from the climb. We devoured stone-cold fried chicken shortly after, trying not to think too much of the very long way back.

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Mt Pulag National Park, Philippines / Nikka Corsino - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

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Photos by Owen and Nikka / Last photo by Ed Catapia
Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE.

Guide to biking around southern Batan Island, Batanes

Just because it took us 12 hours to bike around southern Batan Island does not mean the whole thing is such a pain in the arse (well, it really was, literally) and that you shouldn’t do it. You can, and for the record, you don’t need ninja biking skills to pull this one off. The roads of Batan Island are generally good, there will always be locals around to help you in case you run into trouble, and the route is easy to navigate even without a guide.

Biking around Batan Island, Batanes - Two2Travel.com
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Biking for 12 hours in Batanes

“Bakit ulit natin ginagawa ito?! Leche!!!” I exclaimed to Owen as I pushed my bike farther up against loose gravel.

We have been at it for nearly an hour, and before this, have been biking our muscles sore for 11 hours.

Our goal was to bike all around Batan Island starting from Basco, moving south to Mahatao, taking an inland detour to Diura Fishing Village, and then going back to Mahatao town proper to push farther south to the towns of Ivana, Uyugan, Itbud, and finally make the ascent back north to Marlboro Country and emerge at Mahatao town proper again.

“Biking

But by this time, we were already so tired, we were in the middle of nowhere, it was nearing dark, and only the wind or cows or goats could hear whatever pleas we had. We had two choices: continue the hike to get back to Mahatao by nightfall (there were no lampposts and only dense forests along the way) or whimper like kids in the middle of the mountains.

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Diving with thresher sharks in Malapascua, Cebu

We had a lot of reservations before finally taking the plunge—literally—to Monad Shoal in Malapascua, northern Cebu to see its thresher sharks.

diving with malapascua's thresher sharks
This tiny island barangay is the only place in the entire world where sightings of this shark species are regular and gratification for those who make the trip is thus fairly guaranteed. But our lack of diving experience—and confidence in taking that plunge to Monad Shoal—was something we still had to deal with. The biggest creature we’ve seen in the few dives we’ve done before this was a meter-long sea turtle in Apo Island. That was definitely a far cry from a shark encounter. Once it had become clear though that we were allowed to dive if we really wanted to, we decided to give it a go.
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5 lessons from trekking to Casaroro Falls in Negros Oriental

Accounts online described the road to Casaroro Falls as “death-defying” and “very rough”. The road was clearly not something your average motorbike driver can negotiate, so driving there, when we’ve barely survived Busuanga, was out of the question.

It turned out the road wasn’t nearly as bad as Coron’s—the drive was a lot shorter (no more than 20 minutes), and thankfully, our driver let us walk the (short) path up the craggy slope while he practically walked the motorbike up.

TWO2TRAVEL | Casaroro Falls
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Surfing like it’s the end of the world

December 21, 2012 didn’t look like the right day to learn anything new, thanks (or no thanks) to John Cusack’s mad limo driving skills.

We don’t know about you, but we did spend the good part of the year before that wondering what would indeed happen. We were curious if, indeed, nature will all kill us off by some cosmic freak accident.

But then that Friday came and we found ourselves chugging ice-cold orange juice and facing the sea (which didn’t look like it was about to swallow us whole), contemplating on one thing: surfing.

TWO2TRAVEL | La Union | Surfing in San Juan




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POSTCARDS: Cloud 9 surfer PJ Alipayo in San Juan, La Union

Surfer from Cloud 9, Siargao PJ Alipayo pulls off an impressive aerial—a maneuver where the surfer and his board is momentarily suspended in midair—at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union.

DSC_6306

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Carless in Ilocos

This year, we went to Ilocos without a car.

TWO2TRAVEL | Ilocos Norte | Paoay Church

As anybody who’s been here knows very well, going around Ilocos is pretty straightforward with private transport, all thanks to nicely paved roads and sparse traffic.

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