About Me

My photo
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Photography keeps me sane and brings me outside of my routine. I have no particular genres of choice, I just enjoy shooting anything that is worth capturing in the right light and at the right time. Hope you enjoy my photos, work and travel stories.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

En Route to the Top of the World

" The Beauty of the Mountain is hidden for all those who try to discover it from the top, supposing that, one way or another, one can reach this place directly. The Beauty of the Mountain reveals only to those who climbed it..." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last April 22,on the day of the earth, I conquered Mt. Pulag!

For a short while, I was on top of the world witnessing the colorful breaking of dawn from 2922 meters above sea level. 

Amidst the cold weather, I savored every second watching in front of me a beautiful scene unfolding while capturing every angle of the summit's golden landscape, colorful skies and sea of clouds that cover the astounding mountain ranges of Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet provinces.  Located in the middle of these three provinces, Mt. Pulag  is the highest peak in Luzon and the 3rd in Philippines after Mt. Apo (2956 meters) and Mt. Dulang Dulang (2938).

“Talagang sulit etong trip na to” (this trip is really worth it) my friend and shutter mate Ian told me when we reached the summit. Taking photographs of a beautiful creation on top of the world at 360 degrees is definitely a priceless experience.

Last Minute Decision

I received the invitation to climb Pulag as early as February.  But,  it was only four days before the climb that I said yes to it -- when an important event in the family was moved a week after the date of the climb.   After clearing my schedule I immediately asked Ian to help me register for the climb. Unfortunately at that time we got a no answer from the organizer because all slots were already taken.  So it came to my surprise when two days before the climb (I was then in Cagayan de Oro) Ian called to inform me that one climber backed out and the organizer decided to take me in. Finally, my wish to climb Pulag expedition was granted!

courtesy of Atty. Ian Flores
Registering beyond deadline however took its toll on my preparation.  First, I missed the pre climb meeting and second, I didn't have adequate time to prepare myself and all the things that I need to bring to ensure a smooth climb. Luckily, the KSP (Kasama sa Paglalakbay), who organized the climb, set the call time at 10:00 in the evening of April 20. This allowed me to finish first my work commitment in Mindanao until lunch time before I left for Manila. Since my flight from Cagayan de Oro was at 2pm, I was expecting to reach Manila around 5pm so I would still have enough time to rest and prepare for the climb. Unfortunately, the more than one hour delay in my flight and the heavy Friday traffic jam in Manila took most of my time to prepare. It was already 30 minutes past seven (which was two hours late from my original target arrival time) when I reached home. I did a quick check of my list and asked my kids to help me pack my things so I could leave immediately and catch our bus going to Baguio. Expecting that I would be walking for two days, I brought only the essential things that I think needed to survive the climb. It was a big relief that my wife (who is a more experienced climber and was then also on a work related mission in Mindanao)  instructed our kids the night before to prepare some of the things I needed for this climb. Likewise, the decision of Ian and his wife Abet to include me in their food supply also made my list of things to bring shorter.

I decided to leave home at 9:20pm. I picked up Ian and Abet along the way and together we proceeded to the Victory bus terminal in Cubao.

A Long and Winding Road

We were the last ones to arrive at the bus terminal.  Ian introduced me to the organizers.  I also met the other climbers who, like me, were also excited  and looking forward to a successful climb.

To ensure that I would not run out of camera battery  during this 2.5-day expedition, I made a plan to recharge my empty spare batteries while waiting for our trip and during stop overs.  Hence while waiting at the bus terminal, I started executing my plan. The bus made a couple of short stops in Tarlac and Pangasinan and in every stop I continued recharging my batteries.  This strategy worked because before our jeepney service that would bring us to the foot of Mt. Pulag arrive I already had with me two fully charged camera batteries.  And since we reached Baguio bus terminal  ahead of schedule (5:30am) I was  also able to buy other stuffs such as tissue paper, batteries for my head lamp and water.

We took the standard jeepney ride going to Kabayan, Benguet.  It was not an easy ride though. Spending for more than four hours in an enclosed jeep traversing on a wildly winding and dusty road was a bane to my weak stomach and aching head. This was aggravated by the fact that we had to take the road along landslide prone areas, with the jeep sometimes only a few meters or so from the road edges. Nonetheless, maybe because of the excitement and adrenalin rush I didn't mind going through a number of road turns in a very rough and rocky terrain. To describe how bad the road was, our jeep even got stuck over a big rock and had a flat tire when we were about to reach the Ranger Station. 

The roller coaster ride from Baguio to the DENR office (where we had the standard briefing on responsible climb) and Ranger Station, though difficult, served as a prelude to a more challenging task ahead of us.  And this is what I discovered when our jeep had reached the end point, still a kilometer to the ranger station. Because of the ongoing road construction project we were forced to get off and walk uphill to the Ranger Station. At that point I said to myself that the serious climb had finally started.  After 30 minutes, we finally reached the Ranger Area and joined other climbers for lunch. We stayed a little longer there to rest, prepare and regroup.

Anticipating the many obstacles that we would meet along the way to camp 2, I was convinced to get the help of a porter for 500 pesos (+ tip).  Getting a porter is definitely a good idea for a person like me who wants to shoot while trekking. Anyway  I went to Pulag primarily not to burn fats and challenge my stamina but to bring home beautiful photographs.   Hiring a local porter is also a good way of contributing something to the community who serves as the guardian of the mountain.

After meeting our respective porters and joining the other climbers for a souvenir photo, we started our final climb for the day.

From the Ranger Station to the summit is around 8 km-climb uphill. However the plan for the day was just to reach camp 2, spend the night there and take an early morning climb to the summit. Because of a number of stops to rest and take photographs, it took us four hours to reach camp 2. 

The first hour of the trek to Campsite 2 was relatively easy as we were romanced by wide trails with pine trees on the side and the picturesque landscape. But there were also spots where we had difficulty breathing due to a strong ammonia smell coming from piles of untreated chicken manure that the farmers use in producing potatoes and carrots.

Then we entered the mossy forest with a very diverse species of flora and fauna. Though we were already going up, the trek was generally enjoyable and relaxing due to the cool atmosphere inside the forest. We were even joking that trail to Camp 2 seemed to be easier than the trail to Mt. Pinatubo crater. 

After around two hours of walking we reached camp 1. We rested for a while and continued our trek to camp 2.  Walking towards camp 2 was an enjoyable experience especially in the part where we could already see of the summit of Mt. Pulag in a beautiful hue of golden brown.  Though the expedition was still far from over, the excitement that I got from looking at where we were heading too motivated me to go an at an accelerated pace and reach camp 2 before sunset.

Like a cold winter night

When the dusk came the temperature at the camp site started to drop significantly.  So a few minutes after taking dinner I decided to get inside my tent and called the day off.  Nobody in our group was able to measure the temperature outside but I guess it was around 5 degrees celsius or even below. A thick jacket, two pairs of socks, bonnet,  gloves and sleeping bag (which I wrapped to my body) insulated my body from the cold weather and helped me get through the night .  The noise outside and snoring of other campers, and the bad contour of the soil where I pitched my tent also brought me terrible problems.

Experiencing difficulty in sleeping I decided to get out around 9pm to take some night photos of the camp with  the lightning and star trails, but to no avail.  Just upon getting out of my tent I could not anymore mount my camera on the tripod. I already lost my control over my shaking body and freezing fingers and this pushed me to abandon my shoot plan, get back to the tent and pray that the temperature gets warmer the next day so I could see the summit. 

The Final Assault 

Despite my struggle over the cold weather, I think I was still able to fall asleep around 12 midnight. It was I think a good sleep but only lasted until 2:30am. Realizing that I could not extend anymore my sleep anymore I started preparing the things that I would bring to our final climb. Still with quivering hands and freezing body I got out of my tent and did some stretching exercises to make my body a little warmer. The temperature at the base camp had improved. It was still cold but bearable.

A few minutes after, my friend Ian and Abet woke up and started to prepare as well.  It's such a big blessing that Ian managed to get some hot water from another climber so we were able to eat a cup of hot noodles before we left for our final assault of the summit.

As experienced by many climbers, the toughest part of scaling a mountain is usually the final haul to the summit. But trekking uphill again for 2.6kms was not anymore my primary concern when we left the base camp at around 3:50am. The weather was perfectly fine so I knew that we would all reach the summit. The only worry I had then is if we could reach the summit before sunrise. The trail towards the summit was narrow so we had to walk in single file. We were also trekking at a very slow pace because there were too many climbers who joined the climb (around 200) that weekend and the trail towards the summit was also very steep. Besides, walking fast was also not anymore possible after going through a challenging trekking experience for the last 30 hours that include two sleepless nights, the roller coaster ride and the long walk from Ranger Station to the base camp.

Armed only with a headlamp, a small bottle of water and climbing stick that I borrowed from Ian and Abet, I continued and tried not to be overtaken by others. Though there were some points that I have to pause, catch my breath and wait for my heartbeat to get back to normal before continuing. 

The trail was not easy but seeing the summit ahead of us and the sky which was starting to become colorful brought me an irresistible urge to move on and imagine how my photos would look like after I completed the ascent. My excitement level was raising as I get closer and closer to the the summit.  Finally at exactly 0516 hours, after 1 1/2  hours of uphill trek, I reached the summit of Mt. Pulag.

My time at the Pulag summit was short but its breathtaking views and scenic beauty will remain everlasting not only in my memory but also in all the photos that I have taken. Immortalizing this wonderful journey to the top of Pulag gave me such a great feeling of success and victory as a photographer.  Yes I have captured Mt. Pulag!  And before we started our descent and experience another battle I declared silently to myself that my Pulag expedition is finally a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

We left the summit at 6:45am.

souvenir photo @ the summit w/ Ian and Abet

for high res photos, you can check my flickr account at

Did you find this article interesting or useful?  Please provide your valuable feedback by posting a comment below.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beautiful sunrise of Sanur

Waking up early today was really worth it because today's sunrise in Sanur Bali did not disappoint. With it's perfectly calm water displaying a superb reflection of the clouds and sky in different tones and colors, I enjoyed capturing the various images I saw today at the beach.

Have a pleasant morning to all!

Comments are welcome and will be highly appreciated.

Photos taken using Nikon D90 with 18-105 lens

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A visit to the land of temples

Thanks to my work! I got a short assignment and had the opportunity to visit Cambodia. My work schedule was very tight but for one who considers photography a therapy, finding time to shoot is not a problem. And that’s what I did.

Jan 29 -31, 2012

From Manila, I arrived in Phnom Pehn, via Bangkok route, on a Sunday night. The flight was generally smooth and hassle free except for a nerve-racking immigration officer who was so unkind to some arriving tourists especially to a Chinese-looking lady who could not understand what she was being instructed to do. Trying to avoid a possible argument with this officer I looked around if I could transfer to another officer but the cue in the other booths was long already. So I decided to stick to my line and wait for my turn. Lucky enough the unkind officer did not show me any negative behavior while checking my passport. After waiting for my luggage for a few minutes, I went out of the airport and had my first glimpse of Phnom Pehn. At the exit, I met my colleague Dr Sithirit Mak (with his son) who gave me a warm welcome.

With only 2M people, Phnom Pehn is not yet crowded compared to other big and densely populated cities in South East Asia like Manila, Jakarta and Bangkok. On our way to the hotel, Sithirit asked me about my first impression of the city. Without much thinking I told here that Phnom Pehn, except of the modern cars running on the road and internet connection, looks like Manila in the 70s. The Riverside area where my Hotel is located looks like Malate and Manila Bay in the 70s with a lot of tourists enjoying their time eating and drinking in small but beautiful bars and restaurants, walking by the river, enjoying the cool breeze at the boulevard and having a romantic night cruise.

I stayed in a 3-star hotel called Lux Hotel. It was relatively clean and cheap charging only 40USD with a nice buffet breakfast. Since it was only a short walk (literally short) to the Riverside Boulevard, I had managed to walk around the area to take some photos during the golden hours, before and after work.

Jan 31-Feb 1, 2012

My next destination was Kampot Province, located 130km from Phnom Pehn and in the south-east part of Cambodia. It is also the third largest coastal province in Cambodia hence we headed there to visit two fishing villages. Together with me in the trip were Sithirit and three other Cambodians (working with local NGOs) who took turn in giving stories about the rich history of Cambodia, Budhism, Khmer Civilization, Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot and of course the famous story of killing fields.

After more than three hours, we finally reached Kampot. The place looks to me an upcoming tourist destination with a number of beautiful hotels, guesthouses and resorts are available. The sun was about to set when we reached the hotel. Again I felt that adrenalin rush which pushed me to run quickly to my room’s terrace to witness and capture the incredible performance through my lens. Again I shot a beautiful sunset over the mountain range which separates Cambodia and Vietnam. That for me was already a good alternative for shooting a lovely old French Colonial-era building in a perfect sunset or shooting sunset over Kampot river.

After receiving that beautiful scenery at the terrace of my hotel room, I rested for a couple of minutes before heading to visit the eco-tourism center of a local NGO called Children and Women Development Center of Cambodia (CWDCC). CWDCC is potential partner for my organization and is actively working in Kampot on issues of women, children and environment. While at the CWDCC Eco-Tour center, I (together with Sithirit) had a small chat with some of its staff over a simple seafood dinner and a can of Angkor Wat beer. We exchanged pleasantries and stories about Philippines and Cambodia. Of course, they had enthusiastically shared their struggles in working on the concerns of women and children in Kampot as well as their struggles and successes in protecting their people and their mangrove forests. Having no ownership and no management policy developed by government, a huge amount of mangroves in Kampot have already been destroyed and converted to salt beds and shrimp farming projects. For the locals, protecting the remaining mangrove forests is important for the restoration of some fish species, birds and some other important fauna and flora. Destroying the mangroves or taking these out of their control will endanger the livelihood and lives of many poor fishers, women and children in various fishing communities.

I was wanting to stay a little longer in Kampot to experience the mangrove tour in late noon and experience its popular sunrise over the Kampot river but our tight schedule pushed us to go back again to Phnom Pehn right after our meeting with the leaders of the fishing communities.

Feb 2-3, 2012

From Phnom Pehn, one can go to Siem reap either by bus, car, boat or plane. Since we only had two days for this trip, we explored going there by plane but to no avail. Flights from Phnom Phen to Siem Reap are always fully booked. One needs to make an advanced booking to get a flight as there is only one company, Cambodia Angkor Airline, which flies this route. So we had no choice but to travel by car.

Along our way to Siem Reap, our partner NGO Salvation Center Cambodia (SCC) brought us to its one project site. It was a relocation site where most people are living in extreme poverty. People do not own the lands and access to water and basic services is difficult in the area. There we saw how SCC runs their education program for children and the livelihood training for women.

After a long travel which lasted for seven hours we finally reached Siem Reap at 6:00pm. We first stopped at a small temple at the center of the city, bought a bunch of lotus flower and a few sticks of incense to offer at the temple. After saying a short prayer, we went to a group of monks and received a welcome blessing. After that interesting Budhhist ritual, we proceeded to Apsara Angkor Resort to spend the night.

Our meeting in the next morning was scheduled at 9:00am. I took advantage of the early hour in the morning to have a quick visit to Angkor Wat and witness its magical sunrise -- the only personal thing which I wished for in this work travel and I was really determined to make it happen. I was lucky enough that one staff of the SCC offered to accompany me at 5:00am in the morning and offered me a ride so I could be in Angkor Wat in time for the sunrise.

Excited and upbeat, I woke up at 4:30am the next day. By 5:00am I was already at the hotel lobby to wait for Rota but he did not arrive on time and by 5:15 I was already worried that I could not anymore catch the sunrise. I was already counting every minute and figuring out what to do if Rota would not show up. Finally he arrived at 5:20 but with the Tuktok because their service car was blocked by another car at the parking lot of their hotel.

The tuktok ride from my hotel to Angkor took only 20 minutes. And because it was still early getting a ticket at the ticket booth was easy. The Angkor Wat is being managed by a private company so everything is in order and controlled. Indeed, every foreign visitor has to be taken a photograph, at the ticket booth, before he/she can enter Angkor Wat.

I finally reached Angkor Wat at 5:45am. It was still dark but a lot of tourists, mostly photographers, also started to arrive with their gears including small torches which they use to light the way to the sunrise area. The management did not install so much light in Angkor Wat to preserve its natural atmosphere. It’s good that Rota’s mobile phone has a flash light so were able to manage our way to the sunrise view area.

The sunrise view area was full (around 1000 tourist waiting for sunrise) when I arrived but I was still able to get a good spot to shoot. I believe every one of us there was excited and wanting to get a beautiful photo of the temple with the sun rising and beautifully reflected by the small lake in front of the temple. The waiting took a little longer. But when the sun started to rise at around 6:40am, I heard the clicking of cameras as if like music to my ears. Every one of us there was trying to take the best photo of the Angkor Wat sunrise. For 15 minutes, I savored every second of the magical view of Angkor Wat. My wish has finally come true.

By 7:30am we were already heading back to our hotel to prepare ourselves for the morning meeting with our partner. Rota told me that we could again go back to visit some temples after our work and before we travel back to Phnom Phen.

The construction of the city of temples or Angkor Wat is a concrete display of Khmers’ greatness which happened even before Spain colonized my country. It was the start of a true Asian civilization, a great architectural phenomenon. Seeing and understanding the stories of its various temples is enough for one to understand the great intelligence of Khmers and their rich culture. Traces of how people live during the pre Angkor, Angkor and post Angkor period are still strongly present in the various temples.

My Angkor visit was very rapid but a very enriching experience. Indeed, one of the three temples that I visited was the one where Angelina Jolie shot her famous Lara Croft movie Tomb Raider.

Walking through these temples, I noticed that everyone looks almost the same but once you hear the story behind each temple, you will understand that every one of them is unique There are temples that are just ruins, some have been taken over by nature with big century-old trees growing over the walls and co-exist with the ruins. I hope I could have spent more time in this place to visit more temples and hear stories behind each one of them. Maybe more time is also needed to just sit down, enjoy and experience the peace that the place offers and listen to the birds and monkeys in the jungle behind the temples.

Rota and Sophal (also a staff of SCC who is a former tour guide) told me that Cambodia has more than 2000 temples and more than 200 of that are in Siem Reap. So far I have visited three and I feel that a lot of things are still worth discovering in Ankor Wat. Hence I will definitely include it again in my future travel plans, but a more extensive visit next time and of course hopefully with my wife.

Do you want to join?