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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P.S.

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.

A white beach on a green island

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Mahabang Buhangin in Brgy San Agustin Kanluran is a mile-long stretch of sandy beach interspersed with coves and rock formations.

Verde Island, particularly Brgy. San Antonio and Brgy. San Agapito, is more popular as a diving destination among local and foreign SCUBA divers. However, with more and more photos of its hidden gems, notably the mile-long Mahabang Buhangin in San Agustin Kanluran (West) appearing in social media sites, beachcombers and island campers began flocking anew to Isla Verde.

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How to get there:

  1. Take a Batangas City Grand Terminal-bound bus, either from Cubao or Buendia [Fare: PHP157 to PHP165 per pax], then ride a jeep to Tabangao Aplaya [Fare: PHP40 to PHP50 per pax].
  2. Board a commuter banca plying the Tabangao-Isla Verde route [Fare: PHP90 to PHP120 per pax]. The boat leaves at around 9AM to 10AM, but it’s better to be at the wharf as early as 8AM to get better seats. Be sure to inform the purser/crew where you will be staying. The boat stops at San Agustin Kanluran, San Agapito and San Antonio.  The return trip is a lot trickier, as the Isla Verde-Tabangao trip leaves as early as 3AM. There is ONLY ONE trip leaving Tabangao, as well as ONLY ONE trip leaving Isla Verde daily.

 

Batanes: Home of the Ivatans

Batanes is a chain of small islands in the northernmost point of the Philippines. Of these islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. These three (3) islands comprise six (6) municipalities collectively known as BISUMI: Basco (the capital), Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao and Ivana. Although described as having no real ports, the island chains of Batanes boast small beaches and coves which serve as anchorage for the locals’ small boats.

Inhabiting Batanes are the Ivatans, their name derived from the language they speak: Chirin nu Ibatan or simply Ivatan, an Austronesian language spoken exclusively in the Batanes Islands which is characterized by the dominant use of the letter “v”, as in valuga, vakul and vanuwa.

Also unique to their culture is their limestone houses patterned after the Spaniards and adapted to stand the onslaughts of the notorious Batanes typhoons. Ivatan stone houses — called vernacular houses — are typically windowless cube structures with walls as thick as one meter with thatched roof made of cogon grass.

Where to go in Batanes

Tour destinations in Batanes are subdivided into four (4) clusters:

  • North Batan Island (Basco)
    • Mt. Carmel Chapel
    • Radar Tukon
    • Idjang Viewpoint
    • Fundacion Pacita
    • Japanese Tunnel
    • Valugan Boulder Beach
    • Vayang Rolling Hills
    • Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
    • Sto. Domingo Church
  • South Batan Island (Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan)
    • Chawa Viewdeck
    • Mahatao Pier
    • San Jose Borromeo Church
    • Diura (Fishing Village)
    • Fountain of Youth
    • Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country)
    • Imnajbu Point
    • Old Naval Base
    • Alapad Rock
    • Song Song Ruins
    • San Jose de Ivana Church
    • Honesty Coffee Shop
    • Famous House of Dakay
  • Sabtang Island
    • San Vicenter Ferer Church
    • Savidug Village and Savidug Idjang Rock Fortress
    • Sabtang Vernacular Houses
    • Sabtang Lighthouse
    • Limestone production
    • Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
    • Chavayan Village
    • Nakabuang (Morong) Beach and Ahao Arch
    • Vuhus Island
  • Itbayat Island
    • Chinapoliran Port
    • Sta. Maria Immaculada (Itbayat) Church
    • Lake Kavaywan
    • Mt. Karoboban Viewpoint
    • Torongan Hills and Cave
    • Paganaman Port and Lagoon
    • Rapang Cliffs and Stone Bell
    • Kaxobcan Beach
    • Mt. Riposed
    • Nahili Votox Burial Site
    • Komayasakas Cave and Water Source
    • Manoyok Sinkhole
    • Sarokan, Pevangan and Do’tboran Caves
    • Agosan Rocks
    • Port Mauyen
    • Island hopping (when weather permits):
      • Siayan
      • Dinem
      • Ditarem
      • Yami (Mavolis)

Optional activities

Mt. Iraya Hike (North Batan)
Duration: 3hrs to 4 hrs
Highlights: At 1,900ft ASL, Mt Iraya offers a stunning view of Basco and a wide array of endemic flora and fauna.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1000/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1500/pax for 2 pax

Mt. Matarem Hike (South Batan)
Duration: 1.5hrs to 2hrs
Highlights: An extinct volcano, Mt. Matarem spans the municipalities of Mahatao, Uyugan and Ivana. At the summit, you’ll have a commanding view of Sabtang.
Rates/Fees:
PHP1300/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1800/pax for 2 pax

Hiking/Walking Tour
Duration: 4hrs to 6hrs
Highlights: Hike along the Basco-Mahatao Trail, stopping by Racuh-a-idi Spring of Youth in Diura Fishing Village for a cold, refreshing dip. Then continue on to the radar station, Fundacion Pacita and the wind turbines
Rates/Fees:
PHP800/pax for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1200/pax for 2 pax

SCUBA Diving
Duration: 2hrs to 3hrs, depending on the dive location and number of dives
Highlights: Explore the rich marine life of Sabtang: Pavona coral fields, Trevallies Lair, Canyons, etc.
Rates/Fees:
PHP3000/pax for a single dive, or
PHP2500/pax for 2 dives or more

Fishing/Boating
Duration: Minimum of 1hr
Highlights: Experience “mataw” fishing with local anglers using nylon line and hook.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax/hr for 4 pax and more, or
PHP1000/pax/hr for 2 pax

ATV Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: Explore Batan at your own pace.
Rates/Fees:
PHP500/pax for halfday, or
PHP1000/pax for whole day

Bicycle (Motorbike) Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: A visit to Batanes is not complete without trying out one of its iconic symbols, the bicycle. Tour Batan Island on two wheels, either self-powered or motorized. Travel from the heart of Basco to the southernmost parts of Batan.
Rates/Fees:
Bicycle: PHP100/pax/hr
Motorbike: PHP250/pax/hr

Contacts:

BISUMI Tours and Services
Ryan Lara Cardona <+63915.803.4582>
bisumitours@gmail.com

MarFel Lodge
<+63908.893.1475>
<+63920.976.4966>
<+63917.857.4493>
<+63917.883.3249>
marfellodge@gmail.com
http://marfellodgebatanes.com

Dive Batanes
Chico Domingo <+63939.935.1950>

Ivatan ATV Rentals
<+63998.551.9656>

Basco TODA
<+63929.703.8404>

Casa Napoli Pizza
<+63999.990.7553>

Rapang (Itbayat) Guide
Jose Valiente <+63949.620.0184>

Kalanggaman Island: A Secret No More

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

Surrounded by strong currents and rip tides, no wonder this unspoiled island has remained hidden for a long time, until now.

Yes. We ventured the long road to paradise.

From the rough and very rough roads of Camarines Norte and Sur, to the paved stretch of concrete and asphalt highway in the hinterlands of Albay, Sorsogon and Samar, we endured the 20-hour roadtrip to Tacloban City in Leyte — our final takeoff point to Kalanggaman Island, the most talked-about, Instagrammed and Twitted piece of pristine, unadulterated real estate in Palompon, Southern Leyte.

The trip may have been bum-busting and looooooooong, but the views and sceneries were majestic!

An imperfect paradise

Gaining popularity only in 2013, when M/V Europa Cruise Line – with almost 400 passengers – did a pit stop on the island for a couple of hours. Photos of its powdery white sand beach and its sparkling blue waters, accented by a crescent sandbar, posted on various social media sites sparked a frenzy among beach lovers and adventurers.

I must admit, Kalanggaman Island is not without flaws. For one, the treacherous currents surrounding the famed sandbar prohibited the swimmer in me to enjoy its teal blue waters. Moreover, the local tourism office in-charge of the island’s upkeep was not entirely prepared for the sudden influx of sunworshippers and selfie fanatics crowding the beach, especially during weekends. I actually fear that one day soon some parts of Kalanggaman Island will succumb to trash. Let’s not let that happen. Please.

When in Kalanggaman

The now famous sandbar.

The now famous sandbar.

There are no privately owned resorts in Kalanggaman, but overnight camping is allowed. Don’t worry if you don’t own a tent; the Eco-Tourism Office in Palompon rents them out.

Aside from baking under the sun and snorkeling, there are a few other activities one can actually enjoy on the island. You may want to try your hands at kayaking (PHP150/hr) and stand-up paddling (PHP200/hr); just approach any of the “Island Relations Officers” roaming the island. They’d be easy to spot, ‘coz they’re usually dressed in colorful island-inspired polo shirts: Yeah. Channeling their inner Lito Atienza. Harharhar!

And, for a complete Kalanggaman Island experience, go SCUBA diving! There are no dive shops on the island, so you may have to bring your own or rent it from the Palompon Eco-Tourism Office.

To Get There

As earlier mentioned, we chose to go the long way to Kalanggaman, braving the 20-hour roadtrip; albeit, there are a lot more options to choose from. Here are a few that may fit your traveling style… and budget.

From Manila

Take the 2GO Ferry to Cebu. From Cebu, you can travel to Palompon, Leyte either by bus or RORO boats.

Ceres Liner buses bound for Manila via Maharlika Highway leaves Cebu North Bus Terminal every 8AM and arrives at Pulangbato Port in Bogo City, Cebu at around 12NN. From there, you can catch a RORO boat bound for Palompon.

Of course, you can always opt to travel by air to Tacloban City. From there, you can get on a GT van to Palompon or, if you’re in a hurry, just hire a van.

Once in the town of Palompon, take a pedicab (locally called “potpot”) to the Eco-Tourism Office – the yellow building within the municipal office complex.

A trip to Kalanggaman Island requires prior “booking” with the local tourism office, as the local government limits the number of tourists per day to preserve the beauty of the place. Make sure you made a reservation before going.

Travel time from Palompon to Kalanggaman Island is about an hour.

Upon reaching the island, you’re free to find your own sweet spot to pitch your tent for the day – sit back, relax and chew in the scenery.

SCHEDULE OF FEES

Overnight Rate

  • International tourists               PHP750
  • Non-Palompon tourists                   225
  • Palompon tourists                             75
  • Students and senior citizens enjoy a much lower entrance fee.

Outrigger bancas range from PHP3,000 to 4,000, depending on the number of passengers.

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Pink: The Color of Peace and Harmony

Masjid Dimaukom

The Pink Mosque of Maguindanao — constructed in December 2012 and formally opened to devotees in June 2014 — is a gift to the people of Datu Saudi Ampatuan from its mayor, Samsudin Utto Dimaukom, Al-Hadj.

Pink, Mayor Dimaukom revealed, is his favorite color; in fact, it is also the color of choice for the town’s municipal hall and other government structures.

Ni-research namin ‘yan kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng pink, [it means] peaceful, pagmamahal, iba-iba naman ‘yan, pwedeng pagmamahal kay Allah, pagmamahal sa taumbayan, at pagmamahal sa bayan.

Masjid Dimaukom, as the mosque is now called, stands on the Dimaukom family property and has come to symbolize peace and love.

 

To Get There

The national highway that connects Cotabato City and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat passes by Datu Saudi Ampatuan. There are vans coming from Cotabato City bound for Tacurong City (also in Sultan Kudarat) or Isulan and vice versa. If coming from Isulan, ride a Cotabato City-bound jeepney stationed at the Isulan “roundball” or rotonda. First trip leaves around 7AM and every 30mins, thereafter, depending on the volume of passengers. Advise the driver that you’ll get off at Datu Saudi (to avoid any confusion as there is another town called Ampatuan); or, you can simply tell the driver that you’re going to the Pink Mosque. It is now a popular landmark in Maguindanao known to many locals. The  mosque is just a short walk from the main highway and fronting the municipal hall.

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