A Tiger Safari

On any overnight visit of mine to Subic Freeport Zone, I usually include a day trip to one of Subic’s many ecotourism attractions. The last time around, it was bonding with the whales and dolphins at Ocean Adventure. This time, it was a land-based encounter with the wild: an authentic “tiger safari” at the cleverly named Zoobic Safari. After an overnight stay at Subic Yacht Club with my son Jandy, we proceeded, after a Chowking lunch and duty-free shopping at the Freeport Exchange, for a short-haul drive to this sprawling 25-hectare theme park and zoo located deep in the old Naval Magazine at the Jungle/Forest Adventure zone.

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by general manager Ms. Delia de Jesus, who assigned to us the affable Mr. Noel Caneda as our guide on this two-hour, five-part tour. He explained to us the different species that can be found inside the park, extolling their virtues as well as their deadly qualities. At the reception area, we already got to see adult and baby tigers in large cages, all crossbred from Bengal and Siberian varieties in the Residence Inns’ tiger cub-breeding facility. A joint venture with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the PhP80-million Zoobic Safari was opened to the public in November 2004 and is part of Residence Inn’s chain of zoo-cum-resort businesses. The animals here may not be all originally from the Philippines, but the place was nonetheless developed with a Filipino theme in mind.

Our first stop was the Petting Zoo, a path through a forest with different animals stationed on both sides of the walkway. Here we saw exotic animals such as deer, temperamental and territorial cassowary, bearcats, monkeys, mini horses, several rabbits, plus some farm animals including a number of goats, sheep, carabao, pigs and a pinkish albino cow, all frolicking about in their natural habitat. Jandy and I had a wonderful time petting and feeding dried leaves to a camel. A close encounter with an Asiatic black bear (or moon bear) named Nicholas, the only one in the zoo—and thus no doubt lonely—was a highlight. Other stops include the Serpentarium, the only one of its kind in the country. Housed in one of the former ammunition bunkers, it showcases a variety of reptiles, including a Malaysian water monitor, blood pythons, a Burmese albino, reticulated python, the Philippine monitor lizard, iguanas and turtles.  The star here was “Biggy,” a 15-ft. long, 10-year-old female Indian python.

The highlight of the tour was the Tiger Safari. Here, we boarded a customized “safari” jeepney colorfully painted in tiger-inspired golden stripes and enclosed with a one-inch open wire mesh which covered the windows and doors. It was driven by a professional Aeta who drove us, through a gate, to the well-kept Ilanin forest (although a number of big trees were uprooted by a typhoon) where four full-grown, 500 pound-plus tigers, with their trademark rust orange and black stripes, were roaming around. Most lazed about in a large pond, their deep-set, golden eyes staring back at us, probably wondering why we were “caged” inside our vehicle while they were roaming freely in the open. During the ride, one of the guides inside our vehicle dangled a dressed chicken from a small window. On instinct, one of the tigers ran over to the vehicle and grabbed the chicken, an encounter so close we really had a good look at his teeth. Another tiger jumped on the roof.

After the Tiger Safari, we all dropped off at the “Tigers Den,” where we got up close and personal, along a narrow aisle, with tigers inside their cages, barely two feet away from these awe-inspiring beasts christened with such cute names as Cynthia, Gimo, Jana, Krishna, Nasha, Nico, Sharon and George. The last named, a mammoth Alpha male and the oldest at 16 years, is the acknowledged leader of the pack and king of the harem, with all of the female tigers his for the taking. Noel explained that a tiger’s urine smell marks his territory.

Adjacent to the Tigers Den is the dusty Savannah Trail. This we traversed via an open red-and-blue Zoobic Safari train (with 20 to 30 seating capacity), watching 50 long-legged ostriches from Africa and Australia, as well as potbellied pigs, swift mountain goats, wild boar (from the USA, Vietnam and the Philippines) and 200 guinea fowl (from Papua New Guinea) glide past our vehicle. Next stop was the Animal MuZOOeum, housed in another former ammunition bunker. This interesting and educational tour features a rare collection of real stuffed animals and skeletons.

Our last stop was the Croco Loco section. Here, we trekked, via the Aeta Trail, to an Aeta Village where a group of Aetas performed, to the delight of the tourists, the dragonfly dance and a war dance, both accompanied by an Aeta guitarist. Of course, we also went to the 3,000-sq. m. Crocodile Farm, again seeing up close and personal, in their carefully designed natural habitat, 200 of these thick-skinned, long-bodied, carnivorous saltwater crocodiles from Palawan. In the future, Zoobic Safari has plans to expand with Elephant World, Honey Bee Farm, Alligator Land and the Rice Wine Brewery.

Pearl Farm Beach Resort: The Jewel of Southern Mindanao

Even for a seasoned traveler like me, Mindanao remains one of my least-visited destinations, having only been to Zamboanga City in 1976 and Camiguin Island (and its gateway Cagayan de Oro City) in 2001. Opportunity beckoned anew when I was invited by Mr. Alfredo Roca and Ms. Mitch Garcia, managing director and marketing communications manager, respectively, of Fuego Hotels and Properties Management Corp., to see for myself Pearl Farm Beach Resort on the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao, the third property managed by Fuego Hotels in the country. Upon arrival at Davao International Airport, I was whisked, together with other guests, to the Pearl Farm Marina in Lanang, which has four air-conditioned rooms with bath and cable TV, an indoor restaurant and a swimming pool, all exclusive for guests to enjoy while waiting for the next boat service to the resort, their next flight or just to hang around. From its developed wharf, the resort is a 45-min. motorized boat ride. I went there via a 20-min. speedboat ride and was welcomed at the resort by Mitch together with Mikel Villaverde, the resort’s general manager.

This 11-hectare, Class “AAA” resort, located on a secluded cove at the city’s Kaputian District, was formerly the home, since 1958, of the Aguinaldo Pearl Farm, which produced cultured pink, white and gold pearls from white-lipped oysters brought from Jolo. It ceased operations in 1980 but was developed into a world-class beach resort, which opened in 1992. It started out with 10 hillside cottages and two Samal cottages on stilts. Today the main resort has expanded into 70 guest rooms (17 standard Hilltop rooms, 21 superior Samal Houses, six executive, two-story Samal Suites and 19 de luxe Mandaya Houses and seven Malipano Villas) made mainly with bamboo and wood and harmonizing with the clear blue sea, the white sand and its backdrop of impressive greenery. All rooms, cottages and villas are air-conditioned, with cable TV, minibars, coffee and tea facilities, safety deposit boxes and hair dryers.

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Noted architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa designed the cottages and villas as close as possible, in both materials and form, to the Maranao and Samal tribes they were named for. For its depiction of regional traits, the resort received the Kalakbay Award for Best Resort for two consecutive years (1994 and 1995) and was one of the venues of the 1994 Miss Universe pageant. The Samal cottages, one of which was assigned to me, were patterned after the stilt houses of the seafaring Samal tribes of the Sulu archipelago. Its interior focuses on Yakan, Tausug, Maranao and Badjao culture and craft. During the day, schools of tiny fish frolic between the sturdy poles that support my cottage. At night, the sound of the waves, lightly splashing under the floor, is a soothing aid to slumber. A jar of water and a coconut shell dipper are placed near the entrance to each house so that guests may wash away the sand after a day of barefoot walking on the beach. In local custom, this gesture is also symbolic of a cleansing of the spirit.  Getting around the resort is easy as there are two shuttles, one of them electric-powered.

The Maranao Restaurant, a cavernous dining pavilion replete with tribal motifs, has a menu with an assortment of international culinary influences, all wonderfully prepared by Filipino chef Mr. Edgar Chavez. Cocktails, plus inspiring views of the sea and nearby De la Paz and Malipano islands, can be enjoyed at the Parola Bar. Both restaurant and bar offer free Wi-fi access. The resort also has two swimming pools, one of which was built right on the shore, giving the illusion that the pool water meets the sea, while the other has a jacuzzi. The Ylang-Ylang Spa, located beside a waterfall and beneath swaying coconut palms, offers several indulgent body and beauty treatments based on natural products. They include a relaxing Papaya Body Scrub, a revitalizing Honey and Cucumber Facial Cleansing and the refreshing Floral Foot Soak. Massage therapies, embracing the most effective European and Asian techniques and using the stress-busting and soul-soothing power of coconut oil, include the healthy aromatherapy massage.

An aqua sports center offers windsurfing, fishing, jet skiing, sea kayaking, island-hopping, banana boat rides, Hobie cats, wave runners, snorkeling and scuba diving, while a weaving house has a couple of tribal women making colorful tribal dresses, costumes and jewelries. Pearls, hats, T-shirts and other accessories can be bought at the nearby boutique. There are also two function rooms, two tennis courts, game room (billiards, chess, mahjong, etc.), children’s playground and a mini-aviary.

On my last day at the resort, I crossed over (a two-a-half-minute boat ride) with senior sales manager Ms. Eileen F. Tuanio, to the 7-hectare Isla Malipano. Also part of the resort, it has a white-sand beach, an offshore reef plus seven private luxury villas (five three-bedroom and two four-bedroom), each with a wide veranda and its own butler for food orders and other guest assistance. The 200-pax, octagonal and multifunctional Malipano Gazebo, a perfect alternative for weddings, theme parties and other occasions, is located at the other end of the island.

The wrecks of two World War II Japanese freighters are located 60 meters away and in front of the resort. The 40-m.(132-ft.) long Wreck I is located just a few meters from the resort’s Samal houses, in 35 m. (115 ft.) of water. Here, you can find groupers, jacks, moray eels and others. For advanced divers, an open-bay hatch allows safe penetration. It is also recommended for underwater photography. The slightly smaller, 35-m. (115-ft.) long Wreck II rests on its side at a shallower depth of 28 m. (98 ft.) of water.

Mystical, Mysterious Makiling

It was field-trip time for my daughter Cheska’s Colegio San Agustin class, and Lakbay Kalikasan, Southeast Asia’s first and premier outbound education outfitter, was tasked to organize it. Mount Makiling was the selected destination. Upon the invitation of Ramon Jocson, Lakbay’s corps director, I decided to tag along. This 1,090-m. high, three-peaked mountain, located 65 kms. southeast of Manila, is, owing to its natural history, the most biologically well-known of the country’s mountains and a favorite for field trips. The slopes of the mountain form a 4,244-hectare national park covering portions of Bay, Calamba City and Los Baños, all in Laguna; and Sto. Tomas in Batangas. These places depend on the watershed of the mountain for their domestic water requirements and irrigation, while Los Baños and Calamba’s resorts and tourism industries depend on it for their hot springs.

Most field trips, including this one, enter via University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), which is halfway up the summit. The mountain is also accessible from Alaminos (Laguna) and, for the extreme adventurer, from the more difficult and barely passable (due to the thick jungle) Sto. Tomas route, on the other side of the mountain.

Home of a goddess

Makiling is said to be the legendary home of the beautiful local goddess Mariang Makiling.  According to folklore, she was the beautiful young daughter of two deities: Dayang Makiling and Gat Panahon. Half-goddess, half-spirit of the air, she was tall, svelte, sweet, with big black tantalizing eyes, long black abundant hair reaching to her ankles, pure brown skin, an enchanting smile and a captivating melodic voice. She was born of the rays of the moon and lived in the beautiful mountain, roaming the forest and protecting its wild boars and other animals. Visible to and loved and respected by the townspeople, she had a generous heart, scattering golden ginger in the yards of every house in her domain and never turning down a request for help or assistance.  She rewarded hunters who, at her request, spared the animals.

Her kindness, sympathy and acts of benevolence were often forgotten and disregarded by the people.  To punish them, she denied permission to pick fruits in the forest and prohibited the hunting of wild animals. For those who disobeyed, she would cause the sky to grow dark and heavy rain to fall. To hunters, she assumed a frightful form and sent them to their death. Legend has it that she fell in love with a mortal man who proposed to her, but backed out before their wedding day and later married a mortal woman. Despondent, she disappeared into the forest and was never seen again. Her presence, however, is still felt as she continues to watch over the mountain’s natural bounty.

A natural laboratory

Makiling is one of the few mountains in Luzon that still have some primary forests. It originally had lowland dipterocarp forests up to the 600-m. mark, but the western and southern flanks are now denuded due to kaingin (slash and burn) farming and logging, while the eastern slopes are covered with coconut, banana, coffee and other crops.  However, exotic lowland-type dipterocarp forest trees and orchards have been introduced for reforestation at its lower slope, transforming the forest below 300 m. into a parang type of vegetation. Above 900 m. are some montane forest and, at the summit, a dwarf mossy forest. Makiling is a dormant volcanic massif but remnants of its north-wall crater no longer exist. However, heat still escapes from it in the form of mud springs and hot sulphur springs.

Makiling is also a field laboratory for many environmental and biological researches in UPLB. Aside from being a favorite for school field trips, it is also a popular camping and hiking area for Boys and Girls Scouts, as well as other camping enthusiasts. The 10th World Boy Scout Jamboree was held on the mountain from June 17 to 26, 1959, and camping is still done at the BSP Wood Badge Area.

Camping, however, wasn’t on the field trip agenda. They were here to learn. This outdoor classroom showcases the rich biodiversity of the country, being home to 2,038 species of vascular flora (85% of Philippine flora spread out in 949 genera, 19 subspecies and 167 varieties), 24 species of mammals (10 families and 19 genera) and 21 species of amphibians (4 families and 8 genera), 10 of which are endemic. Bryoflora includes giant ferns, 34 species of mosses and 42 species of liverworts. About 60% of all known fungi have also been found here. Popular with bird watchers, the mountain is home to 163 species of birds (spread out in 110 genera and 16 families).

A repository for all these biological specimens is the Museum of Natural History, located immediately to the left of the archway going into the College of Forestry and Natural Resources. Housed in a former student dormitory of the UPLB here, students are awed by its collection of more than 200,000 Philippine plants, animals, microorganisms and other biota. Most of the late professor Dioscoro Rabor’s priceless collections are also housed here. Its exhibits feature, among others, the Philippine Eagle, tamaraw, tarsier; snails in Mount Makiling and Laguna de Bay; Philippine plants, forests and shells; Philippine cobras, marine turtles and mammals; and a Philippine map made of 4,012 locusts and lahar from Mount Pinatubo. A visit here is the pièce de résistance for any Makiling field trip.

Still Tantalized by Taal

A lot of my childhood memories include family visits to Tagaytay City, one of the country’s favorite summer vacation spots where we would enjoy the cool and crisp (average temperature is 22.7°Celsius) mountain air and a picture-pretty view of Taal Volcano from its original grand viewdeck: the Taal Vista Hotel.

A generation later and now with my own family, I would still make the 60-km (one-and-a-half hour) drive to this city and its notable landmark to seek respite from the daily pressures of life in Metro Manila’s crowded, polluted, garbage-infested and noisy environment. Yes, the hotel is a city landmark, its history intertwined with Tagaytay. The hotel has its beginnings way back in 1935, when the Zamoras of The Manila Hotel bought 6 hectares of flatland perched atop an incline along Ilong Kastila (people say it resembles a nose, or ilong) from American Hammon H. Buck, the superintendent of schools in Batangas. Two years later, the English Tudor Mansion-style hotel was built. Its architect was probably Andres Luna de San Pedro, who, just a few years earlier, renovated another landmark, The Manila Hotel, to accommodate a suite for Gen. Douglas McArthur. Its contractor was probably the well-known Pedro Soichi, who built the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. Both were favored by Commonwealth Pres. Manuel Quezon, who was then, as I still am now, equally fascinated with Tagaytay. Upon completion, Quezon frequently held Cabinet meetings in the lodge’s premises and, on June 21, 1938, he converted Tagaytay into a chartered city by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 338.

During World War II, the lodge was converted into quarters for Japanese officers. Between 1956 and 1964, Tagaytay began to be promoted as a major tourist attraction of the Philippines, and Taal Vista Lodge was one of its leading attractions. In fact, the hotel was the public viewing ground to the volcano’s major and minor eruptions. In 1973 Taal Vista Lodge, then a three-star hotel, boasted of a large pavilion for dinner and dancing, a bowling alley, a golf course, a billiards hall and a horseback-riding area beside the lodge. One of its many regular visitors was a young man who often chose one spot in the grounds from which he gazed out and dream.

That dreamer was Henry Sy, whose SM Investments Corp. would later acquire the hotel. In 2002 he had the hotel rebuilt in the style of the original lodge and added two new extensions on the east side of the complex to provide 128 rooms, conference facilities and amenities. In 2004 this reinvigorated and now first-class hotel welcomed back guests and visitors. It is now operated by Fuego Hotels, a management company with an established expertise in handling hotels and resorts. Today it remains a landmark deeply entrenched in the history and heritage of Tagaytay City.

Surfin’ Camnorte

Surf festivals, the most successful of adventure sports events, combines the fun of sun, sand and big lively waves. In Daet it’s all that plus more, as I found out when I was invited to cover its 2nd Bagasbas Summer Surf Festival in early April, an event put together to help promote tourism in Camarines Norte in the Bicol Region.

The festival was held along the 7-km. long, gray-sand Bagasbas Beach in Brgy. Bagasbas, 4 kms. from the town.  The beach, known for its consistent waves, ranging from 2-5 ft. tall, is one of the best sites for beginners to learn surfing (with its incomparable feel of walking on water), unlike the more challenging surf spots in Baler (Aurora) or Siargao (Surigao del Norte).  According to provincial tourism officer designate Mr. Edgardo “Boy” Reyes, “This means less risks of injury for those still learning how to surf.”

I arrived at Daet, not via a long 370-km,. 7-hr., long-haul (made 3 hrs. longer for others due to the festival being held so close to Holy Week) bus ride from Manila, but via a 45-min. Air Philippines flight to Pili Airport in Camarines Sur. Other invited members of the media, accompanied by Department of Tourism (DOT) media coordinator Mr. Boyet Escueta, arrived the next day. At the airport, I was picked up by Mr. Melvic Brinas for a short 2-hr. drive to Daet and, upon arrival, was billeted at the beachside resthouse of Gov. Jesus Typoco Jr., with its ringside view to all the festival’s proceedings. DOT-OPRD project officer Ms. Val Congzon (she arrived even earlier, with son Loven, via a Superlines bus) and Boy Reyes were already on hand to welcome me. Throughout our stay, all our meals were taken or delivered at the beach by Golden Palace Restaurant located at the town proper.

It was rainy throughout that first day but this did not deter would-be surfers, mostly yuppies and college kids on summer break. And why not! For a fee of PhP500 each, those interested in learning the sport can join surfing clinics. “We want amateur or even aspiring surfers to learn the basics of surfing here in Bagasbas,” said events organizer Mr. Joey Cuerdo of Power Play Sports and Event Management. The clinics teach the basics, such as how to position yourself on a surfboard (centered along the stringer), paddle into the wave, feel that right moment when the wave takes you (the “drop”), push down on the board, and stand and safely handle the board with the waves.

Upon signing up at the main booth right on the beach, first-time surfers eager to get into the water were given surf session schedule card with a time slot for their session (which lasts 45 mins.), with 10 people per batch, which included surfboard rental and instructor. Registrants also have the right to officially enter a competition of their choice or other competitions, and the right to join the clinics offered. Aside from that, they were given one event shirt and a pair of Mojo slippers. Ever since these surfing clinics were put up two years ago, provincial tourism officials have noted at least a 30% annual growth in the number of visitors.  At the end of our second day (this time sunny), Joey treated us in the media with free surfing lessons. Mr. Oween Andrade of the Camarines Norte Surfing Association provided the beachside instruction. Unfortunately, try as I did, I never got to stand on my board.  Maybe next time.

While waiting for their first taste of surfing, registrants were pumped with beach adrenaline via other beach activities which featured outdoor sports such as wall climbing, beach volleyball and ultimate Frisbee, all designed to make the experience fun and memorable. An artificial, 40-ft.-high rock-climbing wall was set up along the beach, and a world-class Open Difficulty Climbing Competition, featuring the country’s best sport climbers (ranked third in Asia), was held. Locals and visitors were also treated to free climbing trials, all queuing to give the interactive side of the climbing wall their best shot. This never failed to form a beach crowd in front of the wall.

Forehand and backhand throws, plus high-flying leaps and dives on the beach were provided by the easy-to-learn Ultimate Frisbee, a noncontact team sport that feels a little bit of a mix of the following: soccer, basketball, American football and netball. There are no special gear needed to play it; all you need is a wide-open space plus a flying disc (Frisbee in layman’s term) to toss around. The Philippine Ultimate Association also held a special invitational tournament for the top 12 teams of the country (from as far away as Boracay). For everyone and anyone who wanted to get down and dirty, there was the classic beach sport of beach volleyball. Teams of four or six were organized by professional game handlers of the Progressive Volleyball Center in two courts. The Invitational Beach Volleyball Open, a college varsity and amateur team tournament, featured 12 teams from Manila, Lucena City (Quezon), Naga City (Camarines Sur) and Legazpi City (Albay). As with surfing, pros also held clinics for these outdoor sports on the beach. Every night of this two-day summer event was capped by a reggae party featuring hot reggae bands all playing nonstop chillout music with a smooth changeover into slow reggae, then picking up speed into fast-paced, hour-long-plus ska and reggae mix.  DJ Anna took the booth for the sunset gigs.  Truly a great way to cap a day.

The Boracay of the North

Family outings are cherished moments especially for the Layug clan, more so after our parents died and each of us started families of our own. Holy Week usually presents opportunities for such but in our case, we made an exception by going on one a week earlier to avoid the holiday rush. And, instead of taking a plane as in previous outings (Boracay, Guimaras, et al), we were to bring our respective cars and make a long-haul, 561-km. drive for a change. Our destination? Pagudpud.

Our convoy consisted of three sturdy and spacious vehicles; Frank, our eldest, with his wife Cherry and kids Jaja, Sandy and Gelo (plus a family friend) in his Chevrolet; Tellie, our youngest, with her daughter Mandy plus a bevy of maids in her Starex; and myself, with my wife Grace and kids Jandy and Cheska in our Toyota Revo. Salve, my eldest sister, begged off from the trip. We all left by two in the morning with traffic practically non-existent for more than half of the trip, making it to Vigan City in Ilocos Sur just in time for lunch. Vigan, with its Heritage Village, is worth an overnight stay and we did just that, billeting ourselves at the Cordillera Inn right along its showcase Mena Crisologo Street. After a Palm Sunday mass at its Spanish-era cathedral and some pasalubong shopping the next day, it was back to our respective cars for the final 200-kilometer drive to Pagudpud.

Quaint Town, Quaint Name

The 214-sq. km. Pagudpud is located 75 kms. northwest of Laoag City. Its population (2000) of 19,315 (spread out in 16 barangays) Ilocanos engages in the cottage industry of mat weaving and rattancraft. Formerly a barrio of Bangui called Tongotong, Pagudpud became an independent municipality on February 5, 1954, by virtue of Executive Order No. 13. There are several derivations of its name. One quaint version details that, during the American regime, an American boy, seeing ar-arungan (seaweed) being carried by the river, uttered to his father, “Pa, good food.” Another story tells that before World War II, a peddler from Batangas once came here. Putting his wares down and resting under a lanka (jackfruit) tree, the property owner asked him what he was doing. The peddler answered in Tagalog, “Ako’y uhaw at pagod, at ang sapatos ko ay pudpud” (“I am thirsty and tired and my shoes have holes”). The Ilocano-speaking townsfolk didn’t understand Tagalog but picked up a bit of his answer. Some time later, another Tagalog visitor came and asked for the name of the place in Tagalog. The Ilocanos, not understanding his question, attempted to reply by repeating the last Tagalog visitor’s answer which was “pagudpud.” And so the place was named such.

An Adventurer’s Dream

Upon arrival at the upscale Saud Beach Resort, we checked into our assigned airconditioned suites with bath and cable TV to freshen up, only coming out later for a well-deserved supper at the restaurant. Sleep came easy to this weary traveler. Pagudpud, called the “Paradise of the North,” is reputed to have the longest, continuous white sand beach in the country. The touristy Saud White Beach, along clear, tranquil and palm-lined Bangui Bay, is home to a number of resorts, ours included. Though not as gently sloping as Boracay’s White Beach, this beach has offshore coral beds and, unlike Boracay, an occasionally moderate to high surf ideal for water sports activities such as surfing. Beach volleyball is also a favorite activity here. Judging its true length, via an early morning stroll for me, only took me as far as Jalao Point and its small, modern lighthouse before turning back. The hike did give me a healthy appetite for breakfast. Most of our stay, however, was spent picnicking, eating, siestas and swimming.

The lesser-known but largely deserted—except for a few fishermen’s houses—Mayraira Beach is another beach lover’s dream. Getting there by car, along a 2-km. dirt road from the highway, is a feast for the eyes in itself. Along the way, we passed by Timmangtang Rock and Bantay Abot Caves (located near Brgy. Balaoi, a storm collapsed the cave but terns still nest here). Just like Saud White Beach, lovely Mayraira Beach also has sparklingly white sand and clear blue waters. Just offshore are the identical Dos Hermanas (Two Brothers) Islands. According to folklore, two very close brothers one day went fishing at sea. Unfortunately, they were met by a typhoon while at sea. Vowing to be together even in death, they both drowned. The two islands were said to have appeared later.

Our visit to Pagudpud was never complete without visiting the Patapat Cliffs, a one-hour drive via the 1.5-km. long Patapat Causeway Bridge near the border of Cagayan. Here, the Cordillera Mountains end, edging out the coastal plains and plunging into the sea. As there is no narrow coastal plain along this area to build a road, this bridge, instead, hugs the mountainside nearest to the cliff and extends toward the sea. Our drive here gave us a 360-degree view of the most magnificent and dramatic land and seascapes along the Philippine highway system. Visitors sometimes toss coins into the coves and surf below to ensure safe travel. Along the cliff sides, cascades and mini-falls descend directly to the road side. As always, a two-night stay in such a wonderful place is never enough. Pagudpud offers lots more for the adventurous like me. These include hikes to Matarongtong Hot Spring (near the Claveria boundary), the three-level Kabigan Falls (Brgy. Balaoi), and Mabugabog Falls (site of a mini-hydro electric plant).