What we believe in:

Most great adventures are those where you've just got to go for it and see where it leads you... No ifs, no buts just you and your conviction


From the routine of everyday work life to the adventures and misadventures of exploring and traveling - this is how June and Lanie, the backpacking pinoy couple while away their dull moments.

With 7,107 islands, check out how this couple joins the other Filipinos in our advocacy: It's more fun in the Philippines!


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Friday, March 21, 2014

Minalungao National Park: Nueva Ecija Finds Its Way to Philippine Tourism Map

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A vast region of flatland in Central Luzon, Nueva Ecija has long been known as the center of rice production in the region. It doesn't come as a surprise if most Filipinos and even locals of Nueva Ecija think that there is nothing much to see here than stretches of rice fields, left and right.

Much to the cluelessness of most people, a stunning secret located in the off-the-beaten path of Nueva Ecija proves to be another national treasure waiting for its turn to be put on the limelight. 

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Situated in the municipality of General Tinio is Sitio Minalungao. The national park itself has an area of 2,018 hectares centered along the Peñaranda River. The river is bordered on both sides by up to 16-meter high limestone walls along the foothills of Sierra Madre mountain range.

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Considered as one of the few remaining natural environments in this region of Luzon, the local government promotes Minalungao National Park as an eco-tourism destination. It offers turquoise pristine water and rock formations by the side. Beneath the cool waters are small stones and pebbles of different sizes, shapes, and colors much to the likelihood of those once seen in the brooks and streams in Manila in a time long-lost and forgotten.


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What's beneath Peñaranda River
In addition to the enchanting river, another potential attraction in the area is the presence of a system of subterranean caverns. There are parts of the river that are deep but there are also those that are shallow just like on the far end of the river. You can go there by trekking to the limestones bordering the river or you may rent a bamboo raft for your group (Php800/raft).

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By the riverside where the river widens are cottages built for tourists whose number is steadily growing by time as Minalungao National Park gets the attention it deserves through featured documentaries, travel groups, facebook, and other forms of social media.

You might want to bring your packed meals because presently, the meals offered here are limited though at a very affordable price. Public restrooms are not yet established, too but the locals do provide improvised dressing rooms and one comfort room for those who want to wash up (Php25/head). Me and my husband and some members of our group decided to just change clothes after swimming for we thought it was freshwater anyway so there's no point of getting another bath.


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The Minalungao National Park is a protected area of the Philippines, established in 1967 by virtue of Republic Act No. 5100.
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The Philippines indeed have so much to offer and so many secrets waiting to be discovered. We've watched how the Philippines climbed its way to the top slots of tourist destinations worldwide. This just proves that our country is a home that every Filipino around the world should be proud of.

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How to go to Minalungao National Park from Manila by Bus (Public Transport)
Coming from Manila, hail a bus bound to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. These buses are found in Cubao Terminal (Baliwag or ES Transport Bus) and travel schedule starts as early as 4:45 AM. Fare is Php160/head and travel time is about 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes. In Gapan City, you have two options to choose from:

          A. Hire a tricycle along the National Highway and ask the driver to take you to Minalungao. Special rate is about Php700 for three passengers, two-way. Travel time from Gapan to Minalungao is about 1 hour 30 minutes. Don't forget to give a tip to the driver for waiting time, or you may want to share lunch with him if you plan to stay the entire day.

          B. Take a jeepney or tricycle to Gen. Tinio (formerly known as Papaya). Fares are Php25.00 (jeepney),  Php150 (trike).  Travel time is about 45 minutes. There are no public vehicles going to or passing by Minalungao so you're only option is a special trip on a tricycle. Fare to Minalungao from Papaya starts at Php250/tricycle, round trip. Travel time to the park is 45 minutes. Please give a tip to the driver if you plan to stay long in Minalungao. He will stay with you the entire time, anyway.

Note: The road going to Sitio Minalungao from Papaya is about 4 kms of bumpy road.
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To go back to Manila from Papaya, take a jeepney bound to Cabanatuan Terminal (Php50/head) and in Cabanatuan, hail any bus bound to Manila. Fare is about Php185/head, travel time is 2 hours 30 minutes.

Our Minalungao National Park Travel Itinerary

March 8, Saturday
   5:00 AM    ~   left Parañaque and traveled to Gapan, Nueva Ecija
  9:30 AM     ~   hit Papaya Public Market (we got lost along the way so we should've arrived there before 9:00 AM)
 10:40 AM    ~   arrived at Minalungao National Park 
   6:00 PM    ~    headed back to Manila
 10:30 PM    ~    arrived in Manila

Budget breakdown updated as of March 2014
   Php    420.00     transpo, 2-way (private van; sharing per head)
   Pocket money: 
   Php    200.00     meals
   Php    100.00     balsa/bamboo raft (rate was Php800/raft; we divided the amount by our group of 8)

If you like this, you might also like other destinations in North Luzon:

Ilocos Sur - Ilocos Norte Adventure Series
   Part 1:  Vigan, Ilocos Sur
   Part 2:  Ilocos Norte
                - The White Pride of Ilocos Norte:  Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
                - The Famous Coastal Resort Town of Ilocos Norte:  Pagudpud
                - Snaking Its Way:  Patapat Viaduct
                - Giants of Ilocos Norte:  Bangui Windmills
                - A Lonely Sentinel of Burgos: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
                - The Centuries-Old Church of Paoay: St. Augustine Church

 Pangasinan - Zambales Adventure Series
   Part 1:  Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine
   Part 2:  Island Hopping and Snorkeling in Alaminos: Hundred Islands National Park
   Part 3:  Escape to Palauig, Zambales: Magalawa Island

Zambales One-Day Adventure
   Part 1:  Tree Top Adventure
   Part 2:  Zoobic Safari Tour

Baler
   One-Day Road Trip




Backpacking Pinoy Couple 2014
Backpacking Pinoy Couple

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Baler: One-Day Road Trip

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A Quick Look at the Beauty of Baler
It is one of those laid-back destinations that are dawning on the consciousness of travelers and finding its way to the travel list of adventurers. Situated in the northeast of Manila, Aurora province is accessible by bus and private transport via a mountain pass. The province's coastal area faces a portion of the Philippine Sea, a 2,000,000 sq. mi. marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. 

What is there to see in Baler?

Diguisit Bay and Diguisit Rock Formation
Strong waves of the Philippine Sea battered the rocks that were protruding from the coastline of Sitio Diguisit in Brgy. Zabali, Baler. Witnessing such blissful moments of awe brought out a feeling of fright and wonder in me. This is how nature paints the world, bringing forth the wonders that man himself cannot picture its details with logic alone.

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Diguisit Bay

At 5:00 AM we were running late for our first stop. The reason, we were beating the first ray of light before sunrise for an attempt to take long exposure shots. 
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Diguisit Rock Formation

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Bukang Liwayway
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Up-close with the Philippine Sea (by M.Z. Aguilar)
















Dicasalarin Cove
Where shades of blue meet shades of green. Traveling from Diguisit through the mountain range of Baler lies the breathtaking Dicasalarin Cove. Our awestruck group was too overwhelmed to take in what was laid before us.

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After our glimpse of Diguisit Rock Formation, we proceeded to exploring Dicasalarin Cove. There are two options in going there. If you travel by bus from Manila, your only choice is to take a pumpboat.  These boats can be found in the nearby public resorts in Diguisit. Boat ride costs Php1,500/boat for a maximum of 8 passengers. 

If you have your private car, head to PAGASA Weather Radar Station farther from Diguisit. It's an uphill drive to the gate (entrance is Php100/head) and a downhill drive as you head to the other side of the mountain where the cove is located. Tourists are allowed starting from 6AM to 5PM.
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Photo courtesy of photo-galaero


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Photo courtesy of photo-galaero


Baler Lighthouse
From afar it seemed like a rocketship ready to launch. It may really not be your typical lighthouse but its location on top of a cliff jutting out from the coast suggests that perhaps it really is. Nobody in our group was brave enough to climb to the tip of this unique structure to confirm what it really was. There were also no writings that would suggest when or why it was built. Nevertheless, it does sound logical that it is a light beacon that is of importance to passing ships. It was much like the red lights seen on top of buildings used as warning signals for aircrafts.
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At the far end of the cove lies the Baler Lighthouse. I've never seen anything like it. The lighthouse is located at the tip of the cliff, approximately 180 painful steps to hike. Mind you, we're not fans of hiking or trekking so bear with us for we were really panting as we walked our way up. Then again, the scene was breathtaking. Everytime we stopped to catch our breath, the scenery was a prize.
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Photo courtesy of M.Z. Aguilar

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I would never want to miss a solo shot here  =)
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Photo courtesy of M.Z. Aguilar

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The lighthouse atop the cliff at Dicasalarin Cove


PAGASA Weather Radar Station
Time to play "scientist".  The PAGASA weather station in Baler was the first to have a doppler radar installed. Its purpose is to monitor typhoon movement, amount of rainfall, locate precipitation and calculate its movement. Since June 2012, doppler radars were used as basis for weather warnings through Project NOAH. 
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Doppler radars have round protective covers. This shape, I guess is for reading and calculating the movement of precipitation and typhoon according to the curvature of the Earth.
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Tromba Marina at Ermita Hill
Set of statues that may seem uninteresting to some until they find out why it was built.
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"Tromba Marina" is Spanish for Huge Wave
Long forgotten or perhaps even unknown to most of us, about 278 years ago on the 27th of December 1735 the town of Baler was engulfed by a huge wave. It happened at 2:00 AM when most people were asleep. The entire town was wiped out and dead bodies scattered all over the place. It was believed that about 500 families perished. The tsunami was mysteriously concentrated only in the town of Baler (not that I'm complaining). This misfortune did not befall Dipaculao, a neighboring town which was located in the same shoreline, nor did the news reach Casiguran until some time later.

Only 7 families survived by climbing to Point Baja (now known as Ermita Hill). These 7 families were the Angaras, Bihasas, Carrascos, Bitongs, Pobletes, Lumascas, and Ferreras. 
The Tromba Marina monument along the slope of Ermita Hill was built to commemorate the 7 families who were the only survivors of the tragedy. It depicts not only their will to survive but also their persistence to rebuild their lives.

In February 2011, the province officially launched the Kinagunasan Festival: A Festival of Hope, A Celebration of Life. Kinagunasan is a local term that means "wiped out".
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Museo de Baler
The museum houses pieces that are significant to the town's history, and to the Philippines at that. Among these artifacts are Chinese porcelain items dated back to the era of Galleon Trade recovered from the shipwrecks in Palawan, Manila Bay, and Luzon area. The museum also keeps records, reports, and letters of Franciscan missionaries who settled in the region from 1609 to 1899.

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Historical mural sculpted by Toym Imao, son of Abdulmari Imao, the National Artist for Visual Arts 

The film Baler in 2008 which starred Anne Curtis and Jericho Rosales was based on the Siege of Baler, a battle during the Philippine Revolution in 1898 where Spanish troops of 4 officers and 50 men under the command of Capt. Enrique de las Morenas y Fossi defended Baler from Filipino revolutionaries. 800 Filipino troops under the command of Teodorico Luna (relative of painter Juan Luna) attacked the town, forcing the Spanish garrison to fall back to the church. The siege which lasted 11 months took place at the fortified Baler Church. 
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This battle was considered part of the Spanish-American War where the Filipinos were allies of the U.S. forces. The Spanish-American War ended in December 1898 upon the surrender of Spain. However, the Spanish forces in Baler, being cut-off from all communication, continued to defend their post until 1899. Within these grueling days of battle, the Spanish troops slowly died of starvation, bullets, diseases, and wounds. Of the 54 men, around 30 survived the siege and was sent back to Barcelona. Three of the commanding officers including Captain Las Morenas died in the siege. The survivors were known as Los Ultimos de Filipinas or The Last Ones of the Philippines (Ang Pinakahuli Mula sa Pilipinas) and were honored as heroes in Spain. Captain Las Morenas was posthumously promoted to Major and was awarded with Spain's highest military medal, Lauerate Cross of San Fernando.

The bravery and fortitude of the Spanish troop, though outnumbered they were, was praised by General Emilio Agunialdo and referred to them as "not prisoners of war but as friends" and described their feat as "an epic as glorious as the legendary valour of El Cid and of Pelayo".

Some of the artifacts in Museo de Baler
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San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church
Just a few blocks from Museo de Baler is the Baler Church. Also known as San Luis Obispo be Tolosa Church, Baler Church in its original form of nipa and bamboo was first built by the Franciscans in 1611.

This was the church where a Spanish troop of 4 officers and 50 men were besieged by Filipino revolutionists in 1898, known as The Siege of Baler. The epic story of fortitude and bravery was the inspiration of the Filipino movie, Baler.
 

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Doña Aurora House
From Baler Church, Doña Aurora House is just on the other side of the street. Located on the corner lot, the wooden house with twin-peaked nipa roofs was built in traditional Filipino style: a single-storey house on stilts, awning windows that open outward and held in place by short wooden poles.
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The first owner of the house was Aurora's mother, Zenaida Molina who married Pedro Aragon. The earliest record found that could somehow estimate how old the house was, was the birth documents of their second daughter, Emilia, which dated back in April 1877. Aurora, the youngest daughter, was born in February 1888.


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After the Siege wherein the town was burnt down, the houses across the Church including Aragon House (Doña Aurora House) was reconstructed. Based on archival documents and old photographs the reconstructed version was kept as closely resembling the original as possible.

Sabang Beach
Baler is best known as a surfing destination where surfing enthusiasts and amateur surfers get a taste of huge Pacific swells. The gigantic waves can reach up to 2.7 meters high. Depending on the time of the year and the surfing point, these swells can sometimes reach up to 14 feet high.


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There are a number of surfing points in the whole coastal area of Aurora but the municipality of Baler offers the most accessible points with good accommodations.

Sabang Beach is a good surfing site for beginners and amateurs. Ideal surfing period is from October to February when large waves are formed. March to June is good for windsurfing and swimming as the waves are relatively calm. 


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Other recommended surfing points in Baler are:

Cemento Beach. If you are an expert surfer, this area is recommended for you. It provides a more challenging experience with its 14-ft high waves breaking at the sharp reefs of this region. These towering waves normally show up from October to February.

Lindy's Point. A newly discovered surfing spot located further north of Sabang Beach. Strong, sharp break waves are formed when waters from the town river and Pacific Ocean clash which in turn produce tall waves.

Charlie's Point. Charlie's Point is known for its medium-quality right and left break waves. December to January is its best surfing  season.  It's name was coined after this surfing point was filmed in the movie Apocalypse Now, where a character named Charlie was told, "Charlie, don't surf there".


Baler, Backpacking Pinoy Couple, Philippines, It's More Fun in the Philippines, philippine travels, backpacking, backpacking philippines, how to go to aurora, how to go to baler, North Luzon, sabang beach, surfing, surfing in sabang
Locals here double as surfing instructors

Best waves for surfing in Baler is during the southwest monsoon, from October to March. The peak surfing season when tallest waves occur is from December to February.

In April of each year, the Baler Beginner's Surf Competition promotes surfing as a sport where amateurs and beginners compete. The main surfing event happens in February where foreign and local surfers arrive in Baler to join in this 3-day event.

Baler, Backpacking Pinoy Couple, Philippines, It's More Fun in the Philippines, philippine travels, backpacking, backpacking philippines, how to go to aurora, how to go to baler, North Luzon



For the details of this adventure, check out our 1-Day Itinerary further below.

How to go to  Baler, Aurora from Manila by Car (Private Transport)
From Manila, drive to NLEX (North Luzon Expressway all the way to the last toll gate in Dau, Pampanga. From there, enter SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway or SCTEX. Check for signages where the road will lead you to Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija. You should still be traversing the national highway by this time. Drive carefully especially in the zigzag parts of the road. Ask for directions in case you're not sure where to go.

Along the Nueva Ecija - Aurora highway, you will pass by Pantabangan Dam. When you reach the province of Aurora, you will pass by the towns of Maria Aurora and San Luis. Follow the signs which will lead you to Baler. You would know you're entering Baler when you see its well-known subject of photo-ops: The Baler Arch.

How to go to  Baler, Aurora from Manila by Bus (Public Transport)
The Genesis Transport Service, Inc. offers regular trip to Baler and back. Their terminal is located in Cubao and Pasay. First trip to Baler from Cubao is at 3AM with 1 hour interval. I suggest you inquire about their updated schedule for more accuracy. First trip from Baler to Pasay is 4:30AM and last trip is at 3:00PM. Trip schedule has 1 hour interval.

Genesis Transport Building
704 EDSA Cor. New York St.,
Cubao, Quezon City
(02) 709 - 0803  /  (02) 421 - 1425

Commuting around Baler didn't seem easy. Most of the towns we passed by only had tricycles as means of transport. Price is Php10/head if just from one point to another within Baler town proper. From the town proper to Sabang Beach it is Php15/head. Tricycle drivers double as tour guides so they can also be hired for a day to take you to different places. Rates depend on the package you want:

A. Ampere Beach, Dipaculao
Rate:  Php200/tricycle
Max Capacity:  3 pax/tricycle
Destination:  Ampere Beach

B. History Trail and Eco Strip (half-day tour)
Rate:  Php500/tricycle
Max Capacity:  3 pax/tricycle
Destinations: 
          History Trail - Museo de Baler, Baler Church, Doña Aurora Quezon Ancestral House
          Eco Strip - Dimadimalangat and Añao Islets, Diguisit Beach, Ermita Hill
                      * a tour to Dicasalarin Cove and PAGASA Weather Radar Station is optional but it includes hiking to a steep hill going to the entrance. I'm really not sure if the tricycle can make it there. Just be sure to allot 1.5 hours walking your way there then another 1.5 hours going back to the entrance. The entrance I referred to is located on top of the mountain range above the cove. It would be a long walk going there but then again, you may opt to take a pumpboat instead. They can be found in the nearby public resorts in Diguisit. It costs Php1,500 for a maximum of 8 passengers.

C. History Trail, Eco Strip, Ditumabo (Mother) Falls, Millenium Tree (whole day tour)
Rate:  Php800/tricycle
Max Capacity:  3 pax/tricycle
Destinations: 
          History Trail - Museo de Baler, Baler Church, Doña Aurora Quezon Ancestral House
          Eco Strip - Dimadimalangat and Añao Islets, Diguisit Beach, Ermita Hill
          Ditumabo Falls (a.k.a. Mother Falls); this entails 40 minutes to 1 hour trek. They allow tourists from 6AM to 4PM, with 4PM being the last batch of tourists to visit for the day.
          Millenium Tree (a balete tree)

For those traveling in group you may contact our hired van/driver, 
Kuya Mark at 0999.8834868 or 0905.4896262
He is based in Taguig area
Transpo rate is at Php1,500/head for a minimum of 12 pax
The maximum capacity of his vehicle (Toyota HiAce) is 14 pax

Rate per head changes if you are less than 12 pax
Note: Rate includes gas and toll payments but does not include meals and accommodation


Our 1-Day Travel Itinerary in Baler

It was one of those dragging wee hours in the evening when I received a text message from a friend with an invitation for a one-day tour to Baler. 

We left for Baler from our assembly point at SM Bicutan at 9PM on February 21, Friday evening and spent the night sleeping while traveling. We arrived at the boundary of Nueva Ecija and Aurora at 3:30 AM. The itinerary below starts at the time we arrived at this boundary.

Feb 22, Saturday
   3:30 AM    ~   hit the boundary of Nueva Ecija and Baler
   4:00 AM    ~   breakfast at the first carinderia or eatery we saw in Baler
   4:45 AM    ~   arrived at Diguisit Bay and Diguisit Rock Formation
   7:00 AM    ~   left Diguisit and headed to Dicasalarin Cove
   8:00 AM    ~   passed by the gate to Dicasalarin Cove for registration (Php100/head)
   8:30 AM  ~   arrived at Dicasalarin Cove and trekked to lighthouse
   9:30 AM   ~  swimming, camwhoring, and lazed around
 11:30 AM    ~   left Dicasalarin and headed to PAGASA Weather Radar Station
   1:00 PM    ~   quick lunch at an eatery
   2:00 PM    ~   Tromba Marina
   3:00 PM    ~   Museo de Baler
   3:45 PM   ~    Church
   4:00 PM   ~    Doña Aurora House
   4:30 PM   ~    Sabang Beach
   6:00 PM   ~    Departure back to Manila (trek to Mother Falls failed due to time constraint)

We were back in Manila at 2:00 AM on Sunday, February 23.

Budget breakdown updated as of January 2014
   Php 1,500.00     transpo, 2-way (hired van); includes gas and toll (minimum of 12 pax)
   Php    100.00     entrance to Dicasalarin Cove
   Pocket money: 
   Php    200.00     meals
   Php    500.00     pasalubong (souvenir items, native delicacies)

If you like this, you might also like other destinations in North Luzon:

Ilocos Sur - Ilocos Norte Adventure Series
   Part 1:  Vigan, Ilocos Sur
   Part 2:  Ilocos Norte
                - The White Pride of Ilocos Norte:  Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
                - The Famous Coastal Resort Town of Ilocos Norte:  Pagudpud
                - Snaking Its Way:  Patapat Viaduct
                - Giants of Ilocos Norte:  Bangui Windmills
                - A Lonely Sentinel of Burgos: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
                - The Centuries-Old Church of Paoay: St. Augustine Church 
Pangasinan - Zambales Adventure Series
   Part 1:  Our Lady of Manaoag Shrine
   Part 2:  Island Hopping and Snorkeling in Alaminos: Hundred Islands National Park
   Part 3:  Escape to Palauig, Zambales: Magalawa Island
Zambales One-Day Adventure
   Part 1:  Tree Top Adventure
   Part 2:  Zoobic Safari Tour

Nueva Ecija
   Minalungao National Park: Nueva Ecija Finds Its Way to Philippine Tourism Map




Backpacking Pinoy Couple 2014
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