Saturday, 30 May 2009

the majestic mainit mountains

an old dried tree stump with one arm waving free, and silhouetted by a sea of clouds, greets g'day. or as they say in mainit: inmali kayo. this translates loosely as: you have come - welcome

and downhill. and uphill and downhill. and uphill and downhill. oh you get to do this a few times.

say hello to the locals who are out tending their fields, cutting firewood ...

or looking after their precious few heads of cattle.

stop and chat to a forest ranger when you meet him. he is only a volunteer and does not get paid to protect the mountains.

a tipple or two would not hurt, and he might tell you a tale or two in return.

back in the village, you thought you were lost in another world,

but deep into the mountains, with civilization out of reach, you finally find yourself lost in another planet.

after an earthquake, the mountain sides can be very hazardous.

so tread carefully.

my cousin sent me these photos last january 2008. this is near the epicentre of the earthquake that was felt in abra, the ilocos and other surrounding areas, even as far as baguio 150kms away.

white-water rafting, er without a raft.

the mountains are the window to the future. protect them and they will protect us. lobby your officials. talk to your representatives about preserving the cordillera mountains. our survival and yours, may depend on them.

the thick mossy forests produce the life-giving sweet waters that flow into our creeks, streams and rivers, and then are tapped to our water reticulation systems.

many a sabag* lost its lifeblood on my blade. so don't be a scumbag... respect the mountains, respect the people, and they will respect you.
(*sabag is the vernacular for manok na labuyo)
well if it's tinola on your mind, maybe it's time to head back to town. you could continue on west to abra, but that will take another day or so of good hiking to the next village...

my cousin kindly posted a video of the mainit mountains on youtube:

til next blog.

the wonders of mainit - cordillera

This is a guided tour of Mainit, with signposts along the way.

Signpost #00. Notify someone of your whereabouts. Do not travel alone. Check with local authorities if it’s safe to travel to your intended destination. Depending on the time of year, you might get trapped in the cordillera if you arrive here in the storm season. that's not necessarily a bad thing but 'if your time to you is worth saving...'

Bontoc is the gateway to the cordillera village of mainit.

Approaching Bontoc on the halsema highway from the south, is the welcoming sight of lush green ricefields.
From the town center, you can gaze around the high mountains surrounding the place. Looking west is the daunting heights of mt pagturao on the way to mainit. The best way to really appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the mountains of the cordillera is to actually walk them. The hike from bontoc to mainit is a lazy 3 hours for the fit and experienced hiker. However i recommend to take a whole day so you can pause to enjoy the sights, take in some fresh air, and also to stop and smell the mountain flowers, and maybe sample a stray mountain berry now and then.
well alright you can catch a tricycle. there's a lookout point in pagturao, but the hilltop above the lookout offers a lot more. so catch a trike to there.

After a bit of a hike to pagturao, you turn back and gaze at the wonder of bontoc-samoki valley. The phrase ‘a river runs through it’ was never more apt.

Signpost #1. The golden rule. We all know what that is. Do not bring valuables with you. Jewellery and expensive things could attract the wrong kind of attention. Travel with light essentials only, and not like royalty, although if you've got a dime to spare...

Farther up the mountain, one finds relics of times past such as an old resting place. This would have served many a weary woodchopper, farmer, hunter or warrior in times past. This is also a good spot for a few minutes of rest. Here you can decide to continue on the mountain trail along the ridges, or to continue along the road. Always consider your safety as paramount, so if you don’t have a guide, please stay on the road, you won’t miss too much. Anyway the mountain tracks would be disused and hard to find these days, and could be very treacherous in parts especially for novice mountaineers. I think the shelter is no longer there but have a rest anyway.

Signpost #2. GIGO. Oh yes all you modern generation know it well. Garbage in garbage out. This means you do not bring your garbage in to these mountains. Keep your garbage with you and dispose of them when you get back to town. You don’t want litter in your yards, the mountains don’t either.

Deeper up the mountain, the pine forest gets thicker and welcomes you with the sweetest breath of the freshest air while enveloping you with a misty hug and even a wet kiss from the mountain dew.
The last rooftops of bontoc and samoki slowly disappear behind the pine needles as you climb on to cloudland.

On a mountain ridge on the trail between maligcong and guina-ang.
Remember if you’re not experienced in mountaineering, it’s easier to hike along the road. Very few people do see these hidden wonders. It’s off the beaten track. You will need a local guide but is worth it and more.
We’ll visit maligcong another time, so we turn southwesterly towards guina-ang.

On the way down from the ridges are these ricefields way up on the mountainside.

Soon the village of guina-ang is in sight and to make time, the road snaking through the ricefields would be quickest route.
Guina-ang has some stalls for fresh breads and other food items such as fresh green vegetables.

The trail between guina-ang and mainit is only short but on this trail are good vantage points for viewing the applai side of the mountain range. In the distance one can see cloud-kissed ricefarms, streams, forests, mountains and parts of the villages of kiltepan (killong-tetepan-antadao), dalican, fidelisan etc. Beyond the mountain peaks looking south but not visible, are the mountaintop towns of sagada and besao.
We will also visit them at another time.

Signpost #3. Ask permission if you want to take a picture of people.

Mainit village. the hidden world of natural relaxation.

welcome to mainit, one of the cordillera's favorite destinations. mainit is a sleepy village which offers a great variety of things to see and do. it is home to natural hot springs, rice terraces, and majestic mountains.
as a popular destination, mainit is great any time of year (except at the height of typhoons). if you visited before, somehow you knew you'll be back, but if you haven't, well what are you waiting for? how will you want to come back?

Nestled on the gentle slopes and surrounded by high mountains acting as sentries, the village of mainit sits cozily, overlooking the neighboring village of guina-ang.

The refreshing smell of hotspring steam lets you know you have arrived. (a mainit hotspring steambath is a great cure for asthmatics).
Houses are comfortably situated between pine forest and hotspring, or between ricefields and a patch of cane .

Take a stroll around the edge of the village and discover things.

Situated on the upper part of mainit is the elementary school. Say hello to the schoolkids and teach them to dispose of their lunch wrap and other litter thoughtfully. Children are impressionable and a good example from friendly visitors can only help. Of course they are taught not to accept candies from strangers.

The southerly hill called sagang, a short little climb above the Anglican church, provides great views of the village and its immediate surrounds.

Farther afield to the nothern slopes one will find the hidden wonders of mainit ricefields, irrigated by the fresh mountain streams flowing down from the peaks. This gives you a taste of that other undiscovered attraction of the cordillera - mountain trekking.

Signpost #4. Observe local custom. If unsure ask the locals. People here don’t take kindly to strangers roaming around their villages especially at night, and/or the local holy day te-er or tengao.

On a regular weekend you might find a few of the village lads troop to the hills to cut firewood. Another suggestion that may not go amiss with them boys is to cut only the dried branches off the pine trees. Due to the introduction of gas burner stoves in the past decade or so, woodcutting is perhaps not as widespread these days. Whether that’s better for the environment is debatable, but it certainly saves a few pine trees each year.

After collecting a load of firewood, it might then be time for a dip in the local pool. Everybody’s heard about the famed hot springs of mainit so i won’t bore you with twice told tales about them.
Just go for a dip and relax, and you’ll know that mainit is actually a lot better than what people say.

Beside a brook where the occasional geyser sometimes spurts, this stand of mahogany trees provides cooling shade and also helps retain the hillside, preventing erosion.
the murmur of the brook serves as a lullaby for a weary traveller.
signpost #5. be a good samaritan. help stimulate the local economy. do some local purchases in the village. even for just a bar of soap or some toothpaste. in these hard times, the local store can do with a bit of custom. be generous. as a tourist, a traveller, a government official, whatever your station in life, thanks for coming, and do come again. and please spread the good word about our village.
okay then catch a good night's sleep, for on the morrow, i will guide you to the majestic mountains. abangan.
view videos in youtube:

Saturday, 23 May 2009

South Coast NSW

Nowra, a bustling commercial centre on the Shoalhaven River, is a major town on the New South Wales south coast and is close to the natural and cultural features of the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands districts.

After refueling in Bomaderry and then some lunch in Nowra, we leave the princes highway and take the less travelled Moss Vale Road turnoff towards kangaroo valley. A few kms out on the winding ascent to a mountain range, we saw a signpost and followed the tourist road to the wonders of Cambewarra Mountain Lookout.

Perched about 600m high on the summit of the Cambewarra Range, 'The Lookout' commands a magnificent panorama of Shoalhaven and beyond to some National Park. Aside from the breathtaking views and the natural beauty, there are some wonderful wildlife inhabiting the area but which we didn’t have time to see, so we descended back to the main road to Kangaroo Valley.

This road is similar to the zigzag stretch of kennon road between camp 7 and camp 6 in benguet, or Antadao and Dantay in Mountain Province. Kangaroo Valley is described as "The most beautiful valley in Australia". Obviously the describers haven’t seen kalabaw valley in the Philippines, where the kalabaw roam. This valley has a variety of native flora and fauna, rich green pastures, sparkling creeks and rivers and lush rainforests, and enclosed by natural escarpments. And just like Samoki valley and Bontoc town, there’s also no traffic lights here.
The first recorded European sighting of the valley was in April 1812, when the explorer George Evans passed through the area and reportedly claimed that the valley offered a view that "no painter could beautify."
(Well the first recorded Imainit sighting of this part of the world is 3 years prior to April 2012 when M Polichay passed through and reported on his blog that ‘no beauty could paint’ the yet undiscovered kalabaw valley. )
Between kangaroo valley and the lower outskirts of the southern highlands, is Fitzroy Falls which we visited years ago, before the time of the blogosaurs smstxtiles and cellfonosaurus. We yelled out hello on the way past. We could well have beeped but we were polite that day.

Southern Highlands.
The Southern Highlands is a collective name of the many towns and villages of the Wingecarribee Region of New South Wales, Australia. Just like the northern uplands of the Philippines where applai is the collective name for the people and the towns and villages of western mountain province. Maybe I should 'apply' to a girl from there.
The Southern Highlands is the perfect escape to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We visited here a few times before. Last time we visited here we stayed in Bowral and also visited Exeter. We also had a picnic at wingecarribee dam and drove down to fitzroy falls.
Over a million visitors each year come to enjoy the lifestyle, the serene and tranquil atmosphere and peaceful seclusion. From the breath-taking scenery of the quaint countryside with its rolling hills of vineyards, one finds plenty to see and do, with many an antique art and craft and book stores, classy restaurants and cafes, weekend markets, open gardens, rain forests and national parks, or just having a family picnic. For the young and old, the Southern Highlands is a charming experience.

On Easter Saturday we drove around the various vineyards but they were all closed that day. Next time I will definitely visit them for some wine tasting.

A couple of the towns we visited here are Berrima and Mittagong.
Berrima is a living example of an early colonial town with architecture dating back to the 1830's. It was built around the concept of an "English Village Common". Here you will find many businesses housed in superb colonial architecture.
Inn in Berrima
In Berrima we visited an oldish inn and old bakehouse.

Old Bakery cottage, Berrima

The hearth of the Old bakery on one wall of the dining area of the cafe where we tried out the local fare. bellissimo!

Mittagong is the gateway to the Southern Highlands from Sydney. Mittagong was formerly on the Hume Highway, which links Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, but the highway was diverted in 1992.
An old building in Mittagong is the grand hotel.

After a couple of days in the southern highlands we travelled back to home base in Sydney on the old hume highway. Sydney is like an old friend that you look forward to seeing now and then.
The old features of old Sydney town are still worth seeing.

Hyde Park
Hyde park viewed from centrepoint tower looks like an oasis in a desert not of sand dunes but of modern buildings.

Postbox at the centrepoint tower
And while on the centrepoint tower we took the chance to post a couple of postcards from the highest working post box in the southern hemisphere. It is also a most expensive place to enter.

After hitching a ride on the Oz trek adventure ride, we then descended into circular quay.
Circular Quay, Sydney
At the quay we renewed acquaintances with the best-known coathanger in the world aka the Sydney harbor bridge, and the biggest seashell building in the world aka sydney opera house.
the coathanger 'Sydney harbor bridge'
The biggest seashell building in the world is called the o’pera house. Whoever built it must have had a lot of pera to need to house them he he.
A bit lame but… must be the wobbles from the cost of coffee at starbucks. The coffee didn’t even have whiskey.
Sydney Opera House
Easter time was a little quiet in Sydney. We even drove around Sydney harbour to the inner northern suburbs, and then from lane cove back across the harbour to the inner southern suburbs via drummoyne. In the evening we visited the fish market in pyrmont for some fresh seafood for dinner.
watch a youtube video of this trip:
for a slightly shorter version click below:
Includes song clips from ms e harris and messrs l lovett, n young, p seeger, r mcguinn, k friedman, & k kristofferson.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

the princes highway, nsw

Some towns of the South Coast of NSW.
The seaside town of Eden in the shire of bega valley in the sapphire coast region, is the southernmost town of NSW. The killer whale museum is probably the best known attraction of Eden but there’s some goings-on in town during this easter time. There’s a truck show and a seafood festival happening on the weekend.
I’ve visited here and the nearby towns of Merimbula and Pambula many years ago. These coastal towns are popular holiday destinations. There’s various activities on offer here including boating sailing canoeing, kayaking, fishing charters adventures (reef, game, deep sea & kingfishing), trail horse riding, golf, national parks walks talks & tours, scenic flights, wineries etc.
Last time we came here we went on a boat cruise on the Pambula river.
This time though we’re just driving through. However we stayed overnight in Eden. And I realised I went to Eden - twice now! I could probably live here for part of the year. Yet i would also settle for that other paradise on earth called Hotville.
The following morning, we travelled north along the Princes Highway, going past Pambula and Wolumla before stopping at Bega for a bit of brekkie. The Bega Valley is home to dairy industry.
After Bega we continue on our northbound odyssey, the highway winds on to Cobargo then Tilba and we roll along past homesteads farms and green pasture fields on the little villages along the way.
There’s numerous nature reserves, national parks and state forests, wilderness areas, sanctuary zones and also the various signs to historic sites, camping areas, 4wd tracks/fire trails, walking tracks, visitor centres, wineries, museums, picnic spots, caravan parks, horseback riding, bushwalking, lookout points, lighthouses, and the perennial motel/hotel signs. It would take weeks to do and see everything. And that got me thinking, we could do the same for the old hometown. If i was to list down the features of Hotville, it would not fall short of what i just listed. Maybe less the coastal attractions such as fishing and sailing. but that could be offset by hiking, woodchopping, cane milling, rice harvesting and etc.
So in the same way that i recommend the Bega valley as a destination, i also highly recommend the higher and bigger valley of the mountain province-abra-kalinga tripartite boundary on a must-see-before-i-die list. Never mind the hanging gardens of Babylon, the cloud kissed gardens of camingmingel and binandilaan are much more enchanting enamoring enticing, and they do exist.
I haven’t got much more to add to this post.
However there’s a thousand more words in these videos below.
part 1 contains audio of songs by arlo guthrie, john prine, nelson and dylan, and eric andersen. this video continues in "princes highway, nsw part 2".
princes highway, nsw. northwards as you go from eden to near nowra.
In the shire of the bega valley of the sapphire coast region, we pass the towns of pambula, bega, quaama, cobargo.
part 1: (audio removed by youtube)
watch part 1 here instead:

part 2 contains audio of songs by lyle lovett, townes van zandt, kris kristofferson and kieran kane.
princes highway, nsw. northwards as you go from cobargo.
In the eurobodalla shire we drive past tilba, corunna lake, narooma, kianga, moruya, batemans bay etc.

click link for part 2: princes highway nsw part 2

a horror movie

Leaving Melbourne, we continued on our journey through Victoria.
next stop was the backwoods of kinglake national park.
This is one of the sites of the 'black Saturday' bushfires in February.
I'll let images do the talking.
This video shows just how much devastation a bushfire can do.
I've seen Bontoc burn years ago, and i've seen a few forest fires in our mountains.
Those were little bonfires compared to the Victorian bushfires this year.
youtube video:

May we never see this kind of horror again - anywhere.

A day out in Melbourne

Melbourne is the capital of Victoria. Victoria is the smallest mainland state and makes up about 3% of the Australian continental land mass. However with 5 million people, it makes up 25% of the Australian population.

St Francis’ church
We spent a day enjoying the sights of this vibrant and cosmopolitan city. We wandered along the streets of the CBD and tried out a cafe in Federation Square – a social hub bustling with life and a mix of attractions which includes the visitors centre.

Window shopping. We walked the historic arcades, passed some fine boutiques, and looped around the main streets for a glimpse of Chinatown. Some of the streetscape is no different to any big city CBD commercial street- souvenir shops and food outlets mixing with huge retail shops and fashionable brand product stores and financial buildings.

Horse carriage
Other streets are home to banking institutions, five-star hotels, while still others are tree-lined, grand government buildings and the ever-present street cafe. Some of the city’s architecture are 1930s architecture (facade-oriented) in some buildings. There is indeed a wide array of shopping in Melbourne.
Now if I can only find some money...

Flinders St station
Old buildings such as the Flinders St station dot the city.

Trams are a feature of Melbourne’s transport system and it’s a unique mode of transport experience.

There are hundreds of Trams operating up to 20km from the city centre. Cars are obliged to yield to Trams. The ‘hook turn’ road rule in Melbourne is notorious in Oz, but this helps Trams through their routes without cars getting in the way.

Tram and railway lines were built in the 19th century linking the city to the outer suburbs. Nowadays these termina are actually inner suburbs, all part of the necessary urban sprawl of a major cosmopolite.

Mornington peninsula.
There are other attractions around Melbourne worth checking out. South of Melbourne is the Mornington Peninsula which has great coastal scenery, historic country retreats and smaller hotels. One afternoon we decided to drive to Mornington Peninsula. This Italy-like boot-shaped peninsula is about an hour’s drive from Melbourne. So leaving the skyscrapers behind us, we go on a clockwise drive along the busy coastal road past a string of seaside suburbs that extend all the way around port phillip bay. This 50km drive from Melbourne to mornington is non-stop suburbia, a manifestation of urban sprawl. On the bay side road, we take in some of the wonderful views of port phillip bay, local shops, pretty gardens, art and antique shops. We stopped in Mornington for a meal. We then got on the foreshore road, passing holiday houses on the waterfront promenades and pretty little beaches along the sandy bay. From Mornington we drive past Mount Martha, Safety Beach, Dromana, McRae, Rosebud and Tootgarook.

Further down the road we saw a sign to the ‘peninsula hotsprings’ in the back beach village of Rye. We followed directions and eventually came to a busy health centre based on thermal spa and relaxation pools. I wasn’t expecting to find anything as hot as the Mainit hotsprings, but even Asin hotsprings would be scalding hot compared to the water temps in this place, a mildly feverish 36-42 degrees Celsius, and they call this a hot spring? Where i come from, this would be ice-age temperature. Prices range from $25-$90 per person for various baths, with packages costing up to $470/person for 5.5 hours. We got out of there as fast as we could before we froze (either from the temps or stick-up), actually to catch the ferry, but you know what i mean. The pricing in Mainit is a steal!

Sorrento-geelong ferry.
To complete our circumnavigation of Port Phillip Bay, we hasten down the highway, took a wrong turn near Blairgowrie, and just managed to catch the car ferry in Sorrento just as it was about to leave (we would have had to wait 2 hours for the next trip). This ferry crosses the southern end of port phillip bay everyday in all weather conditions. The 50-minute trip allows passengers to view the bay and coastline and watch dolphins. So from the ferry we view the sights around the bay. There are some luxury cliff-top mansions in Portsea (playground of the wealthy) overlooking the bay. We also saw dolphins frolicking. On first sighting of a dolphin’s fin on the surface, young Mr C thought it was a shark and yelled out excitedly. The ferry docked in charming Queenscliff with its historic old fort and grand hotels.
Thence it was back on the Bellarine highway of the peninsula of the same name, to Geelong, victoria’s 2nd biggest city built on sheep farming and wool and situated in a busy waterfront. I believe there are cats in this city- cats that play football! They’re a weird mob those Victorians. But from Geelong we get on the freeway for the 70km trek back to Melbourne.
To top the day, the boys caught a musical "wicked" at the Regent Theatre. Me i caught a tram to docklands for more sight-seeing. Pa ra! Near the docklands are Waterfront city and harbourtown. These are great shoppers destinations but also offer lots of fine dining with fine pricing. My pocket is not that deep so I quickly got another tram away from that cold and windy place.