July 22, 2012

Bellarocca - Marinduque's Beautiful Rock

April 7-9, 2012. I've always wanted to go to Bellarocca ever since I've first read about it in a magazine years ago. I got intrigued by it's charming Santorini-inspired architecture and picturesque landscape. Seems like paradise to me and I wanted a taste of it.

So come morning, we woke up bright and early and super excited to go to to the resort. It was about an hour drive from our hotel in Boac to Lipata Port in the town of Buenavista. We didn't really have clear directions as to how to get there, aside from the very helpful advise from the resort's reservations staff to just follow the road and if need be, ask the locals for directions. Fortunately, there really is just one major road you have to follow and luckily my husband recognized the gated port even though there were no signs whatsoever (he said that the guard was a giveaway since it was very unlikely in the area).

From the jetty, it was a quick 5-minute speed boat ride to the island. It was so close I actually think it's possible to swim to the resort from the jetty, that is if you're a triathlete or an Iron-Man sort of person.

View from the jetty. It's actually so close it was tempting to jump in the water and swim to the island.

Upon arriving at the resort, we were greeted with leis and a welcome song. The main pavilion is located at the top so we have to wait for a golf cart to bring us there. It was a steep and long climb, not something you'd want to do on foot trust me. But if you're up to the challenge, it would actually make a hell of a hill training!

At the pavilion, we were served pandan iced tea while we register. There were a lot of people registering/checking-in that day and since our Terraza room was not ready yet, we were given a deluxe room where we can stay and park our things temporarily. Not to waste time, we suited up, went straight to the buffet lunch and hit the pool.

We are a big group and we got three two-bedroom-Terrazas wherein each one can accommodate 4 adults and two kids. Luckily, you get really good rates if you are a BDO Platinum or Titanium cardholder.

Huge two-bedroom Terraza
The 3 days and 2 nights we spent went by so quickly with packed activities. Here's what got us occupied at the resort:

1. Soaking up some sun in their super comfy loungers while admiring Mt. Malindig across the infinity pool. Just don't forget to apply and re-apply sunscreen to avoid getting fried like we did.

2. Flying a kite. This is actually the first time the kids got to do this and they spent a good amount of time under the scorching sun until the only thing left was tangled thread.

3. Going on a kayak race. It's comforting to know that their trusty lifeguards follow and stay close to you when you do this. Especially helpful when my kids' kayak capsized and they immediately came to the rescue. We even saw other guests who took their kayaks all the way to the jetty port in Lipata.

4. Jumping off at the Marina Bridge. Adults jumped from the ledge (where Derek Ramsey supposedly likes to jump to) while the kids jumped from the bridge. Well as for me, I've tried both. The jump from the bridge was ok (though it took twenty minutes of coaxing before I finally took the plunge) and the one from the ledge is more intense where you can really feel the sensation in your gut. Note though that you can only do this during high tide, so best schedule this in the morning.

You're not allowed to wear a life vest when you do this, so we have to ask their lifeguard to catch the kids when they hit the water and give them their vest. As expected, it took quite a while of sweet-talking, cheering, cajoling and a lot of bribing before my son finally leaped into the water. When he came up for air, we were greeted with a "THAT WAS SO COOOOOLLL!" remark and then went my daughter next. They jumped a couple more times after. Needless to say, the kids had a blast and we are super thankful to Bellarocca's patient staff who tirelessly waited in the water to catch my kids in their every jump. The experience was just priceless.

5. Snorkeling. You'll meet loads of fish and a few sea snakes (we saw one very, very near the shore, so be careful!). Again, you can ask their lifeguard to go with you and he can show you where to snorkel best. He'll even bring snacks to lure the fish to you.

6. Catching a puffer fish. Ok, so it wasn't really us who caught it, but just the same, it was such a delight to hold it and see it float in the ocean until it shrinks to its normal size.

Who wants to play throw and catch the puffer fish?

7. Participating in the art activities at the lunch pavilion. While us adults are busy stuffing ourselves with food, the kids on the other hand, got busy painting and drawing.

Not exactly Louvre-material, but a labor of love nonetheless.

8. Playing Foosball and billiards at the game room. The kids had fun playing boardgames as well. There's just something about playing Chess no-rules-style that really delights them. 

9. Enjoying the free cocktails while watching the sunset. This is actually a really nice way to cap off an afternoon of activities. There's an option for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink so kids can participate as well.

10. Exploring the resort and looking for more breathtaking views to capture.

It was a really enjoyable, relaxing and memorable stay. I would love to go back given we can arrange for a less stressful way of getting there (mental note to self: never ride the RORO on a Holy Week).

A few more things you should know:
  • There's no Sun signal at the island, Globe and Smart have good signals though. 
  • The restaurant offers buffet and a la carte food. Buffet prices are reasonable enough though choices are limited.
  • The resort offers free wired Internet in the rooms. 

Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa
Marinduque, Philippines
Tel: 8177290
Email: info@bellaroccaresorts.com

How to get there from Manila via Roro: Drive to Dalahican Port in Lucena, Quezon and board the RORO bound for Cawit Port. From there, drive to the town of Buenavista following the road close to the ocean. Watch out for the gated/guarded port which is Bellarocca's jetty.

July 11, 2012

Masked Morions of Marinduque

April 5-6, 2012. Marinduque is a heart-shaped island located in Luzon and home to the famed Moriones Festival. Getting there via plane takes less than an hour and getting there via RORO takes much, much longer. During Holy Week, when the Moriones festival is held, going there via the latter is a nightmare. This we experienced first hand.

Our trip started at ten o'clock in the morning, Holy Thursday. I know it's already late considering the throng of people who will be heading out of Manila to make the most of the extended holiday break. I've read so many horror stories about riding the RORO on this insane time of the year -- the exodus of people, the stampede, the more than ten hours of waiting. I have actually tried to reserve a slot in the RORO but apparently, the first-come-first-served, fall-in-line even if it takes forever, is still what works there. As for the hotels, I've called like twenty of them and only one can give us a room and only because the guest cancelled at the last minute. I know, the trip is starting to sound like a disaster by the minute but we decided to be optimistic and just prepare for the worst.

It was a three hour drive to Lucena Port and another three hours via RORO to Marinduque. Knowing that the best way to entertain little kids on a really long trip like this one is to keep their mouths and hands busy -- we brought snacks, packed lunch and fully-charged DS Lites and iPads. This is a killer combo and has not failed us -- so far!

It was our first time to ride a RORO and it must be beginner's luck that we only had to wait for two hours to board the next one. Just enough time to settle our dues and have lunch.

The ship actually did not look that big from afar, but when we got inside, we were surprised at how many they can cram inside. Mulit-wheeler trucks carrying all sorts of merchandise, buses loaded with passengers and private vehicles of all shapes and sizes are parked just inches away from each other. It was actually quite unsettling to see how they "secure" each vehicle with twisted rags (makes you pray really hard for a smooth sailing). Seeing all the vehicles and the huge crowd of passengers made me wonder for a minute if we are still within capacity. But before I start looking for the nearest life vest and rubber boat, I pushed the negative thoughts away and buried my nose in a book for the next three hours.

Finally we reached Marinduque (in one piece thank God!) and we drove directly to Boac Hotel. It was small and looked more like an ancestral home that was converted into a hotel. But nonetheless, the staff was very attentive and accommodating; the room was comfortable and homy; and there's air-condition and private bathroom. Just about everything basic we need for an overnight stay.

Our room -- cozy and comfy.

So we settled in and headed to the plaza where there's a night market of some sort and a Senakulo play was being staged. My little daughter actually enjoyed it and wanted to watch some more but the rest of us are just too tired and just wanted to eat and hit the sack.

Senakulo play at the Plaza.

The next morning, Holy Friday, the streets of Boac were crowded with colorful but fierce-looking Moryons and a huge flock of people (mostly tourists armed with DSLRs) eagerly anticipating the Via Crucis. The Via Crucis or Way of the Cross is the reenactment of the sufferings of Christ while carrying the cross to Calvary. It is also one of the highlights of the festival and lucky for us, it passes right outside our hotel. We can actually just  stay at the balcony and watch it from there but we decided to go down and be closer to the action.

It was a scorching hot day but my daughter was enjoying herself picking out which Moryon she wants to have a photo with.

Jesus Christ and the two thieves carrying the cross to Calvary.
Next, we headed to the plaza to watch the crucifixion and the reenactment of the story of Longinus. Legend has it that Longinus, a Roman soldier, pierced Jesus on the side while He was on the cross. Blood spilled and got to Longinus' blind eye which miraculously healed it. Longinus became a believer after the incident which resulted in him being hunted by the other Roman soldiers and after being caught was beheaded (the beheading of Longinus will be staged on Easter Sunday).

The crucifixion.
The star of the show -- Longinus.

The whole festival was actually a little heavy for the kids but nonetheless a good way to teach them the story of Jesus.

After the program, it was still a little early so we decided to tour the province. We visited one church from each town. We started in the cathedral in Boac, then off to Sta. Cruz, to Torrijos, to Buenavista (where there's also a hot spring), then lastly to Gasan (where the Moryons are giant statues), before heading back to Boac. It took us a couple of hours to do this. Would have been really nice if we had a whole day so we can see more places.

View from the deck in Balanacan.
Vintage houses lined up the streets of Boac.
We spent the next three days in breathtaking Bellarocca. It was a relaxing vacation in paradise and it would have been a truly happy ending if the story ends there. Unfortunately, there's still the agony of going back to Manila via RORO and this time we weren't so lucky. It took us twelve long and excruciating hours  before we were able to catch a ride back to Lucena Port. 

We have probably done everything imaginable to while away the time -- eat halo-halo, peanuts, balot, chicharon (basically whatever's being peddled), upload and tag photos in Facebook, fly a sky lantern, watch a telenovela at a nearby police station, sleep under the stars on a banig, chat with the locals at how crazy the line to the RORO is each year.

The only consolation is that the ship was not as packed and we were able to get a whole bench to us so we can sleep a little comfortably. It was quite an experience and if you ask if I'll ride the RORO again, probably yes but definitely not during Holy Week. 

Some things that might help:
  • Bring anything, everything that will help you be comfortable while waiting for twelve agonizing hours (or more!) on a vehicle. Or better yet, book a flight (if you're comfortable flying on a small aircraft, that is). As of the moment, only Zest Air flies from Manila to Marinduque.
  • At the RORO, make sure your driver gets to your vehicle way before you get to your destination. When near the port, passengers tend to flock the exit areas and it'll be really hard to squeeze in. You'll be causing delay and nothing sucks more than getting stuck in the ship because you have to wait for the driver of the car in front of you.
  • Reserve a hotel room months in advance -- even as early as January of that year. You do not want to end up sleeping in some crappy "semi-furnished" hotel with roaches and lizards as roommates and bottomed-out mattresses for beds. A few in our group got to stay at such in a desperation to get a room for the night.

The Boac Hotel
Boac, Marinduque
Tel: 042-3321121 / 042-3322066 / 042-3111096
Email: theboachotel@yahoo.com
Website: http://theboachotel.multiply.com