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He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. – Psalm 72:8 (NIV)

I turned 28 years old last month. A turning point in anyone’s life could be a major decision like going abroad, starting a family, venturing into a new business or for me; it’s a simple as discovering new things that you can be really passionate about such as diving.

Several months back, When AirPhil Express offered a round trip ticket from Manila to Davao for just 1,000 pesos; I booked a flight right away and contacted my Aunt whose family resides in Davao to let her know that I’m going there for a vacation. It’s either I climb Mt. Apo or I go for an open water diving certification; the latter I have been planning to do for more than a year now. My uncle, who is a certified diving instructor, offered his services so I started to see one of my dreams coming into reality.

DAY 1 started with the pool training in the morning and then we finished in the afternoon with a lecture to go over some of the important modules in the manual. Since there are only 2 students, we finished earlier than expected. The good thing is I was able to read the SDI training manual prior to the actual training. I had a hard time with the skills training on clearing the mask. Whenever I try to blow the water out, I keep on blowing from my mouth. Well, my uncle was very patient so I successfully did it after several tries. It’s really hard at the start to get yourself accustomed to breathing under water even if you are just under the pool and only a few feet deep. Well, the real adventure starts in the ocean.

DAY 2 started early for us to catch the diving boat courtesy of Carabao Diving Center. It is one of the newest diving centers in Davao City but they have gained the #1 status already. If you are looking for cheap buys, my uncle said this is the place you should visit. He was right! I got a pair of boots for just 1,000 pesos.

We went to Talikud Island, southwest from the famous Samal Island, and visited two diving sites. Just around 1 hour away, we started with Coral Gardens. It is famous for its sandy sea floor and base slopes. We had our first open water skills training here and we went as deep as 16.8 meters and stayed under the water for 39 minutes. Not bad for a beginner! Next stop is the Dapia dive site. I really had a hard time equalizing and my ears started to hurt but I managed to to go as deep as 20.8 meters. This one lasted for 44 minutes. This place has an amazing coral gardens and coral covered reefs. We tried to search for sea horses and although we did not find any, we had a feast of other sea creatures.

One of the cheapest open water diving certification in the country

DAY 3 – we went to Samal Island and again visited 2 diving sites to finish our certification. The first stop is San Juan. I’m not sure but I think this is the place where I found nemo and saw a sea snake for the first time in my life. We went as deep as 20 meters and the dive lasted 51 minutes. Lastly, we went to Marissa 2. The Marissa Dive site is actually 3 dive spots (1, 2 and 3) located southeast of Samal Island near Pearl Farm. It is a whole new world of unique deep sea features visible even at a shallow depth. The last dive was my deepest dive at 21.6 meters but my shortest dive because it only lasted for 27 minutes. Long story but let’s just say that I have to make an emergency ascent because of equipment malfunction.

My uncle trying to prevent me from ascending

Finding Nemo

My diving buddy Xandra and myself learning how to signal OK

The poisonous sea snake! Contrary to popular beliefs, this sea creature is very passive.

You can access my Multiply page to view more of the diving pictures.

My 28th birthday was the day I got certified as a diver. It was the same day when I literally ran out of air 10 meters deep and halfway through the dive because of an equipment malfunction. Thank God I managed to ascend just in time when the gauge showed 0% oxygen content.

Below is a video of “Still” – one of my all-time favorite songs courtesy of Hillsong Church. This video reminds me of one of my other struggles in the diving certification and that is trying to remain neutrally buoyant. A lot of times during the dive, I can’t keep myself from ascending. My uncle said, just remain calm and be still and you should see yourself go down in a few. It works! This song teaches us that despite our busy schedule wherein we are so much preoccupied with a lot of things and despite the daily challenges that we are facing, there is a God out there who can calm the raging seas and work in our lives. Under the water, I felt closer to God. I felt His creations spoke His majesty. Under the water, I have learned to be Still and experienced the beauty of God’s marvelous underwater creations.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1 NIV)

After experiencing a very hot weather for the past several months, it started raining again in Manila. The weather bureau predicted that the rainy season will start next month. It’s a good thing that I got a chance to travel to an island in the Northern part of Luzon prior to the typhoon season. Of all the places I have visited so far, I can say that this is one of the best in terms of breathtaking views and scenery (Coron, Palawan is my other favorite). I am talking about no other than the island of Batanes.

I stayed in the island for 4 days and 3 nights (May 29-June 1, 2010) so this post will be the 1st of the series of blogs about this adventure. I can think of so many things to write about (the itinerary, the food, the culture/people and the accommodation) but I will try to finish everything in 4 parts.

Jaja and I bought the airline ticket as part of the SEAIR promo in a travel expo in SMX back in February. The deal was buy one take one so we booked it even with hesitations not knowing if we can really travel at the specified dates. On board a 30-seater Dornier plane via SEAIR, we left Manila at 8AM last May 29. The flight was 10 minutes ahead of schedule and we arrived in the Basco, Batanes airport almost 30 minutes ahead of the estimated arrival. We were picked up by our hotel service and arrived at Hiro’s Cafe at 10AM. Our contact there is Ms. Lydia (contact number 0915-940-4823). She was very accommodating and since our rooms are not yet ready because of the earlier arrival, she offered brunch for free. We had Tocilog as our first meal in the island.

After the meal, we went to Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant (just 5 minutes away from Hiro’s cafe) for our standard check-in. Given that there’s only 2 of us and the usual rate for accommodation with tours caters to at least a group of 4, we got a real good deal at Php6,000/pax inclusive of room and board, full board meals, island tours and hotel transfers. At noon, we went back to Hiro’s cafe for our lunch. I thought it will just be another meal but to my surprise; they served lobsters, steamed lapu-lapu and more. The meals were served ala carte but the servings are really generous. I thought that this is just the hotel’s way of welcoming guests on the 1st day and then regular meals will be served afterward but I was totally wrong. I will write a full account of the food/cuisine in Batanes with some pictures probably next week. Let’s proceed to our Day 1 itinerary.

After lunch, we were introduced to the rest of the group that will be part of our tour. We have met Rachel and Anne plus the Castro Family (Ishi and her parents Mon and Millie).

We rode a jeepney and went towards the North of Basco at the Department of Agrarian Reform Beneficiary land, overlooking the rocky beach of Chadpidan, facing northen Island towards Taipei viewing the pastureland of the Ivatan Folks. The first stop was what they called the “Rolling Hills” wherein the ridges at the boundaries are with similarities to the pasture land of Holland.

Nice view of the rolling hills in Batan Island, Batanes with Anne and Rachel, the Castro family (Millie, Ishi and Mon), Jaja and myself

We then went to a beach with very large rock formations. The place is not suitable for swimming because of strong waves but a great view for photo shoot and our local tour guide Nelson calls the place “border/boulder beach”. I never had a chancee to confirm which is correct. I am still waiting for some more pictures from my friend but here’s a mono view of the place courtesy of Ironwulf.net.

The last stop for Day 1 was the Light House in Basco with breath taking view on its surroundings. We were supposed to go to Chanpan Fishing Village in Valugan (facing the Pacific Ocean) but it started raining and we had to walk around 1 kilomoter, the group decided to finish the tour at the lighthouse. We tried to climb the lighthouse to take some more pictures on top but the windows are closed because of strong winds. The tour guide assured us that there’s nothing to be disappointed about because Day 1 is just the beginning of what Batanes has to offer and there’s a lot more to come. He is exactly right. In the next posts, I will write about our trip to Sabtang Island and it’s unique Ivatan Homes; our visit to the Honesty store and to a grazing land popularly known as Marlboro Country and more.

Batanes Lighthouse

As I look back in my recent trip, I can’t help but thank God for His marvelous works. The song by Third Day that was also performed by Chris Tomlin (he just visited Manila last month) entitled “God of Wonders” speaks of God’s holiness and majesty through His creations. He is indeed the Lord of heaven and earth; the Lord of Ivatans and the small but awesome island called Batanes!

Coming Soon

Soon to be posted in my travel page – my recent visits this year to Caramoan, Puerto Princesa, Batanes, Siquijor and my past adventures to Boracay, Coron, Bohol and more…

“For the God on the mountain is
still God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make it right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.”

Different rock formations along the trek brought about by the volcanic eruption almost 2 decades ago

I will never forget my first hiking experience. Not only because it started off my desire to climb mountains but the majestic view is really worth visiting again and again. I’m talking about no other than Mt. Pinatubo bordering the provinces of Tarlac, Zambales and Pampanga. In 1991, the volcano erupted after being dormant for around 500 years and it became a nightmare to a lot of people in Central Luzon after it killed hundreds of lives and left a lot of families homeless. After almost 2 decades, who would have thought that the place can be another great tourist destination for nature lovers?

Early Sunday morning in July of 2009, we rode a  Victory Liner bus bound for Pangasinan and arrived in Capas, Tarlac (near Caltex) just after the sun has risen. Our contact sent a vehicle to pick us up to bring us towards the Capas Shrine and then we reached Bgy. Sta Juliana. From there, we rode a 4×4 vehicle for less than an hour and arrived at the jump-off point.

With a guide, we chose to take a longer trail and it took us around 3 1/2 hours of trekking a very rocky path. The shorter trek will just take less than 1 hour climb because the 4×4 vehicle can pass through the lahar desert while navigating an uphill trail. I would say that the trek is good for beginners and you don’t need to be really physically fit to take the short trail or even the longer one. The long trek is all worth the efforts despite the heat of the sun because of the stone/rock formations and the river crossing adventure.

When we arrived at the summit, words cannot explain the beauty of the crater surrounded by the lake. I was in awe of this God’s masterpiece and the view brought back my lost strength. Of course, we took some pictures and even though there’s a sign that swimming is not allowed, we still swam in the crater despite the warning that the depth of the water is still undetermined at this time.

The captivating view of the Mt. Pinatubo Crater

We took the the shorter trail on our return trip and went back to Manila on the same day. I know for sure that we only had one thing in mind during the return trip –  this place is a must-see and we are definitely going back!

Jumpshot with Camille, myself, Anne, Aileen and Homer

My first-ever trekking adventure reminded me of a song. The lyrics started with the words that life is good on the mountain. By its mere beauty alone, life is indeed good on top of Mt. Pinatubo. However, when reality strikes in, no one can really forget the disaster it brought 2 decades ago. In fact, just a few weeks after our trip, several foreigners died along the trek because of strong river current.

Despite all of this, we must never be discouraged because the God of the mountain is also the God of the valley. The God of the good times is also the God of the bad times. He is indeed sovereign. May the lyrics of the song below speak through your hearts and hopefully encourage you every time you face difficult circumstances in life.

God On The Mountain (words and music by Tracy G. Dartt)

Life is easy when you’re up on the mountain
And you’ve got peace of mind like you’ve never known.
But then things change and you’re down in the valley.
Don’t lose faith for you’re never alone.

For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley.
When things go wrong, He’ll make it right.
And the God of the good times
is still God in the bad times.
The God of the day is still God in the night.

You talk of faith when you’re up on the mountain.
Oh but the talk comes easy when life’s at its best.
But it’s down in the valley of trials and temptation
That’s when faith is really put to the test.

Watch the YouTube video here:

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