Unspoiled Calaguas

Part of my itinerary during my first week of February visit to Camarines Norte was to camp overnight at the famed Calaguas Islands, a group of 17 islands northeast of Daet under the jurisdiction of the town of Vinzons.  This was not to be as three days of continuous rain prevented us from doing so.  Two months later, I was again invited back in the province during the peak of summer, covering the 4th Bagasbas Summer Festival in Daet (held in line with the province-wide Bantayog Festival, the provincial foundation day) with travel blogger and good friend Mark Vincent Nunez.  This time the weather was perfect, with bright sunshine, clear skies and calm seas, and Mark and I were again invited by Provincial Tourism Officer Atty. Debbee Francisco to visit these islands  famed for their Boracay-like (minus the commercial development) white sand beaches.

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Aside from, Debbee and Mr. Amable Miranda, a member of her staff, the boatmen and ABC TV 5 crew Ms. Justine Santos and cameramen Mr. Amor Casiano and Mr. Dencio Suing; Mark and I were joined by participants of the summer surf festival who availed of the special, hassle-free participant’s price of PhP1,350 per person (normal rates range between PhP1,800-2,300) which included the boat ride to and from the island, tents and two meals (dinner and breakfast) with snacks. They include Ms. Joie Lacson, Ms. Iya Yujuico, Ms. Katrina Cruz, Ms. Lei Reinares and Mr. Philipp Cabales of www.pakyaw.com; Mr. Arnel Pahuway of World Vision; and Mr. Darryll Montebon of Jubilee Christian Academy.

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From Daet, we all boarded a van for the short 38-km. drive to Paracale fish port, arriving there by 2:30 PM.  Here, we all boarded a large, 25-pax outrigger boat chartered for us.  Provisions for our overnight stay were loaded as well.  The boat ride took all of two hours, passing by, and viewing from afar, a number of rocky outcrops and beautiful islands with patches of white sand.  We landed on a beautiful cove called Mahabang Buhangin (loosely translated as “long sand”) at the 8 km. long Tinaga Island, the most frequented camping and swimming site for tourists.

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The beach was everything it was hyped up to be: powdery fine and gently sloping white sand, crystal clear waters and blue skies.The beach front, however, are not without owners and one of them is Dr. Orlando Sacay, owner of Waling-Waling-Waling Beach Hotel in Boracay.  Luckily, the owners have refrained from setting up resorts on the island opting, instead, to leave it in its pristine state, possibly because of the great distance of the island from the mainland and the absence of electricity and a substantial water supply.  The island, though, has a village (Barangay Mangcawayan), about a kilometer hike, through a thick forest, to the other side of the island.  Here, you can buy basic supplies.  What it lacks in utilities the island more than makes up with its great beauty and quiet surroundings.  The cool sand was as fine, if not finer, than the powdery white sand of Boracay.

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It was now late in the afternoon (4:45 PM) when we landed on the island and, once the provisions were landed, we all set up our respective dome tents in a shaded area, Mark and I staying in one of the seven tents provided for us.  A comfortable hammock was already in place between two trees.  As the beach faced the west, we were in for a magnificent sunset show.  After a delicious dinner of grilled fish and chicken, we all shared a good chat and laughs while toasting marshmallows over a bonfire. Later, Mark, Amable and I walked along the beach, amply lit by moonlight.  It was already late in the night when we decided to call it a day and retire to our tents, sleeping to the sound of sea waves and cooled by a gentle ocean breeze.

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Come morning, we awoke to a delicious Filipino breakfast, prepared by Amable (it was his birthday that day), of fried rice, fried egg, hot coffee and crispy dilis (anchovies) and espadawhich we all indulged in, kamayan style.   Dabbing on a lot of sunblock, we all savored the sand, sun and sea, doing snorkeling, sunbathing as well as swimming.  Later, some of us tried to burn our excess calories by walking along the beach and then climbing, along a well-marked trail, up a nearby, moderately-sloped hill.   The view up there was truly fantastic, with a bird’s eye view of Mahabang Buhangin Beach on one side and the nearby islands on the other side.  A photographer’s dream, it was truly beauty from every camera angle.

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Our cameras also espied boatloads of tourists coming in from the mainland, it being a Sunday weekend.  It somehow signaled to us that it was time to go and, it was with deep regret that we went down the hill.  Back on the beach, many boats were now unloading their cargo of tourists, surfer friend Mr. Oween Andrade and his family among them, plus their provisions.  It was just fitting that we left by 10 AM, giving up our campsite to these tourists, as we wanted to avoid the influx of this maddening crowd out to savor what we have felt, minus the solitude.  Thus, we left the island with bittersweet memories, hoping one day to again savor its beauty.

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