These are the stories and random thoughts of a budget traveler, beach-and-nature-lover, foodie, coffee-holic, and self-professed incurable daydreamer

Monday, July 16, 2012

Finding Peace and Beauty in Mount Isarog: The Stone House Garden Resort Day Out

Stone House Garden Resort*
*The author is in no way connected with the resort. Neither is this post a paid review or advertisement. This is simply about one weekday get-away she recently had with friends.

The Plan

My friend Liz texted that she'd be going home to Bicol for a three-day vacation with Kay, her college roommate in UPLB.  Kay came all the way from Bacolod and before proceeding to a Coron trip, decided to go to Bicol first. So it's important to give her a good time =) Liz asked for some suggestions and we brainstormed for fun destinations that will fit in their schedule.

Liz (right), her nephew Phillip, and Kay
Of course, on top of the list is Albay for a view of Mount Mayon, followed by Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex (CWC), being the nearest and most convenient. The traveling duo also decided to head to Donsol, Sorsogon for a Butanding-watching adventure. All these they intended to visit (and actually did) on the second and third days of their vacay. The location for the first day, however, was the question. We crossed out  Caramoan due to time constraint. Then, I suddenly remembered one place that caught my interest last year: the Stone House Garden Resort, located at Mount Isarog National Park

Its rain forest location is a charm--but it's the beautiful pictures of its garden, infinity pool and building/structure that got me. I suggested the place to Liz, who immediately said yes. Using my text brigade powers, I also had Von and Joann to come with us for a more fun trip =) 

The Trip

The Road Trip Tropa (with Von taking the pic)
Stone House Garden Resort is located several kilometers up Mount Isarog, the towering mountain with an elevation of ~2000 masl, which protrudes amidst the vast rice field plains of Camarines Sur. Mount Isarog serves as a watershed and biodiversity hot spot. But for adventurers and mountaineers, it is one hiking destination that must be conquered. We, however, opted to just enjoy the garden resort midway the mountain instead of heading all the way to the lush rain forest going to its peak--although this continues to be one idea that challenges me =).

Perched on Mount Isarog
Come the morning of Liz and Kay's arrival, we agreed to meet at a nearby mall at 10am. Despite having traveled from Manila--by bus, on a 10-hour night trip--Liz and Kay arrived early. Liz also brought along her 5-yr old nephew, Phillip, and managed to still look pretty whilst arriving on time. I was late; Jo was late; Von was even more late =) 

Ang mga lakwatseras--and two lakwatseros including the little boy =)
However, we know what it means to Liz to give Kay a decent Bicol trip so we have to pull our acts together haha. Fortunately, everything went OK. I cooked a pocho-pocho a.k.a minadaling pasta; Jo took care of the rice and ice, and Liz the drinks and roasted chicken. Talk about spontaneous but coordinated efforts! Von, on the other hand, was our official driver and baggage porter at the same time hehe. The last-minute preparations took around an hour so our official trip actually started past 11AM. Nevertheless, the drive which I estimated will take one hour lasted just 30 minutes, thanks to Von's speed racing  tendencies.

Yup, we were able to pull it off! 
For those who will be travelling via public utility vehicles: from Naga City old centro just ride a jeepney going to Panicuazon (actually, Panicuazon is still one of the barangays of Naga). The jeep terminal is near the Supermarket; tricycle drivers know this. Be prepared for a full-packed ride because drivers pick up passengers until every inch of space is filled up, including the topload. The road is smooth but slightly winding. Trip may last for one hour or more. I'm not sure how much the fare is, but could range from P20 to P30. Upon reaching the unloading point, just walk several meters (200m or more) toward the direction of the mountain until you reach the slightly masukal dirt path. You will notice that you are indeed heading toward a rain forest because of the trees and wild ferns beside the road. It will be better also to ask around for directions. In our case, we asked the children playing along the road and just gave them coins for reward.

Finally, A Relaxing Afternoon 

Secluded, peaceful and spacious--Stonehouse Garden Resort looks like a retreat house, only with more entertainment facilities in it. Good for us, there were no other visitors so we had the place to ourselves. Once you get there, just ring the bell (or rather, the hollow pipe) outside the big wooden gate and a caretaker will open the gate and entertain you. Entrance fee costs P500, which includes welcome drinks, use of swimming pool and videoke, and a "guided" stroll around the organic farm. The garden resort also offers overnight stays in their suite and backpacker's rooms.
The interiors of Stone House Garden

There's videoke, billiards table, comfy furniture...

One of the reasons why I suggested Stonehouse Garden is that its unique design might appeal to Liz, who is a building and interior design aficionado. A graduate of BS Forestry from UPLB, she is now finishing her second degree of BS Architecture in UP Diliman. 

White pillars, patches of nipa roof and lots of open space apparently mix well
In addition, Kay could rest there after having been through a one hectic race from La Carlotta  to Bacolod to Manila and finally, to Naga. True enough, Kay immediately found her perfect resting spot and snoozed for a while. After the power nap, this traveling dynamo was happy and game for the photo ops, farm tour and swimming =)

Power nap!!!

With Kay and Von

Another thing I love about Stonehouse Garden is the beautiful vista of downtown Camarines Sur on one side, and of Mount Isarog on the other. I was amazed by the sheer size and proximity of the mountain--after all, we are standing right on the mountain itself! The view of Camarines Sur all the way to San Miguel Bay is relaxing too. I don't know, but there is something about the sight of open spaces that I find so calming. It's like looking on eternity itself (huwat??)

The place is green all over. There are towering trees, well manicured lawn, beautiful landscape, and a vegetable farm. The air is cool. And luckily, the weather cooperated even if the perpetually grayish clouds constantly threatened us with a downpour. 

Luntiang Paraiso
Surrounded by greenery
Uh-oh! Dark clouds...Good thing it didn't rain. 
What vacation would be complete without dozens and dozens of pictures? Being the camerawhores that we are, we took photos of the view and of ourselves with the view in every imaginable view there is =) Thanks to Joann's insight to bring her camera. I, on the other hand, was sooo absent-minded with all the kitchen busy-ness and kulit-texting our driver Von, that I forgot to bring a camera, grrr! 

Picture picture!
After eating our packed lunch of roasted chicken, pinangat (a Bicol specialty which we required Kay to eat hehe), rice, spaghetti and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, we decided to take a brief stroll around the garden's vicinity. I was happy to see a lot of growing veggies and fruits at the organic farm. Stone House sells these veggies and fruits, but we chose to just pose with them for the pics hehe. 

At the organic vegetable farm

Phillip had an uber time chasing dragonflies. The mag-tita spent some quality time playing and posing for the pictures. Later in the afternoon, tita Liz also became a swimming pool  nanny hehe...So now about swimming, we decided to sample the infinity pool at around 3PM just when the sun is no longer scorching. We also took turns looking after and playing with Phillip, who had so much fun in the water!

Liz and Phillip
The Little Boy and His Aunt

The author, Kay, tita Liz and Phillip--having fun at the pool
The Hydrophilic Author
It has been my dream to swim in an infinity pool. I get to finally fulfill one of my bucket list must-do's. Yey! The water's cool and shallow (4.5ft) and there is this sort-of viewing deck at one end of the pool made of fiber glass. Cool. Maybe it was really designed for underwater picture-taking, so Kay and I had our own photo shoot ala Top Model (Philippines) ;)

Yey! Fulfilling my dream of swimming in an infinity pool. What simple fun.
Top Model pictorial ang peg! ;)
Jo and Von played billiards, which costs P100 per hour. I don't know if the loser of the game had to pay the tab, but as far as I know one person lost big time to our billiard hustler friend hehe. I wanted to sing (videoke) but it was brownout the whole afternoon, so I didn't get to exercise my vocal prowess.
Anyways, after the swim, it's time to go home. Liz and Kay still have a long trip ahead of them the following day, as they will be going to Donsol for butanding-watching and then, Legazpi City. Plus, the little boy Phillip--not to mention, his tita Liz--appeared tired already. So we ate snacks, packed up, rode the car and drove back to lowlands. Whew, what a hectic day. Just like all my other posts, I would end this one with the statement that hopefully there will be a repeat of this kind of trip with the same people someday, somewhere ;) 


1. Getting to Stonehouse is relatively easy. For commuters, just ride a jeepney going to Panicuazon from Naga old centro near the supermarket. Fare could range from P20 to P30; trip may last more for than an hour. 

For those with vehicles, just follow the road from centro to San Felipe and Pacol, via Francia Ave., then all the way to Mount Isarog. The markers to watch-out for are the San Francisco Chruch and, at the end of Francia Ave., the Penafrancia Church just after the Francia-Magsaysay junction. After the barangays of Pacol and Carolina is Panicuazon.

2. The garden resort is just several meters away from the unloading point in Panicuzaon. There are a number of sari-sari stores there, so you may ask around for directions. If I remember correctly, you will have to walk in an L-shape direction (straight ahead then turn left), though the dirt road will actually lead you to the resort. By the way, for those with smaller cars, be careful because you might get stranded/trapped in the muddy tracks especially if it recently rained. Once you see the large wooden gate, you'd know that you reached the place.

3. Entrance fee is P500/person, no discounts for kids :( There is no need for reservation, but it will be safer to confirm the date of your visit lest you arrive at a time when the place is fully packed or rented out for a prenuptial photoshoot or wedding reception.

4. Activities include swimming, billiards, videoke, and strolling around the organic farm and garden. Or you may do nothing; just enjoy the view =)

5. Service is just OK. The owners do not really go out of their way to entertain the guests. Usually it's the hired helps the brief the guests about the amenities, etc., but it doesn't mean that you can't approach the owners for your inquiries.

6. Bring your own foods and snacks, unless you are willing to pay some hundreds of pesos more on top of the P500 entrance fee.

7. Bring your own drinks too...along with other essentials such as shampoo and soap if you will be swimming, sun block, towels etc. And don't forget, insect repellent lotion to ward away pesky mosquitoes!

8. Better to arrive there early (resort opens at 10AM) and go home before nightfall. If you are commuting, it is important to go home early afternoon, as you might get left behind by the jeep's last trip. If you're driving, the road is pitch black at night so it is safer to drive if there is still some daylight. 

9. Also, I don't remember seeing gasoline stations on the way to Panicuazon, so better refill your tanks while still in Naga centro (the nearest is a Shell gasoline station along Magsaysay Ave., in front of Avenue Square).

10. Budget could be below P1000 for a whole day trip. This includes fare from Naga centro, entrance fee, use of billiards table, videoke, and shopping for food baons, etc.

11. Most importantly, just relax and enjoy. The view is amazing, promise! So don't be like me; be like Joann. In other words, bring your camera =)


Monday, June 11, 2012

A Stormy Bagasbas and Some Musings on Life, Family, the Beach and Approaching 30 =)

The author: making the most of a stormy beach moment
Whenever I go to the beach, I just can't help but write about it and gush about my feelings on how the vastness of the sea and the beauty of nature amaze me, even if I almost sound like somebody high on something hehe. Who can blame a beach junkie? =)

Bagasbas Beach when it's sunny and pretty
Some years back, I wrote a post about Bagasbas beach (If you are interested to know more about Bagasbas, please refer to this previous post). Up to now I still go back to those afternoon memories with my good friends, Cheekay and Von. It was then that Cheekay mastered her driving, not to mention her shooting skills (with a camera! that is), with Von being her ever patient mentor. It was also then that I first ate at Kusina ni Angel, which has now become a favorite. It represents a time of carefree fun and spontaneity, as well as fearlessness (for having braved the big waves of Bagasbas). 

Bagasbas with Cheekie and Bon some years back
Without intending to exaggerate, that Bagasbas trip some years back pretty much illustrates my life in my 20s. I was very much like the happy, empowered and come-what-may child, who thinks that she can do almost anything she sets her heart to. There was this desire to live my life in the moment; that consciousness of every second ticking by; and that fear that life might pass me by without being able to do the things I love . Plus, I was ever confident that life always has a way of turning out just fine. I am good at weathering out storms, just as I am good at enjoying the sun. Now that I am fast approaching my 30s--at a rate which I am more comfortable with--I guess I tend to ruminate a lot about these stuff hehe. My 20s is my power years and I just hope that I can replicate that energy in the next stages of life. Anyways, so much for that chitchat! Back to the trip. Hehe.

I went back to Bagasbas several days ago. This time with my family. We are not the kind of family that goes on family trips. The last excursion I can remember was when I was still in grade school. As I grew older, I began to have my own trips with friends; family travel just seemed out of the picture. Hence when papa wanted to have a road trip, of course in the guise of tackling some business there hehe, we immediately said "go!" We pushed through despite the tropical depression  that day. It was Signal No.1 and rain poured sporadically but like a whiplash. 

Just like any other beach that directly faces an ocean, Bagasbas is powerful and even irreverent at times. The thundering, booming and crackling sounds of the waves invoke awe, especially during such stormy day. My papa, however, was so resolute to visit his home province that we still continued anyway (the hard-headedness! I took after him haha).What we saw  that day was a stormy Bagasbas. Stormy and gray--a striking contrast from the last time I have seen it. 

Where has all the blueness gone?
The Bagasbas that met us is an angry one.  The waves are bigger and for me, meaner; as if, in its fit of bad mood, warning everyone, "Do not mess with me right now". It surprised my mother that there were still people swimming. There were a number of surfers too. I reckon that the waters of Bagasbas during a mild storm are good for a surf. I sort of envied the surfers, so I just conjured in my mind how it will feel like to ride the waves and the adrenaline rush of the moment. This made me decide to try surfing too-- ASAP!!! I'll write about my surfing escapade in Baler in a succeeding post.  =)

A Gray Day
Way back with Cheekay and Von, it was all sunny and pretty--so picture perfect. I remember that I immediately succumbed to the temptation of taking a dip into the notorious surfing waters of Bagasbas. During normal days, the place can be packed with picnickers, joggers, swimmers, surfers, skim surfers and usyseros like us hehe. Bagasbas have gained a reputation as a surfing beach and attracted more surfers that there is already an annual Bagasbas surfing festival week during summer, if I am not mistaken. 

This time, however, I know that I will not be swimming so I did bother to bring a change of clothes. But still, nothing changes my love for this beach even at its not-so-picture perfect, stormy interludes.

My brother and I just took the opportunity to have a photo-op hehe, even if we are clearly far from model materials. It's just fun to goof around when you are bored and you know that you have nothing else to do but wait for lunch.

My brother, horsing around...
Some parts of the beach are not suitable for swimming

Now about lunch, I was excited to eat again at Kusina ni Angel, a restaurant that I always recommend to friends who ask me about foodie locations in Bagasbas. Once again, the place did not fail me.

...And this is what we ate
Kusina ni Angel is simply about the food. The place, for me, is quite unappealing. It has the ambiance of a bus stop carenderia. Don't expect for exceptional service either, because waiters/waitresses are simply there to take your orders and attend to other simple needs. Now on the plus side, food is super affordable. Our orders of Frito Misto (a favorite), Sinigang na Isda, and Fish Fillet Rellyenado cost P200, P145, and P195, respectively. This is super cheap given the quantity and quality of the food.

Lutong bahay goodness of Frito Misto and Sinigang na Isda
Frito Misto is actually a platter of seafood (shrimp, fish fillet, squid and clams) deep-fried in batter tempura-style. The fish fillet reynellado, is a large chunk of fillet with some meat stuffing and a dark, asado-like sauce that really tasted well with the fish. The fish sinigang (fish in sour broth) is just that--sinigang, only that it has that home cooked goodness of lots of vegetables and large portions of fresh fish served steaming hot. What is good about this place is that you can be assured of the freshness of the sea foods due to its proximity to the sea. When it comes to service, it was not as slow as I expected considering that they cook (or in some instance, perhaps reheat) the food only when an order is placed. Food presentation is not so bad either.

...Tsadan!! And this is how our table looked like after =D
In the end, everything's about cleanliness and taste and I think Kusina ni Angel passed all these. That's why I like the place despite its simplicity hehe. Anyways, Kendi, my travel junkie of a roommate, suggested another place, a burger joint, near the Bagasbas Beach. In fact, she mentioned a number of eateries which I am now excited to try once I go back there. So I'll have pretty much to talk about next time hehe.

Anyways after lunch we decided to head back home already because the rain was already lashing on us. It would be a difficult drive back home if the weather gets worse. So that's it, a simple road trip with my family. Sometimes, simple is the best there is. Tata for now! =)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

JUAG FISH SANCTUARY: The Off the Beaten Path Wonder of Matnog, Sorsogon (Part II)

@ Juag Fish Sanctuary
This post is the continuation of my previous one regarding our excursion at the beautiful yet oft-mysterious town of Matnog, Sorsogon. As I have stated in an earlier post, Matnog is one of the farthest provinces in the Island of Luzon, as it lies on the very tip of the Sorsogon province in the Bicol Region. Because it faces the Pacific Ocean, Matnog is also an ingress/egress to and from the other islands of the Philippines, the Visayas and Mindanao islands.

Matnog is more often known for its bustling port that plays an important role in transportation and commerce. However, apart from Matnog's importance to travel and commerce, the town can also be a tourist's paradise with its white sand beaches and fish sanctuary, which can be reached through a rented banca within several minutes.

Our first location for our rendezvous was the Subic Island Liit (previous post) also known as la playa rosa because of the pinkish tinge of its white sand.

Subic Island (Liit)
Our tour guides were also talking about Subic Daku and Tikling Island, which are said to be equally beautiful and thus, are deemed as tourists' getaways also. The bicol word "daku", by the way, refers to the larger size of the said island (as compared to Subic Liit, hence the name). 

We decided against pushing through to these islands though, since we needed to get back to Sorsogon City in time to make it for the last trip of the bus/van going to Naga City. Unfortunate for me because Tikling is said to be the location of a lighthouse. I should have loved to add another lighthouse to my bucket list of conquered lighthouses (as of now, I only have two: the Cape Bojeador and Capones Lighthouses). But, there is always a next time, as the saying goes =)

Subic Island (daku) from afar
We just opted to head directly to Juag Fish Sanctuary after spending some blog-worthy hours at Subic Liit. To give a brief recap of our picnic, we travelled from Brgy.Tagban, Matnog by boat to Subic Liit; the ride lasted around 20 minutes. Then, we ate our sumptuous lunch of steamed/boild crabs, grilled molmol or parrot fish, grilled liempo and ginataang langka with crabs (unripe jackfruit and crabs in coconut milk). 

We also had our fill of freshly harvested young coconuts or buko; and finally we swam our hearts out until we were so tired that all we wanted to do was post for the pics hehe. Then, before 2pm, we rode the boat once more for Juag.

Lamon republic na! =)
Group picture before leaving Subic Island. Too bad we didn't have that ubiquitous jump shot by the beach =)
....and we were off to Juag Fish Sanctuary
View of the fish pens along the way. Fish provides food and livelihood to the locals.

I just love fish sanctuaries. Each fish sanctuary I've been to offers a unique experience of beauty and adventure. Anyhoo, my fishy interactions, so to speak, always take my heart away. The same thing happened during our Juag visit.

It was the first time I heard of Juag Fish Sanctuary. I did not even know that there is a fish sanctuary in Matnog. Hence, my excitement to go there. Good thing that I packed my goggles with me so I can see the amazing underwater view =)

The fish sanctuary at Juag consists of coconut and bamboo stems attached together to create makeshift establishments. Though the improvised buildings look wobbly and unstable at first glance, with their crude and open structure, they are actually quite stable and steady notwithstanding being perched in the middle of the sea that is several meters deep.

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the caretakers of the fish sanctuary--one of the reasons is that Atty. Lheila is the daughter of the DENR Regional Technical Director of Region V, and Chris' dad is also the PENRO of Sorsogon, the one who arranged to make our trip hassle free. Therefore, in an effort to make our sojourn more fun and memorable, the sanctuary workers immediately searched for their special pet--the pawikan (marine turtle). Yes I know we kinda stressed the animal with our incessant attention and touching, but we just can't help but have our pictures taken with it hehe. Anyways, in due time, we also had it released back to its natural saltwater habitat.

Ms. T, posing ala-candidate of Ms. Earth =)

Atty. A., spending some  loving quality time with the turtle

Environmentalist and future environmental lawyer, Mr. C., having his pic taken with his New Found Friend =)
After the pawikan episode, we were in for another surprise. The caretakers then asked us to ride the improvised raft made of bamboos flanked by plastic containers and styrofoams. We were taken to the deeper part of the waters where a number of marine creatures are being bred in quantities.

Then, the caretakers caught one crayfish from their crayfish pen and indulged our fancies of having our pictures taken with the poor creature hehe...which we also eventually released too because we can't afford to buy it with our uber limited budget =) We also fed the fishes with the feeds pellets the caretakers gave us. With every handful of feeds, schools of fish would rise to the surface with their mouths wide agape for the free food. This, again, entertained us. So the fish feeding went on for a while.

Ms.K and the Crayfish--I don't know which is more scared of the other, Karen or  the crayfish hehe
Fishy, fishy, fishies where are you?
Bringing out the inner mermaid in me =)
Lheila and I decided to take a short dip to check out the underwater view of the lobster and crayfish pen. It was just a sneak preview but I was already amazed with the lobsters, crayfishes and schools of fishes underneath. So we decided to go for it and dive in the middle of fish sanctuary. The water was quite deep (~15ft) but very cool, refreshing and idyllic for snorkeling. Us, snorkeling enthusiasts, just discovered another source of adrenaline high =)

Attorney na swimmer pa =)

Sirens: Karen, Lhei and I

Nothing can keep us from the water!!! 
Anyways, after several minutes with the fish schools, we decided to head back to the boat lest we get left behind by the van going back home. The caretakers do not charge any entrance fees, actually. But donations for the upkeep of the fish sanctuary are highly appreciated. After all, they are doing a fine job in breeding fish and other marine animals.

Finally, after saying our goodbye's and thank you's to the caretakers of the DENR guesthouse, where we parked our tour vehicle, we headed to Irosin, Sorsogon--a quick detour before going back to Sorsogon City. We decided to cap our trip with a quick soak in the nearby hot spring in Irosin, the same is just at the foot of the feisty Mount Bulusan whose imposing peaks were towering above us (as if challenging me to climb it on my next trip hehe, just you wait and see!). 

Hot spa for the girls (and four boys) @ San Mateo, San Benon Hot Spring, Irosin, Sorsogon 
After a quick dip on the soothing pool of warm-to-semi-hot waters of San Mateo hot spring, we all rinsed, get dressed and headed back to Sorsogon City where Chris' dad was waiting with another rounds of snacks! Grabe na tlaga! Mga lamon pips na kami and it was just for free, so super thanks to Chris' and Lheila's dads. I guess this is where our Matnog cum Irosin trip ends. All good things must come to an end indeed, and personally for me, there was a slight ache (naks!) to part ways with my travel friends. I just wish that they, too, hope that there will be a repeat of this =)


Our itinerary was as follows:
5PM   -- Leave for Legazpi City from Naga City via a van at Naga City Van Terminal; fare was P210
7PM   -- arrival in Legazpi. Our plan was to spend the night at Lheila's parents' house. We had dinner, talks, etc, then sleep...

5AM   -- Wake up time; prepare, etc.
7AM   -- Left Legazpi for Sorsogon City
9 AM  -- Arrived at Sorsogon (picked up Adolf)
11 AM-- Arrival in Matnog (finally!)
11:30   -- Start of Island-hopping =)
12 NN -- Subic Island Liit; Lunch, Swim, Fun
2 PM   -- To Juag Fish Sanctuary
2:30 - 3:30 PM -- Juag Fish Sanctuary
4:00PM -- Matnog Port
4:30PM -- Depart for Mapaso Hot Spring in San Benon, Irosin
5:00PM--Mapaso Hotspring
5:30PM--Back to Sorsogon City, then to Naga City


If you are from Manila:

1) Ride a bus going to Sorsogon City. Fare ranges from 500 to 1000+ depending on the kind of bus. 

Or book a flight to Legazpi City. 

Then from Legazpi airport, ride a jeep to Daraga van terminal and then a van to Sorsogon City. The earlier the booking the cheaper.

2) In Sorsogon, look for jeeps going to Matnog. The jeep terminal is just located in the city center, you may just ask around for directions.

3) Upon arrival in Matnog (trip lasts around two hours), rent a boat. My contact there is Kuya Alex (09183045437). Rental rate is usually P1500 for a whole day of island-hopping covering three islands.