From NLEX to Pico De Loro

Weeks before our Pico De Loro trip, I was googling how to get there from Nlex but I didn’t find anything detailed. Anyway, we took our chance and got help from some friends’ advice and Waze.

Take note that the entry in Skyway Nlex is next to Smart Connect but just in case you miss it, go straight to A. Bonifacio Avenue and enter the ramp in the right lane.

Skyway uses the Autosweep RFID. If your vehicle does not have it yet, there are available installation booths in the left lane. The maximum driving speed is 60 kph.

You can enjoy the scenic view of the city with the high-rise buildings while driving. Don’t get too amused because before you knew it, you need to take the NAIAX exit to get to Cavitex. (Please take note that you would need to take the NAIAX entrance when going back to Nlex.) Cavitex uses the Easytrip RFID.

You will pass by the Cavite towns of Imus, Kawit, General Trias, Tanza, Naic and Maragondon on your way to Nasugbu, Batangas. The Kaybiang Tunnel is a famous selfie spot in Maragondon and to avoid accidents in the area, they decided to put some barricades at the entrance and exit points.

After the Kaybiang Tunnel, you will see a Y-shaped road. Turn left and go straight ahead. When you see the Puerto Azul resort on the right corner of the road, you’re on the right road. You can use Puerto Azul as a point of reference on Waze as well.

Make sure that your car is well-conditioned and that you are skillful enough to drive on a zigzag road. The road is not as steep as in Benguet so if you’re used to driving on roads like that, this should be easy peasy for you.

There are some view decks along the way where you can see the seas. There are affordable small resorts near the view deck that offers accommodation, too.

If you are not in a hurry, you can go straight to the flea market in Looc to buy something to cook in case you’re staying in a condo unit. The flea market is located on the left side of the road. The nearest landmark is the Papaya Beach Resort before the flea market.

In Pico De Loro, you need to go to the registration area. Prepare your IDs, vaccination card, and payment. They will issue a badge that you need to wear while you’re inside the Pico De Loro.

Check-in time for condo air BNB is 2:00 PM and check-out time is noon the following day. You can also check-in to the Pico Sands Hotel in case you want a hotel vibe.

We stayed in Jacaba B and I liked it there because the set-up felt like home. The disadvantage is the units there are not soundproof so there’s a chance that you’ll hear the noise in the corridor.

The covered parking is reserved for the members only. You can either use the open parking across the road or the parking space within the front yard of the condo.

There is a shuttle service that arrives per pick-up and drop-off point every 5 minutes. But if you prefer a leisure walk, you can walk and take advantage of the fresh air.

The Pico Restaurant only accepts an order for lunch at noon. We wanted to secure our spot so we ordered pizza while waiting for 12:00 PM. Expect that the food, drinks, and dessert are pricey. We had our lunch there for the experience and cooked our succeeding meals later on. One thing that we noticed is the quality of seafood that they sell in the flea market, they’re fresh and tasty!

I read that bringing food to the beach area is prohibited and that must be the reason why there was no litter around. The following day, I was disappointed to see a lot of thrash from beer-in-can to junk food wrappers. Good thing, they assigned somebody to clean the area. But as responsible tourists or travelers, it is our responsibility to keep the area clean and treat the place as our second home.

The beach was clear when we went there on our first day of stay when fewer guests were swimming. On our second day, the water looked murky so we decided to swim in the Country Club instead.

A staff is assigned to get rid of anything floating on the water like leaves. He does it in the morning before anybody uses the swimming pools. They are strict on the proper swimming attire so if you are not wearing one, you can go to the beach instead.

There’s a big lagoon that is home to schools of fish in the middle of the establishments. Swimming in the lagoon is strictly prohibited.

Generally, we enjoyed our short stay in Pico De Loro. We needed some time out from our daily hustles and quality time as a family. We did not expect too much from the resort and we focused on the beautiful experience instead of the hassles.

Sabang, Puerto Galera Memories

“Where do you prefer to go? White Beach or Sabang?” the petite woman in front of us asked her boyfriend.

I poked my husband’s arm and whispered, “Are they any different?”

Clueless, my husband turned his head in the direction of the ticketing office in Batangas Port. It was 2009 and the availability of fast internet service to do rush research was next to impossible. We were too busy with the wedding preparation and worrying about my mother’s deteriorating health so the trip to Puerto Galera was actually a last-minute attempt to consume our honeymoon. We originally planned to go to the island in the Southern Philippines but I scrapped the idea because it would have been harder for us to get back to our province should my mother needed to be confined in the hospital again.

In Batangas Port, there were two queues: one was for those going to the White Beach and the other one was for those who wanted to go to Sabang. I asked an elderly man in front of us which one was better in terms of adventure and without batting an eyelash, he suggested Sabang.

“If you want to try scuba diving, Sabang is the place to go,” he said.
I saw the petite woman with her foreign boyfriend again. They were already buying tickets for Sabang. The line going to the White Beach was getting longer and longer and I did not have the patience to spend another hour just to get a ticket so I thought that maybe, we should go to Sabang instead.

The waiting area inside the port was clean and spacious. Instead of airplanes, you could see large boats floating on the blue seas. After 15 minutes, they allowed us to get loaded on the boat. My husband and I were the first passengers for us to choose the best spot. The boat kept dancing on the silent waves of the water, I started to feel sick. Motion sickness has always been my problem so I was nauseous even before the boat started sailing. The petite woman with her boyfriend seated on the other end of the boat. Most of the passengers in our boat were foreigners.

Travel time from Batangas Port to Puerto Galera took 45 minutes. It was windy but cold sweat formed on my forehead due to seasickness. I saw a school of flying fish swimming after our boat, I wanted to dive in the water if only to reduce my seasickness (anyway, I was wearing a life vest). Not even the strong citrus scent of the local oranges eased my nausea but as soon as I saw the island, I felt a little better. How I managed to walk later without falling from the plank of wood was a miracle because I was dizzy.

While I was naturally systematic and organized, there was a time when I preferred to be spontaneous. When I say spontaneity, it means that when we arrived in Sabang, we had no idea what kind of accommodations they offer there. At the port, a woman asked if we already had some place to stay while in Sabang. She asked us to follow her when we told her that we were looking for a place to stay. (Again, the paranoid me would never do that in the present time)

We checked in at the Steps Garden Resort. The resort was elevated so we had a fantastic view of the seas. I stayed in the balcony to shake off my seasickness. It took me until dinner to finally let go of my headache.

I didn’t know the kind of nightlife that they offer in White Beach but in Sabang, the ambiance was similar to Olongapo. More foreigners were roaming around than locals, some with a can of beer on their hand. The next morning, we explored the island and found a shortcut leading to a beach in front of a Korean restaurant. We found that the rocky beaches in Sabang were not ideal for swimming so we must be patient in finding a smooth spot to swim.

We explored the market and the grocery store to compare prices because foods were a little pricey at the resort’s restaurant. We ended up buying grilled plates of seafood from the eateries outside of the resort.

To fully appreciate Sabang, we availed of the tour package with free snacks and lunch. We were in the company of an older couple and an American guy. The woman who assisted us in our hotel accommodation was the one who arranged for the tour (I forgot her name). Her nephew named Marvin was our tour guide. We took a dip at the Tamaraw Falls and had our lunch in their simple gazebo. We went to see the river (I forgot the name) but decided not to swim because the water level was too low as it was summer season. We had a carabao ride on another site when the rain started to fall leaving all of us wet. We went to the Mangyan Village and crossed the hanging bridge there for souvenir photos.

It was one hell of an experience at the tail-end of my spontaneity and being adventurous. Two months after that trip, I lost my mother. From then on, I couldn’t afford to be gambling again on my safety or future.

The Garden, Ciudad de Victoria

The spot of the Ciudad de Victoria or the Philippine Arena Complex used to be a vast ricefield. It was an ambitious project that started in 2011 and ended in 2014. It was meant to be a tribute to Iglesia ni Cristo’s 100th-year celebration. The aerial view of the Ciudad de Victoria looks like the number “100.”

The Ciudad de Victoria is owned by the New Era University. The dream plan was to create a community within the complex like the Philippine Arena, Philippine Sports Stadium, recreational park, church, hospital, and the transfer of the New Era University from Quezon City to Bulacan. It would probably take time before the last two items that I mentioned will happen.

The most popular structure in Ciudad de Victoria is the Philippine Arena which is the world’s largest indoor arena to date. It has a maximum seating capacity of 55,000. Big religious gatherings of the INC like Lingap and Pamamahayag are held in the arena and stadium. New Era University first held its graduation ceremony in Philippine Arena in May 2015. Ciudad de Victoria is open not just for the INC brothers and sisters but also for the general public. International stars like the Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, BTOB, Red Velvet, Katy Perry, Guns N’ Rose, and U2 have performed in the arena. The most memorable local entertainment held was Eat Bulaga’s “Sa Tamang Panahon.” Coincidentally, one of the stars, Maine Mendoza, is a Bulakenya from Santa Maria. Sports enthusiasts enjoyed the PBA games and the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games.

The plants and trees surrounding the arena and stadium are meticulous works of art already. If you have seen an INC church, you will probably notice that aside from their uniform church designs, there would always be a garden to decorate the vicinity. In other words, it is not surprising if Ciudad de Victoria put up a big garden for people to see and visit.

In 2018, The Garden’s entrance fee was PhP450 for adults and PhP250 for children. Foods, drinks, and professional cameras are prohibited. Photoshoots like pre-nuptial and debut are allowed for a fee. The fees are reasonable because the plants and facilities are marvelous and require a certain high degree of maintenance. There are cold-weather plants that need air-conditioning in order to survive. There is a smaller version of the planetarium for visitors who are into basic astronomy. Most of the animals found on the mini-zoo are birds, reptiles, chimpanzees, and fish. Kids would love the Maze Garden, Go Kart, playground, and rollercoaster. When you get tired and hungry from walking, you can go to either Embrace Cafe and Restaurant or Candy Land Cafe to dine.

Update as of August 6, 2021
It has been 17 months since the Luzon lockdown and today, August 6, 2021, is the start of another hard lockdown for NCR plus Bubble. Without the Philippine Arena toll exit, the place would look isolated. It’s good to have photos and videos to remind us about the old days. Someday, we have stories to tell our future children and grandchildren about how we won this battle.

DFA in Robinson’s Pampanga

I got my first passport in DFA-Aseana (Macapagal) and it took me 2 hours to finish from verification to processing to payment to encoding. The reason why I chose DFA-Pampanga as my place of renewal was because of logistics advantage.

The Good:

DFA Pampanga is just an hour drive from our house. DFA is located at the second floor of the Robinson’s Starmills so you don’t have to worry about getting hungry or buying food. I am not sure if Aseana has food stalls that are within reach because the closest that I can remember is crossing the highway to get to Mc Donald’s.

Robinson’s is not as crowded as SM Pampanga. If you will bring a car, you need to park near the Candaba entrance because that’s the nearest parking lot to DFA. Photocopying service is available at the site; just make sure that you bring your original documents.

Passports with 20-days lead time to process cost PhP950 while a 10-days lead time (express) is at PhP1,200. LBC service is available inside at PhP150 for delivery fee.

Pregnant, senior citizens, minors and persons with disability are allowed for walk-in application while those who are not must apply for an appointment online. Pregnant, seniors, minors and persons with disability are allowed to go through the fast lane. Take note that for minors, it seems that the rule does not apply to all ages (0-7 yrs old) because only those aged 3 and below are accommodated through the fast lane.

The DFA staff are generally polite and approachable. They also practice a continuous operation (no noon break) from 9AM to 5:00 PM.

For Improvement:

Passport application process starts with the verification at the information area. You won’t notice this area when there are applicants blocking the one in charge. Consider moving the information area near the photocopying area because the 2nd step (Processing) area is closer to it.

Step 2 at the processing area is fast and as well as step 3 which is payment. Step 4 or the last part of the application is where the bottleneck is because only 3 out of 8 stations are staffed. I am not sure if this is the normal practice because if it is, they need to consider manning up all the 8 stations so that the long queue of applicants for biometrics and data encoding will be lessened significantly.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If you live in Pampanga, Bataan and Bulacan, DFA-Pampanga is the best place to renew or apply for a new passport. There is a nearby-transport terminal, there are restaurants inside the mall, the area is mall-ish so you just think of shopping or dining after the long queue at the encoding area.

Will I renew my passport in DFA-Pampanga in 2028? Well, the answer is definitely YES!

Resort Review: Malamig Park Resort

Well, as the name implies, this resort is simply cool! If you feel that its rival resorts in Pandi, Bulacan like Sitio Antonio and Amana Water Park are just too crowded, you must try Malamig Park Resort in Malamig, Bustos, Bulacan. It is just a 15-20 minutes drive from Amana and it is said to be one of the pioneer resorts in the area.

The Good:

Pushcarts are available at the ticket area so you won’t worry about carrying your things around. Entrance fee for adult is only PhP 180 and PhP 150 for the children. The path going to the cottages has some slope so the idea of providing pushcart is good unless getting tired carrying your things is your type. Corkage fee applies to liquor and soda so don’t attempt to sneak one in. Don’t worry, prices of goods inside are lower as compared to the other resorts.

There are many cottages to choose from so if you’re in a budget, you can try the lowest cottage at PhP 300. It can accommodate up to 8 people. Sinks are available nearby and as well as barbecue grill for free! There are garbage bins per cottage.

There are several restrooms and shower rooms available; it’s up to you to choose which part of the resort you want to take your shower.

The pools are big and plenty to choose from. I believe that this is a child-friendly resort because most of the pools cater to the children. I’ve only seen one pool with up to 7-feet deep. The swimming pools do not smell of strong chlorine and the water is freely flowing. There are at least 3 jacuzzi pools for those who wish to just relax in an area. The wave pool is enjoyable and safe.

There are many trees on the area and it gives you that provincial vibe. The staff are courteous and approachable.

For Improvement:

When I said that the staff are courteous and approachable, I meant it for the young lady at the ticket booth and for the staff who assisted us going to the cottage. The rest of the staff like the lifeguard were unknown to me simply because nobody seemed to wear any uniform so it was hard to tell if that person sitting on the lifeguard chair was an employee or simply one of us who got tired and sit down to rest. There is a disclaimer, by the way, that people should not be swimming alone so I assume that the lack of lifeguards is compensated by this very bold warning.

While garbage bins are everywhere at the cottage area, the same cannot be said for the shower area. The shower area near the Octopus pool and the one near the River pool do not have available garbage bins. The shower areas look secluded and the paranoid in me imagine somebody is on the next shower cubicle!

There is moss accumulation on the slides at the River pool that makes it unsanitary. Consider cleaning the slides during the pool’s next clean up.

Don’t expect henna tattoo booth, massage booth and even an ice cream booth inside the resort because they don’t have it in there. Anyway, these are just nice-to-haves but the resort can survive with the basics like a store selling some snacks, water and other basic things.

The Review: 3 out of 5 star

For a price of PhP180, don’t expect too many nice-to-haves. The resort has a certain old and provincial appeal that makes it worth your next trip. Don’t swim alone and enjoy the resort in group.