Thursday, June 7

Dispute over Nangamaroan & Anguib Beaches

You know that pit-stop scene in an F1 race when the car stops for a quick change of tire? That's like what happened to us. We got back to San Vicente shore from a night at Crocodile Island and heard that a boat was on its way to pick up tourists at Nangamaroan. We ate breakfast and off we went again for a free ride, courtesy of my-new-uncle Nanding (see previous entry).

Our gracious boatmen hosts brought us across the mangroves just to show us how beautiful their place is. There's something exhilarating looking at a place the way the locals see it. The pride. The love. My heart expands to take in the beauty of it all. The world shines a little more brilliant, life is promising, and my heart weighs heavier with love. And you believe that THE WORLD IS AWESOME.

Touchdown was at Nangamaroan Beach. A white stretch of fine-sand beach kissing the tamed aqua-blue sea. The water is calm and shallow with a sprinkle of boulders heading to the sea. It has the Sierra Madre Range guarding its left flank, but as you look out towards the ocean, there's nothing but the endless sea in the horizon. Out there would be where South China Sea meets the Philippine Sea. And further beyond is the North Pacific Ocean.

Nangamaroan Beach

Nangamaroan Beach

Near the edge of the beach are cottages to sleep at night and nipa huts to hang out during the day. There are some small places to eat --yes, there's halo-halo with their famous caramel topping-- and pay restrooms as well, and even the ever-present karaoke machine unfortunately did not miss this place.

We didn't stay here but pushed for the "disputed" Anguib Beach. It didn't take 15-minutes from the time we sat on the sands of Nangamaroan Beach before the locals started talking of a land-dispute issue. The rich-and-politically-powerful VS those who have had their ancestors root from that place at the turn of the 20th century. By saying this, I've probably already gotten a few of them in danger . . . but the truth must be named.

hitching a ride with the locals

I am always intrigued by disputes like this. Only beautiful and prosperous places ever gets disputed on. And so, taking a tricycle-sidecar-ride-to-the-death, we headed to Anguib Beach. I say that because that's certainly what it felt like. The way, although well-paved, is steep, overlooking the ocean. The old tricycle our host was using could barely take all 5 of us through the rolling and turning road. When we started skidding and drifting *LOL* I decided to just walk under the heat of the midday sun. 

Lucky me, there was a truck on its way to Golden Beach, so I hitched a ride with the locals and found myself standing at the fringe of that long stretch of that white-sand shoreline we spotted from the boat on our way there. 

We found what we were looking for
That was it. We found what we were looking for. We unloaded our packs and said, "we're staying".

We watched the tide expose the sea grass as the day wore on and turn the beach into a long stretch of sandbar kilometers-long. The sea became a distant view from our little nipa hut as the day attempted to lull us to sleep. But I am not one to let the heat and stink --yes, the expose shore had that fishy smell to it-- get to me. I took the opportunity to explore the exposed shore and crossed as far as I could walk perpendicular to the beach. There was about a hundred pictures taken from this place alone.

Anguib Beach

Once again, we pitched our tent and waited for the light-show of the approaching darkness, exchanging world-view and two-cents' worth on love and life.  What was challenging in the night though was the nik-nik that came with the dusk. These teeny-tiny insects that can make your hair stand on its ends as they swarm over all your exposed skin, biting and biting and biting until your eyes get all teary and you begin to hyperventilate.

light-show of the approaching darkness
We did a quick-but-not-so-effective fix by covering up and lavishing our arms and legs with insect-off lotion. The resort owner saw our distress and woke up a fire with young leaves and tender twigs, the smoke it made gave us some relief as it kept the nik-niks at bay. Unfortunately though, it also made us feel like smoked-fish. Well, it's either that, or go crazy.

I haven't had enough twilight still so I set an alarm to wake up at 5AM and watch the sky turn colors with my favorite shade -- violet, purple, mauve and everything else in between as the sun rose. Ahhhhh absolutely beautiful!

the sky turning into my favorite shades as the sun rose

The afternoon before brought the tide back in and it stayed until the rest of the morning. As you can see from the pictures below, I'm all brown from the sun. I sat there and wondered how long I can sustain a life like this . . . if only.

how long can I sustain a life like this?

But our funds had ran out. Time is ticking. And we still had 16-hours of road trip before us, heading back to Manila. I bid farewell to the beach and patiently waited --with a touch of dread-- for new boatmen arranged to take us back to San Vicente (thanks once again to my new-uncle Nanding, who was overly kind enough to ask one of the boats to come pick us up, for FREE!)

bidding farewell to the beach -- patiently waiting for our boatman
Nothing to be done for things that must end. So when the boat came, I took it on as a start to another adventure -- you can see how I stood on that little boat, leaving Anguib Beach and once again be awed by the seascape we passed through on our way back to the port of San Vicente.

to a start of another adventure . . .

I can't thank our host from the  PASAMOBA BOAT ASSOCIATION enough for the wonderful time we had in their part of the country. If you decide to go this way, let me know so I can give you their contact information and be extended with the same grand gestures that were shown to us when we were there.


Read the Roadtrip sa Norte series of entries:

Thursday, May 31

Palaui Island. Pushing for South China Sea

"the world is my playground"

On day 3 of our Roadtrip sa Norte, we took a van for PhP170.00 at Don Domingo Market in Tuguegarao City further north to Sta.Ana for a little-over a couple of hours. Our target was Palaui Island on the upper-right-hand corner of Luzon, but on our way there we heard about the Boracays of the North: Nangamaroan and Anguib. I had about PhP1,500 left on me from my budget, and my company had just a little bit more, which got us on a dilemma on how to get to both destinations within that budget for the 2 days left in our trip.

We then took a tricycle to San Vicente, in a small section of the beach (instead of the concrete port from where a fair boat rate of PhP1,800 is posted) where locals unload their catch of the day. Our strategy was to scout for non-tourist boats that island locals take to go back to Palaui. I have told my travel-buddy Pia that I'll use charm as my currency, but I have about as much charm as a dead slug. I must admit, I was getting desperate. I've been planning this trip for a couple of months -- I'm not about to back out for a simple budget limitation. Patience and perseverance though have its rewards, because the locals called Mang Nanding: dispatcher of PASAMOBA Boat Association, and I earned myself a new uncle!

Uncle Nanding (my mother's new cousin) drew us a map of the island on the sand --very much like a pirate-- and pointed at the areas he recommend for us to see. He also devised the most cost-effective way for us to stretch our budget for the places we wanted to see. He was the best lifeline I've tapped into from all those trips I've taken. This is a man I will vouch for.


Ready or not, off we go then to see Cape Engano Lighthouse. The seascape was wonderful and captivated me as always. The area of the Babuyan Channel has its own characteristics -- all the jagged rocks shooting out of the water, steep cliffs and boulder-lined shores, and those gently rolling hills from the distance.

Cape Engano Lighthouse perched up on the hill

we have landed

a fantabulous view!

Spotting the disused lighthouse from a distance got me all excited. It was beautiful and enchanting from the sea, perched up on that hill. We were so excited, the midday sun didn't even dent it. The trek was made short by the concrete stairway that goes halfway up and the view was fantabulous! You should've been there with me . . .

Cape Engano Lighthouse

the view from the window is worthy of a painting

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the low waterfall in the island before heading off to Crocodile Island where it was recommended we camp for the night -- it's nearby; we'll be the only ones there; and best of all, it's FREE! It's a small stretch of sand and rock that doesn't disappear with the tide. I would've said Perfect! except even in this beautiful piece of rock in the middle of the sea, there's garbage on it. tsk-tsk-tsk!

an island of our own (on our own)
From this point forward, the trip has become a light-show. I was stilled by the most beautiful skies. Sunsets that turned me orange before the natural lighting made one look pretty. We had the most beautiful twilight. The deceiving kind then you don't exactly know whether it's sunset or sunrise -- it was surreal. 

checking out the shallows from this height

watching the sky turn colors

The day was over too soon. The waves lapped nearby as darkness came. The stars filled the night and the moon solitary in the sky. We broke camp when day came and our bangkeros came to collect us.

Read the Roadtrip sa Norte series of entries:

Sunday, May 27

Consider CALLAO CAVE as your wedding location

Our leaving for Cagayan was not well organized. Ideal time should be in the early evening so you just sleep off the long bus ride & wake up in Tuguegarao in the morning. Make your reservations ahead of time -- there's a lot of people traveling to the province or you might end up as a chance-passenger like we did. A lot of commuters we exchanged pleasantries with recommended Florida Busline rather than Victory, some for better & newer buses while others for the timetable -- the price difference aren't that big anyway as they still range between a-little-over PhP500 to just-under PhP600. If you do take a Victory bus (and if you consider the chance-passenger approach), choose a bus that's new, otherwise you'll literally have a hot & noisy 13hour trip next to the engine at the back of the bus.

You can take a trip to Tuguegarao unplanned & unannounced without worrying about a place to stay. From the Victory Liner bus depot alone there are half-a-dozen lodging options that are easy on the pocket. No need to take a tricycle, especially with one who is the most useless/unhelpful local you will meet like the driver we had on the night we got off the bus after that loooooong bus ride. He had no answer for any of the questions we asked & agreed on all the insights the guards & elderly residents we asked on our way in search for a place to stay, then had the audacity to ask us PhP250 for the joyride. Tip to travelers: non-special trips  are PhP10/head during the day. If they answer "kayo na pong bahala" at night when asked how much the fare is, give them PhP50 -- I hate that price fare by the way: "kayo na pong bahala" is not listed in the tariff card! No worries, we didn't pay the PhP250. We haggled it down to PhP80 for the 3 of us, which I'm convinced is till too expensive but left us unable to back out because we gave in to the "kayo na pong bahala" fare. Haist!

Our day 1 of 5 in this holiday was wasted on traveling so we tried to make up for lost time on day 2. We got our 2-liter water bottles refilled at a water-station for PhP10 and rented a tricycle for PhP500 (discount of PhP50) to PeƱablanca from the Don Domingo depot. You do have an option to take a non-special trip (one-way) for a much lesser price and just take another tricycle back to Taguegarao from the Callao Cave exit, but this is not advisable if you're going to wait for the bats in the evening.
The tricycle will take you to Pinacanauan River where you can get the "ticket" for the cave entrance, which like all public parks, only cost PhP20 for adults (I didn't quite see the price difference for foreign tourists though). I recommend you try the halo-halo topped with caramel before taking a boat to get you across to Callao Cave entrance (that's also PhP20/head for 2-way) -- absolutely delicious! 

Traveling in college, my goal was to try all the local street halo-halo in every destination I go to. That's how I learned that every province have their own way of serving my favorite summer treat: macaroni pasta begin to manifest in the ingredients the higher you go up in Luzon (it is present in Pagudpod and Sagada). Caramel topping and purple galapong (mistaken for ube) is something new to me in my list of halo-halo specials.

your first view of Pinacanauan River -- across that is Callao Cave already
The concept of Callao Cave is not much different from Malaysia's Batu Cave, less the fascinating Thaipusam festival. You climb a long set of stairs --184 steps in this case-- and enter a Christian chapel (instead of a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan) when you get there. Our young guide said there was even a recent wedding held there. Since I was in the company of a Wedding Planner, it tickled both our imagination.

If you're the kind who likes to profess your love in 100 different ways LITERALLY: underwater, mid-air or while you bungee jump, in the nude, as a clown or on a garbage dump, consider this as an option. Couples have had Disneyworld weddings or at a Zoo. Why not in Callao Cave? And affirm the marriage every year in the most unlikely places -- above the Grand Canyon, at the top of Niagara Falls, or at the edge of a live volcano in Hawaii. Then have your 50th anniversary wedding in a historical building, like the tower of London or the Statue of Liberty. Heck, why not on top of Mount Everest even!?

praises for Callao Cave's simple beauty

There are 7 child-friendly chambers --by that I mean you can take any walking child in the cave without difficulty-- you can "explore" with your local guide who will greet you upon disembarking from your boat. The actual "exploration" is short so please follow the park's simple rule: DO. NOT. TAKE. ANY. FOOD. INSIDE. THE. CAVE. I don't know why tourists find it so difficult to do this -- you can find left overs the hard-headed-hungry failed to take back with them, not to mention wrapper litters! If you don't know, this might attract insects (natural in the cave or otherwise). I have once gone caving in Montalban and found myself walking on a chamber crawling with cockroaches. IMAGINE THAT!

Some of those 7 chambers are already dead. Dead from all the constant touching of the limestones and vandals on the walls along with other natural causes. That means that the rocks had stopped forming, beginning to grow moss and will eventually turn gray.

That skylight actually reminded me of  that movie Sanctum. Remember that part where they found that one chamber with the skylight they couldn't reach? Escape was so close and yet so impossible. I can imagine the desperation.

The best part of this trip for me is waiting for the bats to come out at dusk.

We spent most of the afternoon swimming in Pinacanauan River, which misleading was explained to us by our local guide as the longest river in the Philippines. What he actually meant was, it's one of the largest tributaries of Cagayan River, which is THE longest river in Luzon and the widest and most powerful in the Philippines, originating from Nueva Vizcaya and leading out to Babuyan Channel. 

Beyond that, it's one of the clearest rivers I've enjoyed swimming at.
gaga over a  favorite pastime
We waited for other interested tourists who might see the bats at dusk so we can share the boat fee of PhP600 between it's 15-pax capacity. But given that we were there on a Monday, no one else was around and we ended up shouldering the cost of the boat and another guide fee (this is voluntary by the way, so you can go as low as PhP50, while foreigners have occasionally given PhP1,500 -- or what I imagined the value of dollar at the time for the exchange rate equivalent to that).

Swimming at the foot of the steps on Callao Cave's side was nothing compared to the interior of the river from the side where you wait for the bats. The way is so clear, its depth is deceiving. The setting was fantabulous! Complete with wild ducks flying over our heads. (You can hold your reception here for the wedding mentioned above). Too bad my phone-slash-camera have ran out of battery so the scene was immortalized only in memory. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! You can camp here, so if you have the gear, I highly recommend it.

The bats came out, not as expected --a dark cloud crossing the horizon-- but spread out in all direction, keeping close to the white walls and over the canopies of trees. Yet it's one of the MOMENT of the trip that was better than the whole day's events stringed together.

Read the Roadtrip sa Norte series of entries:

Tuesday, May 22

Mayon: a universe on itself

Mayon as a back-draft to Cagsawa Ruins
Cagsawa Ruins was a half-day side-trip my friends and I took coming back from Catanduanes. The idea of going there tickled me because one of my favorite photographs as a child was taken there -- it would be great to have a years-after shot . . .
I'm not sure who I am with in this picture -- age unknown

I've never paid much attention before to the scholastic promotion of Mt. Mayon in school, convinced it's one of those cliched tourism propaganda from teachers that had never actually seen the volcano up close (or as close as they could, other than from the page of a text book or a magazine). 

a view of Mayon from the airport runway
leaving Mayon  from the pier of Tabaco
twilight and Mayon from Embarkadero
But seeing Mt. Mayon myself at different angles on different times of the day -- I fell in love with it! Imagine having any one of these views as a permanent screensaver outside your bedroom window. I've never seen a mountain . . . a volcano (with the exception of Pinatubo) as beautiful as it is. Perfect!

About once a month, I get a good look at the "depth of my existence". This normally happens when I'm traveling solo. And in the part of this trip to Catanduanes I was traveling alone, this is the little-bit-about-myself I've gotten to know: I HAVE DEVELOPED SOCIAL RETARDATION.

I believe it all started when I lost the fear to be alone. When I was younger, I just wanted to be independent. I made sure I wasn't crippled by anything, the way I saw some of the men I was impressed with. I saw how nothing held them back and I wanted to be the same. Once I knew I could stand on my own, I've moved on to various destinations solo. And this solo traveling had become the perfect analogy for my life.

More often than not, I am convinced there's no difference if I'm with a travel-buddy or not. I have long stopped worrying whether I have anyone to go places with. Far from being unstimulated, I am highly entertained with the simplest things, when on my own. At the same time however, I get distressed watching people discourage others in front of another's company. I wonder about relationships (whether familial, romantic or friendship) -- practically any form of human relationship -- and how it could exist between people despite appearing dismal.

When I don't feel like socially experimenting, I can recognize loneliness in the most oddest of things . . . I know people partner with others simply for physical attraction. People allow themselves to be with someone, infatuated with their idea of that person, despite nothing enriching between them.

It doesn't make sense to me . . .

At these times, I ask myself have I become totally degenerate socially that I am unable to see which part of these relationships are good?!? 

More than what I saw as landmarks on the side-trip itself, I wanted to share with you what became clearer to me during this solo trip -- A person must find the right company to keep . . . or just learn to be a universe of your own.

GETTING THERE (from Legaspi) BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT / DAMAGE TO THE POCKET (at the time of posting):
* Route 1: Guinobatan jeep to (PhP15/head) to the highway junction leading to the ruins
. Tricycle to get you into the ruins' gate (PhP14/head).
* Route 2: Tricycle direct to Cagsawa Ruins. Special trip for a minimum of 5 passengers for PhP250 or PhP45/head with as many as you can fit in 1 tricycle
   Park entrance is P10/head

Thursday, May 17

Catanduanes in the Rough

I did a little waypoint research for places to see in Catanduanes about a week prior to leaving. There was so little available information online it got me worried that there might be nothing in the province to entice me with.  

I missed my flight with friends direct toVirac so I had to catch another one to Legaspi where I took a van to Tabaco before taking a ferry to the port town of San Andres in Catanduanes. I downloaded the PDF book of THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE PHILIPPINES for some reading while I travel on my own, which got me pretty much more interested than I was when I left Manila.

". . . another area of the Philippines ripe for exploration, 
a large, rugged, rural island 
with mile upon mile of majestic coastline. 
It hasn't felt the impact of tourism 
because getting there has been a problem until recently
 . . . This is no reason to stay away, however."

Approaching the island looked promising. The edge is thick with trees and the background are small mountains. In between the foreground and background are a building or two that are surprisingly a little too modern for what I expected to see in the island. I got off the ferry in the afternoon and had to go to Virac because apparently it's the only town with lodging houses I could stay overnight. I was so tempted to stay another day to explore the caves and beaches and church  at the south of the island, but friends were beckoning up northwest. 

By morning, I took the bus going to Sabangan and traveled 3-hours through the side of the mountains, overlooking the beautiful ocean and passed towns that looked and felt the same as the last. 

road-side scenery
provincial twilight
The roads aren't always paved and when it wasn't, the ride was really rough and "bumpy" being high in the meter. I basically ate dirt and my white kurti was brown on the hems by the time I got to my destination. The bus driver and the jolly ticket conductor seem to know everyone as they often exchange pleasantries with nearly anyone on the road; I actually just told them where to drop me off since I've never been to Sabangan before.

Immediately upon meeting my friends that afternoon,  we trekked to a waterfall at the neighboring town. 


I wasn't too impressed with the waterfall itself, having chased a lot of waterfalls since the latter part of 2011, but I can't pass off a chance to walk on fallen logs and jump off platforms as you can see below:

What I do find awesome about this trip are the islets between Catanduanes and mainland Bicol that our boatmen said could take you to the middle of the Pacific Ocean should you be lost in bad weather. 

the little boat we used for the 1-hr sea-crossing
our approach from the sea
With Catanduanes being smack in the path of our typhoon-highway, stories of fishermen and water commuters are numerous and sometimes quite horrifying -- lost at sea for weeks, ending up in Taiwan; women surviving losing nipples and parts of their breasts from small sea creatures by the time they reach shore, only made possible through the guidance of big sea turtles etc. etc.

I can't tell you more how beautiful the seascape is, traveling from Sabangan to Panay islands except with these pictures. The water clarity was as the water coming from your tap -- it was absolutely fabulous!


After all that, you can imagine how disturbed I was when we found an emptied shell of a sea turtle floating towards the shore . . . Our boatman deduced that it must've been just slaughtered for food, either somewhere at sea or in the island, as the meat was still freshly frayed from the inside of the shell. 

Our boatmen brought the shell back to the main island of Catanduanes on our way back.

I don't understand why people would eat such beautiful creatures as wild pawikans when there are already the domesticated chicken and pork and beef ready for consumption (not that I eat any of the above food-group) for the omnivores. I have this long-standing question to humanity: if invading aliens are to destroy our specie, and asks for ANYONE to vouch for our survival, do you think anyone will stand on our behalf to say we deserve to be saved? What will all the cows say? What will the dolphins say? What will the sea turtles say?

This, for me, the the most important exposure in this trip. In the city, how would I have known first hand the slaughter of these beautiful creatures? At the vulnerable situation of the wildlife in our country face everyday, constantly exposed to danger from man despite laws that protects them. The buildings, the mass in the streets, the screen of my computer defuses the gravity of the death I could touch at that moment. 
"Sec. 2. Prohibition. - It shall be unlawful to take or catch dolphins, whales and porpoises in Philippine waters or to sell, purchase, possess, transport or export the same whether dead or alive, in any state or form whether raw or processed. PROVIDED, That the Secretary of Agriculture (DA), upon the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), may issue a special permit in favor of any government or private agency engaged in purely scientific research on dolphins, whales, and porpoises, including those to be used for exhibition and show purposes subject such terms and conditions as the said Secretary may deem wise to impose."

"It shall likewise, be unlawful to wound or kill dolphins, whales and porpoises in the course of fishing. Dolphins, whales, and porpoises, which are accidentally included in the catch by any gear or washed ashore alive, shall be immediately released unharmed into the sea; otherwise the liability shall be deemed to still exist. Dead whales, dolphins or porpoises that are washed ashore shall be reported and/or surrendered to the nearest Department of Agriculture (DA) office for proper disposition and documentation."

What I bore witness to absolutely dampened what an otherwise was a wonderful experience in the islands between Caramoan and Caramoran.  I could show you all the pictures and the videos, but in my head all I could see was that slaughtered turtle. All I wish is that when you get a chance to go there, you will not bear witness to the same . . .

as TV shows normally end things: "join me next time"

* Route 1: Direct flight Manila to Virac
(airfare depends on airline).
* Route 2: Fly from Manila to Legaspi (airfare depends on airline). 1-hr van ride from the main terminal in Legaspi to Tabaco (PhP50 at the time of writing). 3-hr ferry trip from the port of Tabaco: to the town of Virac in the morning, or San Andres at 1PM (Non-A/C @ PhP170). 
* Route 3: RSL bus from Manila to Virac (call the bus line for their latest fare matrix).