Our two-day sun and sand getaway at Nagsasa Cove in Zambales was indeed so refreshing. Before we left the jump-off point we ate our brunch then we set off for a long drive going back to Manila. When we were along Gapan Road, everyone was talking about snack. We searched for dining options somewhere in Pampanga which is known for its sophisticated culinary work and exotic dish. We saw one restaurant but did not seem very interesting so we moved on. By a stroke of luck, we stumbled upon this humble restaurant Apag Marangle which was beside the main highway in Sta. Barbara, Bacolor, Pampanga.
A visit to Nayong Pilipino in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga gave us the opportunity to go back in time and embraced our heritage, values and culture. This cultural theme park which was once located in Pasay City features replicas of historical sites, tourist spots, native villages and cultural presentations. Among the prime attractions are the houses of our national heroes like Dr. Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini and the first president of the country, Emilio Aguinaldo.
This is my first time to watch the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival, the longest-running sports event in Asia which is now on its 21st year. I’ve heard this is the last festival, so I enjoined my family my niece and nephews to witness this exciting activity at OMNI Aviation in Clark, Pampanga which will happen on February 9 to 12, 2017.
We went on Saturday, February 11, 2017 so everybody can come. Riding in our van, we left Manila by 1:30 am aiming to reach Clark by 5:00 am. Unfortunately, the road accident in NLEX, Bulacan and the traffic inside Clark Field failed us to come on time. So we have no option but to start walking together with the crowd, leaving my hubby and my son battling with the traffic situation.
General admission ticket price is Php350.00. Children below 3 feet in height can enter for free. Senior citizen is entitled to 20% discount by presenting proper ID. It’s good that we already bought our ticket ahead of time so we skipped a very long queue. I didn’t expect a huge crowd when we entered the festival ground. Since we have kids and two elders, we had a hard time squeezing our way. We failed to get close with the balloons.
Like us, most of the guests were standing to have a better view of the much-awaited sight. Others were sitting on picnic mats and some inside their tents. By 6:30 am, balloons were being inflated.
The first thing that captured everybody’s delight was the sky divers who jumped off from the plane carrying the Philippine flag. Through their parachutes, they wound up their landing perfectly.
Soon, the balloons took off slowly but gracefully into the morning sky. The aerial spectacle was good to look at as it came into various sizes, colors and shapes. Aside from hot air balloon, tandem paragliding is another exciting aerial activity to watch for in the sky. They were so small in the sky but got bigger as they slowly got close to the ground.
After several hot air balloons released on air, we decided to sit on the picnic mat. It was getting hotter and people were getting more and more. I strolled around to look for food. The only food chain there was Jollibee on wheels. But hey! The huge crowd did not allow me to get close. It was jam packed.
Later, my hubby called me to fetch them at the entrance. After almost two hours of traffic, finally, they were able to park our van which according to them, a kilometer away from the entrance. They did not bring our breakfast meal because we will not stay long. When we went to our buddies they were famished and sweating. They were telling us to go home or go somewhere else. With no more balloons flying in the sky, we now decided to pack up.
While we were heading to the exit, we were so disappointed to see a large influx of people going to one direction. Some guests were complaining to the staff about the situation and yet they did not do anything about it. Guests were pushing with each other. Children were crying. We were trapped!
I’ve heard from one of the guests that this event is not the last. If this was just a tactic to attract more visitors, well it worked. If there will be next event this year, I hope they will choose a much bigger ground with more exits and not as dusty as this one.
When at last after an hour of patience, sweating and pushing, we reached the exit. Well, they failed to handle the event well. Poor kids.
Well, we all went for experience. There were two things we learned today; to be patient and appreciative. When I asked Shen, Isha, Axe and Magnus if they enjoy the day with the balloons, they gladly said yes. It’s good that despite the disappointment, they found delight in it. If only we were much closer to the balloons and with lesser crowd, it was more fun and meaningful.
It was so nice watching balloons soaring up high. The next time we visit, we know what to do and what time we will leave.
Since Sandbox at Alivera was crowded too, we decided to end our day visiting Nayong Filipino as our side trip.
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Feel the romantic ambiance of Playa Papagayo, a restaurant, bar and beachside inn situated in front of the majestic Subic Bay bordered by green rolling hills. Relax, enjoy the morning rays of the sun as well as the sunset and savor their delectable food from Mexican specials, Thai or Filipino dishes.
Aside from Mt. Pulag’s famous sea of clouds, its uniqueness is its different vegetation in different elevation. Not only that, it is home to unique species of flora and fauna and is the natural habitat of the endemic dwarf bamboos and edelweiss that feast to the eyes when trekking the 500 hectares grassland. Sounds exciting right?
Mt. Pulag stands at 2,922 meters above sea level (MASL) where its peak meets the borders of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. It is the third highest mountain in the Philippines next to Mount Apo and Mount Dulang-Dulang and is Luzon’s highest peak.
For a casual trekker like me, climbing Mt. Pulag is a rewarding experience I achieved this year. Thanks to my officemates Janice and Joyce for organizing this climb. I can’t sustain my happiness because right after my unforgettable adventure in Masungi Georeserve last November 30, Mt. Pulag came next.
We were all eleven and since most of us were casual trekkers (except Janice), we chose the Ambangeg Trail or what they call Artista Trail. It was the easiest trail and is perfect for beginners. But mind you, it was a major climb with difficulty of 3/9. To make things easier, we took a package tour for P2,700 per head courtesy of organizer Sheena Cmer. Van transfer was provided with two trail guides, dinner, breakfast and lunch. We were headed by Abby, the coordinator of this tour.
We left McDonalds Visayas Avenue, our meet-up place around 12:00 midnight. We reached Baguio City by 6:20 am and ate breakfast (with choices of tapsilog meal) at Daddy’s Restaurant along Abanao Street.
By 8:14 am we head off to Benguet. We stopped at Jangjang Eatery in Brgy. Ambuclao to settle for lunch and for bio breaks. Shortly after an affordable meal, we went to Jangjang Hanging Bridge, the longest hanging bridge in Benguet. It was narrow and shaking, but still, we were able to capture memories in the middle of the bridge!
The sun was hovering in the clear blue sky. Indeed, the weather was so cooperative. Everyone was highly spirited.
We were traversing picturesque scenery, but the journey to the sinuous and treacherous road was so fast. I felt quite giddy that I want to vomit. We told the driver to slow down a bit. He was driving like he was flying on air.
Orientation at DENR office is compulsory to anyone who will climb Mt. Pulag. We logged our names before we enter the function room. We watched a short video and later the facilitator shared insights about Mt. Pulag and explained well the guidelines.
The four trails: Ambangeg Trail (the easiest), Akiki Trail (the extreme 12-15 hour trek to steep ascent), Tawangan Trail (the bloody trail because of the presence of leeches) and the Ambaguio Trail (coming from Nueva Vizcaya).
I was so elated that I’ve learned a lot about Mt. Pulag and here are the two great things that top it all: to respect the mountain and leave no trace.
Everyone who will climb Mt. Pulag is required to submit a health certificate for safety reason and best interest of the trekker.
Camping in Ranger Station
We pitched our tent on a hilly side of Ranger Station for the night. I was sharing with Janice and Joyce. The view from there was breathtaking. There were lots of pine trees everywhere. The fleeting clouds and clear blue skies were sights to behold! I was so amazed seeing for the first time, a full arched rainbow. It was so beautiful and amazing! It was so wonderful taking photos of the wonderful things our eyes perceived.
And the temperature? It was Amihan season (northwest monsoon) so the weather was so cold. Woooh! In Manila, we escape from the heat of the sun, but in Benguet, we seize the sun! Hahaha! Amid the cool temperature, we had our happy photo ops.
When night came, we were like soldiers dressed in full battle gear. I had several layers of clothing, but despite the number of clothes I wore, I was still shivering.
When we got out from our tent for dinner it was freezing outside. There were spatters of rain and the wind was blowing so hard as if there was a storm. This is where I experienced the coldest weather in the country. I was worrying, with this crazy icy cool breeze can I trek the summit in a bewitching hour at 1:30 am? Bahala na si Batman.
The three of us were the first batch to eat at Abby’s kitchen tent. We huddled inside and were delighted to eat nilagang baboy Abby cooked for us. Aside from the hot soup, we had coffee too and lakatan for desert. Nilaga was delicious. Just perfect to warm our chilling bodies.
After our dinner, we stayed outside for few minutes. Surprisingly, amid the stormy wind and spattering rain, the night sky was so clear. The full moon, the stars… I was thrilled by the beauty of the night in Benguet. It was perfect for some social activity, but since we were getting wet, we decided to stay inside the tent and sleep.
We awoke rather late the next morning. Blame it to the cold weather. Brrrrr!!!! Since there was no time to eat our breakfast, we were given a packed meal each. By 2:35 am we set off for the climb.
Camp One – flat trail
This was my first time to trek in narrow trails and in total darkness. We wore head lights to light up our way. We were advised to be extra careful because we will be walking beside dangerous cliffs. Since it was raining, the trail was slippery and muddy. It was really really cold that I felt the initial numbness of my hands. Later, I had a hard time catching my breath on the steep incline because of lack of oxygen. Despite my clothing, I was still freezing cold. The cool weather lingers into my veins. We reached Camp 1 by 3:50 a.m. We rested for ten minutes and moved on.
Camp Two – gradual not so steep trail
The trail to this camp was even more slippery. At times there were no stones or woods to step on so we had no choice but to walk in puddles of water in the softened earth. Thus, our feet were soaked to the skin. The thin air, the lack of oxygen and the cold weather made the trek harder. Again, I was catching my breath so hard on steep parts.
Seeing water sources along the way marked the proximity to Camp 2. We had several stops before we reach this camp. It’s good that there was a latrine in the area for bio breaks.
We now prepared for the hardest and coldest part of the trek. But before we move on, I ate first my packed meal. Though it was cold, we were advised by Abby to drink water so we will not be dehydrated. By 5:50 am we headed to the last leg of our climb!
It was a downcast morning. The sun was hiding from thick clouds. Though it rained profusely, we continued walking on an ankle-deep mud. It was slippery and at times we hold on to tall grasses. I was mesmerized seeing for the first time lots and lots of bamboo dwarfs. It was definitely beautiful! But as we went along, it was an eyesore to see trails with damaged foliages. Poor bamboo dwarfs.
I made frequent stops to catch my breath as the altitude increased. Looked like my heart will get out from my body. It beats rapidly. After what seemed like hours of endless walking, I decided to quit. I had a hard time catching my breath and the weather got extremely cold. But then, I told myself, if I quit, I will miss seeing the famous sea of clouds and I will never have a picture with the iconic wooden signboard of Mt. Pulag. Well then, I proceeded.
There were two colors of mud, one is brown and one is black. You may choose which will discolor your shoes because you have no choice where to step on. But I noticed, black is much slippery so I went on walking on brown mud.
When at last by 6:10 am, we were on the summit, the highest point in Luzon! Yahoo!!! I can’t describe the feeling. It was overwhelming and amazing! I felt so proud that I want to shout to the world, “I survived Mt. Pulag!”
But there was no Sea of Clouds in sight or a beautiful sunrise! Nonetheless, this climb was truly worth it. Picture taking with the signboard was jam packed. It took several minutes before our turn.
It’s good that the sun came out to open as we trekked back. And because the sun was shining, it was then I appreciated much the beautiful rugged terrain of Mt. Pulag. The golden brown grassland was dominated by dwarf bamboo. Next in sight was the mossy forest with bonsai shaped trees, brown and green ferns, the red flowers locally known as “lolong” and the edelweiss.
According to Abby, the beauty of mossy forest was magical. Certainly, it was. Philippine Oak Trees were prominent in mossy forest.
From ten minutes rest from Camp 1, we now headed to Station Ranger. Another wonder along the way is the presence of Benguet pine which dominated the picturesque trail. It was getting hot but as I’ve said, here in Benguet, we seized the sun! Hahaha.
The journey going back to where we started was enjoyable and relaxing. Thanks to one of our trail guides Mercy, for helping me eased the trek. Conquering Mount Pulag is an amazing feat. No wonder why fervid climbers kept coming back to this beautiful mountain in North Luzon.
By the way, Mt. Pulag is named after the local term called Pul-ag meaning bald.
My meaningful adventure with Mt. Pulag had finally ended. Will I return or not? Certainly, I will. Wait for my revenge climb! Hahaha!
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