July 17, 2013

Rainy Puerto Galera Weekend

May 11-13, 2013. I haven't been this excited to go the beach as it has been an eternity since we last travelled. I was really looking forward to the sight of pristine waters and the chance to soak up some sun while doing absolutely NOTHING. I'm far from being light-skinned, but I absolutely love getting roasted under the sun! Life for me is lying on a lounger by the pool or along the shore, sipping a smoothie :)

For this trip, we decided to go to Puerto Galera -- an easy two-hour drive to Batangas Port and an hour at a ferry and it's sea, sun and sand galore already! 

But as fate would have it, it starts to rain really hard the night before our trip and according to PAG-ASA it'll last for at least three days, which will exactly cover our entire vacation. It's been scorching hot since the start of the year (with record high temperatures being reported) and it chose to rain on the weekend of our first trip to the beach for the year. Great.

So we set out on a gloomy Saturday morning to Batangas Port and caught a ferry bound for Puerto Galera. The Port has a big parking space for vehicles and you can opt to leave it there for a couple of days. It'll cost roughly PHP100 for 24 hours which I think isn't bad. There are a number of ferries you can choose from and there's one leaving every hour. No need to bother to check the schedule or fuss with reservations.

We stayed at The Manor (near Muelle Port) during our first night and it's definitely one of the best accommodations you can find in the island. It's not exactly beach front (it's actually quite far and will cost you PHP150 to travel to White Beach via tricycle), but the comfort and great service definitely makes up for the poor location. We enjoyed the great view while lounging on the (kinda small) infinity pool and the kids enjoyed playing billiards and foosball at the game room.

The Manor at Puerto Galera

Unfortunately, we were only able to stay for one night because they are already fully booked. So the next day, we set out to White Beach and checked in at Apartelle de Francesca (which was a big mistake, more details later). We also booked our island hopping tour through the hotel (which was an even bigger mistake, again details later).

The weather was erratic -- we'll get sunny for a minute, cloudy the next few and scattered drizzles here and there, it was insane! But not wanting to waste time, we went to the beach to try some rides. We initially wanted the Banana Boat, but since we have kids with us, we were advised to try the UFO instead. 

Riding on the sidelines.

Hands up for a great ride!

Being big fans of theme parks, we really enjoyed being tossed and dragged in a rough, bumpy ocean and being splashed with salt water while we hold on for dear life. Unlike roller coasters though, this one doesn't come with a standard seatbelt and it's best to hold on tight. Do not in a any way imitate my daughter who raised her hands during the ride. A number of groups tried the UFO but I haven't seen it capsize nor seen anyone who flew out to the sea. So I guess, for kids, this is a safer option compared to the Banana Boat.

Next on our list - get a henna tattoo. A trip to Galera is just not complete without this one. The kids and I got a small tattoo while the hubby opted to have his entire shoulders inked. 

First time to get inked.

We wanted to get a quick lunch before our island hopping tour and I was surprised that finding a decent place to eat can be quite an ordeal in this island. The only food worth writing about is the PHP50 halo-halo which is brimming with fruits and all other ingredients and is just drop-dead delicious. Hubby ate two servings all by himself (told you it was that good!).

We headed back to the resort to meet our boatman for our island hopping tour. We have to ride a tricycle going to the docks as all boats going on island hopping has to depart from this particular port. After waiting for what seems like an eternity at the port, we were finally on our way to our first island. Or so we thought.

We stopped somewhere in the middle of the ocean (along with other boats) and we were informed that we have to rent a smaller banca (read -- pay extra) so we can get to the caves, giant clams, and so on. So we told him that the contract was for a 4-hour island-hopping tour and we do not intend to go to those places he mentioned as we feel the kids are not ready for those. We were told that if we do not want to go to these places, we can just do snorkeling in that area. We were fine with it and so we donned our life vests and jumped in the water. 

The kids are not particularly excited about snorkeling. From a previous trip, as soon as they saw a school of fish and massive corals, they literally run back to shore. I think the idea of being so deep scared them. This time with no shore to run to, we manage to have them peek a little under the water and then raise their head if they're uncomfortable. We manage to do this a couple of times, until they got a little comfortable and they even threw bread so the fish will go to them.

We've been to better snorkeling areas, but this one is special since this is the first time the kids enjoyed snorkeling (or their version of peeking underwater).

Happy snorkeler.

Next stop is an island (sorry forgot the name!) where we can swim. Sand here is not exactly fine. It's actually pebbled and hubby found the flat stones which you can throw and it'll bounce a couple of times in the water. The kids were still busy snorkeling -- they kinda enjoyed the headpiece, the life vest and the site of algae and small almost transparent fish that ply the shore. We stayed here for a little while and headed back to the boat for our next destination. The kids were still on a high and was expecting to visit more islands. 

To our dismay and frustration, we were told that we are heading back to the docks as we have finished the island hopping tour. I do not have my watch with me but I'm freaking sure that not even an hour has past yet. Of course, I did tell the man about the agreement but he decided to just ignore me and head back to the port anyway.

When we got back to the resort, the man I initially talked to was even surprised to see us back so soon. So I gave him the story of how the boatman he referred us to simply refused to take us anywhere else and insisted we head back pronto. He did apologize for the mishap but that can't make up for anything, especially since the kids were having fun and were still looking forward to visiting more islands. 

Since the kids obviously still want to stay in the water, we let  them swim in the hotel pool for a little while.  The pool is shaped like a footprint with small jacuzzis. It's not big, but enough for the guests. 

Our room on the other hand is far from ok. The water from the shower is barely enough to get the soap out of our body, there was a colony of gigantic ants in the bathroom, bed and pillows are not comfortable and the linens could use some fabric conditioner.  The worst part is when they charged us for non-existent stains in the pillowcases when we checked out the next day. I probably wouldn't be complaining as much if I don't have something to compare it to. The Manor has way better beddings, comes with free breakfast and costs less than Apartelle de Francesca. 

Moving on, our next agenda is where to have dinner. As I've mentioned earlier, finding a decent place to eat is quite a feat. We settled in a Mang Inasal knock-off located near the beach and has jet-ski inspired tables. We didn't enjoy the food but the kids definitely enjoyed playing on the table.

The next day, we set out early so we can be back in Manila by lunchtime. I still have a responsibility to do as a Filipino (which is to vote!) and I do not want to miss this one out.

As we head back home, hubby and I were discussing how the place has a lot of potential only if someone would invest in building a better accommodation/resort in the island and putting up restaurants that actually serve decent food. If not for new and better resorts, we don't see ourselves coming here anytime soon, or ever. 

The Manor at Puerto Galera
Yacht Club Road, Brgy, Sto. Nino, Puerto Galera, Philippines
Tel: +63926-9377908 / +63949-7681504
Website: http://themanorpuertogalera.com
Email: info@themanorpuertogalera.com

February 24, 2013

Quick Baguio Getaway

November 26-27, 2012. My memories of Baguio include watching in awe as my breath turns to fog, smelling the lovely scent of the pine trees and playing in the seesaw at Camp John Hay. Hubby had similar fond memories of the place when he was a kid and we decided it's about time our kids experience the City of Pines. We booked an overnight stay at The Manor and with a little help from Google Map a strong Smart 3G signal, drove five hours to our destination.

It was a chilly November and the 19C temperature is absolutely wonderful! The hotel is somewhat in a limbo of celebrations as the interiors were Halloween-themed while the lawn outside is so Christmasy.

Snowmen and snow-covered trees.

Halloween by the fireplace.

First on our list of things to do is to visit the Strawberry Farm in Benguet. None of us have tried strawberry picking yet and I heard it'll be loads of fun (for the kids at least). Again, we decided to let Google Map lead us to our destination but instead of a 30-minute trip, we ended up traveling for more than an hour on a steep and narrow cliff before we reached the farm.  

All green strawberry field.
I guess luck wasn't really on our side this time as we were greeted with a strawberry field, without the strawberries. Sigh. We were advised to come back after a week if we wan't to do the fruit picking. Apparently, strawberry picking season starts December and ends in May. I can't believe we were a week early!

After an epic failed attempt at the Farm, we went to Burnham Park to ride the boat. We let the kids do the paddling, screaming and fighting. The fun they had definitely made up for the earlier disappointment.

We headed back to Camp John Hay and went to Le Chef for dinner. Food was really good (I ordered steak and prawns) and the Baguio weather and the Manor's log cabin ambiance is just dreamy. The best part is the price tag that come's with it is just reasonable. I definitely would want to dine here again.

All lit up at night.

We always look forward to breakfast and we are all excited to try the menu at Cafe by the Ruins. It's just a quick drive to this restaurant near Session Road and it wasn't that busy yet when we arrived. 

All-time favorite food -- rice and egg.
I love the crepe! The mangoes are sweet and it's heavy enough to tide me through lunch. Their breads are also delicious. 

After a heavy breakfast, we went straight to Good Shepherd Convent and buy pasalubong. There were many people but there were many counters to accommodate them all. There was a line but it moved very quickly. Next stop, Mines View Park next door.

The first thing I noticed is the long line to have a picture taken with a St. Bernard dog. I was surprised to see more "booths" offering pictures with the same breed but they do not have the long line as the one near the entrance. No idea what's the story behind that particular dog though. As we walk along, we saw the stall where you can dress in native Cordillera costume and have your photo taken. I asked the kids if they want to try it but they said they'd only do it if they get to keep the costumes. Ok, I guess we'll pass this one. 

Chilly up here.

After taking some photos and buying some more souvenirs, we headed back to the car and started the long drive home.

The Manor at Camp John Hay
Loakan Road, Baguio City
Tel: 074-4240931 to 43 / 02-6876710
Website: http://www.campjohnhay.ph
Email: reservations@campjohnhay.ph