Wednesday, October 17, 2012

FOOD - Best Burger in Cebu

Looking for the best burger in Cebu?  We finally found it in BIG TOM'S!!!

Just how good is it?  It's tagline alone speaks for itself...Freshly Ground, Never Frozen, Handmade Daily!  Still not sold?  Juvvy just finished a 4oz burger, on a diet and she still grabbed my last bite!

After tasting their burger, we vowed never to go back eating at Army Navy, Burger Joint, Jollibee...uhm...wait, this is too much to ask...let's just leave it to those serving charbroiled burgers!

Big Tom's is located along Juan Osmena St., Cebu City.  Note that it's not really a formal restaurant/ joint.  You need to call if you plan to dine in as it's really a residential place which garden was transformed to an outdoor dining area.  Having your burgers delivered or picked up may prove to be the best way to enjoy their burgers.

They are planning to build a restaurant by December.  I can't wait as surely, we will be a regular visitor once it's up and running.  And I expect others to do the same so don't wait...grabe one now and enjoy this hidden treasure of Cebu.

For deliveries/ inquiries, just call 032 5147007.

FOOD - Gusteau's GenSan

When talking about GenSan, only one word comes to mind...and no it's not Pacquiao, Tuna, etc.  It's Gusteau's!  Gus-what you might say?  

Gusteau's is one of the best and probably most famous seafood restaurant in GenSan. .  Restaurant is not much to look at but once you see all those eating inside, you know you're in the right place.  Staff are very courteous as well.

Their must haves are as follows...

GARLIC TUNA's crazy how perfect they cook this dish.  It's crispy on the outside yet the inside is so fresh and chewy.  Serving is actually good for 2-4 persons but it's so damn good, I can finish the whole thing!

SPICY PRAWN...I would actually like to change it to sweet and spicy prawn but you know what, it doesn't matte as it's so good as well!  Deciphering its ingredients, they used olive oil, tons of garlic, pepper (too much though based on my last meal), and sugar.  I'm sure there's a lot more but these are the ones that pop out.  You have the option to order specific sizes and quantities as well.

OCEAN KING CRAB...oh man...let me just put it this way.  I hate eating with my hands...EXCEPT when I'm eating this!  Only the tons of garlic standout but there should be a lot more herb and spices as it is so tasty!  

When in GenSan, make sure to stop by the place.  It's located at the 2F of Sun City Complex which is along the National Highway.  Note that cooking usually takes time and the place gets filled-up easy so it's best to pre-order.  Their number is 083 3048682.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

FAMILY - Liam's Report Card

It was something I really didn't expect doing until Liam is 5 yrs. old or something.  That is meeting with a teacher to discuss my son's report card.  Yup you heard it right.  A report card for a less than 2 yr. old toddler!

Liam, despite being the youngest in his class, turned out to be one of the fastest developers.  He knows quite a number of shapes and colors already and his attention to his teachers is top notch...even if he's just going around the room doing his own thing.  And he loves to sing and dance.

Only issue: He has the social skills of his father ;)

FOOD - Mr. India Restaurant

When you talk about the best eats in Cebu, the usual restos pop-up: Casa Verde, CNT, AA's, etc.  But now being a long term resident, these establishments have lost their glamour among our taste buds.  Thus the urge to look for other varieties...heck, we now appreciate Shakey's more than ever...

Then we came upon Mr. India.

This establishment is situated along the chain of restos of Gaisano Country Mall.  It's a small and simple place butyou can feel its authenticity.  Disclaimer: I haven't been to India so this is very much a personal view.

One thing that really caught my attention, which honestly is not much of a surprise, is the abundance of foreigners and their "local" partners.  If you are sensitive about this then this might not be the place for you.

But it's all about the food and in this regard, they did not disappoint.  Their servers stress that what they serve is authentic.  Since I haven't been to India, my educated guess is they are 70-80% accurate.  Bottom line though is it's surprisingly tasty...and CHEAP!

I ordered their Chicken Biryani meal which set me back just P109. For this price, you get a big plate of Basmati rice and underneath it is a quarter sized chicken.  Size of the chicken is not big nor small but it's tasty enough that you will have the urge to eat more than your usual serving of rice.

It also came along with a freshly served Papadum (ala fish cracker).

As for Juvvy, she ordered their Non Veggie Thali meal.  It's a combination of 1 Dal (Lentil soup), Non veggie dish (which varies daily), 1 Rice (which Juvvy changed to another Papadum), 1 Naan Paratha (tortilla), 1 Papadum and 1 Desert (milky syrup with mini tapiocas).  All these served on a "prison" like plate.  It won't win any award in terms of presentation nor will make you appreciate it more but once you start eating it, it's also surprisingly good.  And oh, all of these just cost P99!

It's only now that I'm blogging about this place but we've actually eaten here multiple times already.  I'm sure there are better and more authentic Indian restuarants within Cebu but if you just want a no frills value for money place, look no further.

Friday, October 12, 2012

GEAR REVIEW - Mt. Amuyao Gear List

It's been a while since I last packed for a multi-day hiking trip so I was like a newbie scrounging what to bring or not.  I actually did the usual packing disciplines like bringing shirts equal to the number of days I will be travelling + 1, footwear for camp and extra hiking sandals, etc.  These were all housed in my MHW Expedition Duffle since I don't have my hiking pack yet at that time.

It was a good thing I had to repack.  In doing so, I was able to reassess why I spend on quality outdoor stuff.  These were meant to be abused and reused!  What's the point of getting a lightweight pack, leightweight gear, etc. if I won't be utilizing their benefits?

So I streamlined my stuff to less than half of what I'm supposed to bring and survived just fine.  With that, I would like to share the gears I used...


Photo from
- I had this crazy idea to put this shirt to the absolute test...wear it for the whole duration of our trip...although I wore a long sleeved baselayer during the 4th day.
- This tee shirt performed way better than I expected. It was really light, comfortable next to the skin and I see myself dry after my pace slows down or already in the camp site.  There was no odor even when I used it again on our 5th day!
- My only nitpick is with the fit.  It was too loose for my lean frame.  I actually brought and should've worn my MHW Double Wicked Lite Tee but I was too stubborn to replace it.

- As with my MHW tee, I planned to use this for the duration of our trip...I had to give it a rest during the last day though.
Photo from
- It took some time for my pants to dry out but this is due mainly to being drench in water due to the terrain and weather.  Left overnight though, it's dry and ready to use.  I'm sure if I'm wearing cottons or those heavy duty nylon's, it won't be as comfortable.
- Sizing is loose due to a US fit.  It is actually quite ok when worn casually but during my hike, once wet and my pack pushing it downwards, I can feel it close to falling off.  It was a major nuisance specially when I had to crouch really low to pass through the fallen logs along the trail
- Durability wise, no complaints.  Scratches/ frays were minimal despite the abuse...and I do mean abuse!  After our trip, my pants can almost stand by itself with all the mud and dirt that covered it.
- The 2012 version of this model actually addressed the fitting issue (if you have a lean figure like me).  Durability wise, it is more susceptible to scratch/ fray due to a thinner albeit more comfortable fabric.  It still has the rip stop construction though.

Photo from
- It didn't really rain that hard for me to comment on DryQ Core's waterproofing but what I can say is it has one of the best "next to skin" feel of a membrane in the market.  Compared to its past WPB membrane that is Conduit which feels sticky and clammy, this one is a vast improvement.
- If you want the best though and have the cash to burn, wait for their EVAP (exclusive to Mountain Hardwear and Columbia Sportwear) line.  I am fortunate to have one and tested it and'll have a whole new appreciation on WPB technology.

- First off, this is a trail running shoe.  While it can double as a hiking shoe, it's not really meant for long walks with heavy loads
Photo from
- First day of our hike served as it's break-in period...2nd and 3rd day was when I put it to hell...loose and slippery rocks, eroding soil, ankle deep mud and water, falling in ravines...I was hell bent in breaking it but it came out unscathed
- My feet never felt sore during and after our trip...and only have one dead toe nail to show...which I really wouldn't blame on the shoe.
- This model has been a staple part of Montrail's trail running line-up and an award winner the past 3 years...I didn't really utilize any of its trail running features and will not probably use it again on multi-day hikes like this but for overnighters? No doubt yes.  


- This pack is far from perfect but good enough for me to consider using it in the long run
- Weight is not ultralight but lighter than the typical 50L packs out there
Photo from
- Using it is a breeze...there's a lot going on specially the straps but each has its purpose and proves to be very effective.  It may irritate some though specially if they don't know what it's for.
- As for its suspension, it was a pleasant surprise.  Very comfortable despite my lean frame (not as comfortable as my Granite Gear Vapor Trail though). I didn't have sore shoulders after the trip which is a testament to how effective its loading system works (although I'm only carrying around 20-25 lbs).
- Durability wise, multiple times I scraped it on logs/ branches without a pack cover and just have dirt stains to show for it.  It went through some light rain as well but interior remained dry (as with all DWRs though, expect it to wear off after repeated use)
- What I love is how the bottom compartment can be opened really wide by releasing the side buckles which doubles as a compression strap...really really cool idea and execution.
- My nitpicks are how hard it is to access my water bottle at the side pocket and I can hear some random "squeaking" sound around the shoulder straps when I walk.

- This is one of the staple models in MHW's backpacking tents line and is known to be one of the best and bombproof tents in the market.
Photo from
- We experienced some winds at the peak of Mt. Amuyao and this tent didn't budge despite not being staked securely due to the cemented flooring.
- Interior was spacious for 2 and each vestibule provided ample space to store our pack, boots and other stuff that we can't put in the tent.
- Canopy provided a lot of features and one thing I really loved was the removable roof panel.  
- Surprisingly, it wasn't warm at all inside the tent despite closing all the mesh panels of the canopy...there is a pro and con to this but given our weather, I would consider it a pro.
- This is no lightweight tent but will not consider it heavy either given the floor space of both the canopy and the vestibules.
- My only nitpick is the lack of loops inside the tent to create a mini-clothes line to hang our clothes...though this is because of the extra ceiling design.
Photo from

- This has been with me for almost 10 years and shows no sign of slowing down.  Hands down one of the best luxuries (if not necessity) sleeping in the outdoors.
- I actually prefer to use my Therm-a-Rest Z-Rest due to its ease of use and easy maintenance but had to donate it to my grand mother.
- This model has been discontinued and is now replaced by the Prolite and Prolite Plus models which are both lighter and more compact than mine.


Photo from
- If you spent on an inflatable mattress, might as well spend on a pillow!
- As with an inflatable sleeping pad, this is one of the luxuries sleeping side is plush fleece while the opposite side is nylon for durability/ water resistance.
- It's compact, but not ultra compact, and expands 3-4x it's collapsed ready for queries on how you managed to fit a pillow of this size in your pack!
- It's really soft so it takes some getting used to if you use an orthopedic pillow.

Photo from
- 5 years ago, this was one of the lightest and best performing headlamps out there.  
- What I really like about it compared to its Petzl and Black Diamond counterparts is the battery indicator.
- I cannot really give praise to its durability as it suffered a crack below the on/ off switch when I stored it inside my luggage.  I still have to give it props though as that crack happened the night I bought it...and after 5 years, is still up and running.

Photo from
- This was a pleasant surprise as I completely forgot that I have one!...good thing I decided to look into my old room.
- What can I say...bright, compact, durable and runs on 4 AA batteries...and I think I bought it for less than USD 30.
- My only nitpick, though this is purely my fault, is the rubber tends to get sticky/ flake off if not stored properly (say 3 years!)...but then again, it still works properly so hands off to Coleman for this.
- Option to hang it is a bonus...specially if you're going to use this for cooking as you need to hang it around waist level.

About the Blogger:
I am related to some of the brands I have listed above.  In no means though was I paid nor obligated to write any of these.  This is a personal hands on review and sharing my experience/ knowledge is all there is to this blog.

Friday, October 5, 2012

TRAVEL - Wet, Muddy and Nice...My 2nd Mt. Batulao Adventure

INFO: This was a blog I posted August 2008 in my multiply account...thought of sharing it also here before Mutliply totally dissolves together with my old blogs ;)

It was another day at the office for me.  2 months from my attempt of Mt. Hood, here I am again at the great outdoors but taking on a different challenge.  I wish I could say it’s another “ice” escapade but that won’t happen again till (crossing my fingers) next year.

This time it’s something us Filipinos can better relate to…a wet and muddy trail. 

Gail, Raquel, Chuck, Richie and Tin (front and center)
A day heading to this adventure, question in everyone’s mind was whether to proceed or not.  It’s been raining crazy as hell and shows no sign of slowing down.  In addition to the bad weather, I just remembered that I left our tent at the office...and the worst one of them all, I was not able to get my ritual haircut!  And if all of these wasn't enough, I had to report to work following day for a seminar. 

But being the hardheaded adventure seeker that we are, rain or shine…or even a written warning from our HR…we go!

Such was not the case with the others though.  From a group of supposedly 16 climbers, only 6 brave souls stuck it out. The “hard core” team of myself, Tin and Chuck, “recreational” Raqs, “newbie” Gail, and our “guide” Richie.  6 others backed out morning of the climb while the usual absentees lived up to their reputations (I won’t mention that it’s Ken and Betchay).  Mau (my pioneer Columbia sales staff turned Operations Assistant) and Bobe in the meantime had to work that Saturday.

But despite the huge attendance setback, the 6 of us were all determined to make this climb something to remember.  And boy did we get our share of memories.

The day started with a miscommunication between me and Gail, whom I was supposed to meet in the bus station beside MRT Edsa station.  With such an address description I knew there would be trouble.  And there sure was one as she was waiting for me a hundred meters away in another bus station.  Not to mention both stations have a Jollibee, which was our point of reference, beside it!

As usual Raqs and Tin were late from our original meet up time of 8am.  They arrived together with Chuck around 830am and by 9am we all boarded the bus (whose liner I still don’t know by now) going to Tagaytay.  At this time the rain has already stopped so you could imagine the sigh of relief for each of us.

Getting ready...Gail checking out Chuck's legs
We arrived at the Evercrest entrance around 1130 and stopped over one of the karinderyas to have lunch and do our last minute packing.  I had some nilagang baka to wake up my nerves and a pack of squared suman to give me the energy I would need for the climb.  A bottle of sparking “Sparkle” soda topped off my meal.  All this for about P55!

By 1245 in the afternoon, with everything packed and our stomachs full, we proceeded to take on the Mt. Batulao challenge.  As it was high noon, we took a tricycle (yes it’s not “hard core” like but who said you have to be one to enjoy the outdoors?) to the jump-off which surprisingly only cost us P10 each.  It turned out that this fare will only take us 1/3rd of the way.

To go all the way to the jump-off, we were asked for a fare of P100 per tricycle as the remaining route is all rough road that only a Land Rover or Land Cruiser will love.  While we are all open to walk the trail (which would probably take us 30-45 mins), “recreational” Raqs opted to ride it out.  Being the team player we all are, we obliged to her request.  Personally, I would have just walked not because of the challenge of it, but the damn tricycle was so cramped I had to literally crouch to fit in…with my heavy pack in front of me!

After 15 mins of tricycle off-roading, some splashes of mud and an aching back, we arrived at the jump-off.  Richie arranged a horse to carry our packs but Tintin got so engrossed with it that she decided to ride it out instead.  What she didn’t realize was riding one would present more of a challenge.  An hour and a half later she decided to walk on her 2 size 4 shoes instead.

2nd stop over...Tin wanted to be left here
The rest of us proceeded to take the “clean” route starting with a narrow concrete road then passing by houses with dogs barking and snarling their hearts out.  15 mins later there we were zig zagging and doing leg acrobats as we maneuver ourselves along the wet and muddy trail.  Almost everyone managed to stay clean (on a certain respect) except for “newbie” Gail whose sparkling white gum-soled rubber shoes dug deep into the muddy trail and turned to chocolate brown.  You got to hand it to her for still smiling at her predicament while all of us laugh at her…and welcoming her first baptismal ordeal of the outdoors.

30 mins into our muddy hike we stopped by the 2nd stopover to have some fresh buko and for Tintin, shop for some “upo” sized pipinos.  Everyone was taking their sweet time when I ordered everyone to proceed as rain clouds are already starting to form...not to mention mosquitoes are making a picnic out of my legs.  With heavy hearts, they obliged to my order (they love and hate me for being like this).

The muddy trail now turned to a narrow trail with waist to shoulder level “cogons” which was a welcome sight.  That is if you are fully covered as these leaves can leave small scratches on your arms and legs.  I had to endure some slight irritation and scratches though as dumb enough, I converted my pants to shorts during our last stop.

15 mins later we arrived at the last rest stop where you can see in full view the peak of Mt. Batulao and the “Guiting-Guiting” like hills that surround it.  A group of climbers were there as well preparing their lunch.  Our jaws dropped and our tongues drooled upon seeing their “inihaw” na baboy.  We resisted the temptation when they offered us some as our stomachs are still full and we want to make room for dinner.

Guiting-Guiting like hills of Mt. Batulao
Rain started to fall when we started our hike again and this is the time that I usually ask myself why am I enduring all this when I could just be home watching TV.  But I look at the picturesque landscape, myself drenched in rain, my co-climbers clawing their way through the steep hills, and I got my answer.  With a big smile on my face I proceeded and I presumed everyone had the same mindset as we were all smiles scaling the steep hills and narrow bends going to the campsite. 

A new route was actually set-up 7 months ago leading to the opposite face of the Mt. Batulao peak.  Having already taken the old one, we proceeded with this new route as it was said to be “less” muddy and much more easier.  I have to agree with the former but the latter I have to disagree.  Going to the new campsite were just gradual up and down slopes with established trails.  Going to the peak was another story.

By 1530 we arrived in the new campsite.  It was still raining albeit not that strong so we decided to set up our tents.  It turned out to be a good idea as a downpour came in minutes after.  Unfortunately for the girls, they were unsuccessful pitching their tent as it is so complicated to set-up.  They had to wait for the rain to stop before they were able to continue.

It proved to be a long wait as the rain didn’t slow down until about 1730.  By 1830 the rain stopped and we immediately started to cook dinner.  Which was my time to shine, as I was the designated cook for the trip.

Chilling out after a nice dinner
My menu started with Raquel’s favorite “hot and sour” soup (thanks to Knorr) to warm our cold bodies.   For the main entrĂ©e, it was my own specialty “Italiano Sea Pasta ala Gearguru”.  It was served with Parmessan Batard cut into perfection (when I was the one cutting…Tintin made it into bread crumbs or croutons when it was her cutting).  For desert, it was choco-flavored wafers coated in premium and energy providing chocolate (Milo Bar) and chocolate flavored flakes with sugar (Koko Krunch).  To complete the whole desert experience, it was Chuck’s specialty sweetened hot tea (Lipton w/ Brown Sugar packs stolen in a Starbucks restaurant).

With our stomachs getting a good filling, we decided to turn the lights off around 2100. Despite not being able to sleep the whole night, we still a good rest as the weather was really calm and it was neither cold nor hot inside the tent.  But just about the time me and Chuck are getting a good sleep, we were woken up prematurely by Tintin (with no reason at all) around 530am.  Chuck was really close to throwing Tintin off the cliff but good thing I talked some sense to him.  Instead, I got out of the tent, did a little stretching, and then threw Tintin off the cliff myself (nah just joking…I did consider this for a few seconds though).

View from the highest point of our camp
As I was already awaken, I started preparing breakfast.  The menu is not as special as the one we had for dinner but all meals were still cooked to perfection (sauted sardines for Chuck, fried chicken meat loaf and sauteed corned beef for the rest).  It’s a good thing there’s an ample water source in Mt. Batulao (P30 for a gallon) so you can cook and make a mess to your heart’s content.  It also helps that you have someone to take care of the dishes (reason why we always invite Raquel to climb with us).

By 830am with everyone finished breaking camp, we decided to make an assault to the summit...well make that the highest point of the new route.  As mentioned before, the supposedly easier route turned out to be much harder and further than the old one.  Judging by the deep sighs and breathes of those we pass by who made the summit, you can easily judge what the route was like.  This dampened the will of my co-climbers to proceed.  

But with similar views from the peak, it was fulfilling enough for the team to cut short their ascent.  Some may consider this a negative way to approach hiking but for me, summit or not, the most important thing being out there is to have fun and an appreciation of the outdoors.  Which is all that we did.  

Another purpose of an umbrella
After a few, sorry I forgot I’m with Raqs and Tintin so make that “a lot” of photo opps, we proceeded with our descent.  The weather this time was scorching hot but still not enough to keep the trail dry. Again it was a challenge of not slipping or digging your foot through the muddy trail.  Gail still struggled as the outsole of her shoes peeled off the day before...and I paid for it as well as I was the one assisting her.

With muddy shoes and mud tracks on our pants, we made it back to the P10 jump-off.  As the sun is already at its peak; Raqs, Gail and Richie opted to take the tricycle back to the karinderya wherein we will have lunch and freshen up.  Myself, Chuck and Tintin (who had no option but to oblige to our demand) decided to walk all the way.  That walk turned out to be the highlight of our trip as while doing our action photo opps, I ripped the bottom of my “Puerto Galera” tie-dye pants.  This delighted Tintin as it was her way of getting back at me for dragging her to walk with us. 

It was one of those moments wherein everyone was just laughing our hearts out and enjoying the moment.  At around 1430, with everyone freshened up, we rode the bus bound for the bus station beside MRT Edsa station whose name I still do not know.  Heavy rains greeted us when we reached Roxas Boulevard but after what we just went through in Mt. Batulao, we just smiled at each other for another adventure ahead of us. 


Backpacking in the rain…
  • raining or not always stuff your gears in a big plastic bag...transparent bags ideally
  • have another big plastic bag ready so you can cover your pack if the rain is falling non-stop and there's no shelter to protect your stuff
  • if you will stash your tent in your backpack, make sure it is easy to access and will not require taking out the other stuff inside your pack...ideally you put it in the bottom compartment or place it vertically
  • before setting up your tent, make sure you have a tent floor (tarp, coated nylon, etc) to protect the base of your tent
  • for the OC ones, like me and Chuck, it helps having another layer to lay inside your tent…nylon tafetta, like those used in umbrellas are your best option

In buying a tent…
  • most critical feature of a tent, in addition to the quality of materials used, is the ease of set-up
  •  you can have the most stable and good looking tent at camp but when you cannot set it up with ease, it just depict the money you paid for it...ask our girls 
  • canopies using clips can be set up easier and faster while those using sleeves are known to be much stable…with the design innovations right now the latter is starting to lose it’s edge…so go for the clip ones
  • practice how to set it up multiple times before you use it outdoors

Gong home with a damp tent…
  • air dry your tent and canopy upon getting home…you can either hang it or set it up
  • if you have a really dirty tent, set it up then clean it with a wet sponge (a little dash of soap powder will help and won’t affect much the coating) then hose it off
  • never pack your tent when damp…yes it is a hassle doing all of the above but to make your investment worth it, you have to take care of it

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TRAVEL - There and Back Again to Mt. Amuyao

A day-by-day recap of our Mt. Amuyao adventure together with one of the top explorers in the world Mike Libecki.

September 24 (Monday) - Manila to Banawe

Manny in awe of all of Mike's stuff
With me not being able to get my backpack the day before our hike, I had to do my packing the night before our trip. While the timing is usual for me, doing it at the parking lot of Trinoma is not.  It was crazy laying out our stuff at the floor for everyone to see but the adrenaline rush was much better compared to doing it in the confines of my room.

It doesn't help as well having a security guard stare at us the whole time.

Best part of the day was us being informed that our assigned driver to Banawe had to back out due to being sick.  Same goes for the alternate driver.  Finally having a replacement, he was dumbfounded to know that we are going to Banawe, Ifugao...all the while he thought it's just Banawe, Quezon City!

September 25 (Tuesday) - To the Summit of Mt. Amuyao

If this looks good to eat, I did my job as a photographer
Encountering heavy traffic along Dalton Pass, we arrived in Banawe around 8am.  I was quite disappointed that we did not dine in our usual Banawe stopover that is Greenview Lodge...instead we went to Halfway Lodge.

Food was so-so...and choices bad.  After enduring almost 12 hrs. of travel, imagine just having an option of either a Hotsilog or an American breakfast composed of just toasted bread and spam!?  When in Banawe, do yourself a favor and go to Greenview instead.

Mike, Jan, Bunny and Manny doing a "topload"

After a not so pleasing breakfast, we went off our way to Barlig.  It was close to a 3 hour ride with majority of it being in rough terrain.  But it's not that bad considering the views, not to mention having the spoils of lying down the jeepney seat as my co-climbers decided to get a good sunburn by riding "top load".

I've done my share of this stunt and given I forgot to bring my wide brimmed hat/ arm sleeves, I opted to pass.  My wife will kill me as well if I go home with a burned nape.

View of Barlig a few minutes from our hike.

We arrived in Barlig close to 12pm wherein two of our co-climbers together with our guide and porters were waiting for us.  We took a quick lunch, did our last minute packing and around 130pm, started off our hike to Mt. Amuyao.

Weather was just perfect when we started our hike.  Sky was blue and the clouds added drama to the photos I took.  Unfortunately, with us on a tight schedule, I didn't have much time to do some long exposure photos.

Nice to look at the first few hours of the trail
But just like that, less than an hour to our hike, we were greeted by rain showers and all the amazing landscape scenery I intended to take photos of were covered with haze and fog.  So much for me bringing all those filters and stuff...good thing though I have a porter carrying this for me :)

Last time I was in Barlig, it was also from a climb of Mt. Amuyao but we did the more challenging route that is coming from Batad.  I expected a gradual ascent with some wooden steps going to the peak but damn...I got more than what I bargained for!  Just when I thought I'm near and at the highest point of the trail...another set of steps was right there to greet my aching legs.

It was close to a 6 hour of full ascent and one of my co-climbers even considered backing out.  But work needs to be done and we all sucked it in.  We finally arrived at the summit past 6pm.

While we had some slight rain drizzles at the peak, generally weather was fine which made cooking easier.  It was a big help as well that there were water tanks beside the bunker where the caretaker/s of the erected tower is residing.  After dinner, with my body getting it's first taste of a major climb after 5 years and paying for it, I opted to snooze early around 8pm.

September 26 (Wednesday) - Descent to Pat-Yay Village

Like the peak of Mt. Pulag, Mt. Amuyao offers stunning views of the Cordillera mountain ranges.  I already have my eyes set how my photos will look like...clouds flowing like water as it pushes it's way in the mountains of the Cordilleras.  A warm glow from the sun painting the scenery in yellowish hue.

So when my alarm clock woke me up, I immediately opened the canopy of our tent and voila!  It was raining like crazy and everything was all white.  Talk about big time disappointment!

While the rain managed to stop, haze and fog didn't leave much views for us to admire and take photos.  This is actually the best shot I managed to get and even had to extract details using Photoshop.  A couple of minutes after this opening, view was all white again.

The mountain ranges of Cordillera...just imagine if we had the perfect sunrise

We started our descent around 830am.  It was supposed to be an "easy" day with trails being all downhill going to Pat-Yay village. With established trails, we pretty much blazed our way to the first rest stop which is also almost half of the trail already.  As it turned out though, this just served as a warm-up.

Surprise surprise...a crablet at 1,300m ASL
The succeeding trails were composed of a mossy forest infested by limatiks.  And if that wasn't enough, we're talking about loose rocks and slippy terrain.  I almost fell twice to a ravine and so did majority of our team.  To make matters worse, some of our team mates even brushed their skin to some poison ivy (thank goodness I was wearing pants).

Reaching the terraces part, I thought I found my saving grace.  Then out of nowhere, we see ourselves walking blind as trails were covered in waist deep grass.  We were slipping and came close to breaking our ankles on slippery rocks hidden underneath.  It was fun and hellacious to put it mildly.

We managed to reach the village of Pat-Yay around 4pm.  As with the peak, I expected lush and vibrant terraces but unfortunately, they just finished their harvest and the gloomy skies didn't help adding color to the landscape.  My only solace was sunrise provides a much better view of the terraces so I was banking on taking better photos the next day.

In the meantime, I decided to do a panorama shot instead...using my iPhone...

Pristine terraces of Pat-Yay village
We pretty much spent the afternoon lounging around and appreciating the serenity of Pat-Yay.  Other than being a stop over on our way to Batad, we did a mini-humanitarian project by donating a solar powered LED lamp that doubles as an AC power source.

Manny and Mike teaching how to operate the solar powered
 lamp we donated
Pat-Yay is not a household name on tourist brochures and websites and I am actually glad that it's not.  Unlike its neighboring villages such as Cambulo and Batad, they have managed to preserve their heritage and environment that really represents what the province of Ifugao is all about.  Yes technology has caught up with them with their use of solar panels as electrical supply but this is very much it...and should be.

We spent the night in one of the native huts which was welcome news as it allowed us to stay dry given it rained the morning the next day.  It also gave us the chance to have a much needed rest after 2 nights of almost no sleep.

September 27 (Thursday) - Hike to Cambulo/ Batad

Upon waking up, I saw what I dreaded the most...grey skies, wet floor and rain drops.  And if that wasn't disappointing enough, I felt leg pains I never felt before.  But to hell with it, I came to this trip with the main purpose of enjoying the outdoors...and I will embrace the pain doing it.

One of the local kids enjoying the baby sweet corn
These misfortunes were suddenly negated when one of the locals offered us a freshly cooked mountain rice together with baby corns.  Partnered with a local SPAM, we were in food heaven.

Our itinerary for the day was to reach the village of Cambulo, have lunch then hike to Batad.  Just when I thought it will be more mellow specially the downhill part, I saw myself taking baby steps due to the terrain's loose rocks and eroding soil.  To make matters worse, my knees and legs were so tired, I lost confidence to let gravity assist my descent.  This was the time I started to accept the fact that I'm getting old...but I see it more of me being out of the game for so long.

Reaching the village of Cambulo, I was struck with what I saw.  The school ground where we used to pitch our tents is now covered with a steel roof!  I actually had mixed emotions about it but I guess this serves more good than harm to the people of Cambulo so I will leave it at that.

Mike, Manny, Bunny, Joyce and Bobby enjoying the
view of Batad
After a hearty lunch of chopseuy and mountain rice, off we went to Batad.  At this time, my legs are feeling a lot worse so I took some Ibrupofen to lessen my muscle pain.  It proved to be effective as my pace got faster...though it also helped having a flatter terrain.

Upon reaching Batad, I had a huge sigh of relief.  Finally we finished our 3-day ordeal and can now look forward to just chilling out.

We stayed in one of Ramon's Native Huts.  I again felt a slight disappointment as I was really looking forward to spending the night in my favorite inn Hillside Inn.  But beggars can't be choosers...and it was Mang Ramon's place that offers native hut home stays which honestly is not that bad, except for the steep price.

Mike and Manny getting their groove on with the locals
We pretty much spent the day drinking some beers, eating local pizza (Hillside Inn is still the best!), sweet potato fries and pinikpikan.  Given we have a special foreign guest, a cultural presentation was arranged as well.

With our bodies aching, we decided to have some local massage.  This was the first time in my life I had one, though it was more of hilot as I need to freshen my legs for some more hiking the next day.  It was a good way to end the day with everyone having a good time, relaxing and laughing our ass off for every grunt we shout out.  One of our co-climbers even fell asleep in the middle of his massage!

September 28 (Friday) - Bachang and Back

Jan, Mike and Manny doing their share of Bachang
Feeling refreshed and filling our tummies with heavy breakfast, some of us went our way to do some "Bachang" project.  I was supposed to just take photos and document this initiative but the Bachang spirit caught up with me.  Just like that, I saw myself sliding my way to one of the terraces and doing my share arranging the rocks and together with the team, help remove huge boulders buried beneath the soil.

This proved to be the highlight of our trip.  Not only was it a great feeling to take part in restoring the rice terraces, we also exemplified teamwork at its best.  And we did this like kids on a playground.

View of Batad

Manny with one of the Batad locals hitching a ride with us
After getting our hands dirty and getting a good sunburn, we called it a day and headed back to our inn for the hike back to the saddle and Banawe.  It was a bittersweet moment as our 5-day adventure officially ends but on the other side, I was really looking forward to see my family again.  Which as I see it, was the biggest change compared to my younger years.

I used to dread going back to my so-called reality, but at this point in my life, reality is something I look forward to getting back to.  What this trip taught me though was there's no reason for me to limit the things I can do.  I used to say I don't have time to go outdoors again and even exercise for crying out loud.  This trip changed all of that.

As to the words of our new friend Mike Libecki, "The time is now...what are you waiting for? No excuses".  And now my most favorite..."Loving life!"

With that said, I am now back to doing what I love to do.  And this time, I don't have anything to dread going back.  How can you not love life?

The Team: Mike Libecki, Manny Batungbacal, Joyce (Princess of Itogon), Bunny Soriano, Jan Cabanos, Bobby Acosta and myself

GEAR INFO:  Photos taken with a Canon 5D with either a 17-40 4L or 24-105 4L IS except for the Pat-Yay Village panorama which was taken using my iPhone 4 and DMD app.