Thursday, June 27, 2013

Like Giant Moths to a Flame

Colorful lamps in Tandag City baywalk
Numerous moths falling on the ground
Atlas moth?
On our second night in Tandag City, Albert and Minnie invited us to see the City's baywalk, which is one of the new attractions there.  Tandag's baywalk is way smaller than in Manila's Roxas Boulevard, but it offers cool fresh breeze coming from the clean Pacific Ocean.  The only similarity to Manila's baywalk are the fancy street lamps that display really bright colors (appealing to the masses but might be too flashy, at least in my book). But the small stretch do have its share of nightlife, in the form of restaurants luring people with grilled sugbu. We walked going to the baywalk.
Close up of moth
2 moths on one post
A weird thing happened on our way.  When we passed by a brightly-lit lamp post in an intersection, something big fell on my head.  It was not a heavy object but its size was startling.  But before I could check what it was, two more of the same thing fell in front of me.  When I gathered my composure and had the chance to examine the unidentified object, I was surprised to find that these were atlas moths or what we familiarly call as mariposa (or at least something similar).   

The moth spot
It was quite a while since the last time I saw the large moth in Metro Manila (maybe even as far as my childhood years). But at that particular moment I saw three.  It was unusual because that was probably the most of the moth I saw at one instance. But what was more unusual was that they seem to have suicidal tendencies that night.  Another 3 moths fell a few meters ahead of me. I examined all of them and they were less animated, exhibiting minimal movement.  I tried to wait for them to fly away but even with prodding, they did not budge anymore. I was curious about the moths, so we stopped a few more moments to observe what would happen. Pinky and Albert were jokingly referring to me as moth CSI.  Apart from a few more moths falling, the moths appear to be dying or dead. We decided to proceed with our walk.
Numerous spots on posts
On a higher spot on post
A few minutes we reached the baywalk. The cheesy lights are all on, lighting up the extent of the seaside attraction, in effect giving a festive feel. On the surface of the lamps' diffusers were very  prominent spots, seen even from afar.   I was amazed to discover that these were also numerous atlas moths, probably attracted by the lights, literally like a moth to a flame.  That night I probably counted more than thirty, but there were more on the distant lamp posts. 

The mariposa moths in the baywalk were not falling like leaves, like in the intersection a few minutes earlier.  But they were flying low and do not seem to mind the presence of people. I wonder if this is the real behavior of atlas moths.  I have nothing to compare it to as I have even a vague recollection of my last Manila encounter with the moth.  I was however thinking if this is still a common scene in most provincial towns, the strong undeniable presence of the native giant moth.   In my next visit to Tandag,  I am hoping to spot more of the moth gracefully fluttering its delicate impressive wings. I would not want to see them dropping down the street, even if by chance this is the moth's natural behavior.
Dead moths are scattered on the street the following day
On our way back, we passed by the same route and found a few more dead moths on the street.  I still have to know the reason behind this...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Terrific Views of Tandag!

Coastal Tandag
Colorful boats
My friends braving the steep steps
Quick Post: We climbed the hundred or so steps to the top of the Tandag City grotto and discovered the beautiful view of the coastal city. The sleepy municipality (compared to most cities especially Manila) has a romantic feel into it, with the colorful bancas and the silhouette of not-so-tall buildings. The church bell tower seems to be one of the highest structures, as in most provincial towns.

Bat trees
The limestone mountain covered with greens
View of the river
But on the other side of the grotto, you will find limestone rocks still very much covered with trees and greens.  The big trees still remain as home to some big fruit bats that fly out at dawn (watching them is a pastime for my friends from 6 to 7 PM). That is what you don't see anymore in most provincial areas.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Surigao Giant

My Surigao giant required me to back up a few hundred meters to get it into frame
Dwarfs the Rav 4 and everything else 
Toog, or Petersianthus quadrialatus, is claimed to be the tallest tree in the Philippines.  You would certainly think it if you encounter a full-sized individual.  On our way to Butuan, we passed by a very large toog by the side of the road.  Toog is known to be ubiquitous in Agusan.  But the toog we saw was still in Surigao del Sur.  All other adjacent trees were dwarfed by this giant.

This toog is definitely the largest tree I have ever seen (the next largest was the parasol tree standing at Mulawin Creek in UPLB but now already gone). I had to walk two hundred meters away from the tree just to make it fit into my camera's frame. I have seen toog trees before in Mt. Makiling (where they were introduced in the UPLB College of Forestry). But those pale in comparison to the majestic specimen in Surigao.  

Seeing this Surigao wonder, I wonder how much bigger are the Agusan trees.   The toog seems to be fairly common also in Surigao.  They stand out in the landscape, jutting out from the forest canopy. Hopefully they would remain a fixture in the East Mindanao landscape for a long time...
Rey Jose is trying to size up the humongous tree trunk's girth
Another toog in Surigao but signficantly smaller

Monday, June 10, 2013

Critter Fritters

Seafood selection

Our sumptuous dinner corner
We did not eat fancy in our trip (maybe except in Mooon Cafe in Surigao City).   But most our meals were cooked in small carinderia-type eateries.There may not be any special cooking technique or unique ingredients present, just the bounty of what they get in their greatest resource, the sea.  So there is seafood galore!  
Slipper lobsters
Shrimp 'okoy'

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sohoton, the Enchanting!

Sunrise in Siargao
Bucas Grande
We only spent the night at Siargao. The next day we rented a banca to take us to Bucas Grande Island, specifically to Sohoton Bay, more than 2 hours away.  The banca arrived and picked us up just when the sun was about to rise from the horizon.  We gave Patrick's on the Beach  one last look and set sail for the next leg of our trip.  
Smaller limestone islands
Island with eroding base
Siargao is also the name of the group of islands near Siargao the island.  Each island is quite far from the next. You could see the neighboring one coming into view, but will be surprised that it takes 30 minutes to an hour to travel to it. Bucas Grande, smaller than Siargao, has been very visible since we left the main island but took about 2 hours to get to the side where Sohoton cove is. The boat ride was boring at times because it makes you anxious of what to see in the next island. But for long minutes the trip left us staring at large expanse of water ranging from crystal clear to bluish and dark green.

Limestone coastline
Bucas Grande has an interesting coast line.  It took the banca close to an hour to traverse half its perimeter.  The island was bordered with limestone cliffs and weathered smaller islands.  The limestone face peaks through lush vegetation precariously hanging from the almost vertical slopes. The greens are a mixture of fine, coarse and strappy textures.  There were large pandans, Dracaena, cycads, trees and of course the ubiquitous coconut. 

New tourism structure being built

Visitors waiting for their turn
Tourism center
We finally made a last turn behind a prominent headland before the entrance to Sohoton Bay came to view. From wavy currents, we entered calmer and crystal clear waters. The craggy silhouette of the mountains and the waterline is only interrupted by two shed structures and a score of smaller makeshift boats surrounding the tourism center. 
Clear waters with corals
The lush greens
Small caves at base of limestone formations
Sohoton Bay at first glance is already enchanting, but it was revealed to us that it still held more secrets. The tour of it brought us deeper into the bay, with river like lagoons hidden behind caves and limestone formations.  An outrigger enough to fit five of us, a boatman and 2 guides navigated through bends and corners, and ultimately through a cave (only accessible in low tide) before it opened into an inner lake enclosed by limestone walls and towers.
Hanging pitcher plants
Cave swimming
For the adventurous, they offer swimming through submerged caves and platform diving into the clean water.  I opted to content myself with what Sohoton's beauty had to offer. Filled half my memory disc with numerous pics of the fascinating landscape and of course, the accompanying flora.
To the jellyfish lagoon
Limestone walls of jellyfish lagoon
entrance has strong current
But Sohoton still had another treat in store for us. We transferred to smaller bancas, only accommodating one passenger and a boatman.  I was paired with Bryan, a small fellow, who paddled my boat through small passage into another equally beautiful lagoon. Since I am bigger than my companions, Bryan had difficulty navigating me and my itsy-bitsy boat through the narrow and shallow pass. Water had a slight current making it more challenging.
Prominent coral formations
Albert holding a jellyfish
Brown jellyfih on a paddle
But once we got through the ordeal, the tight corridor opened up into a grand view, appearing like a natural cathedral.  The mountainous limestone cliffs echo the solemn sound of bird calls. I was still getting amazed by the overlapping symphony of trees and palms, Bryan was strongly pointing out to me to look into the water. In it are numerous jellyfish swimming close to the surface.

Minnie trying to feel the slimy but not stinging invertebrate
The brown jellyfish are about the size of a fist.  They gracefully open and contract, appearing like they are floating on air. Bryan said to touch them because they dont sting like their open water counterparts.  I did and held the soft cold gelatinous body. I only felt the slime sliding through my hand.
Brown jellyfish close up
Leaving the lagoon
It was only past 11 am when we returned back to the tourist center.  We alighted our rented banca again to bring us out from Sohoton Bay and eventually Bucas Grande into Hayonggabon in Surigao Norte. We were back in mainland Mindanao.  We left the Siargao group of islands  with memories of 2 days living the slow sweet life in the islands.  In the course, I reached Cloud Nine and visited one of the best places I have been in the country and the whole world.  But our adventure down south was not yet done...