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Passion for travel
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: By Jaser A. Marasigan
Date: 2004-12-26
What started as one of the perks of my job suddenly became a passion and an advocacy. Being a travel journalist, it never felt like work at all because I am definitely loving every moment of it. I get to slow down and enjoy life... Traveling is not only about the scenery, it also gives me a sense of where I am going and why.

As a self-proclaimed ambassador, I always talk to people of how beautiful the Philippines is, and even made it a mission to encourage them to see more of the country.

The Philippines is such an eclectic place, a culture with a divided soul. The country’s richness lies in its diversity. This is a country with 7,107 islands, and every island has its own charm and beauty. Among these islands, I think I’ve already seen more than a hundred (obviously, I still have a long way to go).

My editor asked me to write about my favorite places in the country, places I want to visit again. And due to limited space, I am only naming my top five favorites. Mind you, cutting the list down to five was difficult as each trip is memorable, each place has a unique story to tell. But excluding Boracay in this list made it a bit easier. Of course, Boracay is an obvious choice. Its mere mention is an understatement.

A piece of Spain

I like Vigan because it is nostalgic, and it is supposed to be the early version of modern Manila. Houses were furnished with the finest woodwork, glassware and porcelain from all over the world. Although most of them continue to be inhabited by descendants of the original builders, some have been turned into grocery stores, while a few have been transformed into museums and souvenir shops selling food items for "pasalubong" such as Bagnet, Longganisa, and my favorite, Ilocos Empanada.

Being the only surviving colonial town in the country, Vigan has more than 180 ancestral houses and historical landmarks with a unique fusion of Asian, European and Latin American influences. Vigan’s inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List is a salute to the genius of our native artisans.

Sweet, sweet smiles

Its rich cultural heritage plus a dash of city spice makes it a perfect mix for a truly memorable trip. Since my first visit to the province of Negros Occidental, particularly to Bacolod and Silay cities, the place has been on my list of favorite destinations.

I have a fascination for old houses, so I was really glad when we went to Silay City, referred to as the "Paris of Negros." Hofileña was the first house in Silay to become a tourist attraction, which houses the amazing Ramon Hofileña Art collection, more than 1,000 paintings by top Filipino artists. But what amused me was his collection of mementos from his travels including the ones which Ramon claimed to be the smallest dolls in the world, as small as a rice grain.

Popular beach and island destinations here are located either in the northern or southern tips of the province. Lakawon Island is rimmed by white sand beaches and studded with coconut and Talisay trees, while the Carbin Reef is a white sand bar with offshore coral rubbles, and a watchtower to view the breathtaking landscape.

Negrenses are fun loving people who enjoy the finer things in life and who definitely celebrate in style. I had fun bar hopping along Lacson St. and the Goldenfields Commercial Complex in Bacolod City. The provinces’ mouth-watering cuisine is also legendary. It is particularly popular for sugar-based food items and delicacies, and of course, Inasal (barbecued marinated chicken), probably its most famous dish.

Their zest for life is also manifested in the MassKara Festival which has put Bacolod in the world tourism map. The festival is a showcase of hundreds of smiling masks, thus the monicker "City of Smiles."

Closest thing to paradise

This lovely island which tourists endearly call "the island of your imagination" is indeed a place of tranquility. Camiguin is said to be the country’s most peaceful province. It is about 54 kms. southeast of the famous Chocolate Hills and 90 kms. north of Cagayan de Oro City.

Attracting tourists is the Lansones Festival held every third week of October in Mambajao, which showcases a tableau of local culture and the province’s brand of lansones which they claim is the sweetest.

The gorgeous White Island (just a 10 minute banca ride) is its top tourist destination. This uninhabited small white sand bar showcases a view of the picturesque Mt. Hibok-Hibok and Old Vulcan. Although it never intended to replace paradise, one could say that Camiguin may be the closest thing to it.

Simply breathtaking

My trip to Coron Island was one of my most memorable trips because aside from the fact that I was totally disconnected from my so-called "normal life" (imagine living in an isolated island for three days), it was also the first time that I traveled via SuperFerry. I was actually afraid to travel by sea, and had I not gone through with it, I would have missed the chance to explore one of Palawan’s hidden lures.

Forming a part of the Calamian group of islands, located half-way between Manila and Puerto Princesa, Coron is mainly made up of rugged terrain, mountain ranges, rolling hills, wide valleys and high plateaus. The island is rich in marine resources. Divers go to Coron for its 12 accessible shipwrecks scattered all over the islands.

A sight to behold was the dramatic Debatok Island, framed by huge black rock formations and imposing jagged cliffs surrounded by water. The nearby Twin Lagoon is just as equally breathtaking. It is encircled by towering limestone formations, like rows of cathedrals looking down on the lagoon’s emerald green waters.

Postcard beauty

Batanes is always mentioned in connection with weather disturbances, apparently, the provinces’ only claim to fame. But what most Filipinos don’t know, Batanes boasts of undisturbed and unspoiled beauty of nature. Although it is constantly swept by wind and rain, the notion that it is battered by typhoons is wrong.

A complete eco-tourism destination, Batanes offers a kaleidoscope of natural, cultural and ecological attractions from its rich marine resources including the rarest corals in the world, to its verdant rolling terrain.

I was amused by the sight of lighthouses and grazing cows in the meadows. I often hear foreign tourists calling Batanes as the "New Zealand in the Philippines."

Batanes is the smallest province in the country, comprised by ten small islands surrounded by a vast expanse of water, like the Luzon Strait and Balintang Channel, and where the Pacific Ocean merges with China Sea.

Almost one-half of Batanes are hills and mountains. Batan island, where the capital town Basco is located, is the most accessible among the islands, you can even circle it in three hours. But you definitely need a few more days to savor the picturesque meadows and seas that gird the island.

Among the five destinations, I miss Batanes the most... Anywhere you look, it’s nothing but beauty. It fed my mind clarity and my soul, calmness.

[ Carbin Reef Wiki | White Island Wiki ]


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