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Northern exposure: Discovering the joys of the Mountain Province

John Ryan Nual Mendoza discovers the joys of Northern Philippines.

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As a development worker for years in the far-flung indigenous communities in the Mindanao mountains, finding nature just right outside one’s doorstep has been a much missed memory after recent city-dwelling years. So when I got the invitation of some friends to travel to the Mountain Province, a landlocked province in the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon, to support a community effort to help build a children’s library made of trash filled plastic bottles, I immediately packed and sped to the nearest bus terminal for the P445 trip to Baguio City to rendezvous with the group; and from Baguio, caught the non-aircon buses at the Dangwa Station at the back of the Center Mall for P212 that took us through the six hour treat to the dramatic cliffs and mountains of the Cordilleras.

Braving Bontoc
Poblacion Bontoc is quite a compact town center where the provincial capitol building, plaza, market, municipal hall, and commercial center are located. One can either just hike or ride around in a tricycle for eight pesos per trip. The Bontoc Provincial hospital has been one of the facilities I find notable in the country for their promotion of indigenous and alternative health practices; they encourage utilization of Igorot herbs and practices and a traditional Chinese acupuncturist serves fulltime in their physical therapy unit.

We stayed at the Churya-a Hotel & Restaurant that is just situated along the national road – a five story building with verandas on each floor with a cozy view of the townscape. Nights at the poblacion, though, could be a disappointment to travelers seeking more quiet spaces as townspeople spend their time at karaoke bars and disco live bands in the vicinity. Bontoc has been known as the first mining town in this mountainous region of North Luzon, where locals would travel to for leisure and business.

For breakfast, a must-try would be the early morning coffee at the Bontoc Public Market. Locally sourced and organic, Arabica coffee blends only cost ten pesos per cup.

The bottle library is being constructed in the upland village of Guina-ang which is an hour drive of seven kilometers of winding roads up the mountains. Next to Guina-ang is the village of Mainit, which is known for its hot sulphur springs. We decided to spend one night in these invigorating baths before getting into hard labor. The jeepney ride to Mainit and Guina-ang is parked beside the Shell Gas station in Bontoc. The jeepney leaves usually at 2:30 PM and the next at 4:00 P.M. On days with no rain, one can ride on top of the jeepney and enjoy much of the view of rice terraces while going up. Mainit accommodations priced at P300 per person were very modest. One must be warned that water from the faucet (when flowing) is still sourced from the hot springs, so one could burn him/herself. The hot spring water piped into small pools could be murky, but locals say that it is a good sign that various healthy minerals are present. A warm soak is just a perfect match for this village’s very cool climate.

Spending many days doing community work in the village of Guina-ang has given me a glimpse of the strong collective indigenous culture among the Bontocs. United by a common history and struggle, the Bontocs have learned to rely on their strength as one community to warmly welcome initiatives from the outside if they are deemed beneficial to all and shun any external action that could put them at a disadvantage. The steady progress of the bottle library is attributed to this cooperative spirit that is shown by each one, young and old, in this mountain village.

Surviving Sagada
This first trip of mine to this part of the Cordilleras would be sorely lacking without experiencing Mountain Province’s pride: Sagada. In Bontoc, jeepneys going up to Sagada are located on the street beside the Walter Clap Centrum. Travelling up to this other mountain town would just take less than an hour.

I first noticed the significant drop in temperature when we arrived. We were there in February, the coldest month, when it is reported that temperatures drop to 12 degrees Celsius at night. I stayed at Alfredo’s Inn for P250 a night for a single bed with a common bathroom with hot showers and Wi-Fi. All other hostels also charge the same rate, though with just minimal differences, such as a viewing deck and better accessibility to the town’s public amenities and attractions.

Sagada is known for its natural wonders of caves, falls, limestone cliffs, rice terraces, burial sites, and other historical landmarks. It has a land area of only 8,000 hectares and most spots can actually be reached by just walking. Mountain bike rentals are also available for P500 per day or P100 per hour. While we managed to find the Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins on foot, I personally getting a guide mainly for safety. There are two official guide organizations in town–the Sagada Enviromental Guides Association and the Sagada Genuine Guides Association. These associations have done a very competent job in organizing and standardizing their rates for guide services and van rentals. The tourism office ensures transparency through officially posting them and assuring that there are no hidden charges.

A friend came with me to conquer the cave connection, which can be done anytime between 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The caving journey begins at the huge opening of Lumiang Burial Cave, which is a 40 minute walk from the town center. The challenge then starts with a crevice that is narrow enough to fit one person. The passage then led down to various awesome rock formations. Moisture is always present on the rocks, so extra caution and strict compliance to instructions have to be observed to avoid accidents. To facilitate safe access through rocks and tunnels, guides usually offer their shoulder as a “human step stool.” There are also built-in ropes with knots in very challenging areas. There are parts in the exploration that one has to swim during rainy season when some of the pools are filled with water. Yet guides can offer an alternate route if this is not preferred. The tour lasted for four hours until we exited at Sumaging Big Cave. The standard fee is P800 for one to two visitors and P400 for every additional visitor. Another P400 is charged if transportation to and from the town center is availed.

Finishing the cave connection did give me a great sense of physical achievement. That was then I understood what the t-shirt print “I survived Sagada” really meant. Important reminders for anyone who would attempt this feat would be to wear loose shirt, shorts or loose pants, and rubber sandals/flip flops/ rubber shoes. Guides generally do not advise people with fear of heights and/or closed space, heart ailments, asthma, and injuries to go through this long route and would suggest other less strenuous alternatives such as the short course caving.

The short course caving is an hour and 30 minutes of spelunking at the Sumaging Big Cave. This cave has a huge chamber and there’s a small tunnel at the end. To date, guides report that this is the most frequented tourist attraction in Sagada. Visitors are treated to amazing rock formations, huge open chambers and boulders to climb over. Sumaging cave is the habitat to thousands of bats. Visitors usually come upon a dung section in one of the huge spacious chambers. All visitors climb back at the same route. On the way back to town, the guide usually brings guests to the entrance of Lumiang/Burial Cave and drop by at the view point if Sugong Hanging Coffins, which is an hour walk. The guide fee is P500 pesos for up to four visitors.

All these other adventure options are in the list of the things I would love to conquer when I get back (Much cheaper when done in groups):

  • The Sagada to Mainit Hotspring Trekking is a five to seven hour climb and trek through rice terraces, villages, and rivers. Guests would then spend a night at the Mainit hotsprings. Guide fee is P2,500 per visitor.
  • The Mt. Sisipitan trekking is a six hour hike back and forth up a mountain of mossy and pine forests with an elevation of more than 2,200 meters. Guide fee is P2,000 per person.
  • The Danum – Mt. Langsayan trekking is a three to four hour traverse hike through mossy and pine forests that overlook two municipalities and offers a vast view of the rice terraces. Guide fee is P1,000 for up to three visitors.
  • The Marlboro Country trekking is an hour and 30 minutes hike from the mountain’s base to the peak. The Mt. Ampacao trekking is a hike to an elevation of about 1,880 meters. Guide fee for each trek is P600 good for up to 10 visitors.
  • The trip to the Bomod-ok Big Waterfall is a three hour hike back and forth from the Bangaan road. Fee: P600 good for up to 10 visitors.
  • The sunrise viewing at the Kiltepan mountain ranges offers an “aerial” view of rice terraces. The trip starts at 4:30 in the morning. Fee is P450 per ride which is good for up to 10 visitors
  • The sunset viewing at Lake Danum starts at 4:30 in the afternoon. Visitors also stop by at Sagada Pottery. Fee is P500 per ride which is good for up to 10 visitors.

The cold nights in Sagada actually spur much drinking and videoke singing. You can either have beer or the locally produced bugnay or rice wine. A 9:00 PM curfew is imposed though, and there are only a number of bars open beyond this. One such is the Sagada Pine Café, which is usually packed with booze and music-seeking foreigners and locals. This place has its hushed reputation of being a small Amsterdam in this part of the country. Go and figure out why for yourself.

Waking up in chilly mountain province mornings has been indeed a surreal joy. Watching the early bustle of women harvesting fresh vegetables and the view of faintly sunlit fog covered slopes from afar are exactly the perfect rustic vibes I have and will always long for. Each new start of the day is another beginning for the endless choices of adventures for all types of thrills.

And so one visit to this upland haven can never be enough; one definitely has to come back for more.

A registered nurse he may be, but Cagayan de Oro City-based John Ryan Nual Mendoza is an ardent believer of holistic living - as such, he advocates, for instance and among others, the use not only of Western approaches to healing, but also of the more traditional methodologies that may be learned from the hilot, babaylan, et cetera. As he said, in life, "why be limited, when you can have a more full/complete life by embracing just about everything?"

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Greenfield District in Mandaluyong kicks off its holiday celebration

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,. followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

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Greenfield District, the smart and connected urban center of Greenfield Development Corporation (GDC) in Mandaluyong City, transformed into a holiday wonderland with the launch of GDC’s annual Christmas festivities called “A Christmas for Generations”. 

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,.  followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

“After two years of not having face-to-face yuletide celebrations, Filipinos are surely excited to once again gather with their loved ones to celebrate the country’s festive Christmas season,” said GDC President and Chairman Jeffrey D.Y. Campos.  “Greenfield District is a venue where different generations, from senior citizen grandparents to Gen Z kids, can bond with each other by taking part in the fun holiday activities of the District,” he added.

Ongoing  until December 25, Filipinos of all ages are in for a lot of holiday fun at the District. On December 17, families, especially kids are invited to come and meet  Santa Claus at Greenfield District’s “A Night with Santa” , which will feature merry activities and gift giving.

Meanwhile, adults can start their holiday shopping early as the Greenfield District Central Park will showcase weekend bazaars starting this month until December. Shoppers can look forward to discovering value for money gift ideas, trendy fashion pieces, delicious treats and more. While shopping, visitors can also enjoy a quick food trip and engage in Arts and Crafts activities while immersing at the bazaars dressed in colorful Christmas decorations. 

With a mission to build future-ready and sustainable communities for generations of Filipinos, GDC upholds its tradition of organizing events that promote the value of togetherness and spending quality time with the family.

“At GDC, we are committed to not only building properties for generations but also creating verdant, spacious neighborhoods where Filipino families can create beautiful memories together throughout the years. Christmas is a special occasion for many Filipinos, and we want Greenfield District to be part of their memorable Christmas experience every year,” said GDC Executive Vice President and General Manager Atty. Duane A.X. Santos. 

Located at the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard, Greenfield District is accessible to the public through various routes and roadways from the main business districts of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for recreational activities, get-togethers, and shopping this yuletide season.

Visit the Greenfield District with friends and family this holiday season.  To know more about the activities at Greenfield District, visit https://www.facebook.com/greenfielddistrict.

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All Nippon Airways launches ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan.

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Prior to the pandemic, the Japan Tourism Agency reported the number of foreign visitors traveling to Japan in 2019 hit an all-time high of 31.9 million, 600k of whom were travelers from the Philippines. In 2020, the number dropped drastically to around 4.12 million due to the stringent travel restrictions throughout the pandemic, making Japan one of the world’s most difficult countries to enter.

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan. With news of Japan’s plans to reopen the country to international travelers, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest 5-star airline are launching “Beyond #MissingJapan” together.

The campaign was inspired by both social media posts of people yearning to travel to Japan and a strong sense of eagerness amongst ANA’s flight crew to welcome visitors back. And Filipinos are eager to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. According to a 2022 Statista survey, Filipinos chose Japan as their top holiday destination. Countries in the EU and US got the 2nd and 3rd choice, respectively.

‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ aims to excite  travelers for their next trip, give them head start on planning, and an insider’s perspective on the island country. The campaign features Paolo from Tokyo, a famous Filipino YouTuber based in Japan, who shares the best that Japan has to offer to both first-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike.

Paolo’s travels take us to Greater Tokyo and the hidden gems in the areas around the country’s capital. He rediscovers popular landmarks like Asakusa, shopping mecca Don Quijote, and the iconic Tokyo Station to name a few. Paolo also ventures into “New Tokyo” where lesser-known attractions such as Tokorozawa Sakura Town, Sanagi Shinjuku, and GOTEMBA PREMIUM OUTLETS® are located, must-visit spots that opened after 2020 and are within a few hours from Tokyo.

Get a real-life glimpse of Paolo’s experience in this 360 video that takes you inside the awe-inspiring pop culture haven Tokorozawa Sakura Town and walks you through the temples of Asakusa and Miyashita Park, a rooftop oasis in the heart of bustling Shibuya. The 360 video also gives you a feel of the festive vibe at Sanagi Shinjuku and the shopping that awaits at the endless aisles in Japan’s biggest discount store, Don Quijote, and the more upscale complex, Coredo Muromachi. Always growing and evolving, Tokyo still has so much more to offer

Mr. Isao Ono, Vice President of Marketing & Sales, Asia & Oceania from ANA said: “I believe our ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign will give those who have missed Japan an opportunity to rediscover the country through a series of videos featuring Asia’s most well-loved personalities as well as a 360° first-person perspective of landing in Japan. At ANA, we are committed to providing passengers with the best service in a safe and clean environment. We look forward to welcoming more travelers to Japan soon.”

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Travel with your furry friends with Airbnb this festive season

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

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This week marks World Animal Day, an international day celebrating all animals and promoting a better future for animals all over the world. As the festive season rapidly approaches, there’s no better time to start planning a getaway for your loved ones – with fur kids in tow.

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

More than 3 million pets have checked into Airbnb since last November. As of June 2022, pet-friendly stays make up almost one-fifth of all Philippines listings on Airbnb, a 44% increase compared to June 20192. The top ten destinations for pet-friendly travel in the Philippines in Q2 2022 are:

  • Manila, Metro Manila
  • Baguio, Cordillera
  • Patuto, Calabarzon
  • Quezon City, Metro Manila
  • Taguig, Calabarzon
  • Cebu City, Central Visayas
  • Olongapo, Central Luzon
  • Nasugbu, Calabarzon
  • San Fernando, Ilocos
  • Calamba, Calabarzon

Amanpreet Singh Bajaj, Airbnb’s General Manager for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan said that when it comes to pet-friendly Airbnb stays, owners are seeking stays with additional space for their furry friends, often in locations outside capital cities.

“If you’re an avid pet lover, you’ll know that no holiday is quite complete without taking your family pet along. We have something for even the fussiest four-legged family members, and certainly, homes with spacious yards and deck areas are always among the most popular for guests with pets,” Bajaj added.

In the Philippines, over 15,000 guests have traveled with their pets on Airbnb3. To inspire more fur moms and dads planning to bring their pet friends on their next getaways, here are some amazing pet-friendly listings in the Philippines —  from spacious homes with huge backyards for your pets to roam to stays co-hosted by equally hospitable pooches!

Spacious farms for the zoomies

If you’re itching for a quick weekend away from the 9-to-5 routine, these farm stays that are drivable from Manila can certainly give you and your fur baby that relaxing getaway you both deserved.

  • The Alperi Farm is a newly built private farmhouse in Amadeo sitting on an expansive 2,000 sqm — perfect for non-stop fetch and the occasional zoomies. Offering guests plenty of opportunities to unplug and bond with loved ones (pets included!), the farmhouse comes with entertainment and activity options including a playhouse, bird sanctuary, a gym, and even a theater and arcade room.
  • Another farmstay south of the metro is Campo Canueza, which provides the best of both mountain views and beach access. It has a two-storey air-conditioned bahay kubo, a private pool, and an expansive space where you can freely walk your pets. At night, you can pitch a tent outside and enjoy uninterrupted views of the night sky.

Beachfront homes for the water-loving breeds

While some will just dip a toe, other dogs are born for the water — and will be truly delighted to hit the beach. Head on to these beachfront stays if you and your canine companion are dreaming of sands in your toes and paws.

  • Saya Nest is one of the seven nests hosted by proud fur-mom and Airbnb Host, Tamara. Located in the rainforest of Subic Bay, it lies just a few minutes from the beaches and falls. There is a fenced-in patio so your pets can run off-leash, a bathtub overlooking the forest, an outdoor table and grill, and a hammock by the porch. If you’re lucky, you might even be welcomed by Tamara’s own fur babies!
  • If you and your pet are up for a little island adventure — check out this Beachfront Loft in Palawan. It is located in a 2-hectare beachfront community in Aborlan just south of Puerto Princesa, and sits right by the sandy beach. Go boating with your pet by day and warm up around the bonfire at night while listening to the calming waves.

Breathtaking views for your best bud

Looking for vacation rentals with picturesque views where you can bring your fur babies? Search no further! These homes are not only pet-friendly — they make you want to bask in the scenery and stay for longer.

  • Anto House is a secluded farm nestled in the highlands of Antipolo, offering a 360-degree view overlooking the distant Metro Manila skyline, Angono hills and ridges, and the Laguna de Bay. Featuring two beautiful bamboo casitas that can accommodate up to 14 guests, it’s perfect for family gatherings and even reunions. There are also animals on the property like goats and sheep that both kids and fur kids can interact with.
  • How about calling an entire island your home for the weekend? This rustic, tiny island is right in the middle of Lumot Lake, with astounding views of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. If your fur bud’s love language is quality time, you can set up a mini obstacle course, go swimming at the lake, or simply just watch the world go by.

1 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

2 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

3 Based on Airbnb internal data from November 11, 2019 to June 30, 2022

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