This year marks the quadricentennial (1611-2011) of the University of Sto. Tomas, the oldest university in Asia and my daughter Cheska’s college but, in Camarines Norte, it marks a different milestone – the 400th year foundation anniversary of the three parishes of Daet, Paracale and Vinzons. Although all these towns were founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1581, it was only in 1611 when permanent parish priests were assigned. I, together with events organizer Bernard Supetran, travel blogger Mark Vincent Nunez and mediamen Mr. Joselito “Lito” Cinco and Ms. Kara Santos, were invited to cover quadricentennial activities in these towns as well as one of the province’s top tourist draws – the Calaguas Islands.
We all met up at Starbucks in Magallanes Village in Makati City where our transportation and our hosts, Mr. Amable Miranda and Roufel “Raffy” de Vera of the Provincial Tourism Office awaited us. We left the place by 5:30 PM and the 350-km. long-haul drive took all of 8 hrs., including stopovers for toilet breaks and dinner at a Chowking outlet in Quezon, snatching sleep in between.
I awoke at our final destination – Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort set right along Daet’s famed piece of surfing heaven. It was 2 AM and we all decided to continue our sleep at the resort, Kara at her very own Trailer Room (a container van converted into a comfortable hotel room) and us guys in two, twin-sharing airconditioned de luxe rooms equipped with 32” cable TV, minibar, tea maker and in-room safe.
Morning dawned to the sound of Bagasbas’ famous waves, also ideal for skimboarding and kiteboarding aside from the usual surfing. The resort caters to all these activities as well as sea kayaking and island hopping but, with our limited time, we were not here to indulge in these activities. After a Filipino breakfast at Catherine’s, the resort’s F&B outlet, we were picked up by Amable and Raffy to visit Bagasbas Park and the First Rizal Monument (unveiled on December 30, 1898) then meet up with Atty. Debbee Francisco, the Provincial Tourism Officer designate, at the Provincial Capitol as well as visit the Bulawan Museum with its collection of old photos, portraits of past governors, busts of local heroes, family heirloom pieces, numismatic collection and paintings.
From Daet, we moved on to Paracale where we were to attend its Pabirik Festival which showcases the rich mining industry of the town (the pabirik is a tool used in gold mining) which started when a large gold mine was discovered here in 1626. Locals here still pan for gold. In fact, the town’s name was derived from para cale, meaning “canal digger.”
The festival coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Candles (Nuestra Senora del Candelaria), the town’s patroness and, as such, her statue is borne by most participating contingents in the street dancing competition, together with cardboard or wood replicas of the gold panning trade. The town’s Church of Our Lady of Candles was reconstructed between 1888 and 1898 under the direction of Fr. Jose Cardenoso, the last Spanish priest to serve the parish.
We next left for Labo where we checked out the Museo de Labo, the Church of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist and a showcase of the town’s handicrafts. After a few hours rest bit back at the resort, we proceeded to the town of Vinzons where we interviewed Fr. Francisco P. Regala, Jr., the parish priest of the town’s Church of St. Peter the Apostle, the oldest in the province (first built in 1611 by Fr. Juan de Losar and rebuilt at its present site in 1624). Fr. Regala, narrated in detail, the town’s town’s quadricentennial plans on June 29, the town’s fiesta. We capped this evening with dinner at the residence of Atty. Francisco where I stuffed myself full with angko, a glutinous, rice-based and thumb-size native delicacy with a filling of sweet, grounded peanuts. We left right after this as we were scheduled to leave early in the morning for overnight camping at the Calaguas Islands. That night it started to rain heavily.
That same heavy rain welcomed us early in the morning and a phone call confirmed our worst fears – the trip to the Calaguas Islands was cancelled. Regretfully, we switched to Plan B – hiking to Nakali Falls in San Lorenzo Ruiz town, rain or shine. We all proceeded to the municipal hall where two guides were assigned to us.
The trail was understandably wet and muddy and I regretted having worn slippers instead of sandals which, more often than not, got stuck in the muck. The uphill, downhill and sometimes flat trail brought us hiking through coconut and pineapple plantations, boulder-strewn river banks as well as crossing a hanging bridge.
A number of times, Lito wanted to quit, uttering his famous line “This is where I draw the line” a number of times, only to continue on his way. We all finally drew the line when we neared the falls as the strong river current, even with a guide rope thrown across, prevented us from hurdling the final leg. However, we contented ourselves with bathing the cool river waters. It was now late in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch, just snacks and some coconuts. The thought of a late lunch waiting for us goaded us to reduce the return hike from the original 4 down to 3 hours, helped along by my walking barefooted in the mud. Mark and I, bringing up the rear, finally staggered back to the municipal hall where Mayor Nelson P. de los Santos welcomed us with a much anticipated late lunch. Sleep came easy to us the weary that night.
It was raining less the next day and all had lunch with Daet Mayor Tito S. Sarion at Golden Palace Restaurant followed by an ocular tour of the newly-established museum at the Daet Heritage Center (formerly the old municipal hall), a courtesy call to Gov. Edgardo Tallado at the Provincial Capitol and a farewell visit to Atty. Francisco who gifted us with daing, dried dilis (anchovies) and my favorite angko. Amable and Raffy accompanied us on our return trip to Manila, with a delicious dinner stopover at Lita’s Carinderia along the way. We made it back by midnight, tired but still determined to see the Calaguas in the future. Maybe next time.