Epochal love affair (Benguet, Ifugao and Mt. Pulag)

Earth Day 1996. From Baguio, I tagged along behind the Ace Bikers, a group of mountain bikers, who dared pedal their stiffys (hardtail bikes) on one of the killer roads in the world, the main artery of the Cordillera road system, the Halsema Highway (at a time when the winding road was at its worst), to Mt. Data Hotel (110 km) on the first day, and continue the grueling ascent to Sagada (60 km) via dirt road on the next day to complete the first Baguio-Sagada Bike Challenge organized by Padma Lim Perez of Solana’s Manna. A frickin’ adventure for all us that soon ignited a love affair with the Cordillera Mountains. The road trip will be forever etched in my memory. It was freaky, but tremendously fun! I don’t even know where to start if I list down all the weighty elements.The daring mister was a big influence in my burgeoning career as a professional adventurer. An offshoot of Ace Bikers — in the year 1999, together with Benny Arce, they masterminded the establishment of the Province of Ilocos Norte Adventurers, Kampers Bikers and Eco-Tourism Group, otherwise known as PINAKBET (it was Benny who coined the acronym), but eventually left the group in 2004 to form the LEAD Movement or the Laoag Eco-Adventure Development Movement, which specializes in ecotourism development.The photo above says we went back to Sagada in 1999. It would have been a lot sooner had I not given birth to my fourth baby. We brought along two kids and the other two were left at home. That trip on our first Land Cruiser, an F40, was extra bumpy and excruciatingly  long. Halsema Highway was still as freaky as ever.We stayed once more at the St. Joseph Inn, a pretty comfortable inn run by nuns. The kids were still too small for extreme adventure, so we just walked around town, let them see the hanging coffins and drove to places like the Sagada Weaving Center, Lake Danum and nearby Bontoc, where my Chinese-Igorot relatives live.

We always ate at the cafe in the inn. The employees soon became our friends. Food had to be ordered in advance. Our standard eat was pork chop with buttered vegetables. Although there weren’t many food options available, everything from the kitchen was obviously fresh, deliciously organic and affordable.

The weather is cool, but can get chilly when it rains. Rustic-but-lovely Sagada is a place where one can temporarily liberate himself/herself from all the trappings of a citified life. Surprisingly, there’s nothing more refreshing than a cold water bath in the morning!That’s the Mangapit Suspension Bridge in Cagayan. From Sagada, we traveled back to Ilocos through Isabela and Cagayan. It was one hell of a ride in the middle of summer! I really can’t figure out how the kids and I managed to survive at the back of the cruiser.A true adventurer isn’t whiny. I can get a little whiny, but only for a while, and then I crave for more — and so we went to Sagada anew. On this trip, we stayed overnight in Banaue.We didn’t make it to Batad, but we were able to get a fine view of the world-renowned Ifugao Rice Terraces at the view deck for tourists. There were apparent changes in Sagada. All the hotels seemed full, there was cell phone coverage and there were more eateries around. We ate yummy homemade yogurt with preserved strawberries at the Yogurt House and gourmetish hard-crusted bread, baked by a Frenchman, at Alfredo’s.

This was my baby’s first long trip. The baby and I stayed behind, while the mister, my good friend Ona and the rest of the group went spelunking in Sumaging Cave. I slept my ass off, well, so that there is something new if and when I go back again. Oh, this time around, we had the luxury of a hot water shower.November 11, 2004. My LEAD Movement buddies and I hied off to Mt. Pulag National Park. The borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya meet at Pulag’s peak. We passed by the Ambuklao Dam on our way to the Ranger Station (along the Ambangeg Trail), where we were given a seminar on the donts in the park and the Leave No Trace creed.Who would have thought that I could reach the second highest peak in Luzon and the third in the Philippines? Out of more than 50 climbers, I clocked in fourth. I know climbing mountains shouldn’t be a race, but hell yeah, momma! I’m  proud of my little achievement — 2922 m ASL!Sadly, these are my only photos of the climb. The endemic flora at the different forests were fabulous. Frozen, all I could think of was climb and climb until I reach the summit Thank God, he created bushes! Sue me, I think I even peed on my pants. My mountain guide was excellent! HHWW ang peg. Oh, and thanks to Boyet Leano, pinulot ako sa bamboo-han; I fell off a ridge — true story. Again, thank God for creating dwarf bamboo trees!Just one mini-rant — you need to go back to Baguio to use a toilet. Soon enough, we went back to Sagada. On this last trip, we took the Cervantes route. I was with the mister, Ona, Boyet, Buda, Larry, Berna and all of our little boys. We trekked to Bokong Falls and, finally, I was able to experience the thrill of spelunking at Sumaging Cave. It was the second coming of awesomeness! My bestest adventure was a chopper rappel, but that’s another story.Hope to see you soon, Cordilleras.

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2011

La Paz Sand Dunes, Laoag City

Scenic Barangay La Paz makes the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer today — October 11, 2011.

The said photo was photographed by photojournalist Ivon Claire Domingo. Ivon was featured in Romancing Ilocos Norte (by Ivon Claire Domingo) on BlauEarth early this year.

From BlauEarth, congratulations, Ivon!The Philippine Daily Inquirer apparently inadvertently captioned the photo with Paoay Dunes. It was shot in Barangay La Paz, Laoag City, also a part of the vast Ilocos Sand Dunes.Ivon Domingo posted an erratum in her blog, Viewfinders Keepers.By the way, Ericke Tan is “the girl checking her bike before pedaling down and up the sandy trails…”Here’s an earlier article, penned by Ivon, which appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer-October 7, 2011 (view large).

Ivon interviews Ericke Tan and MC Manangan of the LEAD Movement.The LEAD Movement’s Eugene Tan.On the same afternoon of the photo shoot with Ivon, LEAD Movement leads the visiting tourism students of Columban College-Olongapo to an awesome La Paz sand adventure.

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2011

La Paz eco-adventure guided tour

I, personally, guided a touring couple the other day. Stoked for the unique La Paz sand adventure were Bong (from Iloilo) and Marge (from Manila). They are also LEAD Movement’s first clients for the bike cruise.

I saw how the two exuded exhilaration. I overheard Marge say, “Ang sarap mag-sandboarding!” a couple of times. When I asked Bong how was the 4X4 ride, he  replied, “The best!” What matters most to me when I’m guiding is the happiness and satisfaction I see on clients’ faces.

It’s a good thing typhoon Juaning spared Ilocos. Overcast skies make for good biking weather. Glad the photos are not that bad.

It was a surprise to discover that another tourist, from New Jersey, is the husband of my sister’s good friend, Joyce, who I haven’t seen in ages. Arnold and his son, Michael, and some relatives also had the sand adventure package (4X4 ride and sandboarding). They obviously were having a great vacation in Ilocos.For inquiries and reservation, contact Reny Tan 0919-873-5516 ; 0932-358-7521 or Benny Arce 0917-523-0331

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved

“Love knows no rules.”

Here are photos taken from the Gov. Bojie Dy & Rodito Albano 1st Invitational 4X4 Challenge in Ilagan, Isabela, last weekend. The youngest in the competition, thirteen-year old Brandon Tan, is the only competitor who hails from the Ilocos Region. For the said race, he signed up with GMA Butaka Off-Roaders. Joining them in the fierce race, amidst the scorching heat on the first day, and rains on the second day, were seasoned 4X4 racers from Four-Wheelers Ilagan, Batil Patung Offroaders Club, Santiago Extreme 4X4 Club and Nueva Ecija Off-Roaders.

The end of Brandon’s last run on the second day. Out of 19 challengers, he came in 12th.

Red Diwa topped the race, Joel Miranda came in second and Jojo Sison, third.

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved

Northern X-posure on Monday (Magazine) Issue 5

Yes!! It’s out!! My eco-adventure group, the LEAD Movement, in rockin’ sand adventure photos in Monday, a 3/4-inch thick corporate culture/consumerism/lifestyle mag in the Philippines. FYI, it is the Laoag Eco-Adventure Development Movement that innovated sandboarding in Ilocos.

Grab a copy and see more of the best of my beloved Norte!

With special thanks to Monday, Karl de Mesa for the story, and Paolo Seen for the photography!

Also to Mark Castro and Ericke Tan who gamely posed under the scorching heat in Norte!

Photographed by Blauearth  Copyright © Blauearth™ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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Photo courtesy of Paolo Seen (seated)

The Ilocos Sand Dunes goes to Shanghai, China

The International Channel Shanghai (ICS)  just left Ilocos after shooting an Ilocos Norte adventure for Getaway, a travelogue series presented by lawyer and tv host Cameron Anderson. Sandboarding and off-roading were part of the gameplan of the Shanghai-based television broadcast company.

We learned that the Chinese nationals are fond of the beach, and in Shanghai, they don’t have something like our unique extensive sand dunes. Getaway did major beach hopping in Ilocos.

Cheers to you, guys! We hope you had a fantastic getaway to Ilocos.

Many thanks to the Philippine Tourism Office Philippine Consulate General-Shanghai, DoT Region I Office, Dot Laoag Sub-Office, Provincial Tourism Office of Ilocos Norte and the International Cable Shanghai.
Photos by Blauearth  Copyright © Blauearth™ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED