Alviero Hero Camp in Sandbox, Pampanga

My friend Marie and I saw a hero camp deal from the Travelfactor website while we were booking slots for our brush calligraphy class. Since we both love adventures, we decided to sign up. I also bought a ticket for my sister as my Christmas gift to her.

At 3am, we were in McDonalds to meet up with the Travelfactor team and the rest of the participants who didn’t have a car. We were only about 11 in the van and I thought that was the whole group, but there were actually plenty of people when we arrived in Sandbox. Some had visited Sandbox for the day and decided to sign up for the Hero Camp when they arrived.

Welcome to Sandbox!

Travel Factor gave us a brief orientation. We were free to use any of the facilities for four times and join any of the activities around camp like the Hero Basics 101, Basic Superhero Training, Costume Crafting Corner, and Monster Obstacle Course. Marie had already been to Sandbox with her officemates, but she was still full of enthusiasm for the day. I love Marie!

Unsuspecting victims. Kidding. So scary but fun!

Meanwhile, my sister and I decided to try the Giant Swing first. We did not expect that the drop-off point was going to be so high! We kept screaming the first few seconds, I actually started asking myself why I was doing that to myself. Hahaha! Marie couldn’t stop laughing her head off while she took pictures and videos of us.

Afterward, we did the Aerial Walk, an obstacle course that reminded us of American Ninja Warrior. Ate Mako and I are fans of Jessie Graff, even more after doing this obstacle. It was no joke! Even the parts where you think will be easy, such as going up the step ladder, is made harder by the sudden stop in several sections where you have unhook your harness and hook it onto the next section. In the meantime, you pray you don’t do something stupid in the meantime, like fall through the ropes and down on the ground.

Safety is paramount throughout the whole Aerial Walk. You’ll only have a harness to keep you safe throughout this challenge as well as a lot of bravado. One of the staff will give you a short introduction, and only two people are allowed per platform. And you cannot start any of the challenges while someone else is still on it.

Marie making it look deceptively easy!

When we were walking on the slats, holding only to ropes, the bridge kept trembling. I wonder why it kept moving, until I realized was trembling so hard, that’s why it kept shaking. We weren’t even that high up, I wouldn’t have broken any bones if I fell, but I was still so scared. Glancing at the obstacle course, it seems so easy, but once you start, you’ll start sweating within minutes. That is, of course, unless you’re super fit.

I asked the staff how long the obstacle course takes. She said, “longest time is 45 minutes, on average”. I wondered why it would take 45 minutes. In the end, I think I took over an hour!

This was so high up, but the easiest for me. I just walked and pretended I wasn’t walking on a thin cloth.

There were moments when I definitely wanted to stop and go down, but you are not allowed to backtrack. You really have to finish the course because the only way you can get off it is to go through all the courses again on your way down, so I swallowed my fears and kept going. But I really faltered when I reached the zipline. You will literally just sit on your harness. No other straps. You clamp the hook, sit on your little body harness and pray. I was so scared wondering what if I fell backward and I’ll start dangling upside down? When you get to the end, you’ll either step onto the lower platform gracefully or body slam against it, which was what I did, of course. And you have to do this three times, with each level getting closer and closer to the ground.

Ate Mako was so happy to feel like Jessie Graff for an hour there!

The Aerial Walk was challenging, thrilling, and scary, but at the end, it definitely felt rewarding. You had the courage to try it, you kept going, and you didn’t back down (because you had no choice!, but nevermind that). You made it!

And the Aerial Walk will make you hungry. Thankfully, from the Aerial Walk it’s a short trip to the little food hut. You’re not allowed to bring in food and drinks other than water. The food’s cheap but the quantity is small and not so filling. You’ll spend maybe about P100 per meal.

After lunch, it was time for the booth activities to start. First up was Hero Basics 101 or the basic survival training. It was my second favorite part of the day. The organizers invited some members of the local Aeta community to show the native way of cooking food using just bamboo, banana leaves, and salt.

We loved the hero-themed decor!

Our trio was in our late 20s-early 30s, but we still felt so energized by the cartoonish hero-themed decorations throughout the camp. It’s so fun to travel with people who are as enthusiastic about the event that you’re in, and I really appreciated that rain or shine, Marie and ate Mako were perky and eager to participate in the activities. 🙂

Before the sessions started, I wandered outside the tent and saw the kids playing. When they saw me taking pictures, they started waving at me and smiling, posing for the camera. It was utterly humbling to see their innocent smiles over a simple thing such as going down the slide. It’s really amazing how children and their simplicity often reminds me about being contented with the simple things in life.

One of my favorite snaps of 2016.

Soon after, Hero Basics 101 started. It was a very informative discussion on the native plants one can use when in the mountains. Two Aetas taught us, a father and son. Apo Jungle, the father, taught us how to make fire using stone. He did it in about three seconds.

Then modern paramedics taught us the basic first aid kit one should always carry. I usually only carry band-aids, alcohol and wet wipes everywhere I go, but apparently those are not enough! Afterward, the paramedic taught us how to make fire using modern materials (lighter and magnesium). It took him several seconds, and he was noticeably getting tense, especially since Apo Jungle and his son were watching them from the side and somewhat sniggering when the paramedic couldn’t start a fire.

Plants for basic survival

They also taught us different knots, and how to make a tent out of bamboo poles and leaves, in case we ever get stranded somewhere. It was a good lesson, but I wondered how I can make a makeshift tent since I don’t go around carrying a bolo or an axe. But maybe in a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be so hyped up, I can break tree trunks or something. *fingers crossed*

“Wet t-shirt club group” – ate Mako said

It was a nice lesson, especially since they let us try setting up a makeshift tent on our own! I was abysmal at it, but Marie excelled at it, so if the zombie apocalypse happens, I have to make sure to bring my family where Marie’s stranded. Ate Mako was able to make it work better than I could.

It was an incredible feeling learning these basics. I feel like these are things everyone should know in case of an emergency. I wish schools taught something like this, for more than an hour or one afternoon.

After tying up the bamboo poles with the knot techniques they taught, we layer banana leaves until we had a makeshift tent that was good for maybe a night or two of rain and enough to keep us dry and hopefully not get hypothermia.

Then we were invited to try what they call Binulo, the Aeta’s traditional way of cooking food. They cooked a dish like sinigang, without the soup. They salted the food and rice, wrapped it in banana leaves, and inserted the wrapped food inside the bamboo poles. I asked them how they knew it was cooked but they just shrugged. I guess it takes years of practice. Surprisingly, the food was full of flavor and very delicious!


I felt like the Hero Basics 101 was full of age-old wisdom that I wished I could excel in. I mean, really, in case the Big One (the big earthquake) comes and tears apart Manila, we really need to know how to survive.

After the Hero Basics 101, Basic Superhero Training. We learned basic self-defense moves from Ateneo de Manila’s taekwondo group. The coach explained the steps very well and we were on our feet doing drills in no time. We sweated a lot in that activity but none of us complained. The coach even invited us to come back for another, harder/more advanced, session. Of course, we said yes. Free taekwondo training? Why not!

It was starting to drizzle, so we ran straight to the Crafting Corner to make our hero mask. Ate Mako made a Wonder Woman mask, Marie made a Ninja Turtle mask, while I made a…super girly mask with a lot of glitters and flowers. Needless to say, I quickly hid the mask away and have no idea where it is. I’m not really good with perfecting arts and crafts projects! We were supposed to have a parade with our masks (and costumes, if we have them), but in the middle of making our masks, Travelfactor announced that there’s an incoming signal #1 storm that night and all activities needed to end by 5pm, which was only two hours away.

We were so bummed out! But of course, safety came first. We decided to quickly make use of the rest of our passes. The three of us made our way to the Adventure Tower, where we all tried the roller coaster zipline. In the Tower, you can also do the Free Fall, rappel, and wall climb. The roller coaster zipline looked like the most fun to me. Again, you have nothing to use except a harness, and you’ll be zipping up and down the track. It was so much fun! Although while I was on the track, I just wanted it to end so quickly. At the end, one of the staff will catch you so you’ll come to a stop, and I accidentally kneed him in the groin. He didn’t even flinch. But still, sorry!

Heroes to the rescue!

We still had an hour to go. Instead of doing the Aerial Walk again like we planned, we went to the Monster Obstacle Course, where we had to shoot arrows at the villains, under a time limit.

It was kind of nervewracking having so many people watch you and having to hurry. All the archery we’ve done previously were indoors and from long distances. We had to adjust our positions and the height from where we’re shooting. There were some moving targets and targets that were way lower than we were used to. And I felt a little squeamish because one was a young monster! I felt so bad shooting arrows at a young one, even though it was a monster.

The line for our turn in the Monster Obstacle course took a while, so we only had time to buy food and change into dry clothes for our way home.

One thing to note is that you can’t take a camera, even an action camera, while you’re on the rides. The Sandbox staff have photographers then you can buy the picture afterward, or you can just take turns with your friends so you can take pictures of each other, but that takes some time, especially if you’re doing the Aerial Walk. Hence, we don’t have many pictures.

The Alveria Hero Camp was exhilarating and scary, tantalizing and challenging. There were times I almost chickened out, and we’d encourage each other to try it. Of course, Marie didn’t need encouraging coz she’s bad ass like that!

From all the adrenaline and excitement, we barely noticed that we were already soaked with sweat and from the drizzle. It was that fun and we want to do it again if they’re having it this 2017!

Happy heroes looking forward to the our next adventure!

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