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.
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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).

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.

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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I Miss You… SUN!

It has been raining cats and dogs for more than five (5) days… now, I am longing for the sun.

The stunning sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint in Sagada, Mt. Province.

The stunning sunrise at Kiltepan viewpoint in Sagada, Mt. Province.

Kiltepan Sunrise

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No words. They won’t do justice to such magnificence only God can create.

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