Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finding Caramoan, Part 2

We spent a couple of hours in Sabitang Laya swimming and getting sunburned in the noontime sun. After eating another packed lunch bought from Bigg's at the mainland (that food came a long way!), we packed up our makeshift picnic and prepared to move to the next destination.

Our late night finally caught up with us during the boat ride to our next stop - the island of Basud. Despite the narrow confines of the boat, we were all nodding off, lulled to sleep by the wind in our faces and the boat's gentle bobbing. It was low tide as we pulled up on one of Basud's beaches. It was not as beautiful or as inviting as Sabitang Laya, but our guide, Nene, told us snorkeling was good here just a few feet from the shore.

However, we unanimously vetoed the idea. Instead, we picked a spot under the trees and proceeded to have an afternoon beach bum siesta, as we lay cooled by the brisk breeze off the water. And we were all treated to fresh buko on the island before we set off for our last stop.

afternoon siesta at Basud Island

We only had enough time for another island because we had to head back to Caramoan before dark, and Nene decided to take us to the shrine of Our Lady of Peace. The shrine is located on top of a high hill - 526 steps high, to be exact - on the island of Tabgon. Even from afar, the alabaster white figure of the Virgin Mary beckoned to travelers - and promised of a full view of the entire peninsula from that vantage point.

As we approached the island of Tabgon, it was apparent that this was not going to be one of Caramoan's white sand paradise islands. Tabgon is more an agricultural center, with its crab farms, fish pens, and rice fields. Our boat was soon surrounded by murky brown waters as we approached the island pier, its concrete steps leading straight into the water. We all thought we were going to dock there, but the low tide forced our boat to stop several meters away from the shore. We would have to walk the rest of the way - in mud.

walking from Tabgon to our boat

Comforted by the presence of my slippers, I plodded uncertainly through the knee-deep water, the mud sucking at my flip-flops. Unfortunately my flip-flops had other ideas, and one gave way halfway through. I spent the rest of the walk barefoot and trying to ignore the image of all sorts of unthinkables I could be stepping into.

The 526 steps leading to the shrine are carved on the steep hillside and was an impossibly long way up. Last Holy Week, the island had been overrun by pilgrims who had come to pay homage to Our Lady by making the climb. When we got to the foot of the steps, we were stunned to see the people of Tabgon of all ages making the climb with sacks of earth on their backs to help with the completion of the shrine at the top.

locals bringing up bags of soil

I am ashamed to say that no amount of persuasion could get me past step 260-something, roughly halfway though. The view at halfway up was already quite impressive, but even the enticing call of the panorama at the top wasn't enough for me to overcome my fear of heights. Even from below, I could see there were some flights with no banisters. Given how steep the steps were, how could I not look down and be terrified - with nothing to hold on to? Out of the question.

the view from halfway mark

My other travel buddies had no such qualms and plodded on. With frequent rests in between flights, they managed to make it to the top and were rewarded by an amazing view of the islands spread before them in a breathtaking vista. They stayed to watch the sunset over the bay before painfully making their way back down - which was pretty hard on the knees.

pushing for the top

We headed back to Caramoan town in the dusk. Dark was falling inexorably over the islands, with no electric lights to counter it anywhere along the shore. We were as far removed from the city as we could ever be, and I marveled at the simplicity of a life so one with nature. As we pulled into Bikal Port just as the last light of the sun was fading, I was stunned at the magnitude of the silence that fell once the boat's motor was shut down. It was a quiet that begged for whispers, the faint sounds of a videoke machine playing in the distance notwithstanding.

Bikal at dusk

Starving from the day's activities, we went straight to dinner at nearby Camalig Grill, just a few steps away from our motel. We wanted to end the evening with a hearty drinking session, but our tired bodies were not up to it. After a single beer each outside our rooms, we all gave in to exhaustion and went straight to bed.

Caramoan Church

The next morning, the early risers heard Sunday mass at 6AM in the beautiful red brick church of Caramoan. After a heavy breakfast, we were on the road again - back to Guijalo port where we would were to catch the 9AM boat going back to Sabang. The weather, which had been nothing but sun the previous day, took a turn for the worse and we were once more greeted by rain.

We missed the 9AM boat by five minutes - and had to wait for two hours before a passenger boat would arrive from Sabang and make a return trip. Local authorities discouraged us from chartering a small boat to travel such a long distance given the weather. In one of those funny coincidences, after our boat finally arrived, it was carrying a group of our former interns, who were also exploring Caramoan for the first time.

Guijalo port in the rain

Thankfully, the rain stopped on our way back, and the ride was surprisingly quite smooth. We decided to do as the natives did and rode outside the boat, all the more easy to watch the beautiful scenery. The green was cooler to the eyes this time, the sea was a cobalt blue, and the forest was shrouded by mist. But our luck didn't hold for very long, and the rain came pouring down again right before we docked at Sabang.

After a short stop at Camsur Watersports Complex so that Queenie could try the kneeboard and the rest of us could try the incredible laing pizza, we were finally on our way back to cosmopolitan Manila - and arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning. How's that for cutting it close?

Was it worth the trip? Most definitely! Living up to its hype, Caramoan is truly an untouched, barely discovered paradise that is worth visiting again and again and again. What can I say? I am completely in love - twelve hour trip be damned.

Note to self, though (and to anyone else who is interested in going) - next time we plan a trip to this incredible place, we should make block off at least three days to really make the most of our stay. But, yes, there is definitely going to be a next time!

So, are any of you free this coming May? Let me know if you have plans - I would love to tag along.


Anonymous said...

wow, dr claire, ang ganda! the more i miss the beach.

Manggy said...

Don't worry bout what you stepped on, Dr. Claire-- albendazole lang katapat nyan. Haha. Kidding. I seriously hope everything's okay :)

I'm still not the beachy type but it looks so wonderfully serene. Hopefully infrastructure, tourism, and overzealous farming and fishing do not destroy it.

dr_clairebear said...

@mari: who needs the bahamas? hands down, kung beach ang hanap, dito dapat ang punta sa Pilipinas. :) i am so itching to explore! if only the cost of travel, even local travel, wasn't so prohibitive!

@manggy: iniisip nga namin schisto e! hehehehe... i got psychogenic itching of my feet after i had to wash off the mud in the sea on the way home. but the view was worth it... sayang i didn't make the top. next time! :P sana may railings na.

one reason we rushed to see it now, before the survivor show comes out is to see it in its virgin state. though i don't think that it will go by way of Bora any time soon - just one island or two muna siguro. the rest will slowly follow, but i think we'll have time to go back.

ForzaMillan said...

A travelogue indeed. A little over a week ago I was in a place called Binukbok Resort, (heard of it?) adjacent to Dive & Trek in San Luis, Batangas. Been there many times, I must admit.
See videos of what you can see underwater:

iris said...

gosh doc, that's a very beautiful place. sobrang nainggit ako and i miss our (me and my friends) summer getaways.

i have to convince them to go. i have to. i will make it my life's mission. hehe.

Em Dy said...

Looks like a cool place to go. Forwarded your post to my relatives with wanderlust. I don't think I can brave the long trip though or the steps to get to the grotto. Congratulations for at least reaching midway. I would have quit earlier.

dr_clairebear said...

@formazillan: the great thing about batangas is that it is so near manila yet removed from it. will check that out, baka pwede siyang gawin destination for may. :)

@iris: you really should! mia might have a hard time with the long trip, but if you make it a barkada thing, super worth it siya. punta kayo may, para sure na walang foreign chorva na nagfifilm. i hear meron nanaman susunod sa june.

i make it my life's mission to go back. :) for a longer time!

@em: i hope they get encouraged to go! the great thing about it is that there's not only so much to see, but so much to do. depends what your "thing" is. there are caves for spelunking, rocks for climbing, trails for hiking... and of course, for beach bums like myself, the beaches are a siren call.

doc cherry might go daw this labor day weekend, with the same people who took us. :)

Dorothy said...

Isama niyo ko if babalik kayo jan ha! :O) I'm one text away!!!

Ness said...

hi dr_clairebear,

i have a reply for you at the comments section over

Panaderos said...

The beauty of our beaches are beyond compare IMHO. That's the reason why in all the years I've lived in the States, I've never really bothered to fly to the Bahamas or any of the Carribbean islands. I know I'm biased but I've always felt that those places won't be offering me anything new. Pinas pa rin ako!

Thanks for sharing such beautiful pics of the place, Claire!

Jane said...

Looks dreamy. I'm scheduled for trip to bohol in 4 weeks. Hope it doesn't get weather-cursed. *fingers crossed*.

Thanks for the comment on my blog btw. I added your site to my blogroll if that's ok.

Got meloinks? said...

ooh you really compose well your shots, I'm noticing.

Insurance Home Inventory said...

This post is very interesting. I have enjoyed reading this article. This place is awesome. All the pictures are excellent. I liked all the pictures very much. Please add some more pictures. I’ll pass this post to friends and relatives so they can also enjoy. I would have to like these trips too. Thank you very much for the very interesting post.