Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pamplona Golf Club

For those who enjoy golf there is a world class Golf course within a one hours drive (40 kilometers) of Dumaguete, it is Pamplona Golf club. Pamplona golf club, near the City of Tanjay, sit in a pircturesque valley near the town of Pamplona Negros Oriental. Originally a coconut plantation, it retains a shaded course lined with trees. Originally built in the early 1990's, it is home to several national tournaments a year.

Considered a challenging course, the fairways are narrow, and feature some unique water hazzards. The office and adjacent clubhouse are well equipped with staff. you can hire a caddy, and an umbrella girl as well as the services of a local pro. Meals and cold beverages are available in the clubhouse.

For those wishing to stay overnight, there are three rental cottages available for visitors to Pamplona glolf club. Golf carts are available to rent by the day. Fees are very reasonable. 800 pesos a round, cart, 800 pesos (weekdays), excluding caddy and umbrella girl fees which are dependent on the golfers generosity over a basic fee. Pamplona golf has three sets of rental clubs for the unprepaired visitor. Memberships are available for a minimum six month period.

A surprisingly picturesque oasis of golf in the middle of rural Negros Oriental. It is just another example of the variety of activities available to tourists and residents alike.

Drive north on the national highway, as you enter Tanjay City proper, start looking carefully on the left side of the road. There is a very small sign at a gravel road going left. Turn left, and follow signs to the Pamplona Golf Club. The road becomes concrete in a short distance and it is an easy drive through the countryside.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Trekking to Balanan Lake

A friend of mine has coined a phrase to describe when something goes wrong on a day trip in the Philippines. He and his wife ride a motorcycle and have been caught in the rain on several occasions; they just look at each other and mouth the words "adventure". It is an apt way to describe even an uneventful day trip to a Negros Oriental tourist destination.

When we decided to Trek to Lake Balanan it had rained straight for a week. The day actually started as a bright sunny Philippine morning. As my friend, his wife and I sat sipping coffee, my honey text from the house; Hun, are we going for adventure today? That’s all we needed to get us off our collective rear ends. Rain or shine we were off to Balanan Lake! Never mind that it was already afternoon and it was a 30K journey.

It was a beautiful sunny, hot day as we left Dumaguete on our motorcycles. Just as we passed Zamboanguita, and just as the road began to climb and turn twisty, it began to rain. We traveled on a few kilometers but with the heavy downpour getting worse we took shelter in a roadside bus stop. We were cold and very wet. Adventure? You bet!

After the storm passed, the mountains in the distance re-emerged from their cloudy shroud. Somewhat encouraged by a slight warming in the air temperature, we remounted our motorcycles and continued on to Siaton. Balanan Lake here we come.

Arriving in Siaton, we were nearly dry once again. The area around the village is filled with rice fields, it is a wonderfully verdant scene and represents some of what I consider to be the best of the “real” Philippines. Snowy egrets fly about the fields looking for food. King fishers also are numerous. Oxen and bicycle Pedi cabs clutter the road.

After passing through the village proper, the road takes a few turns. Immediately after crossing a small river, there is a sign on the right side of the road, Lake Balanan 10K. I pulled up and stopped at the sign. I turned to my friends and asked “good for another 10K?” After a somewhat enthusiastic nod we started the long climb to Balanan. It was already late in the afternoon; our rain delay lost us about 45 minutes. Intrepid travelers that we were, we pressed on, hoping still to get back to Dumaguete before dark, foolish thought as it turned out.

The ride up the narrow road to Balanan Lake is not a difficult one. The road, as most rural roads do in the Philippines, alternates from smooth concrete and rough unpaved stretches. The scenery on the climbing ride is some of the most beautiful in the Southern part of Negros Oriental. Fertile river valleys, distant rice plantations dotted with banana and coconut trees predominate. As we climbed further, we saw terraced fields on the steep slopes with a scattering of Nipa huts dotting the mountainside.

Then abruptly, the chain fell off my rear sprocket forcing me to pull over. I had noticed a few days prior that there was a little too much slack in the chain. Typically, I told myself, Ah, I’ll take care of that soon. Well, not soon enough. It was a simple matter to put the chain back on, but I was well aware that once that occurs, the likelihood is it will happen again… It did.

If I had the proper wrench, I could have made a quick field adjustment, but I had no wrench with me except the small tool kit supplied with the bike. Just then a Habal Habal rider came blasting around the corner. Ading, my honey, suddenly screamed out John! She had recognized this guy as an old friend of the family. Now one might ask, what are the odds of that happening on a remote mountain road high up in the Philippine countryside? Quite good actually, since this was her home territory, and in the Philippines extended groups of friends and family seem infinite.

I took it as a good omen; here we were in the middle of a true life adventure. John ran to a conveniently near house and returned with wrench. Within minutes he had removed the rear wheel and begun to repair the chain. A few moments later we had two of his friends there also.

The Habal Habal bikes are an art form in themselves. Looking all the world like something out of Mad Max and the Thunderdome. These reworked modified motorcycles are the modern version of mules of the Philippine mountains. Carrying easily six or even seven passengers, they ride the winding unimproved roads with uncanny ease. The drivers are like diminutive bronco riders, navigating rock strewn roads and steep inclines, with an intuitive sense of both balance and finesse.

The three moto-caballeros quickly repaired the motorcycle on the spot. We busied ourselves looking at the scenery and taking some pictures. As the repair was completed, John did not ask for any money, but Ading gave him 60 pesos for helping us out. This is the honest unassuming nature of many Filipinos, people helping people. It is after all, necessitated in the remote mountain communities.

So with yet another adventure highlight under our belts, we resumed our climb to Balanan Lake.
Balanan Lake has undergone a significant amount of infrastructure improvement since the last visit I made 2 years ago. They have added floating Nipa huts that can be towed across the various sections of water. There is also a new tree house which is available for overnight rental. Surely that would be a fantastic way to experience the beauty of the area. However true to local tastes, it is also equipped with a loud Karaoke system, which somehow seems to diminish the whole experience. Luckily no one was using it while we were there. There are canoe and Kayak rentals as well.

As you approach Balanan Lake on foot, (you have to walk the last 100 meters, or be shuttled), it reminds me of entering Jurassic park. There is a stream flowing across a concrete ford with a footpath made of concrete to look like interlocking stones. A pond on the left and a waterfall on the right add to the atmosphere. There is a gigantic Balite (Banyan) tree on the right side of the stream as you enter. With roots streaming down its side, it looked 15 meters in diameter. Philippine legend associates Balite trees with demons and spirits, dili ingon nato, meaning "things not like us" in Visayan dialect. In any event the scenery was looking primordal and very exotic.

As you walk up the path and approach the lake, it is evident that commercialization has increased, with the addition of a store, reception center, and rental cottages etc. Still by world standards it still is a rather undeveloped remote area, and quite scenic.

Since it was late in the day, we decided to leave after briefly looking around, promising one another that we would return and have a day to spend at Balanan. We hopped back on our motor bikes and left for Dumaguete. It was an uneventful ride back down the mountain and up the highway north… for about one hour. As we approached Dauin I noticed black clouds in the distance. It was getting dark now, and within a few kilometers, the skies unleashed another deluge upon us. Coupled with the darkness, the rain made it almost impossible to see. We crawled back to Dumaguete at a snails pace. Arriving at long last, we dismounted our wet steeds, looked at each other all dripping wet, cold and dirty; no one had to say it. ADVENTURE.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Miracle at Sto. Nino

There are many interesting tourist destinations in the Dumaguete area. Negros Oriental has in fact begun to promote many of its outstanding natural attractions. You will no doubt quickly learn names like Lake Balanan, the Twin lakes, Apo Island and more. Reviews of these destinations will continue, but this article is about a small place, a place one might miss driving by. It is not a natural attraction, but an insight into Filipino culture and how they view faith.

Sto. Nino (Saint Nino) is a small chapel that is located on the road to Lake Balinsasayao, the Twin Lakes of Oriental Negros. As you drive up the small rural road to the Twin Lakes, after a few kilometers of steady climb, the road levels off, and in the distance on the right you will see a solitary salmon colored Chapel situated along the road.

The outdoor chapel, open on the front and back, is typical of similar chapels spotted through out the countryside. Some are tiny, open on all sides with bamboo seating for a few people. Sto. Nino is more substantial. A masonry construction, it is well appointed and maintained. Interestingly the entrance is normally closed with an iron gate. However if you walk around the back the chapel is open to the outside. Immediately behind the chapel is a shrine to mother Mary, not atypical in the Philippines.

What is interesting is the fact that a miracle was supposed to have taken place on this spot in 1989. The chapel was subsequently built to mark the spot and commemorate the occurrence. The complete story is recorded in hand painted lettering inside an adjacent pavilion. The walls of this pavilion are plastered with photos and memorabilia of visits to the site presumably by some of the same folks that witnessed the miracle originally.

The story goes that a group of volunteers were distributing food and medical supplies to a remote village on the mountainside nearby. Cambaloctot is the name given to the Barangay. On their way back down the mountain, accompanied by an armed escort of army officers, the nuns and medical team saw a rainbow. The story goes that the sun behaved in a mysterious way and “danced” around the rainbow, growing smaller and larger before resuming its normal station in the heavens. In addition, the sisters reported a golden glow on their rosaries which remained after the incident, hence the miracle. The entire tale is recorded on the wall, with a curious take on English grammar it might be added.

If you are traveling up the road to the Twin Lakes and want an interesting place to stop and take a break from arduous motor bike riding, or just want to stretch your legs, have a look. Sto. Nino is an interesting glimpse of local culture and religious belief in Negros Oriental.
Getting there:
North of Dumaguete off National Highway. Travel through Sibulan village, proceed past Sea Forrest Resort and Jo's Chicken by the Sea(on right). Traveling farther north a few kilometers, you will come to a place in the road where there is a sea wall on the right and the road is straight. About 2-3km along that stretch you will see a white sign with worn letters on the left for Lake Balinsasayao. There is a small shelter for a bus stop there and a road to the left. If you turn right you will be in the sea, so there is little chance of a wrong turn! Twin Lakes are 14 K from there, the chapel is about 5 K.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


When you drive around Dumaguete you will be sure to notice frequent roadside signs with a hand painted Vulcate. Often painted on an old tire propped up at the roads edge, these are the typical tire repair shops of the Philippines.

Some are so small and humble you won’t see them as you speed by. But I guarantee if you have a flat tire on your motorcycle in Dumaguete, you will be wishing you memorized every one in town. With typical Filipino understatement and frugality, the vulcanizing shops have no modern tire repair equipment. One tire iron, and a homemade vulcanizing press, hand pump, and some old inner tubes are often the only equipment. The “press” is always made of found or recycled objects. I have seen them made from old engine pistons, bits of steel plate and old steering wheels. The designs are always similar with a container for a flammable liquid which is used to “vulcanize” the patch as it is being pressed.

When you pull up to one of these places with a flat tire, don’t expect them to remove the wheel from your bike. No they just unseat the tire and ease out the tube from within. Again, it is an exercise in doing as little work as possible with as few tools as necessary.

Once the tube is extracted in this way, they pump in some air and look for the leak. Then moving the mountain to Mohamed, the press is dragged to the tire where they work their magic. While the tube is being pressed or perhaps beforehand, the operator will examine the tire for an intruding object. After about twenty minutes the process is done and the tire insertion procedure is reversed, and off you go for 20 pesos or so.

What you will notice in time is that some of these shops are open all night in Dumaguete City. They service not only individual motorbikes but the 2000 plus tricycle pedicabs plying the streets of Dumaguete. I have been lucky to be near an all night shop in the two instances that a flat occurred after darkness. The shops are everywhere and numerous. This tells you two things about the Philippines, one the roads are rough, and two, Filipinos ride around on marginal tires, patching them until they nearly disintegrate.

My friend Nelson owns one such shop near our house. He can usually be found sitting at his place either playing his guitar, or playing with his pet Reticulated Boa Constrictor. He rescued the snake from a city street when it was a baby. An engaging fellow, he has an easy smile and an friendly manner about him. I always go to him if I need air in my tires or if I happen to notice a tire going flat with in range of his place. If I pull up for a little air, he tries to wave me off for no charge; I don’t let him, and always give him something for turning on his compressor. Nelson is one shop that has an electric air compressor to make his operation easier for him.

Over the months I have lived in the present location, Nelson has indeed become a friend. He comes to our karaoke and buys one beer and maybe sings two or three songs. He appreciates our business, and when he can afford, will patronize ours. Some times he comes with his snake in his pocket and lets the college students who frequent our place hold it or snap cell phone photos. It is a good time, and while to the uninitiated it may seem bizarre it isn’t here, and we have grown accustomed to his pet.

The vulcanizing shops are just one of the things unique tothe Philippines, and in addition to fixing your flat you just might find a friend. That in the end is what it is all about isn't it?