Finding your Way to Northern Mindanao through Responsible Travel

by Tracey Santiago

Two of the few things I passionately enjoy doing in my life are traveling to faraway places and getting lost in faraway places. This has been a passion since I was 12, when I would find myself lost in the streets of Manila. It was in those times when I learned not only to find my way out of being lost but also finding the best local finds in every place.

Last May, I traveled to Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon with my friend Ronald Lagazo, who is the advocacy officer of Advocate of Philippine Fair Trade, Inc. to visit some of the fair trade producers in the region. APFTI has provided technical support to small enterprises across the Philippines to create and market globally-competitive enterprises using fair trade principles. This means that whenever you buy Fair Trade products, you are not just supporting the local economy but you are also helping producers to observe socially and environmentally just practices, such as promoting gender equity, payment of fair wages, non-employment of children, and protecting the environment. And as we support these Fair Trade producers, we also become responsible tourists because we are also supporting the local communities.

We visited some fair trade producers and local attractions and discovered a lot of the not-so-popular and hidden treasures of Northern Mindanao.

Salay Handmade Paper. Salay is a small town east of Cagayan de Oro City. One of its major industries is handmade paper making which started in 1987 by Loreta Rafisura as a civic organization but is now making big in the export industry as a business enterprise now more known in 1st world countries as SHAPII or Salay Handmade Paper Industries, Inc. Who would’ve thought that this small town supplies paper for Hallmark, Marks & Spencer, and Barnes & Noble?!

To contact SHAPII: You may contact Ms. Loreta Rafisura at (088)858-7517 or visit their website at CSC_0603

To get there: Take the bus going to Butuan at the Agora Bus Terminal from Cagayan de Oro City. It’s about an hour and a half to reach the Petron station in Salay, SHAPII is a few meters after the station.

CSC_0533Vjandep. Aside from the clear waters and white sandbars of Camiguin, this small island in the east of Misamis Oriental is also known for its soft buns with yema filling called Pastel. I first tasted this soft bun 2 years ago when a friend from CDO gave it as a pasalubong. The sweet filling melts in your mouth and is perfect with freshly brewed coffee. Vjandep started making pastel in their small bakery in Mambajao and is now a multi-awarded business enterprise in the region.

Where to buy: You can find Vjandep’s Pastel in Cagayan de Oro City along Tiano St. and the Angel Chavez Complex. A box of 6 costs Php58.00 and a box of 12 costs Php115.00.

Night Café. Looking for an outdoor night gimik? Cagayan De Oro offers a night café in the streets of Divisoria every Friday and Saturday from 6pm-2am. But they don’t offer coffee! It’s an outdoor night market where you’ll find the best ukay-ukay in the city, barbeques and other grilled food, and band concerts featuring local artists.

Bistro Mercedez. I’m always fascinated with adaptive reuse of old houses. This used to be the old house of the Chavezes of Cagayan De Oro City and is now turned into a fine dining restaurant along Chavez St. Boy Gualberto and his wife Farrah who is a New York trained chef rebuilt this house from ruins. Most of the materials used in rebuilding are new but they maintained the feeling of antiquity and home in the heart of the city.

Good Coffee, a Chapel, and a Jolly Monk. Monk’s Blend premium coffee is made from the finest robusta and arabica coffee beans, nurtured in the cold climate, high altitude and unique volcanic soil of Bukidnon. This premium coffee has no preservatives or additives; just the natural goodness of fresh, mountain-grown coffee, roasted and blended to perfection by the Benedictine monks at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in the city of Malaybalay.

The Chapel inside the compound of the monastery was designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin.

One will not miss this jolly monk by the name of Fr. Columbano Adag. He entertained us with his very joyful outlook, very unusual for someone who has lived in a monastery for nearly 28 years. He still clearly remembers how he traveled to Bukidnon in 1981 to find a place to build the monastery for the Benedictine monks.

CSC_0546Sweet Organic Pineapples. We traveled to Maramag town in Bukidnon and tasted the best and only organically grown pineapple in the country. We stopped by a plantation where farmers were currently harvesting. One of the farmers suddenly chopped and sliced pineapples right in front of us to have a taste. With the view of Mt. Kitanglad and a vast pineapple plantation around us, matched with the cool breeze of Bukidnon, we were having one sweet day.

NOFPI or Nature’s Organic Fresh Pineapples, Inc. thought that planting organic pineapples would be impossible. But with a positive and clear vision of creating a 60-hectare of organically grown pineapples in 2006, they have already covered 12 hectares of making their dream into reality.

To contact NOFPI: Call Genelyn Lianda at (088)2212538; 2215222 local 102.

Sir Edwards Bar Grill Seafood Restaurant and Chicken Ati-atihan.
I recommend that you take this restaurant as your first stop when you go to Malaybalay and taste their heavenly grilled chicken. Roy Panes, the hospitable owner, will not only personally take care of your meals but he will also personally bring you around Bukidnon for a tour! A local chef and tour guide extraordinaire!

Roy Panes heads the Malaybalay Food Handler’s Association and one of their achievements last year was to start the Search for Malaybalay’s Best Delicacies. Most of the entry-products such as the piniatos, piniasitas, pine bars, and cheese flavored banana chips are now being sold in this restaurant, your one-stop pasalubong center!

To contact Sir Edward’s Restaurant: Call Roy Panes at 09206249062.

CSC_0103Quadra Eco-Resort. This resort is one of a dozen ranches located within the city. Aside from short rides inside their ranch, the resort also offers day-long and overnight rides on trails along the Kitanglad mountain range with experienced local wranglers as guides. They also have huts fit for a group of 5 for overnight accommodations. Wake-up with the sounds of horses roaming around the ranch and enjoy the early morning chills with the view of the Malaybalay mountain ranges. Visit the Quadra Eco-Resort, Sta Cruz St, Malaybalay, tel: +63(88) 221 3338.

Published at MB TraVel June 25-July 9, 2009 issue, pp10-12


A Taste of Laguna: Lambanog, Kesong Puti, Atbp.

IMG-3254[1]A Taste of Laguna: Lambanog, Kesong Puti, Atbp.

Savor the rich cultural landscapes of Laguna through its food, crafts, and architecture. We’ll bring you to the towns beyond your usual Laguna itinerary. If you’re the type who enjoys wine and cheese, wait till we bring you to a Lambanog farm and let you bring home the best kesong puti. If you collect arts and crafts, imagine what a skilled artisan can create with a stick of wood. And if you enjoy taking pictures of old architecture, we’ll show you the best churches on this side of the province.

Tour Dates: November 8 and December 13, 2009
Tour Fee: Php2,300.00 per person
Package Inclusions: Day trip and includes chartered van or bus, personal accident insurance, breakfast at Dalampasigan in Los Banos, lunch at Aurora’s Heritage Cuisine in Sta. Cruz, PM snack at a lambanog farm in Liliw, visit to the churches of Pakil and Paete, old houses of Pila, wood shaving in Pakil, paper mache making in Paete, underground cemetery of Nagcarlan, and the slippers industry of Liliw.


Backpacking Pilipinas


YTrip in cooperation with R.O.X. bring you Backpacking Pilipinas 10. Inviting everyone to an evening of travel talks at R.O.X., The Fort in Taguig City. I will be talking about how we can promote and practice Responsible Travel in the Philippines and how this consciousness can create a lot of changes in our country. Cherie Cosker of AFPTI (Advocates for Philippine Fair Trade, Inc.) will talk about Fair Trade practices in the Philippines. Lastly, Mon Corpuz will talk about Travel Photography.

Backpacking Pilipinas will be on October 22, 2009 at 7:30pm. Bring your friends and travel buddies and know more about Responsible Travel. See you there!

Tracey Santiago

Viajeng Cusinang Matua (Old Kitchen Tours of Pampanga)

The Kapampangan cuisine is highly regarded as one of the most delicious variety in the Philippines. Discover the secrets of the locals and explore the rich culture of Pampanga through this one of a kind culinary experience. We will bring you to an extra special tour…we bring YOU to some of the old kitchens of Pampanga…because the best Kapampangan dishes are made at home.

Tour Dates: February 7, 2010, Sunday
Tour Fee: Php2,800.00 per person
Package Inclusions: Day trip to Pampanga and includes chartered bus or van, travel insurance, breakfast, lunch, dinner, 2 snacks, baking demonstrations, side trips to pasalubong shops farm tours, and old churches of Pampanga.

Itinerary and Sample Menu

Breakfast – Cucina ng Atching Lillian Borromeo – Mexico TAMALES
Native tsokolate, tidtad or dinuguan, galantina, sinangag, tamales, tehadang kamatis, etc. There will also be a baking demonstration of the famous San Nicolas cookies and a tour lecture of the cooking heirloom pieces of the family.

Merienda – Kabigting’s Halo-halo – Arayat
This typical small town halo-halo stop makes one of the most TO-DIE-FOR halo-halos. Made only with 3 major ingredients, namely corn, mashed red beans, and their homemade pastillas! This sweet thing will surely make it to your Top 10 favorite meriendas!

Pasalubong Shopping – Susie’s Cuisine – San Fernando
Susie’s is famous for the tibok-tibok”, mochi, cassava, empanadas, and other kapampangan delicacies.It’s your 1-stop shopping of food, food, and FOOD!

Lunch – Everybody’s Cafe – San Fernando
This restaurant is famous for serving authentic Kapampangan dishes. Try the camaro(crickets) and their morcon. This lunch is a must try if you want to taste what the Jorolan Family has been serving their customers for more than 50 years.
Everybody's Cafe Morcon

Side Trip – Betis Church – Betis
Pampanga is also known for its beautiful old churches. We will have a glimpse of one of the most famous baroque churches in the Philippines. Betis church is named as one of the most significant cultural landmarks by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. CEILING OF BETIS CHURCH
Merienda – Prado Farms – Lubao
Walk through a very charming and breathtaking farm of designer Reimon Gutierrez. Taste their family concoction of tsokolate pinipig perfectly matched with their homemade fried suman, bringhe, and sweet mangoes. Learn about organic farming and its health benefits for our bodies.

Dinner – Gosioco House – Sta. Rita
Experience having dinner al-fresco on the front yard of the oldest ancestral house in Sta. Rita Pampanga. The Gosioco family will serve their old family trademark pocherong manok, almondigas, tipe kamangyang.

ways of becoming a responsible traveler

Research on the place you are visiting. Know something about their culture, language, history, and geography of the province or country. When you get there, try to get to know the people.

Know about the cost of your trip. Think about where exactly your money is going. Will the locals benefit from your stay? Will it sustain jobs or support small businesses in the community? Instead of packing everything in your backpack or suitcase, you may want to leave some so you can pack lightly and at the same time, purchase some of your toiletries or snack food in the local stores.

Buy local and buy fair trade. Explore what the locals can offer specially those made in their own backyards, from food to souvenirs, and staying in accommodations like homestays or inns. This way you are supporting them economically and empowering them as producers.

Haggle responsibly. Take in consideration the quality of what you are buying and the process of production of these products. Keep in mind that when you haggle, you are also haggling the value of someone’s work or passion.

Open yourself to culture and its differences. Learn about the customs and beliefs of the local people and expect that they are different than your own. Be prepared to adapt the way you dress, talk, and behave.

Think about your footprint. Consider the kind of ecological mark you are making on the land. Think about your waste, take biodegradable products, bring a water bottle, and conserve resources as much as possible.

what is responsible tourism?

Responsible Tourism

1. generates economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry.

2. involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances.

3. makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage to the maintenance of the world’s diversity.

4. provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.

5. minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts.

6. culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.

*The Responsible Travel Handbook 2006, p10

travel for change!

hello friends and fellow travelers!

welcome to traveltales’ new blogsite! some of you may wonder why the tours that we will be posting here are familiar to you. that’s just simply because traveltales is the new alquimista trails!.

we are promoting not just philippine destinations but more importantly, the consciousness on responsible travel and sustainable local tourism. we hope that you can also be part of this advocacy. we believe that if we can all be more responsible with our travels, we will be able to create positive changes in our communities and our country.

so, we invite you to join us in our travels and tell everyone about your stories. whether you are traveling on your own or arranging travels for others–the earth is your homeland. give it care & respect it deserves; learn about its environment; spend time getting to know its people, their art, culture, history, & livelihood. change the way you travel…TRAVEL FOR CHANGE!!!

tracey santiago
responsible travel advocate