Rafting in Pandin Lake

Rafting in Pandin Lake
and a Side Trip to an Underground Cemetery
By Danny Tariman

My family is always on the lookout for places to go and discover.
As what we normally do before going on a tour, we do some research. We agreed to explore this time, at least one of the 7 lakes of San Pablo. Yes, it is seven!

My family on a raft in Pandin Lake
My family on a raft in Pandin Lake

We decided to go to a more rustic, a more ‘nature’ lake – the Pandin Lake, and have a side trip to the underground cemetery of Nagcarlan. We contacted Aling Siony (got her number – 09299789565 – from blogs), and reserved for my family a bamboo raft and pack lunch for 4.

We left home at about 6 o’clock in the morning. Since it was early, the drive was easy until we reach San Pablo about an hour-and-a-half later, when tricycles and jeepneys were already reigning the road. It was only in the city proper we experienced traffic. Past the city was another easy drive.

pan005We passed by Sampaloc Lake – the biggest of the 7 lakes in area. It is just behind the city plaza and you will see fish pens dotting the lake and a number of restaurants lining the perimeter. This is not our destination; we continued with our trip and about 15 minutes later, we saw an improvised marker “To Lake Pandin”. You need to be on the look as you might miss this marker.

We parked at a vacant lot surrounded by banana plants. We left our vehicle to a parking attendant who charged Php50 for parking. I think it is worth it; he watched our car while we were away.

Feeding fish at the lake
Feeding fish at the lake

From the parking lot, Lake Pandin was a good 15-minute fast walk or about 30 minutes for a leisurely, stop-and-go walk. A boy volunteered to help us carry our stuff. You just have to give him a tip. I would encourage that you take that boy, as he can help you find your way also, and give you some background about the place. Yes, I usually engage local folks to talk about their village and their people.

Swinging by the lake on a big vine
Swinging by the lake on a big vine

When we reached the lake, we were greeted by this green and quiet body of water – the Pandin Lake. The scenery is just so refreshing, the air so clean, and suddenly, you feel like slowing down. Having been a city dweller for over 25 years, this is a real ‘break’ from the hustle and bustle of city living.

Aling Siony welcomed my family to the place. She immediately offered freshly opened young coconut (not free). And yes, sipping coco-water while our feet are soaked in the lake water was simply so relaxing, so refreshing.

Before taking off for the raft ride, she ushered-in our lunch. Wow, truly an experience! Wild fern in native lemon dressing (paku sa kalamansi) topped with slices of salted eggs, fresh tomatoes and onion rings; charcoal-grilled “St Peter’s” fish (inihaw na tilapia), fresh-water shrimps cooked in thick coconut cream (hipon sa gata), steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves, and naturally-ripened banana for our dessert. How about that for lunch?

Our lunch (clockwise from top) fern, tilapia, rice & banana, shrimps
Our lunch (clockwise from top) fern, tilapia, rice & banana, shrimps

We finally moved with Aling Siony as our “raft-woman”. We slowly and relaxingly travelled across to the other side of the lake. I like the feeling – as if my watch stopped – an unhurried, peaceful, calm life.

We enjoyed our lunch with bare hands; yeah, I enjoy the food the more eating with bare hands. After eating, we just rested in the quietness of the lake. We fed fishes swimming near the raft; my children tried riding the ‘swing’ – a big vine hanging from a tree. We had a look at the neighboring lake – the Yambu Lake.

Moving a bit forward on our raft, we went to a lake corner where an image of Mama Mary is enshrined on top of a rock. This little corner drips with fresh, clean potable water streaming from roots of trees! I washed my face here and wow, so exhilaratingly fresh and cool!

The entrance gate to the underground cemetery
The entrance gate to the underground cemetery

From this lake, we drove some 20 minutes further to Nagcarlan, Laguna. We visited the underground cemetery. It was a nice experience, really. The niches were literally under the ground. The place

The underground cemetery
The underground cemetery

has very well-maintained landscape.

On our way home, we bought a lot of home-made goodies which Nagcarlan is known for. There a lots of them – from local biscuits to chips, to sweets.

Tip: if you have more time, you can drive next town further to Liliw, Laguna. The town is noted for durable yet cheap footwear!


The Wonders of Puerto Princesa

The Wonders of Puerto Princesa
by Danny Tariman

My family loves exploring places. We roamed around Davao City last month, and this month, we are going to yet another destination: Puerto Princesa and the Underground River. Exciting, indeed!

We booked our trip early. Thanks to a promo of Cebu Pacific, we were able to get our ticket to the city for only 1 peso for a one-way airfare. As what we normally do, we search the internet for places of interest in the city. We also check the comments of various hotels available. We got this very homey B&B hotel for a very good price. It is like a home away from home. Plus, the staff always are smiling and very accommodating.

Here We Come, PPC!

Me & my wife at the lobby of the B&B Inn.
Me & my wife at the lobby of the B&B Inn.

We arrived at the airport early at about half-past-nine. We were met at the airport by an almost new Toyota Hi-Ace which took us to the hotel. The drive from the airport was easy in quick, I find out that the airport is just 15 minutes away from the city. I have noted that main thoroughfare is lined with many restaurants and shops that tells me I had arrived in a “tourist city”.

We checked-in at a B&B lodge with interiors and patio which is like home. We were welcomed by very helpful and smiling staff. I thought I was home. The room is clean and fresh. Indeed the comments of past guests, that we have read from the internet are true.

Off To A Good Start

My family at the garden of Neva's Pizza.
My family at the garden of Neva’s Pizza.

Immediately after we had settled, we set our feet on the road. Our first stop: a popular local pizza store – the Neva’s Pizza. It was a good experience, We were served a home-made style pizza baked in firewood-heated oven. Oh, yes! We were seated in the middle of a garden. Something that I haven’t experienced back in Manila. A must-try for the city visitors.

After our lunch, we took a tourist van which toured us to various places in the city. First stop was a weaving factory & souvenir shop. I tried weaving a few strokes just to get a feel of how it is done. An experience,really! Then we went to Mitra Ranch with a villa overlooking the city and the seas.

The Mitra Ranch
The Mitra Ranch

We visited next the Bakers Hill. Aside from the nice hopia, what caught my interest here is the well kept garden. It is really awesome – ornamental plants every where that exudes a very fresh and relaxing ambiance. We had a light afternoon snack here – with its hopia and other stuff.

We capped the day tour with a visit to Palawan Wildlife & Conservation Center. This place keeps and maintains some endangered species in Palawan. This also houses a crocodile farm.

In the evening, we had time to re-connect with my cousin Ate Rose who had left Manila long time ago and is now living in Puerto Princesa. We hadn’t seen each other for many, many years. We had a great time over dinner with her and her family, in a very nice Filipino restaurant.

Bakers Hill gardens.
Bakers Hill gardens.

The Underground River

This is a long drive from the city proper. It was good that our tour guide was chatty and funny. We were laughing all the way from the city to Sabang – the drop-off point for the boat ride to the cave. During our trip, we were told that there are monkeys freely roaming in the vicinity of the cave and that we should take care of our bags and cameras as these monkeys may grab it ‘thinking’ it might have food. At Sabang tourist center, waited for about 30 minutes while our tour guide registered us and arranged for our boat. The boat ride was about 30 minutes. The excitement was growing as we were nearing the underground river. Indeed there were monkeys freely roaming. And not only monkeys, there are also big (about 2-feet long) mountain lizards.

Entrance of the Underground River
Entrance of the Underground River

The underground river tour was about 30 minutes. You will hear Oh’s, and Ah’s, and Wow’s as you go inside. It was pitch black dark. We were using a lantern (a battery operated flashlight) so guide us. Tip: volunteer to be the lantern holder, so you can have more control of the light direction and spot where you want to see more. You will be guided by the boatman where to focus the light.

Inside the cave you will see various formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The boatman has named each spot, from “vegetable market” (because to formations like carrots and others) to “cathedral” (because of the high ceiling), to “Virgin Mary” because of similarity of the rock formation to an icon of the Blessed Mother.

Back to the City

We had our buffet lunch at Sabang after our underground river tour. While others were resting, we walked about the place and see its surroundings. We visited Sheridan Resort & Spa which is a high-end hotel. It has a swimming pool and a garden that extends to the beach.

A stop at the "Amazing Race" marker
A stop at the “Amazing Race” marker

Along the way, we stopped by the Karst Mountain/Elephant Cave – so called because of the similarity of its facade to a head of an elephant. This is also the place where the reality TV series “Amazing Race” had a stop for the contestant’s next cue.

At the city, we tried its famous halo-halo (sweetened mixed fruits with finely crushed ice and creamy milk). Really good “must-try” for visitors. In the evening, we strolled at the Bay Walk. We also had a dinner “boodle-boodle” style where all food – rice, an assortment of grilled seafood (fish, squid, crabs, etc) – is served in banana leaves in the middle of a table.

Honda Bay Island Hopping

The final leg of our tour is island hopping at Honda Bay. We took a motorized boat. We were with a group of other tourists from Australia, the US, and an Arab. We had befriended them all.

At Luli Island
At Luli Island

Our first hop was at Pandan Island. My family had a good time here feeding various kinds of fishes. My son was also able to spot some star fishes. From Pandan, we took another ride for about 15 minutes and then we reached Luli Island. This island is said to be visible when low tide, and submerged during high tide. This island has a diving spot but we didn’t give it a try. Instead, we just swim in the deeper portions of the water where we took some photos of corals and live fish. We roamed around its surroundings.

Our last and final hop was at Cowrie Island. We had an eat-all-you-can buffet lunch. We had a satisfying lunch here. I had to go back few times to the serving bar. Hehehe. We also had as good chat with our new friends whom we had met in this tour.

With fellow tourists at Cowrie Island
With fellow tourists at Cowrie Island

Final Note.

Some tour packages are usually marketed as “1 day”. Make sure to have alternate plans as it can actually be finished early or mid-afternoon. This means you have a lot of free time during the later part of the day. Plan what to do, where to go. I suggest you check out other places of interest that may not be in the package tour itinerary.

When traveling with a certified tour guide (with ID issued by the local government), he will normally announce the dos-and-donts. Make sure to listen attentively. The airport strictly enforces its rules. We were checking-in at the counter when a foreigner beside me was also checked-in with a native handicraft. It was not really big; can be hand carried. But it was not allowed; thus it was required as a check-in luggage with a fee.

Puerto Princesa, indeed the gate to one of the world’s wonders!

A Birthday Celebration

A Birthday Celebration
by Danny A. Tariman

“When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor… then you will be blessed” (Luke 14:12-14)

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to you…”

Thus sang the 100 little children from a remote mountain village on our arrival at their school. They were all giggling and smiling. You can notice the joy in their faces.

Me and my daughter at the start of the event.
Me and my daughter at the start of the event.

We came to this village to celebrate our daughter’s birthday. It was her wish to celebrate her birthday with poor little kids.

Months before that eventful and blessed day, our daughter confided to us her this wish. She had saved money for this purpose. All that we did was to help her coordinate the logistics, the venue, and the preparation.

Our family bought and prepared the gifts for the kids in Manila, while the food was prepared by loyal friends who lived in that remote village.

The celebrant hosting the games for kids.
The celebrant hosting the games for kids.

And so, this is the day! This is indeed the day that the Lord has made, we rejoice and are glad!

We started the event with an opening prayer which was led by their school teacher.

Then we had party games – the “newspaper dance”, the “boat is sinking” game, and the longest line contest. I noticed that the older kids made some strategies on how to win the games, while the younger kids were just doing what they can. It was fun.

We were all sweating and tired. Yes! But we enjoyed more seeing the little children enjoy the games.

The celebrant handing food packs to the kids.
The celebrant handing food packs to the kids.

After all the excitement, we had our lunch of spaghetti and fried chicken which were prepared by some friends who shares our mission and our joy feeding these little kids.

This brought me to the Biblical teaching in Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

After eating our lunch, we distributed the gift packs for each child – an envelop of school supplies, and a small bag of food items.

The celebrant, assisted by mother, giving gift packs to the little children.
The celebrant, assisted by mother, giving gift packs to the little children.

We thank the Lord for the opportunity to be a channel of His love and blessings for these kids. We thank Him for answered prayers, and we thank Him for the good weather too.

I claim God’s promise in Luke 14:14 “When you host a dinner… invite the poor… then you will be blessed”.

A Taste of Tuguegarao City, Callao Cave, & Noodles

Our North Luzon Road Trip Leg #5
A Taste of Tuguegarao City, Callao Cave, &  Noodles

by Danny Tariman

Tuguegarao is the urban center of Cagayan Valley and the capital city of Cagayan province. During summer, the temperature in this city sizzles to over 40 degrees Celcius, and is probably one of the hottest places in Luzon. This was our 4th leg of our North Luzon road trip.

The winding bridge of  Patapat.
The winding bridge of Patapat.

We left Pagudpud Beach at about 9am moving east-ward towards the direction of Cagayan province. We passed by a famous bridge in the area, the Patapat viaduct. It is long winding bridge at the edge of a mountain and hanging above the sea. The view is indeed postcard-perfect!

We continued our long drive – the longest I had driven in this road trip without a stop – going futher south-east. We passed by mountains and fields, and truly this is what I really like in distance driving. It refreshes my soul as I view the natural beauty of the surroundings. What I had noticed though, is that the mountains in this trip (east of Luzon) were greener than the mountains we passed 2 days ago (west of Luzon). Maybe the weather; I don’t know.

A rice field we passed in Cagayan Valley
A rice field we passed in Cagayan Valley

We had a pit-stop at Alcala town where we refilled our drinking water tank. We also had a quick visit to the market for anything we can buy – a local food or item. And yes, we were fortunate as we were able to buy a local version of “tupig”. This one is not grilled and is wrapped in fresh banana leaves, while the “tupig” that I had known long time ago from Pangasinan is grilled. We had a good snack stop in this town.

We drove further south reaching Tuguegarao City just about lunch time. The city is bustling with urban activity – jeepneys, tricycles, pedestrians walking. You will also see the common sight in Metro Manila, lines of popular fast-food restaurants. But as my family agreed, we will not eat food available in the metro.

My family in front of St Peter Cathedral.

We first stopped at the St Peter Metropolitan Cathedral where we offered our prayers and thanksgiving. The church is the homebase of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao. This is a clean-looking church made of bricks outlined with plaster painted in white. In the inside you will see a mixture of old and new – old ceiling showing the wooden braces, with new chandeliers hanging.

We crossed the street towards a mall. As we were all hungry, we quickly looked for a local dish we can eat immediately. We found from the mall’s food court some stalls offering these local dishes:

Pacit batil patong
Pancit batil patong
Pancit Cabagan
Pancit Cabagan

pancit batil patong and pancit Cabagan. These are 2 varieties of noodle preparation, and we tried them both! The pancit batil patong is a stir fried noodles with pork and vegetables with fried whole egg on top. The pancit Cabagan on the other hand is made from noodles from Cabagan, Isabela, sauteed in crispy pork, igado (pork liver stew) and vegies with rich thick sauce.

After our quick lunch, we drove to the Callao Cave which is about a 20 minute travel from the city. At the tourist desk, we met another “Willy” – the third “Willy” for this road trip! This time he was our tour guide for the cave exploration.

My family at the entrance of Callao Cave
My family at the entrance of Callao Cave

The cave entrance is several steps up from the road. When we reached near the entrance, we all felt a cool waft of breeze coming out of the cave. It was really very cool; it was a refreshing treat for our weary body catching breath because the climb.

Once inside, it was a different world – stalactites and stalagmites greeting us all over. We were told by our guide that the cave has 7 chambers. The one that really caught my curiosity is the “Cathedral” – a chamber with high ceiling, and an altar look-alike in front. We were told that Masses where held in the past in this chamber.

The "cathedral" inside the Callao Cave
The “cathedral” inside the Callao Cave

We walked towards the inner chambers but we did not pursue anymore the innermost because we are already happy experiencing first few chambers.

We drove back to the city, and then finally headed back to Maharlika highway on our way to Santiago City, Isabela where we plan to sleep for the night. We would have visited the Piat Church but due to time constraints, we decided to forgo seeing this beautiful church.

We passed though highways and valleys. I enjoyed viewing the rural scenic beauty of the Cagayan as we drove towards Isabela province.

We reached Santiago City very late for this travel – at about 8pm. We were suppose to taste local dishes but it was a bit late, and so we “forced” ourselves eating at a popular fastfood chain.

We had not pre-booked hotels for this travel, and so after our dinner, I looked for a good hotel. Unfortunately, the 2 good hotels in the city that we checked are both full.

Left with no choice, we drove a couple of kilometers back to the city outskirts and we found this really nice hotel with big rooms and very reasonably priced! I believe this is a blessing as the accommodation is indeed very good. My family enjoyed a restful and peaceful sleep.

After our breakfast the following day, we hit the road again for the 6th leg – and our final stop – of our road trip: the Banawe Rice Terraces.

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by Danny Tariman

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:4

“What is it like to be a child? What are the characteristics of a small child?”

These were the questions the teacher posed to us in a Bible study session one evening. The three most common answers from the congregation were: trusting, dependent and obedient.

I was struck by the answers.

Trusting because a child fully trusts his parents and never doubts them. I remember how I asked my little girl to jump into the middle of the pool where I was. Without hesitation, she jumped towards me even if the water was too deep for her.

A child is fully dependent on his parents. He knows that his parents will provide for his needs and even his wants. My son was still little when he asked me for an expensive remote-controlled toy. Even though I could hardly afford it, God provided and he got his toy.

And yes, a child is obedient. Tell him to do something and he does it quickly.

I realize now that it’s a bit of a challenge to be like a child. “The gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). With God’s grace, I will!

Reflection: Are you childlike or childish?

Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to be childlike. Amen.

[This reflection was first published in Didache Oct 2, 2014]