Arriving at Svalbard

I usually bring a flashlight on camping trips, but then again where I am going the Sun never really sets on Summer; so no flashlight this time. On average temperature goes by 7 degree Celsius but the weather can change rapidly… so much so that I came I came prepared  with Winter cloths on this trip.

Just a while ago when I arrived at Oslo, I made the mistake of thinking that my Oslo-Longyearbyen flight would count as a Domestic flight. I almost missed my flight because I went to the Domestic section because of that… Svalbard is not exactly Norway, but it is a territory of Norway.  

Svalbard seems like … a land on suspension. Almost every one is welcome to stay on this group of  islands for as long as you can tend for yourself. Which other place offers this possibility?

It fascinates because it is so remote and stands as one of, if not, Europe’s  most remote nature frontier.  It’s a group of islands where there are more Polar bears than humans! Where almost half a year it’s dark and almost half, again, the sun is up most of the time. Imagine the explosion of life when Spring comes… Post Tenebras Lux!
It is now 11:06 PM,  I feel sleepy but I do not wish to miss the approach to Spitsberg island. Outside the light looks like midday, in 1 hour I will arrive in Longyearbyen… and I know I will not see the night for some time.

From Manila to Batad


Update: May 19 2017

Starting June 1, traveling to Banaue will be quicker and easier because of a chartered flight(Wakay Tours) from Clark International Airport in Pampanga to Bagabag airport in Nueva Vizcaya(30 mins flight). From Bagabag airport to Banaue, it only takes 2 hours by car.

With Clark being approximately 2 hours from Manila, the Manila -Banaue travel time will be shortened from 12 to 5 hours.

I have to say that Batad,Philippines is definitely high on my list of most rewarding places to visit. The rice terraces, built over 2 thousands years ago, stands as  testimony to man’s ingenuity in converting barren land into fertile ground. The effort to reach this remote place is part of the reason why the visit is rewarding: it is half a day’s trip from Manila, you have to hike at least 45 minutes to reach it– Saddle point is the furtherest point that vehicles can go towards Batad.  Beyond it, you’d be really lucky to have a network on your mobile phone, but who needs a network when you can get away from it all and go back to the basics. It is such a rewarding experience to stay  overnight and wakeup to the sound of Roosters in the absence of cars and jeepneys so prevalent in Manila. Batad is of course not the only village with rice terraces, but it’s the one with the most consistent stone-wall structure; the amphitheatre-like arrangement of  its terraces is quite simply stunning.

Hiking around Batad

Here is a link to a website which can help you plan your trip to Batad (Our Awesome Planet). You’ll have info on the different options to reach Saddle point from Banaue. Another option is by joining organised tour from Manila like those done by trailadventours(Filipino trek company) and international tour companies like Intrepid and  Gap(it doesn’t come cheap for these two as they only offer 2 weeks travel to the Philippines …on  Western prices of course).

Note that Ohayami trans(+639175060817)  is now the only bus company that services the Manila-Banaue route.  Do reserve your ticket a day in advance as there are only 2 daily buses that ply this route. Both leave Manila on the  Corner of J. Fajardo and A.H. Lacson in Sampaloc, at 9 and 10PM respectively.

Bring a sweat shirt and a blanket as the bus is a moving freezer. Don’t pack too much stuff on your bag, you will have to hike in and out of Batad.

Village of Batad
Village of Batad

Afraid of heights?

Going to Batad from the Saddle point is not an issue if you are afraid of heights. However treks to other villages from Batad could be challenging:  the trek from Batad to Cambulo for one has a few passages where you have to pass by rice terrace ridges where you have rice field on one side and a cliff on the other.

It is good that most of the ridges are at least half a meter wide. I am told this is not the case for other hikes. For this reason, do get a guide when deciding to hike to other villages from Batad. Ask the guide how he handles situations where the client has fear of heights. He could for example propose that you hold on to his rucksack as you walk through narrow ridges. The guide can also provide you with a walking stick: this sure helped me for my balance.

It costs around 1,300 PHP to hire the service of a guide for a day(for 5 people I believe), a small cost for your safety.  It is better to hire a guide in Batad than in Banaue, it is good to support those who live in the remote areas, and of course the local guides would know their area better.


Normally you don’t need prior reservation for lodging in Batad, I am trying to search the internet for contact info… to no avail. We didn’t reserve anything and just organised on our arrival at Batad. The Lonely Planet suggests Simon’s place for the best viewpoint. We stayed at a native cottage(no nails) at  Ramon’s homestay. Ramon is very friendly, I am told he is a respected individual in the community.

The native hut, had six beds, you could rent the hut for 1200 PHP or share the cost with other people who are willing to share accommodation with you.

Enjoy Batad!… And as they say… it is more fun in the Philippines!

Manila: a day in Escolta

My grandma has often told me how Escolta was the prime Commercial spot of the Philippines in her youth.  How there was once a tram line which, sadly, disappeared after the World war 2. Even during the occupation, Escolta  was the place to be,  after all commercial establishments  built their headquarters there which exuded  wealth in decoration as a sign of stability.

After the war, Escolta would never be the same again but the aura of the place would remain until the rise of Makati in the seventies. Fortunately some of the Art-deco buildings  are still visible in Escolta, but they are a dying breed. Whereas in other countries,  governments strive  to maintain these edifices with participation of the private sector, our government isn’t doing enough to promote conservation. The only realistic way of preserving this heritage, is to allow them to be used by the private sector with architectural constraints. In other countries, it is a prestige for businesses to set up shop and preserve city landmarks.

As Manileños or as tourists of Manila we can help restore Escolta, by giving interest to it, visiting it or through activism by protesting against the demolition of buildings like El Hogar, for example.

Having said that here’s how you can spend a day in Escolta…There are lots ways to reach Escolta, but the most original way is by using the Pasig river Ferry. Fares go from 28 pesos to 95 pesos depending on the distance, the ferry line stretches from Pinagbuhatan, Pasig  till Intramuros. From Makati, the nearest stop is Guadalupe which is very close to Guadalupe MRT station .

Escolta River Ferry Station / Old Manila Post Office
The old Manila post Office from the Escolta river ferry station
This was originally called Roxas Building.
This was originally called Roxas Building. The son of Juan Luna, Andres Luna designed this neoclassical beaux-arts building. Imagine this place without the dangling electric wires!
Inside the First United Building
The First United Building was an Artdeco designed by Andrés Luna de San Pedro, the son of Juan Luna, the Philippine’s foremost painter. It was Manila’s tallest building when it was built in 1928. Check out the Escolta Museum for model buildings depicting how it was before.
Capitol Theater
Designed by Juan Nakpil, the Edifice is now but a shadow of itself. Its decay reminds me how we do not value so much our past. Significant buildings are meant to be preserved.
Escolta in its Haydays
Escolta in its Haydays
Roman R Santos Building
Very close to Quiapo church is Roman R Santos Building. Escolta street starts just a few meters from this building.
Quiapo church
Quiapo church, is very close to Escolta! Lots of churches where this church is located, presently the neo-Baroque church was designed under the plans of National artist Juan Nakpil.
From Escolta, you will have to pass by the Chaotic market place. But that is an attraction by itself.
The Golden Mosque
While you’re at it why not visit the Golden Mosque which is close to Quiapo church. Manila can be quite cosmopolitan!
Chinatown - Binondo
Finish your day at China town! It’s just at the other end of Escolta street. Dis you know that Chinatown(Binondo) is the oldest China town in the World?
So many places to eat good Chinese food in Binondo!!
Manileños need not spend money to go to other countries to get the authentic Chinese food experience!

Kawah Ijen (“Ijen Crater”), East Java, Indonesia

Along the East Java tourist circuit, the most oft visited volcanic site is Mount Bromo.

The tourist facilities near the volcano and the ease of reaching the site are the main reasons why it is the most popular volcanic site of East Java. This popularity goes to the detriment of another beautiful volcanic site in the region: Ijen.

Bromo at Dawn
Bromo at Dawn

Ijen plays second fiddle to Bromo, and if you have to choose one volcanic site, why not choose the most practical one? Ijen is harder to reach, for one it takes an hour and a half to hike the rim of Ijen, which is three times more than that of Mount Bromo!

The Blue Fire of Ijen
The Blue Fire of Ijen

In recent years though, one could argue that practicality shouldn’t weigh as much as to choose Bromo over the other. The Ijen trek is evolving, instead of just seeing the crater from Ijen’s rim to see the emerald acid lake from afar, more and more people go down the crater to see a beautiful phenomenon dubbed “The Blue fire of Ijen”.

The Blue Fire of Ijen. Deep down the crater of Ijen, is the largest blue flame area in the world. The fire could be seen on midnight treks or treks after sunset. The Blue Fire emanates from Sulphur burning at very high temperatures. 

As a result most tours dedicated for this starts the trek from the Ijen  car park at 2 am. This means you leave your hotel at 11 pm or midnight.

View of the crater rim, the stars, the rime and the blue fire  from the bottom of the crater
View of the crater rim, the stars, the rime and the blue fire from the bottom of the crater

There are always people going to the the crater. Miners are here 24/7 to get sulphur for their livelihood. Conditions are hard as they have to carry on average 70 kilos of Sulphur on a very steep slope to to get out of the Caldera.

At dawn it is nauseating to vividly see the work conditions of the Sulphur miners.

Miners and Tourists at Ijen
Miners and Tourists at Ijen


After Dawn, the hike back to the camp is really rewarding, the view can be spectacular especially with the emerald coloured lake down the crater.

Sulphur loads with the Kawajh Ijen Lake as backdrop
Sulphur loads with the Kawajh Ijen Lake as backdrop


On the rim of the crater as you head down away from the crater you may even get a view of Bali if the weather is nice. In any case the neighbouring volcanos are quite a view already

The Hike back to camp after a daw visit of Ijen Crater
The Hike back to camp after a dawn visit of Ijen Crater

If you are in East Java the option of going to Kawah Ijen is definitely worth it.




Travel Ideas: Cyprus

Few countries share the distinction of being a crossroad to three continents.  Whether that is a blessing or a curse is a vain question as  cards are played after they are dealt. For Cyprus , that distinction has provided a History of greater significance relative to its size. The small island has been coveted by great civilisations for millenniums, and even today this remains the case.

Troodos mountain range once rich in Copper (used for Bronze) and  depleted  of it since  the 80s . The word copper comes from the Greek name of the island Kupros.
Troodos mountain range once rich in Copper (used for Bronze) and depleted of it since the 80s . The word copper comes from the Greek name of the island Kupros.

Continue reading Travel Ideas: Cyprus

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