Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CARAMOAN : All That You Can't Leave Behind...

My friends and I didn't want to leave the islands behind,
and really, can you blame us?

And then Typhoon Frank ensured that
we were effectively stranded in CamSur anyway,
and we really couldn't leave Caramoan behind.

Well, we didn't really complain about it...

It really seemed that we were living the lyrics
of that great U2 song, WALK ON:

"You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen..."

"...the only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind."

CARAMOAN, part one : Getting There

Get ready for a long, rough trip,
it's almost 600 kilometers from Manila to Caramoan!!!

but every long minute you spend waiting
for your delayed flight to finally take off,

or every interminable second
of your 10-hour bus ride to finally end,

every uncomfortable moment in the ferry or pumpboat,

every hard bounce of the jeepney on the stone (not dirt!) roads,

will all dissipate the moment you take in your first view
of the islands of the Caramoan Peninsula!

We decided to use LEGASPI as our base
(rather than via the traditional route through Naga)
since it was much closer to Polangui, Albay;
hometown of our indefatigable tour guide
and host with the most, Dr. Elmo Isip.

going to Caramoan via Naga
would have made us miss one of the "New 7 Wonders",

So we took the longer, but more scenic route;
from the Legaspi airport,
we proceeded to the town of TIWI,

home of the most famous Halo-Halo in Bicol,
DJC : the mix-mix with cheese and corn!!!

From a small beach where our bancas were anchored,
we took the almost 3-hour (!!!) ride in a small pumpboat,

crossing the vast Albay Gulf
with Daragang Magayon receding in the background,

as we drifted off slowly in the sparkling azure to
to the Port of Guijalo,

the access point to our final destination,
the Caramoan peninsula!!!!

Our first view of the Camarines Sur landscape
was a fitting preview of our dramatic destination...

...and then we finally hit land,
where frantic construction has begun on
a new and improved pier for the projected
massive influx of tourists over the next few years.

CARAMOAN, part two : Small Town Downtown

From the Guijalo Port,
it was a 15-minute bumpy ride to the main street
of (the very tiny) downtown of Caramoan.

one of the ill-fated Boy Scouts from the 11th Jamboree plane crash,
and now more well-known as one of the Quezon City "food streets",
is the most famous son of this small town.

On the way there,
we nicknamed our driver "FIRST GEAR",
since he seemed to manage the whole drive
without shifting to second!

Maybe he didn't dare to go faster
because just like in the movie "Speed",

there was a ticking time bomb in the vehicle:
the "jerry can" gas tank right next to the battery!!!

The two most popular hotels in town are
La Casa Roa and the Rex Tourist Inn.

LA CASA ROA is just off the main street,
an old house converted into a cozy hotel,
and is also the only source of ice cream here.
(mobile : 0917-5801850)

REX, owner of the inn that bears his name,
also owns the convenience store, hardware supply,
and the Caramoan Cable TV company.
(mobile : 0919-8821879)

Accomodations at The Rex
start at P300 for fan rooms,
P500 up for for A/C rooms with TV.

The rooms are quite clean and comfortable,
although there are only a few channels on cable:
BBC, HBO, MTV, ABS-CBN, and unfortunately, GMA-7.

Not that we wasted time watching TV anyway,
our downtime from the islands was spent bumming around
in the lobby, chatting up a group of Canadian tourists,
and the future manager of the inn, Rex's baby girl.

Caramoan shuts down very early;
by 7pm, not even tricycles ply the main street.

Dinners were always at CAMALIG GRILL,
(try their excellent pansit!!!)
and pre-beach breakfasts at LUTONG BAHAY .
(also owned by the entrepreneurial Rex!)

There's no nightlife to speak of,
although in the distance,

we heard some spurned lover wailing
The Calling's "Wherever You Will Go"

as fitting a song as any, our soundtrack
as we walked the empty streets of this sleepy town.


There are no ATMs in Caramoan;

factor in P300/day for meals,
P200/day for water and booze,
and P500/pax/day for boat rides,
and you ought to be fine!

CARAMOAN, part three : Things To Do in PANIMAN When You're Stranded

Paniman Beach,
like Caticlan to Boracay,

is the take-off point to the beaches and islands
of Gota, Hunongan, Lahus, and Matukad.

But unlike Caticlan,
Paniman is a destination by itself:

the dramatic limestone rock formations start here,
and the beach, although brown, is of very very fine sand.

Paniman Beach even has its own "Willy's Rock",

and its very first Banana Boat!!!

Perhaps the most affordable chillspot ever...

and despite Storm Signal #3,
we maximized our massive P10.00 investment!!!

We arrived in CamSur just as Typhoon Frank
started lashing the region, and it was like
facing a massive wall of disappointment;

the waves were just too high for island-hopping,
and we were effectively stranded.

Paniman Beach offered unlimited opportunities
for other recreational and leisure activities:

1. Rock Climbing

2. Hide & Seek

3. Team Building: "Kum Ba Yah"!!!

4. Hibernating

And below the cliffs,
a picturesque lagoon of brackish (salt-fresh) water,

where we helped the friendly fisherfolk pull in their nets,
and purchased the catch of the day.

And then,
an element of extreme danger:

The Sea Snake,
one of the most venomous in the world.

Avoid these cold-blooded, paddle-tailed,
yellow-and-black-banded creatures at all cost.

While the sea snakes are by no means edible,
Grilled Liempo most definitely is the perfect beach food!

We were lucky that we were able to rent,
on that stormy day,

what is so far,
the one and only beach hut on Paniman.

There are dozens of beach children running around,
unjaded and uncorrupted by the evils of overdevelopment,

and the genuine smiles of welcome from their sun-browned faces,
as well as those from their equally hospitable fisherman elders,

made me feel like i was once again
among the Ilonggos of Boracay in the late 1980s...

if Boracay today is Paradise Lost,
then Caramoan now is Paradise Found!!

CARAMOAN, part four : Forget Gota Beach, Go Straight to HUNONGAN COVE!!!

Gota Beach gained fame earlier this year
as the main location of Survivor : France.

The French who outwitted, outlasted, and outplayed
each other have long gone,

and the production has left behind
some rather unattractive pre-fab beach houses,

which Pres. GMA typically enjoyed and approved
during her visit to the peninsula.

These structures now cost visitors P3,000 per night,
and P300 per person "landing fee" for a day trip.

Totally NOT worth it,
so we quickly skedaddled out of there!

our motherly tour guide Eva (and her husband Adam)
instructed our boatmen to take us to Hunongan,

a secluded cove where the first resort in Caramoan
is scheduled to open later this year.

It's a pretty small beach;
very private, very beautiful.

And when these luxury Bahay Kubos are completed,
I imagine the rates here will be at Amanpulo levels.

We were already amazed at the
elegance of this tiny cove,

but Hunongan was a mere teaser for
the real jewels of Caramoan:

And so we set sail once again,
this time, towards the sister islands:

Lahus and Matukad!!!