Out to Taal Lake! (Club Balai Isabel)

It was our first night to sleep in our apartment after having bought the sofa bed last Tuesday. As we had to be at the meeting place by 6:30 AM, we woke up at quarter to six because we still had to fix the clothes we had to bring. I had no difficulty sleeping in our new apartment, and I normally have a hard time sleeping in an unfamiliar place. I consider that as a good sign, then.

A lot of people who registered and agreed to attend bailed out at the last minute and I was really happy to hear that. It means less people to deal with (i.e. the unbearable noise), and I was looking forward to a relaxing day. Plus, as there were about 50 absentees, it meant that we had more chances of winning cool prizes from the raffle. Again, I do not have the biggest luck in games of luck, but as there were 100 plus prizes for less than a hundred participants, I highly doubt I wouldn’t be picked even once!

Entrance-slash-gate of Club Balai IsabelAfter an uneventful hour and a half ride (though it was fun because I was with my friends/officemates with me, having a laugh over the silliest things), we finally arrived in Club Balai Isabel, a resort located at the edge of Taal Lake in Talisay Batangas. The last time I was near the waters was in 2004 (February 15, 2004, to be exact) during a field trip for our Geology 1 class. And as far as I can remember, it was my first ever banca ride and it was a really scary experience, seeing the kelp (or whatever you call them) swaying in the dark waters below. Rumor has it that thatShake, Rattle and Roll” film, with the infamous undin, was shot in Taal Lake. I took that fact to heart, so even if I am a capable swimmer, I was (or am) still scared of the lake.

The famous 'façade' of Taal Volcano - Binintiang Malaki

A floating house in Taal Lake

That was the time I became aware that the famous view of Taal Volcano was not the real crater. “Binintian Malaki” and its dormant crater is the face of Taal, but the real crater was located somewhere else in the near middle of the Crater Island. I actually got to go inside the real crater and we were even allowed to bathe inside. Of course, I did not but I remember a courageous lady from another section, who willingly took the plunge in her cut-out swimsuit (to the delight of the boys in the group). It was nevertheless nice to be back in a familiar place after almost a decade.

Nice native details on the ceiling

With my officemates!

Very nice shot of Mon and I by Faye

On a different note, it has been quite a while since Mon and I joined a team outing. The last time was unfortunate because Mon has acquired amoebiasis from Clearwater in Clark, Pampanga and we vowed to never join any of the future outings. But as we were in desperate need of kitchen and household appliances for our new apartment, we were eager to join so that we no longer have to buy some of them. LOL Again, given that there were far fewer people who attended, the succeeding events were a breeze, with only two games to boot. A far cry from the HOURS of games conducted before. Sporadic raffles in between eventually brought us three things: an oven toaster, a rice cooker and a digital camera! It was my first time to win a raffle!

And we won a rice cooker, an oven toaster and a digital camera

Club Balai Isabel was a nice place, but we had high hopes with the food because when we were still in Makati earleir, Mon and I spoked with a random guy in the elevator, commending thir food and service. So imagine that come lunch time, the roast beef was like rubber, the pork still had a lot of hair on the skin, and the soup was a macaroni short of being a macaroni soup. It was really unappetizing and it did not help that when we were about to be served snacks at around 3:00 PM, we saw that the delivery truck had accidentally dropped the trays of sandwiches on the lawn. I did not bother eating a sandwich, because it was a station away from being a soil-wich (corny, LOL).

However, make no mistake because the environment itself was beautiful. There were a lot of fruit-bearing trees, but the signboards were very explicit in warning us with bold “NO PICKING OF FRUITS”. What do they dowith them? We had no idea because the ground was littered with overripe fruits. What a pity. =(

The biggest pool in Club Balai Isabel

Somebody's irritated =D

Yes, I had to sit on the grass

As we were given a lot of free time to roam around the area, we had to visit the lakeside and see the bigger pool. There were few people swimming but I assume it would have been full if only the other company were done with their teambuilding activities. It was difficult to get a closer shot of the ‘volcano’ because my camera was not skilled enough, all of us had a great time taking pictures, particularly jump shots under the sun.

Slayin' them all with my cheerleader jump!

 

I still have it, I guess LOL

 

We also had a dip in the smaller but nearest pool to us, and I think we were inside for more than an hour. An officemate unfortunately had a mishap as she stopped swimming in the middle of the pool, not knowing that it was the deeper part. It was scary and funny at the same time because Mon and I had to rush and help her get out of the water. I knew that she would drag me in the matter, had I tried swimming to get her, so I just went below her and walked her to the gutter.

 

Synchronized swimming LOL

 

Before leaving, somebody made us fill papers for a raffle, and it was for a free stay in their place for some days and nights. As it was a raflle, I definitely have a small chance. It was a free trip so I should not be complaining, but the food was really a letdown. I even heard that they are charging about a thousand pesos for a sinigang dish in the executive restaurant, yikes! We also highly doubt that they have prepared food enough for about a hundred people. If none were absent and backed out at the last minute, alas, we needed a miracle to have enough food for all os us. =D

Going home from Club Balai Isabel

*(Some photos were grabbed from Faye and Dale) =D

 

Ebay headache: Overseas buyer claiming “Item Not Received”

The summer heat is no joke and I’m most happy with the cotton shirts I have in my closet. I could have acquired more before and I’m left circulating the same shirt and polo shirt over and over again. That’s why I was extremely happy when I got this white shirt from Mon’s grandma and Laylay on my birthday last week. I still have to use the clothing allowance we have in the office and when I get extra money, I’ll spend all of them on cotton T-shirts and polo shirts — one in every color. =D

Oxygen shirt, brick pants, Yves Saint Laurent white patent sneakers and Prada nylon and saffiano messenger

Anyway, at the back of my mind, I had a feeling that something seriously bad will happen with one of the items I have sent overseas earlier this month via Registered Mail of PhilPost. One buyer (of a bag) has filed an “Item Not Received” case against me on Ebay 12 days after I have sent her item in April 3. That was not even two weeks since I have sent it and she was pretty much informed of the transit time, as indicated in the auction, as well as my (one-way) correspondences with her uopn sending the item. It mentions that shipping might take “more or less two weeks”, so I was baffled on how quick she was to jump the gun in opening a dispute.

An Ebay 'Item Not Received' case

The tracking in PhilPost’s website was faulty and delayed, and I was excpecting that tracking information will get updated once the item reaches U.S. soil and it may take some time. I have also informed the buyer about this and I’m quite exasperated of her impatience. =/ I know the item will eventually arrive in her homestate and I did not know what will happen to my bag and money once she gets her refund. And of course, Ebay ruled in her favor and it was no surprise that the funds were taken out of my PayPal account. The reason: I allegedly did not provide a valid tracking information and there was no movement in tracking. I was gobsmacked.

There you are, the tracking number from PhilPost finally working  in USPS' website

I have half-heartedly accepted the outcome as selling internationally on Ebay.com is always a great risk. I also not made adequate research on every possible scenario that might happen, nor asked around about insuring the item in case it gets lost. Very expensive lesson, especially I had to take the shipping fee out of my own pocket because my funds are normally held for 21 days because of inadequate selling history. I have lamented this issue over a forum and was then happy to receive words of encouragement from some of the members. At their urging/curiosity, I followed up in the tracking and was happy to see that there was already movement in the tracking. It took me some time to process what was happening and thought of the best way to respond to this development. I contacted Ebay, explained the situation and hoped they would reverse the decision and give my funds back. Ugh.

Hello! Ilocos Norte! – Day 3

One word I was most excited for today — WATER; be it from water coming atop the mountain or the northernmost body of water of the Philippines, I definitely soaked up the sun! As we would be facing a very busy day, we woke up before 7:00 AM, barely an hour to prepare before leaving Laoag City to go northward to Bangui and Pagudpud.

Locating ourselves in the map on the way to Bangui

Driving to Bangui, we had to stop several times because I have been enthusiastically oriented by Mon’s family members to several famous spots, as well as momentary glimpses of both the West Philippine Sea (see what I did there =D) and the Luzon Strait. When we were already in Bangui, I was in complete awe to see the windmills. I knew beforehand that they were big but they were much bigger in person than I had expected!

Finally beholding the magnificent Bangui Windmills

The largest, mini-me of the Bangui Windmills

We spent almost an hour taking pictures and perusing over the souvenir shops by the beach. We then went straight to Pagudpud where both Agua Grande and the white sand beach awaited us. But first, we had to cross the Patapat Bridge (or Patapat Viaduct), known as the 4th lognest bridge in the country and connecting Ilocos Norte to Cagayan Valley. Personally, I had no idea that it was a tourist spot but the number of vehicles stopping so that passengers can take a picture was evident enough of how famous the place was.

The famous Patapat Bridge

Overlooking the Luzon Strait from Patapat Bridge - Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Barely a quarter of a kilometer away from the end of the bridge, we arrived in Agua Grande as it was our stop for lunch. It was where the lonely river flows to the sea (to the sea LOL) and the rushing water from the mountain was extremely cold. I have never bathed in a place full of boulders and it was indeed a geological wonder. =D I was really happy in Agua Grande and I can honestly stay there the whole day. I forgot how much the entrance fee was, but it was barely Php 40 per person. They also have a restroom near the entrance (Php 5 per usage) and a cottage could be rented for Php 300.

Makeshift infinity pool in Agua Grande,Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Water rushing downstream - Agua Grande, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Mon in Agua Grande, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Newfound respect for freshwater - Agua Grande, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

After eating a very quick lunch, we immediately took the plunge and let ourselves carried away by the water. I also felt like a kid carefullyjumping and crawling from one boulder to another, just to reach the spot where the waves crashed against the rocks. When Mon’s cousin and brother was there, I managed to take photos of them with a 15-foot wave in the background. When it was our turn, the winds might have died down a bit and we barely had a good one. It was still an amazing moment, though,

Trying to get a nice crashin wave in the background - Agua Grande, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Netx destination, the white sand beach! Entering the area from the highway, we had to pay another entrance fee. It was Php 20 for adults, Php 10 for children and discounted rates at Php 16 for senior citizens. Driving a couple of minutes from the “entrance”, we dropped by Bantay Abot Cave (which was not really a cave) to take pictures one by one with the rock formation. I think the less-than-an-hour stay there gave me the ugly tanline on my feet, where the thongs of my flip flops were “imprinted”. I should have put sunblock. LOL

Entrance fee to Pagudpud Beach proper - Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Bantay Abot Cave - Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

After leaving Bantay Abot Cave, we could see Saud Beach below and the white sand shore sent tingles down my spin! LOL The last time I was near the sea was more than six months ago in Zambales, where we did not enjoy the vacation because of my medical emergency. They dub this place as the “Boracay of the North” but I wholeheartedly agree with what Laylay said (she was a Tourism major after all). It should not be tagged in terms of other places because it has lots of charms on its own. I definitely hate when people/places are dubbed as the next-whatever.

Establishments in Saud Beach - Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Arriving in this place full of establishments, our vehicle was halted and told off by some police officers as we could not just park and swim on the beach because we had to pay for a cottage costing at Php 600 minimum (come to think of it, it was not even a nipa hut cottage but a table with a giant umbrella if I remember correctly). Oh hello capitalism! There was no way we would pay Php 600 for that! We just left and went to a place just outside that area, where we saw a signage on wood saying a Php 250 rental for a cottage.

Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Granted that we were not in the beach front of that overly-commercialized area, but we loved how slightly alone we were in our own little part of the beach. It has the same sun, sand and waves so I personally did not care. After drinking a big gulp of already warm orange juice and putting on sunblock, I immediately ran to the beach with Mon, his siblings and his cousin. ^_^ The waves were no joke and I had to twice pull myself out of the water because the incoming ones were sucking up the water.

Look at me overwhelmed by the waves LOL - Pagudpud Beach, Ilocos Norte

The waves were no joke - Pagudpud Beach, Ilocos Norte

Mon’ sister, Anne, did not bother getting in the water at all. Good call and she just contented herself with the waves crashing beneath her feet. After I got tired dealing with the waves, we just played with the sand and acted foolish in burying ourselves and building ugly sand castles.

Playing with the white sand - Pagudpud Beach, Ilocos Norte

We had a 9:00 PM bus ride back to Manila to catch so we left the beach at almost half past 3:00 PM. But barely leaving Bangui, our vehicle broke down. We were in the middle of nowhere and the car had no tools inside for emergency. Mon’s uncle had to hitch a ride on a motorcycle, who graciously took him back to wherever there was a mechanic in Bangui.

Fooling around while waiting - Bangui, Ilocos NorteFrustrated - Bangui, Ilocos Norte

After several attempts to repair it and make it run again (which also involved the car acting up midway on the climbing road), we finally made it to the viewing deck where we can see have a good view of the windmills. This is where we significantly spent most of our time and where the darkness fell. We got in the viewing deck just before vendors selling food packed up their things, and even if I were happy with the glowing Moon, we can’t help but feel worried with the whole ordeal.

Bangui Windmills during sunset, as seen from the viewing deck - Bangui, Ilocos NorteAlmost full moon - Bangui, Ilocos NorteAnd the darkness slowly fell - Bangui, Ilocos Norte

 

Almost four hours when the car FINALLY got fixed, I was really engrossed in taking pictures of the night sky, with my camera propped against a bunched up face towel. That was when things got a little creepy because of this shot of the Orion constellation:

Creepy hand--- whose hand was it - Viewing Deck, Bangui, ilocos Norte

 

Mon and I were just sitting on a bench and we were significantly far from the others (most of them were inside the car), when I took this shot. It had a hand, with four fingers showing (presumably with  the thumb bent inwards), reaching out to the sky. Mon mentioned that Anne approached us that time but the fingers in the picture were long and obviously belonging to an adult person. Anne’s fingers were short and stubby as well so there was no way the hand was hers. Just before we left the area, Mon’s brother asked the mechanic why there was no lamp post in the area and he passively answered that a truck accidentally destroyed it, and there area has seen its share of deaths. Yes, plural. Of course, every place has its own urban legends and he mentioned that the viewing deck even witnessed a suicide before. O_O

I don’t usually like creepy stories and I am definitely not the biggest fan of the supernatural. When we showed the photo the others, there was a unanimous sense that something was not right. Superstitions also dictate that the drive should sound his horn everytime he passes on anomalous areas, and we did the exact thing just in case.

We got back in Laoag at exactly 9:00 PM and we went straight to the Fariñas Bus Transit. Our reservation was naturally forfeited and we were not able to ride the bus back home. They have a rule of confirming the reservation thirty minutes before the departure time, and none of us had a working cellphone because our batteries were all empty. We had no choice but to take the second earliest bus home with an en suite bathroom, because Mon’s grandma could not stand a long ride without  going to the loo in between stopovers. At least we all got home safely.

Hello! Ilocos Norte! – Day 1

I have never been to Ilocos Norte and I was very happy to be invited by Mon to stay in the place where he grew up. According to him, it was approximately a 9-hour night trip and I knew that Bonamine would be my best friend again. We arrived in Fariñas Bus Transit near UST, Manila because our bus was scheduled to leave in exactly 9:00 PM. We were seated directly behind the driver and we had enough leg room to even put our bags on the floor. It was at Php 750 per person because they had an on-board comfort room! No more waiting for the stop over. It was difficult to sleep, though, because I was really suspicious of the people getting in and out of the bus. I fear for the sake of the duffle bag on the overhead compartment.

Laoag Bound - Fariñas Bus Transit

Around quarter to 6:00 AM, we arrived in Fariñas Terminal in Laoag City, where we were met by Mon’s aunt, who will be accompanying us to the house. The air was so cold and FRESH that the difference between city and rural atmosphere could not be starker. Reaching their house, Mon’s mother greeted us from the veranda and the next thing I know, I was being finally introduced to his grandmother. =D She was still full of energy at her age, and I was really delighted to see her. One by one, within the next hour, most of the people in the house began waking up. We had to eat breakfast before going to the cemetery to visit their grandfather’s grave (Mon was the first-ever grandchild), which was followed by a mass because it was Palm Sunday.

Mangoes directly from the tree

Mon visiting his late grandfather's grave in the cemetery

The mass was delivered in Ilocano and I could not understand a single thing. LOL There was also a sinking bell tower right across the street. They say that one can make a wish whenever visiting a church for the first time — I just did that as well. =P After the mass, Mon and I separated from the group to buy things from the market. I also needed my quick fix of coffee and we found one near PureGold, Laoag City.

Palm Sunday mass in Laoag, Ilocos Norte

Sinking Bell Tower in Laoag city center

Before lunch time, we went home to fix our things because we will be going to the river! I forgot the name of the river but it only took us around 30 minutes to get there. As soon as I saw the rows of nipa huts, I knew I was in for a treat. =D

A view of the river directly from the water's surface

Look how clear the water was? Amazing!

River from Ilocos Norte

But before anything else, we had to eat our lunch and I was surprised to see that the watermelon we bought from the market did not have a red flesh inside. LOL A lot of Ilocano dishes on the table as well, and I was particularly pleased with the longganisa and pinakbet. I think bathing in a river was an ingenious way to start the summer season!

Colorful watermelons! I never thought there were yellow-fleshed watermelons

LOL

I think after the lunch was over, I was one of the first people to jump right away to the water and was also the last one to get out. LOL That was how river-deprived I was. The water was not that deep, though, as the deepest part was barely above my waist. It was a good thing especially the place was packed with families with little kids.

Enjoying the cold river water

Mon's sister, Anne, striking a pose

I think these girls were looking for fish and shells to play with

Then at around half past 3:00 PM, we decided on a whim to head to Batac and visit Ferdinand Marcos’ body preserved in a mausoleum. We were not allowed to use our cameras inside and the guard was watching our every move, trying to catch people violating the rule. We were inside for less than two minutes as we only had to walk around the casket.

In Batac, Ilocos Norte after visiting Ferdinand Marcos' body on display

Then for a late merienda, it was a perfect opportunity to eat empanada! After a five-minute drive, we reached this area, with rows of stalls selling food. We sat down in Glory’s Empanada and I finally  had my first ever empanada from Ilocos. LOL

Finally! Got to taste empanada from Ilocos Norte - Glory's Empanada

 

After that quick snack, we went to Paoay to visit St. Augustine Church a.k.a. Paoay Church (“Paoay! Kumakaway!”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site built primarily with coral blocks. We got there late in the afternoon, so naturally, we were not able to see the church lit-up. which was too bad because I was sure it would have looked heavenly in person.

Paoay Church (St. Augustine Church), Ilocos Norte

 

Peculiar material of the structure - coral bricks

 

Tourists in Paoay - Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte

 

 

And in the nick time, just before sunset, we went to Fort Ilocandia’s beach just to literally take pictures. There were also a lot of people and the beach itself was quite OK. We would have loved to swim as well, but we were not to go to the beach until Pagudpud on Tuesday.

Dropped by Fort Ilocandia beach

 

Literally dropped by to take photos

 

Getting our feet wet, but no beach until Pagudpud on Tuesday

 

This amazing race in a day made me love Ilocos Norte very much. =D It made me realize I should be really going around the country more than outside because we have an amazing share of wonderful spots — without breaking the bank. Tomorrow would be a less eventfuly day because Mon and I still haven’t properly slept because of the bus ride! One regret: I should have bought at least two more empanadas to take home with me!