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)

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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Dingalan: Discover why it is Aurora’s answer to Batanes

Dingalan — pronounced di-nga-lan and not ding-ga-lan — gained popularity among nouveaux voyageurs and weekend travelers via the hit local TV travel magazine, “Byahe ni Drew”.

Relatively untapped by commerce, this quiet coastal town in the province of Aurora boasts sights that catered to the insatiable appetites of Y.O.L.O. adventurers seeking for newer thrills, as well as photography enthusiasts wanting to capture verdant landscapes and azure seascapes.

Dubbed as the “Batanes of Northeastern Luzon” because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

Dubbed as the "Batanes of Northeastern Luzon" because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

Dubbed as the “Batanes of Northeastern Luzon” because of the majestic view from the new lighthouse atop Sitio White Beach in Brgy. Paltic, Dingalan has become the latest must-visit destination.

My top picks for Dingalan

Lamao Cove and Caves

Sitio White Beach

 

Dingalan Lighthouse

Dingalan Lighthouse

How to get there

There are several options in reaching Dingalan — via Gen. Nakar in Quezon and the more popular route, via Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. You can take the 0630AM trip of 5 Star Liner in Cubao or Pasay (one way fare is PHP185) inorder to catch the 10AM van trip to Dingalan (one-way fare is PHP100). Once in Dingalan proper, ride a tricycle to the town’s feeder port for the banca ride to Sitio White Beach (boats can be rented for PHP600 up), or you can just opt for the longer route, which is about an hour trek through the shoreline from Brgy. Paltic to Sitio White Beach.

Where to stay

There are several B&B inns in Dingalan, the more popular being Shalom Lodge located just in front of the feeder port. If you’re into beach camping or just want a quiet time on the beach, you may stay at Ate Nene’s Place (+63909.031.6069) or at Lourdes & Buboy’s Cottages (+63918.503.6080). Power on both “resorts” are from a genset which they run until 11PM.

VOLUNTOURISTS: A new breed of sightseers

Summer is a time of simple pleasures and exciting times.

Lying in the grass with my hands behind my head, feeling each blade caress my fingers, is how I remember my childhood summers in the small town of Dingle in Iloilo. With a stalk of amor seco stuck between my teeth, I’d just recline lazily in the vast football field of my elementary school, studying the clouds — almost always, daydreaming.

With school out, weekdays were indistinguishable from weekends. My day-to-day challenge was to find something to do — go out fishing with friends, fly a kite, take a dip in the cold streams, bicycle around town. A lazy way to spend summer, you say? By today’s standards, maybe… but you see, those were the little things children these days do not enjoy. We had freedom then. We can spend an entire day sitting on curbs. We daydreamed, letting our imaginations soar.

But, times have changed.

Today, enjoying a ‘summer getaway’ entails thorough preparation and careful planning. It’s all about logistics, logistics, logistics… and more.

“Is there wifi and cable TV?”

“Is the cellphone signal strong there?”

“Is there a Starbuck’s where we’re going?”

These are just some of the questions we ask when choosing our summer destination… and to most of us, budget-conscious travelers, tour package hunting has become the norm. The rising popularity of packaged tours or group tours has indeed given our local tourism a much-needed boost.

The proliferation of these budget trips, sadly, has also slowly — and dangerously – tipped the balance between providing adequate visitor experiences and services, protecting the ecological and cultural values of the area, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the site. Tour operators, most times, fail miserably in educating their ‘guests’ on the importance of the LNT — Leave No Trace — policy.

Fortunately, there are a few travel organizers that offer activity-based tours, educational and cultural immersion and experiences, and VOLUNTOURISM.

Voluntourism is a relatively new concept — for me at least. Very simply put, voluntourism is volunteerism and tourism, rolled into one. It integrates the best of travel and tourism — the natural environment and geography, arts and culture, history and heritage sites, and recreation — with the opportunity to serve and enhance the destination: its people, points of interests and other scenic highlights. If that definition still sounds complicated, try this: Voluntourism is a great way to spend your vacation AND actively contribute to make your chosen destination more beautiful than when you arrived.


Photos: Bounce Travel, Tours and Events

Voluntourism tours cater to the demand for both outreach work (volunteering) and commerce (through staying in local hotels and using local services), in the hope of empowering the local community and generating much-needed revenue for the community. Voluntourism is not limited to clean-up drives, however. I know some mountaineer friends that trek to far-flung areas just to bring school supplies and books to children there.

Integrating any amount of volunteer work into your next trip may sound like your dream vacation. Going on voluntary holidays is a great way to spend the summer, as it not only allows you to immerse yourself in community work, even for just a few hours, but it is also a very rewarding experience. Being able to give back to the community and those who need it most is sure to be something you’ll cherish forever — and these trips could become the best part of your overall summer adventure.

Here are some tips to guide you in choosing which voluntourism tour fits you:

RESEARCH THE PROJECT

Ask questions before you choose a voluntourism trip. Ask yourself, what would it feel like if someone came and did this project in my community? If the organizer collects monetary contributions, ask where would your money go? Will you be working with a local organization? Did it request this project? You may also want to interview other voluntourists: They will tell you the real story.

RESEARCH THE COMMUNITY

Read up on the community you are visiting and learn what challenges they are facing, and identify possible solutions. If you come in only knowing it’s poor, dirty and malnourished, then you’re just looking down on the place, with no real understanding.

MATCH UP YOUR SKILLS

Different groups offer different voluntourism experience. Choose one that matches your expertise or interests. If you are a medical professional, you may want to join a tour providing healthcare to locals. Or, you can sign up for a nature-based trip where you can participate in coastal clean ups and clean up dives, or tree planting activities.

GET OUT OF THE BOX

Forget air-conditioned rooms and fluffy pillows. Bathe yourself in moonlight! On my latest trip to the Mercedes Group of Islands in Camarines Norte, we hit the dirt road and headed for the local community to procure food and supplies. We bought freshly caught fish and a live duck to be dressed and cooked the way locals did. In voluntourism trips, it is important to immerse yourself in local customs. If you see your destination only through the eyes of a transient tourist, you’re missing half the picture.

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