The zipline fun in Tagaytay City

ziplinePeople have been trooping to the Picnic Grove in Tagaytay City in great numbers, and we know why: the Tagaytay Ridge Zipline & Cable Car spells absolute fun!

Here, the 250-meter-long zipline affords one to soar above a tiny forest at an approximate speed of 60km/hr using a customized body harness. Either you opt to zip through the course via a manageable sit-down position or a more daring face-down position with the whole body stretched out.

The zipline ride takes less than 30 seconds, depending on how fast you go (factor in the body weight). The unique experience is terrifying for some guests, especially for those who, throughout the zipline journey, look down to get a quick glimpse of the forest some 300 feet below. But it is super fun for others, who love the feeling of being suspended from a steel cable, zipping from one platform to another.

Overweight zipline riders need not worry if the harness can support them without encountering any glitches. It is said that a single zipline harness can carry up to two tons (or roughly equivalent to seven sumo wrestlers) in one go.

For the more cautious, there’s the cable car — actually, it looks more like a ‘cable cage’ — option. But the cable car ride is so slow that it can — and it will — bore the adventurous types. This is more for the geriatric lot or for the faint-hearted. For sure, taking the cable car feels a lot safer than being strapped by a mere safety harness.

The rates are quite reasonable but they do vary, depending on which day you pay the Tagaytay Ridge Zipline & Cable Car a visit. On weekdays, one can have a one-way ride for only PHP100 (you then have to walk back using the wooden foot bridge), or a two-way ride for PHP200. On weekends and on holidays, due to the huge volume of visitors on these days, rides cost PHP200/person for a one-way journey, and PHP300/person for round trips. If you and your family or friends want to take home a souvenir photo taken by one of the staff photographers, just add PHP100. The 5″x7″ photos come in wooden frames. Very nice.

The scenic view of the Taal Volcano as a backdrop adds magic to the whole zipline experience. That’s why the staff photographers make sure that each shot is picture-perfect: the Taal Volcano should be in the background as you smile for posterity. It would be more ideal, though, if some of the souvenir shots are not directed, and photos of the visitors doing the actual ride (read: action shots capturing the real zipline moment) are the ones taken and given out. But one staffer says it all depends on the angle of a riders’ faces when they reach the end of the zipline, where the snapshots are taken. They re-enact the ride in order to get that perfect angle, if they feel there’s a need to. Oh well. Perhaps they don’t operate like those automated cameras you see in Enchanted Kingdom or Disneyland, which aim to capture your terror-stricken face as is during that momentous roller coaster ride.

zipline2Safety, the management says, is not an issue and visitors are in good hands every step of the way. As its website states, “all equipment utilized in the zip course has been engineered and exceeds industry standards to ensure a fun, enjoyable experience. The ziplines and platforms have been inspected and registered with the Government Safety Authority.” Guides are also well-trained in all aspects of the zipline and cable car operation. In other words, there’s nothing to worry about. Let’s just hope it stays that way forever. We don’t want any casualty here.

Aside from the zipline and cable car attraction, Picnic Grove visitors can also do other activities in the area such as horse riding, walking in the woods (and watching people above you zip by), having a massage (there are on-site massage experts in the area), shopping for “pasalubongs” (take-home gifts) at the souvenir shops, eating at the Pinoy restaurant, or having a family picnic in one of the picnic sheds.

So if you live in Metro Manila and feel like driving up to Tagaytay one fine day, do drop by at the Picnic Grove and give this zipline adventure a try. If you think you can take the zipline ride using the ‘Superman position,’ do so. It’s cool to conquer your fear of heights this way. Just make sure that your safety harness works, and your guide has properly strapped you. 🙂



RP’s participation in Swiss trade fair a big hit


BASEL, SWITZERLAND — The Philippines’ major participation as guest country in the recently concluded Mustermesse Basel (MUBA), the largest and most prestigious consumer fair in Switzerland, was deemed a success.

MUBA organizers said in an official press statement that “the Philippines received great recognition as guest country with its multi-faceted presentations.”

The 1,500-square meter Philippine Pavilion at the MUBA Hall attracted visitors not only from Switzerland but from Germany, France and Italy as well. It showcased folk dance presentations (by the Bayanihan dancers no less), arts and crafts demonstrations, spa and wellness services (the Pinoy hilot or massage was highly in demand), a Philippine food kiosk, and various trade booths promoting Philippine travel and real estate offerings.

Participating exhibitors stationed in different stalls sold hard-to-find Philippine food and non-food products like dried mangoes, mango wine, malunggay capsules, barongs, Filipiniana gowns, fashion accessories, and handmade jewelry, just to name a few.

Aside from the foreign visitors, a number of Switzerland-based Filipinos, many of whom are married to Swiss nationals, went to MUBA in full force to support their homeland’s first major representation in this auspicious Swiss event. They literally clogged up the dining area set up beside the Philippine food kiosks, where buffet treats whipped up by Germany-based Pinoy chef Marilou Rodriguez-Neumann were served almost non-stop to meet the demands of Philippine cuisine aficionados.

Highlight would be the regular dance shows of the multi-awarded Bayanihan dancers, who performed at the 10-day trade fair, giving the Philippine expo visitors a glimpse and taste of the Philippines’ various folk dances and native music.

Bayanihan, the national folk dance company, was also tapped by designer Cora DJ Manimbo to model her visually appealing barongs and Filipiniana gowns in fashion shows at the Philippine Pavilion. “Bayanihan and I teamed up for this event,” Manimbo said. “This is such a major occasion…a melting-pot type of fair.”

Manimbo’s visually appealing creations caught the attention of many Europe-based Filipinos, who went to MUBA primarily for the Philippine experience. After seeing her fashion show, which featured the Bayanihan dancers clad in Manimbo designer attires, a number of fair visitors trooped to her booth, where samples of her Filipiniana formal wear, were put on display. Some had placed their orders pronto.

“She (Manimbo) has such beautiful designs. And it’s great that her dresses are reasonably priced. I already had my measurements taken because I need a gown every time I go to events like the Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Bern or elsewhere,” said long-time Swiss resident Minda Graber, showing three design sketches made by Manimbo just for her.

Sining Tanedo Bruni, a preschool teacher working in Basel, said she really prioritized going to the MUBA this year to be part of the Philippine exposition. “It was a great experience. The food, shopping, and the Bayanihan dance show were great,” she said.

The country’s participation in MUBA as guest country was spearheaded by the Department of Tourism, with the Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation as its implementing arm, with parallel efforts from the private sector, through the Philippine-Swiss Business Council of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Fairs & More, Inc. of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. The project was widely supported by the 15,000-strong Filipino community in Switzerland.

Lenee Berringer, information officer of the Philippine Department of Tourism office in Frankfurt, said that they (the Department of Tourism Frankfurt team) actively promote the Philippines in European trade fairs and other similar events, with the help of local volunteers. At the MUBA, she and German volunteer Marc Daubenbuechel of the Retirement and Healthcare Coalition International distributed a lot of travel brochures in English and German to fair visitors in an attempt to increase consumer awareness about the Philippines.

“I fell in love with the Philippines the first time I went there,” Daubenbuechel said. “For me, it’s much nicer than, say, Germany and Switzerland. I’m moving there (Makati) in June, and I’m happy to be working in this non-stock, non-profit organization that aims to promote retirement and health care in the Philippines.”

Philippine Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano graced the MUBA opening ceremonies, along with Doris Leuthard, head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, and Guy Morin, president of the cantonal government of Basel. Durano had previously said in an official statement that the Philippines’ participation in the highly renowned trade fair was “a significant opportunity for the country to present itself to Switzerland and to the rest of Europe.”

Only two Asian countries — the other country being Vietnam, in 2004 — had been accorded “guest country” status since the start of MUBA in 1916. As guest country, the Philippines, through its select representatives, had the wonderful opportunity to come in direct contact with over 300,000 fair visitors.

Next year’s MUBA will be held on Feb. 5-14, 2010.

Bargain hunting at a Swiss antiques fair

There is probably something special for everyone at Swiss brocante (secondhand) events.

Automatic watches. Cuckoo clocks. Swiss knives. Wooden coin boxes. German and French books. Old postcards. Vintage billboards. Toy trains. Motorbikes. Cowbells. Antique keys. China sets. Silver spoons. Intricate jewelry. Toys and dolls. You name it, the dealers in the secondhand trade probably have it.

All it takes is time, patience, and yes, disposable cash to spot and take home that valuable treasure displayed either on a seller’s table or glass shelf. Haggling skills may come in handy, too, in such occasions — that is, if you have the guts to negotiate for a good price. One can get a functional Omega automatic watch for only CHF150 (USD129), for instance.

Beginning today, over 40 exhibitors will display their precious brocante merchandise in this year’s Bieler Brocante, an annual antiques fair held at the Kongresshaus in the bilingual Swiss town of Biel-Bienne. The exhibition will be held until Sunday, Feb. 15.

Bieler Brocante is touted as one of the major indoor antiques events in Switzerland that antiques aficionados always mark in their calendars. Around 5,000 visitors are expected to troop to the town’s Kongresshaus to examine up close a wide range of curios and collectibles and shop for their favorite items.

“I come here often to buy some old clocks that my brother can repair,” shares an avid Swiss clock collector.

One Filipino tourist, who came to the event two years ago for a brief look-see, throughly enjoyed the brocante experience. “I really had fun there. It’s something that we don’t have in Manila, these brocante affairs,” she says, adding that she was quite contented with her purchases, which included toys and crystal decors.

For some guests, a day is not enough to scour for treasures from one table to another. So the ideal setup is to come early in the morning, embark on your indoor treasure hunt, have lunch at the designated restaurant, and resume your search for hard-to-find antiques.

It is indeed fun to visit Switzerland’s various brocante fairs. For old-timers, the whole experience is simply addictive. And for newbies, all that rummaging is “very exciting” (most of them will eventually become what we may call “brocki converts”).

Bieler Brocante is open to the public on Feb. 13-15 (Feb. 13-14, from 19 a.m. to 7 p.m./Feb. 15, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Entrance for kids and teenagers (until 15 years old) is free.

The hunt begins now.

RP is the guest country in Switzerland’s biggest consumer fair

And here comes the great news: The Philippines will be the featured guest country in MUBA (Mustermesse Basel), reportedly the largest and most prestigious Swiss consumer trade fair slated at the Messezentrum Basel in Switzerland on Feb. 13-22.

As guest country, the Philippines will have the rare opportunity to showcase in one huge pavilion its various export products, culture and arts, tourist destinations and services, and some general information to an expected 300,000 plus visitors, composed mainly of Swiss, German, and French nationals, who will flock to the exposition venue.

The Philippines’ major participation in this reputable event is touted as “a significant opportunity for the country to present itself to Switzerland and to the rest of Europe.”

According to the official MUBA Philippines 2009 website (the German version can be found here), the Philippine Pavilion will showcase “a tropical island paradise” featuring export-quality Philippine products as well as various tourism services, among other things. Its design features the distinct WOW Philippines logo.

Major highlights include a trade exhibit organized by the Philippine Swiss Business Council (PSBC), boutique and souvenir shops featuring export-quality Filipino handicrafts, restaurants and a travel café serving the best of Philippine cuisine, a travel center manned by Philippine and Swiss travel trade executives, and a spa and wellness center showcasing the traditional Pinoy massage.

On top of these, there will be craft demonstrations such as tobacco making, buntal/nipa products making, weaving, and painting to give MUBA visitors a glimpse of Philippine arts and crafts.

For his part, Philippine Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano said in his official message published in the MUBA 2009 website that they (the Philippine national organizing committee for the event) are “honored, as featured guest country, to bring ‘100 percent Philippines’ to MUBA 2009”:

“Our Pavilion of three islands showcases 100 percent Filipino creativity and innovation, showcasing Philippine products designed and created using indigenous materials applied in modern fashion. The pavilion will pique the curiosity of all visitors and participants to explore 100 percent nature and adventure in all destinations, attractions and landmarks, and to experience 100 percent life in our fusion cuisine, wellness and wholeness products, homegrown entertainment and artistry.”

Secretary Durano also congratulated the MUBA organizers, composed of prime movers in the government and private sectors, and then invited people to visit the Philippine Pavilion at MUBA to experience the famous “Filipino warmth and hospitality.”

The Philippine’s participation in MUBA 2009 is spearheaded by the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) and its implementing arm Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation (PCVC), with major contributions from the private sector, through the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and Fairs & More, Incorporated (FMI) of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP).

This is welcome news for the Philippines, which is relatively unknown or one of the least favorite Southeast Asian destinations in this part of Europe. Most Swiss tourists opt to fly to Asian destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, or Malaysia for their holidays. Reasons for not visiting the Philippines vary — from “the country being a dangerous place” to “underdeveloped tourist facilities and amenities as compared to its neighboring countries” to “a very corrupt government.”

Incidentally, the Philippines is not usually featured in some of the major travel information magazines of Swiss tour operators, probably because of the lack of demand for Philippine tourist information. A number of Swiss travelers often comment on the “very dangerous situation” in the Philippines, citing the terrorist attacks in the Mindanao region, which had garnered quite a lot of international media attention in the past.

A November 2006-October 2007 Hotelplan tourist information booklet, for instance, had featured various tourist packages for countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China/Hong Kong, and Japan, packed with lots of helpful tourist information. The Philippines, unfortunately, had not been included on that particular list for unknown reasons. Similarly, STA Travel, in its December 2005-August 2007 travel catalogue, listed down Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, China, and Tibet, but not the Philippines.

However, the Philippine got a bit of exposure in the 357-page Tourasia tourist information magazine dated November 2006-October 2007. Popular destinations like Boracay, Cebu, and Manila were featured in a 11-page section, but nothing more.

Hopefully, with the country’s major pavilion presence in Switzerland’s largest shopping fair in February, the Philippines will get a major boost in its economy in general, and in its tourism industry in particular.

DOT, along with its partners from the private sector, can prove once and for all that the Philippines has what it takes to be a remarkable tourist destination in Southeast Asia, given the chance. (Photo taken from the press relations web page of the MUBA wesbite)