Karlo L. Yap: Loving The Philippines Is Like Loving A Person …

by • June 8, 2013 • Featured, Featured Stories, InterviewsComments (5)8220

We continue our series of interviews with photographers and bloggers who generously shared to us their great photos of different travel attractions in the Philippines. In our view, they are a breed of unsung heroes whose work puts a spotlight on the true beauty of the country for the global audience. We hope to honor them, in our own small way, through these featured interviews.

!!! Update: Congratulations to Karlo and his lovely soon-to-be wife, Roxy from us here at TriptheIslands.com. They are getting married in July! yehey!!! 🙂

Karlo L. YapHello Karlo, can you please introduce yourself to our readers? Where are you based now and where is your hometown in the Philippines?

My mother named me after Karl Marx as she was a great fan of his books and philosophy. That’s how I ended up being named Karlo. That’s with a “K” mind you. During that time, every other namesake of mine was spelled with a “C” so to make things unique she spelled it with a “K”. To my friends, I am simply “Kaloy”.

I have two brothers, both with names that also start with a “K”. Konrad, who recently passed away from his 23 years battling cancer and Kerwin, an engineer that’s living with me here in Sydney, Australia where I am currently based. Both of my parents are doctors in the field of medicine. My dad is still practicing in St. Lukes as an anesthesiologist and my mom is setting up a wellness center in our home town of Daraga, Albay called Lancosville, which will provide a great place for a retreat where guest will be well pampered and taken cared of.

Dreaming to become an engineer during my early years, I strived to get into UP, Ateneo or UST. However, I did not make the cut. So, I entered as a Psychology freshman in Miriam College during that time when they were still accepting guys. A year later, I transferred to the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus and eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics. I know right! My background is Math yet I have a love for photography. Talk about polar opposites .

My love for photography started during my high school years in Diliman Preparatory School as a photo editor for the school newspaper. During that time, my favorite hero was Spiderman and I guess I saw myself as the same run down journalist and photographer as Peter was. Pretty soon, I got to like being at the back of the camera taking the shots while getting backstage passes for all of our events. One step led to another and finally people started to ask me to take their pictures. This became a source of income to compliment my allowance during that time. Since then, I have moved into digital photography using my Canon 5D Mk 2.

My photo style has improved over the years and I was even teaching it to kids. I also delved into glamour, portrait photography and photojournalism. Some of my projects consisted of a portrait a day series entitled “Project 366: A Journey of Self Discovery” during 2008 where you take a self-portrait for 366 days. The following year, I chose to up the ante and embarked on “09: A Year of Portraits”. One portrait a day for each day of 2009. The rules were: you had to pose for me. I take it within the given 24 hours of the day, NO MISSES, and of course you have to sign your full name and birthday on my logbook. Both can be seen in my flickr site.

I also have a love for travel. I guess I got it from both of my parents. Taking pictures of the places I visit became second nature. I started PinoyPhotoTrekker.com to show to people where I have been. The Philippines is a great place with lots of warm people and places that have yet to be discovered.

[Mel of TTI:] I guess naming kids with the same first letter is a classic Filipino trait. My parents did that to us as well. We’re four and all our name starts with “R”. Did it to my 2 kids too.Their names starts with “Y”.  When your mom’s wellness center is up and running, do let us know. We’d be very happy if we can feature it here on our site. So sorry to hear about your brother Konrad and have read about him in your blog. I hate the big “C” as well as it has claimed the lives of some friends too. 

That is so true, Filipino parents do name their children with some sort of theme. It’s less apparent in other countries and it shows that we are family centered, loving and caring people.

The loss of our brother really took us by surprise, however, we were also in a sense getting ready for it. Imagine, he battled cancer for 23 years when he was only given 6 months is really something that you can’t stop but to admire. He is a great inspiration to everyone that he met. His life with us will never be forgotten for he is one of the reasons that our family is how it is. He will surely be missed.

We have broken ground in Lancosville early this year and with luck and lots of prayers we should be open by Q4 this year. I’ll be informing you about the place once it gets into gear.

Awesome idea to do the two portrait project and great that you were able to pull them off. Any new ones you care to share?

After two years straight of taking pictures everyday with my camera, I thought of going on a break for a while. Though there is another photo project that I’m gearing up. As of now, I’m still sketchy about the details but let’s just say that it will be a similar picture a day project with a very different theme. I’m hoping to start it out sometime this year. It will be updated and posted on my blog when it’s up and running.

You described yourself as an adventurer. Tell us more about this. Where in your trip to the Philippines have you had the best adventure? the memorable one?

Rapelling at Calbiga Caves, Samar

Rapelling at Calbiga Caves, Samar

We are all adventurers, you and me, whether it’s becoming a new parent or writing a program in your desktop. We all walk in this world touching lives and discovering new and wonderful things. I am not any different. Adventures come from visiting new places and trying new and wonderful things that will sometimes scare you. Climbing a mountain, sleeping under the stars and diving the ocean’s depth are just some examples of these adventures. I’ve been privileged enough to have worked with Bluewater Inc, led by Chen and Louie Mencias, who taught me everything I know today about the outdoors. Bluewater is the organization responsible in teaching local tour guides to become reef rangers whose sole responsibility is to take care of the ecosystems and provide a sustainable tourism environment for the tourist that visits the location. My role was to document the events and act as an assistant and safety diver for the in-water activities.

Choosing one place that is quite memorable is going to be a hard one. I’ve been to a lot of places that literally blows your breath away. From the perfect waves of the surf spots in Baler Aurora, the overland adventure of Luzon’s Northern Loop, the full moonrise in Maquinit hotsprings on a low tide in Coron, the coral reefs of Anilao, ATV on lava trails in Mayon, Donsol’s Whaleshark dives, spending 3 days and 2 nights inside Calbiga’s cave systems, even to a perfect sunset on a Spanish lighthouse in Palaui Island. It’s hard to choose just one. I would not trade all of these experiences for anything. Loving the Philippines is like loving a person; you can’t love it in parts but as a whole. I love every moment of my adventures in the islands and I have yet to set foot on each 7,107 of them.

I would like to note that I would love to go and visit the Tubbataha National Park and spend a week just diving in those waters. This is part of my bucket list. 

That’s a lot of great spots in the Philippines. For the benefit of our readers especially those who haven’t been to these places, can you briefly describe some of your experience:

a) riding the surf in Baler, Aurora
Surfing in Baler

Surfing in Baler

When you talk about surfing in the Islands, you always think about Surigao, but you have to note that the Philippine is comprised of an archipelago that’s about 7,107 islands. I first learned how to surf in the Pacific side of the island of Luzon, in the province of Aurora lies the sleepy town of Baler. Getting to the town will take about 8 hours by bus through NLEX and finally to the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The sight going up and then down the mountains is breathtaking.

You finally know you are at your destination when you breathe the fresh crisp air of the Pacific Ocean. Since the nearest landmass from this side of the Philippines is Guam and the bigger ones are Hawaii and then Central America you can expect that the winds are blowing consistently and strong. There are a lot of beach resorts along the coast and all of them offer surfing facilities.

One of these places is Amco Beach resort, a favorite hangout of the Baler boys, the best surfers this side of the Philippine islands. But let me tell you why this place is perfect for beginner surfers. You see when you start surfing you have to have perfectly stable, long rolling and consistent waves with a water depth that’s shallow enough that you can stand chest deep in the water. And lastly, a sandy beach bottom free from rocks and corals that might injure any first timers.

The beaches of Baler have all the above making it the perfect place to learn surfing. You can rent a surfboard with instructions for 500 – 1500 pesos, depending on your group’s numbers and season. For those that dare not surf, you can also rent out bogie and skim boards. The place is really a surfer’s paradise.

b) ATVing on lava trails in Mayon

Mayon ATV

Mayon ATV

ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle. It’s a small one to two-man gas-driven quad bike that can be driven in rough and uneven terrain. There is no other uneven terrain that’s more breathtaking than riding the ATVs on a lava trail going up Mt Mayon! There are many ATV companies in Daraga Albay that offer this service. However, the closest and most rewarding one is the ATV center in Cagsawa Church. You do not only get to see Cagsawa Church but you also can ride along the rice patties and rocks of the old lava trail.

There are numerous routes depending on your time and expertise. The ATV trial route lets you run the ATV around their dirt track for about 30 mins. The 1 hour route is the one that takes you to a scenic route to a picture perfect view of some of the boulders along the trail. This is the most usual route for beginners. Finally there are the experience routes; these are the 3 hour and 7 hour routes respectively. These are the routes that take you right up Mt Mayon. The 3 hour one takes you to the 2009 Lava wall while the 7 hour one takes you almost halfway up the volcano through a forestry track made up of old lava. After the trip, you will greatly appreciate the majesty and raw beauty of the volcano and will make every other ATV experience rank second to this trip.

c) diving with Donsol’s whale sharks
Whale Shark in Donsol

Whale Shark in Donsol

Ever since I was a young boy, I loved to be in the water. Becoming a Dive Master was then the right step. The good part is that you do not have to be a good swimmer and even a SCUBA diver to enjoy the pleasures of diving with whale sharks! We are just lucky here in the islands that we are blessed with the only known breeding area for whale sharks in the world. The waters off Donsol in Sorsogon offer everything that these gentle giants need: numerous food stores, warm clear waters and protection from fishing care of the Philippine government. This is one of the places in the world where you can consistently view and swim with these gentle giants.

The whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean. They can grow to about the size of a school bus and weigh almost the same. They eat only plankton microscopic organisms in the ocean and YES they are a TYPE of SHARK! In fact, they are not whales at all but a true SHARK! They will NEVER harm a human being let alone eat them. There is however only a few months of the year to view these gentle giants, mainly during Feb – Jun. On other times of the year, they disappear from the waters. Every trip does not guarantee a shark sighting. Some may have 10 sightings other may have none. It depends on the skill of the spotter, the daring of the boatman and the participation of the shark.

I remember the first time I saw one. The water was a bit murky that day. The day was sunny. A good break from the constant rains the night before. Our BIO (Butanding Interactive Office) Danny spotted a large shark off the port side of our boat. He immediately signaled our boat captain to chase after the looming shadow. Capt Rohelio gunned the engine hard covering a wide circle around the feeding animal. All the while, Danny was keeping his eye on its silhouette; least the shark goes diving.

We gear up with our mask, snorkels, fins and life jackets ready for the signal to get into the water. Our boat then stops, engines quiet, the waves and wind blowing hard on our faces, anticipation builds as all our eyes and ears focusing on Danny awaiting the signal to jump. With a calm wave of his hand, he tells us to follow him down the ladder. At first, all I can see were bubbles and the cool relief of ocean water during this hot summer day in May. You then get your bearings and just follow Danny’s yellow dive fins. I can’t see the bottom, all I can see is the deep blue of the ocean.

We swim for a few meters hoping that the shark did not change course or decided to dive. After a few moments, we see a dark shadow in the water right in front of us getting closer by the moment. I can hear my heart beating faster and faster as the shadow starts to take shape and form. Right in front of us, coming straight towards us was my very first whale shark, as big as a bus WITH MOUTH WIDE OPEN!!!

Adrenaline kicks up my system and all I can think about was the orientation. Do not touch the shark. Do not ride the shark and keep a 5m distance from the shark! Thing is .. I don’t think they told the shark that! It felt like everything was in slow motion when it happened. The whale shark closed its mouth and then swam right under me! It actually avoids people! A few moments later, our entire group was swimming with the gentle giant. An hour passed without us knowing. Finally, it got its fill of the local plankton and dove down to the ocean depths and we were picked up by the boat. I never was so tired and yet fulfilled on the same day. One tick off my bucket list 

d) spending 3 days and 2 nights inside Calbiga’s cave system

The caves of Calbiga are the second largest cave system in South East Asia. The locals of Catbalogan, Samar knew of these systems well before the westerners as these where the main hiding places of rebels during WW2. You need an experience guide that knows the area well. My friend Joni Bonifacio is a local tour guide and manager for Trexplore the Adventure that provides this service. He specializes in taking people on caving adventures.

The trip starts off with a 2 hour hike over mountains until you get to the cave entrance. From there you say goodbye to the sun for 3 days! From here on, you will be traveling by torch light and camping in football size caverns until you get to the other side of the cave system. There is no path like the caves in the US or here in Australia. You will be travelling on virgin rock and rappelling down crevasses. You bring your own food and light, while water is provided via fresh underwater streams along the way. Truly this is an extreme caving adventure as long as you are not claustrophobic.

Calbiga Caves Samar

Your stated goal in flickr is to show the world the beauty of the Philippines. We are of the same mind on this. Tell us why you are that passionate about our country?

My previous work here in Australia took me around South East Asia and, to be honest, nothing beats home. I’m proud being a Pinoy and I take every opportunity to tell the people I meet about our country and our people. It’s really funny because if you ask a foreigner, they always think about the Philippine islands as a place that’s very much hazardous to their well-being. Truth be told, you would never have a problem getting directions in the Philippines because everywhere you ask, there are people who know and speak great English. We are as a people also very welcoming. We always have a smile to brighten a day.

I remember Ondoy in 2009. The strong rains that caused the floods hit our house in Marikina. Everyone was frightened and suffering from the loss of property, yet, if you ask them what they are thankful for, they will say with a smile that they are all alive. You will never see this attitude in any other culture in the world. The resilience of the Filipino people is something that is truly remarkable. More so, even when you travel to other places of the globe. This is what I would like the world to see; a land that cultivates these values is worth visiting. I am Pinoy and Proud! 

I share the same observation with regards to how foreigners (most but not all) view our country. Do you think that there is a “perception” problem out there about our country? 

Unfortunately, bad press is what sells and the media is not really providing more. It has something to do with our culture as a Filipino you see. Since we look out for people, as part of our family, we always want them to be safe and sound and that involves knowing the good and the bad incidents. Other cultures only see the hardships and the pain that we suffer like the constant typhoons, earthquakes and unrest. These are the things that are showcased throughout the world. Yet, they never see the will of a people who goes beyond these tribulations taking each calamity one day at a time.

As a people, we are resilient. We only need to be told of a job and we do all that it takes to make it work. We provide the warmest smile and a welcoming spirit to boost. These are something that the media fails to show the world. These are the things that we as a people should be proud of. I have never believed that people respect and admire Filipino workers for their loyalty and attention to detail until I’ve travelled outside of the country. We do the jobs that other people take for granted, knowing fully well that these jobs are important for society to work. These may be simple and down to earth jobs but they keep the industries that we work for running and we do it with pride.

Examples of these are nursing jobs that comes second nature to us since we naturally take care of our patients like family. Factory jobs are simple since we grew up with the knowledge to be organized and respectful to our employers. Our command of the English language and natural welcoming attitude sets the ground work for the best customer relations. Individuals working in the call centers and tourism industries are well sought after because of this trait.

We should be proud to be Pinoy all the time. No one is perfect. Everyone is an individual and we have our faults and triumphs.  The difference is that since we are so accommodating, we lose ourselves to other cultures and blend in to the point that we forget who we are. We as a people should stop loving in parts. Loving your country is a start. Rediscovering what it means to be Filipino is what will take us through the next century and make our country great once more.

Sinulog Queen 2010

Do you think that the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign is gaining traction and is effective in presenting our country as a beautiful and great place to visit?

I love the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign! It really describes what we are as a country and as a people: energetic, diverse, fun-loving, accommodating. It’s true that everything is more fun in the Philippines and it really shows in this ad. Comparing it to the “Get Lost in Singapore”, “Incredible India” and “Malaysia Truly Asia” campaigns, we have finally got a tagline that fits our perspective much more than WOW Philippines used to be. The biggest triumph of this campaign is that the youth of other countries are now setting their sights to come and visit our islands. The desired effect is there. Kudos to the Department of Tourism for this great idea!

Cagsawa Ruins, Albay by Karlo Yap

Cagsawa Ruins, Albay by Karlo Yap

Lastly, we like the story of the “Legend of Mt. Mayon” you wrote in your blog. It’s a beautiful story. Whom did you learn it from?

I was born in the province of Albay where my grandfather used to tell me stories about our most prominent landmark during typhoons and brownouts. Cable TV and the internet did not exist back then. Every night, without power, he used to light up an old gas lamp and after dinner we would gather to the only place in the house that had light, yup .. that old gas lamp. That’s when he starts to tell us stories about the tikbalangs, kapres, mananangals and, of course, the Legend of Mt Mayon. All those stories guaranteed to keep the interest of a 5-year-old kid so as not to run around in the dark. I was so intrigued by the story of Daragang Magayon that I would always remember her story every time Mayon erupts, and she does so every 5-7 years. But like all scribes, stories passed down from one generation to the next. Stories may have something added or deducted based on the person telling it. This is my version based on my grandfather’s tale. It was supposed to be written as a full manuscript but due to lack of time, meaning I just need to finish it. I decided to make it a short story instead just to fit the blog.

I remember those days too, when we (kids of the neighborhood) crowd around a light source (for us it’s just the humble kandila) during brownouts and hear stories about duwendes (dwarfs), enkantos and legends (sampaloc, pina etc). No phones. No texting. No app games. It’s an experience, unfortunately, kids today will never have. The story of Mayon is a classic. It’s way better than any of the teleserye we see on TV today.

That’s the unique part of our generation … we are the transition generation. The last to have ever experience the simple life: dinners via candle light, stories told by great storytellers and know about the legends and myths that make our world go round. We are also the first who have ever used the internet, the mobile phone and cable TV. Long gone are the days when kids knew how to have fun outdoors. Today, kids play Angry Birds instead of syatong, Dota or LOL instead of agawan base and bejeweled instead of jolen. I guess, it’s just that we have to strike a balance in teaching the next generation what it means to be a kid, least they forget. The good part is that we have the perfect means to make that happen and it’s what you and me and countless others are currently doing and that’s blogging.

 Loving the Philippines is like loving a person; you can’t love it in parts but as a whole. I love every moment of my adventures in the islands and I have yet to set foot on each 7,107 of them.

True. that’s so true. We’d like to thank you Karlo for the interview and for sharing with us your thoughts. For our readers, Karlo blogs at PinoyPhotoTrekker.com. Visit him there and get to know him more. Please enjoy a sampling of his photos below. 

Palawan Crocodiles Taal Lake Casiguran, Aurora Baler, Aurora Under Apo Island Caramoan Island Chain
Palawan Underground River  Clams in Anyaya Cove Bataan  Coron by Karlo Yap  Tour of the Fireflies Manila by Karlo Yap  Mt. San Miguel Bataan  Lighthouse of Cape Engaño

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5 Responses to Karlo L. Yap: Loving The Philippines Is Like Loving A Person …

  1. Kaloy Yap says:

    Maraming Salamat po TTI ( Thank you very much TTI )

    • Lourdes Lolita Y. Caballero says:

      Wow reading your interview felt like I was in those places too! I do agree that kids today will not surely get the same experience of what is to be a kid way back then. the outdoors and simple toys of an old tire we call in Cebuano as Kaliring and the jolen , bato lata, patentiro and many other sorts that are inexpensive. Outdoor games provide exercise and good health. Present day gadgets could provide laziness and obesity if not balanced.

      Enjoyed going thru your adventures. Keep on. Proud to be Pinoy!

      • Mel Casis says:

        Hi Lourdes, thanks for coming here and sharing your thoughts. Kaloy is one lucky guy as he’s already been to a lot of great spots in our country.

    • Mel Casis says:

      You’re welcome. 🙂

  2. Toeknee yay says:

    Karlo you wrote about the Philippines from different perspectives. I love to try the caves of Calbiga and mountains to climb. Also, the islands of Palawan and Batanes, with Siquior for its mysticism, excites my way to relax. Thank so much for your blog

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