Mayon and the Last Stretch (RORO Part 5)

20200102_133234

We thought that there would be no ROROs on January 1.  In San Isidro port, there was none but further north in Allen, it turns out they operate 24 hours non-stop.  Night caught us hungry and tired on the road so we thought we’d look for a place to stay but luckily, ferries still plied and we caught the 9:30pm to Matnog, saving us from staying in a creepy place.  We arrived in Matnog near midnight and the places were either deserted or full.  We thought we’d have to go to the next bigger town of Irosin but fortunately, we found Villa de Sanj Homestay ran by the friendliest family who welcomed us on a late, rainy night.  They were no strangers to helping out strangers as they hosted a lot of people stuck due to Typhoon Ursula.  Shirly, the woman behind this homey place was all-out superb and hospitable, spoiling us by lending us slippers, sharing tourist tips, giving me her own hair tie because mine got washed away in the rapids, plus she granted my craving for tuyo!  Early riser Jimmy played with a lot of children in the river behind their house.

Rested from the tough night thanks so much to Shirly and the Bongons, we proceeded to Mayon Volcano where Joshua and Jimmy rode the zipline at Lignon Hill and we drove ATVs on a short river course at the foot of the mighty,  looming legend.  We found Sarung Banggi resort in Sto. Domingo not far from Legazpi City.  Whenever I see or read the name, the old song plays in my head.  The melody holds me tight and I can’t separate it from the phrase.

Jason cooks dinner for us in the beach cabana while a karaoke party accompanies our makeshift hotpot.  We enjoy staring at the sea and stoking the bonfire so it doesn’t die.  Joshua experiments with his own barbeque.  Jimmy chases chickens and collects treasures from the garbage washed up onto the shore.  The state of our public beaches makes me sad, but the ocean is so big, it can hold all our sorrows.

Someday, I’ll be old and maybe I’ll forget these details so I’m writing them all down.  Joshua and Jimmy will read them and we’ll laugh at our adventures and be happy, tearful that we made it.  We are grateful that their daddy and daddy’s friend were patient enough to drive us all over Southern Luzon and the Visayas.  We are grateful to be safe and guided throughout.

 

Slide22

In summary, our RORO road trip brought us to the following places from December 20, 2019 to January 3, 2020:

  1. Drive from Taguig to Batangas Port
  2. RORO from Batangas City to Calapan, Mindoro
  3. Drive from Calapan to Roxas, Mindoro (Can’t remember the name of the hotel)
  4. RORO from Roxas to Caticlan
  5. Boat ride from Caticlan to Boracay (Hey Jude and Grand Blue) and back to Caticlan
  6. Drive from Caticlan to Iloilo (J7 Hotel)
  7. Drive from Iloilo City to Bucari campsite
  8. RORO from Iloilo to Bacolod City (Joan’s house)
  9. Drive from Bacolod City to Guintubdan campsite and waterfalls
  10. Drive from Bacolod City to Cafe La Guada, Don Salvador to San Carlos Port
  11. RORO from San Carlos, Bacolod to Toledo, Cebu (Estrella Beach Resort)
  12. Drive from Toledo Cebu to Cebu City
  13. RORO from Cebu City to Ormoc, Leyte
  14. Drive from Ormoc to Calbiga, Samar (Lola Rosa)
  15. Drive from Calbiga to Paranas Torpedo Boat Ride and to Allen Port
  16. RORO from Allen, Samar to Matnog, Sorsogon (Villa de Sanj Homestay)
  17. Drive from Matnog to Mayon Volcano, Albay (Sarung Banggi Beach Resort)
  18. Drive from Legazpi City to Manila – longest drive of the trip at around 12 hours

35

Quite appropriate karaoke song of our last night:

What has life to offer me
When I grow old
What’s there to look forward to
Beyond the biting cold
‘Cause they say it’s difficult
Yes, stereotypical
What’s there beyond sleep, eat, work in this cruel life
Ain’t there nothing else ’round here but human strife
They say it’s difficult
Yes, stereotypical
You gotta be conventional
You can’t be so radical
So I sing this song to all of my age
For these are the questions
We’ve got to face
For in this cycle that we call life
We are the ones who are next in line
We are next in lineWe are next in line… Oooh… Ohh…
We are next in lineAnd we gotta work, we gotta feel
Let’s open our eyes and do whatever it takes
And we gotta work, we gotta feel
Let’s open our eyes (ooohhh)

And I sing this song to all of my age
For these are the questions
We’ve got to face
For in this cycle that we call life
We are the ones who are next in line
We are next in line

 

Samar is Something Else (RORO Part 4)

7980

Samar surprises us and exceeds our expectations.

First, perhaps not accidentally but through divine intervention (because somebody up there knows I LOVE Architecture), we discover a gem of a lovingly restored ancestral home called Lola Rosa.  Second, we rode motorcyles to reach what they call the mini-version of Niagara falls called Luluguyan.  Third, we might not have done the whitewater rafting we wanted but the Torpedo boat ride at Paranas with waterfall jumping at Deni point more than made up for the online misinformation.

We had just taken the 11pm RORO from Cebu to Ormoc and arrived around 5am and from the port drove straight for 5 hours to reach Calbiga, Samar so we rested for a while at Lola Rosa’s before venturing out to Lulugayan falls.  We wanted to go caving after but we reached the spot past 4pm and it was a one or two hour trek to the mouth of the cave so we had to cross that off our list and reserve it for next time.  That needs a lot more preparation to execute.

Originally, Cagayan de Oro was included in our itinerary because of whitewater rafting but because it’s too far and since Samar offered it, we went to Samar instead.  I kept showing people the screenshot of the inflatable raft over the rapids that’s supposedly in Calbiga but we found out that it’s an internet “untruth” and what they had was a boat ride called TORPEDO.  It’s a wooden boat with a motor going through a relatively flat river.  It wasn’t what we envisioned but since we were there, might as well give it a try.  Life proves once again that you only need to say “yes” to it.

After more than half an hour going through a river with lush mountain forests on either side and with some adrenaline-pumping, scream-inducing dips, we stopped at Deni point.   Our guides tied a rope between two rocks downstream and then upstream with the not-so-high waterfalls, we jumped over the raging water.  There’s no inflatable raft here but it turns out, our body was the raft that was to be swept away by the roaring current.  The guides were very safety conscious and they told us which rocks we could jump from.  They were always alert assisting us especially the kids.  Jimmy couldn’t stop jumping.  The adults stopped after a while but Jimmy still kept coming back saying, “one last time” several times.

The town of Calbiga had a number of beautiful but crumbling, teetering old houses but one house was lavished with so much love and attention and was turned into a veritable museum cum bed and breakfast by the family as a tribute to their matriarch, Lola Rosa.  Art works, pottery, paintings, artifacts, antiques, documents, framed photos, restored furniture, solid wood floors that shone bright, a fruit and flowered themed Christmas tree, a chair fit for a queen, knick knacks, bric-a-brac  — these filled the house but what was even more surprising was how the level of cleanliness in the main rooms were carried over in the glass cabinets for holding materials for the maintenance and upkeep of the house.  The tools and items used for repair were lined up perfectly like somebody obsessive-compulsive is wonderfully guilty of intentional care.

This home is where we spent our New Year’s eve with Jason and his friend, Lele cooking a feast in a spacious kitchen.  Walking distance away was the market where they could easily get ingredients and where Jimmy could get a colorful horn to welcome 2020.  Joshua, Jimmy and I ended up watching the movie that we started in one RORO ship but didn’t finish.  Now, it was quite meaningful to usher in the next 365 days with V for Vendetta, a film that celebrates anarchist rebellion.

 

I’ve always wanted to watch V for Vendetta because I used the short monologue in my English class in China.  Even if I hadn’t seen the movie then, I had the students come up with their own crazy alliterations.  New year is not only for making wishes but for making them come true.

But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.

 

Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

 

Check out the video of the waterfall jump here.

Unbeatable Bacolod; Passing through Cebu (RORO Part 3)

20191228_212733

There are five reasons why Bacolod can never be beat:  Joan, Xiaowu, Andy, Kylie and Dylan.  On our last night, after a big family meal in a Chinese restaurant, the kids had a blast playing in the park fronting the city hall, feeding the fish, tossing the plastic slingshot as high as they could so it swooshed up and swirled down with a blue light.  On our last day, Joan brought us to the hot springs which Jimmy says is his favorite spot because we ate on a table perched on a bamboo raft and he can swoop up tiny fish with an empty water bottle.  Amongst the trees, rocks and small waterfalls, we gobbled up a Filipino lunch.  Jimmy went with all the kids to the super crowded, noisy kiddie pool while Joshua joined the adults in the super hot, calming spring where you could cool down with a hose of cold water.   Joan couldn’t let us leave without coffee and more food.  She took us to Cafe La Guada in Don Salvador which has an amazing view and we may have found Jason’s dream home – a bamboo deck hugging the mountain with the sound of flowing stream below.   From there to San Carlos port, the drive was the most gorgeous stretch of road thus far in this adventure journey.

We rode our fourth RORO to Toledo, Cebu where we arrived late at night and had a difficult time looking for a place to stay but were rewarded with an available room at the Estrella Beach resort.  After the kids had their fill of the sand and jumping into pool, we headed straight to Cebu City where we took our fifth RORO to Ormoc.  Leyte was just a way for us to get to the San Juanico Bridge.  Spanning 2.16 km, I remember studying about it in gradeschool so I was quite excited to see it.  I wanted to stop and take pictures but we didn’t since it wasn’t at all impressive to my companions who are probably used to the engineering feats of China.  We just went through without stopping and at the end of it, waiting for us explorers, was Samar which deserves a whole blog entry of its own.

 

Number six and seven reason why Bacolod will always be special in our hearts — this romantic couple’s love for each other and their family:

24

Happy Campers at Last and Forever (RORO Part 2)

20191228_094413

Jason’s dream for us to resume our camping life at last comes true and the tent we have not used for more than a year (or two) is brought out, gets wet with cold morning dew and feasted on by greedy ants while we slept.  It’s in our family DNA to backpack and bask in nature’s glory.  Why did we ever wait this long to rediscover this old truth?  All thanks to a typhoon that got us stuck in Iloilo and after two nights of living too comfortably in a hotel walking distance from the usual gigantic SM mall, we thought too much convenience is not good for the soul and sought the mountains.

At first, it was quite a bummer not being able to take the RORO to Bacolod where we ideally wanted to celebrate Christmas with our friends who have become family.   Ferries were canceled because of the impending typhoon Ursula.  Somehow, we managed to squeeze joy out of the hassle because right across the hotel was a street side restaurant that served fresh oysters for P80 a bucket.  Jason and Lele, his friend from China and our travel companion, insisted on having both lunch and dinner back to back in the oyster place, since where else can you get such a bargain?  Our friend from Bacolod tipped us off about Bucari, the Baguio of Iloilo where we found a campsite.  Though we didn’t stay in a tent that rainy night, the facilities were only for those willing to rough it out.

Jason was back in his element cooking for us.  Instead of eyes glued on a hotel TV, the kids played chess with their dad.  Two sets of bunk beds served as Jimmy’s gym.  The next morning we hiked up the fourteen stations of the cross and were treated to one gorgeous vista after another.

After calling the coast guard every day to check on the ferry service, we were given the go signal on December 26 and took the third RORO of this trip, and once again experienced the chaos and inefficiency that’s sadly the hallmark and trademark of our nation.  Par for the course, expected, psyche yourself up — we smile through it all because a reward awaits on the other side.  Joan and her family prepared our favorite Chinese hotpot and it was amazing relief to plop our exhausted bodies in what felt like second home.  Giddy with excitement, Joshua and Jimmy were reunited with playmates Andy, Dylan and Kylie.  Joshua dared to eat balut because he saw Kylie relishing it.  We have homemade youtiao for breakfast and corned beef far from the blandness of budget inns.

Joan’s husband, my husband and Lele belonged to an outdoor club in China so it’s only fitting that our three families would celebrate the season with a camping trip with two treks to the waterfalls of Guintubdan.  Three men from China showed their cooking prowess on the grill and portable stove.  Six kids ran amok playing hide and seek in a wide, lush, terraced area.   One Superwoman from Bacolod orchestrated it all while one Filipina couldn’t stop eating.

Jason chose a spot to pitch our tent further away from the noise of other campers.  It was a spot suffused with the scent of flowers more intense at night than the day, a spot were the stars were closer and brighter, a spot where Jason could build his own fire and toast his feet above the coal.

GO RORO, GO RORO!

8

This was the plan:

Slide1

But as all ambitious plans go, they are not necessarily followed and this is the latest iteration:

4

The wanderlust, itchy feet, spirit of escaping from the city into the UNKNOWN (with matching Frozen warble) has been hounding my husband and me.  Jason has been craving to explore places that he has not been to in the Philippines while I’ve needed a real, work-free break, not a cheat break but an honest to goodness one.  For the kids, this is the way we want to homeschool / worldschool on the road with all the stopovers, “Are we there yets,” exhaustion from long drives, bureaucratic nightmares of getting space in the boat made worthwhile by lying on the ferry roof deck staring at the stars (in their multitude, scarce to be counted).

Knowing how government services work in this country, I was prepared for the worst so it was an unexpected delight that the first RORO trip went smoothly with a two-hour ride from Manila to Batangas punctuated with an almost immediate usher into the belly of the ferry.  However, the 7-headed Hydra of red tape reared their scary faces in the next port of Roxas.  It took us a whole day to navigate our way to a coveted spot that had to be earned with sweat, asking too many questions and grease money.  The frustrating, inconvenient truth was rewarded with the opportunity to sleep under a starry, starry night sky.

Thanks to Rachael, we were able to secure a booking in their favorite “suki” hotel in Boracay which was a surprise addition in the itinerary because I thought my husband didn’t want to go to what was certainly going to be an overcrowded pre-Christmas party.  Since Joshua was a toddler when he last went and Jimmy wasn’t born then, we had to make the stop for the kids.  I understood why Hey, Jude hotel in Station 3 was Rachael’s choice home away from home because the value was hard to beat.  Unfortunately, they were fully booked on our second night so we had to find another place nearby and the choices paled in comparison.

Coincidentally and divinely, my sister and her family were in Boracay at the same time as us so we managed to have a quick reunion.  The cousins were able to get the rare playtime on the beach and paddle board and laugh at Uncle Juan’s magic tricks.

Many years ago, my friends and I were walking along the powdery stretch of sand in Boracay and a person approached asking if there was a couple among us.  I jokingly pushed two of our single friends and announced, “Here’s Mr. and Mrs. Lim!”  They were offered an attractive deal from the newly opened Astoria hotel in Station 2.  We were smart enough then not to take the bait but this time around, I was walking along Station 3 and lo and behold, there was a swanky new Astoria hotel.  This time the offer of a free buffet lunch was too tempting to refuse.  I knew they were going to sell me some sort of membership after our group of 6 enjoyed the sumptuous eat-all-you-can feast as well as the pure eye candy of  interior design and a glass-sided swimming pool.  After a tour of the impressive facilities, I had to artfully and diplomatically decline the proposal at the end of a well-rehearsed and strategized marketing spiel.

By the way, “Mr. & Mrs. Lim” eventually got married not long after that prophetic prank.

In Boracay, my niece Anita was looking for halo halo in coconut and they weren’t able to find before they flew back to Manila while we continued our road trip.  We did find it in the food court of SM Iloilo where we headed next and where our effort to reach Bacolod was thwarted by an impending storm named Ursula.

The Day’s Take-Away

20190907_124649.jpg

Last year, we all wore purple for Laksmi.  This year, Laksmi was still in purple but she also wore the teen-designed Abot Tala t-shirt along four other costumes, changing several times like Superman swooshing in and out of a telephone booth.

Somebody asked what’s the best take-away from the Philippine Homeschool Convention 2019 and there are just so many to mention.  One is the realization that despite so many different styles of homeschooling, we are all united in our desire to improve ourselves, to encourage, support and learn from one another.  It’s always inspiring to hear veteran homeschoolers and unschoolers share their stories and these are just some of my notes from the plenary and break-out sessions:

Dawn Fung, a leader-organizer of the homeschooling community in Singapore learned that she had to sacrifice her vision of trophy children.  Donna Simpao said that her kids appreciated the focus on being a good person first and only after could they become a good student.  Marla Taviano and her unschooling family moved from America to Cambodia where they built libraries and an adventure-filled life.  Kay Ang emphasized experiences over material things and encouraged parents to take their kids to work.  Aileen Santos advises parents to take on a coaching mindset while her 20-year old daughter, Fudge recounted how she developed self-discipline and initiative as a homeschooler and how she learned not to please everyone.  Dawn Fung had a sizable audience break up into groups, brainstorm about their dream homeschool co-op, after which each group leader pitched the ideas back to the crowd.

A great shout-out of thanks to the organizers of the convention and much appreciation for the team of teens and mentors headed by Owie who made the Abot Tala booth a reality.

 

bookmarks

The Free Forest School is Here!

20190303_165347

The Free Forest School is here in Manila!  Not everyday but at least on weekends, families who want their kids to hang out in nature have a community that values this time with the trees and the earth.  In other countries, they hold these excursions in actual forests but the Manila chapter had to make do with what’s available nearby — the U.P. Diliman sunken garden with a dried up but still pretty lagoon.  On weekends, you celebrate communing with nature with others practicing a theater performance, choir singing, martial arts, taichi, having a picnic, but there’s space for everyone in this beautiful park with roads around it closed to vehicular traffic so there are also bikers enjoying the rare perk.  Ah, if it could be like this even on weekdays.  If we could allocate space in each part of the city where ROI is not the prevailing priority but the feeding of the human soul.

The Free Forest School is an international network of communities promoting more play time in nature.

Research shows nature play benefits children’s health, supporting social-emotional, physical, and cognitive development and wellness. Yet time spent outdoors in unstructured play is at an all-time low and many children face significant barriers to playing in nature.

We believe all children deserve to play and explore in nature. We pursue equitable access to nature play for all children by mobilizing grassroots leaders and partnering with school districts, cities and community organizations.

Most of their activities may be limited to the weekends but it’s still a much a needed break from regular urban life.  I hope someday there could be a real Forest School that’s open every day like the Forest Kindergartens in other countries but not just limited to pre-school.  Wishful thinking again but still extremely grateful to the organizers who initiated the Free Forest School in the Philippines.

Many homeschooling families are probably searching for this kind of alternative and any family is welcome to join.  Check out their the Forest School Metro Manila group.  There’s also a group over at Zambales and they hike the Pamulaklakin trail.

The effect of growing up near green spaces

The importance of nature play in child development

Why on earth do we trap school children inside four walls to learn?