Pursuing Polaris, Seven Years Ago

It was the year when DSLRs started capturing video, and memory cards began dethroning mini-DVs in the film and photography industries.



At the Dominion Bus terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. Circa 2008.



The year was 2008. It was the semestral break of our third year in film school. For the following term, we would be asked to present our production theses and proposals. And the pressure was just so overwhelming that we felt lost and did not know what to do.

We all knew where our compasses pointed and so we decided to find ourselves further north. We went on a trip, not towards the Cordilleras where most people would go to, but somewhere northwest.

After more than eight hours of traveling by bus, we found places willing to share their experiences with lost souls like us. And they were none other than the provinces of Ilocos.

A Place to Look Around

In Science, the first step in the scientific method had been to observe. And where could we go to see an overview of the whole situation? High places had always been perfect spots, just like the Bantay Belfry.

Situated on top of a hill, the campanile of the municipality of Bantay provided one of the best views of Ilocos Sur. Built during the 1590s, the brick establishment served as a watchtower for enemies since the Spanish Period up to World War II.

The Bantay Belfry, towering over Ilocos Sur.

The Bantay Belfry, towering over Ilocos Sur. Photo by Ami Gatchalian.


But the tower was not made only to spot intruders. It was also a good place to check what the vast world could offer young castaways like us. And upon seeing the entirety of the picture, we decided to visit the Spanish checkerboard of the nearby city of Vigan.

Crossroads at Vigan

Intersecting roads might be more confusing to those seeking the right path. But the timeless beauty of the cobblestones and the capiz shell windows were telling us that they might be holding the lead to our search.



A piece of technology amidst the centuries-old surroundings. Photo by Sheig Encelan.

A piece of technology amidst the centuries-old surroundings. Photo by Sheig Encelan.


The Heritage Village of Vigan never lost its magic through the years. The calesas continued to transport guests back in time. The place was even hailed recently as one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the World.

Calle Crisologo and its old Spanish houses would always remind us of our rich history. The place taught us, that for us to be able to move forward, we should, every once in a while, look back to our past.

Pottery is a process

Pottery had been a craft practiced around the world ever since mankind began. And it remained to be a process ever since.


Danboard overseeing the burnay-production. Photo by Sheig Encelan.

Danboard overseeing the burnay-production. Photo by Sheig Encelan.


The Pagburnayan of Vigan, located a few minutes from the Heritage Village, was a living demonstration that the best things in life never happen overnight.

From the gathering of clay to the molding of the jars up to the kilning process, pottery sure was a craft requiring specific skills and a lot of patience. And so was film and other significant forms of art.

Test of Strong Winds

So did we really have the patience? We braced ourselves and embarked on another three-hour bus ride to witness the coastal towns of the nearby province of Ilocos Norte.

And just before we reached the municipality of Pagudpud, the first test of endurance greeted us, “Hello!” Strong winds came rushing, blowing away everything on its path. And they were no ordinary winds. They were strong enough to make 20 colossal pieces of steel rotate to produce energy.


The epic Bangui photo of Sheig Encelan. windmills

The epic Bangui photo of Sheig Encelan.


The Bangui Wind Mills, inaugurated in 2005, were one of the major sources of electricity in the region. Because of the strong winds, the shore was covered with chunks of polished stones instead of the usual white sand.

Journeys were made exciting by these strong winds. And the best way to get through them was just to glide and go with the flow.

A Long and Winding Road

A few more minutes on the journey and the winds finally subsided. But it was just a starter. We were welcomed after by a majestic view of the West Philippine Sea and a significantly winding road.


Are you willing to go through Patapat Viaduct? Photo by Ami Gatchalian.

Are you willing to go through Patapat Viaduct? Photo by Ami Gatchalian.


The 1.3-kilometer Patapat Viaduct connected the Ilocos Region to Cagayan Valley. The word viaduct came from the Latin words via meaning ‘road’ and ducere, meaning ‘to lead.’

The ride through it was nice and sweet. And true enough, this winding road was really kind to lead us to our final destination.

The North Star

Finally, the fine white sand beaches of Brgy. Saud in the town of Pagudpud brushed the soles of our feet. And being on a journey to find our true north, the Polaris Beach Resort caught our attention. And luckily, they even offered us a fair student discount.

It was already dark. The six of us sat quietly by the shore, staring down at our sand-laden feet, while enjoying the sweet hum of the waves.

Everything was so calm and serene. There were no bars by the shore. There were no drunk people dancing around bonfires. There were no loud music. It was just the sand, the sea and us.

Hours passed by quietly. Drowsiness was slowly pushing our backs flat on the sand. Looking up now, we finally saw what we were looking for.

Apparently, we were not alone that night. We were accompanied by the stars, beautifully arranged in the velvet sky.

And there at the center was the genuine Polaris, outshining all the other stars. And the experience was like an electric shock to our veins. Right there and then, sweet smiles were etched on our faces. Every trace of being lost was now temporarily gone.


rainbow copy

There was a rainbow behind us. There was… really. haha. Pagudpud 2008.

After 3 days and 2 nights, we were able to find what we were looking for. We went back to the bustling streets of Manila bringing with us those shining ideas for our theses.

Seven years after, in the year 2015, we are still wandering, this time in this so-called real world. And being lost in the real world is nothing compared to being lost at the university. We were now on an intensified search of ourselves, hanging somewhere in the time-space continuum.

Consulting the compasses of the real world can be overwhelmingly confusing. They point to a variety of paths that lead to a variety of goals.

But upon looking back on this trip, we are reminded. The night sky offers a wide range of stars and dreams. All we need to do is to find our true North Star, the one that outshines them all.

Hong Kong and the Lost Tripod

It was the time when one of the major airport terminals in the Philippines was disturbed by a royal rumble between a celebrity couple and a veteran media man.  According to reports, it all started with the unannounced offloading of the couple’s luggage from their overloaded plane.  Still according to  reports, there were also no CCTV cameras installed in the baggage conveyor area of the airport, making it impossible to check on the actual happenings.

Unfortunately, our flight to Hong Kong was booked in the same airline.  But fortunately, we weren’t in the same airport.

It was the wee hours of May 26 when Mai, Jombits, Ami, Sheig and I, arrived at Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Angeles City, Pampanga.

diosdado macapagal international airport clark angeles pampanga

Except for Sheig, this was our first trip abroad and we initially did not plan to check-in any baggage as we are in backpack mode, and also to avoid any offloading.  But the attendants said that Mai’s tripod was not allowed to be hand-carried, and also all of our umbrellas.  And so we paid an awesome amount of fees, so awesome that we felt robbed.

airplane window  view clouds

We took our flight and after almost two hours of getting intimate with sinturong pangkaligtasan, we arrived in Hong Kong International Airport.

hong kong international airport signange

Inside the plane, we could still hear the flight attendants bidding us good bye, in Filipino.  But the moment we stepped out of the plane, upon seeing a different writing in the signage, upon hearing an announcement in a language we did not understand, upon sighting a CCTV camera on every corner, and upon being surrounded by a first world environment, oh yes, we definitely were not in the Philippines anymore.

hong kong bus

After a one-and-a-half-hour ride on a “two-storey bus”, we arrived in Mong Kok.

hong kong mong kok streets window view

Seemed familiar? No, we’re not in Manila yet.  We’re still in Hong Kong.  Amongst the busy streets, we found Dragon Hostel, where we made our reservation, and managed to check-in by conversing with the owner in what they call the universal language, English.

Then a woman accompanied us to a seemingly-normal elevator.   We were asking her questions about our room, in English, but she was not answering.  Then, the elevator doors opened and we saw the number thirteen on the wall.  Oh gosh, we were on the thirteenth floor.  Sheig showed the woman the number indicated in our room key: 107.  She said something in Chinese, that we did not understand, as she led us out.  The seemingly-normal ambience suddenly turned to an Asian horror experience as we walked the corridors of thirteenth floor.  Why did they have a thirteenth floor here? Oh yeah, of course, we were not in the Philippines.  Luckily, we reached Unit 1303, Room 107, without anything unsual happening.

As we passed by the lobby on our way out, we learned that the woman who accompanied us understands only a little English.

Our next stop was the MTR Station, the equivalent of our very own Metro Rail Transit (MRT).  Aside from the first-world look of the surroundings, discipline was all around. There were no pushing, no long lines; we could even wander around with DSLRs hanging around our necks without fear of snatchers or hold-uppers just like in Quiapo or Divisoria.

Plus, there were a lot of cute guys.  And as we were all giggling about an anime-looking guy near the train doors, a woman sitting next to me seemed to be silently laughing with us.  “Tunaw na mga lalaki sa kakatitig n’yo (All the boys are melting before your eyes),” she says as she started a conversation with us.  As far as I can remember, she’s from Leyte and was a domestic helper in Hong Kong.  It was so refreshing to meet someone who speaks the same language as we do.  And as we reached our destination, she said that Hong Kong was such a beautiful place that we’ll surely enjoy.

hong kong avenue of stars wong kar wai

The rest of Day 1 was spent in the Avenue of Stars, where we had a photo on Wong Kar Wai’s star and witnessed the Symphony of Lights.

symphony of lights avenue of stars hong kong

We started Day 2 with the ever-relaxing aura of Chi Lin Nunnery.

chi lin nunnery diamond hill hong kong

We also visited the Hong Kong Film archive, and wished that the Philippine government would also give this much importance to our classic films.

hong kong film archive

We rode the train to our next destination and laughed loudly as we went boy-watching again.  And as we were walking our way out of the station, we heard a group of women laughing louder than us.  As we turned to look for them, we heard a familiar language.  And to our surprise, we saw a whole stretch of Filipinos, seemingly having a picnic on the park near the Central Station.

central station MTR hong kong

Then we walked our way to experience the view from Victoria Peak.

victoria peak hong kong

On Day 3, as we were buying tickets for Disneyland at the hostel office, Sheig was surprised when a group of three women entered the office.  Sheig, conversed with them in Bicolano, and they smiled to us as we exited the office.

hong kong disneyland

While falling in line at the gates of Disneyland, Mai approached me and handed me a map of the theme park. Suddenly, a man and a little girl approached me as I browse the map “Saan n’yo po nakuha ‘yan (Where did you get that)?”  I readily smiled and asked Mai where she got it. Then we pointed to a staff member distributing the maps nearby.  He smiled and said “Salamat po (Thank you).”

And at long last, we were there, in the place where dreams come true.  Only hypocrites would say that they never dreamt, at least once in their childhood, of meeting Mickey Mouse in person, or in my case, Woody.

toy story hong kong disneyland woody jesse

Day 4 was spent with the Big Buddha of Lantau Island.

big buddha lantau island hong kong

To take this photo, we installed Mai’s tripod and set Carmen (what Mai calls her Canon 5D camera) into timer mode.  Unfortunately, we were positioned near the stairs so everybody who wanted to cross waited for Carmen to flash before they can pass.  And because we were echoserang frogs, we were not contented with the first shot so we took another one.

And as Carmen was counting to ten seconds, a white woman was about to cross and she was made to stop when Carmen flashed.  We ran, laughing, from where we were to see if the picture was good.  And as we were uninstalling the tripod and the camera, the woman mocked how we laughed and said, “No culture”, as she passed by.  Upon hearing this, Jombits readily shouted, “Guys, hurry up! Let’s go over there, to the monastery!” He told us he meant to do it loudly so the white woman would know that we could speak English, and that we could understand what she said and to prove that we have culture.

On Day 5, we boarded a ferry boat to Macau and bid Hong Kong goodbye.  We deposited our luggage at the pier lockers so we could roam around freely.

We rode a bus from the pier to go to the Ruins of St. Paul.  As we were walking and trolling around, we can see and hear a lot of Filipinos. We even asked a Pinoy security guard where to find the best food in Macau.

Our last stop was at the Senador Square…

senador square macau

And this was the last photo taken using Mai’s tripod.  It was already ten in the evening, and our flight was at four the following morning so we already rode the bus back to the pier to gather our things.  I volunteered to help Mai and carried the tripod.

In the pier lockers, we used the weighing scale to see if our pasalubongs and other additional stuff fitted the allotted baggage weight.  We aimed to weigh the tripod first, since surely it won’t be allowed to be hand-carried again.  Tripod.  Uh-oh.  I was the last person holding it in the bus.  Oh my goodness! I left the tripod in the bus!

We readily ran to check if Bus # A10, was still outside.  But as expected, it already went away.  We seek help from the Pier Information Desk.  The woman at the desk, conversing with us in English, told us that the ticket booth at the bus stop may be helpful.  We went there where we saw a man and a woman, but we cannot seem to understand one another.  By looking at the big Information Board, we learned that Bus #A10’s route starts from the pier and back so there’s a possibility that the same bus we rode minutes ago would still pass by.  It was 10:30 in the evening, and we decided to take the risk.

So how many A10 buses were there?  We were uncertain.  Soon enough, one of them came.  We tried talking to the driver but again, we could not understand Chinese and he could not understand English.  So Mai and I decided to compose our message, in English, and let the woman at the Information Booth write down the Chinese translation on a piece of paper.  Then we showed this to each and every A10 bus driver that came afterwards.  An hour already passed but the tripod was still nowhere to be found.

We decided to ride a taxi to the nearest police station, using the Chinese translation the woman at the desk gave us.  Luckily, the officer that we met can speak English but still the conversation was not easy.  We called the bus terminal office, located at A-Ma Temple but no one’s answering.  It was twelve midnight.  The officer said that there could hardly be any person at the office at that hour.  We explained that we need to find it before our flight back to the Philippines at 4:00AM.  The officer asked for our Philippine address and even offered to ship the tripod once they find it the following morning.  We really appreciated his kindness, but we thought that if they or we would wait until the following morning, it would be harder to track the tripod.  So we thanked the officer and went back.

Upon walking to the bus stop, Mai said that maybe we still have time to go to A-Ma Temple.  We walked passed the bus stop and started looking for a Filipino.  It was already late so there were only a few people on the streets.  After some time, we chance upon a Pinay-looking woman. “Ate, pwede po ba magtanong (Excuse me, we would just want to ask a question)?”, Mai readily asked without even confirming if she’s a Filipina.  Fortunately, the woman said, “Ay, ano po ‘yun (Yes, what is it)?”  We explained the scenario and she took us to the hotel where she was working and introduced us to another Filipino, a Kuya who was assigned at the desk.  He helped us call the A-Ma temple terminal again but still no one answered.  We asked where A-Ma Temple was and Kuya said it was at the far end of Macau.  He wrote something down, and made a Chinese co-worker write the translation on the paper.  Kuya said we just need to show that to the taxi driver to be able to reach A-Ma Temple.  But he said that at this hour, the probability of finding someone there was very low.  We thanked Kuya and told him we really appreciated his help.

As we were walking outside the hotel, I apologized to Mai and gave her a very tight hug.  I told her that I would just buy her a new one. It was already 12:30am and the airport was quite far from where we were.  We rode the bus back to the pier to fetch Jombits and Sheig and went straight to the airport.

By the way, Mai was fond of naming all her gadgets, and because she just bought her tripod during this Hong Kong trip, it has no name yet.  So after all that happened in Macau, we decided to name the tripod after that woman at the airport rumble.  And another thing, everytime we feel angry during this trip and wanted to make a fight, we just use the woman’s name to call what we were about to do and we are sent laughing our hearts instead.

avenue of stars hong kong friends