MANILA, February 17, 2005 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit  -  The world is a book," writes St. Augustine of Hippo, "and those who do not travel, read only one page."

Traveling, I surmise, is one big classroom without walls. It influences our perspective and at times makes a profound change in our lives.

My wanderlust has been at a fever pitch lately. I recently boarded the newest 80 to 100-seater jet plane of Asian Spirit, in its inaugural flight to Clark, Pampanga. I also flew on this fabulous aircraft to Puerto Princesa, Catarman, and Surigao. Each flight was an experience of rediscovery.

The terminal of the Diosdado Macapagal Airport in Clarkfield, was agog with activity recently. Several gentlemen handsomely garbed in avant-garde suits and ladies in cocktail dresses excitedly gravitated towards the main runway as the band of musicians readied themselves for a performance. Soon, like a graceful bird quietly landing on the concretely paved tarmac, Jumbolino, the much-awaited visitor arrived.

Asian Spirit chairman Noel Onate said the purchase of the Jumbolino, the first among four jets of this type, will add new dimensions to the 26 routes the airliner currently services. He enthused: "The Jumbolino, built by the world’s third largest aerospace manufacturer boasts outstanding performance and is among the quietest and cleanest aircraft in its class. It is one of only few aircrafts which can land in the London city airport because of its quietness. He added the plane is the same type of aircraft used by major commercial airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, Cathay, Lufthansa and British Airlines for their short-haul flights. This special aircraft operates in Bahrain, the president’s fleet in Indonesia and is the official aircraft of no less than the royal family of the United Kingdom.

On our way back to Manila after the inauguration in Clark – which was attended by DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Asian Spirit EVP Jack Po, Clark Development Corporation CEO Manny Angeles, among others – we had the chance to put the Jumbolino to the test. As we were about to land at the NAIA the pilot informed all passengers that there was a disabled aircraft on the runway and we had to fly back to Clark. DOTC assistant secretary general Nilo Jatico immediately proceeded to the cockpit to communicate with the ATO tower. In just a few minutes, we could feel the aircraft change position in the air and the pilot gracefully maneuvered the plane to land on a shorter airstrip at the domestic airport to the applause of the delighted passengers.

A few days later, it was time to fly to Catarman and Calbayog, in Samar, Puerto Princesa in Palawan, and Surigao City.

Catarman in Northern Samar is spellbindingly beautiful. Composed largely of low and extremely rugged hills, the place is a sight to behold for nature lovers. Catarman is famous for its rock formations on the island town of Biri. Here, Mother Nature has sculptured beautiful stone patterns by the beach. Watch the waves crash against colossal rocks and revel in the sights and sounds only nature can produce.

Calbayog, the commercial hub of Western Samar, on the other hand, is known for its cathedrals, caverns and cataracts. People here are very friendly, willing to assist and guide a visitor who wants to pray at the Calbayog Cathedral, discover the many caves that abound in the area, or bathe in the glory of its waterfalls.

We traversed a back-and-forth route to Puerto Princesa, the environmentally progressive, sprawling capital of Palawan. Many can attest that the city is an excellent base for exploring the beaches, bays, caves, crocodile and butterfly farms. Given only a day in the city, we opted to visit the famous Underground River of St. Paul Subterranean National Park. The cavern is a fascinating passage through exquisite cathedrals with massive stalactites, icy lagoons where the eerie quietness is occasionally pierced by shrill cries of swooshing bats. High-powered lamps carried by expert guides illuminate these ethereal attractions. It almost seemed surreal while cruising the underground river.

Surigao is the last destination we visited. This part of Mindanao is a beautiful island rich in natural wonders. Sand, sea and surf await visitors in the island of Siargao. We stayed overnight at the enchanting Pansukian Resort, that reminded me of Bali in Indonesia fused with the character of Phuket in Thailand. A trip to Sohoton Cave is another highlight among visitors of Surigao. It was awesome as we slipped through the mouth of the cave after playing with the sting-less orange jellyfish that seem to guide us to Sohoton.

In less than two weeks, I rediscovered the magic of these pieces of paradise around the country through the Jumbolino. Even as we reveled at such beauty, we encouraged ourselves to get lost and be sidetracked. As seasoned travelers, we packed a bag full of patience and curiosity. There’s no such thing as a bad trip, just good travel stories to tell when you return home. Always travel with a smile and believe that the journey to your dream destination will be an experience of a lifetime. As Mark Twain said: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did." Take the adventurous challenge to dream, discover and explore. After all, a wise man once said, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the places and moments that take our breath away.

* * * For inquiries about Asian Spirit flights, call 895-3004 or 897-1333.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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