My List of the Ten Allegedly Haunted Places in the Philippines

Here’s a list of ten of the scariest places I have visited in the country. One is located in La Union (Pindangan Church Ruins), two in Baguio City (Hyatt Terraces Hotel and SM City Baguio) in Benguet, one in Pampanga (Clark Air Base), one in Mountain Province (Sagada), one off Cavite (Corregidor Island) and the rest in Metro Manila. Though I haven’t really experienced any paranormal activity in these sites, probably because I don’t have a third eye, many others have.

  • My wife Grace and I stayed in the 12-storey, 303 -room HYATT TERRACES HOTEL for three days in April 1986.   Located on a pine tree-clad hill along South Drive, near Camp John Hay, the Hyatt Terraces Hotel was said to be the grandest hotel outside Metro Manila. At 4:26 PM, on July 16, 1990, a little over 4 years after our stay, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Luzon, killing 1,621 people.  Again, I happened to be in the city, with my family and some relatives, on the day of the devastating 1990 Luzon Earthquake but were lucky enough to have left the city before lunch. In Baguio City, 28 buildings collapsed during the earthquake.  One of the most prominent buildings destroyed was the Hyatt Terraces Hotel when the central wing’s terraced front collapsed, like an accordion, onto the hotel lobby, killing 98 employees and guests. In the aftermath of that tragic earthquake, many of those listed as “missing” were never found and many say that there are still bodies in the debris of the hotel site and the spirits of these victims have never moved on. Its tragic history has surely contributed to its terrifying reputation.

Check out “Hyatt Terraces Hotel

Hyatt Terraces Hotel circa 1986

Today, its old fountain and a gated fence are all that remains of the still undeveloped site of the Hyatt Terraces. Now said to be haunted, strange lights and ghostly apparitions are said to have been seen around the empty lot.  There was once a bus stop in front of the gate and motorists, driving along South Drive, have told stories of strange apparitions of the spirits of dead employees there. Some passersby in the area at night have also heard cries for help and seen figures against the spotlight that illuminates the area. In fact, for those driving along South Drive, the directed procedure is to honk your horn when passing beside the former Hyatt location, lest they run over a spirit crossing the street. Aromatic smells, coming out of nowhere, are also consistently reported.

  • SM CITY BAGUIO (a favorite shopping venue of mine while in the city), opened in 2003, was erected on the site where the former 4-storey, wood-framed, 423-room Pines Hotel used to overlook Session Road. On October 23, 1984, at about 11:30 PM, a 6-hour blaze gutted this government-owned hotel. To escape the thick smoke and flames, most of the dead (17 were killed, including 4 Americans) and 46 injured leaped from windows of this American Colonial-style, hillside hotel while others were seen slipping from rescue ropes.

Check out “SM City Baguio

SM City Baguio

Today, mall visitors have reportedly seen faces in bathroom mirrors that would not be there a second later. One patron, in the ladies’ room, gave a photographic description of a bloodied fireman (The Baguio City Fire Department lost four firefighters in the blaze).

  • The MANILA FILM CENTER had its beginnings in 1981 when then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos started the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF). Slated to start on January 18, 1982, 4,000 laborers working, round the clock, in 3 shifts in the rush to complete the project  in time for the MIFF. Tragedy struck, on November 17, 1981, shortly before 3 AM, when scaffolding and wooden support for part of the second basement collapsed, causing at least 169 graveyard shift workers to fall to the orchestra below and be buried or trapped under wet, quick-drying cement.

Check out “The Urban Legend That is the Manila Film Center

Manila Film Center

Rather than halt construction to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of dead workmen, cement ordered to be poured into the orchestra, entombing the fallen workmen, some of them still alive. The MIFF was to last another year but, instead of quality films, pornographic films were shown in an effort to gain a larger audience and, perhaps, to make up for the first festival’s financial losses. Later, in 1984, I would watch the premiere of Tikoy Aguiluz’ startling, controversial but highly-acclaimed first full-length film “Boatman” (Ang Bangkero), in its uncut version, at this very venue. Today, it is the venue of the Amazing Show, a Las Vegas-like song and dance extravaganza  where all the performers are transgenders.

The place, said to be haunted as well as cursed, is incredibly spooky. Various ghostly manifestations were reported within the building on the site, including poltergeist activity, apparitions; mysterious hearing of cries and moans; bleeding walls; and hands sticking out from under doors. The ghosts of those who died are said to roam the area, looking for live bodies to possess and take over as their own.

  • The UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES Diliman Campus , where my wife  and I graduated (with a degree of B.S. Architecture) has had a long history of alleged haunting, with a lot of paranormal hot spots. The Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, at the second floor of Palma Hall, is the residence of a  ghost named “Marisa,”  said to be a famous star of the university’s theater productions back in the 1970s who was eventually overshadowed by younger, more talented newcomers. Overwhelmed by grief and jealousy, she killed herself, in the most dramatic way possible, by hanging herself onstage, in costume. She’s known for making her presence felt by haunting the stage, the rest room and her old dressing room, joining the chorus during performances and, sometimes, showing up onstage.

Benitez Hall

Benitez Hall, home to the College of Education and one of the oldest buildings on campus and, naturally, has gained the reputation as one of the most haunted. A ghost, with blood red eyes, is said to wanders the halls. Kalayaan Hall, a residence hall exclusively for freshmen, has a ghost of a woman who supposedly shows up in the mirror facing the stairs to the second floor of the girls’ wing.  Abelardo Hall, home of the College of Music, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl vocalizing, or playing the piano or the gamelan in the middle of the night.

Melchor Hall

The lights on the top floor of Melchor Hall, the College of Engineering Building, where our college was then housed (the college now has its own building), was, for some reason, never turned off, the reason being that, sometimes, the lights there inexplicably turn to red. Many of my classmates have also seen a “Lady in White” come in and out of the corridor walls

  • The PINDANGAN CHURCH RUINS, the picturesque, roofless remains of a small vine-covered brick and coral church (the first in City of San Fernando, La Union) which I visited way back in 2004, is located 500 m. off the National Highway, near Camp Oscar Florendo. The nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family are the caretakers of these church ruins.

Check out “Pindangan Church Ruins

Pindangan Church Ruins

It is said to be the home of the sole ghost of a headless stabbed priest who prowls the night, either carrying his severed head or searching for his head. Some have also reported hearing his head calling out for his body to find it. The wind here is known to whisper strange malediction to those that disrespect the location.  My picture of the site was featured in an episode of “Ang Pinaka: Scary Places in the Philippines,” aired during the 6:30 PM GMA News TV last October 22, Sunday.

  • The University of Santo Tomas, where my daughter Cheska graduated (with a degree of B.S. Medical Technology), served as an internment camp during the World War II.  Many prisoners died here of starvation and illness, and is reported by believers to be haunted. An alleged mass grave is located near the UST Museum.  One of the restroom cubicles in the Main Building is also haunted by a female student who hung herself.

Main Building of the University of Sto. Tomas

Other paranormal hot spots are the UST Hospital (haunted by a ghost wearing a red tag, which only corpses in the morgue section wear), St. Raymund’s Building (the comfort rooms on the first floor are haunted by the ghost of a girl was said to have committed suicide because she was bullied for her physical appearance), the Albertus Magnus Building (the Conservatory of Music where the piano is heard playing by itself) and Benavides Park (a.k.a. Lover’s Lane) where, at past midnight, students are greeted by a man wearing a Dominican habit who would later disappear (Sometimes, unfortunate couples hanging out in the park’s benches at night, have also heard a disembodied voice singing mass songs).

  • CLARK AIR BASE, being an American military installation, experienced major bombing from the Japanese during World War II. There are a number of reminders of that bloody past that still exist today and these locations are some of the most haunted in the Philippines.

Clark Museum

The area around the abandoned Clark Air Base Hospital has been rendered off limits to everyone as inhabitants have witnessed apparitions of violent spirits and heard mysterious voices.

Clark Cemetery

Early morning joggers have also reported hearing party music and excited talk coming from inside the obviously empty Home Plate canteen.  At the Clark Museum, the ghost of a serviceman who committed suicide by hanging himself still haunts the place.

Check out “Clark Museum

  • SAGADA, in Mountain Province, has an authentic culture dealing with death, free of Western influence. The caves of the town, in particular, are rumored to be site of ghostly mischief. According to the locals, whispery voices are heard and wayward shadows or apparitions are seen among the Hanging Coffins as well as graves up in the Echo Valley.

Hanging Coffins

The Igorots, however, generally say that if you show some respect and leave the coffins alone, you’ll make it out of the valley unscathed. At Sumaguing Cave, locals believe that the cave is haunted by the spirits of their ancestors.  I have explored this cave twice and, each time, I always felt an otherworldly feeling as I entered.

Check out “Back to Sumaging Cave

  • Historic CORREGIOR ISLAND, an island of history and heroism at the entrance of Manila Bay, has played a major role during World War II. Many Filipino and American soldiers died in its defense. During the liberation, the Japanese defenders here committed suicide via harakiri, jumping into the sea or blowing themselves up instead of capture or surrender. The ghosts of Corregidor’s World War II dead were also joined by Muslim soldiers who, in 1968,  were training in Corregidor for a  planned invasion of Sabah in Malaysia but were exterminated during the infamous March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre.

Hospital Ruins

At the Hospital Ruins, tourists who passed by have heard footsteps, rumblings of normal hospital activities, and wails of people.

One of the laterals of Malinta Tunnel. Notice the orbs?

Around the bunker area inside the Malinta Tunnel, shouts of people grimacing in pain can also be heard. Witnesses have also reported hearing eerie sounds and seeing a spirit near by. Manifestations would also appear in photos and videos. 

Check out “Ghost Hunting in Corregidor

  • In INTRAMUROS,  where the historical and the supernatural intersect, the possibility of ghost sightings in the oldest part of Manila is real. It attracts ghosts and ghost hunters in search of kapres, white ladies, demonic spirits, and other entities. In the dying days of World War II, Japanese soldiers reportedly massacred men, women and children in Baluarte de Dilao.

Baluarte de San Diego

Baluarte de San Diego, known as the break-up park for being the site where many a relationship met their demise, is where a crying White Lady often makes appearances.

Manila Cathedral

The Aduana (Customs House) Building, which housed several government offices, is the most haunted building in Intramuros. Many people believe its demonic entities takes lives.  At Plaza Mexico, there have been sightings of reapers, or hooded figures who chase after wandering spirits. Many of the retail and commercial spaces along the wall of Puerta de Sta. Isabel have now been abandoned, supposedly because of numerous reports of hauntings. An ordinary-looking tree, along Arzobispo Street, has earned the gruesome nickname the Suicide Tree after a student, supposedly from Mapua Institute of Technology, killed herself by hanging.  Headless priests supposedly make regular appearances at the Manila Cathedral.

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago, where National Hero Jose Rizal was jailed, was used by the Japanese as a prison and torture chamber during World War II.  It is imprinted with the agony and sufferings of its many prisoners and is now also extremely haunted with ghosts of prisoners who drowned in its underground dungeons.

Check out “RevisitingFort Santiago

Church of the Immaculate Conception and Fort Culion (Culion, Palawan)

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

From the town proper, we all boarded tricycles to take us, up a high promontory, to the town’s magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception, originally built in 1746 by the Recollects.  It is located within the quadrilateral Fort Culion which was built in 1683 by Fr. Juan de Severo and renovated in 1740.

The church promontory

The church promontory

The fort was partially demolished in the 1930s by American Jesuit Fr. Hugh McNutty to build a larger church, with some of the fort’s original coral rock  used for the nave.  The church was completed in 1933.  Both the fort and church share the same main entrance.

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain

Royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain

The church’s 2-level Baroque facade has semicircular arched main entrance flanked by pilasters and topped by the royal seal of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The entrance, in turn, is flanked by niches with statues of angels.

The church's interior

The church’s interior

The second level has a centrally located niche with the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception flanked by semicircular arch windows.  Above is a segmental (half-moon) pediment with a centrally located oculus. On the church’s right is a bell tower.

Part of the remaining fort walls

Part of the remaining fort walls

The painted ceiling inside the church is obviously new, but before it was repainted, the original ceiling was painted in 1978 by leper patient Ben Amores, based on the design of Jesuit Fr. Javier Olazabal.  To do the paintings, the handicapped Amores, who had no hands, had brushes tied to his arms and was lifted up. In 2003, Jesuit Fr. Gabriel Gonzalez initiated the restoration and renovation of the church.

One of the fort's two remaining cannons

One of the fort’s two remaining cannons

Today, only a round bastion (turned into a lighthouse), with two carriage-less Spanish-era cannons (one I noticed had 1762A stamped on it, probably indicating the year it was cast), located behind the church sanctuary, and part of the wall are all that remains of Fort Culion.  Here, the view of the ocean and Culion town is spectacular.

Our media group at the fort's remaining round bastion

Our media group at the fort’s remaining round bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

View of the town and sea from the bastion

Culion Tourism Office:  mobile number: (0921) 394-7106 (Pastor Hermie Villanueva). E-mail: herme_1670@yahoo.com.ph.

How to Get There: Culion is a 1.5 to 2-hour motorized outrigger boat ride from Coron town.

How to Get to Coron: Skyjet Airlines has 4 times weekly (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 10:30 AM) flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Coron (Francisco Reyes Airport).  Travel time is 30 mins.   

Asia Grand View Hotel: Governor’s Ave., Jolo, Brgy. 5, Coron, Palawan.  Tel:(+632) 788-3385. Mobile number: (0999) 881-7848. E-mail: gsd@asiagrandview.com. Manila sales office: Unit 504, Richmonde Plaza, 21 San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Tel: (+632) 695-3078 and 531-8380.  Mobile number: (0917) 550-7373 to 75 Fax: (+632) 695-3078.  E-mail: info@asiagrandview.com. Website: www.asiagrandview.com. 

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

Sighnaghi: City of Love (Georgia)

After our short stopover at the venerated Bodbe Monastery, we continued on our GNTA-sponsored tour, proceeding on a short 2-km. drive to the town center of Sighnaghi.  We arrived at the town by 11:30 AM and alighted at a park with a monument to Georgian philosopher, journalist, historian and native son Solomon Dodashvili (May 17, 1805 – August 20, 1836).

Postcard-pretty Sighnaghi

Postcard-pretty Sighnaghi (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Other famous sons of the town include composer Vano Sarajishvili, political figure Sandro Mirianashvili and world-renowned primitivist painter Niko Pirosmani. We were to have lunch at Pheasant’s Tears but, as we still had some time to spare, our Georgian guide  Sopho Makashvili took us on a walking tour around the town.

Monument to native son Solomon Dogashvili

Monument to native son Solomon Dogashvili (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Sighnaghi, located in Georgia’s easternmost region of Kakheti, is the administrative center of the Sighnaghi district and one of the country’s smallest (2.978 km²) towns (2002 population: 2,146).  One of Georgia’s leading trading centers in the 19th century,  Sighnaghi’s economy is dominated by the production of wine, leather, gobelin tapestry, woodcarving, metal craft, ceramics, traditional carpets and traditional food.

Uniquely designed terrace architecture of the town

Uniquely designed terrace architecture of the town

The town and its environs, also known for their landscapes and historical monuments, has recently undergone a fundamental reconstruction and has become an important part of the Georgian tourism industry (it is now known as the “City of Love”).  The town is also the jump-off point for exploring the lush vineyards of Kakheti, the cradle of wine (Georgia boasts of 500 varieties of grapes, more than anywhere else in the world).

The author exploring part of Sighnaghi's defensive wall and towers

Exploring part of Sighnaghi’s defensive wall and towers (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

The town was developed in the early 18th century by the king Erekle II (Heraclius II) as a refuge for the population against Lezgin and Persian attack, hence the name sighnaghi which comes from the Azeri word signak meaning “shelter.” In 1762, he sponsored the construction of the town and erected a fortress to defend the area from marauding attacks by Dagestan tribesmen.  The 4.5 m. high, 1.5 m. wide and 4.5 km. long city wall, one of the biggest in Georgia, has 23 towers, each named after local villages the town is surrounded by, and 6 entrances.

Our guide Sopho Makashvili, Riva Galvezltan, the author and Consul Buddy Cunanan

Our guide Sopho Makashvili, Riva Galvezltan, the author and Consul Buddy Cunanan (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

Sopho showed us, from afar, the section of the city’s defensive wall that has been restored for tourism and we climbed one of the towers for a panoramic view of the town.  Walking along the town’s narrow cobblestone streets, I was also enthralled by the uniquely designed terrace architecture of the 2 to 3-storey tiled-roof houses of Sighnaghi, the majority of which still date back from 17th, 18th and 19th century.  Built with fine Georgian brick, they were built to accommodate a variety of stores and workshops, above which are wooden, lacy balconies and bow-backed windows.  The town also has a beautiful fountain.

A beautiful fountain

A beautiful fountain

Consul Buddy Cunanan and I also observed a number of Georgian men playing nardi (backgammon). Popular in Georgia, men, women, children and the elderly all know how to play it, and just about every family owns a backgammon set. They say that life in Georgia is like a game of backgammon – people tend to approach life like a game of chance.

Georgian men playing backgammon in the open

Georgian men playing nardi (backgammon) in the open (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

We also visited the town’s market, near the town hall, where fresh fruits and vegetables, locally made Georgian red (saperavi) and white wine and the clear and strong chacha (Georgian pomace brandy); natural honey; churchkhela (the traditional type of Georgian candy from the Caucasus region also referred to as the Georgian “Snickers”) and cheeses.  Buddy and I each tried out a glass of Georgian wine.

An array of products sold at the market

An array of products sold at the market (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

There are also Georgian spice and spice mixes such as khmeli suneli (a powdered herb/spice mixture), adjika (a spicy paste or sauce seasoned with hot chili peppers) and pilpili (pepper) plus a picturesque array of knitted goods (Georgian socks with traditional patterns, local wool, hats, scarves, slippers, baby booties, etc.) for sale at cheap prices.

The town hall with its distinctive clock tower

The town hall with its distinctive clock tower

Georgia National Tourism Administration: 4, Sanapiro St, 0105, Tbilisi, Georgia. Tel: +995 32 43 69 99. E-mail: info@gnta.ge. Website: www.georgia.travel; www.gnta.ge.

Qatar Airways has daily flights from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (Clark, Pampanga) to Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with stopovers at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar, 15 hrs.) and Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 hr.). Website: www.qatarairways.com.

Ananuri Fortress (Georgia)

(All photos courtesy of Ms. Riva Galveztan)

We started Day Two of our GNTA-sponsored tour of the Georgian countryside by traveling 157 kms. to the northeastern Georgian town of Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi).  To get there, we would travel along the Georgian Military Highway.  This historic mountain road that crosses the Greater Caucasus Mountains, connecting Tbilisi in Georgia with the Russian town of  Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia, passes through narrow gorges squeezed between colossal mountains, making for some amazing views.

The amazingly scenic Ananuri Fortress

The amazingly scenic Ananuri Fortress

On one of the turns along the highway, about 72 kms. (45 miles) and an hour away out of Tbilisi, we made a stopover at the scenic Ananuri Fortress which stands spectacularly on a promontory above the large, 11.5 sq. km., azure-blue Zhinvali water reservoir on the Aragvi River, an important water supply for Tbilisi formed after the construction of the Zhinvali Dam.

The Zhinvali water reservoir

The Zhinvali water reservoir

To get to the castle, we had to make a short walk down a narrow road.  This castle complex, the seat of the redoubtable eristavis (dukes) of Aragvi, a feudal dynasty which ruled the area from the 13th century, was the scene of numerous battles as it guarded the way to the ancient capital of Dusheti and, centuries later, the main road linking Georgia with Russia, serving as a garrison for Russian troops.

The crenellated curtain wall

The crenellated curtain wall

Zurab Aragveli, a ruthless local prince known for attacking neighboring mountain clans and even blinding his own brother, was responsible for building much of what is now seen. In 1739, the fortress was attacked and set on fire by forces commanded by Shanshe, the duke of  the rival duchy of Ksani, and the Aragvi clan was massacred. The usurpers, in turn, were killed 4 years later when local peasants revolted against their rule.

One of the fort's towers

One of the fort’s towers

King Teimuraz II was invited to rule directly over them but, in 1746, the king was forced to suppress, with the help of King Erekle II of Kakheti, another peasant uprising. The fortress remained in use until the beginning of the 19th century. In 2007, the complex was placed on the tentative list for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Site program.

Interior of one of the towers

Interior of one of the round towers

The late-feudal Georgian fortress complex, incorporating a circuit wall with turrets, porch, churches, a spring, a reservoir and a Svanetian tower with a stepped pyramidal roof, consists of 2 fortifications joined by a crenellated curtain wall. The well-preserved upper fortification, with a large square tower (known as Sheupovari), is the location of the last defense of the Aragvi against Shanshe.

The Church of the Assumption

The Church of the Assumption

The lower fortification, with a round tower, is mostly in ruins.  Within the complex are two churches. The brick Church of the Virgin, the older of the two, dates from the first half of the 17th century. Abutting a tall square tower, it has the graves of some of the Dukes of Aragvi. Its interior, no longer decorated, has a stone baldaquin erected by the widow of Duke Edishera, who prematurely died in 1674 without giving her a child.

The tall, narrow watchtower adjacent to the west wall of the church

The tall, narrow watchtower adjacent to the west wall of the church

We were to visit the upper fortification.  Three of the upper fortification’s five massive towers, including the largest Sheupovari Tower, face the Georgian Military Highway. We all entered the complex to the right of the fortification, from the middle of the southern wall. As we entered the fortress, we faced the Church of the Assumption (Ghvtismshobeli), the main domed cathedral and the larger of the two churches.

Grapevine cross carved on the south façade of the church

Grapevine cross carved on the south façade of the church

Georgian script carved on the south facade of the church

Georgian script carved on the south facade of the church

The church, built in 1689 for the son of Duke Bardzem and designed by architect: K. Bakhsarashvili, has a central dome and its earliest pyramidal tower is located by its western wall.  It is interesting to explore from the outside as it has a richly decorated façade with some very well-preserved bas-reliefs featuring human, animal and floral images.  The north entrance has Georgian script carved on the walls while the south façade has a carved grapevine cross. Adjacent to the west wall of the church is a tall, narrow watch tower dating from the 13th or 14th century.

The church's modest interior

The church’s modest interior

The central dome of the church

The central dome of the church

Inside its modest interior, we could still see the remains of a number of frescoes, most of which were destroyed by a fire in the 18th century.  Among the scenes depicted are the famous Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, prominent ecclesiastical figures which represent convincing evidence for the study of the iconography of these figures. We also saw people lighting candles (bought from the kiosk on the left hand side as you enter the church) and placing them underneath paintings and icons of saints.  Along the church’s east wall are several tombstones.

Fresco of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers

Fresco of the Thirteen  Assyrian Fathers

Too bad we didn’t have time to climb its towers.  This fortified ensemble truly was photogenic, thanks to its wonderful location overlooking the Zhinvali Reservoir, as well historically significant, thanks to centuries of royal rivalry. Indeed this true castle, the first one I ever visited, is about as medieval as one can get and was well worth a visit.

Melissa, Sopho and Consul Cunanan

Melissa, Sopho and Consul Cunanan

Ananuri Fortress: Georgian Military Highway, Ananuri. Open daily, 9 AM – 7 PM. Admission is free.

Georgia National Tourism Administration: 4, Sanapiro St, 0105, Tbilisi, Georgia. Tel: +995 32 43 69 99. E-mail: info@gnta.ge. Website: www.georgia.travel; www.gnta.ge.

Qatar Airways has daily flights from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (Clark, Pampanga) to Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with stopovers at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar, 15 hrs.) and Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 hr.). Website: www.qatarairways.com.

Khertvisi Fortress (Aspindza, Georgia)

After our day tour of the cave city of Vardzia, Ruby, Riva and I made our way back, via our hired taxi, to Akhaltsikhe where we will take another marshrutka back to Borjomi.  About 16 kms. before the town, we made a short stopover at the great fortress of Khertvisi, one of the biggest and oldest fortresses in Georgia.

Khertvisi Fortress, one of the biggest and oldest fortresses in Georgia

Khertvisi Fortress, one of the biggest and oldest fortresses in Georgia

Functional throughout the Georgian feudal period, the fortress was first built in the 2nd century B.C.. The church was built in 985 AD and the present 1.5 m. thick and 20 m. high walls were built in 1354. According to legend, Khertvisi was destroyed by Alexander the Great. According to another legend, a master stonemason and an apprentice entered a competition held by Queen Tamar to see who could build the best tower. The apprentice won and the dejected master stonemason jumped from one of the towers and died impaled on the knife in his belt.

The present 1.5 m. thick and 20 m. high walls

The present 1.5 m. thick and 20 m. high walls

From the 10th to 11th centuries, it was the center of  Meskheti  region and, during the 12th century, it became a town. In the 13th century, it was destroyed by the Mongols and, until the 15th century, it lost its power. In the 15th century, it was owned by Meskheti landlords from the Jakeli family. In the 16th century, the southern region of Georgia was invaded by the Turks and the fortress was captured in 1578 and held for the next 3 centuries.

Tower (2)

One of the fortress’ bastions

Khertvisi Fortress

At the end of the 19th century, after the Russo-Turkish War, the Georgian and Russian army returned the lost territories and Khertvisi became the military base for Russian and Georgian troops. Its strategic location guards the road connecting the towns of Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe. Three roads intersect here – one to Turkey, the second to the sea and the third to Tbilisi.

Tower (1)

One of the fortress’ four towers

Tower (3)

A square tower

The 150 m long and 30 m. wide fortress, at a narrow canyon at the confluence of the  Mtkvari and Paravani Rivers, is situated high up on a rocky outcrop and, as such, we could only admire it from below.  If we had a little more time and our taxi driver would allow it, we could have walked up on a little path that begins from the road to the fortress.  The fortress is empty though, save for a little chapel, and could be explored in 15 mins..

Ruby, Riva and the author

Ruby, Riva and the author

Khertvisi Fortress: Khertvisi, Aspindza 0500, Georgia.

Narikala Fortress (Tbilisi, Georgia)

Once settled in at my room in Envoy Tours Hostel, I decided to do my first exploration of Old Tblisi.  I was joined by Ruby Bebita, a resident Pinay expat who spoke passable Georgian and, after 3 months in the country, already knows her way around the city.  She suggested we explore nearby Narikala Fortress which is clearly visible above our hostel.  It was still drizzling when we left.

Narikala Fortress

Narikala Fortress

To get there, we walked to nearby Rike Park where we took a plexi-glass cable car (open 11 AM-11 PM, fare: 1 GEL/pax) up the steep hill.  Called the Aerial Tramway, it was just reopened last January 2013 after 13 years of reconstruction. Ruby used her Metro Card (Metromoney) to pay the fare. Entrance to the fortress is free.

Aerial Tramway at Rike Park

Aerial Tramway at Rike Park

This ancient fortress, overlooking Tbilisi and the Kura River, between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi, consists of 2 walled sections.  It was established in the 4th century as the Shuris-tsikhe (“Invidious Fort”) and was considerably expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century and, later, by King David the Builder (1089–1125). The Mongols renamed it Narin Qala (“Little Fortress”). Most of its extant fortifications date from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1827, parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake and demolished.

Aerial view of the city (1)

Panoramic views of the city

Panoramic views of the city

Once on top, I beheld a beautiful view of the city spread out before us, with the Mtkvari River cutting through its middle, making for very frame-worthy photography.  Ruby pointed out the notable sites, both old and new, visible from this vantage point – Tiflis Baths, the Metekhi Church, the equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, the Bridge of Peace over Kura River, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (Sameba) and the mushroom-shaped Tbilisi Public Service Hall. It was truly a photographer’s delight.

The statue of Kartlis Deda (“Mother of Georgia”)

The statue of Kartlis Deda (“Mother of Georgia”)

Aside from the fortess walls, there are two notable structures within the fortress – the Church of St. Nicolas and the statue of Kartlis Deda (“Mother of Georgia”). The recently restored St Nicholas church, on the lower court, replaced the original 13th century church that was destroyed during a fire. Built from 1996 to 1997, the new church is of “prescribed cross” type, with doors on three sides.  Too bad the church doors were closed as its interiors are decorated with frescos showing scenes both from the Bible and the history of Georgia.

St. Nicolas Church

St. Nicolas Church

The statue of Kartlis Deda, on the top of Sololaki Hill, was erected in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1,500th anniversary. This 23 m. high, aluminum figure of a woman in Georgian national dress, designed by prominent Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli, symbolizes the Georgian national character.  On her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends and, in her right hand, is a sword for those who come as enemies.

The author and Ruby

The author and Ruby

After our tour around the fortress, we decided to forego returning via cable car and, instead, walk down the winding road from Narikala Fortress to Old Tbilisi, a rewarding experience in itself.   It’s quite a tricky walk, on wet stoned paths and stairs, but we were wearing comfortable footwear.

Narikala Fortress beautifully lit at night

Narikala Fortress beautifully lit at night (photo: Ms. Riva Galveztan)

During the day, the fortress exudes a spirit of impregnable character, dignity and endurance and, during the night (when it is beautifully lit), it radiates a sense of inner silence and peace, truly a testament to the world that Tbilisi is a lovely city filled with a rich and historic past.

Qatar Airways has daily flights from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (Clark, Pampanga) to Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with stopovers at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar, 15 hrs.) and Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 hr.). Website: www.qatarairways.com.

Oslob Town Proper (Cebu)

From Tumalog Falls, we again boarded our airconditioned van for the short trip to the town proper of Oslob.  Within its Municipal Heritage Park are a number of Spanish-era structures and at the center of it all is the town’s massive Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Conception).

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

The church was designed by Bishop Santos Gomez de Marañon (the same prelate who built the kiosk of Magellan’s Cross in Cebu City) to replace the destroyed church at Daanglungsod (Boloc-Boloc).  It cornerstone was laid by Fr. Julian Bermejo on May 4, 1830. Townspeople from neighboring Tañon (now Santander) and Ivisan (now Nueva Caceres, Oslob) helped in its construction. The church was finished in 18 years and blessed by Bishop Romualdo Ximeno in 1847.

The church's historical plaque

The church’s historical plaque

The church's modern interior

The church’s modern interior

The bell tower on the church’s left was built by Fr. Apolinar Alvarez in 1858 and Fr. Gregorio de Santiago Vela installed 11 bells at the fifth storey in 1894.  The bells were transferred to the fourth storey when the fifth was destroyed during a strong typhoon.  The bell tower was later repaired by Fr. Mauricio Alvarez (who also built the cemetery, municipal tribunal and the municipal church and made known the medicinal uses of the sulfuric waters of Mainit springs).

The still unrestored, roofless convent

The still unrestored, roofless convent

The convent on the right was started by Fr. Julian Bermejo. The church was finished and reinforced with solid buttresses from 1848 to 1850 by Fr. Juan Jose Aragones, Oslob’s first parish priest (1848–1854 and 1859–1861) and later Bishop of Nueva Segovia.  It was renovated by Fr. Constantino Batoctoy in 1977. The roof, made of tejas sourced out and baked locally at a place now known as Lulukhan, were replaced with corrugated iron sheets by Fr. Pablo Alaxa in 1932.  The church was totally burned by Cebuano guerillas in 1942 and, later on, the vault and dome fell.  In 1954, the wooden flooring of the church was replaced with baldoza tiles.

The now 4-storey bell tower

The now 4-storey bell tower

Fire of unknown origin gutted the complex on November 7, 1955 leaving only the masonry walls of both buildings.  It was restored, with the cooperation of the townspeople, by Fr. Benedicto Zapra and completed in 1980 by Fr. Constantino Batoctoy in time for the sesquicentennial celebration of the original church’s construction (1830 to 1980).  A 2.5-hour (1:40-4 AM) fire again hit the church and adjacent convent on March 26, 2008 but spared the icon of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, which is inside a glass case, and the 73 other icons near the door to the bell tower.  The church was complete restored on December 10, 2010.

The church gate

The church gate

The church is 64 m. long, 15 m. wide, 9 m. high and has a simple, sober but attractive facade with a semicircular arched main entrance, rectangular widows, half-embedded pilasters and a triangular pediment.  The 4-storey, 30 m. high and octagonal bell tower has rectangular and semicircular arched windows alternating with blind ones. The dome is typically Neo-Classic.

A garita (guardhouse)

A garita (guardhouse)

In front of the church is a prayer room, also known as a waiting chapel, built in 1847.  It was used as an isolation chamber for leprosy-afflicted patients. It has a pediment decorated with a relief of a human skeleton.

Calle de Aragones

Calle de Aragones

Calle de Aragones historical plaque

Calle de Aragones historical plaque

On the left side of the church is Calle de Aragones, the town’s oldest street, built in 1879.  It was named after Fr. Juan Jose Aragones.  At the end of the street, at the intersection of Calle Aeternidad, is the unique, unfinished cuartel.

The unfinished coral stone cuartel

The unfinished coral stone cuartel

The cuartel's double row of arches

The cuartel’s double row of arches

The construction of this barracks for the Guardia Civil was started by el gran maestro Don Marcos Sabandal but was halted with the arrival of the Americans in 1899.  The coral stones used in its construction of its 19 cm. thick walls came from the remnants of the floor of the collapsed church bell tower.  Its façade features a double row of arches.

The interior of the cuartel

The interior of the cuartel

Historical plaque of cuartel

Historical plaque of cuartel

The thick coral stone walls and gates surrounding the church complex, called paril, are topped by a series of inverted, cone-shaped stones.  They were built in 1875 as a defense against raiding Muslim pirates.

The church walls and gates

The church walls and gates

Historical plaque of church walls and gates

Historical plaque of church walls and gates

Along Calle Eternidad, parallel to the coast, is a baluarte (a watchtower locally called lantawan), one of 7 built by the warrior-priest Fr. Julian Bermejo, parish priest of Boljo-on.  Hexagonal in plan and occupying an area of 48 sq. m., it has massive 7 m. high crenellated walls.  Only about a half of the watchtower remains. In 1813, this baluarte, as well as the other watchtowers, helped Fr. Bermejo and the townspeople of Oslob repel Moro slave raiders led by Sultan Goranding during a naval battle near the waters off Sumilon Island. Sultan Goranding was captured during the battle.

Baluarte (watchtower)

Baluarte (watchtower)

Historical plaque of baluarte

Historical plaque of baluarte

How to Get There: Oslob is located 117 kms. (a 3-hr. drive) south of Cebu City.

Pamilacan Island (Baclayon, Bohol)

Pamilacan Island

Pamilacan Island

It was now Day 2 of our 3-day media familiarization tour of Bohol.  After a very early breakfast at Panglao Bluewater Resort, we were slated to do some dolphin watching off Pamilacan Island, followed by lunch at Balicasag Island.  The tide was still low and our large motorized outrigger boat was anchored some distance off.  To get on board her, we took turns riding a tandem kayak until all were on board.  The sun was already up in the sky when we got underway.

On our way

On our way

The island’s name was derived from the word meaning “nesting place of manta rays.”  However, it has also been interpreted to to have been derived from the word pamilac, a harpoon (large hooked implement) used to capture manta rays, dolphins, whale sharks and Bryde’s whales. Under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Baclayon, it is situated 14 kms. (8.7 mi) south of the Bohol mainland.

Our spotter scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales

Our spotter scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales

The waters around the island are home to at least 11 species of dolphins and whales, including the playful Spinner Dolphins, Bryde’s whales and the gigantic Sperm Whale. Blue Whales are sometimes seen in the early months of the year. The whale watching season begins in March until the onset of the rainy season in June or July.

Soon to make landfall

Soon to make landfall

The 15 to 20 m. long boat we rode on was possibly a former canter, a boat formerly used for whale hunting.  These have been refitted with seats and roofing for a comfortable ride for 7 to 10 passengers who want to go whale or dolphin watching.  A skilled, elderly spotter, who is also an excellent guide, soon took his place at our boat’s bow, scanning the horizon for any whales or dolphins. Resident dolphins and small whales can be found all year round but sightings are dependent on weather and sea conditions.  Just like my first try in 2003, we were unlucky to find any of them.

The island's immaculately white sand beach

Footprints along the island’s immaculately white sand beach

We made landfall at the island’s beautiful white sand beach located on its northwest side.  Upon landing, we were welcomed by members of the island’s small and closely knit fishing community which has around 200 families living in 3 sitios – one facing Baclayon, another amid an island and a third on the southern coast.  Their main livelihoods now concentrate on dolphin and whale watching tours and subsistence fishing. In the past, it also included whale, dolphin and manta ray hunting. However, with the strict enforcement of marine life preservation laws in the country, this practice was stopped. Their houses, though, are still adorned with jaws and bones of these marine mammals.

The island's barangay

The island’s barangay

When we arrived, a table (with red tablecloth) and chairs were set up under a shady palm tree, beside some picnic sheds.  A merienda of sliced camote (sweet potatoes), either steamed, caramelized or fried, plus rice cakes and corn coffee were prepared for us. The latter looked and tasted like your good old caffeinated coffee but is said to be healthier.

A merienda of camote, rice cake and corn coffee

A merienda of camote, rice cake and corn coffee

After this filling repast, I together with Czarina, Euden, Joy, Kathleen and Lara went on a snorkeling tour on 3 small boats, each with a local boatman who paddled for us.  Czarina joined me on one boat.  The island’s wide flat reef, now a marine sanctuary, offers good snorkelling and diving (it has some great dive sites such as Dakit-Dakit).

Dining al fresco along the beach

Dining al fresco along the beach

After some great snorkeling over coral gardens, we returned to shore early as Czarina wasn’t feeling good.  Back on dry land, I explored the nearby Spanish-era fort which, in the past, served as a watch station for pirates, intruders and other enemies. Triangular in shape and probably constructed in the 19th century, it was made with rubble while cut coral blocks lined its portal and windows. The three corners of the structure were supported by round buttresses.

The triangular, Spanish-era fort

The triangular, Spanish-era fort

Another view of the fort

Another view of the fort

Inside are embedded trusses and a triangular pillar in the middle, indication that the fort may have had a second floor, probably made of wood. A large hardwood cross, with an 18oos date carved on it, once stood near the fort but is now housed in a nearby modern chapel. The fort was said to have formed a network with the towns of Baclayon, Loay and Tagbilaran.

View of the fort from another angle

View of the fort from another angle

The ladies were already back from their snorkeling trip when I returned.  Soon enough, we were back on board our boat for the second half of our island hopping expedition – Balicasag Island.  The waters were already choppy when we left and our boat had to travel slowly as the waves kept pounding the boat.  Soon a number of us (including me), especially the already ill Czarina, were already feeling seasick and, since our destination was still a long way off and it was already way past noontime, it was decided to just return to our resort.  Anyway, I have been to Balicasag Island 11 years ago, going around it on foot and snorkeling its coral gardens.  However, I felt sorry for those who haven’t been there. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

The triangular pillar in the middle of the fort

The triangular pillar in the middle of the fort

How to Get There: Pamilacan Island is located about 20 kms. southeast of Tagbilaran City, 23 kms. east of Balicasag Island and 11 kms. (a 45-min. pumpboat ride) offshore from the town. Pumpboats can be hired at Baclayon port.

A Family Trip to Corregidor

For the fifth time around I was again traveling back to historic Corregidor Island but, this time, I was traveling with my loved ones – my wife Grace, my son Jandy, my daughter Cheska, my 1 year old grandson Kyle and Cheska’s fiancée Marve. With an overnight stay at Corregidor Inn included in our package, it was going to be a true family outing.

My family at Battery Way

My family at Battery Way

Exploring Battery Hearn

Exploring Battery Hearn

This was to be Grace and Jandy’s second visit to Corregidor and the first for the rest. It being a long weekend, the 150-pax, airconditioned MV Sun Cruiser II was fully booked, with chance passengers waiting on the sidelines. We left the Sun Cruises Terminal a little past 8 AM and, after a 26-km. journey, arrived on the island in a little over an hour.

Author at ruins of Middleside Barracks

Author at ruins of Middleside Barracks

Our tranvia (pre-war-styled street cars) tour bus No. 5 awaited us upon our arrival at North Dock. Our guided tour again consisted of short stopovers at Battery Way (four 12” mortars capable of firing in any direction), Battery Hearns (a 12” seacoast gun), ruins of Middleside and “Mile Long” Barracks, the Spanish Lighthouse (where Grace, Marve, Cheska and Jandy climbed to the top), the famous flagpole and the Pacific War Memorial (with its museum and steel wing-shaped “Eternal Flame” sculpture).

Cheska and Marve at Malinta Tunnel

Cheska and Marve at Malinta Tunnel

Kyle and Grace at South Beach

Kyle and Grace at South Beach

Marve, Cheska and Jandy availed of the optional, 30-min., vividly-staged  light and sound show called the “Malinta Experience” (PhP200/pax), a re-enactment of dramatic World War II events.  As they started the show from the east entrance, while Grace, Kyle and I were driven to South Beach where Kyle frolicked on the gray sand.  Back in our bus, we met up with the others at the tunnel’s west entrance.  This culminated our island tour.

Author at the Pacific War Memorial

Author at the Pacific War Memorial

Jandy at the Memorial altar

Jandy at the Memorial altar

Cheska, Kyle, Marve and Jandy at the Eternal Flame

Cheska, Kyle, Marve and Jandy at the Eternal Flame

Finally, we were driven to the 31-room Corregidor Inn where a filling buffet lunch awaited us at La Playa Restaurant.  We were allowed to check into our suite by 2 PM and, as I climbed the stairs, I noticed framed copied of 2 of my Business Mirror articles (“Adventure Island” and “Adventour Challenge: Corregidor’s Amazing Race”) hung by the stair landing.  Quite flattering to say the least.  I hope to add a third with this visit.

Adventure Island

Adventure Island

Adventour Challenge: Corregidor's Amazing Grace

Adventour Challenge: Corregidor’s Amazing Grace

The first time I stayed overnight at the inn, I checked in at an airconditioned standard twin room with bath (one of 30) but, this time around, we all stayed at the inn’s lone but more opulent and roomy airconditioned  suite located at the end of the hall, equally furnished with exquisite rattan furniture.  It too didn’t have cable TV but we didn’t mind as it allowed for more family bonding time.

The 31-room Corregidor Inn - the best in the island

The 31-room Corregidor Inn – the best in the island

The opulent suite

The opulent suite

Family bonding time at La Playa Restaurant

Family bonding time at La Playa Restaurant

Corregidor Inn: Signal Hill, Brgy. San Jose, Corregidor Island, Cavite.  Mobile number: (0917) 527-6350. E-mail: corregidor_inn@suncruises.com.ph.  Website: www.corregidorphilippines.com/corr_inn.html.
Sun Cruises, Inc. (SCI) – Reservation Office: CCP Terminal A, CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd., Manila.  Tel: (632) 831-8140 and (632) 834-6857 to 58.  Fax: (632) 834-1523.  E-mail: suncruises@magsaysay.com.ph.
Sun Cruises, Inc. (SCI) – Sales Office: 21/F,  Times Plaza Bldg., Ermita, Manila.  Tel: (632) 527-5555 local 4511 and 4512.  Fax: (632) 527-5555 local 4513.  E-mail: sales@suncruises.com.ph.

Bulusan: Eco-Tourism Haven (Sorsogon)

After our interview of AGAP-Bulusan, Inc. president Philip G. Bartilet at Lake Bulusan, Philip accompanied Bernard and I to the Bulusan municipal hall where we made a courtesy call on, and had lunch, with Mayor Michael G. Guysayko.  Like Philip, first term Mayor Guysayko is supportive of the environment conservation projects of AGAP-Bulusan, the rehabilitation of denuded forests and sustainable eco-tourism in the BVNP.

L-R: the author, Mayor Guysayko and Bernard

After lunch, Philip again accompanied us as we toured Bulusan town’s tourist attractions.  Our first stop was the town’s Church of St. James the Greater in Brgy. Central.  Located on a site called Punta Diamante (named after its diamond-shaped wall formation), it is dubbed the “Intramuros of Bulusan.”  Its walls were made of stacked up volcanic stones.

Punta Diamante

The church wasn’t old (erected around 1760, its Baroque facade was totally renovated in 1970) but the parish compound is enclosed by ramparts of the triangular, Spanish-era muralla (“stone fort”). Around the walls are burial niches and niches for santos (“saints“) while at one end is the equestrian statue of St. James the Greater and a wooden cross, above which is the statue of a standing Jesus Christ, with arms outstretched, on a pedestal.

A baluarte de piedra at Punta Diamante beside burial niches

Four baluartes de piedra (stone watchtowers”) can still be traced from the remaining walls near the shores of Brgys. Central, Dapdap and Mabuhay.  The church’s 4-storey bell tower (locally called kampanaryo), the largest of the 4 watchtowers, was believed to have been built in 1631 after the town was made an independent from Casiguran in 1630.  With 8 sides, the tower’s walls taper upwards in alternating piers. The ill-conceived 4th storey, housing the bells, is a totally inappropriate modern addition.

The church bell tower

From the town proper, we motored, 1 km. out of the town, along the Bulusan-Barcelona Rd., to the white sand Dancalan Beach in Brgy. Dancalan.  A popular swimming spot, the relatively shallow Dancalan Beach is lined with beach resorts and kiosks beneath the coconut trees that provide shade for picnickers.

The white sand Dancalan Beach

We also passed by the Dr. Jose Reyes Ancestral House and, from the vantage point of a bridge, the Bulusan River.  The 12 km. river, formed by the merging of the Dulipay and Malinang Rivers, and the Malugoy-lugoy Rivers, is a potential nature trekking area.  From here, we proceeded on our way to Lake Bulusan where Bernard and I were to do some leisurely kayaking.

The Bulusan River