Calaguas: DIY Style

If you still want to go to Boracay Calaguas even after reading my post here, okay, fine. Here’s my take on going there DIY style. 

When’s the best time to go
Unless you’re on a suicide mission, obviously, not during the rainy season. The waves this side of Luzon is notoriously choppy even on dry months.
If you want to experience peace and quiet, better head there during weekdays.
How to go there
If you want to save yourself about 6 hours of land travel, you can fly to Naga which has the closest airport to Daet. Take note, though, that Daet is still 2 hours away.
By land, you can take Philtranco, DLTB or Superlines from either Cubao or Pasay. We took Philtranco’s 9:30 PM trip from Pasay and arrived at Talobatib Junction at around 5:00 am. Based from our research, Philtranco’s air conditioned bus trips from Pasay are 8:00 am, 8:00 pm, and 9:30 pm.
Depending on the driver, travel time can take anywhere between 7-8 hours.
There are actually two jumpoff points to get to Mahabang Buhangin: Vinzons and Paracale. Our jumpoff point was the latter since we already have a boatman.
As I mentioned, we got off Talobatib Junction and tricycle drivers quickly approached us. I don’t know whether we had a miscommunication or we got totally ripped off when we paid Php500.00 for two tricycles to take us to the market. I thought they said Php250.00 for two tricycles. Anyway, I’ll just charge it to experience.
NOTE: We took the 5:00 pm trip of Superlines from Daet to Cubao and we arrived at 2:45 am. While it was cheaper, the trip was an hour or more longer since there were lots of stopovers. 

What to bring

  • Buy your food, freshwater for drinking and cooking, ice, charcoal and other supplies from the market before heading to Mahabang Buhangin. There are small stores on the island, but they might not have what you need or items cost significantly higher.
  • There are no accommodations on the island so bring your own tent to save on the cost of renting a cottage or tent there. You can actually sleep on the beach, like we did, but just to be safe in case it rains, we rented a tent for Php350.00 which can fit 4 pax.
  • Rain poncho
  • Bring your own cooking utensils and mess kits. Although our boatman was kind enough to lend us a grill, pot and even an ice container, we found that we should have brought our own chopping board, bigger knife/cleaver, food keeper (for the cooked food/leftover) and what have you.
  • Garbage bags – not only for your trash, but also to waterproof your things. And remember, practice the Leave No Trace principle.
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Insect repellent
  • Loose change to buy a bucket of pump water (Php10.00/bucket).
  • Goggles or snorkeling gear
NOTES:
  • You can have your meals cooked by one of the locals, but it can be expensive. e.g. Php100.00 for cooking rice.
  • There are different rates for ‘entrance’ and environmental fees depending on where you plan to stay. At the far left of Mahabang Buhangin (if you’re on the boat approaching the island) which they refer to as Giovanni’s, the fee is Php170.00 per head with unlimited use of pump water. On the far right where we camped, we only paid Php75.00 per head.

Who to contact

We highly recommend Mang Boy Camano: 0908-546-0683. He even lets his guests shower in their bathroom. You can also buy a 5 gallon freshwater and ice from their store at Php100.00 and Php3.00 per piece, respectively.

Photo credit: Endette Mendoza with our boatman, Mang Boy

 

Breakdown of expenses

Breakdown is based on an overnight stay with 7 pax splitting the expenses for the groceries, paluto and tent rental.
 

The Jekyll and Hyde That is Calaguas

Calaguas*, in recent years, has been the ‘it’ beach for people wanting to get away from it all. Indeed, it is an ideal location where you’ll be disconnected from the outside world. Yep, no mobile phone signal and no electricity (save for a generator that runs for a few hours at night). Just you and Mother Nature. That’s why it’s a no-brainer to add it on my list of beaches to visit.

However, I had reservations as soon as I saw pictures of its ‘crowded’ shores. It also didn’t help that I read blogs of people who’ve been there recently stating it’s slowly turning into the next Boracay.

Long story short, me and my friends still pushed through with the trip even with this not so enticing image in our minds.

After about an 8-hour long bus ride from Philtranco’s Pasay terminal, we got off at Talobatib Junction and took a tricycle to the market to buy our supplies. We then met with our boatman at Paracale port – a port brimming with small-scale gold mining operations.

Our boatman, Mang Boy Camano**, merged our group with a smaller group to save on gasoline so we got a bigger boat than what I expected, which is actually a good thing.
We were fortunate to have a nice weather that day so we had a smooth boat ride. The view along the way was an added bonus, too. We saw green rolling hills with strips of white sand and some interesting rock formations.

After two hours, or maybe less, we finally saw Mahabang Buhangin.

As our boat approached the island, I understood why it has been dubbed as a city-dweller’s paradise. Blindingly white powdery sand coupled with cerulean blue waters make the ideal beach destination…but I wasn’t exactly wowed – especially after seeing a banana boat, kayak and someone wakeboarding.

Yes, there were lots of people but there was enough space for everyone. You could still swim without worrying about another person’s foot hitting your head. Yes, there are cottages but most of it are just makeshift. At the time, I still find the ‘development’ tolerable.
There was really nothing much to do after pitching our tent and having eaten brunch that it was probably the highest definition of beach bumming.
At high noon, we tried to catch some Zs, but the heat was unforgiving. It was so hot we could probably make popcorns inside our tent. Despite the heat, some kids and locals managed to frolic on the beach.
As soon as the heat became bearable, we decided it was finally time to take a dip. We were only in the water for about an hour or so when the sun unexpectedly decided to set early that day. WTF! Seriously, sun? We didn’t have a choice but to head back to camp and shower.
Don’t expect decent toilet/bath facilities because this island was really meant for camping. There was only one T&B each for men and women in our area, and a makeshift one at the back which, clearly, isn’t enough to accommodate everyone. You also had to pay Php10.00 per bucket of water from the sole water pump in the area.
It was already dark and we don’t want to wait turns just to take a shower, so we showered right at the water pump area as like what the others did – with our clothes on, of course!
It was another first for me; bathing with the fields and the mountain as our backdrop and the full moon as our light. Sure it’s not convenient, but it was fun!
With everyone already freshened up, we had our dinner in one of the cottages that they let us use for free. We skipped on the socials — I think we’ve had enough that morning anyway. :p
Photo credit: Endette Mendoza
It didn’t look like it was going to rain, so some of us laid on a blanket and decided to sleep on the beach. We were starting to fall asleep when some idiots, a few meters in front of us, decided to light up firecrackers. WTF! I think they were with the group of inebriated men at the cottage behind us so we didn’t even think of starting an argument.
Since our sleep was already interrupted, we decided to check the other end of the beach we coined as ‘Station 1’. Yes, we were aware that beach parties were being held there, but that still didn’t prepare us for what we were about to see.
Photo credit: Echoserang Lakwatsera

 

There were at least 3 mobile bars, with blaring music and some flairtending exhibitions, offering unlimited drinks from 8:00 pm ’til midnight. There was a fire dancer and a pop-up souvenir store. My estimate is that there were at least 20 persons per tour group.

And as we made our way back to camp, we saw sky lanterns floating very near the hills. Whether they land on the hills or the sea didn’t matter. Surely, they will land somewhere they don’t belong.
I was floored.
What I cannot wrap my head around is why the hell would people travel for a total of 10 hours just to party in an isolated island? Is it not enough that we have Boracay and Puerto Galera for these activities? Personally, I’d rather go to those two where creature comforts are available.
Just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Calaguas has a split personality. From a paradise in the morning, it transforms to every beach camper’s worst nightmare at night.

Yes, change and development is inevitable, and in some ways, it’s good especially if it helps the livelihood of the locals but I don’t think that’s the case here.

I was able to speak to a local who runs a sari-sari store. I asked her if the influx of tourists was good for business, but she says it’s just the same. I think her shanty can attest to that. I also learned she needs to pay a fee to the Baranggay for running her business and that she wasn’t able to pay this month.

She also added that the Php20.00 ‘environmental fee’ being collected is not regulated (read: no receipt). Whomever’s pocket it goes to, no one knows. Some of my friends also learned from a Baranggay Kagawad that they do not know of these parties, and that however much is being collected from visitors, only Php20.00 per person goes to the Baranggay.

Personal note:

Sure, Calaguas is pretty. But based from what I saw, it’s not my kind of beach and I wouldn’t be too keen on going back any time soon.
I didn’t write this to stop you from going to Calaguas. All I ask is that A) should you decide to go there DIY, please practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle, and B) shall you decide to join a tour group, please do your due diligence and do not patronize tour groups conducting unnecessary island parties.
K

*Calaguas is actually a group of islands, but the name is often used loosely to refer to Mahabang Buhangin frequented by tourists.
**Will do a separate post on DIY Calaguas Guide

I Survived Caramoan!

Finally! After putting off writing this entry for the longest time here it is.


TRIVIA: Caramoan Peninsula’s claim to fame was being host to several Survivor franchise i.e. Serbia, Bulgaria, France and Israel.


Since it was summer and knowing that it is super peak season in Boracay, we chose Caramoan instead. We went there last March 26-28, 2010. There were 11 of us in the group so we just opted to get a tour package from Caramoan Travel


At Php3,100.00 (Php2,500 + Php600 for full board meals) per head, the package includes:

  • Air conditioned accommodation at hotel or homestay
  • Round trip land transfers inside Caramoan
  • Island hopping
  • Entrance fees
  • Tour guide

We were supposed to stay in Rex Tourist Inn but by the time we made the downpayment, it was already fully booked so we had no choice but to go with homestay. Homestay refers to a house or part of a local’s house that they convert into a temporary accommodation for tourists. Rooms are air conditioned and can usually accommodate 4 to 5 persons per room with a common bathroom. 


For the transportation, we reserved roundtrip tickets with Peñafrancia Tours. We opted to take the Benz Elite which is a Mercedes-Benz bus that has lazy boy seats and CR onboard. I think it costs Php900-Php950 (one way) to and from Naga. In retrospect, I wish we just took the bus with ordinary seats since the lazy boy was not that comfortable (at least for me) and I was not able to use the CR. 


The group met up at Cubao Terminal for our 9:00 pm trip. This is the last trip I think. It was rainy that night and the road to Bicol was scary. Walang sinabi ang zig-zag ng Baguio! Anyway, we arrived in Naga at around 7:00 am (10 hours) and had breakfast at one of the eateries in the terminal.


We walked a bit to get to the van terminal that would take us to Sabang. I think the fare is Php100.00 per head, and the ride was about 1-1.5 hours. When we arrived at Sabang, we had to wait for the boat that will take us to Guijalo Port. Take note that the boats only travel to and from Guijalo Port from 7:00 am to 11:00 am. When the boat arrived, we were shocked that we had to be carried by some men to get to the boat! See picture below:

spectacular view

The boat ride took an excruciating 2 hours and I was seated (on a wooden plank) at the rear part of the boat without a roof/shade! Sunog na ko by the time we reached Guijalo. Upon arriving at Guijalo, we were picked up by our guide in a van. It was another 15 minute ride to the town proper. We stopped at Lutong Bahay to have our lunch (part of the package). Then we headed to our host (homestay) to leave our things and have a shower. By the way, since the place can only accommodate 8 people, 3 of our friends had to stay at another house which is quite a walk from where we were staying. Anyway, after taking a shower it was time to go.


We took a 15 minute van ride (yes, again! As if traveling half of the day wasn’t enough). On our way to the port we saw some parts of the island being set up for the Survivor castaways’ challenge. From the port, it was another 10-15 minute boat ride to reach our first destination: Matukad Island. The boat was so small that it can only sit two people side by side per row. The waves were so strong it was one hell of a scary ride.

view from the port 
See how small our boat is?
Matukad Island
This really is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to.
Our group at the rock
 
After Matukad, we went to another island across Gota Beach where the staff and crew of Survivor were staying. We also went inside a small cave to have our picture taken. Too bad our guide wasn’t good at using the DSLR. 
It was already about 5:00 PM so we needed to head back to the port. On our way back we encountered the wildest and roughest waves! I thought our boat was going to capsize. I sat on the first row of the boat and I could literally see the sea like opening up and ready to swallow us alive LOL! The other guys were even kidding that it was like the movie The Perfect Storm. It was like a roller coaster ride at sea. Did I mention that there was a storm bound to hit Catanduanes when we were there? 
 
When we safely got back to the shore, we went back to Lutong Bahay to have dinner before heading back to our homestay. The first thing we did was to shower, then we had some drinks and called it a night.
 
DAY 2
 
Everyone was still tired so we got up a bit late. Again, we went to Lutong Bahay to have breakfast before we headed to Bikal Port. From here, it was a one hour boat ride to our first stop: Brgy. Tabgon to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace. Since it was low tide, our boat cannot dock close to the shore so we had to jump off the boat and walk the muddy waters. I think we still had to pay Php20.00 entrance/environmental fee. We had to trek 500+ steps to reach the top. This reminded me of Mt. Tapyas in Coron
 
The gang before the climb
breathtaking view
statue of Our Lady of Peace
 
Our next stop was a two-hour boat ride away from here. I can’t remember the name of the beach but this is where we had our lunch. There’s also a set being prepared for another Survivor challenge when we went there.
 the perfect powdery white sand
There are no more islands beyond this point. If you look at the Philippine map, 
Caramoan is at the eastern-most part facing the Philippine sea
 
We then went to my most favorite part – the sandbar (Cotivas I believe)! We were lucky that it was already high tide so it was like a big wave pool in the middle of the ocean. We enjoyed this very much! The sand is really so fine.
 
Our final destination for the day was Sabitang Laya.
 
 

We could’ve also visited the caves but our guide said it was already late and we need to go back to Bikal. 🙁 


We were supposed to take the 10:00 am bus the next day since we already had the tickets but it was only then that we realized that we can’t make it on time because the earliest boat ride from Guijalo is 7:00 am and it would take about 3-3.5 hours before we reach Naga terminal. So we decided to have our tickets re-booked for the last trip which is at 9:00 pm the next day. BUT since the last trip for the boat ride is at 11:00 am, we also have no choice but to leave before that time.


It was low tide when we got to Guijalo so we had to be transferred by a small boat to the boat that will take us back to Sabang. It was only 2:00 pm when we reached Naga and since our bus ride home wasn’t until 9:00 pm, we decided to kill time in SM Naga.


To date, I feel like this was the most tiring and most remote place I have been to. Although the view is rewarding, I wish they would invest in bigger and faster boats since the islands are far from each other. It eats a lot of time so you can consider yourself lucky if you’re able to visit 2-3 islands per day. Islands you can visit also varies depending on which islands are being used by Survivor.