Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sarangani, Davao Occidental: Hiking Balut Volcano

Hiking Balut Volcano
Hike across the forests of Balut Volcano in Sarangani, Davao Occidental
Like exotic fruits ripe for the picking, the town of Sarangani  (not to be confused with nearby Sarangani province) hangs off the southern tip of mainland Davao Occidental, the country’s newest province created only last year. The municipality is composed of two big islands called Balut and Sarangani. Boarding the wooden-hulled ferry from General Santos City, the overnight journey to these remote islands can be an adventure in itself, traversing the capricious waters of Sarangani Strait, where the Pacific Ocean funnels into the Celebes Sea.

Those who make it this far, however, will be handsomely rewarded once they reach the town center of Mabila, sitting on the edge of the 862-meter tall island volcano of Balut, populated by indigenous B’laan and Sangil people, the latter having emigrated from the Sangihe Archipelago of North Sulawesi, Indonesia since the 18th century. Due to its proximity to our southern neighbor, a small community of Indonesians also lives on the island.

Giant Orb Weaver Spider
Giant orb-weaver spiders build big webs across the rarely used trails
Balut Island
Balut Volcano rises 862 meters above Balut Island in Sarangani, Davao Occidental
Intrigued by its peak, I embarked on a seven-hour hike across Balut Volcano. Accompanied by two B'laan copra farmers, we blazed a challenging path between the villages of Gomtago and Lipol, trudging a narrow and slippery trail not often used by locals. Villagers greeted our ascent with curious stares, as I was told that I was the first tourist to traverse the mountain. As we walked up the southern slope, the weather was so clear that we could see all the way to the Indonesian islands of Marore! Past the coconut plantations, the path disappeared under an overgrowth of ferns and elephant grass. We ducked under massive spider webs that palm-sized orb-weavers knitted across the way, and even found basket-like sunbird nests hung from large fern fronds and filled with tiny chocolate-colored eggs.

Marore Islands of Indonesia
You can see as far as the Marore Islands of North Sulawesi, Indonesia!
Pitcher Plants
Beautiful pitcher plants litter a mountaintop at Balut Volcano

Halfway through our hike, we reached a grassy mountaintop thriving with pitcher plants – locally called sakong by the B’laan – strewn on the ground and over tree branches with their red-and-green vase-like insect traps. Marvin, one of the guides, told me that when he was a child, his mother often warned him against pouring out the water inside these pitchers as she believed that doing so will consequently bring torrential rain. Besides the abundant sakong, other interesting plants we found were ground orchids, wild pineapples and Medinilla pendula, a pink-flowered shrub found only in the Philippines.

By noontime, we detoured into a steamy ravine. Balut has no well-formed crater, but volcanic activity centers on this deep gully flanked by bare sulfurous rock. Finally, the trail tumbled onto Sabang Hot Spring, a turquoise pool of boiling spring water draining onto a stone beach, where with the satisfaction of having pioneered a traverse trail, we were ferried back to Mabila by bangka.

Balut Volcano
A steamy ravine of sulfurous rock near the end of the trail
Sabang Hot Springs
The hellish turquoise waters of Sabang Hot Springs


The islands of Sarangani town are located off the southern tip of Davao Occidental, but can only be conveniently accessed from Sarangani Bay. From Monday to Saturday, ferries depart from Lion’s Beach (Queen Tuna Park) or Puting Bato Wharf, Barangay Calumpang in General Santos City, reaching Mabila, the town center on Balut Island, in six to eight hours. The overnight trip costs PHP 320 or 360, depending on the vessel. Departure times are not fixed.

Alternatively, bangkas (outrigger canoes) that can carry up to four passengers may be chartered to Mabila from Barangay Margus or Gumasa Beach in Glan, Sarangani Province, located one to two hours away from General Santos. Boat trips are PHP 1,300 from Margus in two hours, and PHP 2,500 from Gumasa in three hours. Monitor the weather closely, as the boat crossing to the islands may be rough.    

For chartered trips and ferry schedules, contact Tata Masin, port operations officer of Mabila Port at +63 9069012505.


JVL Inn & Cafeteria has the only air-conditioned rooms at Mabila Port, Balut Island, ranging from PHP 1,300 to 1,500. Electricity is available from 12:00 PM to 7:00 AM only. Tel. +63 9154253187. The guesthouse also manages Tuke Maklang Beach Resort on Sarangani Island, which has two generator-powered fan rooms for PHP 350 and 500 that can accommodate up to six people. Bring enough food and water for your entire stay.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Explore Breathtaking Batanes by ATV! [SP]

Batanes ATV Adventure
Adventurous travelers can now explore Batanes by ATV!
Romantic lighthouses, stone house villages, rolling meadows and dramatic cliffs paint the signature landscape of the Batanes islands, one of the best places in the Philippines to ogle at desktop wallpaper-worthy landscapes and authentic native culture. First-timers usually see these northernmost islands on a sightseeing tour package by rental van. But more adventurous travelers now have a new and exciting way to explore this incredible province — by ATV or all-terrain vehicle!  

Batanes ATV Adventure, a tour operation based in the provincial capital of Basco, launched guided ATV excursions last June 26, during Batanes Day. “Our tours offer the best way to experience outdoor adventure while enjoying at hand the breathtaking sceneries of the island,” says 33-year-old local businessman, Jover Basco Vargas, who decided to provide a different tourist activity to the province after meeting tourists at his mini-grocery, who were looking for more exciting things to do after their van trips.

Accompanied by my Ivatan friend and his teenage niece, I asked Jover to take us on an afternoon jaunt of the island to revisit some of the sights on Batan. I’ve tried driving an ATV last year for the first time in Camarines Sur, but I felt my skills have now become rusty. So, I requested for refresher lessons, before I could drive one confidently on the main road. The units were first brought to the town plaza of Basco, where Jover gladly taught us the basics: how to turn the units on and off, how to shift gears and go on reverse, and how to park them safely, among other things. Donning our safety helmets, we rode around the large grassy field, quickly learning to maneuver our ATVs.

Batanes ATV Adventure
Test-driving our ATVs on the tarmac of Basco Airport
After we got the hang of things, we rumbled onto Basco Airport to give our fresh wheels a test-drive on the long and wide tarmac. The runway is opened to the public in the late afternoon, offering an ideal place for residents to jog and exercise. But since it was drizzling during most of the day, we had the entire strip to ourselves. It was a totally a unique and thrilling perspective having to drive down a runway on an ATV, compared to landing on it on a Philippine Airlines turboprop plane a few days earlier. After a few test runs, speeding up and down the entire stretch of the runway, we were ready to take on the highway with Jover as our tour guide, and drive all the way to the southern town of Ivana, 10 km away.

While ATV tours have become a popular tourist activity elsewhere in the Philippines, especially in Boracay Island and Mayon Volcano, I couldn’t think of a better place in the country to experience this outdoor activity than in Batanes. It was exhilarating, having to behold unobstructed views of endless pastures and rugged coastline. The cool sea breeze blew on our faces, as we snaked along the zigzagged cliffside highway to the next town of Mahatao. As we rolled by quaint villages, local passersby and motorists were amused by our brightly colored convoy, and they would smile and wave at us. The habagat (southwest monsoon) also provided comfortable overcast weather that made us really enjoy the long afternoon drive without having to bear the stifling heat of the sun. Moreover, it was the low season for tourists, so there were only a few sightseeing vans to watch out for while we drove down the narrow highway. 

Batanes ATV Adventure
Rolling by the traditional stone houses of Ivana

An ATV indeed combines the freedom and excitement of a bicycle or motorbike with the safety and stability of a four-wheeled vehicle. Batanes ATV Adventure rents out 110 cc and 125 cc single-seater models, which are not designed for very rough off-road handling, but were robust enough to negotiate hilly, unpaved terrain and the steep climbs and sharp turns of Batan’s coastal roads. We enjoyed our own itinerary at our own pace, easily pulling over to take photographs of the beautiful tourist attractions along the way, like the Basco Lighthouse, Mahatao Boat Shelter and House of Dakay. We eventually reached the Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana to enjoy a cup of joe as the orange sun sank behind Radiwan Port.

While only ATV tours around the main island of Batan are available for now, Batanes ATV Adventure will soon be introducing trips around neighboring Sabtang and, much later, to far-flung Itbayat as well, says Jover. His tour operation currently offers only nine ATV units, but more will be brought in if the business picks up. With his fun and flexible excursions slowly gaining interest among residents and visitors alike, it looks like Batanes ATV Adventure is on the road to success, especially when tourists start pouring in again during the Christmas season.

Batanes ATV Adventure
Enjoying the sunset at Radiwan Port in Ivana

Visitors may book guided ATV tours through Batanes ATV Adventure, located at Amboy corner Abad Sts, Basco, Batanes, Tel. +63 9985519656 or +63 9085012288. Rates are PHP 1,800 per day, or PHP 300 per hour, excluding fuel cost. For all-in ATV tour packages, contact Batanes Travel & Tours, Tel. +63 2 4000992 or +63 9989844359, www.batanestravelandtours.com.

This trip was made possible with Philippine Airlines, which flies to Basco, Batanes from Manila five times a week. Book your flights at www.philippineairlines.com today!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to tourism, adventure and outdoors. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail eazy@eazytraveler.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pinoy-Designed Mighty Wallet® Giveaway from QUIRKS Novelties & Curiosities! [SP]

Win a special edition Philippines-designed Mighty Wallet® from QUIRKS Novelties and Curiosities by joining the raffle using the Rafflecopter widget below! Open to residents of the Philippines only. Deadline: August 27, 2014

The Mighty Wallet® was designed by Terrence Kelleman in 2005, and has spawned an entire new genre of wallet made with DuPont Tyvek® fabric around the world. The Mighty Wallet® was the first ever wallet made with DuPontTM Tyvek®, folded entirely out of a single sheet it even improves upon a standard leather wallet with its stitchless design.


The microfiber Tyvek® material is one tenth of the thickness of a human hair. The entire wallet is only 1/8th of one inch thick. The Might Wallet is the thinnest wallet on the market that can literally adapt to hold whatever you put inside. The Mighty Wallet is the first one-size-fits-all front pocket wallet ever designed.


The Mighty Wallet® is tear-resistant and water-resistant. Made from Tyvek® , the wallet resists tearing because of thousands of interlocking plastic fibers spun in random patterns giving the wallet incredible strength. The fibers of the Mighty Wallet® are not paper but plastic so they remain just as strong wet or dry.


The Mighty Wallet® is 100% recyclable (made from HDPE, the second most commonly recycled plastic) with 25% recycled content. Add in low energy production capacity, low energy requirements for transport, environmentally friendly inks, recycled and recyclable packaging – and you’ve got a true earth-friendly product in your hands!


In line with the Mighty Wallet’s goal to empower personal expression through unique products, QUIRKS Novelties and Curiosities (the exclusive distributor of Mighty Wallet® in the Philippines), has teamed up with a local designer to create a distinct Filipino design.

Coming from the success of the first Philippines-inspired and locally-designed Mighty Wallet®  “Manila Mania”, we are proud to present: “Mighty Pinoy”. Designed by budding artist and self-proclaimed type-geek Abbey Sy, the Mighty Pinoy Mighty Wallet includes classic and contemporary Pinoy expressions. Unique Filipino words like Kulit (we dare you to find a suitable English translation), modern slang expressions like Anyare and traditional words like Lakbay, decorate the front and inside of the wallet.

Innovative and creative. That’s what being a Mighty Pinoy is all about!

This limited edition Mighty Wallet® by Dynomighty (PHP 830) is exclusively available at QUIRKS Novelties and Curiosities branches at Power Plant Mall, Shangri-la Plaza, SM Megamall and SM Aura. Follow their Facebook,Twitter and InstagramMighty Wallets are also sold at Rustans, Wellworth, Complex, Bratpack, Zalora, Pormada, Lazada and Ava.

EXTRA PROMO ALERT: Drop by Quirks Power Plant or Aura branch from now until August 31, 2014 and write your favorite Pinoy expression at our Mighty Boards. We will raffle off one (1) wallet per branch to all those who write on the board. Winner!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to tourism, adventure and outdoors. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail eazy@eazytraveler.com
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