Sunday, September 1, 2013

Movie Review: On The Job

Finally, here comes a movie that might change the current state of action films in the Philippines. A movie that might bring back the genre to the big screen once again from its long absence or the lack of it in the last 10 years or so, and give the viewing public a well deserved break from cheesy love stories, not so scary but actually comic horror flicks, and already annoying fantasy movies.

Yesterday, I saw the movie On The Job by Erik Matti. It parades actors like Joel Torre (Amigo, Mumbaki, Oro Plata Mata), Piolo Pascual, Joey Marquez, and Gerald Anderson. The movie is a fresh treat to action movie goers. Definitely, a lot different from what we normally see in Pinoy action movies.

Plotting the Plot
The movie begins with Tatang (Joel Torre), a professional hitman and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), his apprentice, assassinating a Filipino-Chinese businessman. After completing the job and receiving payment from their handler (Vivian Velez) they head back to the prison unnoticed with the aid of corrupt jailguard Rex (William Martinez) and with the purported protection of the warden (Baldo Maro). Inside the prison they mix and cohabit with other inmates who are clueless about their part-time jobs as hired killers.

Sergeant Acosta (Joey Marquez), a veteran police but stuck in the low ranks, investigates the series of killings in the city but can't make good progress. Atty. Coronel (Piolo Pascual), a promising National Bureau of Investigation Agent is assigned to take over the case. This happens after Coronel is introduced to the business circle of his politician father-in-law (Michael De Mesa) that includes high government officials. Retired military General Pacheco (Leo Martinez) though, is convinced they can't trust Coronel of their business matters since they had issues before with his now dead father.

Tatang is set to receive his parole in a month's time and calls his handler if he can do full time for the job after his release from the prison. The handler tells him that it is not possible since the only reason they hire inmates is to make the job a lot safer for the organization. Tatang then trains Daniel to be his successor giving him tests inside the penetentiary. The two continues to gun down personalities as ordered by the syndicate including a woman who runs a restaurant and who is also the wife of a former police officer Paul (Lito Pimentel). Paul was used to be a hitman for the syndicate. Fearing for his own life he informs Sgt. Acosta of his knowledge of the group and its workings. Tatang and Daniel finds Paul in his house and tries to silence him. However, Daniel blows the job. They are chased by Acosta and Coronel and his men who are also in the area trying to track down the ex cop. Paul is rushed to the hospital but is eventually finished by Tatang. Sgt. Acosta teams up with Koronel to solve the case. Coronel confronts his father-in-law but finds himself also a victim of the system which the syndicate has been running for some time.

Tatang's cartographic sketch is now all over the news. He fears the group will try to kill him now that he is a liability. His apprehension is further fueled when Daniel is always called to the Warden's office for some errands which is very unusual. He receives a special visit from Sgt. Acosta trying to make him confess. Simultaneously, Coronel goes to Tatang's house and finds his wife (Angel Aquino) and her lover (Mon Confiado). He also tries to squeeze information from her regarding Tatang's short visits to the house during every job.

Coronel confronts Gen. Pacheco of his involvement to the syndicate while seeking office as a Senator of the country and his alleged involvement in his dad's death a couple of years ago. The general tells him that it is not yet the right time to avenge his father's death and that he should join the system and make a name for himself first.

The following day, Coronel appears to have calmed down and accepted his fate in the system after being lulled by her naive wife. He joins Gen. Pacheco and his father-in-law in a meeting but secretly records the general's voice to his phone. He plans to use this as evidence to expose him and the syndicate. He calls Sgt. Acosta to meet him and his evidence in hopes of finally putting an end to the group.

Daniel is sent to a special mission while Tatang is left in the cell. Just as Coronel is about to walk into Sgt. Acosta's building he was shot several times by Daniel, the evidence also died with him. Out of desperation, Acosta drives Coronel's car in an attempt to ram the General's convoy who happens to be on a nearby government office. His life is spared by the General since he is deemed to be not so dangerous.

Daniel says goodbye to Tatang on the day of his parole. He sheds tears as he considers him his mentor and his father inside the jail. Tatang cries too as they give each other a warm hug. Tatang inserts a knife to Daniel's side and kills him. It is revealed in the next scene that Rex, possibly with instruction from the syndicate, ordered the killing of Daniel. Tatang then goes to his house killing his wife's lover leaving her and his own daughter traumatized.

The movie ends with Sgt. Acosta being relieved from the job and Coronel's assistant in the Bureau (Rayver Cruz) stealing some of the evidence from his office.

Carefully Sewn Subplots
Tatang sends his only daughter to a law school from the money he earns as a hired assassin while inside the jail. His family covers him up by making it appear that he is working in a far away land. He visits his family after every mission. He is told to retire from being assassin as soon as he is released from prison, this makes his already unfaithful wife more aloof. His wife has an affair with another man who Tatang would kill later in the story.

Daniel supports his own family too from the money he and Tatang collects from the missions. Like Tatang's, his family tells neighbors that Daniel is working abroad. He is frustrated to learn that some of the money he sends to his poor family goes to his mom's younger boyfriend. He watches and checks on his family from a distance as he calls them on the phone after every mission. He is trained to be the successor to Tatang upon his retirement.

Sgt. Acosta has been in the service for 32 years. He fights drug problems in his own community but finds his son as one of the drug peddlers. He eventually joins Coronel's group in investigating the syndicate.

Atty. Coronel is groomed to be the youngest chief of the NBI and is married to the daughter of a rich politician. He finds himself torn between duty and conscience. He tries to confront the members of the syndicate but reality tells him he can't fight the corrupt system. His father who was also a former military was allegedly killed by the syndicate that his father-in-law is also a member.

What Makes it Different from Other Pinoy Action Flicks?
Here, you wont see old cars painted in red crashing to sidewalk kiosks, coconut vendors, or through a big glass pane. No cars doing somersault and that acrobatic scene being replayed three times from different camera angles to the delight of the viewers (as what producers would like to believe before). Here, you wont see the hero in the usual action star jacket , skinny jeans and boots in the middle of the day in a very humid streets of Metro Manila. Here, you wont see the lead role shooting a helicopter pilot right between the eyes while the chopper's machine gunner can't even hit him. Here, you wont see the actors trading bullets while also exchanging life's principles and saying the title of the movie aloud. Here, you wont see one man taking care of a hundred goons in a big warehouse complex on his own. Here, you wont see extras or bad guys shooting their M16s without ducking or taking cover after firing and just waiting to be hit by the hero's bullets.In this movie, you wont see sidearms that can shoot 50 rounds. Actually, some of the guns used show scratches from old age, specially the one used by the veteran cop Joey Marquez giving it a more realistic feel on the current state of our police.

Joel Torre's performance was superb. His portrayal of a hired killer with no remorse to his subjects while trying to send a daughter to school as a good father was magnificent. Gerald Anderson's part was also beautifuly played. His badboy, cocky and immature role fits his unshaven and tattooed looks. At first, I had doubts about Joey Marquez being cast in the movie. I remember that all his movies were classic "green/naughty" in the 90's. I never saw his movie Tiktik which Erik Matti also directed. Maybe this was his connection to this project. But, let me give credit to where it is due. After watching, I think the character of Sgt. Acosta was just perfect for him: The type of police we sometimes see out there and ask ourselves if he was really a cop or how did he become a cop. The camera angles and shots by Erik Matti was also impressive.

The twists in the story were also applaudable. Erik Matti set the tempo for everyone to believe that Daniel is going to kill Tatang somehow somewhere. When they embraced each other to say their goodbyes, both faces were shown agonizing whether from the sorrow of parting ways or from pain of a blade piercing to the flesh. Viewers were left guessing who did who. Everybody thought Daniel would do it but on the next frame Tatang was shown driving a dagger inside the body of Daniel while they were still embracing.

It was also good to see for a change that a handsome and hot actor gets killed in the story (and luckily was never revived from nowhere), making it realistic. In most movies, the handsome guy always live and the not so handsome always die. The fact that the part of Tatang as the premier contract killer and perhaps the protagonist to the movie is given to a 50 something actor, no six pack, and not wearing denim jacket the entire movie, or getting a kingly treatment from his minions in the prison or served with a stick of cigarette to his mouth by bald bodyguard was a big jump from the norm of Philippine macho films.

Piolo drove a P4-Million Range Rover coupe. Finally, a movie that has good cars in it. And surprisingly, no 80's and 90's model cars were crashed.

Although Piolo Pascual played his part okay, I found his acting on the scene when he was confronting his father-in-law of his participation in the mob not so tough but a bit fragile. I hate seeing an actor walking a few steps then turn his back on the camera and look to the far distant space while delivering his lines. That is very cliche. That particular scene for me, lacked some firmness on his acting for this particular role and something the director and producers should have been corrected earlier.

Also, the director could have let go of the "middle finger" gesture by Joey Marquez when he was slowly getting out of the car after being peppered by bullets by the General's bodyguards. I don't think that was still necessary to the story no matter how enraged his character was in the movie. When your car is sprayed with bullets left and right and find yourself still alive, I don't think you would still think of giving them an "f.u." knowing they are still there waiting for you to come out.

Lastly, Leo Martinez didn't quite fit to look like an ex-General. He seemed to be short for any General in any military standards. However, I can't think of anyone at the moment who could have been a better actor for the part. Eddie Garcia would be too big of a star for the role.

Another thing that caught my attention was the scene inside the police station where the Philippine Flag was inadvertently placed on the wall. The blue field to the right and red field to left. This has been a common mistake in many movies I've seen since the 90's. By law, during peace time, the red side of the flag should always be on the right side (hand) of the person viewing it when hanging before walls, over coffins, or when not hoisted to a pole.

Good News
There are reports that there will be a US adaptation of the movie. Rights were already secured. It would be nice to see Al Pachino or Robert De Niro as Tatang and and maybe Mark Walberg as Daniel, and Mat Damon as the agent.

It received a 2-minute standing ovation in this year's Cannes Film Festival. Joel Torre won Best Actor Award at 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in Bucheon, South Korea. The movie itself got the Jury Award on the said event.

What We Can Hope
We wish this could start a new trend in Pinoy action movies. For filmmakers to make future movies more realistic and with international appeal. To stop feeding us shallow entertainments but with a more educational and thought provoking stories.

My Rate
I was impressed. Really impressed. I give it 8.5 out of 10 stars. A must watch for any Filipino who cares for the state of our movie and television industry.

I do not own the video. Thanks to youtube.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Think Before You Click

It's been a while...After some pondering and some internal evaluation I find it a little bit hard to write again. With my dad's passing a few months ago and with the lack of saddle time on my bike which is my only refuge from life's stress, left me asking time and again how to get back into the groove of writing.

Some questions keep ringing in my head. Did I lose interest in what I consider man's greatest invention? A friend recently urged me to write again. She noticed the long gap from the last time I entered something here. I told her I'm all stressed out, some personal problems, some internal conflict within my system. She then replied that these should not deter me from putting down my ideas on paper. Yesterday, as I dig into my materials, I came across my old and still unfinished dream of writing my very first novel. I thought I should start this project soon. Need to get back to my old artistic form, I need to get inspired again. Another piece of paper caught my attention so well was a note I copied from the Peace Corps website a few years ago, "Carry a notepad with you. If you are waiting for a meeting to begin, start writing. If you are on a plane, start writing. Whenever there's a second to write, do it. Once you have written it down, you own it." I must admit I felt guilty.

Is writing a hobby? Is it a profession? Or something in between? The answer can be all yes and maybe no. For some, writing process becomes a habit something they shouldn't miss doing everyday and for some it is a source of income. But there is more to that about this most important means of communication. For me it is beyond just scribbling whatever comes to mind but a transferring and sharing of thoughts from one human being to another. It should be of value to people receiving (reading) it. Therefore, it should be communicated in a manner understandable to them (your selected audience) since not everybody would appreciate or fully comprehend everything you write, and it should be in a responsible way. Responsible as it wont confuse the readers as to what you want to convey relative to their own worldview but will rather help them become open to other people's ideas and later on make an own synthesis of it. Responsible as it should be your own way of expressing your ideas regardless if it is inspired from another work or events. I remember a former office buddy who once asked me why I take so much time thinking what to write in my blog and why not just simply cut and paste from the millions of articles available on the internet. I just simply shrugged my head and wondered how he can claim to maintaining his own blog. Wow, he didn't know the word plagiarism (stealing one's written work). As they say, life is full of contradiction, of battles, of polarity, but I believe that there should always be a way to blend, to achieve harmony, peace, and oneness at some point. Sounds like a martial arts budo, right? Thesis (your own worldview) plus Antithesis (other worldview) equals Synthesis. Well, sometimes this shouldn't be the ever guiding formula. Sometimes you write just to simply express your thoughts, to amuse readers and yourself, and just to state your case without any intention of winning an argument.

So why did I put "Think Before You Click" as the title of this article? I keep seeing this ad on GMA News TV, a local television outfit, reminding people to a more responsible and ethical way of writing or posting online. They claim that a lot of troubles and misunderstanding have been created by these not so very well thought of stuff. Hearsay, blind articles, explicit comments, unfounded opinions all worsen the already questionable liberty given to everybody to share what they want, be it words or pictures in any networking sites. The most striking part of this ad is when one endorser said that whatever you put online will never be erased so think before you click. I find it very true and makes a lot of sense. Easy access to internet nowadays doesn't give us absolute freedom. We can not just say or write everything we want without regard to rules and sensibilities. It has to be guided by some responsibility and ethics. Try reading the comments section of any news article from your favorite search engine or after watching a clip from YouTube. Notice how lots of people curse and diss on each other and how sometimes close minded and nonsense their comments were,sometimes even going to the extent of being racist.

This is the danger today when anybody can easily create a blog, write a sentence or two on "What's in your mind" section of Facebook, comment on something or even putting up their own website. Think before you click, I'd say this should be a great reminder to all of us who see the necessity of networking in our everyday life. There are things in life that are best kept secret, compartmentalized and regulated. Freedom is not absolute so as writing. You don't want to put on your Facebook status that you hate your boyfriend so much for cheating and curse him and then change your profile picture the next day showing a picture of you and him together in a beach getaway you went a few months ago telling the whole world you are now back together again.That is just a boo boo.

Happy posting my friends.

(Note: The picture inserted above is owned and taken by the author)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Long Solo Ride

I've been really wanting to do Laguna loop on my own since last year. If not for typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), I was already at my peak after series of training to pedal up the towns around the biggest lake in the country, Laguna lake. And now after long hibernation since December, I was back on the saddle for a couple of weeks already and feel confident I can make this really long loop happen.

And what a good time to do it on a Holy Week means less vehicles on the road, everyone is out for the holidays, most bikers will be doing rides everywhere. But I suddenly thought Laguna loop is very ordinary. I knew some people who have done it just like any other ride. Sure it's a long route and not certainly a half-day affair which I prefer lately, not for the not so prepared legs. But I'm thinking something else, a little bit of spices to give it a twist and to make it special. I'm cooking up Pasig-Rizal-Laguna-Batangas-Cavite-Manila loop. Instead of just doing around the lake I'm going to cut the mountain between Laguna and Batangas (behind Mt. Makiling) then backdoor Tagaytay (Talisay-Tagaytay Zigzag) then head back home via interesting towns of Alfonso, Amadeo then exit to Dasmarinas via Paliparan, Daang Hari then Alabang. From Alabang it will be not so alien anymore since my place will be just 17 km away via coast of Laguna de Bay. This is for sure a long way and a hard one since it is also going to be my first time. Armed with just my biking passion, a review of google satellite images, a can of pork and beans, five packs of power bars, one pack of raisin, one energy drink, 2L of water, and two homemade sandwich, and some cash I set out my cleats for this ride. It was 6:40AM, Good Friday.

I decided to take Bugarin Pass in Rizal via Manila East Road going through the towns of Cainta, Taytay, Angono, Binangonan, Cardona, Morong, Baras, Taytay, Pililia. A good warm up before climbing 8kms up to Barangay Bugarin then another 8km of downhill to Mabitac, Laguna. I biked all the way to the capital town of Laguna which is also my birthplace. I reached Sta. Cruz by 2PM since I was running on a sightseeing mode, not too fast to burn all energy and not too slow to miss target destinations. Just fast enough to pull over for a minute or two for some photos of the views and landmarks. It's always nice to stop and see places of interest in the countryside. Was able to see "senakulo" (reenactment of the life and death of Christ) along the streets of Binangonan, "penitensya" (public penance)in Binangonan, Morong and Pakil. Folks in Angono had a procession without any shoes or slippers at all. I went inside the town of Pakil diverting from the National Highway to see the church, more famous for its Turumba Festival honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. Lots of people were there on that Good Friday as they take pilgrimage to this old town. Went straight to towns of Paete which is famous for its wood carvings and papermaches, a short uphill to Kalayaan where a big pipe for the Hydrothermal plant of National Power Corporation stands landmark from miles away. I stopped in front of the giant pipe to take some pictures but was told by the guard it was not allowed. A sweet downhill to Lumban then pedaled again to historic and beautiful old Spanish houses in Pagsanjan, then straight to Santa Cruz. I checked my odometer it said 98 km all the way from my house. Whew! This mileage should have brought me back home already in an ordinary day, but no, I was just halfway my entire plan. It took me a mere 5 hours from my place in Pasig-Pateros-Makati border running at 18 kph on a plain highway and 8 kph on steep hills to reach this town. I was already dead tired and since I was two hours behind my target time, I decided not to push through Tagaytay to spend the night at my Aikido instructor's house. I think it's a wise decision too since I will be trekking an unfamiliar route, not fun to be caught by dark there. I chose to let the night pass here as this was my birthplace so I feel more secured. Interestingly that night, I was able to see a catholic procession.

Next morning, 6:40, Black Saturday, I pedaled my way up north. First town to see was Pila, a quaint town which was able to preserve old Spanish houses just like Intramuros. You will see newly renovated houses which date back from Spanish Era or old houses serving as cafeteria, retail stores, or boutique but not destroying the original architecture of the building. They just repainted them. Just before reaching Los Banos, I veered left inside a small concreted road of Barangay Puypuy leading up to a Geothermal Plant in Barangay Bitin. I remember there was a road going trough small villages inside the Plant that connects Laguna and Batangas. Some 10 years ago my uncle and I passed this very same road in a car but we started from the Batangas side and ended up in Laguna side. Now, I have to do it reversed. It's a long but gently sloping road of some 10 km to the Plant then another five going down to Maharlika Highway in Sto. Tomas in Batangas via Mount Batulao which rises to about 400 meters. Midway to the ascent I encountered a mechanical problem. My chain ring would shift to granny gear on its own. I decided to adjust the cable wires and wipe some unnecessary dirt from it. As I was about to take the curve uphill I was surprised to see some bikers coming out of the forest to my left. They were like 30 of them. As a nice biker would start a conversation to another biker I learned they were from Tanauan and were exploring new trails around that mountain. They said they were inside the forest for more than 2 hours. We made to introduce ourselves to one another and told them that I came all the way from Manila. They were shocked. I mean really shocked to see my full suspension bike doing all these on a 2.1" Kenda Excavator front wheel and 2.1 Nevegal at the rear. Those tires are not meant for road trips, they were designed to do the hard labor inside the muddy and slippery trails. Well, that's all the wheels I got and I have to deal with it. After some pictures as if I was a celebrity from some special place we parted ways as I planned to reach Tagaytay City by 12 noon. However, two bikers from the group decided to pedal with me up to Tanauan, husband and wife Boy and Lalaine Mangia, locals of Tanauan as they need to do some other stuff back home. Good, as it would be a great help to get there . It would save me some time finding my way to the next civilization. We reached Tanauan by 11 AM. Took some photos before Pres. Laurel's shrine and the town's church. After warm exchange of thank yous I decided to have an early lunch downtown since the sun was scorching hot. I found a lomi (noodle) house beside a hot pandesal bakery along Mabini Ave. in Sambat. A perfect match for well needed carbo-loading.

By sun-frying 11:30 I was back on the saddle heading to the town of Talisay still some 15km away. From this point Tagaytay is 33km ahead. After some 15 minutes I reached the Shrine of Apolinario Mabini but it was closed for the holidays, obviously. From there it was mostly downhill to Talisay with Tagaytay Ridge looming ahead. I looked back and see Mt. Makiling gently fading away. About a kilometer to the center of the town I got a flat tire. Must be the broken glass I ignored to skip earlier and could also be a blessing in disguise as I can take a few minutes in the shade. While changing tires under a waiting shed with some local kids hanging out with a broken guitar, a group of bikers passed by. One rider caught everyone's attention as he was being closely followed by a security escort in a motorcycle complete with police blinkers. Must be some high profile guy there,huh. I can see this town is booming with tourist trying to get into the volcano island, quite an interesting small town. I solicited information which road was easier from this town to climb Tagaytay. Locals told me that Sungay was shorter (9 kms) but so much steeper. The other one was Leynes-Sampalok Road, longer but gentler but they couldn't tell in terms of kilometers. I decided to take the latter as it was my first time there and totally unfamiliar The distance I have already covered has already consumed much of my energy so I don't think taking the shorter but steeper route was going to be fun. And of course, I've heard from other bikers stories of hardships and labor about Sungay. It was said that the members of National Cycling Team train here for conditioning. I am simply way below that caliber. Trailhead for Leynes to Tagaytay route (start of ascent) takes cue from the Elementary School of Sampaloc, about 2 kms away from the Municipal Building and 1 km passed the trailhead of Sungay.

I checked the clock and mileage just before the climb and my odometer said it's 1:05 PM and my kilometers was 163.5. Just a few hundred meters up along this winding half dusty, half dilapidated road, the first marker appeared that says Tagaytay 10 km ahead. So I thought what's the difference then with Sungay if they were just about the same distance from the base of the mountain to the city up there? Still wondering I continued my ascent on an 8-kph speed to preserve energy as I know I need to keep some to make it back to Manila by nightfall. I would make some stops for water and took some photos of spectacular Taal Lake with the volcano in the centerpiece. When I reached "7 km to go" marker I decided to stop for some air. Suddenly, I can hear dogs barking from the house on a ledge below and their "go away" growling were getting louder and louder. That's a clear sign that they were heading to my direction. As I saw of what seemingly a head of a dog coming from behind the bushes from the slope below, I slowly took the bike up and put my butt on the saddle keeping my self calm pretending I don't have any phobia from gnarling dogs. Suddenly a fairly sized white dog run toward me squeezing himself out through a gap between wooden planks of the fence like a ghost that just swoosh through a mirror and started chasing me trying to take a piece of my left leg. I knew this for a trick. They would just bark and try to scare you. If you fight back by shooing them away or acting like you are going to kick their face, they will stand back. Hey, I was surprised she was not backing down. Every time I would try to kick her nose she would just dodge and go after my feet again and again. With her fangs visible and her eyes looking very sharp and that growl getting more serious I decided to gear heavily on the sprocket to make bigger strides going up that zigzag road. Of course I couldn't get any faster than on a plain highway since this was a zigzag ascending road but the big strides from shifting to high gear helped me outrun her. Or maybe she just gave up since that's already quite outside her territory. She chased me up to about 25 meters. Boy, I was exhausted. My lungs were ready to explode. My calf muscles felt like burning. After the next curve I decided to catch my breath. I pulled over and sat on a stone at the side of the road and to my disappointment there on the next gate of a nice house some 20 meters up the still ascending road was another dog watching me. As if she she wa waiting for her turn to chase me. As I tried to pass the house on foot with my bike positioned as a shield between her and my body, I tried to play possum, pretending she wasn't there. I didn't even try to look at her. It worked. She didn't even bark. She just let me pass giving me that you must be tired look.

Here's the confusing part. After that milestone where I was chased by that very territorial dog, the next marker that showed up was "Tagaytay 11k m to go" which was supposed to be 6 km if basing from the earlier markers. Bad thing was I forgot about my odometer's last reading since I was relying on the stone markers. Then after that 11 to go marker nothing else showed up along this zigzag. So if this was correct that would make this route around 16 km from the trailhead to Tagaytay Rotonda. However, my odometer recorded 20 km but I'm not sure since I lost track of it when I saw the markers. On the last 4 or 5 kilometers of the climb when Tagaytay hotels were already visible, so near yet so far, I saw three bikers going down quite fast. Two of them passed by in a fairly enjoyable speed down the s-shaped curve while the third one slowed down and asked me how long was the road.

"I said 20". He was shocked. "Yes 20 km all in all and be careful as there were slippery portions". I can see the hesitation on his face whether to still go down to Talisay or make a U-turn but his buddies were already blitzing down ahead. They faded as I put my focus back on my bike not to lose momentum while still maintaining that 8 kph pace. I finally reached Rotonda at 3:30PM. Oh my, that was a long climb on a mid-ring gear. I hate using grannies (smallest gear). Never. It tires me more.

I took a quick meal at Jollibee and abandoned my original plan of exploring the surrounding areas of Alfonso-Indang-Mendes-Amadeo as it is surely going to be dark soon. Manila is still some 60 km away but I was not a first-timer to this route so I felt more comfortable. Wisdom told me to take Sta. Rosa in going back to Manila. It was pure downhill, almost no pedalling at all for some 12 kms from Rotonda down to the busy district of Nuvali. Reached the center of Sta. Rosa before 5 PM then I was already in Alabang by 7 PM. Touched base a few minutes after 8 and was extremely exhausted but indescribably happy. As I reviewed the total readings on my bike's mini-comp before retiring to bed, I couldn't help but grin that I was able to tally a total of 246 km (153 miles). All in all, it was hard and very draining adventure around two cities and five provinces surrounding the biggest lake in the country. I wasn't able to see just one lake but two, Laguna Lake and Taal Lake and was able to see beautiful places in just two days on just pure leg power. Great ride.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Birdwatching in Sabang Beach-Gateway to Underground River

The chirp of the birds and the ebb and flow of the ocean woke me up. I checked the time and it said 6 AM. Jumped out of bed, did a quick morning ritual then grab my binoculars and a guidebook for birds. It was a cold and beautiful morning. The sun was not out yet but the horizon looked pretty okay. Must be a good day in the offing. I was heading to the secluded area behind the jagged rocks at the end of an unnamed beach. The beach was located at the beginning of the Jungle Trail. This was the trail tourists take if opting to walk all the way to the famous Underground River instead of taking a boat. This was the place I saw an eagle some five weeks ago hovering while I and a friend spent a day there bathing in the sun and enjoying the waters and where I saw three people came out of the woods near the jungle trail head with bins around their necks. I was thinking this must be the place to see lots of birds.

As I trod on the sand, stamping my footprints and mixing up with those of the dogs running up and down the the stretch of the beach I couldn't help but still get amazed with the beauty of the place. I lost track of how many times Iv'e been here but never lost interest and appreciation. It gets better every time and didn't seem to diminish even a bit. I wonder if it's still in the running for the New 7 Wonders of Nature, an initiative started in 2007 by Canadian-Swiss Bernard Weber to create a list of seven natural wonders chosen by people through a global poll. The resort's dog that slept at my cottage's doorstep last night was now walking with me as if he knew me for a long time. No barks, no commands, he was just cruising it with me along this beautiful cove.

I reached the end of the beach and passing through the last of the cottages when I tried to direct my lens on top of a coconut tree. I've been hearing birds' calls but can't figure out how to spot them, I need more experience, though. It was a zebra dove. It took me a few minutes before I was able to identify her. Lots of swallows were diving above me and two Cattle Egrets seemed having a great time with a water buffalo on a hole. As I got to the mouth of the mangrove river, the boundary between the main beach and the secluded one, I heard lots of noise coming from the trees on the other bank. Tried to get closer to the edge of the estuary river so I can get a better spot to where I believed the sound were coming from. Took the small path leading to the main office of the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour trying to zero in the chirps, the songs of the cicadas, all different but sounded like an orchestra to my novice ear. This was really beautiful. I asked myself if these sounds  entertaining my soul right at the edge of this Protected Area was fascinating enough, what more deep inside the wilderness of the Park itself. With this amazement I decided not to pursue my original plan of bird watching at that secluded beach behind those jagged rocks. The place I was standing right at that very moment was best spot I thought.

The sound was getting louder and coming from different directions. Standing from the side of the river which was some 10 meters wide, I lifted my bins, scanned through the leaves, tried to point to the direction of the moving branches and leaves on the other bank, and guess what I found? The noisemakers to my surprise were not winged-animals. They were monkeys. Hahaha. I just can laugh at my inexperience in determining sounds. It was a family of macaque, at least to me, feeding on the fruits of the trees I wasn't able to identify. I can hear my favorite to imitate plaintive cuckoo but didn't know how to find her. I can hear other chirps but didn't know where to spot them. Patience must be the key. As I pan my 8x42 Hahn scope one more time to get a glimpse of these elusive flying creatures, three birds went flapping above my head leaping from the tall and old mangrove tree in my back trying to get to the other side of the river. Poor boy! They must have been there for a while right above me in that same tree I was taking refuge and I didn't even know. It's a shame. And as if they knew I was trying my luck to see some birds, they split into two different directions right after getting into the other bank. One of the birds flew to the left and vanished behind the trees, the other one to the right and faded away while the third one landed on a branch of a mangrove tree. Adjusting the distance of my lens, I tried to take note of the size, color and distinguishing marks for better identification. She was much bigger than the usual Munias or Eurasian Tree Sparrows. She had a long tail, black head, blue wings and black underparts. She moved from side to side giving me a better view of her entirety. Hopped to another branch and there she flew away. As I flipped through the pages of my guidebook, the closest bird to her colors and looks was the Asian Fairy Bluebird. I hope I did get it right. Too bad my point and shoot camera can't capture her image. It was too far for my camera to get a frozen image of her. I can't really recall if this bird is a rare one, a hard to find. If she is then I must be lucky to have spotted her.

In any case, I was happy to be able to see at least one good bird, a lifer for me. Alice Villa-Real of Wildbird Club of the Philippines told me a lifer is your first bird. The bird you see the first time as a birdwatcher is called a lifer. Just as I was about to pack up, I tried to scan one last time. There you go. A yellow bird was suspending itself in the air like an F-16 fighter picking up on the fruits high above a tree. I believe it was a Flowerpecker. Much to my delight, the dog was still there beside me, in the sand, watching and guarding me. He didn't leave even for a second to do his thing. He stayed with me for the whole hour. As I walked back to my cottage happy and smiling, the dog was leading my way by some 10 meters ahead, would stop from time to time to glance at me, checking on me if I was still on the track. What a good day for me indeed.