Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Biak na Bato National Park, Bulacan

Compared to my previous hike, this one was a walk in the park. Like, literally. Our destination for the day was the Biak nabato national park , a 2117 hectare protected site in San Miguel Bulacan. The place is of significant historical value as it was once the headquarters of Emilio Aguinaldo and the katipuneros.

I decided to bring my car, Xander, again this time. Tip: If you can fit enough people who are willing to share fuel expenses, traveling via a private car is usually cheaper and a lot more convenient than taking public transportation, even if your car happens to be a guzzler. 

Xander's bottom scraped along a stretch of road that was under construction. He survived the trip unscathed though

I met Fredda, nancy and two new travelbuddies, Sarah and Christian, at Sm north. We departed for San Miguel, Bulacan at around 8:30am. Continuing the trend of underestimating the distance and the difficulty of my trips, I expected this to be a shorter drive than my last trip to rizal/quezon. It turned out to be almost twice as long (3.5hours). To be fair, the drive wasn’t without its share of obstacles and they were some of the strangest road obstacles that I’ve encountered so far as a city driver. Water buffaloes almost as tall as a grown man, herds of cows walking casually in the middle of the road and, least amusing, tricycles that travel very casually at a maximum speed of 15kph on a 2 lane highway. They’re pretty common in the towns leading up to San Miguel. If you’re stuck in slow moving traffic, try overtaking and there’s a good chance that you’d find a tricycle holding back traffic for few car lengths.

A family of water buffaloes. The patriarch never took his eyes off us

We got to the park at around lunchtime. My initial thought when we entered the park was “We’re not gonna be roughing it today”. There was a proper parking lot, restrooms and stores that sell food and memorabilia. They were all near the entrance of the park though. There were no such conveniences along the trail. We got a tour guide for 300 pesos and proceeded to explore.

According to the guide, a tourist once drowned here. The body was recovered 30 feet underwater

We had lunch near one of the caves, surrounded by Coral rocks and flanked by flowing water. It was quite a scenic place to have lunch in. We got the occasional whiff of bat poop but that didn’t deter me from enjoying my food and the sights. 

We had crackers, tuna, fruits and veggies for lunch.

For the majority of the trail, the rails, the cemented roads and the relatively large number of tourists constantly hinted that you’re not in untamed land and the civilization was just nearby. As we hiked deeper into the park and approached the caves though, the rails disappeared, the concrete walkways turned into irregularly shaped boulders and the crowds got thinner and thinner until we got to our final cave where it was just us in total darkness –if it weren’t for our flashlights, that is. A word of warning: stalactites are usually not very friendly to heads that come into contact with them so always avoid contact. If you have squeamish travelmates, I would suggest not alerting them to the presence of the critters that inhabit the cave if you see them (spiders, frogs, lizards) as this will probably increase the incidence of noggin to stalactite contact in your trip.

Very tiny frogs

The caves were of course the highlight of the trip. Even if their historical value were to be ignored, they’d be majestic in their own right. There were a number of them in the park but we only got to explore 3 as ours was just a day trip. One interesting thing that we did was turn off our lights for a few seconds and listen to the sounds within the cave.

This cave was the "reception area" and meeting place for the Katipuneros during the Philippine revolution. Guerillas also sought refuge here during world war II 

We had dinner outside the park at a restaurant called “Rockwood”. In terms of ambiance, it was one of the nicest restaurants in the area. We probably came at a bad time though because ordering food wasn’t as much a matter of what you wanted to eat as it was a matter of what was available. It took us a couple of tries before we ordered something that was actually available. Food was good but nothing to write home about.

Dinner at Rockwood. 

In closing, I enjoyed the trip but I wouldn’t recommend the Biak na Bato National park to seasoned hikers because it isn’t as immaculate as they’d probably want it to be and the trail’s long but not not that difficult. I’d recommend it to first time cavers though.

The Biak na Bato National Park isn’t the kind of place that I can imagine myself visiting over and over again but I’m glad that I visited it at least once. It’s a nice little addition to the list of places that I’ve visited in my attempt to be a more outdoorsy person.

Damage: Fuel: 300 pesos per head, tour guide 300 pesos (60 per head), dinner:120 per head

If a car reviewer were to review this cave, he'd probably say something like "legroom is quite plentiful but headroom is very limited, Visibility is very poor, the seats are not very comfortable and where are the cupholders"

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tinipak river

We had the place entirely to ourselves. Just me, Julie, Fredda, Nancy and a tour guide. I was somewhere in Quezon surrounded by mountains of marble, crystal-clear water, lush vegetation and 3 beautiful ladies. It’s a hard life but someone has to live it.
With my travelmates, Julie, Fredda and Nancy.

More than 90% of the trail involved walking through level ground. The difficulty hiked up significantly near the end of the trail. There was a series of very steep and quite high inclines that couldn't have been negotiated without using all 4 limbs, unless you’re one of the locals who could probably do it bound and blindfolded with an adult goat strapped to their back. We almost turned back when saw the first steep “cliff”. I'm glad we didn't.

The white rocks are made of marble

 We didn't see any other tourists/hikers that day. The very steep inclines made it practically unreachable to amateurs but the whole trek was probably too short and unchallenging for the too advanced. You only go there if you have sufficient rock climbing skills or if you don’t know what you got yourself into and you couldn’t turn back anyway. I belong to the latter group.

scenic scene is scenic

Treks usually end up not being what I thought they’d be. I was expecting it to be an hour long trip to a place near Marikinia. That’s why I brought my gas guzzler of a car. The trip turned out to be a 100km (guesstimate) drive to the borders of Quezon. I was almost out of gas when we got there. I didn’t expect a hike so I didn’t bring water. I had to ask my good old friend, Julie, for one of her water bottles. I need to bow my head in shame now.

We parked my car Xander at this gas station and took a tricycle to the beginning of the trail

We left Manila at around 8am, got to rizal at around 10:30 or 11. The hike to the falls was between 1-2 hours long. We stayed at the falls for around 4-5 hours. We paid the guide 300 pesos (+100 tip). Lunch cost almost nothing since we, or more accurately, the girls cooked our food and we divided the cost among us. The tricycle from the town to the start of the trail cost us 50 per head and 75 per head on the way back. It was a very reasonably priced little trek.

with Fredda

Maybe I am getting used to hiking already and only on my 3rd hike. What I used to call difficult, I now call challenging. There is happiness to be had in communing with nature. I can imagine myself doing this more often

More Photos:
Photo of the Sierra Madre mountain range taken en route to Tanay, Rizal. One advantage of bringing your own vehicle is you can stop anytime you want to take photos.

I wasn't the only photography enthusiast among us. Too bad her camera fell into the water

The most hardcore among us. Julie's bag not only looked heavy, it was heavy. I actually thought that we were gonna have goat for lunch cos it seemed like she was carrying one in her bag 

If you don't mind banging your head against a few rocks and dying, you can probably swim here