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Bulalacao: Oriental Mindoro’s Star on the Rise

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Bulalacao “harbor”, seen here during low tide, is usually lined with all sorts of bancas plying their trades.

The quiet town of Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro has long been under the radar of weekend travelers. To many, it is but another stop along the RORO route to the Visayas, as well as another gateway to Boracay.

Well, until mainstream media caught a wind of it.

Today, Bulalacao has become a favorite destination of intrepid backpackers, especially those from Manila, who do not mind the butt-numbing trip by land and sea.

Here is a sample itinerary if you are coming from Manila:

1000PM   Depart Manila for Batangas pier via bus; fare is P167/pax; Travel time: 1.5hrs

1200MN   Ride a RORO or FastCat for Calapan; fare is P240/pax; terminal fee is P30; Travel time: 1.5 hrs to 2hrs, depending on the vessel

0200AM   At the pier in Calapan, head for the rows of passenger vans and take the Calapan-Roxas route; instruct the driver to drop you off where Bulalacao-bound vans are; fare is P250/pax; Travel time: 2hrs to 3hrs

0600AM   In Roxas, take the Bulalacao-bound van (fare is P70 to P100 per pax); Travel time: 1hr to 1.5hrs

0800AM   From the Bulalacao van terminal, grab a tricycle to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), where you can register and get assistance in hiring a bangka for island hopping

NOTE: You can also just hop on a Philtranco or a Visayas-bound RORO bus that will take you directly to Bulalacao.

There is a standard rate for island hopping being implemented by the Municipal Tourism Office to eliminate overpricing. The uniform going rate for island hopping is P3,500 per bangka (with a maximum 10-person capacity) for three islands only. You can choose any three of these islands: Tambaron, Suguicay, Aslom and Target. Going to Buyayao Island from Bulalacao is a bit more expensive because of its distance.

Of course, you can always head off to the port — at your own risk — and test your haggling skills with the boatmen there waiting for fares.

What to see in Bulalacao

Tambaron Island

Based on online search results, Tambaron Island seems to be the more popular — or maybe, more recognizable or known — of the Bulalacao group of islands. It’s “main” cove houses the Tambaron Green Beach Resort, where you can comfortably stay for the night. A restaurant here offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Aside from swimming and snorkeling, Tambaron Island also offers mountain trails for avid trekkers where one can marvel at the richness of the island’s flora and fauna.

If you crave peace and quiet, you can hire a motorized boat and head off to any of the other coves surrounding Tambaron Island.

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Aslom islet and sandbar

Aslom islet is a worthwhile stop when island hopping in Bulalacao. Just make sure you catch it on a low tide to fully appreciate the sandbar.

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Target Island

The island, as the popular story goes, owes its name to its “explosive” past — as a target for the American Navy dive bombers and fighter jets.

With that story in mind, one would expect an island full of craters and jagged rocks and burnt ground. Surprisingly, there were none of those. Instead, visitors are greeted by the lush greenery, teal to deep blue waters and white sand-and-pebbles beach. Paved walkways and staircases make exploring the island easily and comfortably.

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Maasin (or Masin) island and fishing village

Not included in the usual island hopping stops, Maasin Island came as a surprise. We did not expect to find a gem in this small fishing village. Compared with Tambaron, Aslom, Suguicay or Target — and even Buyayao — islands, the sand here is finer, whiter… and the water, cooler and more refreshing — a very good example of how pristine should look like.

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Suguicay Island

I believe, Suguicay Island is the “happiest and busiest” island and a picnic favorite here in Bulalacao. Rows of various accommodations and small “resorts” where you can stay for the night — with the occasional videoke machine — as well as picnic tables for day tour visitors, line the island’s beach front. Small sari-sari stores selling souvenir items dot the area.

If you seek serenity, a short walk through the small fishing community and further down the mangroves will take you to a tiny cove with the same fine, white sand as the main beach… but, you guessed right, much quieter.

Whether coming from San Jose, Occ. Mindoro or Roxas/Calapan, Or. Mindoro, Suguicay Island can be directly accessed via Brgy. Bancal, which is still a part of Bulalacao. Just tell the van driver or bus conductor that you’re getting off at Bancal. From the highway, you’ll need to ride a habal-habal to the port where commuter motorized bancas await visitors.

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Pocanil Beach and “Kwe-bato”

About 30 minutes from Bulalacao town proper, Pocanil Beach in Brgy San Roque serves as one of the entry points to Buyayao Island. It is quieter and more relaxing than its closest neighbor, Buktot Beach in the nearby town of Mansalay, albeit, its waters is not really good for swimming.

I believe the most interesting sight here is the fabled Kwe-bato, a cave located high up in the rock face bounding one side of Pocanil Beach. According to locals, a bamboo ladder served as access to the cave entrance before, but was eventually taken down by barangay officials to prevent any untoward incident, as the bamboo ladder became unsteady. Access to the cave is prohibited to this day.

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Buyayao Island

Buyayao Island, in my opinion, is very much underappreciated by many.

Nestled in the quiet part of Brgy. San Roque in Bulalacao, Buyayao Island is breathtaking, idyllic, pristine, serene.

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Buyayao Island by far is at the top of my Bulalacao-islands-to-visit list.

 


 

Bulalacao is accessible by AIR:

  • Take a domestic flight from Manila to San Jose in Occidental Mindoro.
  • From the airport, ride a tricycle to the bus/van terminal and take a Roxas- or Calapan-bound van or bus and get off at Bulalacao town proper.
  • Grab a tricycle to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), where you can register and get assistance in hiring a bangka for island hopping.

or from Boracay:

  • From Caticlan Port, board a ferry bound for Roxas, Oriental Mindoro.
  • From Roxas port, ride a tricycle to the terminal for Bulalacao-bound vans.
  • Once in Bulalacao town proper, ride a tricycle to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), where you can register and get assistance in hiring a bangka for island hopping.
  • NOTE: FastCat travels direct to Bulalacao port from Caticlan.

and Coron:

  • From Busuanga port,  board a ferry bound for San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.
  • From the seaport, ride a tricycle to the bus/van terminal and take a Roxas- or Calapan-bound van or bus and get off at Bulalacao town proper.
  • Once in Bulalacao town proper, grab a tricycle to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), where you can register and get assistance in hiring a bangka for island hopping.

A sweet “Buyayao” escape

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Buyayao in the Ilonggo dialect means to hurl expletives at or berate in the most colorful language imaginable. Buyayao is ugly, demeaning, hurtful. This “buyayao” in Oriental Mindoro, however, is nothing of that sort. The island is breathtaking, idyllic, pristine, serene.

Nestled in the quiet part of Brgy. San Roque in Bulalacao, Buyayao Island was once the property of the mighty Elizalde clan. When Marcosian era ended, the Elizaldes abandoned the island, leaving it to decay and disarray.

Seeing an opportunity to reclaim their stakes on the island, families who were displaced when the Elizaldes allegedly “took control” of Buyayao, began to slowly return and clean up most parts of the island barangay.*

What to see in Buyayao Island

Tubi Beach

Tubi beach is secluded and a good swimming area. Clumps of mangroves act as a “breakwater” to shield swimmers when strong waves come in. Huts and cottages are available for overnight stay.

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Silanga Beach

The area around Silanga Beach was the first settled barangay on the island. The community was abandoned in the 1970s.

Silanga is a good site for swimming, snorkeling, beach bumming and picture taking.

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Boho-boho cave

A good place to chill, relax and rest after an exhausting swim or snorkeling around nearby waters.

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… and more

Buyayao Island is blessed with many natural facets where you can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, trekking or simply just do nothing but watch the waves, the birds, the coconut palms and wait for the sun to set.

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Sample itinerary**

1000PM   Depart Manila for Batangas pier via bus; fare is P167/pax

1200MN   Ride a RORO or FastCat for Calapan; fare is P240/pax; terminal fee is P30

0200AM   At the pier in Calapan, head for the rows of passenger vans and take the Calapan-Roxas route; instruct the driver to drop you off where Bulalacao-bound vans are; fare is P250/pax

0600AM   In Roxas, take the Bulalacao-bound van (fare is P70 to P100 per pax) and tell the driver to drop you off at Brgy. San Roque waiting shed

0800AM   In Brgy San Roque, habal-habal or single motorbikes are usually lined up there waiting for fares (@P50 per pax); ride one and ask the driver to take you to Pocanil Resort, where you then ride a banca to Buyayao Island (P1000 per trip or P100 per pax for 10 passengers)


*  According to some locals, most of Buyayao Island is now the property of Greenland Development Corporation.

** Time/schedule may vary.

Begin your own journey of discovery

My love affair with “exploratory” travelling began when I got bored of the same old “summer travel destinations” routine. I craved to experience the Philippines that you don’t usually see in travel brochures. However, with the travel boom we are experiencing in all corners of the country — ushered in, for the most part, by social media — we are now left with fewer options of unexplored territory.

travelokaLucky for most of us, many of our country’s “hidden gems” are still waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated anew. Traveloka‘s Top 37 Hidden Tourist Spots in the Philippines Travel Pros Rave About is a good place to start if you’re seeking for less-traveled roads.

Channel your inner Ed Stafford or Jessica Watson and satisfy your hunger for adventure. Begin your own journey of discovery and exploration. Blaze newer trails, chart rediscovered destinations, learn new things and re-experience varied cultures and local traditions.

 

Dinadiawan Beach: Baler’s Quieter Neighbor

After a short hiatus from traveling, I am finally able to return with a weekender to Dinadiawan Beach in the town of Dipaculao, Aurora.

A little over an hour from Baler, it’s more popular neighbor, Dinadiawan is quieter, more relaxing — an ideal place to just chill out and destress.

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The crescent-shaped Dinadiawan Beach boasts of fine, “white” sand and one of the best sunrise I have ever seen… and with your back on the ocean, you can embrace the lush greenery of the mighty Sierra Madre!

Things to do

20170626_081809_1Aside from sitting on your butt downing your favorite beer or coffee (like I did) or suspended on a hammock, dreaming (like I did, too) or soaking the sun and sea (like EVERYONE else did!), you can hire a boat to take you to Pamwasan Cove.

Personally, I liked the water here, as it’s a whole lot clearer, more refreshing and, unlike the waters in Dinadiawan Beach, does not have that “fishy” smell. There are several spots where you can snorkel.

The beach is a little too “stony” and the seafloor a bit “grassy”, though. And during low tides, the locals gather here to pick up mollusks and seaweeds.

On a very hot day, Pamwasan Cove can be very dry and exhausting. Bring lotsa water.

Dinadiawan+Falls,+Aurora+DSC_1619+011_1You may also ride a tricycle and take a dip in the cool waters of “Sister” Falls… or “Daughter” Falls or “Dinadiawan” Falls or “Baby” Falls — the name varies, depending on who you ask. The falls is just a 5-minute easy trek from the highway. I was told that the LGU or baranggay there usually collects a minimal entrance fee of P50, but since I was just “solo” and the trike driver who accompanied me happened to be a ka-tropa, the fee was “waived”. I didn’t take a lot of photos as I was too preoccupied enjoying the cool waters.

The kids who happened to be playing nearby “berated” me for not going there during the summer months.

“Kuya, sana nung summer kayo pumunta. Nakita nyo sana yung madaming mga paru-paro na kulay puti.”

“Kuya, sa summer ka pumunta para hindi maputik.”

“Kuya, balik ka sa summer.”

Et cetera…

On lazy afternoons, you can hook up with other guests, and some “village boys”, for a friendly game of beach volleyball (or wacky dance like the guy in the blue board short is doing 😀). I’m not much of a ball player but a flower sniffer, so I just contended myself to just being a passive participant and took these.

Where to stay

To tell you the truth, if not for this:

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I wouldn’t have given this place much thought, as I’ve been to much better beaches.

More on Sand and Stars and a suggested itinerary on my next post.

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.

Planning a trip there? Click here.

——-
* 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)
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