Connect with us

Destinations

Whale-less wandering at Donsol, Sorsogon

You may not see the famed butanding, but fret not – says Michael David C. Tan – as there’s more to Bicol than the gentle giants of the seas.

Published

on

An oft-repeated adage is the need not to lose sight of the forest for the trees (a different take at “Don’t lose sight of the big picture”) – that is, that if we focus too much on a single tree (or some trees), we may forget that the tree (or trees) we admire is (are) but one (or some) of the many in that forest. This is sound advice, definitely – after all, why over-emphasize on minute details when the big prize is yet to be achieved?

However, when traveling to Donsol in Sorsogon, in search of the famed butanding (whale sharks), I’d say: Forget the forest; it’s the trees that should define the experience. Because while swimming with the gentle giants of the seas is, definitely, a magical experience, if it is the end-all of a trip to the place, that trip could end up… not exactly happy.

As our whale-less wandering at Donsol, Sorsogon proved.

WHERE TO?

It was approximately a year after booking a flight to Legazpi City in Albay when my friend (Rye Mendoza) reminded me of our pending trip – that’s what happens with too-early bookings: either you’d forget about it (as I almost did this time around), or end up choosing to forget about it (as I repeatedly did in past reservations). It was, for him, something new, since he has never been to the place in the past; and while I have, repeatedly, visited the place, the enthusiasm was… contagious. And so we headed out sans any plans at all what to do when we get there.

Legazpi is, by itself, a place full of mini- and not-so-mini wonders – heck, the view of the MAJESTIC Mayon Volcano alone makes the trip worth it! From afar, the volcano looks like it was pasted (or painted, for the more poetic) against the blue sky, it makes one believe in the Divine – that only some intelligent hand could design something so artsy, so beauteous in our midst. And – should you be so lucky if you landed with clear skies – it’s a sight to behold as soon as you land, too.

And then there’s the Bicolano food. I have long been a fan of how Bicolanos whip up what they whip up – Bicol Express, ginataang balat ng santol (santol peeling with coconut milk), balat ng pili (pili peeling) turned into burger patties… The gustatory possibilities here are endless. Interestingly, they even use the same as toppings on… a pan pizza! That too spicy for you? Cleanse the palate with freshly-baked malunggay pan de sal – available from numerous bakeries off the main streets.

But back on track now… to Albay’s neighboring province to the south, Sorsogon, where Donsol is.

Donsol is approximately an hour away from Legazpi City, with the roads not offering much as far as scenery is concerned but, well, provincial living. We took a van (over P60, one-way) that was supposed to take us to Donsol, but – as luck had it – the van stalled, so we transferred to the only jeepney passing, which happened to be full; so we sat atop the jeepney. Take in views of the rice paddies, people chatting while sitting ON the highway, chickens crossing the road… For Manileños, you have to go as far as the outskirts of Cavite to see such scenes, so the experience was refreshing.

Donsol is, in one word, sleepy. Not much happens here, with just about everything revolving around the butanding. There are abundant accommodations to choose from – homestays are common in the town proper, while closer to the wharf where the boats that head out to spot the butanding are more expensive resorts. As is usual in small towns, though, everything’s accessible by motorcycle or tricycle.

WHAT FISH?

And so we gravitated towards the Donsol Tourism Office (DTO), where we registered (P100 is the fee for locals; P300 for visitors, irrespective of nationality) and then were made to attend a brief orientation session on how to deal with the butanding.

Worth remembering is this: per boat that leaves the wharf to view the butanding requires seven tourists; meaning, in our case, since there were just two of us, it’s time to be friendly with other tourists who may invite you to join them (or you can form groups with) so you cut the costs of the boat rental (approximately P3,500). This we did with a German, a Frenchman and a Swiss.

Another thing worth remembering is this: If at all you are planning to see the butanding, bring your own swimming/snorkeling equipment. Why? Because outside the DTO are stalls “requiring” tourists to rent masks, snorkels and fins for P300 (entire set). Nature-tripping was, for us at that point, getting expensive.

But as soon as you leave dry land (with a “butanding interaction officer”, spotters and the boat’s crew), you are just about ready to forgive the too-apparent monetizing of the entire experience.

Alas, once in the water, all the locals stress that there’s no guarantee of seeing any butanding. Various reasons are offered: “Hapon na kasi (It’s already late)”; “Hindi nila season ngayon (It’s off-season)”; “Ilang araw na walang nakita (It’s been days since any was spotted)”; and so on. And all the while, I was just thinking: “If not seeing was known before we boarded the boat, why were we still made to pay to look for what the locals acknowledge we will not be seeing?”. Big-time opportunism, in a gist.

Worse, there were too many boats roaming the waters, so that if a butanding is seen at all, it would have been swamped – completely contrary to the lessons supposed to be learned from DTO’s instructional video.

An hour passed. Then two. Then three… The sun was starting to turn orange. And so we headed back to the shore. The gentle giants remained elusive.

We were told to return earlier the next day,  for who knows what tomorrow is supposed to bring.

Flummoxed – not just annoyed – we toured the town, and once again encountered what these parts of the Philippines have to offer. Ginataang pating (shark with coconut milk – and, yes, we saw the irony in it being served in the turo-turo right outside the DTO). Ginataang dahon ng kamoteng kahoy  (Cassava leaves with coconut milk). And there’s this dish made of small fishes cooked with greenies and lots and lots of green and red chilis – somewhat sour, yet tantalizingly good as it makes the mouth water and crave for more. This is Bicol food as can only be imagined…

Nights are quiet. You can spend it stuck in your room (reading a book, Wi-Fi-ing, or whatever), drink with buddies (which we did with the German), or firefly-watching (by the river in a place between the town proper and the DTO, almost magical as you watch the fireflies seemingly dance in the night as they make low-hanging trees glow). But these are refreshing, for me a hark back to my rural days…

Armed with wishes/prayers/hope, the next day started with another demand for money – tourists need to pay the P3,500 boat fee again. The equipment you can “borrow” from whichever stall you rented them out, because – after all – they were not put to any use the day before.

Alas, the day ended (again) sans any butanding sighting…

WONDROUS EXPERIENCE

I have swum with the butanding (which can grow over 15 meters long) before – and, yes, I can say it’s a MAGICAL experience. I still remember being in the murky water, not knowing where to look – and then, seemingly from nowhere, you get a glimpse of this HUGE creature nearing you, and then gliding by you. Breathtaking? Yes. Dramatic? Yes. Exhilarating? Yes. It will, truly, make you feel like that proverbial “nothing but a speck of matter floating in space”. I hope that even Donsol’s (over)commercialization of the experience won’t ruin it (that much).

Back in Legazpi City, Bicol’s wonders were experienced again – a closer view of Mayon Volcano, discovering the antiquated churches, meeting the shy (tentatively friendly) locals, and yes, more Bicolano food. The latter – i.e. food – is, dare I say, something the really defines this place (they even have siling ice cream, or ice cream with chili!).

And these are the “trees” that you are bound to miss if the sole focus is to see the “forest” that is the butanding that may not always show itself (note: head there from February through April, the peak season). Because there are times when the details are more precious than the big picture.

M.D. dela Cruz Tan is the founder of Zest Magazine. And no, the initials (i.e. M.D.) do not make him a "medical doctor" (as many have erroneously thought in the past); he is actually a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales Australia (just don't ask when, he says). He can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (of course), shoot flicks, community-organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Destinations

Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers venue for weddings

The newly opened Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers a charming blend of modern sophistication and timeless elegance, perfect for bringing dream weddings to life, from the grand entrance to the intimate moments, we ensure that every wedding is a distinct and unforgettable experience.

Published

on

Every couple has envisioned their perfect wedding, meticulously planning every detail from the outfits to the rings. The venue is such a vital element, and we’re thrilled to offer an option that might be just what you’re looking for.

The newly opened Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers a charming blend of modern sophistication and timeless elegance, perfect for bringing dream weddings to life, from the grand entrance to the intimate moments, we ensure that every wedding is a distinct and unforgettable experience. 

A Bespoke Wedding Experience

Lanson Place Mall of Asia’s attraction is the Saffron Grand Ballroom, a beautiful space perfect for a dreamy wedding celebration. It has a classic elegance and offers a versatile setting that fits any style, making it a great venue for all sorts of events.

The Saffron Grand Ballroom is a spacious, pillarless, high-ceiling ballroom that spans 676 sqm. It features a dedicated lobby, with a grand staircase that leads seamlessly into the ballroom where the magic unfolds. Couples and their wedding entourage can use private dressing rooms, equipped with vanity mirrors and a sizable lounge area, as they prepare for the special day. Couples can also customise the Saffron Grand Ballroom, tailoring the venue to their heart’s desires. 

In addition to the ballroom, the Courtyard, a tranquil oasis on the third floor, provides a harmonious backdrop for intimate wedding ceremonies, seamlessly blending the sophistication of contemporary architectural design with the warmth of nature’s embrace.    

“Every wedding should reflect the couple’s unique story,” said Rheinna Laberinto, Assistant Director of Events. “We want to make sure that each wedding is as distinctive and memorable as the couples themselves.”

Exceptional Management and Service

At Lanson Place Mall of Asia, personalised service begins the moment couples start planning their wedding. Lanson Place’s team of event specialists collaborates closely with each couple to curate a tailored wedding experience that caters to their particular needs and desires.

From hand-picking the perfect menu and overseeing table layouts to managing guests on the big day, the Lanson Place dedicated event specialists meticulously consider every element of the wedding. They make sure the big day is flawlessly executed, allowing couples to focus on celebrating their love. Whether couples envision a lavish ceremony or an intimate gathering, the team of devoted hosts is committed to making every wedding day stress-free and memorable.

“We understand that weddings are one of the most important days in a couple’s life, and we are honoured to be part of that journey,” said Laurent Boisdron, Vice President & General Manager. “Our commitment on your special day is all about you and we pay much attention to detail to ensure that every wedding at Lanson Place Mall of Asia is not only beautiful but truly unforgettable.”

Design a wedding as unique as your love story with Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila. Discover how Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila can craft the wedding of your dreams by visiting Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila’s booth at the Themes and Motifs Bridal Fair this 22-23 June 2024. Avail of the best bespoke wedding packages and make your special day truly unforgettable.

Continue Reading

Dining Out

Citadines Bacolod City brings new restaurants

Standing tall in the heart of Bacolod, this sleek urban oasis beckons guests with its contemporary design and unique island hospitality. Offering modern amenities, stylish interiors, and the distinct Negrense warmth, travelers can seamlessly transition from the bustling streets of Bacolod to the serene comfort of their accommodations at Citadines Bacolod City.

Published

on

Citadines Bacolod City, the Ascott Limited’s newest addition to its property roster, is the next go-to destination in the Visayas region, offering modern and comfortable accommodations for both business and leisure travelers.

Standing tall in the heart of Bacolod, this sleek urban oasis beckons guests with its contemporary design and unique island hospitality. Offering modern amenities, stylish interiors, and the distinct Negrense warmth, travelers can seamlessly transition from the bustling streets of Bacolod to the serene comfort of their accommodations at Citadines Bacolod City.

The property offers an array of accommodation options tailored to meet the diverse needs of guests. From Studio Apartments to Two-Bedroom Deluxe Rooms, each space is thoughtfully designed to provide the utmost comfort and convenience and ensures there’s accommodation suitable for any type of stay. Additionally, guests can take advantage of the inviting communal areas, which include a stylish lobby lounge, a well-equipped fitness center, and versatile event spaces.

During the sneak peek into Citadines Bacolod City, guests can savor culinary delights at the property’s in-house restaurants. Options encompass the Lobby Café which is Pureza, Grab and Go with Tam-is, Namit for all-day dining, Fuego Bar and Lounge for bar and lounge experiences highlighting steaks, and Adlao for poolside refreshments.

“Tam-is,” a charming corner on the ground floor, is named after the Hiligaynon term for sweet. Providing a quick grab-and-go option for food, like coffee and pastries, for guests who are always on the move, Tam-is greatly lives by the ideal that ‘life is sweet’ and is a nod to the joys and richness of life’s experiences. “Puerza” completes the lobby’s artisanal bakery and café experience by offering finely crafted European-style boulangerie and French viennoiserie for a sit-down and relax experience throughout the day.

At “Fuego Bar and Lounge,” guests can enjoy a menu featuring a variety of steaks, antipasti boards, sides, and cocktails that draws inspiration from the flames of the majestic volcanoes that surround the Negros region. Located on the second floor alongside the “Namit” all-day dining restaurant. It promises an unforgettable dining experience through its various unique ala carte dishes inspired by local and Southeast Asian cuisine.

When it’s time to unwind by the pool, retreat to “Adlao.” From fresh fruit platters to savory appetizers, guests can savor a tempting selection of snacks, refreshing juices, and expertly crafted cocktails all while enjoying the peaceful nature of the space.

“We are excited to offer guests a sneak peek into Citadines Bacolod City and provide them with a glimpse of the modern urban oasis and the different culinary offerings we have been working on,” said Jose Mari Medrano, Citadines Bacolod City’s Executive Chef.

Citadines Bacolod City’s signature program, City Hacks, and its staff, known as Citazens, offer guests an authentic local experience. With personalized recommendations and insider tips, Citazens help guests take full advantage of the city’s authentic local experience. These can include immersing in the city’s culture, cuisine, and hidden gems. Furthermore, for those looking to dive deeper into the food culture of Bacolod, the property’s Citazens are well-equipped to offer city hacks to help navigate the culinary scene with ease, guiding guests to the most authentic eateries and culinary hotspots.

Continue Reading

Destinations

Boracay’s OG Japanese restaurant turns 17

Located at the center of the lively D’Mall, Station 2, Boracay, HAMA provides a Zen-like, casual ambiance that perfectly complements its beachfront location. It’s easy to spot, as strings of red and black Japanese lanterns line their alfresco roof, while the inside seating area has wood and stone natural elements, reminiscent of a minimalist Japanese garden.

Published

on

HAMA, Boracay’s top Japanese restaurant celebrates its 17th birthday, as it continues to proudly offer a unique blend of traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine. From fresh sushi to mouth-watering teppanyaki dishes, HAMA strengthens its reputation further as a must-visit gastronomy destination on the island.

Located at the center of the lively D’Mall, Station 2, Boracay, HAMA provides a Zen-like, casual ambiance that perfectly complements its beachfront location. It’s easy to spot, as strings of red and black Japanese lanterns line their alfresco roof, while the inside seating area has wood and stone natural elements, reminiscent of a minimalist Japanese garden.

The name “hama,” meaning “beach” in Japanese, is a fitting tribute to its close proximity to Boracay’s pristine white sands and gorgeous blue seas, which a 3-minute walk can access. This casual setting, combined with the vibrant atmosphere of D’Mall, makes HAMA an ideal spot for intimate lunch outs, and family gatherings. Since its opening in 2007, HAMA has built an esteemed reputation as a favorite dining spot among tourists, known for its memorable authentic Japanese dishes that delight first-time travelers, and patrons coming back for more.


HAMA’s tender and delicious pork tonkatsu rice bowl

Owned by the successful duo Juan Elizalde and Paolo Occhionero, the same masterminds behind the other island-popular dining establishments ARIA Cucina Italiana, Boracay Beach Truck, and Cafe Del Sol, HAMA continues to impress with its diverse menu. Diners and patrons can enjoy traditional Japanese dishes with innovative modern twists, catering to various cravings and tastes, ensuring a dish and drink for everyone. Signature offerings include the exquisite sushi boat with 32 pieces of their bestsellers, flavorful teppanyaki udon with juicy, well-seasoned beef, and hearty bowls of ramen with rich and decadent broth. 


Be wowed by HAMA’s 32-piece sushi boat, perfect for big groups

The restaurant’s sushi and teppanyaki stations are standout features, showcasing the chefs’ expertise and providing customers with a captivating dining experience. The dishes are reasonably priced, and designed to be shared family-style, allowing guests to sample a variety of flavors in one meal, while extending their travel budgets, too.

Other than the relaxing ambiance, delicious food, and reasonable price points, the team’s warmth and excellence in service are what people recognize and love about HAMA, too. Under the leadership of COO, Ernesto Casas, who has been with the group for a decade and counting, the staff and team members are always ready to serve with eagerness and enthusiasm, giving traveling diners a pleasant and memorable experience every time. 

For those vacationing in Boracay, HAMA is a culinary destination not to be missed. Its commitment to food quality, dining ambiance, and customer satisfaction ensures an unforgettable dining experience that stands out on this beautiful island.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Like Us On Facebook

Facebook Pagelike Widget

Most Popular

Copyright ©FRINGE PUBLISHING. All rights reserved.