Saturday, August 3, 2013

Timubo Cave, Camotes Islands, the Philippines: want to go swimming in a cavern?

Where in the world can you have the unique experience of swimming in the crystal clear waters of a cavern?  I don't know of any other places, but if you live in or travel to the Philippines, Timubo Cave on Camotes Islands  is the place to go for this one-of-a-kind and refreshing adventure.   The Camotes Islands are located in the Camotes Sea, east of the island of Cebu and southwest of Leyte Island, very "laid back", picturesque, and peaceful, non-touristy, and very accessible to residents of or tourists in Cebu City.  We drove northeast from Cebu City about an hour to the ferry in the town of Danao (passing along the way Papa Kit's Marina and Fishing Lagoon),  then took the ferry, which can carry cars, to the dock on the western-most of the Camotes Islands (San Francisco Island).  I'll write more about our trip to Camotes in later posts, but for now I'll focus on Timubo Cave.

Timubo Cave is located in/near Sonog town on San Francisco Island, Camotes.  I wouldn't know how to tell you how to get there on the island, because my sister-in-law's friend's son graciously drove us there, but I am certain that the place is quite well-known as a local tourist attraction or landmark, enough so that almost any resident of the island could tell you how to get there.   When we arrived, we paid the entrance fee, which I believe was 15 pesos per person (about 35 cents US at the time)  -- a real bargain for being able to stay there and enjoy swimming in the cave as long as you want during their hours of operation.  I've always loved swimming and being in the water, and our daughter inherited those genes, so we knew that we would be here for quite some time and would certainly "get our 15 peso's worth"!

We then proceeded to the mouth of the cave, accessed by steps going down and some interesting signage telling about how the waters of the cave have long been used as a source of drinking water for the locals of Sonog.

Our daughter at the entrance to Timubo Cave
Once we entered the mouth of the cave, we continued maybe another 50 yards into the cavern following the stairs and downward-sloping path that leads to the pool of water at the bottom.  Although the cave is dark, the path was lit well enough with lights that you do not need to carry a flashlight.  The path was relatively safe but slippers, so you have to be careful especially if wearing "flip-flop" sandals (which are commonly referred to as "slippers" in the Philippines).  My wife slipped and fell on the path (between-the-toes part of her slippers popped out), but fortunately she was fine with no injuries, and landed on her behind.   So if you do visit here,  be sure to hold the handrail.  And check out the stalagmites and stalactites.
Descending into the jaws of the cave - stalagmites and stalactites

Hold on to that hand rail... a word to the wise!

There's a kind of an "eye of the needle" type of passage right before you get to the bottom level, where you cross a little underground stream...

Constricting point along the path - the cave mud on my white shirt is from when my wife fell

Then finally we got to the bottom, where the pool where you can swim was waiting for us.  There's a little landing with rocks that serves as a "beach" where you can put your towels and shoes etc., and on the right side there is a small grotto with a shrine for the Virgin Mary and several "no smoking" signs. 

Grotto shrine with Virgin Mary statue, Timubo Cave

Take a guess who was the first one into the water...

Chillin' in the cool waters of Timubo Cave
Since this is in the Philippines in the tropics, the air temperature in this cavern was not nearly as cold as the ones in the U.S. or Europe etc., which are about a constant 56 degrees F (13 degrees C) -- this one was probably around 78 degrees F (26 degrees F).  The water temperature was refreshing, but not cold - just a little cooler than the cave's ambient air temperature.  And it was crystal clear, with no signs of algae or any visible fish, crabs or other creatures in it... didn't see any bats either, although there are some very dark areas of the cave that I couldn't access well.  

My wife and daughter fleeing the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" rising up behind them
Enjoying the water

Mermaid in Timubo Cave

This photo doesn't do justice to the clarity of the water

Without camera flash shows better the darkness (even with lighting) of the cave

Looking back toward "the beach" - my sister-in-law's friend's son with a rider on back
Piggyback rider

Mommy near the grotto

While this is fresh water and not salt water connected to the sea, there must be some kind of an air interlock to the sea that exerts a piston effect with the moon's pulling of the tides on the ocean, because there is a high tide and a low tide, as indicated by the sign.  You can go pretty far back into the cave, but the part that is lighted is not extensive (see the first pic below, which shows the dark and narrow passages).  The water is generally quite shallow (5 feet at deepest in low tide, and 6 feet at high tide), so it's quite suitable with appropriate adult supervision for children who are unafraid of the water and confident/decent swimmers... very close supervision of course for small children.  For about half of the time we were down there (we stayed quite a long time), we had the whole cave to ourselves, which was kind of cool.
This is looking down the darkest part of the cave, where it really starts to get narrow

Looking back to the "beach" on the shore

Family pic in Timubo Cave

Beautiful clear water

My sister-in-law and my wife "sunbathing" at the beach, Timubo Cave

This is another chamber of the cavern farther from the shore

Finally, when we were ready to leave, our daughter wanted to say hello to the goat which was tied near the parking lot.  I told her that he would probably try to butt his head into her legs or belly, which he did, although gently.  So before we left, she spent a little bit of time making friends with this cute little guy.

A little head-butting action from the friendly goat at Timubo Cave

We had a great time at Timubo Cave; it's a family-friendly attraction and a unique natural asset where you can partake in a refreshing swim in an unusual environment... all for P15 per head!  I would highly recommend it for any tourists and visitors to Camotes Island.  I hope to post more on Camotes soon, thanks for reading and please stay posted!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Part 1: Zip line and rock climbing at Papa Kit's Marina and Fishing Lagoon, Liloan, Cebu

If you're in Cebu City and looking for something really fun to do in the area, I'd highly recommend a short trip to Papa Kit's.  A few weeks ago my wife and daughter and I, along with my sister-in-law and her friend, left Cebu and drove to Papa Kit's Marina and Fishing Lagoon in Liloan, Cebu, which is on Silot Bay probably about an hour or less northeast Cebu City depending on the traffic.  Papa Kit's is located just off the coast, is in an area that is starting to transition already toward a rural province area, and is on a large piece of land surrounding a salt water lagoon.   Their facilities and attractions feature an 800 meter long zip line (not sure if that is counting one way or round trip), fishing facilities (and a nice restaurant where you can have them cook or grill what you catch), and an (artificial) rock climbing wall.  The lagoon as well as the zip line towers, fish ponds, etc. can be seen quite easily on Google Maps if you zoom in on Liloan and find Papa Kit's in the satellite view mode. It appears that they also have several units of condominium-style lodging, but I didn't investigate that further.   We had a great time, and I found it to be a nice and peaceful place.  We went on a weekday, so the place was pretty quiet and not too many people were there, although I've heard it can get pretty busy on weekends. 

When we arrived in early to mid-afternoon, we paid 100 pesos (about $2.25 U.S.) per person to get in through the gate and park (50 pesos of which is refunded as a credit for their snack shack or in their restaurant), then we parked the car near the zip line and rock climbing wall.  Our daughter and I tried the rock climbing wall, which I truly thought I would be able to climb all the way to the top (maybe about 50 feet in height).  There is an enticement/incentive, that if you can climb to the top, you get a free zip line ticket.  We've done this type of thing numerous times before and really had fun with it, so I figured we'd do pretty well.    But we're not rock wall climbers or rock climbers by any means.  I thought I could make it to the top.  My daughter and I put on our safety harnesses and quickly went to the wall.  However, once I got on the wall, I noticed that the fake plastic rocks that you use as hand grips are very thin in terms of how far they protrude from the wall, not letting you get a very good grip with your hands... I think  the ones we've experienced back in the States are for the novice climbers, and the hand holds are made of a spongier material that is more forgiving and protrudes out from the wall a little further.  They're also pretty far apart -- and I am 6'1" with long legs and arms. Not to mention we didn't have on proper shoes (my daughter even went barefoot).  OK, enough with the excuses!  I tried and tried, but soon my hands started cramping up and getting weak... coupled with the heat and humidity (this was early in our Philippines trip and I was still getting acclimated), I gradually burned out and probably only got about 20 feet up the wall.  A humbling but slightly disappointing experience.  Same thing with our daughter - she thought that the rocks were too far apart from one another and she couldn't get a good grip on them either.   

So all in all we had some good sweaty fun and father-daughter bonding, even though I couldn't make it to the top of a tower I know I could have otherwise conquered with the "cushy"  version of handholds (sour grapes ha-ha!).  But don't let me discourage you!  You might be able to make it to the top and get a free zip line ticket.  Even if not, or if rock wall climbing is not your cup of tea, there's plenty of other fun stuff to do.

She's a chip off the old block!  No need for Daddy to coach her.

Making a fool of myself -- or maybe a monkey!

Father-daughter bonding
After our daughter and I gave it up and cooled off a bit from the rock climbing exertion, we were ready to have everyone else who hadn't suited up already to get their safety harnesses and put on their helmets for the zip line.  My wife was up for it, as well as her sister's friend.  My sister-in-law opted not to go and kindly served as our photographer.

Receiving the final blessings from the safety checker guy in our crotch-grabbing harnesses

Ready to rock and roll - my wife, me, our daughter, and my sister-in-law's friend
We next made the climb up the tower that would give us enough height and velocity to get across the big lagoon on the zip line cables - 800 meters.  I can't remember how many flights of stairs we went up the tower, but it had to be at least 60 feet tall. 

No turning back!

Once we got to the top, there were attendants whose job is to safely clip you onto the zip line and tell you when it's your turn to go.   Then you sit down on seats up at the top and wait your turn to go -- it's a great view. 

Papa Kit's 800 meter zip line!

View from the top looking at destination across lagoon
View from the top looking southwest.  If you click on the photo and enlarge and look very closely, you can see the skyscrapers of Cebu City about 1/4 of the picture in from the left at the base of the mountain
Ready to zip!

Zip line daredevil

What's the bucket for? Maybe I shouldn't ask.
Second thoughts???
Then just a little bit of time to get positioned and dangle... 

Getting ready to go down "dual"

Pre-flight checklist - wings "check"

Ready to roll

Then finally, liftoff!

Of course there was no screaming from our 9-year-old daughter

My wife's turn 

One thing I really regret is that I didn't take a camera with me to get some shots mid-flight... oh well.  It was a very smooth and relaxing ride, and the breeze from traveling so quickly down the zip line cable felt really refreshing on a hot and humid day.  Once we got over to the end of the zip line on lower platform on the island in the middle of the lagoon, we climbed another tower to board the next zip line that would take us back to the mainland from the island (it ends up at a platform a short distance away from the tower shown in the photos above).

Next, we took a little break at the snack shack to replenish some of those lost fluids and salts with some good cold water, chicharron (fried pork rinds), and siopao.  They do have a restaurant, too, but we didn't go there until it was time to eat dinner.

Snack shack seating area at Papa Kit's

My sister-in-law, our daughter, my wife, and I rehydrating at the snack shack
I asked them for their brochure/flyer, which I took a photo of and inserted below, and I realized after the fact that they also have some other activities I was unaware of, such as the aqua sports.  But we were there mainly for the zip line. 

My well-folded copy of the Papa Kit's rates brochure

So this is where I'll leave off until next post, where I'll cover fishing at Papa Kit's and dining (on those very same fish we caught) at their restaurant.  Until the next time... thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Selling out Filipino cultural heritage and history -- the Archdiocese of Ozamiz sets its sights on the ancient acacia trees of the Parish of the Holy Rosary in Oroquieta City

While relaxing at my parents-in-law's home in Cebu, my wife requested me to read a newspaper article that I found to be disturbing, disheartening, disappointing, and maybe even portending the way that the Catholic Church is going to exert its power in Mindanao and the Philippines in general.  The title of this article, printed in the June 3rd edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (pages D1 and D2, LifeStyle Arts & Books) and written by reporter Mozart Pastrano, is "Commercialization Threatens Historic Mindanao Church Plaza."  Specifically, the article states that the Archdiocese of Ozamiz wants to cut down the ancient acacia trees that line the front and sides of the Parish of the Holy Rosary in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental, Mindanao, in order to give way to build a commercial zone that will include a Jollibee fast food restaurant and a First Valley Bank.  According to the Daily Inquirer article, Archbishop Jesus A. Dosado has given the Holy Rosary parish an ultimatum:  give the Archdiocese of Ozamis P50,000 per month, or the archdiocese will cut down the acacia trees in front of the church and sell the church grounds to profit from Jollibee and the bank.  The reason for this demand for money is to cover the medical costs of priests (many who are elderly or nearly elderly) in the archdiocese. The original figure Archbishop Dosado demanded was P75,000 per month, according to the Daily Inquirer, although the Archbishop offered no further comment to the reporter.    The article also states that the parishioners were made to raise millions of pesos recently to support a church beautification project, which was not wanted by the vast majority of the parishioners.  In effect, the millions of pesos were wasted for frivolous superficial and unnecessary beautification of the church’s façade (including but not limited to a 1 million pesos sound system) – millions of pesos which could rather have been wisely allocated to budget for the medical needs of the priests.

So why do I even care about a parish grounds and some old trees half way around the globe from where I live, and why am I blogging about this?  Why can’t I just accept Jollibee parked on the front lawn of the church and look forward to my next sarsa float and crispy 2-pc bangus with rice (Oroquieta already has one Jollibee, by the way)?   I have two main reasons:  

1) This is my wife's home parish in her home town, and the grounds of this parish, including its acacia trees are as much an integral and critical part of Oroquieta's heritage, culture, and history as any other historical landmark in Oroquieta.  Cutting down the acacia trees and destroying the church grounds to put up a Jollibee and a bank is to me and to my wife's family as offensive and insulting as would be scraping off all the trees and beautiful landscaping in front of the Provincial Capitol building in Oroquieta to construct an on-site car dealership.  This parish is the beating heart of a large and vital community that's been dear to me since my first visit in 1996, two years after my wife and I were married, and its hallowed grounds and acacia trees are inextricably linked to the heritage, culture, and history not only of the parish, but also the Oroquietanian community in the Philippines and abroad, and even to the history of the Philippines as a nation.  As a little girl, my wife played the part of an angel at the annual traditional Easter time celebration of the “Hugos” [the hoisting of ‘angels’ singing ‘Alleluia’], suspended and hoisted from these grand and ancient acacia trees.  Over the last 125 years or so, thousands of native little Oroquietanian girls did the same thing, and the Oroquietanian diaspora transplanted throughout the Philippines and all over the world will consider those acacia trees and that church grounds as something uniquely special and irreplaceable.  This is a precious memory, tradition, and cultural/religious heritage that is now in jeopardy of being lost forever, never to be experienced again by future generations.  Innumerable baptisms, funerals, and other religious and civic ceremonies passed through these doors and under these trees, and the prayers, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows of thousands of individuals and an entire community were witnessed by this acacia grove. These trees and this parish grounds bore direct witness to an incident during the Philippine-American War maybe about 1898 or so when Filipino soldiers under General Rufino Deloso attacked Americans stationed in the parish convent in a dawn raid. 117 Filipino soldiers were killed on the church grounds in this attack when the Americans defended their forces with artillery aboard a troop transport ship anchored on the nearby shore, and were buried behind the church.  Somewhere deep within the living wood grains of these ancient and gnarled acacia trees, it’s possible there are concealed shrapnel fragments from those artillery shells of 114 years ago.  This same grove of acacia trees witnessed better times 40-some years later first when President Manuel Quezon came ashore in Oroquieta shortly after escaping Corregidor, and then when the Americans came and camped nearby again – this time not as heavy-handed imperialists, but as friends and brother-in-arms fighting and dying side by side with the Filipinos to liberate the Philippines from the horrors of the Japanese invasion.  

2) I care about this issue because I feel that if this lack of due process from the Church does not get nipped in the bud by the power of the people now, there is no telling when it will stop.   It sets a precedent.  Where in the Philippines will this process of commercial assimilation go the next time, and to what extent/magnitude will this process of commercial acquisition go with the next parish? Will they be contented with just cutting down the trees and selling the land to commercial entities, or will they want more from the next parish, perhaps posting advertisements on the sides of the church?   Chopping down these acacia trees and selling out to commercial interests now is likely a signal of things to come.  Does the lack of forethought and fiscal/moral responsibility justify an easy land grab for commercial purposes?  Is this a message telegraphed from the Church and the Archbishop that this is the new mandate, the new edict, the way things are going to be? I understand and sympathize that funds are needed for the medical costs of priests, especially those who are becoming elderly – it’s a tough economy worldwide, and health care costs of the aging population is a major issue in every country.   But I really think that this is the wrong way to address this, and if this proposed “solution” is actually executed, it sets an ill conceived, poorly thought-out precedent for future resolution of budgetary problems in other dioceses.  There has to be a better way than selling out and selling off Filipino heritage to commercial interests.   Why were the parishioners recently pressured and “hit up” to fund a superficial (and unwanted) beautification project when these funds could have been wisely earmarked for the health needs of the priests in the archdiocese?

The people of Oroquieta and the parishioners won't just sit down and take this desecration of their church (grounds) by the Church – they are not, and a petition letter with over 10,000 signatures as well as vigorous opposition from many in the community is in progress.   People around the world have made the mistake numerous times over – selling off our heritage, our history, our hearts and souls, to make a quick profit from commercial development.  Americans have done this numerous times, and it almost happened again recently at a hallowed Civil War battlefield site on which blood was shed to preserve the nation.  It was almost sold to the giant commercial retailer Wal-Mart (which is similar to an SM hypermarket or Robinson’s supermarket).  I surely hope the same won’t happen in Oroquieta.  

I’ll close with a quote from the famous American naturalist and wilderness preservationist from the 1800’s, John Muir:

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.”
John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Holy Rosary Church, Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines
Aerial view from steeple/belltower of Holy Rosary Parish, Oroquieta City.  Courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mandaue City wet market - our tour today

It's been awhile since I've posted --  we've all been really busy tying up all the loose ends and making preparations for our family trip to the Philippines. This time, I am happy to report that I am posting almost "in real time" from the Philippines and that we're enjoying some much-needed vacation time.  

While I love all the famous tourist spots and natural beauty and beaches, historical sites, etc. of the Philippines, I also enjoy getting out and experiencing the typical, everyday "real" Philippines.  I like to go beyond the typical tourist experience, get out and mix and mingle with the people, and visit the places that are typical of everyday life in the Philippines... farms, blacksmith shops, sari-sari stores, malls, docks and piers, etc.  Like any place, I think it is important and interesting to see the many facets and diverse walks of life of the people, to get a sense of the sights, sounds and smells that are commonplace and normal for the inhabitants, but exotic for the tourists.   A short while ago this morning, we went to the Mandaue City (a suburb of Cebu) wet market, which was a great experience for me.  I've been to some smaller wet markets before, including the one in Boracay, so I knew what to expect to some extent and was really excited about going there. But I've never been to a wet market of this size and scale, so I was in for a very pleasant surprise that did not disappoint.   

The Mandaue City wet market has tons of vendor stalls with a diverse selection of all kinds of goods, including a beautiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables of all colors (many of which cannot be found in the U.S.), eggs, rice, dry goods, some clothing and electronics, and, of course -- what makes a wet market wet -- fresh fish, seafood, and meats.  It is an indoor market in a large building and covered from the elements, although the sides of the building are open to provide ventilation.  To foreign tourists from the U.S.,  Europe, Australia, etc., a trip to a wet market in the Philippines will be quite different from what he or she has experienced in everyday life in the supermarkets in their homeland, which resemble the SM hypermarkets in the Philippines.   We have farm markets in the U.S. with farm-fresh produce, we have traditional butcher shops and fish cleaning shops, and there are wet seafood markets in the larger cities, especially in the coastal cities, but these are all quite different from the Philippine wet markets.  Many of the foods would be seen as very exotic by Westerners -- such as chicken feet ("Adidas") or rooster heads etc. -- and have been featured on some of the Food Network shows like the American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's show "No Reservations".  I saw Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" episode about exotic foods to be found in the Philippines (this can easily be found in its entirety on YouTube if you are interested), and I was impressed with his great attitude, open-mindedness, and very respectful treatment of Filipinos and their culture. 

For all these reasons, I think that a trip to a large (or even small) wet market in the Philippines is a gem of an experience, and something truly not to be missed.   Getting there by way of jeepney, multicab, or pedicab, as opposed to taking an air-conditioned taxi, should also be a part of the experience.  One last tip - the seafood part of the wet market is not the place to wear your "Sunday best"... dress casually and wear sandals or shoes that can be washed afterwards, unless you want your nice leather dress business shoes to smell like a fish market!    

I was the only foreigner/tourist to my knowledge there at the time, which is a shame, because I really had fun and was treated with the well-known gracious Filipino hospitality.  I'd highly recommend going there to anyone who wants to check it out -- you'll love it!  Not to mention, there are some great deals to be had there on all kinds of fresh fruit, veggies, fish, seafood, meat, baked goods, etc. 

Eggs for sale at the Mandaue City wet market
View down an aisle of vendor stalls 

Bananas, mangoes, watermelon etc. at Mandaue City wet market

Both smiling, one shy - vendors with lots of calamansi (limes) 

Circular center of the Mandaue City wet market (this part is open-air to let in air ventilation and light)

This young egg vendor was happy to give me a cheerful smile for the camera

Eva's Banana and Fruit Retailer, Mandaue City wet market... I was surprised to see the owner's husband's authentic Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (Troy Polamalu #43)! 
Proud vegetable stall vendor, Mandaue City wet market -- humongous carrots!
Bebie Boy & An-An Meat Shop, Mandaue City wet market

"Adidas" (chicken feet) and rooster's heads... cock's combs, anyone?

Fish section at Mandaue City wet market.  Note the baskets hanging above -- these are the cash registers where vendors keep their money and make change. 

Galunggong fish at Mandaue City wet market

Butcher shop area of Mandaue City wet market. 

Segments of jackfruit pre-cut and ready to go

Poultry section at Mandaue City wet market

Jumbo prawns (shrimp) at Mandaue City wet market - these are awesome!

Eva's Banana and Fruit Retailer, Mandaue City wet market... I was surprised to see the owner's husband's authentic Pittsburgh Steelers (Troy Polamalu) jersey! 

Tata & Mia's Fresh Dressed Chicken, Mandaue City wet market
Snapshot of the action at the Mandaue City wet market

Proud vegetable stall vendor, Mandaue City wet market -- humongous carrots are about 3 times larger than the ones I've seen in the U.S. and Europe!



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