Mercedes’ Seven Delightful Sins

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I recently got an invitation from Daet Mayor Tito S. Sarion to attend Daet’s Pinyasan Festival together with other media guests.  Two days before the big event, I hopped on the 1 PM Philtranco bus bound for Daet.  Normally, the trip took just eight hours but traffic due to road widening and repair projects extended my trip another two hours.  It was just about 10 PM when I arrived at the town, checking in at the Prime Suite Hotel along Vinzons Ave.  After a late dinner at a nearby Jollibee outlet, I met up with Atty. Debbee Francisco, of the Camarines Norte Tourism Office, at the Miss Daet/Miss Pinyasan 2012 pageant held at the Daet Agro Sports Center.   Debbie scheduled an island hopping treat for us the next day.

The next day, after breakfast, Debbee and Mr. Aldrin Sarion, a member of her staff, picked us up at our hotel and brought us to the municipal port of the nearby (7 kms.) town of Mercedes.  One of the most important and prosperous fishing ports in Luzon, this town, the fish bowl of the Bicol Region, is home to the third largest fishing ground in the country.   Mercedes’ large fishing fleet of 20-m. long basnigs supplies a large bulk of the catch of fish and shrimps to Manila.  We arrived in time for the lively early morning fish market (open from 6-8am).  At the port, we were welcomed by Mr. Victor John Orendain IV, a staff member of the Mercedes Municipal Tourism Development Operation Center.

Here, a boat was chartered for our morning tour of Mercedes’ picturesque Siete Pecados (“Seven Sins”) group of islands which comprises Apuao Grande, Apuao Pequeña, Canton, Quinapaguian, Caringo, Canimog and Malasugui Islands. Victor and Aldrin accompanied us on this trip and we brought along snacks and a tandem kayak.  Debbee stayed behind as she had to attend to their float for the festival.  On several occasions, while we were cruising along, we espied hundreds of flying fish doing their aerial acrobatics around our boat.  About 15 mins. into our trip, we passed (but did not land) by the crodile-shaped Canimog Island, the largest of the seven islands.  The island has a dramatic lighthouse (erected June 26, 1927, it is one of the oldest in the Bicol Region) where one can camp, a grayish sand beach and lush foliage which is home to thousands of huge bats.

About 30 mins. out of town, we arrived off the coast of rocky Canton Island. We also didn’t make landfall here as the island has no beach and has minimal vegetation.  However, the island is noted for its underwater Canton Cave. The cave is visible only at low tide and we were hoping that was the case as we planned to kayak all the way to its entrance.  Disappointment was written in our faces as we neared the cave, still at its high tide mark.  Somewhat strong waves here would also have dashed our kayak to the rocks.  Oh well, maybe next time.   We proceeded on our way.

About 15 mins. later, we arrived at small Quinapaguian Island, this time making landfall at its nice stretch of white sand beach. The island offers a good view of the other islands and has a fish sanctuary where one can go snorkeling.  However, we weren’t there for the latter as we offloaded the kayak from our boat, donned our life vests, boarded the kayak and started paddling its calm clear, blue waters towards the other side of the island.  This more than made up for our missed opportunity at Canton Island.

Back on our boat, we still had time to visit Apuao Grande Island, the most famous of the seven islands.  Located 10 kms. northeast of Daet and a 45-min. boat ride from Mercedes, we again made landfall at a beautiful stretch of white sand beach.  The island also has agoho trees (an evergreen species of trees that look like pine trees),  mangrove forests, a sandbar and a steep cliff (ideal for rock climbing) on the Pacific side.   Apuao Grande Island was also once home to the once high-end TS Resort, formerly operated by the Australian-run Swagman Hotel chain.  At its heyday in the 1980s, it had 30 non-airconditioned cottages with bath, a restaurant, beach bar, swimming pool, tennis court, gym, sauna, a nine-hole golf course and an airstrip. Now abandoned due to lack of marketing push and typhoons, most of the solar-powered villas are leased to many expatriates who want to stay on the island.

From Apuao Grande Island, we crossed over to the 24.29-hectare Apuao Pequena Island (also called Apuao Munti Island) which is connected to Apuao Grande Island by a land bridge (during low tide).  It wasn’t low tide yet, but somehow we managed to cross to the other side despite the somewhat strong current.  The island has a 350 m. long shoreline, a 150-ft. high mountain and a campsite.

We didn’t have time to visit Caringo Island and Malasugui Island (the smallest of the seven) and their white sand beaches and, thus, we again boarded our boat for the return trip back to the mainland. The perfect time for visiting these islands is from late March to early May. It was such a pleasant surprise to see how beauties like these have been kept from the national tourism spotlight for so long. Maybe, next time, they’ll take notice.

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