Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sharjah: The Culture Capital of Emirates

On my visit to the United Arab Emirates, I was toured around by my hosts Franie and Ef to another emirate that is Sharjah, adjacent to Dubai. It’s the third largest emirate in the country. Its capital is Sharjah City.

I was taken to the heritage area where there were some restored houses and buildings. There were museums too. We have seen the emirates eye and the traditional boats. It’s a cozy and relaxing place. The big mosque is prominent in the city. Sharjah University cannot be left unnoticed. They later took me to the Blue Souq or the Central Market. This is a market for gold jewelries, novelty items and souvenirs. Then they treated me to a lunch of Indian food.

Sharjah has not only been tagged as the cultural capital of UAE but also of the Gulf area. It even won the prestigious UNESCO award of being the cultural capital of the Arab world for 1998 because of its promotion and conservation of the cultural heritage of the country and the establishment of several cultural institutions. The seventeen museums have played a role in gaining this award.

Monday, April 26, 2010

1st Ever Mixed Martial Arts Tournament in Ilocos

After coming from Burgos, Alaric and I went to document the first ever mixed martial arts tournament held in Laoag City and in Ilocos Norte upon the invitation of Luis Tugas, one of the event organizers. It was entitled Suntukan sa Laoag.

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA is a full combat contact sport employing a wide array of fighting techniques and skills. It allows the use of striking and grappling techniques in standing and in the ground. This event is also called shooto, freestyle fighting, no holds barred (NHB) and Ultimate Fighting Championships was founded from this.

It was conceptualized and organized by the officers and members of Sangguniang Kabataan headed by SK Federation President Rudys Caesar Farinas. It was a big success since it had 16 pairs who matched and fought in this event. Prior to the event, weighing of each competitor and face off was done. This was mostly participated in by local amateurs and some professional fighters from Benguet, Manila, US and Egypt.

The first match made the audience and everyone highly tensed and shocked for it became bloody and they have to reduce the time per bout. Nevertheless, it became a thrilling event and a great suspense. Backbreaking indeed and some were bloody matches but competitors were pitted against one another with the observance of maximum rules for safety.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

After attending the Gamet Festival in Burgos, I had the chance to visit another wonderful attraction of the town; that is the Kapurpurawan. I was accompanied by a relative of a friend where we took a motorcycle to the place. The road going to the site was rocky and bumpy.

The Kapurpurawan is a rock formation which is literally very white in color taken from its Ilocano root word puraw. Different shapes of the rocks can be seen such as the iconic head, cradle and the resting dragon. This is much even whiter during the months of April and May.

This is really an amazing and unique sight where it was formed by a geological deposition of minerals. This is a sedimentary rock formed by sedimentation, where minerals and organic particles settle and accumulate or it precipitates from a solution. The rocks were carved out by surrounding sandstone by both mechanical and chemical weathering. Wind, sand and water are the primary weathering agents.

Gamet Festival of Burgos

This is a festival celebrated in the town of Burgos. A tribute to its town product called gamet. It is seaweed which is made from porphyra. It is considered to be the black gold of the town because it is pricey when they sell the seaweed. A square foot size of it would costs an average of Php 300. It is abundant in the coast of Burgos during moths of November to March. They even export these to other countries. This is equivalent to the Japanese nori.

Locals of Burgos town have to collect this painstakingly from the coral stones where they are attached. They have to use a sock for their hands to collect because it is slimy and slippery. This really takes time. Aside from gathering, they have to dry or process this for a certain period of time. This is a very risky activity where collectors have to be alert in watching out for waves. There were even cases of drowning.

Various groups of young boys and girls danced in the streets of Burgos to the plaza where they went for showdown. The last group to dance depicted the stages of gathering gamet. Gamet is typically used in Ilocano salad, soups and omelet dishes. It is a healthy and nutritious food.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yummy Kusimay

I took my Canadian friend Romeo in the beach of Pagudpud where we met up with Peachy who spent a night ahead there. We stayed at Polaris resort. I saw fishermen who caught this sea crab. These crabs are caught using a flat, circular nets placed along the sea floor and baited with fish. There were lady vendors who sell this around. It sells like hotcakes because this comes only on a limited catch.

It is called kusimay in the Ilocano vernacular. Curacha is the local Chavacano name and you find much of this in Zamboanga. It is also found in Australia and Hawaii.

This is a highbred crustacean, mixed breed of a large sea crab and a spiny lobster and resembles like a cockroach. It is called Kona crab in English. This has a reddish-pink color shell. This is being sold at Php300 per kilogram. Peachy bought a few kilograms and shared some of it to us and we enjoyed our dinner with it.

This can be steamed or cooked with garlic and butter. This is usually cooked slightly to preserve its original taste. It was really a yummy treat.


Spiders are called law-wa law-wa in the Ilocano vernacular. While in Paoay church, we chanced upon children who were playing the indigenous game spiderfight. This is a traditional game now being seldom played by kids because mostly are virtual. My Canadian friend Romeo was surprised to see this game and he attentively watched it.

I remember when I was still a child, we used to hunt these spiders in the leaves of plants and trees during the dusk. We put them in a matchbox subdivided by a thin coconut leaf. We blew air upon them and closed the matchbox to make them sleep.

We tap the box to awaken and get them on a fight. We get a broom stick and two spiders are placed on each end. Then they move slowly to the center of stick until they find their enemy. They bite and spew web to trap the opponent. I was happy to see this game after a long time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Paoay Belfry

On the visit of my Canadian friend Romeo to Ilocos Norte, I took him to Paoay town and we took snacks at Herencia Café where he tried the pinakbet pizza and he liked it. We met Peachy here, a traveler who went with us visit the Paoay Church.

This church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a baroque architecture. It endured so many earthquakes. Its sturdiness is attributed to the materials used in this structure such as the coral stones, bricks, lime, sand and even egg white as binder so they say. It has beautiful buttresses that also helped toned down the impact of temblors. Its bell tower stands a few meters away.

Belfry is a tower which contains a number of bells. The bell is usually rung to signify time or activities or events in the church such as mass, weddings and funerals. The bell is rung more times for the weddings of prominent clan than it would for the poor so it became a status symbol.

Bell towers nowadays are kept for their iconic value. The word belfry comes from an Old French term berfrei derived from Germanic bergan, to protect and frithuz meaning peace. It was originally used as a watch tower providing protection against hostile incursions.

The Paoay bell tower is a three-storey coral stone bell tower built a few meters from the church. This served as an observation post for the Katipuneros in 1896 during the revolution against Spaniards and for the guerillas during the Japanese occupation in World War II.

We were lucky to get into the top of this belfry where we requested the custodian to open it for us. It has long winding stair which some of the steps were shaky or shabby. One would be taking steps cautiously to get up. It houses some of the bats that stink the place. On top, one can view almost the entirety of the town proper and it’s a beautiful sight.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The La Paz Sand Dunes

La Paz Sand Dunes is a unique attraction in the city of Laoag for being a sandy coastal desert with an area of 85 square kilometers. This is considered to be a National Geological Monument because of its uniqueness being a desert environment. La Paz is just a part of a long stretch of the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes. It spans from Currimao to Pasuquin. This is locally called Bantay Bimmaboy in which they perceive that the dunes resemble the shape of pigs.

The sand dunes were formed by the interaction of the wind, sea and river that together cause erosion and deposition. The height of the sand dunes ranges from 10-30 meters. Its pretty amazing to see this from a horizon with the South China Sea. There are exciting activities that can be done here aside from trekking for an hour to traverse the entire stretch of the beach, one can drive a rugged 4-wheel vehicle or the exciting all-terrain vehicle. The latest craze is the sand boarding where one can use a board to slide down the dunes. This site is accessible by tricycle and jeepney and its just 15 minutes away from the city proper.

With these activities, one can call it a desert safari just like what I had experienced from Dubai. This was my visit to the site just right after arriving from the Middle East in which I hosted a Canadian friend’s visit to Ilocos. I took Romeo here to experience the desert. I did not fail, he truly enjoyed it. He ran, jumped and climbed the sand dunes on bare foot feeling the heat underneath.

This is another world class treasure of Ilocandia. It was used to be a shooting site for several local and international films. Himala and Panday are the classic local movies that were shot here. And of course segments of the Hollywood films such as Mad Max and Born on the fourth of July where Tom Cruise had a fight scene and rolled over the sand dunes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Eggciting Easter

Easter Sunday is the joyous celebration after the Lenten Season. It is the time when Jesus Christ had resurrected from the dead. He went through the Calvary where He had undergone physical torture and sufferings.

As a tradition of Catholic or Christian faith, an Easter Egg Hunt is usually being held especially for the children. Easter egg is a symbol of the rebirth of Jesus Christ. Egg is the symbol of the start of a new life just like when the chick hatches out from the egg, a new life emerges.

Easter eggs are special eggs given away to celebrate the Easter holiday. One designated place is chosen and the eggs were hidden strategically and the kids got to find them. I had the chance to witness this Easter Egg Hunt on my visit to California last year where I joined the Basilio family attend the Easter mass at the Corpus Christi at Corona Hills. Then later the egg hunt began. Quite a few of the eggs was found by the siblings Chelsea and Jeremy.

The eggs are traditionally painted or dyed chicken eggs but today it is now plastic with chocolates and jelly beans inside it.

First Mass in Mount Sicapoo

We were all so happy in reaching the difficult to climb summit of Mount Sicapoo. To celebrate the successful climb to the highest peak in Ilocos Norte, the first mass ever conducted in the area was celebrated by Bishop Sergio Utleg, the climb leader. He brought his materials to the mountain to celebrate it.

All of us mountaineers and including the guides and porters joined together to hear the mass. After taking our dinner then we held the mass and later on we had socialization party.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A 5-Day Challenge to Mount Sicapoo

Considered to be the highest peak in the province of Ilocos Norte is Mount Sicapoo located in the town of Solsona with an altitude of 2, 354 meters above sea level. The group of Laoag Mountaineers together with the Ayala Mountaineers expedited this high mountain on February 11-15, 2010 for a 5-day challenge. We were the second batch or group to explore this mountain.

This climb was participated in by Ricky M. Apolonio, Gerry M. Apolonio, Lester J. Susi, Atty. Wilfredo Nuesa, May Coleen Columbia L. Cajigal, Samuel Chocaocao, MC C. Apostol, Jr., Ike Castillo, Maila Sapinit, Edwin Antonio and led by Bishop Sergio Utleg.

The group started at the jump-off point in Manalpac just close to the Karingking River. We commenced at midnoon and reached Parpar after four hours trek. There were ten river crossings we made on this trek. It was basically river trekking passing through the distributary of the long Gasgas river.

The first day was just fine for all of us. We crossed walking trails, footbridges and crossed rivers and rock garden. However, the second day tested our endurance with eleven hours of trek that two of our fellow mountaineers have to give up and stay behind. We passed through the most difficult knife-edge ridges and saddle trails and we have to use ropes at some points to get through. We also walked on sidehills, on slopes and of course the switchback trails. We have seen Mount Timmarid and Mount Simagaysay on the far distance sides and even Hercules Mines.

There were some waterfalls that we have seen along the way. We even took a dip in some of the rivers. It was refreshing to swim then resume the trek. We passed by the areas of Rumangeg, Basangal, Mabangeg, Nagsabaran, Sabungen, Madangdangla, Birbira nga dakkel, Parpar, Saulay, Bubuos, Balbalitok, Balbalete, Pakpako, and eventually reached Sicapoo summit.

At the assault of the summit where we spent 5 hours in ascending, we penetrated the tropical rainforests and conifer forests. We have to make steep ascent. There was a part where we have to walk on a mossy area. The sky was clear but suddenly it turned cloudy and drizzled a bit then cleared again. There were some points that you would think as the summit but it’s a false one. We had to traverse some more.

Upon reaching the summit, there was a massive bird’s head-shaped rock that makes it unique. It has a form of beak. We attempted to climb the rock but not possible. We just took photos at its sides. Mount Kilang can be seen on the west side, while to the south and east are more mountains. We just stayed for an hour at the summit taking lunch and had photo ops. We were so happy with what we have achieved.

A mass was celebrated by Bishop Utleg on that evening and as a part of the celebration we had dinner and socialization with a bonfire. Majority of the climbers and even the guides shared their talents. Each of us aired our evaluations and sentiments to the group. Some burst into tears due to the difficulty of climb.

We were assisted on this climb by our guides and porters headed by Mang Emilio Benito with his company Rolando, Chris, Danny, Lito and Joel.

Along the way we saw numerous dong of musang or wild cat. We also saw wild chicken or abuyo which was so quick to run. There were different species of plants and there were colorful blossoming flowers. We saw also kundidit, bayek, and tokak. Our guides collected bilagot and cooked for our dinner. It was so sad to see the scenario up in the mountains especially before reaching Pakpako campsite where there were widespread kaingin. Burnt trees and forests were we saw to be used for hunting deers.

On our way back, I managed to get one of my shoes safe and dry. I was able to hop from one rock to another. It was fun to be stepping but extra care should be exercised since unstable rock or stone can topple you down.

After my interview with Bishop Utleg, he said that this trek had a degree of difficulty of 9 out of 10. After our successful climb we were treated with lunch at Dingras by Atty. Nuesa.

The following was our itinerary.

Itinerary for Mt. Sicapoo Climb: (Feb. 11-15, 2010)
Day 1
11: 00 Assembly at Bishop residence
12:00 ETA Solsona Poblacion/Registration with PNP/Get guides
1:00 Start trek via Gasgas River (Solsona River) entry
4:00 ETA Saulay River Camp (load water camp/trail)
5:00 Bamboo campsite
7:00 Dinner
Day 2
4:00 Wake up call
6:00 Break camp/Start trek for Saulay Junction
9:00 ETA Saulay Junction/(load trail water)
12:00 Lunch
5:00 ETA Pakpako Campsite
7:00 Dinner
Day 3
4:00 Breakfast
6:00 Summit Assault (Mt. Sicapoo)
10:00 ETA Sicapoo Summit (lunch)
12:00 ETD to Pakpako
5:00 ETA Pakpako campsite (load trail water)
7:00 Mass/Dinner
Day 4
5:00 Breakfast
6:00 Start trek Saulay River Camp
12:00 Lunch Saulay Junction
1:00 Start trek
4:00 ETA Saulay River Campsite/Camp
7:00 Dinner/Socials
Day 5
5:00 Breakfast
7:00 Start trek
10:00 ETA Solsona Poblacion
12:00 ETA Laoag