The Little French Basque Village At The Foot of the Pass (Saint Jean Pied de Port)

The most popular route when doing the Camino de Santiago Compostela is the Camino Frances. And it starts in this tiny but enchanting Basque village in the south of France. Saint Jean Pied de Port or SJPP literally translates to “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass”. That mountain is the Pyrénées. Pilgrims or peregrinos congregate here and many small inns and albergues accommodate them. The Pilgrims Center gives out camino route maps and the village parish priest blesses pilgrims who attend mass services. But SJPP is really more than just the starting point for a camino or pilgrimage walk. And one need not be a pilgrim to appreciate this village called Donibane Garazi in Basque. 





There’s the old bridge over the River Nive in this old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. Within the “walled area”, one can walk on the ramparts or go up and down the charming streets called Rue de France, Rue de Espagne and Rue de la Citadelle. The cobblestoned streets are lined with shops and restaurants. The Pilgrims Center is located in here, along the path towards the Citadelle. Some deli and pastry shops have balconies or windows overlooking the river and the old bridge. 






I’ve seen many locals and a few tourists (it’s still early for the Camino season) go up the Citadelle from where a panoramic view of the village outside the walls can be glimpsed.  In Place de Trinquet, there are more inns and dining places to choose from. It’s lovely just walking up and down these streets, within and outside the walls. The atmosphere is also very congenial as many solo camino walkers are open to making friends and gaining camino buddies. One can never be alone here in SJPP. Saying “Buen Camino” has become the norm. In the village church near the clock tower, the parishioners engaged me in an animated chat seeing I’m “solo” and from the Philippines, which I think is a rarity. Many pilgrims come from France and Spain. 








SJPP is lovely, even with an overcast sky or even if it rained the late afternoons and evenings we were here. There’s wine to partake to while away cold evenings and the tiny chocolate shops can be tempting. When the sun’s out in the morning, it can still be freezing cold but a good walk is not a bad idea. You can even trace the start of the camino if you like by simply going all the way through the Rue de Espagne and then following the camino signs. Try the first three (3) kilometers venturing out of the village  if you like.  In no time, you’d find bleating sheep and dogs let loose on country roads. 








So how about it? Ready for a walk? Be sure to wear comfy shoes to navigate the cobblestoned paths and a windbreaker to shield you from the wind especially as you hike up the Citadel. Buen Camino! 





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Sheep Bells Through The Mist (SJPP to Valcarlos)

Stepped out of our Hotel Itzalpea at 7:30 this foggy morning. Skipped breakfast, thinking there’d be a cafe bar between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Valcarlos, the first town in Spain from the French border. Still Basque Country. In Basque, it should read DONIBANE GARAZI to LUZAIDE. From French Basque to Spanish Basque, with all its X’s and Z’s. I’m taking this route instead of SJPP to Orisson which is more uphill through the Pyrenees. The latter is closed because weather forecast includes rainshowers and even snow in the coming days! 





Hiking around the Pyrenees is fine with me. They say the hardest struggle is the first stretch from SJPP to Roncesvalles, no matter if you took the Orisson route (Napoleon Route) or the Valcarlos Route (which some claim is the authentic way). In my case, I just wanted the safest route under the circumstances. The very friendly volunteers at the Pilgrims Center handed me my Pilgrim’s Passport, a map and some instructions. They said the weather’s crazy as it was “burning” at 25C last week and now freezing at 2 to 7C. Climate change, indeed. 





I’m walking solo. No, I’m not scared to walk solo. The route is well-marked and the rainshowers were expected in the afternoon. So I started early without breakfast, slowly. Until hunger pangs made me walk faster towards Ventas before Arneguy where I had my cortado and bocadillo fix. The lady peregrina from Argentina joined me.





The first 8 kilometers through country roads and farmland was spectacularly beautiful, complete with bleating sheep and cowbells in the mist. Dogs without leash love doing their thing in the middle of the country road while the clouds hung low and the temps never rose. I expected to peel off my outer shirt and fleece vest after an hour. No luck. I may have generated heat from all that walking but I struggled against the wind. For a while, I tugged my windbreaker’s hood low over my forehead to protect my face from windburn. Brrrrr. 





Uphill. Downhill. Via country roads. Then the struggle through the main road. The struggle was real. Not much landscape to keep me amused. The sound of passing motorists giving me anxieties. And it was uphill towards Luzaide! I should have gone through Arneguy village instead. That route seemed more interesting. Village life and more farm animals, along with the smell of cow manure. I’d take that anytime versus speeding trucks which leave me literally shaking as they pass. But….. I made it! Soy Alegre 😁





SLOW. Like caracoles. 





Buen Camino! 

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The Sun Also Rises in Pamplona

We skipped Pamplona the last time we were in this area. Not this time. I intend to walk my Camino here (from St. Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles) sometime in the near future so here I am. Con mi hermana. No running of the bulls — that happens in July. But we’d walk the same bull run route along Calle Estafeta while chasing Ernest (Hemingway, who else?). 





Plaza Del Castillo is a good start. Before the 3rd largest bullring was constructed, bullfights were held aquí! Lovely plaza, adorned by centuries-old buildings including Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts. You must be mindful NOT to be distracted on your way here. Many cafes and shops are named Hemingway something, to get your attention. Not surprising, considering that Ernest (yes, we’re on 1st name basis) put Pamplona on the map & within the tourist radar through his novel “The Sun Also Rises”. 







We were hungry after some walking by the time we reached Plaza Del Castillo and spotted Cafe Iruña.  Too early for Spanish dinner (around 9-10pm), we settled for cerveza para mi, zumo de naranja for my coughing hermana. Between us, we tried some tapas. Service was very, very slow. But we stayed longer than necessary without anyone bugging us to up and go. 







The tapas are so so. I’m told the coffee is really good here — and I smelled the pleasant aroma of my fav brew from the next table — but I favored the cerveza de la bodega. Swell! Just what I needed this afternoon. The big bonus of course is finding Hemingway by the bar. I hugged that bronze statue like Ernest & I were longtime friends. Well, in a manner of speaking, we were. I’ve read all his books and keep reading them! Love his simple storytelling style without using big words. Clean, crisp and engaging. Yes, I’m a big fan. So forgive me when I unashamedly hugged Ernest. 








When we trooped to Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, Ernest was there again. Mi hermana was growing tired of my antics by this time, thinking I’m too old and crazy for this behavior. Lol. Without losing a step, we likewise checked out the Ayuntamiento and Parque de Taconera. Plus a church (Santa Saturnina) and a chapel (San Fermin). It’s a Sunday and it’s the Feast Day of St. Joseph — a Happy Father’s Day in Spain — so there were mass services. 







And before calling it a day, I thought I’d let my sister think I finally snapped while walking along Calle Estafeta where the bulls and brave, crazy men run in July. Love teasing her…… 






Buena Noche a todos!

(Got my sister to walk another 15,000 steps . Woo Hoo!) 







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Saddleback Haven

Just under an hour’s drive from Davao City is this slice of heaven 2,800 feet above sea level. Amidst the lush greenery, with a panoramic view of Mt. Apo and Mt. Talomo, is this mountain vacation villa where men and horses enjoy fresh air and tranquil moments. 






Listed on Airbnb, Saddleback Haven can be booked either as a day destination or for overnight accommodations. Perhaps many nights. Just imagine the sound of crickets, palms and bamboos swaying as the breeze wafts through the porch of the villa and the adjacent screened dining quarters. Bring your own music if you like. And some drinks 🍷🥂🍹  to cheer up enchanted nights under the stars. 





We were lucky to meet the owners of this mountain vacation home the time we visited. We were a group of 10, but were told the Villa can accommodate as many as 16. Check out their website for photos of all 4 rooms. There was even an attic which can be reached by navigating a ladder. The kids would love this not-so-secret place. And there’s even a “closet room” which can easily accommodate more futons where the young ‘uns can sleep “a la Harry Potter” (as in that windowless room beneath the staircase) and play games. 







Hiking trails, horseback riding and swimming in Tita Gin’s Brook are your choices to while away your time and use up some energy left after the night’s starwatching with flutes of champagne. Commune with Nature and check out the many tall and old trees in the estate’s nearly 5 hectares. You can ride the horses but I’m happy just watching them being happy in this place.





Group or family outings? Or simply a retreat place?  You found the perfect place where no one gets “phubbed”. In case you haven’t heard, it’s a new word coined to describe a present practice . Here……






Next time I’m in Davao, I’d follow (Owner) Jocelyn’s advice to hit the beaches and then spend at least a night here in this mountain sanctuary. 

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Paradise Island in Samal

If you have the time, there’s Pearl Farm and Malipano Island in Samal. But if you want a quick escape, Paradise Island is just a 10-minute boat ride from the jetty in Davao City. You still get the same sun and white sand squeezed between your toes, and the cabanas with picnic tables allow you to order some of Davao’s culinary delights including many versions of how the famed durian fruit can be served and enjoyed — crepes, shakes, iced, frappés, etc. 







Paradise Island Park and Resort is in Samal Island just off the coast of Davao. There was even a band playing while we we were there, which only happens to be Valentine’s Day! There was a good crowd of picnickers and couples out on a date.  There’s a choice to stay overnight in any one of those lovely casitas, and a choice of boat or van tours to visit bat caves, giant clams, etc. I’m sure they were interesting but we weren’t prepared to spend more than 4 hours in the Island resort. 



Photo grabbed from Paradise Island’s website.





And so we did the next best thing.  EAT. We tried the vegetables with shrimps served in a coconut, which was very good in its coconut-creaminess. The grilled tuna belly and grilled squid were perfectly grilled and only needed a dash of soy sauce laced with calamansi. Simply prepared and certainly how we wanted it. The sisig , steamed veggies and more completed our Valentine lunch. Nothing fancy. Nothing romantic. But sated our cravings. It would have been perfect with fresh fruits like durian, marang and my favorite mangosteen.  No photo of the halo halo but there’s one of the durian frappé. 








Food was good and service was prompt. The sun’s out but the sea breeze made it very comfortable to stay and just stare out at sea. By the time we left, tide’s low and the swimming area receded back. But there were not too many swimmers at noontime and early afternoon. Many came to eat. Or perhaps many have booked rooms/casitas and chose to swim later in the afternoon. Or simply out on the boat or van tours around the island. Perhaps we should stay overnight next time and do one of the tours. Next time. 





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An Invitation To A Children’s Village in Bustos, Bulacan

Years back, I wrote about Fr. Boyet’s project here in Bonga Menor, Bustos, Bulacan. Called Bahay at Yaman ni San Martin de Porres“, it housed about 120 street urchins then. Today, there are 160 of them. Boys who used to sleep on sidewalks, park benches, roaming the streets of Manila and nearby towns late nights or even during the wee hours of the morning. They are not all orphans. Some have parents who can hardly feed them, or come from dysfunctional families that these kids found “home” instead in the streets. Today when we visited, the most recently-admitted ward was an 8 year old named Nikon. While talking to Fr. Boyet, Nikon would invariably follow behind and at every chance, grab Fr. Boyet’s hand. It was a kind of attachment that I found surprising for a kid who has been brought to this children’s village only a day before. When I called Nikon, it seemed so natural for him to likewise grab my hand and lean on me. I dare not imagine the kind of life he had in the streets. 


That’s Nikon In Front of Me.


Entrance To “Bahay At Yaman Ni San Martin de Porres in Bustos, Bulacan



From the streets to this community where these kids are sheltered, clothed, fed, schooled, trained and nurtured. You’d be amazed how much Fr. Boyet and his volunteers have done for these children. The place isn’t exactly an orphanage. Like he said, it isn’t easy to raise funds to keep and maintain the village. With 160 children, about 3 1/2 sacks of rice are consumed DAILY to keep these growing boys fed. Fr. Boyet jokes that even after a meal of spaghetti and burgers sent by generous donors, the boys still hunger for their rice meals. Rice. And more rice when paired with meat. 


This is the all-boys dormitory.




Fr. Boyet is quick to remind us though that while providing food, shelter and clothing may not be easy, the even harder task is the rehabilitation of these children who have survived off the streets and lived by its rules. Many come to live in this village initially foul-mouthed and selfish. Some may have even led criminal lives as thieves, snatchers, or worse, drug couriers. In Fr. Boyet’s experience, reforming them wasn’t easy but certainly possible. Very few left the village, despite the disciplines imposed on the boys. Looking around, the vibrant colors of the dormitories, halls and retreat stone houses bring cheer to village life here. How they’ve kept the entire community clean is a testament to how disciplined these boys are. Truly admirable. 





Because there is a chapel inside the village, weddings and renewal of vows can be arranged here. In fact, one can even arrange other events such as birthdays and anniversaries here. Or simple pot-luck reunions.  Why not? A mass celebration and a thanksgiving meal for guests and the boys who’d even regale you with their rondalla music. Celebrations are made more meaningful when shared. As Fr. Boyet says, no food is ever wasted here. So potluck as much as you can?  Frankly, not much is required except for the RICE. 😀 


The Dining Hall




My advice though is to keep the meals simple. Best to use those resources to buy rice for the boys, raise funds to maintain the place, or even help pay for the payroll of the educators in the Instituto de San Martin. Without volunteer teachers, a monthly salary of P12,000 minimum for each teacher is difficult to sustain. And they need a faculty of teachers and trainers for vocational skills and value formation. Likewise for their music ministry. Not easy, but by the grace of God, this village survives.  It can do much more for these children. As things stand, it is only limited by others’ generosity NOT just with money but time. 





I’ve seen many projects with lofty ideals work and fail. Fr. Boyet and his volunteers are never short of ideas and certainly full of commitment. They can do with a lot of help from us. Even by simply sharing this piece to introduce this noble project to as many generous souls. Maybe find groups, fraternities, companies to foot one teacher’s payroll. So, how about it? Below are details on Father Boyet and this project. 


Donations can be made to Fr. Boyet’s account with Metrobank. Just make sure to send SMS to Fr. Boyet re: donor and amount.



You may also want to call or send an SMS to Fr. Boyet or to his assistant Myrna (0922 8341940) should you wish to visit. And there’s Sister Adora too, who can “introduce” you to St. Martin de Porres and even sing her composition for you. 
An earlier blog was written on the same project. Just click here


More photos below.











TO FATHER BOYET and other volunteers, WE THANK YOU PROFUSELY FOR THE INSPIRATION TO DO GOOD AND GLORIFY GOD. GOD BLESS YOU A HUNDREDFOLD .  

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A Dog’s Life @Acuaverde

Beats flying to some island just to laze around the beach. It’s not near but we’ve decided on this drive south of Manila so we can enjoy the beach with our beloved canine. The three hour-drive can be broken with a pit stop in Padre Garcia where we enjoyed a Batangueño lunch in Cocina. Think bulalo, pinaes na dulong, sinaing na tulingan, lomi, etc.  Staff so friendly that we promised to return on our trip back to Manila. 








Acuaverde Beach Resort is in Laiya, in the southeastern part of San Juan, Batangas. A beach break here is a good idea especially if you have fur babies you can’t leave at home. Only 26 very roomy units, with plenty sun loungers and cabanas fronting Tayabas Bay. Plus those cute-sy swing chairs made of wicker and shaped like an egg. Tried sitting and swinging in one and I swear it’s a challenge not to doze off.  The vibe is far from the party island vibe of Boracay nor the touristic scene in El Nido and Coron. In fact, I hardly saw any tourists except for a couple of  balikbayans married to foreigners with their families. The guests were mostly locals, families opting for a quiet beach break and some groupies enjoying a break from work. So yes, no loud, blaring music during late evenings. And many early-risers the next morning waiting for sunrise, and some fisher folks with their harvest from the sea. 







We booked 2 spacious rooms in a 2-storey unit with a veranda overlooking the shore. There are kayaks in case you want to flex those arm muscles, a ping pong table, banana boats and other fun beach sports. There’s a kids’ playground and a similar playground for pups. I love that they have this service buzzer right in the room too.  The meals are nothing fancy but delicious and filling. Think beef caldereta, chicken tinola, seafood curry, tilapia, espada, grilled liempo, adobo, etc.  No complaints. 






Toffee was the honored guest here. On Day 1, he was given a welcome loot bag of ball, leash and dog cookies. On the day we left, he was photographed and footprinted (or paw-printed?) and his photo is now framed along with other fur babies. Their pet parents must be beaming with pride. Toffee took to the water like a fish, swimming like a pro. He also made friends with another pup, a 2-year old beagle named Dax. But he’s picky — he didn’t like Bruno, the Chihuahua. How odd.  But he ran, played, and swam to our delight. So active…. but he cared not to miss any member of the family. Yes, Toffee made sure we’re always together.  Happy pups make happy pet parents! 





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