Amihan and Mt. Pulag

One of the fun activities that we look forward every Christmas season is the chilly, casual walk on a windy night. The soothing effect of the cold northeastern wind propagates good vibes and jolly mood.

But Amihan season can be more exciting when you visit the coldest region in the country, the Cordillera. And within this mountainous region, the best destination to be during the peak of Amihan (December-February) is definitely Mt. Pulag. Here are my five reasons:

Breath-taking sunrise. This split moment between darkness and light, when the sun slowly rises up in the sea of clouds and in glowing red-orange backdrop, is one of the most spectacular views that I've seen. No camera/video will be enough to capture this awesome experience. Since less typhoons (I wish) and rains during this period, higher chances of encountering this wonderful moment.

Sub-zero. Experience the butt-freezing below zero temperature in Mt. Pulag. Even the three degrees Celsius (and lower) in a high-altitude mountain is already a major pain in the ass, and an experience to die for. Those thick fleece and jackets gathering dusts in your closets will really be handy.  The lowest record that I knew in Mt Pulag is -6 degrees Celsius, December 2010.

Walk above the Clouds. Experience a beautiful trek above the clouds. The other major peaks of Cordillera such as Mt. Tabeo, Mt Ugo and Mt. Napulauan looked like islands in the sea of clouds.

Amazing wildlife. Mt. Pulag National Park is home to some of the country’s unique fauna and flora like giant cloud rats, boars and Philippine deer.  Amihan season also coincides with bird migration season. Rare sightings of extremely rare migratory birds such as yellow bunting and little bunting were recorded in this mountain. The peak also provides a good spot to view the travelling raptors.

Wonderful culture. Visit to Pulag can also means interaction with the indigenous Ibaloi. Interact with the rosy-cheeks children in their fleece school uniforms, or have quick chat with the women and men in their galvanized roofs walled houses. The freezing weather will encourage you to try the traditional delicacies such as hot-meal of pinikpikan, few shots of tasty tapuy (rice wine) or maybe try the nganga (mixture of beetle nut, lime and tobacco leaf) for dessert.

Mt Pulag is definitely the best place to be this season... :)



squek squek

just came back from a 10-days backpacking trip in Region 11. during the trip, I visited my friend EJ who works in Tagum and she and her family hosted my stay in the said busy city. 

brief stay but still we managed to visit one of the city's remaining forested areas and here we saw groups of long-tailed macaques, wild boar and suprise, suprise... a tree squirrel.

reviewing the Field Museum database of Philippine Mammals (by far the best online guide) I was astonished to learn that we saw a Philippine Tree Squirrel, a Mindanao-Visayan endemic!

yes!!! already in my "lifer mammal list" are Busuanga Tree Squirrel and Northern Palawan Tree Squirrel, both species can only be found in Palawan.

two tree squirrel species left...


Welcoming the Winged Migrants

Joined the recent ocular trip of the Wild Bird Clubof the Philippines (WBCP) in Bataan Peninsula to welcome the newly arrived flocks of winged migrants from the North.

First stop, a visit to the City of Balanga Weland and Nature Park.

This 11-hectares coastal and estuarine in Barangay Tortugas is a locally declared protected area and recognized by the Department of Tourism as one of the newest birdwatching sites in the country. To boost ecotourism, the local government constructed birdwatching towers, a natural museum and other facilities in one portion of the park.

We arrived at 10am and the weather is hot. Still, we saw flocks and flocks of waders busily foraging food in the mud and shallow waters. We saw spectacular winged migrants such as Common Greenshank, CommonRedshank, Common Sandpiper, Asian Golden-Plover, egrets and herons.

After a delicious lunch, we went to Mt. Samat to check if the site is ideal for raptorwatching.

Towering the town of Pilar, Mt Samat is a well-known tourist destination because of the giant 92-meters cross and war museum located at the top of the mountain – the Dambana ng Kagitingan.

The Dambana commemorates the heroism of Filipino and American forces that chose to put a last stand rather than surrender against the invading Japanese Imperial Army during the 1942 war.

Sadly, we didn’t saw any migrating raptors during this visit. Yet, the 36-stories trip up to the top of the cross is still a winner.

And the day is still full of surprises! On the way back, along SCTEX, we saw flocks of magnificent Black-winged Stilts and WoodSandpipers foraging food in the fields. And finally, saw my first Brown Shrike (tarat) for this migration, yes!

A very nice trip indeed with fellow birders.

Balanga and Pilar, Bataan

The Wildbird Club of the Philippines organizes monthly free birdwatching trips. For upcoming club activities, or if you are interested to become a member, just click this link


Up and Under in the Land of the Terraces

Ifugao, the land of the Bulols and the world-renowned rice terraces!

For this 3-days trip, we stayed in the beautiful town of Kiangan. Towering above the capital municipality of Lagawe, Kiangan boosts some of the best rice terraces in the province such as the Nagacadan Rice Terraces, one of five rice terraces cluster in the UNESCO Heritage List.

First on our to-do-list, attend an Ifugao wedding. 


Under the bale (a traditional Ifugao house), we feasted on sinanglaw (an Ifugao version of papaitan) and drunk baya (tapuy) as much as we can while listening to the merrily beat of gangsa and dancing feet. We ended the day lazily lying on our back at the roofdeck of Kiangan shrine, a building commemorating the capture of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, officially ending WWII in the country. Too drunk to be able to take a good photo of the shrine, tsk.

Next day, we went to Nakuldihan mountain range to explore the Pangagawan Cave.

Hiking at the rice terraces and we saw some amazing flora along the trail. 

The entrance of the cave is a sheer drop of 75 feet. 

The ladder that was put by the local tourism five years ago is already rusty and unstable. We brought our rigging equipment and rappelled down the cave.

Spectacular limestome formations inside and after more than an hour of spelunking and squeezing between rocks, we reached the end of the cave- a small but gorgeous waterfall.

On the way back, we encounter this magnificent spider.

Last day, we went to the Nagacadan area to scale a huge 80-feet boulder towering above the rice terraces. 

Too bad, the boulder is not ideal for rock climbing but its face is great for rappelling exercise. 

Using the access stairs behind the boulder, we climb the top and took turns in rappelling down the wall.  
Above the rock, you can feel the rush while gushing breeze hits your face and in the horizon, stairs and stairs  of rice paddies trying to reach the sky.

We capped the Kiangan adventure with a feast on pinikpikang duck and “few” rounds of brandy. 

Thanks to Atty Gloria Rose for inviting and hosting us to her sublimely town and also to her family for their hospitality. Babalik ulit :)



Trek & Swim

Davao Region is my third and last region for this backpacking trip in Mindanao.

For this leg, my main itinerary is a hiking trip to Mt. Talomo, one of the peaks of the city. 

Believe to be inhabited by the guardians of Mt Apo, the mountain is also an important ecosystem and watershed. 

To reach Mt Talomo, one should navigate first the hundred hectares banana plantations in Barangay Tamayong. 

As a advocate of diverse cropping and organic agriculture, it was a terrible sight to see hundred and hundreds of banana plants encroaching small communities and forest lines. 


We arrived at Sicao, an Obo-Manobo upland village by mid-afternon but we decided to set camp since the weather begun to turn bad.


It’s been raining for the past weeks in Davao, making all trails muddy and difficult for trekking. 

Rubbing salt into the wound, my shoes which I have been using everyday since arriving in Mindanao reached its limit. 


We decided to forego the summit trek and instead went to the mountains' amazing waterfalls. We leave our stuff at the community and after four hours of trekking with my rope-supported shoes, we reached our first waterfall- Sicao Falls.


The water of the  falls is cold and clean. In fact you can still drink directly the flowing water. 


After an hour, we went to another site – the Tres Marias or Tatlong Maria, a three side-by-side falls.


A magnificent 180 degrees-view. Too bad my camera doesn’t have a panoramic setting.

Saw this snake along the river. Beauty isn’t it?

Luckily I managed to get back at our camp with my shoes still barely intact. We have a healthful vegan meal for lunch and then trek back to the city.

After two weeks, I ended my backpacking trip in the great Mindanao.   

My deepest gratitude to Jumar, Anne and her family for their generosity and hospitality during my stay in Davao City. 

Davao City

Caraga's Jewel

Dazed still from my Agusan Marsh experience, I made an overnight detour to Surigao del Sur to visit another natural jewel of Caraga – the Tinuy-an Falls.

From Bunawan, I travelled to Trento via a motorela (tricycle) and then bus to Bislig City. The road featured spectacular view of Caraga’s mountains making the crowded and bumpy ride worthwhile. Saw two writhed hornbills flying lazily, another lifer yey!

It was already dark when I arrived in Bislig. Luckily I was able to find a cheap but decent inn. I got a big room for only P200.

Woke up very early and walked towards the nearby fishing community. Huts and fishing boats glow in the golden summer rays.

Breakfast of rice and humba (a Bisayan dish) then off to Tinuy-an. Habal-habal rental is a little steep but after haggling we agreed at P300.  I really wished I brought my mountain bike Ani here in Surigao huhu.

After an approximately 10 km of off-road, we finally reached Tinuy-an.

And then, pure awesomeness…

There are also access stairs that leads to the top of Tinuy-an. Beautiful cascading but smaller waterfalls.


Tinuy-an Falls is located at the forest where TICOP Corp, a paper company, once operated. Eventhough the company already stopped its operations in the said area, logging, both legally and illegally, continue to persist.  Hopefully something can be done to stop this environmental crime.

Flock of tourists started arriving by 10am, my queue to leave the place. Caught the noon bus to Davao City, my next region.

Adios Caraga for now!

 Bislig City, Surigao del Sur


Marsh Life

First time to visit CARAGA and during this solo backpacking trip in Mindanao, I was very fortunate to witness and experience the community life in one of the country’s most unique and biologically-important ecosystems - the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Composed of more than 10,000 hectares of rivers, lakes, canals, swamps and agricultural lands, the Agusan Marsh is the biggest natural basin in Mindanao.

For years I’ve been longing to visit this natural wonder and it was a super high when I reached the banks of Agusan River, the marsh’s “backbone”. Met my guide boatman in Barangay Flora of Talacogon and off we go... 

It took us an hour before we reached Barangay Sabang-Gibong, located in the intersection of Agusan and Gibong River.

For three days, I stayed in this Manobo community, live in floating houses, listened to their stories and experienced the wonderful yet hard life in the marsh.

Community life is based on the blessings and dictates of the marsh and the environment.


Homes are climate-resilient and designed to float (water rises as high as 30 feet during the great flood) and survived strong currents and high tides.

The lakes and river provides bountiful harvest yet drinking water is a scarce commodity. During the dry season, communities dig makeshift wells to access clean water. But during the great flood, people only rely on rainwater for drinking.  

End of the flood means mosquito season so always ready the mosquito net. Dry season brings opportunity to plant and harvest crops, preserve and sun-dried the catch. 

And ooh don’t forget the lurking crocodiles. It is estimated that more than 5,000 crocodiles still reside in Agusan Marsh. Witnesses claimed that crocodiles as long as 30 feet, bigger than Lolong (measured at 21 feet) exist and are still in the wild. Too bad, didn’t saw any crocs during the visit huhu.

Love the community food. Exquisite freshwater catch everyday, yumyum, such as: 


giant gurami 

Yet the marsh, it's lakes and rivers are under threat. Pollution 


and siltation brought by rampant logging in the surrounding mountains have high impact on water quality.  


Invasive fishes such as janitor fish also threaten the native wildlife. 


Hopefully local efforts to save the mighty Agusan Marsh be given full support by the different sectors both in the national and international level.

Last day, 4-hours boat ride to Bunawan and completing my traverse of the Agusan Marsh from North to South, woohooo.

My deepest gratitude to the staff of Heed Foundation and to the residence Barangay Sabang-Gibong for their hospitality and stories. Thank you all for a very wonderful experience.

Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
Talacogon-Bunawan, Agusan del Sur