Sunday, November 22, 2015

VIGAN, LAOAG & PAGUDPUD TOUR: a detailed account of our Ilocos adventure

Why Ilocos? Because Ilocos has so much to offer. 

It has so much history. There's so much to learn, so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat... 

... it's a photographer's dream and a shopper's paradise. 


Last month, I decided to take a break from work. So along with two friends, I started planning a trip to Ilocos.

This time, I simply did not want to drive. Therefore, the best option was to travel by bus. 

Our route from Manila to Laoag



I. Preparations. 

I used  to find hotels suited for our taste and needs. It was very easy finding hotels, with discount. We had our reservations at Java Hotel in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte for 2 nights (Nov 14-16) and Hotel Luna in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur for 1 night (Nov 16-17).

Tip #1. Book your hotels prior to day of check in. The earlier, the cheaper. And choose days that are off their peak seasons.

On Nov 12, I went to Florida Bus  Manila terminal along Earnshaw St. to get reservations for their sleeper bus going to Laoag (P800/pax).

I checked the internet to arrange for a van to take us to Pagudpud from Laoag, and I found this ad:

I called up Fernando "Ronnie" Sales of Ilocos Travellers Van Rentals, 09985474900 / 09175474194, and we agreed for a Pagudpud Tour on Nov 15 at P3500 van rental.

I. On The Road.

The 3 of us left Grace Park Caloocan City on a taxi cab at around 9 pm Nov 13, and in less than 30 minutes we were already at the Florida Bus Station. We had plenty of time to relax before bus departure. The terminal had a coffee shop, and it was very practical to wait inside just to avoid the heat outside, so we ordered some drinks, a slice of chocolate cake, and a clubhouse sandwich. The meal was good.

The bus left at exactly 11:15pm as scheduled. It was an interesting ride. 3 rows  of double deck beds lined the interior of the 35-bed capacity bus. The beds below were more comfortable than the top beds, we didn't have to go through the hassle of climbing up and down the beds. The bus had a small comfort room, just okay for emptying our bladders.

Tip #2: When traveling long distances by bus, bring a jacket,  a bonnet, a blanket, and socks to protect you from the cold air conditioners, especially if you are cold-intolerant like me.


DAY 1. November 14, 2015

We arrived at the Florida Bus terminal in Laoag at around 730 am. We walked a few blocks to look for some place to have breakfast, and with the help of my waze app and some quick questions from the locals,  we easily found the ever reliable Jollibee.

Ilocanos are fluent in Tagalog, and most of them can speak English, so tourists won't have difficulty asking around. I had less trouble, since I have Ibanag blood hence I can understand and speak chopped up Ilocano.  The locals are friendly and they respect tourists.

We took a tricycle for a few minutes ride to our hotel. The fare was P11/pax. If you have coins, pay the exact amount. We didn't have coins, but we didn't mind not taking our change from our two 20-peso bills.

We reached Java Hotel at around 9 am, but we were not allowed to check in yet (check in time is 2pm, the earliest possible time is 12nn). Instead of paying extra for early check in, we decided to just leave our things at the concierge and start touring around.

III. Laoag City Tour

It was not hard to find public transportation (mainly tricycle), because the hotel is weirdly situated behind a gasoline station.

Since we did not arrange for a van rental to take us on a trip within and around Laoag city (I only arranged for a Laoag-Pagudpud trip for Nov 15), we asked the tricycle driver if he could give us a tour around the city, and he said yes.  Funny but we did not come up with an agreement on how much.

He took us to Paoay Church (a UNESCO heritage site), Malacañang of the North, and Marcos museum.

Paoay Church. Can you see me waving? 

Malacañang of the North

We did not visit the sand dunes because either it was out of the way or we were already tired and hungry.

Tip #3. It was a hot sunny day,  by the way, so be ready with umbrellas, water and sunblock.

By 12nn we were back in Laoag city proper.  We told the tricycle driver to take us to Saramsam restaurant, because it was listed as number 1 in Laoag according to TripAdvisor.

He charged us P700 for the entire tour,  and we gladly obliged.  By the way, his name was Jomar, 09092750598.

We later heard from some people that tricycles are okay within the city proper, but not allowed on the highway going to Marcos museum and Malacañang of the North and sand dunes, especially with tourists as passengers,  because of the danger of getting side-swept by trucks and other bigger vehicles.

IV.  Saramsam Ylocano Restaurant:
       probably the best place to eat in Laoag

 Saramsam Restaurant is in Balay da Blas,  a small hotel in Laoag City proper. It was small with a lovely ambience. For our first lunch in Laoag, the waitress suggested pizza and pasta. We ordered Puqui Puqui pizza and Dinuguan Pizza, which were both very good (I loved the former, while my friends found the latter exquisite).The pasta was also good, but were easily overpowered by the flavor of our pizza. I personally loved their Salamagui Iced Tea (Salamagui is Ilocano and Ibanag for sampaloc or tamarind). We were so satisfied with Saramsam, that we vowed to come back and try other dishes, which we eventually did, a day later. (Click the link above and see the menu).

Saramsam. I'll be back, promise! 

After our meal, we rode a trike to our hotel.

Tip#4. Don't be afraid to be adventurous when finding a place to eat.

At Java Hotel, we checked in at around 130pm.

We cleaned ourselves up, took a short nap, and by 5pm we went to the hotel pool for a swim.

The swimming pool at Java Hotel. 

V. La Preciosa Restaurant

By nightfall, we were famished, and we took a trike downtown, and went to La Preciosa Restaurant. We ordered chicken kare-kare. I did not really like it, but my friends ate it anyway. We also ordered bagnet and fried catfish, and I liked both. For dessert we ordered a slice of carrot cake which was interesting because it had shreds of carrots on top which made it taste weird. I just removed the carrot toppings and ate the overrated cake. We also ordered a blueberry cheesecake which was always a favorite of mine.

La Preciosa restaurant

It was easily noticeable that Laoag has a lazy night life. Most establishments are closed by 8 or 9 pm, and not all stores offer prepaid loads for your cell phones.

Tip #5. Be ready with your prepaid load cards.

The later the night got, the more scarce were the tricycles. Luckily we found one to take us back to our hotel.

VI. Java Hotel

I know Java Hotel because it's my mom's favorite place to stay in Ilocos Norte every time she visits Cagayan. It's a classy hotel with clean decent rooms and modern bathrooms.

They don't offer complimentary slippers, good thing we brought our own. They don't have elevators. It's located quite far from the city proper.

But the staff are genuinely friendly. And this 4-star hotel looks and feels like a 5-star hotel.

Some may complain about the gasoline station right in front of the hotel (but hey, at least you won't have problems when you need gas for your car), and the neighborhood had nothing much to offer, but I like Java Hotel nevertheless. Staying there was very comfortable, it felt like home. I will definitely choose to stay there again in the future.

Java Hotel

DAY 2. November 15, 2015

VII. Pagudpud Tour

Breakfast at Java Hotel

We woke up at 7am and we had our free breakfast as part of our hotel package.

Our van arrived to pick us up at the hotel lobby at around 830 am for our much-awaited Pagudpud Tour.  The driver, Manong Ronnie Sales was friendly, knowledgeable and experienced. And the van had videoke and wifi.

We first went to Bacarra Church and its domeless leaning bell tower.

Then heading farther up north, we stopped by a shop where salt was being made, and they let us have the experience of scooping salt as finished product (be ready with a P20 tip).

We visited the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse.

Kapurpurawan comes from the Ilocano root word "puraw" [pu-RAW] which means white, hence the White Rock formation. It was a long hot walk to see it, so we chose to ride a horse to reach the site, and it was fun (P100/pax) and was definitely worth it.

Horseback riding at Kapurpurawan

We visited the Windmills of Bangui.

Bangui Windmills

We went to Blue Lagoon beach in Pagudpud for lunch at a dampa/paluto style restaurant by the sea. We had a very nice meal worth P900+.

Welcome to Pagudpud! 

Tip#6. It's always best to invite the driver to have a meal with your group.

There at the beach, we rented a boat to ride the waves, and it was fun. They required a minimum number of persons in order to take a boat ride, but since there were only 3 of us, and there were only a few tourists around, they allowed us to take a boat ride as long as we paid the minimum amount of P600 for the boat.

The Blue Lagoon in Pagudpud. Where the South China Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. 

After swimming, we went to our last stop, the picturesque Patapat Viaduct, there at the foot of the Cordillera mountain range. As the 4th longest bridge in the Philippines, no Ilocos Tour is complete without visiting it. Beyond the bridge is the door to my beloved home province, Cagayan Valley (I really felt the urge to mention it.)

We were tired and filled with enjoyment, and we had no more time to visit other places in our itinerary, so we decided to head back to Laoag. Here's a picture of us, with Manong Ronnie posing behind.

The Patapat Bridge/Viaduct. 

Tip#7. Help the local industry by buying souvenirs with every stopover, and try not to haggle too much. 

By 6pm we were already back at Java Hotel in Laoag. We went to Saramsam restaurant once more, and we ordered Tinolang native na manok, and it was heavenly. We also ordered bagnet and, again, Salamagui iced tea.

DAY 3. November 16, 2015

The shuttle that took us to the bus station. 

After breakfast, we checked out from Java Hotel at 10am. The staff offered their shuttle vehicle to take us to Partas Bus station going to Vigan. The vehicle reminded me of the "tuk-tuk" in Thailand.


We reached the historical city of  Vigan within 2 hours from Laoag. A tricycle ride from the highway took us to our hotel.

TRIVIA: During the Spanish colonisation, the Chinese settlers referred to the area as "Bee Gan" (Chinese: 美岸; pinyin: Měi'àn), which means "Beautiful Shore." Since the Spanish conquistadors interchanged V and the B to refer to the /b/ sound, they spelled the Hokkien Chinese name "Bee Gan" as "Vigan", which is the name used to this day.

VIII. Hotel Luna

Hotel Luna is a world-class hotel in Vigan. The lobby is impressive. It has modern facilities. A quick check-in led us to our room at the 4th floor.

Hotel Luna

Hotel Luna
There was no place for us to dry our wet clothes, but they suggested that they can hang our clothes to dry up on the rooftop.

The beds were very comfortable, we had a large cable TV on the wall, split type a/c, and wifi (how can you go wrong with that?). The bathroom fixtures were modern, and the toilet seat was intimidating. It was one of those Japanese toilet seats where you push a button on a remote control and something magically happens "down there". The hotel has a pool and a museum.

I called a friend who resides in Candon,  Ilocos Sur and asked him where he would most probably eat in Vigan. Without hesitation, he suggested Cafe Uno and Cafe Leona.

IX. Cafe Uno

So we had our lunch for our first meal in Vigan at Cafe Uno, a short walk away from our hotel. It's a small restaurant inside a hotel called Grandpa's Inn. The tables were too close to each other, but the ambience was inviting. We ordered the Ilocano version of "papaitan", and it was so good we had to ask for extra rice.

Cafe Uno. 

X. Calesa Tour in Vigan and Neighboring Towns

After  lunch, we looked for a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) to take us to tourist spots in Vigan, for a standard price of P150/hour.

Some tourists prefer renting a tricycle because it's faster. But we chose the calesa for the experience and because,  well (clears throat), CLASSY.

Tip #8. Calculate the approximate time it will take you to complete the calesa tour so you will know if it's practical, and to know which places to see. For our case, it was 5 hours. It all depends on how much time you spend in each stopover. 

A Calesa in Vigan

Bantay Church

Our first stop was the Bantay Church...

... and its tower. 

Then we visited the prison museum where the 6th President,  Elpidio Quirino, was born.

Beside it was the birthplace of  Father Jose Burgos, one of the "Three Martyr Priests", more commonly known as GOMBURZA.

TRIVIA: Father Burgos was a close friend and associate of Paciano RizalJosé Rizal's older brother and mentor. Burgos's execution - along with Gómez's and Zamora's - deeply affected José, who was inspired to write his second novel, El Filibusterismo.

We visited a pottery shop.  Be generous. Even if you don't try making a pot, at least give a tip to the workers. 

We also visited the Hidden Garden. We realized it was actually a restaurant, and we were hungry so we ordered Halo-halo de Iloko and Vigan Empanada, which we ate while riding the calesa. It was a good idea, because we still had a long trail to go.

We visited Baluarte ni Chavit. I was not so happy with what I saw. You will know why when you see the museum where they display the pictures and actual stuffed heads of wild animals hunted by Chavit Singson for sport.

Our last stop was a weaving shop,  where we bought a lot of items perfect as souvenirs, "pasalubong", and/or gifts for the coming Christmas season.

The "kutsero" took us back to Hotel Luna. Our trip started at 1:15pm and ended at almost 6pm, but he only charged us P500 (he must have been confused with the time). We paid him P750 instead. It was worth it, anyway.

XI. Cafe Leona

That night,  we walked to Cafe Leona. I've been there before, back in 2008, and it didn't seem to have changed. Sadly, no maintenance work was evident, as we saw crackled paint on the walls. Their menu was confusing. We ordered fish soup and Vigan longganisa and we were satisfied. 

After that, we strolled around and shopped and took more pictures. 


Day 4. November 17, 2015

We woke up at around 7am and  rode a tricycle to the local market.  There, we bought several packs of bagnet and Vigan longganisa at cheap prices. We also bought some homemade vinegar. And oh, you have to try this:

We went back to Cafe Uno for breakfast then went for a final stroll down Calle Crisologo for some last minute shopping. 

We had lunch at Cafe Leona, then went back to our hotel to pack our bags and then we checked out. 

Hotel Luna

We took one last tricycle ride to the terminal of Dominion Bus,  and our bus left at 130pm as scheduled.  By 12mn we were already at Camachile near Balintawak where we got a taxi and went  home.

Tip#8: If you are commuting,  it is best you pack some meals, because you might not like the food served at the canteens where your bus would stop. If you don't bring your own "baon", be observant and when you see the driver and conductor eat at a canteen, then you should get out of the bus to eat, too. You don't know where the next stop for a meal would be.

Up to now, we still have a hangover from the wonderful and memorable trip to the north. I recommend you visit Ilocos, and you are sure to fall in love with it.

 Thanks for reading. Mabuhay! 

last edited: 11/27/15

Thursday, September 11, 2014

15 Movies That Will Always Stay With Me

1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

- Why? because Johnny Depp was in it. But seriously, because it was a very good story about somebody being different from everyone else.
- Most memorable scene: that part where [Winona Ryder] was under the ice flakes from Edward's ice sculpture
- How the movie influenced me: the song With These Hands by Tom Jones became my personal anthem:

2. My Girl (1991)

- Most memorable scene : when Vada broke down seeing Thomas' dead body, saying "Where's his glasses? He needs his glasses!"
- How the movie influenced me : I began to like the music of the 1960's.
- Lesson: Don't mess with beehives.

3. The Godfather (Trilogy: 1972, 1974, 1990)

Why? And why not? This is one of the finest movies of all time. The trilogy features Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, and the great Al Pacino.
Most memorable scene: That part where Don Veto Corleone (Marlon Brando) was crying over the death of his son.

4. Annie (1982)

Why? Because it was the first musical I've seen. And I just love Carol Burnett.
Most memorable scene : Annie's excitement as they entered the Radio City Music Hall to see a movie.
How the movie influenced me : It made me want to be alive and bubbly all the time, and suddenly burst into a song in the middle of a conversation.

5. A League of Their Own (1992)

Why? Because any sports enthusiast like me can relate to the scary feeling during the last crucial minutes of a game.
Most memorable scene : the last part, where the real life All American Girls Professional Baseball League alumni, all elderly, played in the field, it was so emotional and nostalgic to me.
How the movie influenced me: it introduced me to Carole King's Now and Forever, which became one of my favorite songs of all time.

6. Schindler's List (1993)

Why?  Because it opened my eyes to the horror that was the Holocaust during WWII.
Most memorable scene : the final scene where the Jewish survivors gathered to thank Oskar Schindler, it made my eyes swell.
How the movie influenced me : I began to read more about history.

7. The English Patient (1996)

Why? Because it's a very well-crafted film about love during a chaotic time. The story-telling is excellent.
Most memorable scene: The part where [Ralph Fiennes] was carrying the dead body of [Kristin Scott Thomas] from the cave.

8. The Hours (2002)

Why? Because the music by Philip Glass was so depressing yet beautiful, it actually added life to the breakdown scenes for Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore.
Most memorable scene : that part where the little boy was trying to run to catch up as his mother went away in a taxi.

9. Kill Bill 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)

Why? Because it could be the best example of revenge, and of ending an "unfinished business". And hey, it's a Quentin Tarantino film.
Most memorable scene: that scene at the Japanese restaurant where [Uma Thurman] sliced every appendage of Oren Ishii's army like she was slicing watermelons, it was crazy and ridiculous but awesome.
How the movie influenced me : I mastered the art of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, and I will use it against my enemies someday.

10. Life Of Pi (2012)

Why? Because it's a different take on a ship incident, with incredible cinematography, effects, music, script, and the rest of the package.
Most memorable scene : that part where Pi and the tiger were staring into each other's eyes,  both knowing how helpless and hopeless they have become.
How it influenced me : It gave me a deeper sense of understanding about my faith and existence. And no sir, you can't make me ride a ship with wild animals in it,  no no no.

11. Ghost (1990)

Why? Because, I mean, come on! You got Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore at their sexiest, doing that pottery thing, then making love while Unchained Melody plays on the jukebox. And Whoopi Goldberg was simply at her best.
Most memorable scene : That part where Oda Mae Brown signed the wrong name when she closed her bank account.
Lessons: 1. Don't take what's not yours; 2. You can't take money to your grave; and 3. Your dead grandma could be watching you right now.

12. Life Is Beautiful (1997)

Why? Because it was insanely funny with Roberto Benigni's antics, for the first half, at least, then emotionally disturbing onwards, and enlightening at the end.
Most memorable scene: That part where Guido sneaked to play the song Barcarolle over loud speakers as a form of communication with his wife.
How it influenced me: Buongiorno Principessa became one of my favorite songs from a film.

13. Babe, and Babe: Pig In The City (1995, 1998)

Why? Because Babe is the most adorable pig there has ever been on film (well, that is if we are not thinking of Miss Piggy or Wilbur (from Charlotte's Web). He is naive, gentle,  honest, and he has the kindest heart.
Most memorable scene : that part where Babe was running from the bull terrier in slow motion while The Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly was playing as background music.
Lesson: Be kind, not because you have to, but because you are.

14. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Why? Because it perfectly shows the personalities of each character in this beautiful story about a dysfunctional family. Very good story-telling technique.
Most memorable scene: That part where Richie tried to kill himself.

15. The Sound of Music (1965)

Why? Because this movie became the basic foundation of my knowledge in music.
Most memorable scene: That lively part where Maria and the children were having fun as they visited places in and around Austria, while singing Do-re-mi.

John Emmanuel T. Manalo, MD

Thanks to the following for sharing their videos: : Edward Scissorhands, trailer : Tom Jones, With These Hands : My Girl, trailer : The Godfather, trailer : Annie, trailer : A League Of Their Own, trailer : Carole King, Now And Forever : Schindler's List. trailer : The English Patient, trailer : The Hours, trailer; Babe, trailer : Kill Bill, trailer : Life of Pi, trailer : Ghost, trailer : Life Is Beautiful, trailer : Mario Frangoulis, Buongiorno Principessa : The Royal Tenenbaums, trailer : The Sound Of Music, trailer

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Common Mistakes We Make When Using English Words

Once in a while, I encounter friends who use certain words that make me wish I didn't hear them. I am no English major, and I admit I've had my share of blurting out awkwardly constructed sentences.

I could be wrong, but I just want to get this out of my chest. I don't claim to be an authority regarding this, therefore you don't have to follow or believe everything that I will say. It is best for you to conduct your own readings, just to be sure.

Anyway, here is a short list of words/phrases that I have noticed to be commonly used erroneously:

1. Irregardless.

     Technically, there is no such word. But some dictionaries recognize its existence in a regretful tone. Knowing that the prefix "ir-" negates the suffix "-less", I prefer to use "regardless", because the said prefix has no purpose.

2. Cope up.

     Please don't use this, it's very annoying. Instead, just say "cope", or perhaps you mean to say "keep up".


* I use a strict time table of activities in order to cope with my busy schedule.

* You are a faster runner, I think I cannot keep up with your pace.

3. Taken cared of.

This is wrong, but usually goes unnoticed, that even some journalists commit the mistake of using it. It's easy if you use the present or future tense:

I will take care of you.
In the office, he takes care of the financial matters.
He is taking care of his grandfather.

But trouble arises when subject and predicate are switched:

The water bills are being taken cared of by my sister. [wrong! ]

These are correct:

The water bills are being taken care of by my sister.
You will be taken care of by me.
The financial matters are taken care of by the treasurer.
Don't worry about the laundry. It's already taken care of.

4. Everytime.

Most if not all dictionaries do not recognize the word "everytime". Therefore, the correct way is to separate the two words, "every time". However, many people have been using the combined form even in the titles of songs. And since the English language is always evolving, it is not unlikely that "everytime" will soon be formally accepted. But for the time being, I prefer to use "every time".

5. _____-in-laws. 

The plural form of daughter-in-law is daughters-in-law, not daughter-in-laws. Because you just convert the main noun to its plural form, and leave the prepositional phrase as is. But if you only use in-law, then the plural form is in-laws.

6. Despite of.

I die a little every time I hear this. If you use "despite", there is no need to add "of". Perhaps you are meaning to say "in spite of", which is basically the same. (And oh, by the way, notice how "in spite" is written as two separate words, not one, because the word "inspite" does not appear in dictionaries)


Bobby finished his task on time, in spite of many distractions he was facing.
Bobby finished his task on time, despite the distractions he was facing.

[Thanks to Ranier Icasiano for suggesting this.]

7. Thanks God!

If you are talking to God, this is okay.  But it gets better if it is written with a comma: "Thanks,  God!".

But if you are using it as an expression, or if you are talking to another person,  drop the s and get rid of the comma, or keep the s and add "to".

Thanks to my friends for helping me out.

Thank God this is finished!

[Thanks, Giji Hagenmuller, for suggesting this.]

And yes, you can share this.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Most Unusual Weekend (a chronicle of my medical mission in Tacloban)

Chapter 1. A Tragic Day

The Philippines is the most-exposed large country in the world to tropical cyclones. Around 19 tropical cyclones or storms enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility in a typical year and of these usually 6 to 9 make landfall.

On November 2, 2013, a low-pressure area about 425 kilometers east-southeast of Pohnpei in the Pacific Ocean was noted.  Moving through a region favoring tropical cyclogenesis, it became a tropical depression early on November 3. Subsequent intensification resulted into the birth of a tropical storm, named Haiyan on November 4. Tracking generally westward along the southern periphery of a subtropical ridge, rapid intensification ensued by November 5 as a central dense overcast with an embedded eye began developing, hence it was classified as a typhoon later that day. By November 6, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) assigned the storm the local name Yolanda as it approached the Philippines' area of responsibility.

On November 7, Yolanda attained its peak intensity with ten-minute sustained winds of 230 km/h. Six hours later, it was estimated to have attained one-minute sustained winds of 315 km/h (195 mph) and gusts up to 378 km/h (235 mph). In the morning of November 8, typhoon Yolanda made landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, and became known as probably the strongest tropical cyclone to make a landfall on record.

Regardless of the statistics, typhoon Yolanda will always be remembered as the most unforgiving natural calamity in the Philippines for the year 2013, and perhaps for all time. 

Chapter 2. The Mission

"Do not bemoan the calamity of tomorrow, for you know not what the new day brings." - The Talmund, c. 190 AD

Nov 14, 2013, 3:39 pm. My phone rang while I was on my way home from work in Laguna. Dr. Fernando Santos, the hospital administrator of Pres. Diosdado Macapagal Memorial Medical Center (PDMMMC, also known as Caloocan City Medical Center), asked me if I would be available for a medical mission in Tacloban, for an indeterminate period of time, "probably up to 5 or 7 days.". 

With that, the words of my mother echoed in my ears, for it was her who once told me: "Whenever you find yourself in a situation where someone needs your help, and you are in a position to help, then by whatever means, do offer yourself to help."

So as I remembered the poor victims of Typhoon Yolanda, without any question or any sign of hesitation, I immediately answered "yes". 

The next day, I was at the Caloocan City Hall, waiting for the caravan to leave for Leyte. We were to go by land, a 16-hour drive towards south.

The team had only 2 doctors. I was with Dr Joseph Celino from the Caloocan Health Department, and a handful of eager male nurses [Jonathan Lagas, Paolo Fano, Arnel Apattad, Rae Kristoffer Rodriguez, and John Ray Obado]. 

Accompanied by some volunteer staff from the city hall and some policemen, we began our journey, not completely aware of what was ahead of us.

Day 2: Nov 16, 2013. We went on a "ro-ro" ride [a local nick-name for a ferry ship that carries wheeled vehicles] from Sorsogon to Samar early that day.

Before dawn, we could see the island of Samar.

The San Juanico Bridge connecting the islands of Samar and Leyte was a refreshing sight late in the afternoon.

The expressions on our faces quickly changed after we crossed the bridge to reach Tacloban City, for we were greeted by a dismal scenario that we have never seen before. I was not prepared for this.

By night time, we passed by the Municipal Hall of Leyte...

... and soon reached the MMDA camp.

The whole island of Leyte was devoid of electricity, so we were happy enough that the camp had generators, which were mostly used for lighting up the place, and for charging our gadgets. At a time like this, multiple extension cords are a treasure. Some local folks even came to us to charge their phones.

For the next precious meals of our lives, we would feast on canned goods and instant noodles, and we defined fine dining like this:

The local water service was not available for washing up, so we used a "poso" (manual water pump) from a nearby building, then we retreated to our first class accommodation.

Chapter 3. The Aftermath

Day 3: Nov 17, 2013. We woke up early, and headed into the city and the neighboring towns.

There were moments when we felt we had enough, and we couldn't look anymore...

... because we knew that for the next few days, this will be the world we will see:

...and this.

People devoted their time and energy to vigilance, trying to find signs of queues for food, water, gasoline, and whatever relief goods they can get.

Day and night.

Rich or poor, they were all equal here. Money lost its value. There was nothing to buy.

While thousands of families were left homeless,

... others were just happy to be alive.

Those who did not have any dead members in their families, they were the lucky ones.

Thousands were much less fortunate.

Typhoon Yolanda killed 5,796 people in the Philippines alone.

Having seen all this, I accepted the possibility that I may be scarred for life.

But no possible amount of sorrow can compare with the tremendous burden of grief on the victims and survivors of the typhoon, as their lives are changed forever from now on.

Chapter 4. To Be Willing To Give

But we came here on a mission.

As doctors and nurses, we did what we did best - to serve, and to give hope.

We were tired, hungry and thirsty, but with so many people waiting, and with so little time, we tried to see and treat as many patients as we can, as fast as we can.

People kept coming, patiently falling in line, rain or shine.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few fish and bread. But believe it or not, by the time we finished our mission, in just two days of work, our census showed that we saw not less than 1,300 patients.

The other members of the team gave relief goods... those who have needs most.

Every smile I saw that day...

... brought torrential joyful tears in my humbled heart.

Chapter 5. For Thy Is The Kingdom

There are times when tragedies such as this would test every man. His courage, his strength, his faith.

I cannot even fathom such nightmare.  I would not want this to be happening again.

Not to myself, not to my family...

...not to this poor country. Not now. Not ever.

But until now, I have been trying to ask myself...

What have I learned from all this?
Have I done enough?
What else could have been done?

Maybe if we just look at the signs, we would know what to do.

This was my first time to visit Tacloban City. But I quickly learned that the survivors of Yolanda are strong.

They are hopeful that after each night, the sun would come. 

That after the rain, there would be a rainbow.

That whatever happens, someone somewhere is watching from a distance.

I believe that an assurance of sound government planning and a continuous flow of support will serve as a spark of hope for the people of this region to move on...

... rebuild...

... and rise again, 

... as we always do... a race, 

... as a people, 

... as a nation.

Chapter 6. The Longest Weekend

"everywhere, life is full of heroism." - Desiderata

Day 5: November 19, 2013. It has been a very long journey. We were all emotionally drained and physically exhausted. 

I'm very glad I got the opportunity to be there. Part of me wanted to stay and do more, the other wanted to go home.

But at the end of it all, we knew that we did something good, something right.

We went to the airport, 

... and saw a mass exodus of evacuees, waiting for C-130 jets to Manila.

We went back home...

... knowing we found new comrades and allies...

... and having a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment...

 ... but most importantly, finding out that everybody, ...

...absolutely everybody...

... can be a hero.

Mabuhay ang Pilipino! [Long live the Filipino]

John Emmanuel T. Manalo MD


Thanks to the following for their photos and videos:

Rae Kristoffer Rodriguez
Paolo Fano
Luciano Librado Jr.

for more photos:

additional video: