“AirPhil Express operates a cruise ship now?” I asked when I got invited to experience their new Fly and Sail AdvenTour Package. It turns out that AirPhil Express partnered with Star Cruises to create a unique travel package making a cruise escape more affordable to everyone. The idea of having a cruise seems too luxurious and exclusive for the can-afford or post retirement crowd but it turns out it can be for everyone. Since I haven’t tried a cruise before I was happy to join in. So here’s the start of a 4-day adventure with a bunch of media peeps.
When we did our Backpack Photography Banaue 101, we took the GV Florida and was surprised to find that there are actually sleeper bus here in the Philippines. I had my share of riding a sleeper bus when I was in Laos, journeying from Pakse to Vientiane and finding them here made me excited. We were joking then that we should try for the heck of it. Being in Tuguegarao, we now had a valid reason to try it out on our way home. So after a day of spelunking in Callao and Sierra Cave, we trooped back to our hotel and prepared for the ride home via GV Florida’s Sleeper Bus to Manila.
It seems I’ve been scaling deeper up north a lot lately and I really don’t mind. It’s time to get past the ever popular Ilocos region and cross the border just a step to Cagayan Region and explore the next town of Claveria. Known as the gateway to the Babuyanes Islands, Claveria is a small town with its livelihood revolving around fishing. First time I went here during the Lakbay Norte 2, we rode through here under heavy rain but it didn’t dampen the magnificent rock formations the place holds. So I went back with a few friends and discovered a lot more.
The challenge was to reach Vigan in the quickest way possible coming from Sagada. The original plan was to go directly westward plying the Sabangan-Cervantes-Tagudin road from Halsema Highway, but as it turns out, even after a year, the bridge construction over the river cutting through Cervantes was not finished yet. The first alternative was to go back to Baguio then Vigan which would take a grueling 11-13 hours ride. Our driver and co-navigator did ask around while we made a stop at Abatan and found out we can avoid that bridge by going through the Mankayan-Cervantes-Tagudin route instead. We took this dare and preferred this unfamiliar route. Everyone seemed excited with this adventure detour, even I, when I realized we’re passing through the historic Bessang Pass National Park where probably the most difficult battle in the Philippines World War II history was fought against Tumoyuki Yamashita.
I hear the heavy clacking sound of the engines as it starts and the loud honk of the train signalling any living beings to move away from its path. There’s a low grumbling noise under my feet as if something just woke up from a long time slumber. Yes, the Philippine National Railways has revived the Bicol Express and just last night, it started its first commercial run in years. Like a dragon that just woke up, the train howled as it cuts through urban Manila as it heads to Naga City in Bicol.
The Halsema Highway is one of the Philippine’s engineering feats. Its 130kms road stretching from La Trinidad Benguet to the Bontoc Mountain Province has an elevation of up to 7400 feet. It is the highest highway in the Philippines and is one of the most scenic drives you can experience in the country. Whenever I embark on a 6 hour journey from Baguio to Sagada via public transportation, I’ve always wished I could somehow stop for a while on some points of the road. That came into a realization when I became the local guide and assistant photography mentor for Jim Cline’s first Philippine’s Photo Tour led by Humanitarian Photojournalist Karl Grobl. With our own mini-bus at our disposal, the group made a few interesting stops along the Halsema Highway.
Buguey’s seafood buffet was more than enough to fill us during the two hour journey to Claveria, the last town in Cagayan next to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. I was enjoying the view from my window despite the rain while sliding sideways from our seats as we traverse the twisting highroads to the town of Claveria. A coastal town where the river flows, numerous blue boats parked on the shore and people in their blue rain coats were tending their nets were seen. It was really interesting.