Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wow Philippines! * Surviving Caramoan (March 2011)

Caramoan is known for the beautiful islands in the Philippines where the Survivor TV Series is being shot.  We've been hearing all about this and this time, we had the opportunity to visit the place.  This is one of the places that few people would really go visit, till tourism was boosted because of the TV series.  So you would expect the natural beauty of the place still pretty much intact.  And because of this, you would also expect less modern facilities and amenities.  At this point, I can say that it still maintains its natural beauty.  As much as I like traveling and exploring places like this, I do hope that they maintain the natural beauty and not exploit it.  This place you can probably compare to how Palawan and Boracay used to be years ago, before commercialism invaded it.

The trip was not an easy one to take.  The jump off point is Naga City.  By land from Naga City to the Naga Sabang Port is about 1.5 hours.  And then, we would hop on the ferry from Sabang Port to Guijalo Port in Caramoan, which would take about 2 hours.  The ferry was really a big wooden motor banca, it probably carried about 30-40 people.  There is usually a prescribed schedule but it rarely follows it.  On the way to Caramoan, it was pretty much delayed for 30 minutes.  But it was not crowded, compared to the way back where we were packed like sardines.  The ride wasn't too bad, since we were running pretty much beside a bunch of green mountains all the way.  To our surprise though, we saw a group of mountains covered under fog, which is not a usual sight in the Philippines.  Because it was a rainy week, the mountains looked like China's Guilin or Vietnam's Halong Bay.  Quite cool!

Anyway, for the rest of the trip, the sound of the motor drowns out the sound of the waves, and we could find ourselves falling asleep.  Maybe also because we got up very early that morning to start our trip.  After two hours, we finally arrived, and to our  surprise, we realized that our ferry could not go near the port, the waves were also crashing on to the steps on the port.  Then we saw a large number of small bancas which is meant to ferry us from the big boat to the port.  Ok, so my question is how do we get down to the small bancas from the ferry?  Simple, we climb out to sit on the narrow bamboo outriggers on the side of the ferry, then just slide our butts down and hope that we end up standing on the banca instead of in the water, hahaha.  Then we sit and the banca ferries us over to the port.  I've ridden on small bancas but I've never transferred myself from a bigger ferry that way, hahaha.

Anyway, as we arrived, we were met by our guide.  And we took a large tricycle (it could sit 6-8 passengers) on a 15-minute ride to the tourist inn.  We didn't know what to expect really, but I knew it was going to be basic accommodations.  We passed by the main local town road where lots of houses and small stores are located.  Finally, we turned into what looked like somebody's house.  Oh, this was our resort.  On the far end, you can see several rooms and then the garden.  And on the front was the dining area.  Suddenly, I remembered my trip to Cambodia, this was going to feel like a homestay, haha.  But, nothing to worry about, I was more worried about my companions, but we all got into the experience pretty quickly.  There were a total of 6 rooms already in operation, and another 4 being built.  The place was new and clean, so we were pretty happy with it.  We had two double beds, which fit us 3 pretty comfortably.  There was airconditioning and TV.  And we had a small porch at the entrance of the room.  Cozy!

First things first, it was around 11am, so we decided to have our lunch before going out to the islands.  Lunch was included in our package, and we were happy to learn that it was home cooked food.  Well, home cooked quality food!  We had large prawns in our sinigang soup, and also freshly cooked lapu lapu.  Instantly, we knew the food here would be great. We were kinda worried at first since it was included in the package and normally, this would be very minimal.  We later learned that the father does the cooking himself, and he used to be a chef in a restaurant.  The inn is family run, they had a caretaker who does the housekeeping, the father cooks, the mother helps out after teaching in school, and the daughter handled the sales.  We also had our town tour guide who practically accompanied us all the time.

After lunch, we headed out to the port where we would hop onto our boat for island visits.  We noticed a lot of mangroves in the area, and it was really nice to see something different.  It seems the place is full of lush greeneries.  Although Bicol is prone to typhoons, this place is quite stable in terms of the weather.  So rains do not pour down as much as other areas of the typhoon-prone Bicol region.  No wonder, the natural resources look so rich here.  More foggy mountains along the area, and for an instant there, I was a bit worried about the large waves.  It was actually kinda strange because there will be small patches that would have larger waves then just beside it, the waters are calm.  It's probably because of the rocks below are uneven which causes the waves to flow in unevenly.  Anyway, first stop was the famous Matukad Island where the Survivor TV series was most often shot.  It was a small isolated twin island where the sands are the whitest and the island filled with limestones and green lush trees and plants.  Although we did not manage to hike especially due to the wet weather, you could actually hike up the limestone formations and head to the lagoon nearby and find milkfishes.  We also found some unique plants which are only found in islands beside the sea.  Beautiful and all natural!

After that, we hopped back on the boat to see Gota Island, home of the famous resort, and the only upscale resort in the area.  Basically, it houses cottages where you can stay and pretty much enjoy the island without going out. Though more popular, it is said that the island does not really have its own white sands.  They had ferried the white sands from Matukad Island over to make it look better.  I guess the reason they chose this island was because it was much bigger.  We begin to see signs of commercialism here as they now charge you 300 pesos just to visit the island.  We visited a couple more tiny islands which look pretty much the same, but you can get the feel that you're really far away from civilization.  Except for Gota, there were no facilities in the islands.  Everything is natural.

As we hopped on the boat, I slipped and brought home a souvenir - a sprained ankle!  Luckily, there was no fracture, but I had a hard time walking.  So back at the inn, I nurtured my ankle with some ice to stop the swelling.  Our guide was a reflexologist so she knew what to do.  Lucky for me!  Interestingly enough, she taught me a trick, to roll my feet on an empty coke bottle as a form of massage.  Well, it helped a bit.  At least, I was confident now that it was only a sprain.  But more painful than ever was my middle toe on my left foot which hit the corner of the wooden post on the boat.  Pity my toe!

Well, so far, so good.  I could still walk, but with some difficulty of course.  I managed to go on the second day of island hopping.  The boatman was laughing at me but was glad to see me still able to continue.  This time, I see a rubber matting on the floor of the boat, haha.  Well, at least they're doing something about it.

Today, the waters were much calmer.  But we can still see the foggy mountains on the east side, where Matukad Island is.  Anyway, on we headed to the North, and the boat ride took more than an hour, since we wanted to go to the farthest one first.  When we finally arrived, we asked ourselves whether we were still in the Philippines, hahaha.  It felt like we were in a different country by now, hehe.  Anyway, our first stop was Cotivas Island, a small island with white sands and great views.  There was a small sandbar in the area.  We just stopped to take some photos and immediately headed to Manlawe Island, where we would swim, snorkle and have lunch.  I loved Manlawe Island, it was actually a very large sandbar, so the water was really just ankle high for the most part.  In the middle of the sandbar were a handful of very basic huts where people can rest and have lunch.  It took us a good 10-20 minutes just to walk around the island, and we didn't even get to the end.  The rain began to fall, and we really felt like we were in the Survivor set, haha.  We were in our orange life vests walking around the island while the rain fell on us.  We took quite a lot of pictures here, then headed back near the boat where it was a little bit deeper.  We It was still too shallow to swim though so we just sat around and waded in the water, which was a nice and relaxing time.  Suddenly, you forget about everything else and just feel the moment where you're doing nothing and just sitting on the sandbar in the middle of nowhere, under the rain.  Later on, we saw quite a lot of sea weeds and some interesting shapes, so it was time to test our underwater cameras.  Then it was time for lunch, so we headed back to the boat and had our packed lunch, again home cooked yummy laing, grilled tanguigue, chicken tinola and some alamang.

The last island we visited was Sabitang Laiya island.  This time, we had an opportunity to do some snorkeling.  I didn't bring a snorkle but I had my goggles which was a good alternative.  I had my life vest anyway, so I can always get up and get some air while floating around.  This time, we saw some big corals and lots of tiny fishes.  After some snorkeling, we headed to the other side of the island where we see the Sabitang Laiya rock.  The sun was starting to come out by this time, but it was almost time to go.  With 30 minutes to spare, we enjoyed the clear waters along that side.

Again, on these islands, it was all natural, no facilities, and thus, you see their natural beauty.  That's what makes Caramoan a natural beauty.  And there were still so many islands that we hadn't visited, since we didn't have much time.  But we got to see the best ones, which was enough for a short trip.

Lucky for me, my sprained ankle didn't bother me that much that day.  I guess it's because I was under water most of the time, and moving my ankle gradually does not really hurt.  It is when I would put my weight on my feet that I would feel the pain.  I got to exercise my feet a bit, which I think avoided the swelling.

The ferry back from Guijalo Port to Sabang Port was full this time.  The sun was peeking out more this time, and we get to see less of the foggy mountains, but instead lush green ones - a nice alternative.  As we arrived Sabang, we noticed again that the ferry wasn't going to dock near the port.  Here, it wasn't small bancas to ferry us to land, but instead human carriers.  They would sit us in their shoulders and carry us to shore.  I saw something like this before in Boracay, and I would rather step down on the water than be carried, haha. But this time, I had no choice, because the water was pretty deep and I was dressed to get back home and not go to the beach. I was worried about two things, that I would be too heavy for them and that I would not be able to balance, hehe.  Well, I immediately learned that they could carry guys who are bigger than I am, so one less worry.  As I climbed down the plank, large waves banged towards the shore, and the guy told me to time it.  What?  Uh!  Anyway, he prodded me to take another step down, and I did after the big wave passed.  He immediately sat me on his shoulders, and I didn't even have time to worry.  I just concentrated on keeping my balance, haha.  Well, that was a scary but interesting experience!  Only in the Philippines! :-)

Anyway, I survived Caramoan!

On our way back to the airport, we had to stop by Bob Marlin in Naga City for lunch.  They had the yummiest crispy pata I've had so far, and they're still good!  A great way to end a trip!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Highlight * Survivor Country * Wow Philippines! * Caramoan, Bicol (March 2011)

Last year, a couple of friends and I visited Caramoan and stayed for 2 nights. During this visit, we spent a day and a half hopping on to the many different islands in the area and got a glimpse of the places where some of the episodes of the popular TV show Survivor was shot.

On the 2nd day, it was raining as we hopped onto Manlawe Island, which has a large sandbar. Several isolated huts including the one in the photo sit in the middle. The rain made us feel like we were actually a part of the Survivor show, haha!

Islands we visited:
- Matukad - where the Survivor scenes were shot, natural white sands
- Gota - where the only upscale resort in the area now sits, bigger island although the locals say some of the white sand had to be transported from Matukad
- Cotivas - white sands
- Manlawe - large sandbar
- Sabitang Laiya - great snorkeling here

Also visit my blog post Surviving Caramoan

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wow Philippines! * Wakeboarding at CWC (March 2011)

I really couldn't imagine myself wakeboarding.  But this is probably one of the things I would like to do once in my life, haha.  You see, I'm not the athletic type, but somehow, I love the adventure of trying out things like that.  One of the fears I have is that I'm not really a good swimmer, so my natural instinct is to worry about how to survive a fall, rather than learning how to wakeboard, haha.  Secondly, I'm not exactly as young as I would want to be.  Most of the folks trying this are much much younger, hehe.

Anyway, as I said, it's one of those things I wanted to try once.  The main wakeboarding park was a large circular lake where you basically choose to wakeboard kneeling or standing and you're supposed to go around the lake again and again until you fall off.  I could already imagine falling off, then having to swim to the side, and worse, walking back to the main area carrying your wakeboard.  There is no easy way back, except not to fall off.  Well, that's surely a challenge.  So as soon as I saw this, I kinda changed my mind and thought of going to have a massage instead, hahaha.

But lo and behold, there was now a beginner's park, which basically holds a slower line and inclusive of an instructor.  And as if calling me, despite my quick turnaround, there was a class starting at 7:30pm in the evening, just less than an hour from now.  Okay, now, I think this is a sign.  I must try it, otherwise, I'll regret it.  I already came by once before on my last trip and also chickened out.  Instead, we just went to the floating obstacle course, which I know now, having tried wakeboarding, was a bigger challenge.  Anyway, that story later.

Try #1.  Fail!  Did I leave my wakeboard behind? Hahaha
So, we went to get our gear, basically a life vest and a helmet.  We then headed out to the other end of the park, which was more like 15 minutes away, and quite dark.  There we find a small rectangular pool of water and a wakeboarding line.  Ok, I wasn't too keen now.  It was dark and I didn't like the color of the water, hahaha.  Anyway, I began to remind myself that I will regret this if I didn't at least try.  So, the instructor began his lecture, which was really quite short.  The technique seemed quite easy, on the contrary to what we expected.  By the way, the class only involved wakeboarding standing up, no kneeling.  Anyhow, we later realized that it was probably much easier standing up.  So, he instructed us to sit down on the ledge, feet on the wakeboard, slightly elevated on the front, hold on to the line and do not pull, just follow the line.  Now, when the line pulls, just bend and let the line pull you.  Easy right? Well, doing it wasn't that easy.  I did it like 5 times, and everytime, I did not even pass 25% of the distance.  Our instructor kept on saying if we listen literally to what he says, we will learn.  There is no student that didn't learn, as per his recall.  Well, I may well be the first, haha.

Finally!  Success!
Then suddenly, on my sixth try, I finally got it.  And there, I knew my mistake.  I pulled.  This time, I just relaxed and gently stretched my arms straight.  This way, I didn't have the opportunity to pull, which is a normal instinct when you're being pulled by the line.  Success!  It felt great, and there was the adrenaline rush.  We were able to try a couple more times, some of which were successful and some not.  I think I probably did 4 runs fully, which was not bad, given that I had a difficult time at first.

Fear always gets the better of me, and if I trust myself more and just simplify things, then I can actually overcome that fear.  I think part of what drives me to do this is that I want to prove to myself that I can overcome my fear.  And little by little, I get to do it.  Well, I'm glad I did it!  It was great fun!  Would I do it again?  For this, I probably would, haha.

After a hard day's work, we headed to the cafe to try the popular Laing Pizza.  It was yummy!

This time, we stayed at the container rooms, basically rooms made of old shipping containers.  It's brilliant!  Basic but comfy.  There's even airconditioning and TV.  CWC is a great idea, one of the creations of an ambitious young government leader.  Wish we have a lot more of these people.  This way, we get to boost tourism, which in turn benefit the communities directly.