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Friday, October 24, 2014

My Birthday Trip to Kota Kinabalu

It has been two weeks since I went to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia with my sister for my birthday. Two weeks ago, at around this time, I was already asleep on my hotel bed, because we were set to wake up early for the next day's trip to Kinabalu Park.

However, that didn't push through. It had been raining since we started with our tour last October 9, which was my birthday. Our guide Raydy picked us up at our hotel at 9 a.m.. When we were already in the van, he asked us if we had umbrellas. My sister brought hers. And what about me? Stupid me left my umbrella in Manila! Haha! It was there under my office desk, and I left it. Huhuhu. Of all the days when I wouldn't have my umbrella with me, it had to be on a rainy trip outside the country. On my birthday. Good thing Raydy lent me his umbrella (Thank you!).

Our first stop was Mari Mari Cultural Village. Raydy said "mari mari" means "come, come." In Mari Mari Cultural Village, we were introduced to the five tribes of Borneo. We visited each of the tribe's houses, which are what we call bahay kubo in the Philippines. I won't expound on what each tribe is known for, because I don't want to spoil your trip to Mari Mari Cultural Village. I did take a few notes on my phone, and I couldn't help but point out the similarities of our ethnic groups in the Philippines and the tribes in Borneo.

For one, the houses that they lived in. Nipa huts. Bahay Kubo. The bahay kubo is the traditional Filipino home, and our ancestors lived there before the Spaniards came and colonized the Philippines. The tribes of Borneo hunted and gathered to look for food--same with ours. They had headhunters, rice wine makers, people who cook using bamboo--same with ours.

Perhaps our people are similar because Malaysia and the Philippines are both in Southeast Asia. In a way, there is a link that connects us as Southeast Asian neighbors. Even our languages sound alike, although a lot of Tagalog words are derived from Spanish, with the Philippines having been colonized by the Spaniards for 300 years.

No wonder I felt at home in Mari Mari Cultural Village, even if it was in another country.

Here are some of the things that you will see in Mari Mari Cultural Village.

In the Philippines, we use this to cover plates of food on the table.

Jars for rice wine.

Ingredients for rice wine.

The girl demonstrated how rice wine is made.

Food cooked using bamboo.


Kulintangan. In the Philippines, we call these kulintang.

What you would find in a Bajau wedding.


The tour ended with a cultural performance, which was, again, very similar to our dances in the Philippines. They even danced while bamboo poles are being "clapped" at their feet (careful with your toes and ankles!). In the Philippines, we call this dance Tinikling. 

My trip to Mari Mari Cultural Experience was an enriching experience. In fact, I was inspired to explore more places in my own country, because I knew our history and culture are just as rich. 

After Mari Mari, we toured Kota Kinabalu City. It was raining nonstop. Too bad my birthday trip coincided just as the tail-end of typhoon Vongfong was bringing rains to Sabah. But I couldn't allow myself to be gloomy on my special day. The sky may be gray, but my mood wasn't. 

Photos I took at the Puh Toh Tze Buddhist Temple. 

The Floating Mosque.

View of the KK City from Signal Hill. Pardon the storm clouds.

That night, I made sure I slept early for our trip to Kinabalu Park and Sabah Tea Garden the next day. But, as I've said earlier, the trip didn't push through. There was a landslide, so the road going to Kinabalu Park was impassable. But that didn't dampen my enthusiasm. I'd still love to go around Sabah.

Our guide Raydy brought us first to Nabalu Town, also called Handicrafts Market. My sister around looked around the souvenir stalls, but what caught my interest was door leading to the back of one of the stalls. And lo and behold, there was a charming little park with a view of the mountains! 

Still beautiful even on a cloudy day. I love this place. 

I wouldn't mind staying in this gazebo for hours just looking at the view.

So peaceful. 

Next, Raydy brought us to Kokol Hill, where retreat houses abound. It's not really a tourist spot because most people go there for retreats and prayer. But I didn't mind that. After all, being a tourist is not simply about visiting well-known tourist spots. It's also about exploring new places and being ready for new experiences. 

We went to Villaku Boutique Homestay & Cafe for lunch. The restaurant serves local dishes. My sister and I tried the Chicken Vindaloo and, of course, Nasi Lemak. 

The restaurant. How charming!

The view from the balcony. Pardon the gray sky. Had it not rained, I would've stayed here for a few more minutes after eating. Simply looking at the view calmed my mind.

The trip to Kokol Hill turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. It was a welcome detour, after all. I still find myself thinking about Kokol Hill often, even if I'm now back in Manila. In fact, my mind often drifts to my short but sweet vacation in KK. The city felt like home, with familiar sights, and familiar people. The people are warm and hospitable, just like Filipinos.

I'm more than happy to have celebrated my birthday there. I'll certainly come back to explore more. I don't know when, but I will be back. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Perfect Ending: Trip to Kabigan Falls

June 24, 2014. This was our last day in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. Paula and I were set to leave for Manila in the afternoon. We had one more item in our itinerary to cross out: Kabigan Falls.

Kabigan Falls is located near Casa Consuelo, where Paula and I were staying. We just had to hire a tricycle to take us there and back to Casa Consuelo. That morning, after breakfast, Paula and I left Casa and took on a 15-minute (or was that 20 or 30? I wasn't able to keep track, or maybe I simply didn't care hehehe) ride to the falls.

When we got to the site, Paula and I registered at the entrance, and paid the fee for the guide who would lead the way to the falls. Paula and I merely brought a few things with us--towels, a bottle of water each, and some petty cash. Going to the falls entails a 30-minute trek and I bit of climbing, and you wouldn't want to carry a heavy bag for that.

Trekking to the falls is being close to nature. We were surrounded by trees, grass, view of the mountains, cows crossing the trail, and the soothing sound of the flowing stream. The sun was also shining brightly, its warm rays kissing our faces.

I took this on our way back. Sorry, the photo is blurry.

I walked a bit slower than Paula and our guide because the sandals that I was wearing isn't really made for trekking. They're rubber, but they're more like beach sandals. Haha. Note to self: bring the right footwear next time. Walking wearing those sandals was fine, but for the climbing-on-rocks part, wearing them was quite a challenge. I had to extra careful, or else I would slip.

When we finally got to the falls, Paula and I had one realization: The 30-minute trek going there is soooo worth it.

It's like being cradled in Mother Nature's soothing embrace. 

Paula and I wasted no time. We immediately went for a swim in the cool water of Kabigan Falls. The whole experience was glorious! The water was cool and refreshing. It was as if everything that was in our minds at that time--work the next day, stressful life in Manila--disappeared. All that mattered was that very moment, when all we had to do was swim and laugh and simply enjoy nature. 

There was a family swimming there when we got to the falls, but when they left, Paula and I burst out into Disney songs. We sang Part of Your World and Colors of the Wind shamelessly, since we had the whole falls to ourselves anyway (and oops, our guide, enduring our singing). We couldn't help it. we just had to sing. 

Then, after about an hour of swimming, it was time for us to go. The trip to Kabigan Falls was the perfect ending to our perfect vacation. Indeed, nothing beats saying hello to nature and reveling in its simple, unadulterated beauty. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tour Proper

Before I start writing about the rest of my Ilocos Norte trip, let me just say that I can't believe that I've let months slip by without finishing this series of entries. My trip was last June, started writing about it in July, and it's now OCTOBER! :( I've been really busy with work that I didn't notice the months slipping by.

Anyway, now I have the chance to finish the series. I apologize for this long overdue entry.

Sunday, June 22, was devoted to going around Pagudpud and nearby towns to see tourist attractions. One of them is the Bantay Abot Cave, which overlooks Blue Lagoon. This is part of the area where Paula and I were staying, so we decided to go to Bantay Abot Cave first.

View of the sea before going up the "cave."

It's not really a cave, but more of a huge rock with an opening in the middle.

The view from the "cave." Just ignore me, posing for the camera. 
Isn't the blue sea glorious?

Paula's uncle, Tito Marleo, toured us around. He works as an engineer for the Bangui Wind Turbines, and he gets to live in this paradise of a town. How enviable! Hehe. 

Nest, we went to the Patapat Viaduct, the fourth longest bridge in the Philippines. It connects the Maharlika Highway from Laoag, Ilocos Norte to Cagayan Valley. 

We can't get enough of the sea. It's so beautiful. 

Hi Paula!

Oh, the sea. I hope it remains blue and beautiful even if a lot of tourists come. 

Another must-see when you're in the north is the Bangui Wind Farm. In the farm are the Bangui Wind Turbines, which were built to harness wind to generate electricity. 

Wind turbines all lined up on the shore. 

The obligatory turista shot. Hehehe

And you just can't miss the beauty of nature surrounding you. 

At the right side is the charming Kangkang Windmill Cafe, where we had our lunch.

I have no words to describe the beauty of this place. 

Next on our itinerary is the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation. As Paula had described it, it's like the road to Isengarde. 

The white parts of the rock formation used to be submerged in water ages ago.

And of course, another turista shot. 

We went to Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, also known as Burgos Lighthouse, next. It dates back to the Spanish Colonial period, and this lighthouse serves as a welcoming signal for ships coming through the northwestern part of the archipelago. 

The structure may be old, but is certainly charming and captivating.

My turista shot. 

After the tour, we attended Sunday mass in Laoag and ate cake at La Preciosa. It was our last night in Ilocos Norte, but Paula and I couldn't be sad yet, because we were set to visit another beautiful spot the next day: Kabigan Falls. And so we rested our exhausted bodies to prepare for the next day's trip.