Surely, I needed a break from a stressful semester. Not to the beach, well, not just yet, but a trek to Panimahawa Ridge located in Impalutao, Impasug-ong, Bukidnon. It has an elevation of 2678 ft and roughly takes a couple of hours to hike to reach the peak. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, let’s see! 😉 We drove for about 1.5hrs from Cagayan de Oro to Ant Farm (meet-up point) in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon. It’s recommended you bring your own food especially if camping overnight. Don’t forget lots of water too although, there’s a spring along the trail for free refills and a mini shop that sells bottled water, soda, biscuits etc. but of course it is pricier than normal. The trek schedule starts at 3PM if camping overnight and 4AM for a day trek. There are no tents provided so bringing your own and other necessary camping gear is a must. For a group of five, you’re charged 300/person but for groups of four and below it’s 900/person. You can tip to your guide if you want.
We arrived at Ant Farm quite early, so we took the opportunity to eat our home-cooked lunch and relaxed for a bit. Then, we signed the waiver and paid the required fees. Bob, the officer in-charge assigned us to our guide, William.
We were so excited that we went ahead of the other groups. Mainly, because we didn’t want to miss the sunset and a good spot to pitch our tents. The trek started with a meandering descent through the jungle. It was arduous fun and a good leg warm-up would have helped.
I never hated gravity until we started climbing a large steep hill with a hefty backpack and the scorching sun above us did not help, especially without shade. Looking up, it seemed like you were almost there but really you weren’t. Eventually, we made it to the top and took a quick break, catching our breaths and regaining our energy.
From there, we hiked on flatter ground and could see the mountain ranges from a distance. The smell of fresh air was very invigorating. There was a mini shop before approaching the final ascent and here we took another break and refilled our water bottles, we also quenched our thirst with sugary drinks. After a good twenty-minute rest, we carried on with our hike. This hill was so much steeper than the previous one, we did more stops than normal and panted like crazy. There was a sweet, cool breeze blowing and the sun has mellowed down, which made that last hurdle more bearable.
Eventually, we reached our destination with our hearts pounding like a heavy metal rock band. The climb was really tough but seeing the picturesque landscape and the beautiful golden sun retreating behind the mountains was incredibly rewarding. I was awestruck of the beauty around me.
I miss camping so much (it’s been my and my husband’s tradition whenever we go on summer holiday in the UK).This experience in Bukidnon brought back that feeling.
Anyway, we scoffed our dinner and spent most of the night looking up at the star-laden sky. We named the constellations whilst stuffing our faces with crisps. The last time I’d seen stars like these was a night sail in Isla Gigantes with my husband back in 2017.
The only thing that marred the trip was us not being able to sleep well. Unfortunately, some guides pitched their tents next to us and they were very noisy chattering, giggling, laughing. I found it very inconsiderate to other campers who wanted to rest after a tiring hike. I could even hear people next to our tents complaining about how loud they were. They did not stop until around 2AM. (Sigh)
Despite the sleep deprivation, we woke at 430AM. It was very chilly, so packing some thermal clothes is important. We had our morning coffee to keep us toasty until the golden hues of dawn edged away the darkness.
At around 6am we started packing our stuff for the trek down, making sure we hadn’t left any rubbish. We would have loved to have stayed a little longer but our guide didn’t recommend it as it could get really hot hiking down.
Our trek down was not as strenuous as going up. Reaching Ant Farm was a victory! Haha So we rewarded ourselves with a cold buko juice. Ah! So yummy!
If you’re looking for an overnight stay with a reasonably intense hike and amazing, rewarding landscapes, Panimahawa Ridge in Bukidnon is the place to go. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did but don’t forget to come equipped.
In the last four years, I have been applying for Saudi Arabian visas to visit my husband working in the Kingdom. So far, all my visa applications were granted. Basically, the initial application was done by my husband online through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who issues the pre-approval visa slip. This document alongside with my passport, proof of kinship (marriage certificate) were given to my agent for visa stamping. The latter document has to be authenticated in DFA and the Saudi Embassy in Manila thru East West Placement in Makati. The stamping took three days then I was good to go.
VFS TasHeel in the Philippines
However, in my recent resident visa application, I was told by my agent that there have been changes in the visa stamping procedure. Personal appearance of the applicant is required for bio metric enrollment that includes collection of finger prints, facial image and other biographic details reflected on the applicant’s passport. VFS TasHeel Visa Service Centers have offices in Manila, Cebu and Davao. The above mentioned centers will process various categories of visa permits including resident, educational, personal, commercial visits etc., with the exception of Hajj, Umrah and Work visas.
Listed below is the complete list of resident visa requirements:
Original and copy of the passport.
Passport should be valid for at least six months.
Passport must contain at least two blank facing pages.
Passport must not contain any restriction and authorizes its holder to return to the issuing country.
2 recent photos with white background. The photograph size should be 2 inch x 2 inch (51 mm x 51 mm), no uniform, with white background, and frontal view, and should not be more than 3 months old
Enjaz Form, filled by the Visa Service Center and signed by the Applicant.
Residence visa slip or its copy containing visa number and date of its issuance. The validity of residence visa is one (1) year effective from the date of its issuance in the Kingdom. Arabic translation showing on the right side should be evident on the document.
Proof of kinship or marital relationship (marriage contract with regards to wife, birth certificates for children), duly authenticated by the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs and Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Manila. The age of the children should not exceed (18) years old and the daughters should not be married.
Valid Medical Certificate issued by one of the medical centers accredited by the Embassy.
The initial steps of my application were done by my husband. He had our authenticated marriage certificate and his degree certificates attested and translated in Saudi Arabia which cost about 200 SAR. He then submitted all the documents to his company’s liaison officer for processing. However, once you are granted with the visa, the IQAMA (Residence Card) application follows through which cost 2000SAR.
In two weeks time, we got the Pre-approval Visa slip (this will be one of the documents needed for visa stamping).
Next step was obtaining my medical certificate in the Philippines which took just over a week. It cost me roughly PhP 5000 on all medical tests.
Here is the list of the accredited clinics in the Philippines:
American Outpatient Clinic Angelina Apostol-Punzalan Medical Clinic Angelus Medical Clinic Arguelles Medical Clinic Cebu Physicians Diagnostic Services Center Inc, Christian E. Cango Medical Clinic & Laboratory Davao Physicians Diagnostic Services Center Inc, HYATT Diagnostic System Inc, International Diagnostic Center L-R Medical & X-ray Clinic Inc. Mabini Medical Clinic, Inc Medisense Laboratory Center, Inc. Manila 1 Medisense Laboratory Center, Inc.Cebu Branch 2 Medisense Laboratory Center, Inc. Davao Branch 3 Medisense Laboratory Center, Inc. Bacolod Branch 4 My Health Clinic Our Lady of Fatima Medical Clinic Philippine Medical Test System Physicians Diagnostic Services RGO Laboratory and Industrial Diagnostic Center Inc, Safeway Diagnostic Services SM Lazo Medical Clenic, Inc. St. Martin Polycinic, Inc. St. Patrick’s Healthcare System St. Peter-Paul Medical Clinic, Inc St. Peter-Paul Medical Clinic, Inc. Cebu Branch YGEIA Medical Center. Inc.
Booking an Appointment
It was time to book my appointment! Luckily, if you are living close to one of the visa centers mentioned above then you dont have to travel far like I did. Although I was close to Davao and Cebu but the posting time of my passport would take another 7-10 days because they have to send it to Manila office and then back. I was really short of time because I had my flight to Saudi Arabia booked on the 1st of February.
Anyway, they have a lounge service should you want to avoid long queues, like myself. 😉 They had nice soft seats and give you a drink or two. I noticed they have put Wi-Fi access too in the lounge service facility whilst booking my appointment online but ironically, all phones have to be turned off upon entering the center.
Normal PhP 2,651.00
Lounge PhP 4,307.00
Please note though that the type of service does not affect the length of visa stamping.
My appointment went painless and done in less than an hour. The staffs were so friendly too.
Note: Dependents below six-years old dont need personal appearance.
Now, this is the crazy thing. I forgot to inform the clinic who issued my medical certificate to upload my files in the system as instructed by the VFS personnel who managed my application. I did not realize this until two days after my appointment date. This caused a little delay to the visa stamping procedure. I was frantic about the possibility of missing my flight, two flights in fact.
So, I had to contact the courier service (2GO) to track my parcel containing my passport and fortunately they were able to fish it out my parcel from the plane in NAIA. I was instructed to pick up my passport in their office in Pasay. It was literally just hours before my flight to Saudi! Crikey! Oh well the odds were still in my favor. Thank you universe!
HORRAY! Im now back in Saudi with my luvva!
P.S I have been encountering enquiries about a personal agent who could process their visa applications for Saudi Arabia in expat.com. Her details listed below;
During the 90’s, the City of Golden Friendship used to have a large water park, called ‘The Wet Adventure,’ located along the Cagayan de Oro National highway on the corner of RN Pelaez Blvd. You’ll find a Savemore Supermarket there now.
Being amongst the city’s foremost tourist attractions, it was a popular place for Kagay-anons (people of Cagayan de Oro) to spend time having aquatic fun with family and friends. To the customer’s delight, a live band was introduced. However, local residents complained of the noise from these late-night pool parties and for one reason or another the water park was closed down.
Now, two decades later, the wait is over. The brand new, world class, Seven Seas Water Park is opening. You can find it in Barra Opol, Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, about 15 minutes drive from the city centre and 45 minutes drive from Laguindingan airport.
Luckily, I was invited into the water park before its public opening. Nice, right?
Honestly, the park is amazing- tons of aquatic fun for all. There is a pool for very young kids, which has smaller slides and there’s a very large swimming pool for everyone else that starts at 3 feet- up to 8 feet in depth. It’s reassuring to see lifeguards stationed at the end of every slide and around the pool. For general help one of the parks attendants is never too far away. They are in designated areas and are all friendly and willing to give assistance.
You’ll find sunbeds liberally scattered poolside if your after that golden tan. If you prefer the shade there are lots of palm trees to hide under, but also plenty of sheltered tables and benches, providing comfortable spots to chill and relax. The park has about three restaurants and cafes.
Now, on to the exciting part -the rides! I tried four rides when I went. However, there are three or four more which weren’t operating but probably will be, once the park is officially open. All rides have weight requirements, 40Kg being the minimum and 90Kg maximum. You literally step on weighing scales before they let you go on. It’s the safety rule. So, if you don’t want to miss the rides, either starting eating less or more to make the weight.
The Cyclone, Riptide Reef, Pira-Chute and the Escape Tunnel
The Cyclone is the largest water slide. It is a four person ride on an inflatable raft. Weight distribution on the raft is carefully checked by the lifeguards. You start in an enclosed slide tube, spinning round in a giddy slosh, then, you approach the edge. Suddenly, a BIG drop hurtling down a humongous funnel, with your stomach butterflying into the sky. Screaming so fierce, lungs ring, the tube swinging and spinning to the right, to the left, left to right and back again. The heavier the passengers, the bouncier the tube and the further it swings. The most exhilarating water ride I’ve ever attempted.
The Riptide Reef is a tandem slide-ride on an inflatable. With the heavier person is on the front, the ride is especially exciting. When you reach the final drop, the tube hangs briefly in mid-air before gravity reminds it to fall. Tremendous tingling fun.
Pira-Chute is the green/blue slide for one person at a time. After experiencing the two big rides, I found this not so nerve-wracking but still a lot of fun.
The Escape Tunnel, is a narrower enclosed slide. Its very dim inside and this makes it more fun and kind of freaky as your eyes adjust to the dark.
I recommend wearing secure swimwear as the rides are intense and things can come off! Bringing action cameras aren’t allowed during rides for safety reasons.
I’m sure you guys are all excited so just hold on a little longer.
In short, it’s a really fun water park, full of thrills and spills and some scary aqua action!
Rates are as follows:
Photos were taken using iPhone 6Plus and DJI Mavic Pro.
Isla Gigantes is a chain of beautiful islands in Carles, located in the northernmost part of Iloilo (Western Visayas). It has two main islands; Gigantes Norte and Gigantes Sur, around which a small group of minor islets is clustered.
Gigantes! The name dates from the Spanish colonial era and comes from legends describing enormous human bones found inside Bakwitan cave. However, with the fading sun, as I gazed across the water at the islands, they looked to me like ancient sleeping giants. So, I have my own explanation for the name Gigantes.
I visited Isla Gigantes last year on a tour package for four for 3Dys & 2Nts at 2485/pax. It was a good deal with meals, accommodation and boat rides all inclusive.
February of this year I decided to go back to Isla Gigantes, this time with my husband. We were looking forward to a bright and sunny holiday after coming from chilly England. We decided to stay for six days, yes six wicked days in paradise!
You can fly to Iloilo city from most airports in the Philippines but be aware of arrival times. Most flights arrive too late to catch the ferry which departs ONCE daily from the port of Estancia to Isla Gigantes at 1pm. The trip back to Estancia is also ONCE daily which leaves at 8am in the morning. As we arrived at Iloilo airport late afternoon, we had already anticipated missing the ferry so we taxied to Northview Inn in Jaro to stay overnight.
Northview Inn is nothing fancy but it’s clean and a stone’s throw away from Tagbak Bus Terminal where you can find transport to the port. There is plenty to see in Iloilo and in the evening we headed to Smallville which is the city’s nightlife capital. There’s a complex there which has restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs so we took the opportunity to eat out and have a few bottles of beer! 😉
The next morning, we took a short jeepney ride to Tagbak bus terminal to catch the van to Estancia Port. You can catch one about every 30 minutes and expect to pay PhP 150.00 for each passenger. The bus takes around three hours to reach Estancia. Nick greeted us at the port and guided us to the passenger boat. Nick by the way, is one of Joel Decano’s (resort owner) men, and I knew him from my previous visit. The boat fee from Estencia to Gigantes is PhP 80.00 per person and sailing time about two hours to Gigantes Norte.
Day 1: Arrival in Gigantes Norte
This picturesque island saw all the travel stress, dissipate into the salty air. It’s a wonderful feeling finally arriving at the islands and the sense of magic starts as you land on the beach. The main resort is called Hideaway Inn and is a short walk from where we are in the photo. However, we had chosen to stay in one of its smaller satellite resorts on a small islet called Bulobadiang. So why did we choose the small island? Simply because it’s isolated, raw and our cottage was on the shore looking out over the sea. It’s the only resort on the island and if you want a serene holiday, Bulobadiang is the place to stay. Unlike the main island which holds a disco every Thursday and Saturday (if I’m not mistaken) and they also hold basketball games during the week, and I tell you, the sound system they use for this is aggressively loud.
Okay, here is our lovely chalet in Bulobadiang. It’s normally for a group of four to five people but we had it just for the two of us. We paid PhP 200.00/night/person which is very good. Although, the toilet and shower were communal, so take note if sharing bothers you.
Food-wise the island mostly relies on serving seafood such as scallops, fish, crab, squid and wasay-wasay (oyster look-a-like thingy). We enjoyed a yummy seafood spread for the first two days but come the next day, we had had enough of it. Scallops can soon become samey. So, we began to make suggestions to the crew about what we fancied on our table and they were happy to oblige. We also requested some fruit and a plentiful supply of buko (young coconut) to drink. They were very helpful and attentive to our needs, very lovely people indeed. They even let me cook our own food in their kitchen once or twice. I really enjoyed it as cooking is also my passion. If like us, you are not going for an inclusive package deal, you still don’t have to worry food expenditure as meals are very reasonably-priced.
Day 2: Bantigui Island and Cabugao Gamay Island
We hired a boat to cruise to Bantigui and Cabugao Gamay Island. Normally, they would charge PhP 2000.00/day, but I as able to haggle it down to PhP 1500.00. We chose not to get a guide as I had been there before but a guide isn’t always essential as there are plenty of people to talk to who will help and give suggestions about where to go and what to see.
First stop was Bantigui Island. It has a gorgeous sandbar and the crystal turquoise water is amazing. Had a refreshing morning dip with the place almost all to ourselves. It’s best to start island hopping as early as possible before tourists pile up. It’s cooler in the morning too!
We walked to the further end of the island and climbed up onto a small rocky outcrop to take photos. It was fun exploring around the coast and I realized that hiring the boat myself meant we weren’t restricted by time. Many packages only allow so long on each island hop and if you want more freedom it’s worth considering hiring the boat yourself directly.
Next stop was Cabugao Gamay (small) island. One end of it has lush vegetation, whilst on the other end is a rock formation overlooking the sea which has become an iconic spot for tourists to take photos. In between, is the beautiful sandbar dotted with coconut trees. The island is surrounded with bright blue green waters which again, are perfect for swimming. There is also an eatery there, so no worries should you feel peckish.
We sailed back to Bulobadiang and lazed in our chalet and spoiled ourselves by drinking a buko or two. By the way, we got badly burned that day, especially my husband. Luckily enough we got some fresh Aloe Vera from the locals and that helped sooth our skin. So important reminder, bring the highest SPF possible and apply liberally. Day 3 Spanish Lighthouse ruins
The following day, we just chilled at our resort in the morning, drinking buko and eating fresh fruit. They don’t normally have fresh fruit there but they’ll procure some for you, as long as you let them know in advance.
Later we took a trip back over to Gigantes Norte to see the ruins of the old Spanish lighthouse in the north of the island. It costs PhP 15.00/person on a motorbike and it takes roughly 10 minutes to get there. However, we chose to go by foot as it wasn’t too hot and we also wanted to see the little community on the island. There were a lot of school kids greeting us as we walked with their bright smiling faces. One even walked along with us to the lighthouse. There she is on the photo below.
Day 3: Antonia Beach, Tangke Saltwater Lagoon, Isla Uaydajon, Gigantillo and Ginatuna Islands
Antonia beach is another must-see spot in the Gigantes island group. It’s a mini haven for snorkelling and kayaking. Snorkelling costs PhP50/hr for the gear and kayaking PhP200/hr, although prices might change. They also sell fresh scallops here at PhP1 each.
I had a great time snorkelling seeing the beautiful coral and colourful fish. I would suggest to bring your own snorkelling set, because the gear they rent out is a bit old and overused. After a few lazy hours in the water we sailed on to the Tangke Saltwater Lagoon.
This beautiful hidden spot is surrounded by towering rock formations. We arrived early so the tide was still quite low, but we were not bothered as we’d already swam a lot at Antonia beach. Luckily it was empty except for the caretakers who collect the fee to see. You will agree with me when I say this place is beautiful gem. Great, innit?
Tourists started to arrive but before hopping on the boat, my husband made a 30 foot cliff jump into the sea, just outside the lagoon. I did it last year- totally exhilarating! This time I was little bit of a pansy cake and didnt jump.
Okay, next stop was Isla Uaydajon. We spotted it from the boat and when I pointed it out to our boatman, he happily took us there. This island is uninhabited, although our boatman said that there was a little resort not long ago but unfortunately stopped doing business after being hit by the recent tropical storm. Locals have said that this island is for sale, ‘if only we could afford it’, I thought to myself. Hahaha!
This island was a little too rocky to swim so we just explored. We spotted a few beautiful empty shells scattered around that must have been decorative remains from the resort which had once been here. We didn’t stay long here as the scorching heat of the sun was draining us and we were hungry.
Sailing back we passed two islets- the Gigantillo and Gigantuna islands. Gigantillo is a massive rock formation with lush green sprouting over it. We decided to stop in Gigantuna as I got curious about the ruin I could see from a distance. The boatman narrated that this ruin used to be a holiday house of an old mayor of Iloilo and was wrecked after a big typhoon hit. We briefly disembarked to look and take photos.
Depending on the time of month, the tide can go low enough in the late afternoon, to be able to walk across from Bulobadiang to Gigantes Norte. As we waded through the clear waters, we could see the beautiful coral, various coloured giant starfish, stingless jelly fish and some interesting fish. We also spotted a few sea urchins.
Here along the shore of Gigantes Norte, the locals are de-shelling mountains of scallops ready for delivery the next day. The scallop shells are all over the sandbar, literally millions of them. The piles of shells serve as much needed barrier, shielding the island from the high waters during typhoons.
A full and active day was dutifully rewarded in Hideaway Inn Resort with a gin and tonic for me and beer for my husband. It was dark when we were given, what turned out to be the best boat ride of the holiday, back to Bulobadiang. The heavens were so clear and spectacular with The MILKY WAY hanging above us in starry splendor! Even if I’d had a long exposure camera I’d never capture the awe of that amazing sky. Beautiful beyond words.
Day 5 Lazy Islanders
Spent this day soaking in the island one last time. We read our books drinking buko and enjoyed the company of the people there. Had a great time swimming, relaxing and just enjoying the tropical haven and natural beauty of the place. At the back of our minds we dreaded having to leave but like all good things the holiday was drawing to its end!!!
Day 6 Ciao for now Gigantes!
We left and caught the passenger boat that leaves at eight in the morning. Had a smooth journey back to Estancia and headed straight to catch the van back to Iloilo City. It had been such a wonderful excursion in paradise. Leaving was inevitably bittersweet but both of us were grateful that we had managed to pack in such a lot of good memories and beautiful experiences and…..at the very least I was going home with gorgeously tanned skin. :p
Important reminder: Bulobadiang doesnt have electricity, although they have a generator which they turn on 5pm until 10pm.
Joel Decano (0918) 468 5006
Michelle Soberano (0939) 4002064
Photos are taken using iPhone 6plus, iPad Pro and GoPro Hero 3+ (dome port)