2012-11-12-522

Panam Pangan Paradise

Panam Pangan Island by Jojie Alcantara

The breath taking Panam Pangan Island from my cellphone (N8)

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous”.  ~Aristotle

I had no idea what kind of paradise I was getting into when I ventured into the southernmost tip of my country.  This island chain province of peace loving citizens are always affected by media portrayal of turmoil and violence in these parts of the archipelago.

So much so that when I announced to my friends and family that I was traveling to Tawi-Tawi, the question was WHY and WHAT FOR? And my only reply was BECAUSE.

Jojie in Panam Pangan Island, Tawi-Tawi

Me in Panam Pangan Island, Tawi-Tawi

Because it is there.  I have seen the tiny specks on a map and wondered what life is like in those parts.  I have seen few images of its seascape and I wanted to confirm if it was truly that stunning.  A few times, I thought I was lucky to go, then news reports of peace and order in neighboring provinces would surface, and the trip was shelved.  I’ve read blogs of a few brave journalists who went there on their own and wrote good things of Tawi-Tawi.

Finally, my turn came.  On a flight over hundreds of islands scattered in the Sulu sea, my heart was pounding with excitement.  My 3-day stay blessed me with sunny weather, great sunrises and breathtaking sunsets. The governor and his wife gave their blessings to use the speedboat for an island hopping spree that would have otherwise took several hours to reach.  And here was one unknown island paradise worth mentioning.

I did not bring my DSLRs or tripod, only smaller cameras and my trusty cellphone (an obsolete Nokia N8).  As you can see from my photos, no crude camera gear can hide or cover a beautiful landscape.  This island jewel called Panam Pangan is an hour away from the mainland (if on speedboat, that is), surrounded by clear, emerald waters, and white sand so pulverized your feet sinks in as you step on the shore.  It has few inland inhabitants and Badjaos living in settlements offshore.

I share with you a few seascapes I’ve captured from my cellphone before I joined the other guests who immediately dove in the clear waters. (I also took photos from my cameras, but that will be for my newspaper and magazine articles). :-)

Jojie Alcantara from a cellphone in Panam Pangan Island, Tawi Tawi

From my cellphone in Panam Pangan Island, Tawi Tawi

Panam Pangan Island, Tawi-Tawi by Jojie Alcantara

Panam Pangan Island, Tawi-Tawi | Jojie Alcantara

Panam Pangan Island, Tawi-Tawi

The other end of Panam Pangan Island

The dots at the far end of this snakelike sandbar are actually a lot of birds standing at the tip, flying off together in circles, then coming back again.

The island on Googlemap…

Satellite view of Panam Pangan Isle on Google map

Satellite view of Panam Pangan Isle on Google map

And look here… this is one of the world class Maldives’ atoll.  Almost identical in shape.

one of Maldives Island

one of Maldives Island

Which means the virgin island has tourism potential, right????  :-)

In all honesty, though, if I were the island owner, I’ll probably keep it to myself.  LOL

What do you think? Was my trip worth it? :-)

Scaling the Great Wall

Great Wall of China by Jojie Alcantara

Great Wall of China | Jojie Alcantara

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb”.
~ Nelson Mandela

Scaling the Great Wall via Badaling Route

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is very touristy and congested in the Badaling route from Beijing. It may be a little difficult to recognize from the serene pictures you see on the net and books. For a photographer, it becomes a feat trying to find a spot to capture its “zen-like” ruins, without being pushed or diverted by a shuffling crowd.  Not recommended for those suffering from vertigo and fear of heights. Then again, you will encounter a whole family gently holding on to a grandmother who looks to be a hundred, nimbly stepping on very steep stone pavements, while a throng of tourists are hyperventilating and waiting behind them. Continue reading

Fleeting miracles

Sunset at Pre Rup, Siem Reap  |  Jojie Alcantara

Sunset at Pre Rup, Siem Reap | Jojie Alcantara

“We need a renaissance of wonder. We need to renew, in our hearts and in our souls, the deathless dream, the eternal poetry, the perennial sense that life is miracle and magic.” ~ E. Merrill Root

View of sunset at the top of Pre Rup, Siem Reap © Jojie Alcantara

On the edge of centuries-old ruins that have survived to this day, I stood in awe at the wonder that spread before me…skies changing into warm streaks of colors that fused into a golden canvas, the sun a fiery ball from a distance, casting a gentle glow over ancient structures.  I wondered if tourists around me busily clicking away at their cameras were aware of the miracle we were witnessing before our eyes. Continue reading

Tagum’s Giant Christmas Tree Lights Up Sky

Tagum Lighting of Christmas Tree Ceremony by Jojie Alcantara

Tagum Lighting of Christmas Tree Ceremony by Jojie Alcantara

Tagum Lighting of Christmas Tree Ceremony

The iconic Giant Holiday Tree was lighted on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 in the City of Tagum, Davao del Norte, to officially start the festive season of Christmas, and coinciding with Tagum’s 3rd Food Festival, one of the 14 monthly celebrations cooked up by the city with the most festivals. Continue reading

Sunset in Tawi Tawi by Jojie Alcantara

Nature’s canvas

Sunset in Tawi Tawi by Jojie Alcantara

Sunset in Tawi Tawi | Jojie Alcantara

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

This sunset can be viewed overlooking the sea where we stayed in Sandbar Lepa Resort in Tawi Tawi.  As it gave its last peek before disappearing from the horizon, we quietly captured it from our cameras, silenced in awe.

If I were to relive this moment over and over, I will most likely be staying longer in this island and coming over to this spot each day.

Tawi-Tawi is an island province southernmost of the Philippines, located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and sharing sea borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and the Indonesian East Kalimantan province.  To the northeast lies the province of Sulu and to the west is Sabah in Malaysia, which one can visibly see on a clear day from its highest peak, Bud Bongao.  Tawi-Tawi also covers some islands in the Sulu Sea to the northwest, the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island and the Turtle Islands which became a protected sanctuary, just 20 kilometers away from Sabah. The capital is Bongao.

Previously part of the province of Sulu, and which became a new separate province in 1973, Tawi-Tawi is said to be a derivative from the Malay word “jauh”, meaning far, hence a repeat of “jaui-jaui” would mean ‘far away’.

Philippine Map

Philippine Map and Tawi Tawi at the bottom

Ph_fil_tawi-tawi map

Tawi Tawi on the Philippine map (cluster of colored islands)
© Roel Balingit / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Thanks to Cebu Pacific, Tourism Office of Tawi-Tawi, Ms. Salvacion Pescadera, and Gov. Sadikul and First Lady Juana Sahali.

* * * *

Food trip

Dish by Sumo Sam | Jojie Alcantara

Dish by Sumo Sam | Jojie Alcantara

I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime “associates,” food, for me, has always been an adventure. -Anthony Bourdain

Food photography for Sumo Sam Restaurant (American-Japanese fusion) for M Magazine, natural lighting

…and it’s yummy too. :-)

More of my food photography

Langkawi featured in papers

Featured in LA Times and Chicago Tribune Langkawi Malaysia_by Jojie Alcantara for Getty

Featured in LA Times and Chicago Tribune
Langkawi Malaysia by Jojie Alcantara for Getty Images

“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.” ~Dale Carnegie

The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia on chicagotribune_com' Jojie Alcantara on Getty Images

Langkawi, Malaysia aerial shot by Jojie Alcantara for Getty Images

 

Langkawi, Malaysia - latimes_com' - www_latimes_com_Jojie Alcantara for Getty Image

My Langkawi shot of LA Times for Getty Images

My aerial images featured in both LA Times and Chicago Tribune for Getty Images. Caption above are not mine. :-)

Langkawi is a not so hidden paradise which comprises of 99 islands surrounded by pristine waters and lush rainforest. The mysterious islands are steeped in fascinating legends and folklores. It has been cited as a UNESCO Geopark (geological park) in recognition of its amazing and significant geological formations and untouched paradise. The park covers mountainous peaks, sandstone formations, limestone caves, mystical lakes, waterfalls as well as fascinating flora and fauna dwelling in its environmental wonder. Recently, National Geographic has listed it as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world.

More of Langkawi in my article “Langkawi and its 99 Magical Islands”

Embrace the unknown

Jojie alcantara at sunrise in Tawi Tawi  © Karlos Manlupig

Me at sunrise in Tawi Tawi © Karlos Manlupig

“Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do.” ~ Terry McMillan, From Disappearing Acts

I’ve been dying to visit Tawi-Tawi for a long time.  Cloaked by many intriguing and fearful stories of armed abduction and sea pirates, its beauty has remain inaccessible to tourists due to its proximity to peace-conflicted provinces and stories that the unforgiving media carries out to the world.

Finally, I had the opportunity to reach the southernmost farthest islands in my country (in 2012). Braver bloggers have journeyed to these distant specks before. I merely affirm their statements of wonder and dispel the myth that surrounds Tawi-Tawi.

It did not disappoint, and gave even more breathtaking surprises in the offing.  (read: more memorable photos to come, I swear)

I reluctantly came with a light baggage for the first time — sans DSLR, laptop and tripod (trying to protect my gears, my source of livelihood? Har.) — and opted to shoot with my small handy (waterproof, may I add) cameras and a cellphone (yes, any photographer would twitch at that).

I wanted to come as inconspicuous as possible, without a trace of “media” in neon lights on my forehead, so I can blend in with the locals.  The precautionary measures were all for naught.

Pre-departure scenery by Jojie Alcantara

Cellphone shot of pre-departure scenery by Jojie Alcantara

Scenario?  Flights were always booked, the pre-departure area was jampacked (I had a connecting flight from Davao to Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi, an hour each). There were many tourists carrying DSLRs. Lastly, I came with three media men – my magazine editor, and two other news photojournalists with big cameras in tow.  With one of us standing at six feet 3 inches tall, who speaks Bahasa Malay fluently that would make him sound like a foreigner, that would make us as invisible as the Cirque du Soleil barging into town.

We stayed for three days with a warm welcome right from the airport (imagine two pretty costumed girls waving special leis made of shells over our heads).  We came in on the same flight as the Governor, hence the sight of armed men around the area. Later we met him with his amiable wife, who happens to be the chairperson of the Tawi-Tawi Tourism Council.

Jojie Alcantara in Panam Pangan Island

Me in Panam Pangan Island

We soaked in the sun for hours on an island hopping jaunt that ended with a dive in the cool, breathtaking waters of the untouched Panam Pangan Island. We ate delightful Malaysian dishes in the market, influenced by its proximity to Malaysia.

Badjao weaver by Jojie Alcantara

Badjao weaver by Jojie Alcantara

We journeyed inside the Badjao village, walking nimbly on delicate and worn out footbridges that are times rickety, other times dangerously missing by a few planks.  I got to capture the setting of the sun from one angle in our resort, and woke up in time to catch the stunning sunrise on the other side of the same resort! (photos supplied later)

This is just the tip of my story, and I believe it will come in a series, knowing my penchant for details.

Jojie Alcantara in Sandbar Lepa Resort, Tawi Tawi

Me in Sandbar Lepa Resort, Tawi Tawi

Like I said, without my usual tripod and Canon camera, I couldn’t get my trademark self-portrait without help from my companions.  The main sunrise photo above was shot where we were heartily accommodated, in Sandbar Resort (owned by the Governor’s wife).  I asked my fellow photojournalist to take this shot of me, as I took a candid shot of him as well below.

Silhouette of a photojournalist by Jojie Alcantara

Silhouette of photojournalist Karlos M. by Jojie Alcantara

Tawi-Tawi is an island province southernmost of the Philippines, located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and sharing sea borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and the Indonesian East Kalimantan province.  To the northeast lies the province of Sulu and to the west is Sabah in Malaysia, which one can visibly see on a clear day from its highest peak, Bud Bongao.  Tawi-Tawi also covers some islands in the Sulu Sea to the northwest, the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island and the Turtle Islands, just 20 kilometers away from Sabah.  The capital is Bongao.

Previously part of the province of Sulu, and which became a new separate province in 1973, Tawi-Tawi is said to be a derivative from the Malay word “jauh”, meaning far, hence a repeat of “jaui-jaui” would mean ‘far away’.

Indeed, I even brought my passport for when I have this urge to ride the backdoor fast craft to Sabah. (It’s P3,000 pesos, roughly $75, for a one-way 3-hour ride)

More stories and images to come.

Thanks, Cebu Pacific, Tourism Office of Tawi-Tawi, Ms. Salvacion Pescadera, and Gov. Sadikul and First Lady Juana Sahali.

When life is breathtaking

Puca Beach, Boracay  © Jojie Alcantara

Puca Beach, Boracay © Jojie Alcantara

“In the end, it’s not going to matter how many breaths you took, but how many moments took your breath away.” ~Shing Xiong

Sunbather at Puca Beach, Boracay, Philippines  2006

Update:  Out of all the islands in the world, Travel+Leisure Magazine chose to name Boracay as its Best Overall Island of 2012. Located in Malay, Aklan, Western Visayas, Boracay is just seven kilometers long, and less than a kilometer wide at its narrowest point – a postcard-sized tropical paradise. (source)

Life is a daring adventure

Skimboarding Dahican's waves © Jojie Alcantara

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
~ Helen Keller

Skimboarder in Dahican, Mati, Davao Oriental during the 12th Sambuokan Festival 2012
© Jojie Alcantara

Mati is known for its long, gorgeous coastlines of white sand beaches and sparkling blue waters perfect for surfing.

View more photos here

Never stop being a kid

Paramotor glider |  Jojie Alcantara

Paramotor glider | Jojie Alcantara

“Never stop being a kid. Never stop feeling and seeing and being excited with great things like air and engines and sounds of sunlight within you. Wear your little mask if you must to protect you from the world but if you let that kid disappear you are grown up and you are dead.” ~ Richard Bach, ‘Nothing by Chance,’ 1963.

Demo paramotor gliding in Dahican, Mati City during the 12th Sambuokan Festival

View more photos of Sambuokan Festival here

Rise above your challenges

Paramotor glider in the sunset at Mati Baywalk  |  Jojie Alcantara

Paramotor glider in the sunset at Mati Baywalk | Jojie Alcantara

“Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives”. ~ Socrates

Demo sailing in Baywalk, Mati City during the 12th Sambuokan Festival

In my younger years, I led a sheltered life. I was afraid of venturing out on my own, of taking risks.  At a major turning point in my life, in defiance of betrayal, pain, depression and anger combined, I gathered my wits together and went out of my domesticated box.

Stretching my worn out limbs, I started to conquer my fears, one by one.  It included fear of rejection, of commitment, failure, and stark fear of heights.

I came out a new, daring person –the process was never easy– and I never looked back.

Today,  I specialize in aerial photography, among other things.  One day soon, I shall tell you how I confronted it dramatically.

View more photos of Sambuokan Festival here

Nurture young dreams

Young skimboarder in Dahican by Jojie Alcantara

Young skimboarder in Dahican © Jojie Alcantara

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.” ~ Jonas Salk

A young skimboarder dreams big in the skimboarding competition held in Dahican Beach, Mati City during the 12th Sambuokan Festival

Mati is known for its long, gorgeous coastlines of white sand beaches and sparkling blue waters perfect for surfing.

View more photos here

Guangzhou’s Cirque du China

I am a long time fan of the Cirque du Soleil.  I collected every CD of their performances since the 90s. Years passed and this Canadian world class act finally invaded Las Vegas, came to Southeast Asia, and even performed in Manila. I never got to see them yet.

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

However, in 2008, I had a wonderful opportunity of watching Chime-long International Circus in Guangzhou, China. It was breathtaking.  While Cirque du Soleil  concentrated on human performances, China’s pride has man and beast performing harmoniously together (think White Tiger with performers), and it always brings a full house everyday in Chime-long Resort.  As the world’s largest permanent circus, founded in 2000, with more than 8000 seats in the circus stadium, the circus performers are a merry mix of colorful races plus a horde of talented animals.  The spectacle equals one fantastic show combining the best international circus acts.

Read my article about the “world’s largest permanent circus” or view my photo gallery.

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

Cirque Chime-long in Guangzhou, China © Jojie Alcantara

Related links you may want to view :  White Tiger of Guangzhou