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Hundred Islands: Pieces of Atlantis

The Hundred Islands off fishing town Pangasinan are constant sources of wonder – home to swimming monkey, playground of largely unseen sirena, and haven of some of the Philippines’ best faith healers. M.D. dela Cruz Tan discovers that these islands are actually believed to be parts of Atlantis.

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“Welcome to Atlantis,” Manang Auring, a local manggagamot, said as her oily hands enveloped my proffered hand. Like many in her field, she believes that the numerous islands off the bay of Pangasinan, more popularly known as the Hundred Islands, are “pieces of the beauteous island, which drifted until they found their way here,” she said, all purplish gum when she smiled. “This is where we source our powers.”

PHOTO BY GEORGE TAPAN, COURTESY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM

And then she started massaging the side of the tummy of an old man lying on a mat, slowly pushing deeper until blood started trickling from an invisible wound. There was a deafening silence, ironically emphasized by the strong blowing of the wind that rocked the wooden windows, and was finally broken by a sigh from Manang Auring as she produced what looked like pebbles, which were supposedly stones from the kidney of her patient. Not a moment too soon, the old man sat straight, expressed his gratitude for the help, and then left.

While the experience was new to me, it was common in the area – we were in Pangasinan, after all, where many of the Filipino faith healers (no matter where they may be in the Philippines or overseas) are said to have originated. No wonder the flocking of those in search of the miraculous in the area – for healing of incurable illnesses, for the creation of love where there is none, or for the simple finding of peace of mind. Local legend has it that this is where the pieces of the famed Atlantis drifted when the mysterious island sunk eons ago, supposedly bringing with it its magic. The claim sounds implausible somehow, until one visits the islands.

NATURAL WONDER

Only a few minutes by motorized bangka are the first few of the islands that, in truth, total over 100 (though so-called Hundred Islands only because it has a poetic rhyme to it). Many of these have high rocky cliffs thickly covered by vegetation and are thus often seemingly inaccessible – though many are attracted to the islands exactly because of this. Over the years, more and more visit to bravely climb the cliffs that seem to endlessly continue under the blue waters, or to make new treks from one side to another of one of the largely undiscovered islands, or to spelunk for the first time its enigmatic caves. Closely passing by the islands, however, never fails to bring about strange, even spine tingling, feelings, as if someone you cannot see is staring at you intently, waiting for your next step before they decide to act.

“Those are the spirits,” Mang Ambo, our guide, said in a hushed voice (so as not to disturb them). As if on cue, we passed through what seemed like a tunnel, though really a meeting of two cliffs overhead, forming what looked like a darkened cathedral – a rare formation since the islands are often separated. And yet, many snorkel around the islands, which are seemingly attached underwater by coral formations supporting a rich marine life (like the rare giant clam shells). When the seas are calm, the few who have dived around some of the islands mentioned the peculiar rock formations underwater that hide peculiar sea creatures, seemingly reflecting the eerie atmosphere evoked by the islands. Because when there, it doesn’t seem implausible seeing merpeople peeking through rock formations before diving in the deep seas when spotted. The place just has that feel, hardly explainable.

EVERY ISLAND, A WORLD

Amazingly, the seeming awe inspired by the group of islands as a whole is the one things that is similar in all the islands, which differ from each other – both by nature’s designs, and by man’s manipulations.

At one, you can follow paths leading to the peak to get a 360˚ view of the whole place – not that there’s much to see, but the blue waters broken by islands that seemed to have been dropped from the sky like big rocks. In another, the white sanded shore stretches then curves to stretch and then curve once more to form a semi-circle, the middle only sparsely vegetated so that it looks more like an underwater rock exposed during low tide than an actual island – just perfect for swimming. Still in another are small communities that have fishnets surrounding islands to breed fish – perfect for meals in yet another island that now has nipa huts for such activities.

While snorkeling, trying to make out what the deep gulfs between islands hide by clinging on to a rope attached from one island to another , the silence is occasionally broken by gunshots, immediately followed by the flocking of wild ducks trying to escape hunters that venture the islands where they nest. For a while, the sky darkened as the fathered creatures sought refuge in the other islands, feathers fluttering on the waters that, suddenly (and even more interestingly), gave way to monkeys that started to swim. It was weird, looking at creatures deemed afraid of water as their heads protruded while trying to stay afloat. Then, when on dry land, they shook themselves before disappearing in the woods, like miniature Bigfoots.

Truly, here, wonders never cease.

MYSTICISM (UN)EXPLAINED

After a luscious meal of freshly-caught tilapia, coupled by salted egg sharing a bowl full of freshly sliced ripe tomatoes, with grilled pusit and shrimps thrown, a quick dive in the water stirs the consciousness, though also adding to the mystery, as one swims with jellyfish that seasonally abound in the area, floating like torn fabrics.

These are playthings of mermaids who hide in the islands, Mang Ambo said. And I almost believed him, trying not to swim too far from the islands in case the mysterious stories were true.

In the end, though, whether one believes or not does not matter. Back on the mainland, Manang Auring said, “Maniwala ka o hindi, andiyan ‘yan.” And maybe, just maybe, she’s telling the truth, since you won’t escape the mystical when in the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan.

HOW TO GET THERE:
Along EDSA, catch a bus going to Alaminos via Kamiling. From there, catch a pedicab to Lucap, where the motorized bangkas to take you to the islands are docked.

*First published in Outrage Magazine in December 2007; reprinted with permission.

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).

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Destinations

Loggers become river tour guides in Samar

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise?

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We’re shooting through a wild, wild washing machine: paddling, cursing, laughing and getting absolutely drenched inside a torpedo-shaped canoe.

We’re in the Ulot River, a 92-kilometer waterway which snakes east to west across Samar. The third largest island in the Philippines, Samar is rough country, hewn from limestone which over millennia formed some of the most dramatic rock formations and cave systems in the Philippines, such as the Langun-Gobingob Complex.

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise? 

“I used to help cut and transport logs illegally,” reveals Epifanio ‘Panying’ Obidos, our boat guide. “For generations, we used traditional torpedo shaped canoes called balugo to transport timber. We would get orders to cut down hardwood trees like banuyonarra or kamagong. One balugo can transport over 100 board feet of wood.”

Samar is among the poorest provinces in the country. In 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that 45% or nearly half of all families in Samar lived below the poverty line. “The hardest part was that even when we’d risk run-ins with the law by transporting illegally-cut timber, we’d still have barely enough cash to survive. Often we’d borrow money from financiers to buy gas and other provisions to transport the logs they ordered. Even after getting paid, we’d still be in debt,” recalls Panying. 

Things have steadily improved. Samar’s poverty incidence dropped to 30% by 2018, mostly because of small businesses, one of which is the Ulot River Torpedo Extreme Boat Adventure, where boats go bow-to-bow with raging rapids.

“In 2008, to veer away from illegal activities, we started using our torpedo-shaped balugo for tourism to showcase the natural beauty of Samar. We mostly employed locals who formerly worked as illegal loggers or log haulers,” explains Panying. “Back then we only had 12 people and a few old boats – but traversing rivers was a way of life for us, since we’ve been using it for transportation long before Samar’s road network was developed.” 

Each torpedo boat has a three-man crew, comprised of a boat operator, tour guide and a point man, who sits at the bow or front of a boat, deftly using a paddle or pole to keep rocks at bay.

“Now our once-small operation has over 20 boats and employs 70 local people,” beams Panying. In 2018, their group, Tour Guides and Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), was recognized by the Department of Tourism for its responsible, community-based operations.

The Ulot River is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), the country’s largest land-based Protected Area (PA). “The Philippines hosts 247 PAs and practically all of them give locals employment,” explains Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) director Natividad Bernardino. The stories of many of these PAs are similar to Panying’s – of loggers turned into tour guides, hunters turned into rangers, blast fishers transformed into dive guides.

“For all this to continue, there must be a steady stream of clients,” notes SINP superintendent Eires Mate. “The COVID-19 lockdowns hit the world’s PAs hard, generating all-time visitor revenue lows. Many people were laid off and operations were drastically scaled-down. With our parks again open for business, we invite adventurers to visit the Ulot River and our country’s other beautiful PAs.”

Launched in May of 2022, the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA aims not just to educate people on the need to conserve PAs, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves. YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure continued management for areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

Declaring natural sites as PAs is among the best ways to protect natural capital. “The jobs generated by sustainable and ethical tourism activities act as economic and social safety nets for locals who might otherwise turn to illegal means to support their families,” says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Selva Ramachandran.

* * *

Back in the Ulot River, the going is wet and wild. Our balugo, which traveled easily downstream, is now battling against the current in what locals jokingly call the ‘Salmon Run’ – akin to the epic upriver journeys undertaken by salmon in colder climes. Chilly geysers of water splash into the boat as our engines go full-throttle.

Just as soon as we’re sopping wet, the river calms down, the ride turning tranquil. Like the turbulent COVID-19 era, raging waters and rough times too, shall pass.

I glance ahead and notice what’s written on one of the guides’ shirts: #MAYFORRIVER, a play on #MayForever, the hope that some things really can endure the test of time.

With illegal activities, nothing is certain – but with legal, safe and sustainable tourism, then there truly might be forever.

“You know, if not for ecotourism, I would most probably be dead,” reflects Panying as we quietly glide back to shore. “The authorities would have definitely caught me, like they caught others. I might have starved to death, been shot by the cops or been hauled off to jail.”

He looks up, just a bit teary-eyed.

“In a very real way, ecotourism saved my life.”

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Travel

5 Road ready tips to ride motorcycles safely and comfortably

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips.

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A warm day on the open road is a dream opportunity for riders, whether it’s a longer trip or a quick jaunt through town. Regardless of the adventure, and no matter what you ride, a thrilling ride is a safe ride.

Whether you’re new to the open road or a seasoned veteran, remember to follow best practices for safe riding like those outlined in the Responsible Rider program from BRP, makers of Can-Am 3-wheel vehicles. The program prioritizes being an attentive rider and always considering safety, the environment and riding etiquette from highways to city streets and everywhere in-between.

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips:

Wear the Right Gear

While your fashion statement is largely a matter of personal preference, there are some safety items designed to protect your health and well-being that should be worn. Protective riding gear helps keep you safe while enjoying the open road.

Full-hand gloves, riding boots that cover ankles, pants and jackets help protect against wind, sun, cold, heat and flying objects such as bugs or rocks. Drivers and passengers should also wear an approved helmet and eye protection to prevent injuries to the head, brain and eyes.

Choose a Proper Helmet

Every rider should wear a helmet, and the abundance of options available can make it tough to decide what’s best. Start by looking for a DOT Certification sticker, which means the helmet meets the strict safety standards of the Department of Transportation.

  • Full Face: This style of helmet provides protection for the head and neck with a fixed chin that helps absorb impact. Simply slip it on and adjust the visor.
  • Open Face: Helmets like the Can-Am N21 are usually worn with goggles or a small integrated shield. This option provides ultimate freedom on the road.
  • Crossover: These helmets are easy to personalize based on ride intensity and weather conditions. Crossover helmets can be configured in numerous ways by transforming from full face to jet, which keep it breezy with a full field of view.

Maintain Your Hairdo

Keep hair out of your face. If you have longer hair, choose a hairstyle that’s high and away from your eyes like a low bun, simple braid or ponytail. Secure hair at the nape of your neck and, when possible, wear a neck gaiter around the back of your head and across your nose to keep loose hairs secured. Bonus tip: Keep a compact brush on your ride so you can brush your hair upon arrival at your destination.

Prepare Appropriately for Riding Conditions

Weather is unpredictable, and you should be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Regardless of the forecast, always make a plan for unforeseen conditions like wind and rain. An easy way to stay prepared is to keep a small packable jacket on your ride so you’re never left without an extra layer.

Cooler conditions call for warm yet lightweight gear such as a base layer with additional light layers over the top like a jacket or thin vest. Hotter days require vented clothing that allows airflow to keep you cool and dry.

Consider Your Passenger’s Safety

The most important rule for packing a passenger is ensuring your bike has a specific seat intended for a second rider. Be aware of how the added weight can affect the handling and behavior of the vehicle.

Generally, riding with a passenger requires more gradual riding from acceleration and braking to steering. Instruct your passenger how you prefer him or her to ride with you to ensure the most enjoyment possible.

Find more responsible riding tips at can-am.brp.com.

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Destinations

5 Reasons to visit Mykonos this summer

Summer is here, and there’s no better place to stay than Kenshō Ornos on Greece’s iconic island of Mykonos.

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Photo by Jeet Dhanoa from Unsplash.com

Undoubtedly one of the most famous Greek islands, Mykonos is known for its stunning beaches, cosmopolitan vibe, and vibrant dining scene. Holidaymakers flock from all corners of the globe to soak up the Grecian sunshine and local gastronomy.

No trip to Mykonos is complete however, without a visit to Kenshō Ornos – the A-list favourite, award-winning boutique hotel, set on the beautiful Ornos Bay. Here are our five top reasons to visit the hotel:

1. Resident DJ and Weekly Music Events

Popular for its glamorous nightlife, superstar DJs and beautiful crowds, Mykonos is a true holiday destination. The fun starts at Kenshō Ornos, with a calendar of regular events sure to keep guests entertained. Throughout the season, different musicians and performances will be taking place at Kenshō Ornos, ranging from singers to DJ’s, dancers and more. Recent events include our resident DJ, DJ Angelosi playing Ethnic Electronic and Afro House music and Mediterranean ethnic music performances by Ghenwa Nemnom.

2. The Star-Lit Swimming Pool

One of the best places to take a dip in Mykonos, the Kenshō Ornos pool was designed to complement the hotel’s surrounding Ornos Bay. With majestic views of the Aegean Sea, lounging by the pool has never been more relaxing. The pool is the perfect Instagram spot, guaranteed to give everyone at home FOMO. At night, the turquoise swimming pool is illuminated with ‘starlights’ that light up the turquoise water for inviting evening swims. Guests can enjoy fresh towels, delicious cocktails and snackable lite bites whilst listening to chilled beats throughout the day.

3. Kenshō Ornos Restaurant, Home To Exquisite Fine Dining

Dining in Greece is an experience like no other. Think long leisurely meals with stunning views of the Aegean Sea and evenings filled with Greek mezze favourites and glasses of local wine. This summer, an exquisite dining experience awaits at Kenshō Ornos Restaurant. Award-winning Executive Chef Ippokratis Anagnostelis, has created a menu that takes traditional Cycladic cuisine and transforms it into modern gastronomy.

This season, the restaurant is launching the ‘Gastro Comfort Project,’ a special degustation menu of small individual plates with intense flavour. Highlights include Aegean red mullet, with bouillabaise espuma, Ossetra caviar and basil oil; Cycladic Cacio E Pepe, bavette cooked with lamb broth and dried anthotiro cheese and Orzo Langoustine, orzo with Aegean langoustines and lobster broth. The menu is available daily between 7-11PM, reservations can be made through the website here: here.

4. The One-of-a-Kind Cave Spa

This is the Mykonos for grown-ups. The ones who come to Mykonos to experience ultimate luxury and relaxation. This is the only Cave Spa on the island, transporting guests to a magical place to enjoy moments of rejuvenation.  The boutique hotel has won numerous awards for its spa, which includes two treatment rooms, a hammam bath, an indoor pool with hydromassage, a tropical rain bed, a hair salon, beauty centre and a gym. Visitors can choose between various treatments with packages on offer like The Sleep Therapy and The Lovers Spa Experience. Don’t forget to try the hi-tech sun beds with colour, sound and heat therapy!

5. The Unique Architecture and Design

Under the bright sun of Mykonos, Kenshō Ornos is a haven of beautiful design and architecture. The colour palette uses shades of white, natural wood and stone, respecting the values of Myconian architecture. Combining state-of-the-art technology and traditional design elements to create an impression of serenity and beauty. The hotel features iconic design pieces by well-known figures including Dedon, Mogg, Gessi and Kenneth Cobonpue. Guest rooms and suites are airy, light, individually styled and design with seclusion and privacy in mind.

6The Idyllic Location Above Ornos Bay

The hotel overlooks Ornos Bay, a beautiful part of the coast where the land curves inwards and traditional whitewashed Myconian architecture is dotted around the hillside. The Bay is paradise, with clear turquoise waters and white fine sands, yet only 2km drive away from the iconic town of Mykonos. Kenshō Ornos offers guests the best of both worlds; the accessibility to  popular cultural, nightlife and entertainment spots teamed with the serenity and tranquillity of the island’s quieter side of Ornos.

About Kenshō Mykonos

From the Zen tradition, Ken means “seeing” and Shō means “nature, essence”. Kenshō is often interpreted as “seeing one’s (true) nature”. Kenshō offers its guests a unique journey, creating memorable experiences of stay, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Inspired by the endless blue colours of the sky and the sea, Kenshō combines the high-quality services and goes beyond the standards, to provide a truly luxurious experience for each and every visitor. Kenshō Ornos is home to every luxury a guest could need including 35 individually styled rooms & suites, the only cave spa in Mykonos, the finest hospitality, state-of-the-art facilities and the ultimate Myconian experience.

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