Tacloban City: Gateway to the Eastern Visayas

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My introduction to Tacloban City in Leyte, and to this region for that matter, it being the gateway to the Eastern Visayas, came when my brother-in-law married a Waray and decided to live there. Since then I have become a regular visitor, using the city as a stepping stone to exploring the wonders of the region.

Through the years this 108.56-sq km. city of 178,639 Taclobanons has also grown by leaps and bounds to become the commercial, educational, cultural and social center of Leyte and the premier city in the region. The city’s name was derived from the panaklub, a woven rattan or split bamboo contraption used to catch crabs, shrimps or fish.  Tacoban is worth a longer stay, it being steep with World War II history.

Unknown to many, the Provincial Capitol (built in 1907), along Sen. Enage Street, became the seat of the Commonwealth government when Pres. Sergio Osmeña came in 1944 with the liberation forces of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The Redoña Residence, along T. Claudio Street, was the official residence of Osmeña and his staff until the reestablishment of the Commonwealth in Manila. MacArthur, on the other hand, stayed for three months at the more spacious Price Mansion (now the College Assurance Plan Building), along Justice Romualdez Street, an American colonial house built in 1910 by American businessman Walter Price.  Here, the general escaped injury when a Japanese bomb penetrated the roof over his room but failed to explode.  The hole left by that attack can still be seen.  The story of the liberation is best seen, in pictures, during a stay or visit to Hotel Alejandro, along P. Paterno Street. Formerly the residence of Dr. Alejandro Montejo, built in 1932, it was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army and later, during the liberation, by American war correspondents. Displays of original photographs of the Leyte Landing and Gen. MacArthur are everywhere within its halls

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The status of Tacloban as the gateway to the region was further enhanced with the completion of the San Juanico Bridge, which connects Leyte with Samar. Crossing San Juanico Strait (considered the narrowest but most navigable strait in the world) at Brgy. Cabalawan, it is was formerly called the Marcos Bridge and was inaugurated on July 2, 1973.  Located 10 kms. from the city, this impressive S-shaped bridge, the longest in the country (and in Southeast Asia), is a major link in the 3,000-km. Pan-Philippine Highway. Also said to be the most beautifully designed bridge in the country, it is 2,162.4 m (7,092 ft) long, 10.62 m wide with 43 spans and towers 41 m. above the sea at its highest point. The S-shaped structure, on the Samar side, had to be adopted to make use of the importance of the existing islet, the Cabalauan islet that lies in the middle of the San Juanico Strait between the two island provinces of Samar and Leyte.  This islet serves as resting point and provides added support to the massive structure soaring over the swift currents of the strait. Any short visit to the city is never complete without crossing this bridge.

Leyte is identified with former first lady and art patron Imelda Marcos, who was born in nearby Tolosa. In the city, her spirit lives on at the Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, along Real Street. This colonial-style structure, built from 1979 to 1981, housed her vast collection of art objects from all over the world. The museum has an image of the Sto. Niño by Fernando Amorsolo, paintings (including the 14 Stations of the Cross by Filipino painters), priceless furniture, musical instruments, fine English, French and Chinese porcelain, wooden bas-relief of the legend of Malakas and Maganda (the Filipino version of Adam and Eve), ivory and wooden sculptures of local, English, Russian, French and Chinese origin, 13 tastefully decorated guest rooms of varied Filipino motifs, a spacious ballroom, chapel and other priceless collectors items.

Another must-see for art lovers is the 40-ft high Crucified Christ, along Magsaysay Boulevard. Designed by sculptor Nemesio R. Miranda Jr. (Nemiranda for short) and unveiled in 2002, it has the map of Leyte interpreted as a sculptural island, shaped by nature into the image of the crucified Christ. Nearby is a symbol of peace between the Philippines and Japan, the Madonna of Peace. Located at the foot of Kanhuraw Hill, near the City Hall, this Japanese-funded multi-tiered landscaped garden has a lovely statue of the Goddess of Peace called Maria Kannon, fashioned by a famous contemporary Japanese sculptor from a rare piece of miyagi stone. It has a panoramic view of Cancabato Bay.

For those who want to experience three fiestas rolled into one, visit the city during the Tacloban Festival, held on June 28 and 29 in honor of patron saint Sto. Niño de Leyte. The Subiran Regatta, on June 28, is an annual boat race held within the Cancabato Bay area and is participated in by different fishermen using subirans (a native sailboat with outriggers used in small-scale fishing). The race is done without using the paddle, using only their skill and techniques in maneuvering the sail. The Pintados de Leyte, on June 29, features street pageantry of ethnic dancing to the rhythm of bamboo sticks and a contest focusing on the Leyteños’ old custom of tattooing that signifies courage and status in the community, which earned for the Leyteños the name of pintados. The Balyuan, also on June 29, is an afternoon pageant reenacting the historical exchange of images between barrio Buscada of Basey, Samar, and Sitio Kankabatok (now Tacloban City).

Surfin’ Camnorte

Surf festivals, the most successful of adventure sports events, combines the fun of sun, sand and big lively waves. In Daet it’s all that plus more, as I found out when I was invited to cover its 2nd Bagasbas Summer Surf Festival in early April, an event put together to help promote tourism in Camarines Norte in the Bicol Region.

The festival was held along the 7-km. long, gray-sand Bagasbas Beach in Brgy. Bagasbas, 4 kms. from the town.  The beach, known for its consistent waves, ranging from 2-5 ft. tall, is one of the best sites for beginners to learn surfing (with its incomparable feel of walking on water), unlike the more challenging surf spots in Baler (Aurora) or Siargao (Surigao del Norte).  According to provincial tourism officer designate Mr. Edgardo “Boy” Reyes, “This means less risks of injury for those still learning how to surf.”

I arrived at Daet, not via a long 370-km,. 7-hr., long-haul (made 3 hrs. longer for others due to the festival being held so close to Holy Week) bus ride from Manila, but via a 45-min. Air Philippines flight to Pili Airport in Camarines Sur. Other invited members of the media, accompanied by Department of Tourism (DOT) media coordinator Mr. Boyet Escueta, arrived the next day. At the airport, I was picked up by Mr. Melvic Brinas for a short 2-hr. drive to Daet and, upon arrival, was billeted at the beachside resthouse of Gov. Jesus Typoco Jr., with its ringside view to all the festival’s proceedings. DOT-OPRD project officer Ms. Val Congzon (she arrived even earlier, with son Loven, via a Superlines bus) and Boy Reyes were already on hand to welcome me. Throughout our stay, all our meals were taken or delivered at the beach by Golden Palace Restaurant located at the town proper.

It was rainy throughout that first day but this did not deter would-be surfers, mostly yuppies and college kids on summer break. And why not! For a fee of PhP500 each, those interested in learning the sport can join surfing clinics. “We want amateur or even aspiring surfers to learn the basics of surfing here in Bagasbas,” said events organizer Mr. Joey Cuerdo of Power Play Sports and Event Management. The clinics teach the basics, such as how to position yourself on a surfboard (centered along the stringer), paddle into the wave, feel that right moment when the wave takes you (the “drop”), push down on the board, and stand and safely handle the board with the waves.

Upon signing up at the main booth right on the beach, first-time surfers eager to get into the water were given surf session schedule card with a time slot for their session (which lasts 45 mins.), with 10 people per batch, which included surfboard rental and instructor. Registrants also have the right to officially enter a competition of their choice or other competitions, and the right to join the clinics offered. Aside from that, they were given one event shirt and a pair of Mojo slippers. Ever since these surfing clinics were put up two years ago, provincial tourism officials have noted at least a 30% annual growth in the number of visitors.  At the end of our second day (this time sunny), Joey treated us in the media with free surfing lessons. Mr. Oween Andrade of the Camarines Norte Surfing Association provided the beachside instruction. Unfortunately, try as I did, I never got to stand on my board.  Maybe next time.

While waiting for their first taste of surfing, registrants were pumped with beach adrenaline via other beach activities which featured outdoor sports such as wall climbing, beach volleyball and ultimate Frisbee, all designed to make the experience fun and memorable. An artificial, 40-ft.-high rock-climbing wall was set up along the beach, and a world-class Open Difficulty Climbing Competition, featuring the country’s best sport climbers (ranked third in Asia), was held. Locals and visitors were also treated to free climbing trials, all queuing to give the interactive side of the climbing wall their best shot. This never failed to form a beach crowd in front of the wall.

Forehand and backhand throws, plus high-flying leaps and dives on the beach were provided by the easy-to-learn Ultimate Frisbee, a noncontact team sport that feels a little bit of a mix of the following: soccer, basketball, American football and netball. There are no special gear needed to play it; all you need is a wide-open space plus a flying disc (Frisbee in layman’s term) to toss around. The Philippine Ultimate Association also held a special invitational tournament for the top 12 teams of the country (from as far away as Boracay). For everyone and anyone who wanted to get down and dirty, there was the classic beach sport of beach volleyball. Teams of four or six were organized by professional game handlers of the Progressive Volleyball Center in two courts. The Invitational Beach Volleyball Open, a college varsity and amateur team tournament, featured 12 teams from Manila, Lucena City (Quezon), Naga City (Camarines Sur) and Legazpi City (Albay). As with surfing, pros also held clinics for these outdoor sports on the beach. Every night of this two-day summer event was capped by a reggae party featuring hot reggae bands all playing nonstop chillout music with a smooth changeover into slow reggae, then picking up speed into fast-paced, hour-long-plus ska and reggae mix.  DJ Anna took the booth for the sunset gigs.  Truly a great way to cap a day.

Marinduque: Beyond the Moriones

Holy Week was around the corner, and I was again browsing my list of must-see places to visit.  Tired of mainland Luzon, I opted for some island-hopping and decided on Marinduque, a Holy Week destination due to its Moriones Festival. Joining me were my kids Jandy and Cheska, plus teacher-friends Mr. Joel Fatlaunag and Ms. Veneriza Trillo (with son Yor). We left Manila by 4:30 pm and arrived at Lucena City’s Dalahican Port by 9 pm. Instead of staying overnight in the city, we opted to take the 10 pm Blue Waters fast ferry to Balanacan Port (Mompog), arriving there, after a rough, wave-tossed crossing, by 12:30 am. Once on dry land, we took a jeepney to Boac, all the while hoping that there would be accommodations available at this unholy hour. Our jeepney driver suggested a beach resort and dropped us off at Villa Carlos, where its Good Samaritan owner, Ms. Emily Ignacio-Alaan, allowed us to pitch tents by the beach, as well as use a picnic shed. Fortune further smiled at us that early morning as Alaan allowed us to use, after a canceled booking, an air-conditioned suite with six beds, compartmentalized bathroom and, best of all, a private balcony overlooking the sea (perfect for sunset viewing). With our accommodation worries out of the way, we could now explore, using the resort as our base, this beautiful-island province in detail.

Exploring Boac

Boac, being the provincial capital, was the first place we explored, beholding its many large, high-ceilinged Spanish- and American-era ancestral houses. Its fortress-like Church of the Blessed Virgin of Perpetual Help, located on top of a hill, was built in 1656. The church houses the miraculous Ina ng Biglang-Awa (Mother of Instant Mercy), the province’s patron saint (since 1792) to which is attributed deliverance from a 19th-century Moro attack. The revolution’s flag was brought here by Canuto Vargas to be blessed in 1899. Its carved wooden portals are decorated with flora and fauna, cherubs and the images of the Four Evangelists: John, Luke, Mark and Matthew. The church’s well-maintained and faithfully restored interior has brick walls, wall-hung period lamps, a ceiling with designs of Muslim brass gongs, two sets of Stations of the Cross (in wood and stained-glass windows) and three richly decorated and intricate retablos (altar backdrops).

The Marinduque National Museum branch, located near Boac Park (execution site of Filipino revolutionaries and the surrender site of Filipino soldiers during the Philippine-American War), opened on February 22, 1995, is housed in an old, historic building built in 1887. It was formerly used as a boy’s school, jailhouse, a library and the Municipal Trial Court Building. The museum showcases the province’s cultural and social heritage, and displays artifacts found in caves, shells, vintage photos, antiques, Moriones masks, costumes and pieces retrieved from galleons still buried under the waters between Pingan and Melchor Island.

More than just a Holy Week destination

Although well-known for its Moriones Festival, much of the island’s beautiful sites (white-sand beaches, hot springs, lofty mountains, waterfalls, etc.) are relatively unknown or taken for granted. We would make no such mistake. On our second day (Good Friday), we hired (for PhP1,200) a Tamaraw FX (driven by Mr. Herman Matre) to take us around the island, bringing along packed lunches prepared for us by Ms. Laura Lahm (owner of Barbarosa Restaurant, the best in Marinduque). We can actually drive around the island in three hours, as the main highway connects all six towns, but we opted to do this at a leisurely pace. Along the way we espied, from afar, the 11-hectare, aptly named Elephant Island (it has sheer cliffs, a half-kilometer-long white-sand beach and a soon-to-open world-class resort) and Tres Reyes Islands (Baltazar, Gaspar and Melchor, all named after the biblical Three Kings). Uninhabited Baltazar and Melchor islands have steep cliffs and underwater caves, while Gaspar Island has a small village, clear blue-green waters and a short, lovely white-coral beach which offers fine snorkeling and diving. All three islands are ideal dive sites, having several good caves and walls and gorgeous sea fans.

Our first stop would be Malbog Sufur Spring, located at the foot of 1,157-m. (3,797-ft.) high, rarely climbed Mt. Marlanga (with three unique peaks), the highest mountain in the province. Located 3 kms. from Buenavista, the spring’s hot water, said to cure certain skin ailments, was a welcome relief for us. Here, we all partook of our packed lunches.

The pièce de résistance of our trip was our visit to the residence of Mr. Hans Peter Ulrich and his Filipina wife Marilou, who rents out a two-room cottage with bath and kitchen in barangay Poctoy (Torrijos). The cottage was then being rented by seven vacationing production staff members (six women and a man) of GMA’s Starstruck program. Fronting it is a small private cove of sparkling white sand which we soon frolicked in with gusto. A short walk from the cottage is the 1-km. long, fine white-sand Poctoy White Sand Beach, Marinduque’s best. Its reef drop-off 200 to 300 m. offshore is ideal for snorkeling. This postcard-pretty beach, with the dormant, 871-m. high Mt. Malindig as a backdrop, was equally deserted, it being a Good Friday.

On our way back, we stopped over at the Pulang Lupa Battle Shrine (site of a Filipino victory during the Philippine-American War) and the Church of the Holy Cross (Sta. Cruz). The latter, built in 1714, has 1.5 to 2-m. thick walls and was renovated except for its original tower. Inside are impressive old paintings and sculptures. Here, as well as in Boac, we encountered parades ofcarrozas of saints, another Good Friday staple.

Our trip to Marinduque wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to one of its 17 outlying islands (mostly in the north). The next day we took a jeepney to Balanacan Pier. Offshore from this fine natural harbor is an imposing statue of Ina ng Biglang Awa with its viewdeck. At the fisherman’s wharf, we rented a motorized outrigger boat for PhP1,000 for the 30-minute trip to the eight-hectare Nagtangco Island. This island, together with nearby San Andres Island, has spectacular white-sand beaches. Unlike our Poctoy White Beach visit, the beach here was packed with picnickers. Just the same, we thoroughly enjoyed its fine, white sand and climbed its craggy viewpoint. This island visit truly capped our stay in this lovely province.

The Boracay of the North

Family outings are cherished moments especially for the Layug clan, more so after our parents died and each of us started families of our own. Holy Week usually presents opportunities for such but in our case, we made an exception by going on one a week earlier to avoid the holiday rush. And, instead of taking a plane as in previous outings (Boracay, Guimaras, et al), we were to bring our respective cars and make a long-haul, 561-km. drive for a change. Our destination? Pagudpud.

Our convoy consisted of three sturdy and spacious vehicles; Frank, our eldest, with his wife Cherry and kids Jaja, Sandy and Gelo (plus a family friend) in his Chevrolet; Tellie, our youngest, with her daughter Mandy plus a bevy of maids in her Starex; and myself, with my wife Grace and kids Jandy and Cheska in our Toyota Revo. Salve, my eldest sister, begged off from the trip. We all left by two in the morning with traffic practically non-existent for more than half of the trip, making it to Vigan City in Ilocos Sur just in time for lunch. Vigan, with its Heritage Village, is worth an overnight stay and we did just that, billeting ourselves at the Cordillera Inn right along its showcase Mena Crisologo Street. After a Palm Sunday mass at its Spanish-era cathedral and some pasalubong shopping the next day, it was back to our respective cars for the final 200-kilometer drive to Pagudpud.

Quaint Town, Quaint Name

The 214-sq. km. Pagudpud is located 75 kms. northwest of Laoag City. Its population (2000) of 19,315 (spread out in 16 barangays) Ilocanos engages in the cottage industry of mat weaving and rattancraft. Formerly a barrio of Bangui called Tongotong, Pagudpud became an independent municipality on February 5, 1954, by virtue of Executive Order No. 13. There are several derivations of its name. One quaint version details that, during the American regime, an American boy, seeing ar-arungan (seaweed) being carried by the river, uttered to his father, “Pa, good food.” Another story tells that before World War II, a peddler from Batangas once came here. Putting his wares down and resting under a lanka (jackfruit) tree, the property owner asked him what he was doing. The peddler answered in Tagalog, “Ako’y uhaw at pagod, at ang sapatos ko ay pudpud” (“I am thirsty and tired and my shoes have holes”). The Ilocano-speaking townsfolk didn’t understand Tagalog but picked up a bit of his answer. Some time later, another Tagalog visitor came and asked for the name of the place in Tagalog. The Ilocanos, not understanding his question, attempted to reply by repeating the last Tagalog visitor’s answer which was “pagudpud.” And so the place was named such.

An Adventurer’s Dream

Upon arrival at the upscale Saud Beach Resort, we checked into our assigned airconditioned suites with bath and cable TV to freshen up, only coming out later for a well-deserved supper at the restaurant. Sleep came easy to this weary traveler. Pagudpud, called the “Paradise of the North,” is reputed to have the longest, continuous white sand beach in the country. The touristy Saud White Beach, along clear, tranquil and palm-lined Bangui Bay, is home to a number of resorts, ours included. Though not as gently sloping as Boracay’s White Beach, this beach has offshore coral beds and, unlike Boracay, an occasionally moderate to high surf ideal for water sports activities such as surfing. Beach volleyball is also a favorite activity here. Judging its true length, via an early morning stroll for me, only took me as far as Jalao Point and its small, modern lighthouse before turning back. The hike did give me a healthy appetite for breakfast. Most of our stay, however, was spent picnicking, eating, siestas and swimming.

The lesser-known but largely deserted—except for a few fishermen’s houses—Mayraira Beach is another beach lover’s dream. Getting there by car, along a 2-km. dirt road from the highway, is a feast for the eyes in itself. Along the way, we passed by Timmangtang Rock and Bantay Abot Caves (located near Brgy. Balaoi, a storm collapsed the cave but terns still nest here). Just like Saud White Beach, lovely Mayraira Beach also has sparklingly white sand and clear blue waters. Just offshore are the identical Dos Hermanas (Two Brothers) Islands. According to folklore, two very close brothers one day went fishing at sea. Unfortunately, they were met by a typhoon while at sea. Vowing to be together even in death, they both drowned. The two islands were said to have appeared later.

Our visit to Pagudpud was never complete without visiting the Patapat Cliffs, a one-hour drive via the 1.5-km. long Patapat Causeway Bridge near the border of Cagayan. Here, the Cordillera Mountains end, edging out the coastal plains and plunging into the sea. As there is no narrow coastal plain along this area to build a road, this bridge, instead, hugs the mountainside nearest to the cliff and extends toward the sea. Our drive here gave us a 360-degree view of the most magnificent and dramatic land and seascapes along the Philippine highway system. Visitors sometimes toss coins into the coves and surf below to ensure safe travel. Along the cliff sides, cascades and mini-falls descend directly to the road side. As always, a two-night stay in such a wonderful place is never enough. Pagudpud offers lots more for the adventurous like me. These include hikes to Matarongtong Hot Spring (near the Claveria boundary), the three-level Kabigan Falls (Brgy. Balaoi), and Mabugabog Falls (site of a mini-hydro electric plant).

Breathless in Batanes

Even for a seasoned traveler like me, getting to remote Batanes had always been a dream—that is, until recently. Winning a roundtrip Asian Spirit plane ticket in a raffle draw made that dream a reality. The plane trip took all of two hours and 483 air kms., including a 30-min. stopover at Tuguegarao (Cagayan) Airport. It was just about lunchtime when I arrived in Basco Airport. I checked in at one of Mama Lily Inn’s three fan-cooled rooms (with common bath). This was to be my home for the five days I was to stay in this beautiful province.

Basco, the lovely, urbanized provincial capital and the center of commerce, was to be my jump-off point for exploring the rest of the province. But first, I paid a courtesy call on Gov. Vicente S. Gato and Tourism Officer Mr. Elmo Merin at the Provincial Capitol. The governor, a keen promoter of Batanes’s tourism potential, gladly allowed me the use of a vehicle (Toyota Revo), a driver (Mr. Luciano “Anong” de Guzman) and two guides (Ms. Joy Gabaldon and Mr. Jose “Boging” Astudillo).

Batanes in a Nutshell

OUR route around the 35.5-sq. km., generally mountainous Batan Island skirted the west coast through Mahatao and Ivana to Uyugan. All throughout the nearly hour-and-half trip, including stopovers and replacement of a flat tire, I was rewarded with a vista of sheer limestone cliffs alternating with gently rolling hills, great boulder beaches and some black and white sand beaches hemmed in by a broad fringing reef. We also passed by many of the Ivatan’s small, quaint, squat and low but ingeniously designed and typhoon-resistant houses. The wind-swept Payaman, at Mahatao’s outskirts, is popularly called the “Marlboro Country of Batanes.” Here, cattle, carabao and horses graze at its rolling hills. Nearby are fields hedged with trees that break the wind’s full fury, allowing root crops to grow.

We also visited a number of interesting man-made structures, including a number of Spanish-era churches. The venerable Dominican-built San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao, dating to 1873, is one of 26 national cultural treasures. It has an espadana-style façade, with two round arches at roof levels for the bells, and massive buttresses at the outer walls. At the church courtyard and at the elementary school grounds are Spanish-era stone lampposts. The town’s Spanish-era bridge also retains its centuries-old features.

The Church of St. Joseph the Carpenter, located in front of Ivana port, was built in 1785 and renovated in 1844. It has 3-m. thick walls and is the only church not built in the espadana style. Its separate fortress-like campanile, the only one in the province, has a crenellated top. Near the church is the Honesty Coffee Shop, perhaps the only one of its kind in the country. Nobody tends to the store but a plaque inside is inscribed with the words “The Lord is My Security Guard.” Here, we picked out soft drinks and snacks from the shelf, listed them in a logbook and dropped our payment into a box.

The hilltop Radar Tukon, about 300 m. above sea level, was formerly a prewar US weather station that presently houses the PAGASA Radar Station where typhoons are monitored. The hill offers a magnificent view of Batan Island, the South China Sea and Mt. Iraya. Also nearby is the beautiful house cum gallery-museum of the late great Ivatan artist Pacita Abad. We also passed by the old LORAN Station and the ruins of Songsong, a cluster of roofless old stone houses of a once-thriving community of fishermen that was abandoned in 1955. Some of the ruins are now being restored while others are already inhabited.

Along the Vajangshin Road, we passed by the Dipnaysujuan Tunnels, an abandoned Japanese-built World War II network of 8-ft. high and 6-ft. wide bat-filled tunnels. Finally, on the way back to Basco, we also passed by an idjang, one of 17 throughout the province, a rocky castle-like natural fortress where pre-Hispanic Ivatans lived.

Quiet Moments

MY quieter moments, come late afternoon, were spent hiking up the Naidi Hills, northwest of Basco proper. Here, I had a unique view of Baluarte Bay, Basco, mist-shrouded Mt. Iraya, the sunset and the rolling hills. The hills used to be the site of the country’s tallest wireless communications facility, bombed by the Japanese planes on December 8, 1941. Only the base remains. Also on the hill are the damaged buildings that used to house the communications facilities. The hill is now home to a new four-storey lighthouse and grazing cattle.

I attended mass at the lovely Church of Sto. Domingo de Basco, the oldest in Batanes. First built from 1787 to 1796, one of the first limestone buildings to be built under the Spanish regime, it was destroyed during a typhoon and rebuilt in 1812 by Dominican friars. Its façade fell to the ground during the 2000 earthquake. The present white Baroque church, built in the espadana style, has massive pilasters buttressing the thick walls from foundation to top. It incorporates the original front and north walls while the rear and south walls are inside the original ruins. The convent beside the church was built in 1814.

On the day prior to my departure, I joined a picnic by the beach hosted by youthful Basco Mayor Manuel Viola, feasting on true Ivatan seafood fare consisting of spiny lobster (payi), coconut crabs (tatus), flying fish (dibang) and Spanish mackerel (tanigi), complemented by delicioussupas rice cooked with yellow ginger (turmeric), all these served on leaves of a local breadfruit tree called kabaya. I also watched in envy as Ms. Carol Pobre of the Cagayan Tourism Office, accompanied by advanced open water diver Mr. Francis “Chico” Domingo, explored the offshore marine sanctuary’s beautiful underwater scenery and marine life. However, my disappointment was later dispelled by a most beautiful Batanes sunset.

The Bounty of Baler

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Baler, the provincial capital and center for trade and industry of Aurora province, found itself back in the radar recently when a namesake movie won as Best Picture and a host of other awards in last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, its plot based on the 337-day (June 27, 1898-June 2, 1899) siege of its Spanish garrison by Filipino rebels.

When the garrison finally surrendered (the last to do so in the country), Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, in admiration, declared, on June 30 (now Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day), that the remaining 33 Spanish soldiers were not to be imprisoned but honored as friends. Me and my family watched the movie and, being actually filmed on
location, I was also impressed by its rugged scenery and decided to visit it. I did so on Holy Week. With me were my two kids, Jandy and Cheska, plus lady friends Ms. Lourdes “Lulu” Siguenza and Ms. Rosevie “Vi” Sevilla.

As we left Manila in the evening, we decided to stay overnight at San Leonardo (Nueva Ecija). From Cabanatuan City (where we visited Camp Pangatian, a World War II prisoner-of-war camp), Baler can be reached via the Baler-Bongabon (Nueva Ecija) Road and the longer Pantabangan-Canili Road. As the former was impassable during the rainy season, we opted for the latter.  Along this route, we made photo-op stopovers at Pantabangan Lake and the Canili-Diayo Dam. Upon entering Aurora and Maria Aurora town, we visited Balete Park and its 500-year-old, 49-m. high balete tree, Southeast Asia’s largest (it takes 40 people to encircle it) and oldest (dubbed by locals as the “Millennium Tree”).  One can also enter the hollow interior of the tree where once another tree clung to and killed by the balete tree.

We arrived in Baler at about 3 pm of Holy Thursday and decided to visit its Museo de Baler and the small but venerable San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Church, the site of the siege. Baler also happens to be the birthplace (August 19, 1878) of Commonwealth Pres. Manuel L. Quezon (his sitting bronze statue and a replica of his house prominently located in the plaza), his wife Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon (February 19, 1888), after whom the province was named, and UP president and Sen. Edgardo J. Angara (September 24, 1934). On the left side of the church is a marker, installed in 1931, to commemorate the capture of Lt. Cmdr. James C. Gilmore and 16 American Marines of the US gunboat Yorktown who attempted to relieve the Spanish garrison.

As it was the holidays, Baler was packed with tourists. Anticipating this, I brought along my new Coleman five-person tent and we just camped beside a rented picnic hut along Sabang Beach. Long before the movie, Baler was already known as one of the country’s top five surfing areas, its tall waves “artificially” created when the town’s engineers opened the mouth of Baler Bay to the town’s river to prevent flooding during the rainy season. The clashing waters coming from the river and the Pacific formed strong, sharp break waves that now provide an exhilarating high among experienced surfers. The best waves come in from October to March when the northeast monsoon blows down from China but surfing waves are present all year-round, even during our visit. My kids, as well as Lulu, opted to take some surfing lessons (PhP350/pax) while Vi, an avid photographer, took pictures. I stayed behind to watch the fort.

The next day, after breakfast, we packed up our tent and belongings and decided to do some sightseeing. First on our itinerary was the Ermita Park in Brgy. Zabal. It has a huge cross (lit at night), picnic huts and an excellent view of Baler, the Sierra Madre Mountains, Cemento and Sabang Beach, Lukso-Lukso (a rock formation), and the offshore islands of Dimadimalangat and Aniao. We next visited the islands. Dimadimalangat Island, off the reef shore, is a rock formation approachable during low tide. It serves as a point identifying the southernmost tip of Baler Bay. During the calm months of April to June, the place becomes a haven for wall divers. It is also a good dive and snorkeling site.  The Aniao Islands, located further south, are two small but imposing islands that are a habitat for kingfishers, gulls and even hawks. Its peaks are a challenge for rock climbers.

After sightseeing, we went back to the town proper to look for proper accommodation. Luck was with us as the spanking-new Carlito’s Inn had a vacant air-con room which we promptly took. Soon after, I got a call from Senator Angara’s secretary approving our request to visit his resthouse along Dicasalarin Cove in nearby San Luis town. Come morning and after breakfast, we proceeded to the Fish Port at Cemento, our pick-up point. Normally, it would be a rough 45-min. outrigger boat ride to Dicasalarin from Sabang. However, we got there in less than half the time via the senator’s speedboat. The resthouse was a short hike from the beach and, upon arrival, we were billeted in one of the cottages. We were later welcomed by the senator himself. After a delicious lunch with him at the cabana, we decided to explore the grounds (including its quaint Ifugao-themed cottage). Then, with some guides, we explored the cove itself, its beauty as rough as the crashing waves of the Pacific. On the right side of a peninsula is a sea-sculpted cave while offshore is Birhen Island, a rock formation sculpted by natural erosion to resemble the figure of the Blessed Virgin praying amid the waves.

On our way back, we climbed a steep imposing hill, site of a future lighthouse. After this exhausting climb, we capped our visit with a frolic at the beach.

Bucolic, Brave and Beautiful Sabtang

Beautiful Morong Beach and Ahaw Rock

The third day of my five-day stay in Batanes was reserved for a visit to the 40.67-sq. km., beautiful, mountainous and extremely rugged Sabtang Island. According to a coffee table book published by the DOT in 1994, Sabtang Island was chosen as one of the 12 best destinations in the country. Of course, my interest was piqued. Having left Mama Lily’s Inn very early in the morning, I was able to hitch a ride, via Gov. Vicente Gato’s van, to Radiwan Port in Ivana, the gateway to the island. I was to travel with distinguished company. Joining me in the falowa (a round-bottomed boat) for the nearly 1-hour, 5-km. and fairly rough crossing across the Ivana Channel was Gov. Gato himself and Cong. Henedina Razon-Abad (wife or former Education Secretary and Cong. Florencio “Butch” Abad), both inaugurating a school library on the island, plus guests Carol Pobre and  Bing Talla, both of Cagayan Tourism Office, and Margarita Garcia, a Fil-American Fullbright scholar teaching art to Ivatan schoolchildren.

A Brave New World

Sabtang’s beautiful shoreline is similar to Batan Island, having intermittent white sand beaches, deep canyons, sand dunes that rise up to a 100 ft. and steep, 200-350-m. high mountains that run down the island’s spine, making the island slope outward to the coast. Small level areas are sporadically found along the northeast coastline and mountains have to be terraced to accommodate communities. The only town, the picturesque Sabtang, is located on the island’s eastern seaboard. The waters around the islands are said to have one of the richest fishing grounds in all of Batanes.

The Spanish-era Church of San Vicente Ferrer

The island’s people, the Isabtangs, are one of a kind. Friendly, hardworking and honest like any Ivatan, they are also a brave bunch, having a history of resistance against Spanish and, later, Japanese invaders. About 150 Isabtangs, led by Kenan (a.k.a. Aman Dangat), mangpus (tribal leader) of Malakdang, rose in revolt one moonless night in September 1791, crossed the treacherous sea to attack the Spanish mission house on Batan Island, killing seven non-Ivatan agents of the Spanish government who poached fruits and timber from Sabtang without payment. Aman Dangat was later hanged and the natives of Sabtang were exiled to the districts of San Felix and San Vicente in Ivana for the next 50 years (1791-1841). Sabtang was also home of the Bisumi Guerrilla Fighters, the province’s only organized guerrilla outfit that fought the Japanese during World War II. More than 200 years after Aman Dangat’s death, the Isabtang’s undiminished resolve to defend and protect their land is still evident in their fight against encroaching foreign fishing vessels.

A Travel Back in Time

It seems one half of the island’s 1,678 Isabtang population came out to greet our party upon our arrival. I, however, mistook the town’s parish priest for the mayor but soon corrected myself and paid my respects to the boyish-looking Mayor Juan “Johnny” Caballero, smartly attired in a Hawaiian-style polo shirt. The blessing soon got underway. Once through, Mayor Caballero allowed me the use of the town’s Toyota Revo plus the services of driver Rolando Fidel to tour the island’s many sights. Before leaving, I dropped by the San Vicente Ferrer Church, a relic of the island’s tumultuous Spanish past. Started in 1844, this Church was built in the espadana style (having two round arches at the roof level for the bells).

Along the road to Savidug, Fidel pointed out, from a distance, a picturesque idjang, a pre-Hispanic mountain fortress where the natives sought refuge during tribal conflicts. This idjang is distinctly different from all the others in the province because its sides were carved to make entry more difficult. Upon reaching the showcase barangay of Savidug, our Revo had to negotiate a narrow road between rows of traditional lime and stone cogon-thatched houses. Alighting here, I explored the village on foot, espying one of the barangay’s two (there are only three left throughout Batanes) animal-driven sugar mills that churn out a native wine called palek.

A scenic, winding road next leads us to the equally rustic village of Chavayan and its landmark Chapel of Santa Rosa de Lima, the only house of worship on the islands that is still in its traditional form. Here, I observed, on another walking tour, the traditional detached Ivatan kitchen as well as glimpses of the Ivatan way of life including the making of the vakul or canayi, a headgear woven by the womenfolk from carefully stripped and dried banana or voyavoy leaves. I also observed up close 99-year-old Ireneo Hornedo weave an alogong, a men’s headgear that normally goes along with the canayi. Before leaving, we were requested to look up into the cliff and make out Mother Nature’s most perfect sculpture: the phallic-looking Monument of Satisfaction.

Back at the town proper, I was invited by Mayor Caballero to join his esteemed guests in a true Ivatan feast consisting of delicious supas rice cooked with yellow ginger (turmeric), spiny lobster (payi), coconut crabs (tatus), flying fish (dibang), Spanish mackerel (tanigi) and uvod (mixed deboned fish and core of banana steamed with local herbs). Instead of plates, we ate this unique fare on leaves of a local breadfruit tree called kabaya.

I still had time to spare before taking the last falowa back to the mainland so I decided to make a quick visit to Brgy. Sumnanga. Inaccessible by the Revo, I hired the services of Alex Habana, using his motorcycle to get there. I had no time to explore on foot the barangay proper, a portion of which used to be called “Little Hong Kong” because of the cobblestones that used to cover its pathways. I, however, visited the white sand Morong Beach, its sea-sculpted cave and its landmark Ahaw Rock Arch. On the way back, I also dropped by the new lighthouse.

Carcar: A Gem of a Town

Charlie Kemplin, president of United Tourist Promotions, the makers of EZ Maps, and I were just about finished mapping (using the Global Positioning Satellite or GPS technology) a substantial part of the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (we covered up to Dumaguete City) and we decided to get some much-needed R&R at Cebu City. We left Dumaguete after lunch and drove our 1994 Ford Explorer 5.5 kms. north to Sibulan’s Looc Pier, where a Roll-on Roll-off ferry would take us and the car over to Brgy. Mainit in Cebu. We left 1:30 pm and arrived at our destination by 2:15 pm.

From thereon, we would have to drive the remaining 117 kms. up to Cebu City. This we did at a leisurely pace, making stopovers to admire the Church of Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria in Boljo-on, now a national cultural treasure. Another stopover, for merienda, was made at Jollibee in Carcar, 40.3 kms. (a 1-hr. drive) from Cebu City. It just rained, but this didn’t stop me from exploring Cebu’s version of a “heritage town” in detail. Just outside, a wonderful round kiosk from the American era greeted me, valiantly standing proud, amid large offending billboards, at the center of the Carcar Rotunda. It is one of the best surviving examples of its genre in the country.

This 96.1-sq. km. junction town is also a crossroad leading to Sibonga to the south, Barili to the west, and San Fernando to the north. Two southbound roads leave Carcar—one to Moalboal, Badian, Matotinao and towns further south, while the other connects to Dalaguete, Oslob and towns located on Cebu’s south tip. Its 89,199 (2000 figure, spread out in 15 barangays) Carcaranons engage in blacksmithing and the making of footwear and native delicacies such as ampao (sweetened and crispy rice crunchies), bucarillo(colored coconut candy) and chicharon (pork skin cracklings). Tacoy (sweet pomelos) are also grown here.

POSTCARD-PRETTY

A CAKE-LIKE kiosk standing proud amid offending billboards

The town’s affluence during the Spanish colonial era is still evident in its sprawling plaza and its surviving large and small intricately decorated antique manors. Carcar is noted for its striking examples of preserved colonial architecture, both from the Spanish and American eras. The most notable structure is the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Muslims sacked and burned the town’s first convent and church around 1622. The present masonry church, probably the second or third church, was built on a hill for greater security. It was started by Fr. Antonio Manglano in 1860, continued by Fr. Gabriel Gonzalez in 1865 and completed (including the interior painting) by Fr. Manuel Fernandez Rubio in 1875. Its roof was blown away during the November 25, 1876, typhoon.

Its lovely and massive Graeco-Tuscan façade, with its strong Muslim influence, has a double recessed arched main entrance (similar to an iwan of a Middle Eastern mosque), a blind wheel rose window below the upper recessed arch (above it is a carved Augustinian symbol), spandrels with geometric flora and a Baroque pediment on a high entablature, which crowns the middle segment. The lower story is flanked by a one-story structure corresponding to the aisles flanking the 68-m. long, 22-m. wide and 12-m. high-main nave. Neo-Classical altars, a coffered ceiling and carved cherub heads located along the arcade separating the nave from the aisle embellish the Church’s interior. The church patio, surrounded by a low fence of coral stone and wrought iron, has statues of the 12 Apostles, all painted white, except for that of Judas (standing all alone on a pedestal in front of the convent), which is painted black.

The twin Muslim-like bell towers have solid geometric pylons which act as buttresses, and have no openings except at the third story where ogee arches are used for the bells. This level ends up in onion-shaped domes reminiscent of minarets. One of its bells bears the date 1810, suggesting that a church was already in place by the early 19th century. Fr. Manuel Fernandez Rubio also built the masonry and wood convent, established on May 23, 1559, under the advocacy of the Visitation of the Virgin. An independent structure separated from the church by a road, it measures 33 m. in front and 22 m. at the side.  The convent sank during the November 25, 1876, typhoon.

On the same hill as the church are the American-era Carcar Dispensary and St. Catherine’s Academy (founded in 1923). The façades of both are decorated with carved wooden gingerbread fretwork, cut out in the manner of Victorian houses and all looking as delicate as fragile heirloom lace that could flutter even with a slight breeze. At the foot of the hill is a small but imposing plaza decorated with statues.

Within the town are 46 quaint and antique ancestral houses called balay na bato (stone houses), some decorated with intricate lacy (calado) woodwork from the 1920s. This calado architecture, prevalent in Carcar, is unsurpassed in the country. A number of old houses, some older than the Church, are found at the foot of the hill. The Balay na Tisa (Don Ramon Sarmiento Manor), along Sta. Catalina St., alongside the Church, was built on February 2, 1859. Better known as Dakung Balay (the big house), it was so named after the material used for its construction (limestone blocks or tisa). This house is the first stone structure in Carcar and one of the town’s best and painstakingly restored ancestral houses.

Its original furniture (wooden poster beds, cabinets, tables and chairs), used by four generations of the Sarmiento clan, is still intact and functional. Also within are priceless antiques, including silver and ceramic dinnerware. The Sanchez house is younger by 17 years than the Balay na Tisa. The Silva house, designed by Benito Silva and Rev. Fr. Anastacio del Corro in 1883, was built with materials gathered from an old house in Naga and from the old del Corro house in Carcar.

Winds of Change in Batanes: Boon or Bane?

THE windswept rolling terrain of Naidi Hills and its stately lighthouse.

Breathtaking Batanes is unlike anything I have been used to in a sprawling metropolis. Crime, like the traffic and its dust and pollution, is almost nonexistent. No drugs, no smuggling, no kidnapping. Here, they leave the doors of houses open all day (and even at night). Here, I can sleep overnight in the park or along the shore without fear of mugging. Bikes, scooters and occasional jeepneys and tricycles are the only means of transportation. There are no rich or poor; no squatters or beggars. The brilliance of the moon, the stars and even some of the planets are not blocked by smog or glaring neon lights. The air I inhaled, as well as the fish, fruits, vegetables and meat I ate were fresh, with no preservatives added. I can also drink directly from the faucet without fear. The “ordinary” food fare I ate consisted of spiny lobster (payi), coconut crabs (tatus), flying fish (dibang) and Spanish mackerel (tanigi), complemented by delicious yellow rice (supas), all served on leaves of a local bread fruit tree called kabaya.

Everybody is likely to know everybody and youngsters here are respectful. Ivatans take hospitality to its highest level, welcoming the ipula (outsider) with open doors and a Sumdep kamu (“Please come in”) or greet him with a Kapian ka nu Dios (“May God be with you”). The traditional community spirit or bayanihan (locally called yaru) remains high here. There are no moviehouses, no bars or beer joints, no markets (food is sold door-to-door) or shopping centers. After sunset, the streets are unlit and practically empty.  This 10-island mini-archipelago is also a study in contrast. It is the smallest province in terms of area and population yet the literacy rate and professional education index among Ivatans is a high 95 percent.  Truly like the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, or the Shangri-La in The Lost Horizon.  However, change came in the form of a 24-hour power source, cable TV, cell sites and Internet access.

Such a province, with its landscape of unsurpassed beauty, needs to be preserved. On January 5, 2001, by virtue of Republic Act No. 8991, the islands were proclaimed a protected area by the DENR. Recently, the UNESCO listed Batanes as the country’s sixth World Heritage site due to its mix of unique and ancient archeology and architecture. The listing could help raise awareness about the preservation of the heritage sites and local authorities may receive financial assistance or expert advice from Unesco on ways to maintain the site.

As a result of the listing, Batanes’ reputation as a new frontier tourist destination has grown but this has been greeted with mixed feelings by the local government. The number of local and foreign tourist arrivals has increased, providing additional revenues as professional employment opportunities here are scarce. However, these same tourists may overwhelm preservation sites such as pre-Hispanic burial sites and idjangs and the traditional houses. Gov. Vicente Gato hopes that from this listing, the national government, as well as other groups, will provide more assistance and endowments or grants to preserve these fragile Ivatan sites. If the governor would have his way, he prefers quality tourists who appreciate Ivatan culture or those who would help preserve this heritage. Besides, Batanes’ existing tourism infrastructure simply can’t support and accommodate too many tourists.

What has made Batanes so deserving of such an honor?  For one, Batanes is unique among Philippine provinces. The people (the honest, hardy and inscrutable Ivatans trace their roots to prehistoric Formosan immigrants with their almond eyes and latter-day Spaniards with their aquiline noses), the language (the Ivatan dialect is peppered with pidgin Spanish and spoken with the tonal musicality of the Chinese language), the weather (generally cooler, balmier and quite windy with practically 4 seasons including a “winter”), the crafts, and even the boats used (the wide, round-bottomed, bathtub-shaped and plank-built boat called falowa and not thebanca is used) are all different.

The Ivatan’s ingeniously designed, typhoon-resistant houses (locally called sinandumparan) are found all over the province and nowhere else (the lowland bahay kubo simply will not survive here). These squat, low, solid stone-and-lime cottages, not unlike those in the Scottish Highlands or France’s Provencal region, have meter-thick walls, are built directly to the ground and are laid out on narrow, cobbled streets that follow the contour of the land. They are cool during the warm season and warm in the cold months.
The gabled roofs have foot-thick cogon tightly bound and woven together to make it waterproof and fastened with reeds to sturdy wooden rafters. The roof is held down by a panpet (a thick rope roof net) fastened to strong pegs on large, half-buried stones. The small, narrow door faces the east or northeast, away from the worst typhoon winds.  Tiny, square windows are located on three walls only.  The wall that doesn’t have it faces the direction of the strongest winds during typhoons.

One such house, the House of Dakay, the oldest in Batanes, is included on the Unesco list and expected for grading. Now resided in by octogenarian Florestida Estrella, it was built in 1887 by Jose Dacay (Florestida’s grandfather). The friendly Florestida, with her easy smile and weather-beaten face, was formerly only used to a quiet village existence. Now, her tiny world has been opened to many foreign and local tourists who take her picture, making her the subject of many articles, postcards and promotional calendars. Florestida keeps a blue logbook containing the names of visitors over the past years.

Like Florestida, the Ivatan’s tiny world may soon be open to tourism. Let’s just hope it doesn’t destroy the very character that made it known in the first place.

Puerto Galera: The Sparkling Gem of Mindoro

Long before Boracay became a byword on the tourism calendar and highway, Puerto Galera was already a traveler’s “must-see” destination. It certainly was to me and I have been there a couple to times before, all via jeepney from Calapan City (a 45-min.fast-ferry or 2.5-hour slow-ferry ride from Batangas City). Getting there from Calapan (a 49-km. drive), then and now, was always a thrill as our jeepney negotiated its dusty, Kennon-like zigzag roads (Puerta Galera is considered the “Little Baguio” of Mindoro) and steep ravines.

The 254.47-sq. km. (spread out in 19 barangays) Puerto Galera is located on a Y-shaped peninsula on the northwestern tip of Mindoro Island. This popular tourist destination has numerous fine beaches with sheltered coves beneath a green mountainous backdrop of the 1,086-m. high Mt. Alinyaban, 1,185-m. high Mt. Talipanan and 1,228-m. high Mt. Malasimbo, all rich in mineral deposits of marble, gold, lime and silica.
Tourism as well as mining and fishing are the chief means of livelihood of its 21,925 (2000 figure) people. Spreading out about 10 kms. around the coast is the Poblacion (town proper), the ferry dock and its excellent natural yacht harbor (effectively protected by Medio Island) at the mouth of picture-perfect Muelle Bay.

The Galleon’s Port

The town’s name was derived from the Spanish words meaning “Galleon’s Port,” Puerto Galera being a refilling station, typhoon shelter and repair area for galleons, as well as being the former provincial capital. Even up to today, the town is still noted for shipbuilding and repair.

The town was first discovered as a tourist destination in the late 1970s by backpackers and retirees. In 1974 the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program International selected the town as a nature research center. Also, that same year the town’s reefs were declared a marine sanctuary. It was also around this time that the media discovered the attractions of this town’s numerous coves, white-sand beaches and colorful coral gardens, and the place entered the mainstream of the country’s tourist destinations.

Today Puerto Galera is now a popular tourist destination, especially for divers. It is a superb place to learn to dive. Diving here is diverse and year-round. The best time to dive is from March to October. There are over 25 dive sites, equal to any in the world, within a 30-min. banca ride, with visibility ranging from 18 to 30 meters. The main diving area is a short distance along the coast beneath the lighthouse on Escarceo Point (or Lighthouse Point). There are two recommended dive sites: the Canyons and Shark Caves. There are dive operators in seven beaches, all having a very high standard of professionalism.

Beaches Galore

There are at least 13 superb connected beaches that have been developed for tourism within 7 km or so of the town. The less well-developed beaches from White Beach to Talipanan in the west are favored by those seeking seclusion and peace and quiet. The more populous and better-developed beaches are on the east side. They offer accommodations of various standards, from simple nipa huts to medium-standard air-conditioned bungalows.

Sabang Beach, in Brgy. Sabang, has the most developed resorts. It offers a good choice of restaurants, discos and watersports facilities. Small La Laguna Beach, also in Brgy. Sabang, is fairly quiet and cozy and has good diving and snorkeling facilities. This beach also attracts a lot of backpackers and other budget travelers who like to stay a long time in Puerto Galera. Aniuan Beach and Talipanan Beach are two of the quietest beaches in the town.

The Popular Choice

White Beach, located 6 kms. from the poblacion, is my personal favorite. One time, I brought along my daughter Cheska, as well as my friends Ms. Elvira “Lala” Mañanita, Ms. Myrna Samson and Mr. Eleser “Ely” Borero, entering (and later exiting) Puerto Galera via a big outrigger boat which landed directly on White Beach. This beach’s broad, 1-km. long white-sand beach is immensely popular with local tourists, so much so that during our overnight stay here we had to camp outside Lenly Resort as all resorts were fully booked then, it being a weekend. It’s a good thing we brought along tents for this purpose.

Dining here was no problem as we had dozens of choices on where to eat; from native fast-food stalls and snack bars to excellent establishments serving international dishes.
Virtually all the large resorts run their own restaurants. In our case, it being a campout, we did some cooking of our own, buying the freshest catch of the day and then cooking it over a rented grill. Nights are never lonely at this time and the beach has a fiesta atmosphere, filled with people playing beach volleyball, bar-hopping or simply just sitting or lying on the sand, feeling the gentle breeze even up to the wee hours of the morning.

We also made an excursion to the 131-m. -high Tamaraw Waterfalls, the largest waterfall in the province. Visible along the road going to Calapan City (15 kms. away), Tamaraw Falls is in Brgy. Villaflor, beside the fittingly named Waterfall Bridge. The cool, clear waters of its three natural swimming pools, all set in different levels, provide a welcome relief for our tired, beat-up and dusty bodies. The area is developed and a number of picnic tables and bathing facilities have been provided, all set amid lush surroundings.