Travel Time favorite destinations.
Nineteen years ago today, Travel Time aired its very first episode on IBC-13. Since then, this program has moved to GMA 7 – until it found its present home on Studio 23 where it is aired every Monday at 11:30 p.m. Travel Time host-producer Susan Calo Medina, however, just forges on and I believe that one reason why her show has lasted this long is the fact that she continues to give viewers quality products. Susan Calo Medina herself surely got a lot of lessons in geography during all those 19 years she has been doing Travel Time. By now she must know every nook and cranny of this country (and some places abroad). Below, I asked her to enumerate 19 of her favorite places to mark 19 good years of Travel Time.
STARBYTES By Butch Francisco
The Philippine Star
1. Butuan City – Of course! That’s where I was born. My roots are there. Besides, the oldest boat extant in Southeast Asia is in Butuan City. In the 10th century, the Kingdom of Poh-Tuan was already trading with China – that’s according to the Sung annals. Despite the fact that it’s not the city my father had envisioned it to be, still, it’s home to me.
2. Pampanga – That’s my other province – My husband is from Arayat and so my children are half Kapampangan. I suppose that explains why we are an eating family. Pampanga is one province where the food approaches cuisine – in its variety and refinement. The simplest fried fish becomes a feast with four different kinds of sauces. And every town has its own specialty – the empanaditas of La Moderna in Guagua, the turon of Sta. Rita, the tibok-tibok and mochi of Susie’s (Go to the original!) in Angeles, the pastilles and plantanilla of Magalang, the halo-halo of Arayat, and espasol in San Fernando – the list goes on.
3. Surigao Norte – From Butuan, it’s only one-and-a-half hours to Surigao City. So, when I’m in Butuan, we go to Surigao City to buy seafood. Having breakfast in the market is a must – you buy your pick of the freshest seafood and have it cooked by the carinderias surrounding the market at indecently low prices. Besides the seafood, there’s the adventure – Silop Cave which is within the city limits, an exciting experience because you go up and down the huge boulders that are always wet and slippery; the beaches and surfing waves of Siargao and the outlying islets, the Sohotan cave which is actually a lagoon enclosed by limestone cliffs. You can enter only at low tide and once inside, it’s a totally different world. By the way, the orange jelly fish do not sting.
4. Bohol – The complete destination. You have heritage – the colonial churches and their plazas, one in every town, the major ones being Baclayon, Loon, Loay, Anda, Panglao and Dauis. You have beaches – in Panglao, in Anda Peninsula; you have eco-tourism – the caves where Dagohoy hid, in Danao, the Cambuhat River tour, the Loboc River cruise, the Chocolate Hills, the tarsier, the diving of Balicasag; and you have food – ube jam made from local kinampay, the broas of Baclayon, the bibingka of Loay, the kalamay of Jagna. And I’m sure there’s more that I haven’t seen.
5. Cebu – Actually, the best of Cebu is not in the city. It’s away from Cebu City – in Olango Island, the island sanctuary for migratory birds with its fine white sand, 15 minutes from Mactan; Malapascua Island, in the north, also with fine white sand beaches; Bantayan Island and its gorgeous Kota beach and colonial church, the only place in the Philippines where you are allowed to eat lechon on Good Friday; the heritage town of Carcar; the ornate Boljoon and Argao churches, though Bambi Harper says the Argao church carvings have been painted over with gold (yuck!) and of course, lechon from Talisay and bibingka from Mandaue.
6. Boracay – What can I say about Boracay that hasn’t yet been said? Boracay waters make you want to jump in, even if you can’t swim!
7. Cagayan de Oro – It has the only canopy walk adventure in the country in the Magbais rainforest in Claveria, Misamis Oriental. There are seven ledges up on top of trees, looking down on a forest. A pulley brings you to the first ledge and you cross from ledge to ledge over narrow hanging bridges made of metal slats hanging from metal ropes. The bridge, of course, shakes as you walk and you feel you’ll fall into the ravines. But of course, you won’t fall – because you are strapped on to a harness.
The other adventure is the white water rafting on Mambuaya River. The course for beginners, which I took, is a 12 1/2 kilometer stretch, with 14 rapids. It‘s great fun, especially for someone who can’t swim.
8. Batanes – It’s not a sweet tropical island like the rest of the Philippines. It’s stark and dramatic and isolated. From afar, the clusters of stone houses remind you of Arthurian villages. You can visit the ruins of the Idyangs – stone fortresses built by the sea-fairing Ivatan ancestors. You can go around Batan Island and revel in the gorgeous scenery. You can cross over to Sabtang and see more picturesque clusters of stone houses. From the top of the highest hill in Basco, you can hear the jeep coming and children below playing. There’s really nothing to do in Batanes – but it’s a great place to do nothing in.
9. Sulu – It’s a real pity that more people don’t visit Sulu. It has beautiful white sand beaches – like Quezon Beach in Patikul. Their crafts are exquisite – the piz which is woven like tapestry in Parang, the habul tiyahe which is the hand embroidered cloth the Tausugs wear as part of their dress, brought back from China by the returning Tausug court, the luhul which is appliquéd tree-of-life tapestries.
The best time to go to Sulu is in September, October and November when the durian and mangosteen are in season – then it’s dirt cheap. The best durian in the world is from Sulu – it is durian from connoisseurs. When we were last there, I had durian that had just fallen from the tree – the best I’ve ever had – rich, buttery, tangy, with a clean sparkling sweetness – unforgettable.
Another province worth the three-hour trip from Manila. You’d be hard put to find a black beach. White sand bars and houses on stilts in the sea are a common sight. I love the names of the islands: Simunul is the site of the first mosque in the country built in 1380. Sibutu is the home of master boat builders, where even the streets are white and the island glows in the moonlight. Sitangkai is a community of houses on stilts.
My favorite is Ungus Matata, in Tandubas which is several islands away from the capital. It is the home to the finest, most stunning mats in the world – soft, luminous, colorful abstractions.
It’s our loss that we don’t know more about the Tausugs and the Samas and the Yakans of the South.
Everyone knows the rice terraces. But have we visited them? It’s one of five experiences every Filipino must have in his lifetime. Banaue terraces are the most famous – described as a sweeping stairway to the sky – and it’s true. The terraces of Bangaan are just as dramatic – they surround the village. Those of Battad form an amphitheater. In the Hapao–Hungduan area, the terraces are more expansive, like a spider web, growing outward forming its own network.
Plans have been made and money distributed for the restoration and preservation of the terraces. But I don’t think the deterioration has been checked. So, go see them before they fall apart completely.
12. Lake Sebu
Lake Sebu is the ancestral land of the T’bolis, in the highlands of Cotabato. It is also the name of the biggest lake in this T’boli ancestral highlands, the others being Lake Lahit and Lake Seloton. The landscape is gorgeous, the air is cool and refreshing and waves of mist wash your days and nights. And you can hike and interact with the T’bolis, watch them weave, participate in their rituals, marvel at their highly- developed sense of adornment.
13. Ati-Atihan of Ibahay
I know everyone goes to the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo but the one of Ibahay is more interesting. It has the same nerve, the same energy, the same abandon – but less touristic, less commercial. It’s just the Ibahaynon themselves, and some visitors – but you get a sense of it being a local fiesta and not a tourist event, which makes it more appealing.
It’s supposed to be the original Ati-atihan. It also has the wild parades. The difference is that they still have estocada or sayaw or moro-moro; they have offerings of lechon, chicken, fish, vegetables, cooked and uncooked which they bring to the parade and bring inside the church; and their wildest dancing is inside the church!
Marawi is another very interesting city. Lake Lanao is very picturesque, with the mist rising over it. I enjoy the market – it has wonderful variety – food, Maranao crafts, malongs, brasswares, carvings and if you so much as whisper to one vendor that you want antiques, you will have dealers trooping towards you with their secret wares.
They have an interesting area where everybody goes to buy native Maranao cakes and sweets like Tuak-a-laput, so named because it’s a series of steps that’s just hard soil but they sell all kinds of Maranao goodies.
I like the malongs (as you can guess) though I buy the old ones made of silk, many of which I’ve bought from the weavers or their families or from vendors who have approached me in the market.
I am told the Islam fundamentalists are trying to rid the city and the Maranaos of everything that’s not of Islam – meaning Maranao culture. That would be a disaster.
There are four fiestas every Filipino must experience at least once in his lifetime – for their faith, their energy, their moving almost fanatical fervor, their ritual and pageantry. One of them is the feast of the Virgin of Peñafrancia – Ina, as the Bicolanos call her.
The barefoot voyadores or those who carry the virgin on the shoulder or come aboard the barge during the fluvial parade or submerge themselves in the water and tow and pull the barge are always men – except for the dawn of the feast itself when the women do the honors and carry the Virgin in a procession.
The devotion to the Virgin of Penafrancia is a cult, her festival is a ritual of the folk. And the faith that surges palpably during the fiesta is most moving.
16. Mainland Palawan
Palawan is God’s own country, and its beauties are endless; from one tip of this long thin island to the other, there are natural attractions to your hearts content. From the pre-historic Tabon Caves which also has white sand beaches, apart from the cave overlooking the vast expanse of water, to Honda Bay, to the St. Paul’s Park and Underground River, to San Vicente, to Port Barton, to Taytay and El Nido – there’s immense variety and grandeur in nature.
The El Nido area is gorgeous – soaring rock formations scattered around Bacuit Bay, the big the small lagoons surrounded by limestone cliffs, perfect for kayaking – and safe too for people who can’t swim – like me.
I prefer the El Nido Miniloc resort to the more luxurious Lagen – it’s more intimate, more native.
17. Busuanga Area
More of God’s own country – except here the stunning scenery is distributed among many islands. Here, island hopping is a must. Coron Island is the ancestral home of the Tagbanuas and Kayangan Lake, up in the mountains, is their preserve.
Clusters of islands and mangrove forests and white sand beaches, Cagbatan beach, Siete Pecados islands, Culion, Ruyukan mangroves, Mangueguey, Maltatayok, South Cay, North Cay, Pamalican islands, Camille and Miguel islands – the procession of exquisite islands is endless – and breathtaking!
This is a scenic landlocked province, with fields, hills and mountains that should have safari lodges and not concrete hotels.
The province has many options for spelunkers. We entered Aglipay caves, a complex of 37 caves of which only eight have been explored. There’s also Nagbukel cave and many others we didn’t explore.
Nagtipunan is the convergence point of the various tributaries of the mighty Cagayan River with its banks of virgin forests, rock cliffs and fantastic stone formations standing in the middle of the river.
Governor’s Rapids is famous for its gigantic perpendicular walls of limestone jutting out from one side of the Cagayan River, framed by the Sierra Madre mountains.
A beautiful, powerful landscape. Quirino should be visited more.
Hard to choose the 19th. Each province city has its own special attraction, whether food, culture, scenery, craft. But I guess it would have to be Davao. Simply because it is so near Butuan and I’m so familiar with it. I’ve been going there since the late ‘60s. I’ve done so many episodes about it – I’m a suki of Davao, and everytime I do one, there’s something different. And I like the spirit of the Davaoeños, their get-up and do spirit! They may fight about politics – but when it concerns their city, they’re united.