hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Sunday, January 25, 2009

mila | adventure . sagada

ah sagada!  i've heard so much about you.  you were the shangri-la of my day.  never had the opportunity (nor the gumption) to visit you.... till now.

the first part of the trip was uneventful.  it was a relatively comfortable 6 hour ride by airconditioned bus from cubao to baguio.  the 2nd half of the trip marked the beginning of a physically challenging adventure. 

the road to sagada (from baguio) is a narrow 2-lane path that is more than 50% unpaved.  i should have taken a video of what we looked like in that bus ...  jostled around and sliding from one end of the back seat to the other.  winding like a snake between the mountains of luzon -- it is a dare devil's feat to maneuver a semi-large bus at any speed thru the area.  there were moments when i just couldn't look down or out at the oncoming traffic.  those drivers are AMAZINGLY talented!  holding our breath and trying to keep our heads from falling off our shoulders from a bumpy 6 hour ride was enough to knock us out.  we arrived at 2pm good and ready for a nap.  it should have been our first clue to how physically exhausting this trip was going to be.

we stayed at an immaculate inn called Sagada Homestay.  it was highly recommended by a friend and we are so glad we heard about it.  the prices are soooooo reasonable and karen, the lady that runs the place, is so sweet.  you can contact her via email (sagadahomestay@yahoo.com.ph) or call her if you are looking for a place to stay in sagada ( +63 919 702 8380)

last year when curtis and i came to visit the philippines we brought along a new acquired friend.  petra spent 3 weeks of fun and laughter with us as we bounced around the beaches of the philippines.  we became the best of friends over that shared experience.  our travels just wouldn't be the same without her.  we've been eagerly awaiting her arrival and she finally made it!  the musketeers are complete again!

when we finally woke up from that much needed nap we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the surrounding areas.  

sagada is situated in the mountain provinces of the philippines.  usually when you think tribes you think of these northern provinces.  i was disappointed to find an affluent community colored with tourists and european english rather than the costumed tribes of yesteryear.  ah but good for them right?  at least everything else (mountains, streams, caves) were well preserved.

sagada is best known for it's hanging coffins.  the tribal culture in its primitive days would store the coffins in a cave or tie them to a cliff side instead of burying them under ground.  their idea of a wake back then was to place the deceased in a seated position where people could come visit and pay their last respects.  the last coffin to make its way into the collection was added in 1986.  there are 3 residents left in the community that are expected to be buried in this manner.

a shot of the only church in the area

day 2 and getting ready for a physically grueling day.  gotta start out with a hearty breakfast.  yoghurt house (again recommended by a friend) was an awesome way to begin!  yummy fresh yogurt with fruits and nuts and a slab of ham for me (don't mock!  i have to balance my attempt at healthy) and banana yogurt pancakes for petra and curtis.

the caving experience....

there are 4 caves all clumped together under a mountain.  the options were:
  1. go inside each one, explore by the opening, exit, walk into the next one (kinda long walks in between) or 
  2. do the cave connection.  
when the tourism office in town explained the options it seemed that we were not the best candidates to do the spelunking-cave connection thing but should still get a guide for all this.  so we psyched ourselves for lots of walking but good excercise. 

we got into that first cave and the guide sweetly and oh so innocently prodded us about doing cave connection.  we hesitated.... is it hard?  can we do it?  he smiles and says ... oh yeah... you guys can.  lots of people do.  so HECK!  we're like.. GAME ON!!!  we might as well get the full experience right?  bahahahahahahahah!  boy were we in for it!
it took us 5 hours to get through it all.  here's the highlights:
  • shoes off after the first 20 minutes to bet a better grip on the rocks
  • lots of cold water and slippery areas
  • some rocks need rope to help you climb or descend
  • some rocks need someone to push you on your ass as you use the rope 
  • we had to resort to human ladders in some areas
  • crawled through holes that barely fit around curtis' shoulders
  • tree frogged around a giant boulder that threatened to push you back into a 30 foot drop
  • lotsa bats (and i didn't want to think about this while we were there but lotsa bat poop too)
  • the ONLY light we had was the lantern that the guide (his name was jollie) carried.  otherwise it was PITCH BLACK.
so while curtis worried about me or petra falling, i worried about anything happening to jollie.  there was no way we could have made it out of there by ourselves.  everytime we entered a tiny crawl space and i thought we were at a dead end he would point out some out of this world path to take.  he told us about some tourist a few years back that entered the caves without a guide (crazy!!) who got lost (OMG!!) and ran out of light ($h1@t!!!!) for 2.5 days!!!!  SNAP!  he was our most precious commodity down there. 

yeah... we're a bunch of kids.  just give us some light and a camera and we're off to playing!

the last cave is full of coffins and the remains of generations past.  the chameleon carved on the lid symbolizes change and transition from this world to the next.

5 hours of spelunking and we survived!  i felt it all the next day when my muscles were screaming bloody hell.  but i had to grin thru it since we signed up for a hike to the big falls.  a hike... what a joke.  i stood at the top of a mountain (not a hill .. a mountain) looked down to where jollie pointed.  i couldn't even see the end goal from there.  it was a long way down.  it was a lot of STAIRS!   oh muscles.  i'm so sorry....

down we went.  a mountain worth of stairs, thru a small village, past the rice fields, into a valley ...

oh heaven!  it was all worth it... all 3,229 steps to get here!

seriously... 3,229 steps.  now we have to go UP???  can we get a chopper?  i'm not sure there is a next time to this.

all that work and we were starving!  dinner was at a quaint restaurant called "THE LOG CABIN".  super yummy gourmet-ish food and a wonderful selection of hot teas with chef aklay (28 years of cooking experience across 27 countries).  

you get spoiled by sagada.  the air is pure, clean, crisp and cool.  you forget that the city is nothing like it.  this is why we have air-conditioned transport.

we got home at 2am.  just enough time for me to get some rest, don my polka dots and head over to marion's house for another ac get together.  it was a chinese new year themed party complete with games.  here's the slideshow girls!  usual rules apply.. hit the play button and wait for the show to buffer (status bar is on bottom right).   slower internet connections could take a while.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

mila | photobooth . katigbak reunion

my godmother (tita clem) invited me to her husband's family reunion for a photobooth session.  a white wall is so helpful in lieu of paper!  

so most of the time i rely on my crazy friends or family to keep the momentum going on the past photobooth sessions.  this time i had 3 kids with a lot of energy to click away to.  i didn't even need curtis to give them direction!  they were great!

Friday, January 16, 2009

mila | adventures . taal volcano

it was an adventure from the start.  laziness had set in... deep into my muscles. we talked about heading to taal for days but the weather would make me sleepy and the errands that we needed to run sounded simpler.  we finally mustered enough oomph to get my tookie off to a start (actually curtis threatened me).  it was 4 pm on a thursday afternoon.  rather late to set off on an adventure but better late than never.

we took the FX (it's a shared taxi transport thing out here) to the MRT (train).  this was our first time on the MRT.  such a time saver that thing!  just a tad confusing since there are no signs that help you identify direction properly.  someone needs to visit new york and check out how they did it there.  at the end of the rail is a crazy place called crossing...as in CRAZY hold on to your belongings crazy.  it's the bus terminal heaven, the port of call if you will and an ocean of people greet you when you come off the train.  all the different bus companies heading to every direction are found here.  we checked online to see which bus to take to taal.  unsurprisingly the online site was obsolete.  that company had dissolved.  it took 3 different misses to get to the right bus.  2 hours later we were finally on our way.

what would an adventure be without some disaster?  curtis lost his cell phone on the bus.  i lost mine on the bus ride home from la union last time.  i think we've decided that the bus is the cell phone black hole.  he was a pouty boy for the rest of the trip there.  but thank goodness his dark clouds don't last as long as mine.  we continued on.  we arrived at the inn close to 10 pm.  the winds were howling and it was brrrrrrr cold!  we slept well that night.  we slept so well that our plan of getting up at 7am failed miserably and we weren't ready to trek till 9.

taal volcano is a lake within a lake within a volcano.  did i confuse you?  so here's the deal.  there's a lake inside the volcano.  and the volcano itself is surrounded by another lake.  

here's a view of it from the distance (it's that strip behind us)

let's take a closer look at the end of that string of islands.  this is NOT taal volcano.  it's all over the photos and the internet but this little guy on the end of a string of land is actually just a mountain.  

to get to taal volcano you need to take a trip on a boat.  the day we went the winds were high, the water was choppy and we paid for a boat trip and a bath.

we set off on this adventure coz i needed excercise.  i've been an uber sluggish sloth of late.  all this holiday food, the cold weather, help around the house... you know.  lol.  anyway, we get there and the locals are offering horses for the "long" trek and dust masks.  we opted out of both.  i figured if i can do the "top of the world" hike in laguna beach (california) i can do this.  people that passed us on the way were impressed!  funny.  the walk was all of 30 mins made longer coz i kept taking pictures.  it really wasn't bad at all.  i'm not even sore from it.  the dust was pretty bad though.  the weather was dry and the horses were sharing the trail with us.

as you got closer to the rim you would find these thermal vents.  sulfuric steam would be escaping from the ground.  you could cook an egg on these things they were so hot!  horsies don't like the smell either i'm thinkin...

almost there but not quite... a few more steps and flags for motivation.  oh and beer, water and cold fresh coconut juice served at the top (for a price of course).

by now i'm rehydrated and picture happy.  then we spot a ridge that we could walk to.  a little short on time, we had to turn away.  bummer.  i'm seriously bumming and it's not just an excuse.  i really am ready to continue on a better excercise regiment.  really.  

this is the lake inside the volcano.  well worth the hike!  they used to let guests walk down to the lake and bathe in it (and come out smelling like eggs).  the water on the edge is somewhat warm and moving towards the center brings more heat.  watching the water you could see where the heat comes from below.  

still hell bent on getting my excercise on (i'm not lying) we walked down the trail .. following a train of lazy bums on horses.  good thing we had an early start.  any later and i would have been eating dust both ways.