Marooned: A Calayan Experience

When people talk about a trip to Calayan Island, the topic of being stranded there for days never fails to creep into every conversation. Well, aside from the occasional sightings of whales and dolphins by some few — which has become the envy of many and one of several reasons why people still want to make the trip despite the “odds”, including myself.

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When the boat that will take you home decides to make a “no show”.

Indeed, the prospect of getting marooned on the island municipality of Calayan is very high. While the main cause of “lampitaw” trip cancellations is bad weather, erratic boat schedules come in close second. To date, there are about five or six passenger boats servicing the island — the M/B Rosario and M/B Lance (from Aparri) and the M/B Lagadan 1, 2 and 3 (from Claveria) — each with a capacity of about 30-60 passengers. Smaller fishing boats doubling as cargo/passenger transport also ply the route.

Stranded in Calayan: A deconstruction

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First off, forget doing a Tom Hanks when you find yourself on an “extended stay” on this island. It is not going to be a Castaway story nor a Survivor game. In fact, one of the most inimitable place to be stranded in is this quiet town of Calayan — its rolling hills, fine-sand beaches, clean crisp air and the slow, quiet pace of everyday life seem to drown all memories of metropolitan Manila, or whichever city you are from.

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One of several neighborhood grocery  stores in the poblacion.

The town of Calayan is a vibrant municipality where commerce is very much alive. There are small restaurants (check out San Jose Inn) and eateries or carinderias in and around the poblacion or Centro.

Potable water is also not a problem. Small sari-sari stores and neighborhood groceries line the main street, selling bottled water and other beverages, as well as canned goods and other food supplies.

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Buying a “portion” of this freshly caught talakitok from a fisherman.

Sadly, there is no public market here (not yet, anyway); however, you can get fresh fish and other seafood directly from the fishermen. You just have to wake up early in the morning to catch them offloading their “loot” after a night of fishing.

While it is true that there are no ATMs in town, it shouldn’t be a cause for panic, as there are several pera padala outlets where you can have some funds sent your way.

And if and when you do find yourself without a ride home on your supposed departure date after you have seen the sights, don’t fret. Calayan still has more to offer.

You can:

play hoops with the local Mythical 5 (er, 3?);

cruise around town on a kuliglig;

 or just watch the sun set (I’ll never get tired of this one).

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So, what am I tryna say here?

Don’t be hindered by the possibility “of being stranded” — plan that Calayan trip already! Ooooops… since “plan” has been mentioned, do plan your trip within the months of April, May, June*, July*, August* and, if you’re lucky,  even September*, which is usually the monsoon break. In fact, why not go in August and join in the town festivities during the annual fiesta and be among the spectators of the Comedia, Calayan’s answer to Marinduque’s Pugutan

… you might also be among the fortunate ones to experience what we did: rappelling down Tapwaken Cove!

Thanks to Daryl Comagon for facilitating this activity and our sincerest gratitude to Mayor Al Llopis for allowing us to scale down Tapwaken Cove.

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The T’Embang Gang (from R-L): Harry, Daryl, Angel, Mayor Al, Eric, Lex and me.

 

 

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* According to most locals we’ve asked, the weather in Calayan is generally fine during these months, except when there’s a brewing storm somewhere in the country, which makes the waves go berserk (like the ones we’ve encountered during our trip).

Captivating Calayan

A trip to Calayan IS NOT for the weekend vacationer nor it is for the weakened traveler. Blame it on the rain, they say. Well, partly true. Foul weather is the main reason why shuttling of passengers and goods sometimes grinds to an indefinite halt; however, even on hot summer days, chances of getting stranded for days to and from the island is VERY HIGH due to the erratic schedule of passenger boats leaving the ports of Claveria or Aparri.

I have never really fully appreciated the beauty of Calayan Island until recently. In my mind, and looking at some photos in various blogs, I kinda prematurely concluded that yeah, I’ve seen better beaches and more breathtaking viewpoints. For me, it is just a destination that needs to be ticked off my bucket list.

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Caniwara, Sibang and Cababaan coves as viewed atop Nagudungan hill.

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…”

These few words from Louis Armstrong (and a sigh of relief, grateful to be alive) reverberated in my ears the second Calayan appeared on the horizon. Indeed, Calayan is a beauty to behold.

Finally on terra firma, feeling the soft sands of the beach made me forget for a minute the arduous journey we had to endure — the giant waves and torrential rains, interspersed with howling winds that sent chills down our spines.

Time to chew in the scenery…

How to get there

Manila to Claveria or Aparri

  1. Direct route via Florida Transport Inc in Sampaloc (near Lacson St.) or in Cubao (Kamias Rd.) — Fare: @P750.00; Travel time: about 14 hours.
  2. Laoag-bound bus from either Sampaloc or Cubao bus terminals — Sleeper bus: @P850 / 2×2 Aircon bus: @P600; Travel time: about 12 hours. Then, either van (the terminal is near PLDT Laoag, near Jollibee Bacarra Road; fare is P150 per pax) or wait for Claveria-bound buses.
  3. Via Aparri (details to follow).

Claveria/Aparri to Calayan Centro

  1. Via lampitaw or motorized banca — Fare: P500; Travel time: 4 to 5 hours on a good day or almost forever on bad weather.
  2. Depending on the weather and the volume of goods/passengers, there is only one trip (supposedly) per day.

Where to stay

I highly recommend San Jose Inn along Maddela Street, where you can have semi-buffet meals for only P100 per pax! The owner, Ms Connie Agudo <+639075447692>, is very accommodating.

If you want some beachfront lodging, away from the hustle-and-bustle of the poblacion, you may want to try out:

  1. Villa Innocencia (+639496001931)
  2. Apollo Beach Resort (+639478939619)

Art In Island: Where you can be art

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Under the sea, my favorite mural.

Most of us are all too familiar with the “DO NOT TOUCH”, “DO NOT CROSS” and other admonitions and restrictions plastered on museum walls.

At Art in Island, a 3D art museum, that is not the case — instead, visitors are encouraged to interact with the art.

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Visitors will find themselves dwarfed by the vastness of some 3D art.

Art in Island at No. 175 15th Ave., Brgy. Socorro, Cubao, Quezon City is open from Tuesdays to Sundays between 9:30AM to 9:30PM.

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If you want to spend as long as you want — doing all sorts of crazy poses until you have that perfect photo — I suggest you go early on a weekday.

Here are a few of my favorite artworks:

“Off with his head!”

The War Fish's Lair

Although the practice has lived for more than 100 years, the term Moriones is but a modern invention coined by ‘outsiders’ in the 1960s—native Marinduqueños prefer to call their festival Moryonan.

The Moryonan culminates in a roller-coaster ride of a ‘pageant’—at times raucous and jubilant, with moments of sadness and grief—reenacting the final days of the Roman centurion Longinus, the Pugutan or Beheading.

DSC_0065Christian legend has it that Longinus was a partially blind Roman soldier who thrust a spear into Christ’s side at the crucifixion—that spear became the much sought-after Spear of Destiny. Some of Jesus’ blood fell upon his eyes and healed his impaired vision. Despite this miracle though, Longinus was not fully convinced about the Divinity of Jesus Christ. Later events after the death of Christ will lead to his complete conversion to Christianity.

Upon orders of the Roman High Council, Longinus and his legion were ordered…

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Onok Island: Nature’s gift to man

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If you are the techie-savvy, GPS-toting traveler, you won’t find “Onok” on the map; instead, you’ll find “Roughton Island”.

That is because Roughton Island is the “official name” of Onok, the latter being a local nickname for this wonderful piece of real estate right in the middle of nowhere.

Fronting the main beach of Onok island is a massive reef, rife with a variety of soft and colorful corals that extend towards a sheer drop of about 80 feet, where large pelagic fish swim about — on occasion, you’ll be lucky to encounter a school of yellow fins! The surroundings of this small island is also home to “taklobos” or giant sea clams, and of course, sea turtles! Never have I seen sea turtles — oblivious to our presence — in such quantity!

If I were to go back to Balabac, this is where I would stay longer.

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Thank you SB Toto for the hospitality and these mouth-watering dishes!

Notes:
  • The best time to visit Onok and the other islands in the municipality of Balabac is during the summer months of March, April and May, as the waters in and around the islands can be treacherous and rough.
  • Prior arrangements should be made before visiting some islands, particularly Punta Sibaring in Bugsuk Island and Onok Island.
  • Balabac is accessible via 4-hour motorized boat ride from Rio Tuba. There are commuter vans and buses plying the Puerto Prinsesa-Rio Tuba route, which is a 5-hour travel time.
  • A PhP5,000 fee is now collected from each visitor to Onok. This covers the entrance fee, boat transfers from and to  Balabac proper, and meals while on the island. NOTE: There are many boat operators offering Onok trips; however, only a select few are allowed to bring in guests. You may contact SB Toto Astami, Onok administrator, for access to the island and/or to verify if the boatman you hired has permission to enter Onok.
  • IMPORTANT: Waterproof your bags.
  • For a hassle-free Balabac experience, contact +63998 944 7242.

Revisiting the past and the present in the city of balanghais

Even in ancient times, we Filipinos have a rich maritime culture. Our ancestors travel for so many different reasons – to discover new trade routes, to find new settlements, or simply, to chart a new course.

The former capital of Agusan in Northern Mindanao, Butuan, was an ancient sea-faring kingdom by the river and a major center of commerce in pre-colonial Philippines.

Today, Butuan is dubbed as the “Timber Capital of the Philippines” and is now a highly urbanized city that lies at the heart of the province, bounded by mountainous terrain along its northeastern and western parts, with flat, rolling lands in its center, particularly where the Agusan River cuts through as it empties into Butuan Bay.

Butuan’s unique geography of gentle rolling hills of tropical rainforest, fascinating rock formations and mysterious caves, enchanting beaches with crystal-clear water teeming with marine life, and magnificent waterfalls leaves one with wonder and awe in the vibrant and timeless hues of nature.

But Butuan’s claim to fame lies in its ancient past.

Butuan City has been known here and abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia, as a city of antiques and archaeological finds – a treasure throve of knowledge and discovery of cultural relics from ancient Philippines. The discovery of nine balanghais or balangays – wooden sailing vessels of pre-Spanish Butuanons – in Ambangan, Libertad  is unprecedented across the world and has no parallel in SE Asian prehistoric archeology. These finds gave experts, and us, a glimpse of the maritime history of the early Asians, particularly, the pre-colonial Filipinos.

Walking through Butuan’s glorious past

The Balangay Shrine Museum is built in the actual excavation area in Brgy. Ambangan, Libertad of what is now known as the Butuan Boat No. 1. The museum houses the more than 1,650-year old balanghai or “mother boat” excavated in 1976, the oldest of the nine balanghais dug in and around Butuan City. Declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 1986, this wooden boat averages 15 meters long and 3 meters wide across the beam and is the same type and construction as those recovered in Sumatra and Pontian in Malaysia, apparently of the same period.

Also on display here is Boat No. 5 (discovered in 1986 and carbon dated to about 990AD) and several 14th- to 15th-century relics – skulls of anient Butuanons, coffins, pots, jewelries, hunting tools, and ceramics.

Located inside Luna Compound in Brgy. Bading is the balanghai building site where one can marvel at the huge Masawa Hong Butuan – one of three boats recreated only with materials available during the time period and faithfully adhered to the craftsmanship of the early Butuanons. The 40-man crew Masawa completed in December 2010 a 15-month journey through seven countries in SE Asia, retracing ancient Filipino trade routes.

To maximize your trip to this site, head off to the Banza Church Ruins just across Agusan river. You can hire one of several bancas moored near the balanghai building site for the 2-minute ride to the ruins.  This once magnificent stone structure was burned by Moro pirates in 1753. A centuries-old banyan tree engulfed in its huge trunk parts of the ruins, making for some unique formation.

The Butuan Regional Museum of History showcases Butuan’s prehistoric existence and rich cultural heritage. It comprised of two galleries – the Archaeological Hall and the Ethnological Hall – where specimens of stone crafts, metal crafts, woodcrafts, potteries, goldsmithing tools and products, burial coffins, and other archaeological diggings, as well as various contemporary Butuanon implements used for everyday living are exhibited.

Located in Doongan Road near the city hall, the museum is about a 10-minute walk from the city center.

The Magellan landing (or anchorage) monument is found along the beach of Masao (Masawa, which means “bright” in Butuanon), a 30-minute tricycle ride from the museum. Common folk lore says that Magellan landed here in and made blood compact with the Butuanon chieftains, the brothers Rajah Siatu and Rajah Colambu.

Another 30-minute tricycle ride from Masao Beach, nestled in the cooler hills of Brgy. Poblacion in Magallanes town (which is formerly part of Butuan City), is the Bood Promontory. Found here is the historic marker commemorating the celebration of the first Catholic Mass in Mindanao held on April 8, 1521.


CONTACTS: BUTUAN CITY TOURISM OFFICE | Butuan City Hall Complex, J. Rosales Avenue, Doongan, Butuan City | Phone: (085) 225 4041

BED FOR THE NIGHT: FLOR-AL MANSION | J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 0922 360 5664 | Cozy budget hotel at the heart of the city
DOTTIE’S PLACE | #26 J. C. Aquino Ave., Butuan City | Phone: 960 777 8841
BUTUAN MANSION HOUSE & RESTAURANT | R. Calo St., Butuan City | Phone: 085 341 5313

WHERE TO EAT:
LANGIHAN PUBLIC MARKET | Langihan Road, Butuan City | Sample Butuan’s very own palagsing! This local delicacy, usually sells at PHP10 per bundle of four, is as a brown, sticky suman, made of sago starch or unaw, young coconut meat and sugar.

In the Isle of the Giants

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I had the chance to revisit this wonderful piece of heaven in Carles, Iloilo. The last time I was here was about two months after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place, and much have already changed! Bancal port is now bustling with passenger boats ferrying people to and from Isla Gigantes. The “tangke” is cleaner and safer and the climb to the “view deck” in Cabugao Gamay is a lot more safer with the ladders and railings. Scallops and wasay-wasay are still in abundance and the crabs get yummier and yummier!

IMPORTANT: Tourists, especially those arriving via tour boats from Estancia, are now required to register at the Carles Tourism Office, where they will be given “access pass” to the Tangke hidden lagoon after payment of P70 per pax environmental fee.

How to get there:

There are several entry points to Isla de Gigantes, but I would rather you take the route that will lead you to Bancal Port in the town of Carles; Isla Gigantes being a part of Carles.

From Iloilo City airport
  • Make use of the airport shuttles/vans/FX stationed just outside the departure area to take you to SM City Iloilo. From there, take a cab to the Ceres Grand Terminal (Ceres buses now have their own terminal), if you prefer taking the bus or to Tagbak Central Terminal, if you’re taking the van. Just make sure you are on the Carles-bound trip, which will take you directly to Bancal Port. [I’m not sure about the schedule of vans in Tagbak, but Ceres buses leave as early as 3AM]. Alternatively, you can just ask the locals what passenger jeep will take you to the Ceres Grand Terminal or Tagbak Central Terminal (Leganes-bound and Jaro-CPU jeeps are some options).
  • Once in Bancal Port, make sure you register at the Tourism Office before you board any of the passenger boats that will take you to Isla Gigantes.

Where to stay:

Several accommodation options are available. We stayed at Dela Vega Cottages (see photos for their contact details) for P350/pax/night in an A/C room for 6. The resort also offers meal packages (starts at P200 per pax) that will surely satisfy your cravings for seafood.

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