Calauit Safari Park (Busuanga, Palawan)

Calauit Safari Park

Part of the Sophia’s Garden Resort-sponsored tour

We all woke up 4 AM early in the morning as we were to slated to experience one of Coron’s as well as the country’s popular eco-tourism attractions – the 3,760-hectare Calauit Safari Park. Formerly known as Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, it would be the closest we would get to an African safari.

Check out “Calauit Island Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary

Malecachiao Pier

It was still raining when we all boarded our van (4:30 AM) for our 2-hour drive to Macalachao Pier in Salvacion, Busuanga, arriving there by 6:30 AM.  The pier has a souvenir shop selling really beautiful Calauit T-shirts. Here, we all had our packed breakfast before proceeding on our short, 10-minute motorized boat ride to Calauit Island.

Boat ride to Calauit Island

This would be my second visit to this island, the first happening nearly 25 years ago (February 25, 1995 to be exact) with my mother and sister Tellie.  We went there all the way by a motorized outrigger boat from Club Paradise Resort in Dimakya Island.

Calauit Island

Making landfall at Calauit Island

Located just off Busuanga Island’s northwestern coast, this park was established on August 21, 1976 by Presidential Proclamation 1578 issued by the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos and opened to tourists since 1985.  To transform it into a savanna, the island residents were relocated and its bamboo forests were cleared to provide a suitable environment for the animals.

Information Center

Park rates

Upon arrival, we were all requested to sign up on the registration area of the Information Center and, from here, we walked a short distance (the tour truck, the park’s safari vehicle, wasn’t available), accompanied by our local guide Orlando “Orlan” Cruz, to where the animals grazed.  It had stopped raining by then.

Briefing with guide Orlando “Orlan” Cruz (right)

At the time of my 1995 visit, the park still had 8 species of herbivores from northern Kenya (Africa) comprising 43 Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), 78 Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and 6 types of antelopes –  155 Impala (Aepyceros melampus), two Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii), 122 Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), 50 Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx), 14 Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela) and 16 Bushbucks (Tragelaphus sylvaticus).

A pair of Gervy’s Zebras

Since my first visit, the original individuals imported from Africa have all died, leaving behind only the offspring of the Reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, waterbucks and common elands (the Thompson gazelles, bushbucks  topis and impalas have all died because of infighting and poaching), which were all born in Calauit.

A small herd of Reticulated Giraffe

Of the remaining four species, we only spotted some the 24 zebras and the 32 giraffes (the 14 waterbucks and elands are shy and prefer to distance themselves from tourists).  The giraffes, captivating us with their magnificent colors, stood tall in full regal and charm while the zebras, with their black and white stripes, looked so classic.

Celine and Gabrielle bonding with a giraffe at the Feeding Station

The highlight of the tour was the Feeding Station.  Here, within an enclosed pen, we got to feed the giraffes with leaves from the bakawang gubat or malwandit (Carallia borneensis) provided by Orlan and got up close to them, something I wasn’t allowed to do during my first visit.

The author up close and personal with a giraffe

This was my first time close encounter with this graceful and beautiful animal, among the iconic and the tallest land animal in the world. The giraffes have names such as Isabel (the biggest giraffe of the lot), Miller, Terrence and Mylene, all named after their sponsors.

Calamian Deer

Though the giraffes and zebras are the crowd favorites, there were other animals in the sanctuary too. We also saw local, critically-endangered Calamian Deer (Hyelaphus calamianensis) grazing with the giraffes and zebras.

Palawan Bearded Pig

Philippine Porcupine

We also observed, in their pens, pools and cages in the mini zoo, the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) , the Philippine porcupine (Hystrix pumila) , freshwater turtles, reticulated python, leopard cats, the Palawan bearded pig (Sus ahoenobarbus) and the Philippine macaque.

The author besides a camouflage tree

There was also a tree they called the camouflage tree because it looks like the camouflage uniform of servicemen.

Philippine Freshwater Crocodile

Leopard Cat

Today, the park now faces a number of challenges. The number of workers in the park has dwindled from 300 to 30 dues to budget cuts. The former inhabitants (mostly from tribes of Tagbanwas) of the peninsula who were relocated decades ago are returning via the Balik-Calauit movement. Currently, The provincial government is still reaching out to settle the disputes between the locals and the authorities in the park.

A pair of freshwater turtles

Philippine Macaque

Reticulated Python

Calauit Safari Park: Brgy. Salvacion, Busuanga.  Mobile number: (0926) 114-4443 (Mr. Froilan Sariego – park manager). Admission: PhP200 (Filipinos) and PhP400 (foreigners).  Use of tour truck: PhP1,000/2 hours (divided by how many you are in the group, maximum capacity is 20 pax). Feeding time of the giraffes is from 7 -9:30 AM. The Calauit Office is closed on Saturdays and Sundays and all tours desired to be taken from Saturday to Monday mornings should be reserved by Friday afternoon. All reservations received later than Friday afternoon will be confirmed Monday morning at 10 AM.

Sophia’s Garden Resort: 5 Dinagpan Rd., Sitio Jolo, Brgy. Poblacion 5, Governor’s Dr., Coron, 5316 Palawan. Tel: (048) 723-1871.  Mobile numbers: (0917) 543-5775 and (0939) 915-0274. E-mail: sophiasgardenresort@gmail.com. Website: www.sophiasgardenresort.com. You can also follow them on Facebook: Sophia’s Garden Resort

Piazzale Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo

This large, partly pedestrianized Florentine piazza, located across the Arno River from the center of Florence, was designed by Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi,  known for his creation of boulevards around the center of Florence, part of the so-called Risanamento (“Rebirth”), a late nineteenth-century urban modernization project which also resulted in the creation of the Piazza della Repubblica.  Under the loggia, in the wall of the balcony, is an epigraph in capital letters referring to Poggi’s work, turned into his monument in 1911.

Bronze copy of Michelangelo's David (15)

Bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David (15)

The piazza was built in 1869 on a hill, 104 m. above sea level (and 60 m. above the level of the Arno River), just south of the historic center, during the redevelopment of Oltrarno, the left (South) bank of the Arno River, as part of major restructuring of the fourteenth-century city walls.  Dedicated to Michelangelo Buonarroti (the city’s most famous Renaissance sculptor), the square has bronze copies, set on a large pedestal, of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence – the famous David (seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia) and the Four Allegories (seen at the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo, it depicts day, night, dusk and dawn), brought up by nine pairs of oxen on June 25, 1873.

Two of the Four Allegories

Two of the Four Allegories

Poggi also designed the hillside building with loggia as a museum for Michelangelo’s works which, for some reason, was not realized as it was intended. Today, the building is now a restaurant. The loggia, designed by Poggi the in the Neo-Classical-style, dominates the whole sumptuous, typically 19th century terrace.

View of the city

View of the city

A popular spot, most of Piazzale Michelangelo is a parking lot filled with vendors and locals and tourists, dropped off by busses, who come here to enjoy and snap photos of the panoramic and unobstructed views of the Arno valley and the heart of Florence, from Forte Belvedere to Santa Croce, across the lungarni (riverside walks) and the bridges crossing the Arno, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello and the octagonal bell tower of the Badia Fiorentina. Beyond the city are the hills of Settignano and Fiesole.

The Arno River

The Arno River

Despite the overly touristy commercialism and its being crowded all year round, the piazza is still well worth a visit thanks to the magnificent views over the most important landmarks of Florence, with the Tuscan hills providing a scenic backdrop. The square is filled with a large number of market stalls selling souvenirs and snacks.

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

L-R: Cheska, the author, Kyle, Grace and Jandy

Kyle and Cheska

Kyle and Cheska

How to Get There:  From the city center, Piazzale Michelangelo can be reached by taking either bus 12 or 13 or the red, two-level sightseeing tour bus. On foot, from the Porta San Niccolò (a fourteenth-century city gate near the Arno River), it can also be reached by walking up the stairs or going up the steep winding path from Piazza Giuseppe Poggi (also known as the “Poggi Ramps”), found at the base of the hill upon which Piazzale Michelangelo sits. By car, it can be accessed along the tree-lined, 8 km. long Viale Michelangelo.

Sta. Fe Forest Park (Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya)

For the second time around, I was asked to cover the Kalanguya Festival (the first time was in March 15, 2003), now on its 20th year, in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, joining a media group consisting of two other print media representatives (Roel Hoang Manipon, Asst. Editor of The Daily Tribune, and Alexis B. Romero, reporter of The Philippine Star) and three staff from the Department of Tourism (Rolando “Rollie” Cagasca, Ramon “Mon” Rebulado and Gener Carlos).

San Jose City (Nueva Ecija)

San Jose City (Nueva Ecija)

We all left Manila by 7:15 AM and the 216.85-km. trip took all of 6 hrs., including a stopover for lunch at a Chowking branch in San Jose City (Nueva Ecija). We arrived at the town by 1:30 PM and were warmly welcomed by Mayor Liwayway C. “Liway” Caramat and Municipal Tourism Promotion & Development Officer Ma. Theresa Farrah C. Dugay.

Ms. Ma. Theresa Farrah C. Dugay and Mayor Caramat

Ms. Ma. Theresa Farrah C. Dugay and Mayor Caramat

After our courtesy call on Mayor Caramat, , we were checked in at cottages within the 2,200-hectare Santa Fe Forest Park, a reforestation project with Benguet pine and West Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni). The Grand Parade was to also start here and contingent members were billeted within buildings in the park.

Sta. Fe Forest Park

Sta. Fe Forest Park

Mahogany trees along the driveway

Mahogany trees along the driveway

The Santa Fe Forest Park was an erstwhile reforestation project of the DENR that commenced in the mid-1950s. It covers around 2,200 hectares of areas in Barangays Bacneng, Baliling Villa Flores and Poblacion. On September 22, 1997, the Sta. Fe Forest Park was established for nature-based tourism, covering about 1,000 hectares within the 11,664 ha Consuelo Reforestation Project.

Cottages

Cottages

Multi-Purpose Hall

Multi-Purpose Hall

P1230744

The DENR, through a Memorandum of Agreement, handed over the management of the reforestation project to the LGU of Sta. Fe, which eventually paved towards the development of the erstwhile project into a forest park.

Burnham Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

From Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I walked back to EGI Albergo de Ferroca Hotel, where we rested a while, then took a taxi for Burnham Park, the city’s foremost and oldest park that forms the heart of the city.  The ‘mother of all parks’ in the Summer Capital of the Philippines, it is almost as familiar to Filipinos as Luneta Park in Manila.

Burnham Park - green lung of Baguio City

Burnham Park – green lung of Baguio City

This 32.84-hectare urban park, located at the heart of Baguio City, was named after the American architect and urban planner, Daniel Hudson Burnham who simultaneously designed the park and the original plans for the city. Construction began around 1904. During the devastating earthquake on July 16, 1990, the park played an important role when it served as a place of refuge for the people of Baguio.

Daniel  Burnham Bust

The bust of Daniel H Burnham

Burnham Park, overlooking Mt. Kabuyao, covers the only large expanse of level ground within hilly surroundings and was originally intended to serve as a much-needed green lung for the bustling city by providing it with wide open green spaces and a peaceful environment. The modern park, although smaller than the original park due to urban development, still retains much of Daniel Burnham’s original design and layout a century ago.

Author at Burnham Park, April 3, 1986

Author at Burnham Park, April 3, 1986

Under Filipino administration, a number of features were added and now, in true Filipino fashion, Burnham Park is now more of an amusement park with boating, bicycle and skating areas, sports and gaming areas (football field,  tennis courts and basketball courts), plus a few restaurants and eateries that cater to park-goers. In the morning, residents jog around the lake or the children’s playground while groups do healthy exercise routines such as zumba, tae-bo and sometimes tai-chi.

Burnham Park

Baguio Blooms Exhibition And Exposition at Burnham Park

The centrally located and thickly-wooded Burnham Park has a man-made lake; lawns; wooded areas; paved flower-punctuated pathways, with seats and benches throughout;  and numerous flower beds planted with roses, marigolds, daisies and hollyhocks that thrive in the temperate environment of Burnham Park, an unusual sight considering that the Philippines is mostly tropical. During the June to September rainy season, the park is often shrouded in fog and takes on a misty atmosphere. Following the end of the rainy season, flowers bloom in abundance.

Football Field

Football Field

Burnham Park, a scenic venue for walking and photography, has 12 cluster areas: the man-made Burnham Lake, the Children’s Playground (at the western part), the circular Skating Rink (at the southern part), the Rose Garden (with a bust of Daniel Burnham), the Orchidarium (at the western part, with various plants, flowers and orchids on display and for sale), Igorot Garden, Melvin Jones Grand Stand and Football Field (at the eastern part), the Athletic Bowl, a Picnic Grove, Sunshine Park, the Japanese Peace Tower and a section called “Pine Trees of the World.”

Solibao Restaurant

Solibao Restaurant

The Melvin Jones Grandstand is used periodically for several activities such as parades, concerts and political rallies. On certain Sundays, cadets from the Philippine Military Academy practice silent drills and the occasional parade.  The park may be accessed from either Harrison Road, Kisad Road, Governor Pack Road and Magsaysay Road. Several stretch of roads around the park lead to Camp John Hay, a former recreational base of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines.

Typical fare at Solibao Restaurant

Typical fare at Solibao Restaurant

It being a long Chinese New Year weekend, the park was filled with lots of tourists and residents.  We checked out the Baguio Blooms Exhibition and Exposition, an activity of the 20th Panagbenga Festival along Lake Drive. It was already past noon and, since we had lunch yet, proceeded to nearby Solibao Restaurant where we dined on kare-kare, fried chicken, gising-gising and pinakbet and topping it off with a dessert Solibao Restaurant is famous for – puto bumbong (steamed glutinous rice with freshly grated coconut, brown muscovado sugar and melted butter).

Burnham Lake

Burnham Lake

After lunch, we then proceeded to romantic, photogenic and man-made Burnham Lake, the park’s focal point that is often referred to as Burnham Lagoon.  The lake was formerly a natural spring which drained northward to the foot of Session Rd. to join with the Balili River in La Trinidad. Here, we decided to rent (PhP150 for a 5-pax boat) a swan-themed rowboat for going around the lake and exercising our arm muscles.  They say that any visit to Baguio City wouldn’t be complete without trying this out.

Swan boats at Burnham Lake

Swan boats at Burnham Lake

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy at Burnham Lake

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy at Burnham Lake

Then it was off to the bicycle rink where kids and adults could rent a range of bicycles if they so wish. You can rent either single bikes (PhP40/hour), tandem bikes or even bikes with side cars (PhP50/hour). They even have small children’s’ bikes of both two and three wheel versions. It is pedestrian-friendly and you don’t need to worry about bumping a motorized vehicle. Albert, Almira, Melissa and Jandy alternately tried out single BMX bikes for an hour.

Biking for the very young, young  ...........

Biking for the very young, the young ………..

...... and not so young

…… and even the not so young

Burnham Park’s truly is the very heart of Baguio City and, to this day, it remains one of the Philippines’ most well known and best-loved parks, making it a vibrant center of activity for everyone to enjoy.

Jandy at the bike rink

Jandy at the bike rink

Burnham Park: Legarda-Burnham-Kisad, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

Mines View Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

After our visit to Wright Park and The Mansion, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I all took a taxi for Mines View Park,  an overlook park located on a land promontory  on the extreme northeastern outskirts of Baguio City, about 4 kms from downtown.  The park overlooks the mining town of Itogon.  One of the most popular and most visited parks in the city, it should not be missed when visiting Baguio.

Mines View Park

Mines View Park

In decades past, I have visited this park every time I was in the city with my parents and siblings during Christmas and, when I got married, with my own family.

Mines View Park, January 10, 1995.  9 year old Jandy and 5 year old Cheska with my wife Grace (standing at right)

Mines View Park, January 10, 1995. 9 year old Jandy and 5 year old Cheska with my wife Grace (right)

During the early 1960s and 1970s, the main attraction here was throwing coins from the uniquely shaped and still much photographed observation gazebo structure, down the mountain ridge, to little boys wearing g-strings who would run like crazy catching them or search for them, even through the rocks and small cracks of the ground below.

The park entrance

The park entrance

Later on, as residential communities started sprouting below the ridge, the children had to be more deft and creative in catching the coins, using homemade cups attached to long poles. This practice has been stopped due to the risk of accidents. Instead, a wishing well was built in memory of the Igorot kids who started this unique attraction in Baguio City.  Also back then, horses from the Wright Park Riding Circle and the Baguio Country Club were allowed to pass the area, allowing riders to actually get off there, have some snacks or do some quick souvenir shopping, get back on their horse and then head back downhill.

The much photographed gazebo

The much photographed gazebo

Jandy and Almira at the observation deck

Jandy and Almira at the observation deck

It being a long Chinese New Year holiday, there were many visitors when we arrived at the park. At the entrance to the park and at the open parking area at the vicinity of the park are souvenir stalls plus a number of canteens, snack stores and ambulant vendors selling food and beverages such as grilled dried squid, jumbo hotdogs on a stick, fried squidball and corn on a cob (or shredded in a cup).  Across it is Ibay Zion Plaza which sells silver jewelry made by the popular silver shop, Ibay.

The panoramic view of the Central Cordillera mountains

The panoramic view of the Central Cordillera mountains

One of the charming denizens in this really gigantic tourist trap is a popular, cute, cuddly and friendly but huge St. Bernard dog wearing sunglasses named “Doglas” who is available for picture-taking with tourists (PhP20.00). Other photo op gimmicks include having your picture taken riding a small, lazy, pink-maned (and tail) pony wearing a cowboy hat (PhP10 per shot), pose with or take pictures of (both for a fee) natives in Igorot attire (g-strings, vest and headdress for men, plus spear and shield, and tapis for women), or also rent the aforementioned native costumes and have your photo taken (with your own camera) for PhP10 per shot.

The somewhat disappointing view of creeping development

The somewhat disappointing view of creeping development

We all walked down the winding stone-covered stairway to the observation deck situated below. From the observation deck, we had a spectacular and breathtaking panoramic view of the abandoned gold and copper mines of the Benguet Corporation, the surrounding Central Cordillera mountains, a glimpse of the Amburayan Valley and the quite disappointing view of homes below. Here, you can rent a binocular (PhP10 for 5 mins.) for a better view. At the promontory, we sat down at benches to rest and enjoy the view.

Some pine-clad mountain slopes remain

Some pine-clad mountain slopes remain

Later on, we did some souvenir shopping.  The souvenirs stalls here have multiplied over the years.  They now extend to the sides of Gilbraltar Road and Outlook Drive and many are located closer to the ridge itself.  There were some good bargains at the stores and, before deciding to buy a particular item, we checked and compared prices. Stalls here sell native handicrafts such as wood carvings (including the iconic but obscene “barrel” man), locally-made silver products and jewelry (rings, pendants, bracelets, etc.), baskets, scarves, wallets, T-shirts, sweet preserves, tiger grass brooms, sweaters, peanut brittle, native bags, blankets, knitted bonnets and a variety of other items all similar to those found in the dry goods section of the Baguio City Market but only at a much smaller scale.The selections, though, are said to be better here.

Souvenir stalls

Souvenir stalls

For those who love gardening, a variety of plants and flowers such as bromeliads, mums, busy daisy, everlasting, money tree, cactus, and other succulents are also sold along the walkway.

Plants and flowers for sale along the walkway

Plants and flowers for sale along the walkway

On certain months of the year, plan your visits to the park d earlier during the day as the view may not be visible when the fog starts to move in during the afternoon.

Jandy, Almira, Melissa and Albert at Mines View Park

Jandy, Almira, Melissa and Albert at Mines View Park

How to Get There By private transportation: From MacDonald’s, Sesion Road, climb up and turn at Leonard Wood Road, passing iconic Baguio attractions such as Teachers Camp and Botanical Garden and the Pacdal Rotunda, then go straight up C. P. Romulo Drive, passing Wright Park Riding Circle and The Mansion. Climbing up, the road curves to the left to Outlook Drive.  Once you see Baguio Townhouse on the right, Mines View Park will be at the top.  Do not take the road going straight down to Itogon (Benguet).  A more direct route is to pass Gibraltar Road, to the left of Wright Park Riding Circle. Once you see the Good Shepherd Convent on your left, Mines View Park is just a few meters away. The winding stone-covered stairway leading to the observation deck By Public Transportation: Public utility jeepneys (PUJ), using the Plaza-Mines View line, are available along Mabini Street (10 to 20-min. ride). You can also hire a metered taxi to take you there.  Tou can also contract the taxi driver by the hour or for the day. For larger groups, it may be better to hire a jeepney instead.

Wright Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

After breakfast at EGI Albergo de Ferroca Hotel and Sunday mass at nearby St. Joseph Church, I decided to tour my guests Melissa Tinonas and her children Almira and Albert, all first timers in Baguio, around the city.  As our hotel was right across the Wright Park Riding Circle, it was only fitting that this would be the first place we visit and explore.

Wright Park Riding Circle

Wright Park Riding Circle

The Wright Park Riding Circle is located within the flat and wide triangle below Wright Park. Here, 200 horses are available for hire. Wright Park, one of the many scenic parks in Baguio City, is located at the eastern part of the city and fronts the main gate of The Mansion.

4 year old Jandy at Wright Park, July 15, 1900.  The next day, a destructive earthquake struck the city.

4 year old Jandy at Wright Park, July 15, 1990. The next day, a destructive earthquake struck the city.

Named after American Gov.-Gen. Luke E. Wright (1906-1909), the park’s horseback riding area is often referred to, by children, as “Ride Park” because of the horses.  After all, children have no idea who Luke E. Wright is. Although there are now other riding areas in the City of Pines, the Wright Park Riding Circle is still the most popular venue for horseback riding for visitors and locals alike.

Dressing up in Igorot attire

Dressing up in Igorot attire

It being a long and sunny Chinese New Year weekend, the place was crowded with residents and tourists.  I am no stranger to the park, having visited it during Christmas vacations with my parents and siblings and, when I got married, with my family.  In the 1970s, the hourly rates for horse rides back then was just Php5.  Four decades later, it was now PhP300 (PhP200 for half an  hour) an hour and another PhP300 for a guide to tour you around.

Princess for a day

Princess for a day

However, before the horseback riding, Melissa, Almira, Albert and my son Jandy decided to have their photos taken while dress up in full Cordillera regalia (PhP20 per pax) – vests and headdresses for the gents and ladies, shield and spear for the men (without the g-string or bahag) and tapis for the ladies.  We also tried our first taste of strawberry flavored taho.

Trying out strawberry-flavored taho

Trying out strawberry-flavored taho

Then, it was off to the horse riding field. The riding field has an inner circle (best for first-timers) for walking horses and an outer circle for the running horses for more experienced riders who want to make the horse trot or canter. Only the riders and the pony boys (usually the horse owner himself, or his assistant) are allowed within the Riding Circle. So the Riding Circle is NOT a park as only horses, pony boys and riders are allowed in the ring.  All experienced handlers, pony boys lead the horse, walk alongside it or ride behind the child for the latter’s protection and enjoyment of a faster ride. Parents and nannies (yayas) can only observe their kids from viewing decks and benches, documenting their kid’s ride with photos, using their camera’s zoom lens, and videos.

A horse of Wright Park

A horse of Wright Park

There were lots of horses to choose from. There were horses of different sizes and colors. Some horses wore their natural colors (brown, black, and white or mixed) while others wore artificial colors (pink, blue, yellow, etc). Most of the time, children choose the ones which are in pink or blue. I was surprised to see white ponies with a shock of pink hair (Melissa and Jandy chose to ride on this kind) or, sometimes, a brown one with a bright orange mane.

Jandy riding a pink-maned horse

Jandy riding a pink-maned horse

Pony Boys have noticed, in recent years, that children prefer white horses, thinking they’re nicer” or “gentler” (mas mabait) than the brown ones.  To make the white ones even more attractive to customers, the pony boys have taken to dying the horse’s mane (but  hardly ever their tails to match the manes), putting a little pink paper flower on their hair, giving them “bangs by cutting off a piece of the tail and attaching the extra hair to the bridle.

The stone stairway leading up to the Pool of Pines

The stone stairway leading up to the Pool of Pines

After the pony ride, we walked towards and climbed a wide stone stairway leading to the pine-forest preserve of Wright Park itself.  On the way up, we had wonderful views of the place, the horses and the people riding on them. At its end is a pergola-like stone structure or gazebo.

The concrete, pergola-like gazebo at the top

The concrete, pergola-like gazebo at the top

Igorots, dressed in their native attire and regalia, can be found here, willing to pose for a photograph … of course, for a fee of PhP10.  At stalls on the far side of the stairs, you can buy souvenirs such as woven products, key chains, T-shirts, peanut brittle, strawberry jams and a lot more. Beautiful and colorful plants are also displayed and sold here in affordable prices.

The Pool of Pines

The Pool of Pines

The park’s main feature is the beautiful and much photographed Pool of Pines, a 100-m. (328-ft.) long and narrow 5-m. (16.4-ft.) wide, shallow and elongated rectangular reflecting pool filled with lotus. Postcard-type photographs are usually taken here.

Melissa buying strawberries from a vendor

Melissa buying strawberries from a vendor

On the way to the pool, we noticed on the left, a photo booth with the sign “Forevermore” and “La Presa.” The fictional La Presa, in reality Sitio Pungayan of Tuba town, some 40 mins. away from Baguio City, is the location where most of the scenes from the popular ABS-CBN hit teleserye “Forevermore” (starring Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano) were shot. There you have it.  

The La Presa photo booth area

The La Presa photo booth area

It just so happened that Wright Park, together with Burnham Park and The Manor (which, in the series, is a hotel called Hotel Grande owned by the family of Gil’s character) were also featured in the series.

Frolicking among the tall pine trees

Frolicking among the tall pine trees

Here, fans get to dress up in native attire and pose for PhP5.At the Pool of Pines, we walked along a walkway lined, on both sides, with tall pine trees, weeping willow trees and decorative street lights.  Native handicrafts are also sold at the Mansion end of the park by a few Igorot peddlers.

Pool of Pines (20)

Wright Park: Leonard Wood Rd, Baguio, Benguet.

When going horseback riding, choose a horse that is proportionate in size to your child. It would be better if you asked around first or observed other riders before choosing one. For those who intend to take a pony farther out along South Drive, the Mines View Park area or to Outlook Drive, it is advisable to first agree on the hourly cost to be charged.

Borjomi Mineral Water Park (Borjomi, Georgia)

The next day (my second day in Georgia), after breakfast at our hostel, Filipina expat Ruby and I dropped by the nearby hostel where Buddy, Pancho, Melissa and Riva were staying, hoping to invite any of them to join us in going to Borjomi.  Riva, who just arrived early that morning, was game and all three of us walked to the nearby Avlabari Metro Station where we all took the Metro to Didube Metro Station.

The mountain spa town of Borjomi

The mountain spa town of Borjomi

Upon arrival, we all boarded a Borjomi-bound marshrutka (minibus). The fare was 8 GEL and the 156.4-km. journey, via the Tbilisi-Senaki-Leselidze Highway/E60, took us about two hours. Along the way, we passed by Tserovani, a village of about 2,000 identical houses built to house Georgians who fled South Ossetia during the war.

The author with Ruby

The author with Ruby

The attractive resort town of Borjomi, in south-central Georgia, is one of the districts of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and is situated in the northwestern part of the region, in the picturesque Borjomi Gorge on the eastern edge of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, between the Vakhani and Trialeti Ridges.  Clinging to the hills on either side of the Mtkvari River, 850 m. above sea level, it is the largest mountain spa in Georgia, with an estimated population of 14,445.

The author and Ruby walking the sidewalks of Borjomi

The author and Riva walking along the sidewalks of Borjomi

The town is famous for its love-it-or-hate-it but curative mineral water, the number one export of Georgia.  As early as in the 15th century, the mineral waters of Borjomi were already mentioned but it only gained wide notoriety when a daughter of Evgeny Golovin, viceroy of the Russian Tsar in the Caucasus, was cured of her gynecological problems there. Yekaterinsky Spring, one of the mineral water sources, was named after this girl while the second one, Yevgeniyevsky Spring, was named after the viceroy himself.

The Tourist Center

The Tourist Center

The Romanov House got interested in these mineral sources and the first bottling plant producing bottled Borjomi mineral water was opened by the tsar’s order. The first bottles, made with transparent crystal glass, were later replaced by dark bottles, and every bottle was packed in a reed “case” and sealed with the factory stamps. Drinking it is said to benefit the digestive system and body metabolism. Borjomi mineral water can now be bought in shops in over 30 countries throughout the world and I’ve already tried it during dinner the night before.

Bridge of Beauty

Bridge of Beauty

We dropped off at Rustaveli Street, the main commercial street of Borjomi which runs along the northern bank of the Mtkvari River.  Walking along this street, we dropped by the tourist office housed in a glass pavilion between Rustaveli Street and the river. Here, we left our backpacks and luggage in a bookshop owned by the sister of the landlady of Likani Guesthouse where we will all be staying overnight. Thus unburdened, we crossed over the Bridge of Peace, a white painted suspension bridge over the Mtkvari River, leading to the southern half of the town where Borjomi Mineral Water Park is located.

Borjomi Mineral Water Park

Borjomi Mineral Water Park

Stretched along the small Borjomula River, this city park contains the source of Borjomi mineral water. A lovely place for us to do a brisk hike in the chilly mountain air, the park occupies a lovely stretch of forest following the narrow, wooded valley along the Borjomula River. There are several dozen health institutions, recreation complexes, sanatoriums and rest houses in Borjomi and all of them are located in the vicinity of the park. About 300 m. west of the bridge, Rustaveli Street changes its name to Meskheti Street.

Borjomula River

Borjomula River

The author and Riva at a viewpoint by the river

The author and Riva at a viewpoint by the river

Dating from 1850, the park has recently been renovated and reopened in 2005, its opening attended by the presidents of Georgia and Ukraine. Today, it is the most extensive ecologically-themed amusement park in the Caucasus, with a number of attractive themed playgrounds, a few amusement-park style attractions, a swimming pool and a cinema theater. The first part of the park contains the amusement park and cafes.

The Soviet-era railway station

The Soviet-era railway station

However, most of the park’s facilities – cafes, funfair attractions, the cinema, the cable car and the hilltop Ferris wheel – only operate from about late June to early September. During the summer, a park admission fee of 0.50 GEL is charged but, as it was the onset of winter, admission was free.  Near the entrance to the park, local vendors here sell homemade jam made from pine tree cones. It is claimed that the jam is good for improving immunity and useful for curing upper respiratory tract infections.

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On the south bank of the river, just east of the bridge is the renovated, Stalin-era Borjomi Park Train Station. The railway here opened in 1894. East of the station, we turned right along 9 Aprili and walked another 600m. Along the way, we passed by a new pedestrian bridge, a quite stunning example of the wave of new Georgian architecture that perfectly symbolizes the restorative water that has made Borjomi famous.

The new pedestrian bridge

The new pedestrian bridge

Fairy Land

Entrance gate of Fairy Land

Children's playground

Children’s playground

Beside the roller-coasters and the pools are the mineral water springs where locals go to get their drinking water, filling bottles with it. Warm mineral water flows from taps in a green pavilion straight in front of the entrance where, nearby, plenty of stalls sell souvenirs and empty plastic bottles of various volumes.

Souvenir shops

Souvenir shops

Ruby and I drank the water in the main spring’s two battered taps.  Though slightly warm, sour and a bit salty, with a tang of sulfur, very different from the slender glass bottled water I tried the night before, we still managed to ingest this stronger tasting water.  As it is flavored with sodium carbonate, it was said to taste like Vichy water.

The drinking pavilion

The drinking pavilion

Riva trying out Borjomi's mineral water

Riva trying out Borjomi’s mineral water

It was a different story with Riva who couldn’t find the courage to swallow it. There are said to be other springs with fresh water that have no strong taste. We continued on to the rear part of the park where, near the entrance, is the cable car (1 GEL each way) that brings visitors up to plateau where the view over Borjomi was said to be fantastic.

The closed cable car station

The closed cable car station

If we continued past the asphalted part for another 2.5 kms., we would have reached a lovely clearing in the forest where there’s small, a concrete, Soviet-era, hot spring-fed swimming pool with a constant temperature of about 27°C.

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.

Japanese Garden of Peace Park (Corregidor Island)

The 2.2-hectare Japanese Garden of Peace Park is a Shinto shrine and garden built as a memorial to the Japanese soldiers who served and died on the island during World War II.  The garden was the site of the only cemetery, built by the Americans, in Asia where Japanese soldiers, who perished during World War II, were accorded proper burial rites as a sign of respect for the dead.

Caballo Island - the view that led to the discovery of the cemetery

Caballo Island – the view that led to the discovery of the cemetery

Its location was lost among the rubble of war until a photo of the cemetery was found, possibly by a GI, and bought in a garage sale in the U.S.. The clue that led them to the exact spot, in spite of the overgrown forest, was the view of Caballo Island in the distance.

Japanese Garden of Peace

Japanese Garden of Peace

Their remains were later unearthed, cremated and sent back to Japan for their own burial rites.  As such, this garden is on the Japanese tourist route but is rarely visited by Americans.  In fact, the Americans and Japanese have different sets of tours and are never joined together in large groups.

Pavilion and souvenir shops

Pavilion and souvenir shops

The park includes a praying area for Japanese war veterans and the families and relatives of Japanese soldiers who served or were killed in Corregidor during World War II.  A small pavilion houses mounted photographs (including the discovered cemetery photo) and memorabilia.dedicated to the crew of the Japanese super battleship Musashi which sank on October 24, 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Jibo-Kannon stone Buddha and its reflecting pool

The Jibo-Kannon stone Buddha and its reflecting pool

This garden also features a towering, 10-ft. high Jibo-Kannon stone Buddha, showing a Japanese woman holding her baby while two toddlers tug at her skirt.  Beside it is a reflecting pool.  The stone Buddha is said to be a fertility idol and quite a few couples visit the island just to touch the statue in hopes of bearing a child.

The Jibo-Kannon stone Buddha

The Jibo-Kannon stone Buddha

Tribute to the Brave Heroes

Tribute to the Brave Heroes

On the edge of the hill are a battery of Japanese anti-aircraft guns facing out to sea. Nearby is a cliff where Japanese defenders committed suicide.  Around are other Japanese soldier memorial shrines and various markers with Japanese inscriptions, including one dedicated to Vice-Adm. Tetuo Akiyama.

Japanese Anti-Aircraft Guns

Japanese Anti-Aircraft Guns

Japanese suicide cliff

Japanese suicide cliff

Also within the garden is a souvenir shop with items such as old Japanese and American currencies, some old photographs, printed t-shirts, key chains, beverages and snacks. The construction of this garden was made possible through funds generated by a Japan-based private group.

Tetuo Akiyama Marker

Tetuo Akiyama Marker

Various markers with Japanese inscriptions

Various markers with Japanese inscriptions

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.

Arroceros Forest Park: Manila’s “Last Lung”

I was slated to join a group being assembled  by Mr. Lawrence “Rence” Chan (who hosts the Royal Postal Heritage Tour) as part of a special documentary tour with the GMA 7 I-Witness team tasked to feature the sorry plight of the now-abandoned and unused Metropolitan Theater.  However, as I arrived very early, I decided to explore the nearby Arroceros Forest Park.

Arroceros Forest Park

Arroceros Forest Park

Located in the  middle of Manila, on the western bank of the Pasig River, beside the LRT Central Terminal Station and right beside the point where one end of the Quezon Bridge (formerly Puente Colgante) is situated, this small but valuable pocket of green is the only secondary forest left in the entirety of this noisy and polluted metropolis.

Quezon Bridge over the Pasig River

Quezon Bridge over the Pasig River

Upon entering its gate, I was literally transported to a different world as this 2.1428-hectare mini forest park was intended, by former Mayor Alfredo Lim, as a refuge of Manileños from the chaos and pollution of this rapidly urbanizing city.  In 1992, the city government purchased this abandoned riverside lot, for PhP60 million, from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The park entrance

The park entrance

The park has a rich history, though, it being the site of a 16th and 17th century trading post where Filipino rice dealers in Pasig River engaged in barter with visiting Malay and Chinese traders.  The name arroceros was derived from the Spanish words meaning “rice dealer.”  Later, it became the site of the historic Fabrica de Tabacos. during the 19th century and, site of a military barrack (Estado Mayor) during the American era.

A man-made home for the birds

A man-made home for the birds

Though almost a half of its original area (and 70% of the trees) has been irretrievably lost to the concrete structure of the Manila Education Center of the Division of City Schools (another ill-conceived project, built in 2002, of former city mayor Lito Atienza), it still plays host to a diverse array of 8,000 ornamental plants (pink frangipani, palm fronds, etc.) as well as 10 kinds of city-dwelling avian wildlife (sparrows, bulbuls, etc.). Currently, the park is being maintained by Winners’ Foundation Inc. with the help of the Catholic Women’s Club.

The ill-conceived Manila Education Center

The ill-conceived Manila Education Center

To enhance the park’s visual appeal, some minimal landscaping was done, mostly in the form of walking paths, thus enabling visitors to walk within the park. The 61 varieties of trees in the park (labeled accordingly), which insulate the visitor from the noise, heat and pollution, include talisay trees (Terminalia catappa), acacia trees (Acacia confusa), narra trees (Pterocarpus indicus), mango trees, ficus rubber trees (Ficus elastica), mahogany trees (Swietenia mahogani) and Indian neem trees (Azadiratsa indica). Despite its diminished size, this accessible and calm oasis, the “last lung of Manila,” was still worth a visit.

Bridge over a pond

Bridge over a pond

Keelung City: Chung Cheng Park

I still had the whole morning for sightseeing on our fourth and last day in Taipei so I availed of the Northern Coast Tour (Keelung City) offered by Edison Travel Service (NT$1,000/pax).  After breakfast at the hotel, Jandy and I, as well as a 69 year old retired USAF serviceman named Gerald and his wife Leona, were picked up at the hotel lobby by our tour guide.  The sun was already up and shining (this after 3 days of rain) when we boarded our van for the 45-min. drive to Keelung City. Nicknamed the “Rainy Port” (due to its frequent rain and maritime role), Keelung City is Taiwan’s second largest seaport (after Kaohsiung).

Keelung City Proper

From the city proper, our van drove up a hill, east of the city, to Chung Cheng Park (derived from Chiang Chung-cheng, a given name of Chiang Kai-shek).  Situated on the side of Ta Sha Wan Shan, atop a hill off Hsieh Road, Chung Cheng Park (also spelled as Jhongjheng Park) was formerly called Kang Park in the past.  The first immigrants to Taiwan used to fight with each other for land. In order to stop these disputes, they set up a temple for yearly worship. During the Japanese occupation, the temple was in Kao Sha Park  and later moved to Chung Cheng Park.

Entrance to Chang Chung Park

There are three levels in the park. On the first level is a historic cannon fort. On the second level is a Buddhist library, Chung Lieh Temple and Chu Pu Tan Temple.  The temple attracts many worshipers on July 15, the Chung Yuan (Hungry Ghost) Festival, when families lights a lamp in front of their door in order to light the way for ghosts at night.

Chang Chung Park

Our destination was the Kuan Hai Pavilion, on the third level. Here, we  had a scenic view of Keelung City, its excellent 2,000 m. long and 400 m. wide harbor (embraced by mountains to its east, west and south); luxury passenger ships; smaller commercial craft; naval and coast guard vessels: and the azure Pacific Ocean.

Naval and commercial ships

Dock facilities

The city proper

Also here is the 22.5 m. (74-ft.) high, white smiling statue of Guan Yin (the Buddhist message of compassion and peace), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.  The landmark of Chung Cheng Park, it is the biggest goddess statue in Southeast Asia. Inside the statue, Jandy and I climbed a steep stairway leading to the top. From portholes on the sides, we could take in views of the harbor and the city.

Statue of Guan Yin (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy)

For me, Chung Cheng Park is a combination of a Buddhist holy site and amusement theme park. The grounds by the Guanyin statue are crowded with snack vendors and souvenir shops while toy vehicles for children to ride around on, some of them musical, are offered for rent.

The souvenir shop and children’s rides for rent

Behind the statue is a Buddhist temple. We noticed a  backwards swastika, a Buddhist symbol of peace (as opposed to the forward facing Nazi symbol), on top of a bell tower (you can ring the bell for a NT$50 donation). Further downhill are several 3-storey pagodas, a museum and a martyrs’ shrine. Since this park is near downtown, it is popular with city folk as well as tourists.

The backward swastika symbol

Chung Cheng Park: Keelung City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2428-7664.

How to Get There: take 206 bus and stop at provincial hospital.  The park entrance is on the other side.