“For times not made for talking/ but listening to the waves; the music of the divine spheres/the dividend that pays.” Dick Richardson.
Hellbent on discovering what the Survivor buzz was all about and wanting to discover it before the deluge of tourists and development aggression wreak its havoc, Clang and Jonas and I scheduled our very first out-of-town trip together to be in the remote islands of Caramoan. We had initially toyed with the idea of availing of one of those tour packages to Caramoan but self-confidence and an unwillingness to spend more than what was absolutely necessary convinced us to just make a go at it.
In the spirit of backpacker solidarity, here is a step-by-step guide to Caramoan 🙂
Upon getting off the airport, find a way to get to Sabang port. There are airconditioned cars that can drive you to Sabang Port for P1,000.oo – P1,500.00. This is probably the quickest way to get there. What we did, however, was hop onto a tricycle to get to the terminal in Naga. At the terminal in Naga, get a van with a sign that says “Sabang” (P90.00 per person.) The trip is a two-hour pleasant ride through a typical Filipino countryside. At the Sabang Pier, get on the boat bound for Guijalo. A boat left just a few minutes before we arrived and we were told we had to wait for two hours. Do not expect a modern port with convenient amenities. Our two-hour waiting time was spent having lunch in a rundown carinderia, with stray dogs waiting hungrily at our feet for morsels on our plate and posters of scantily-clad women taped on the wooden walls. When the boat finally came and we were walking towards it, we saw burly muscled men walking in our direction and offering to carry us on their backs. It turns out that that was the only way to get to the boat without getting wet. Thanking the heavens for my last-minute decision to leave my laptop, I clambered rather clumsily on the shoulders of my beefy bangkero of choice. The boat ride will cost you P120.00 and is another two hours long. Upon reaching Guijalo port, a row of tricycle drivers will be waiting to pick you up. A tricycle ride costing P100 (for the whole tricycle) will get you to Centro, or the town center, where the lodging houses may be found.
There are a handful of lodging houses in Caramoan town proper. Rex Guest Lodge is the most popular of the lot, and is the lodge of choice of the tour packages. I think a room there costs P1,400.00. The most high-end there is Casa Roa, costing around P1,550.00 per room for 2 people. The cheapest is Villa Juliana, costing only P600.00 a night, good for three. I suppose you can guess where we stayed.
It was an unpretentious, cheerful place with an amiable owner named Roger. If you don’t mind a spartan room with no hot water, then Villa Juliana is the place for you. The room fixtures were quite tacky and the beddings were rather threadbare, but well, at P200 per person night, we really can’t complain. Make advance reservations through 09177633167.
We arrived around 2pm so there was still time for us to do some island-hopping. Our tricycle driver, Kuya Jay, seemed friendly and honest enough so he volunteered to be our tour guide and find a boat for us at Guijalo Port (everyone knows each other in Caramoan, and he had a vast network of relatives and friends). The boatman charged us P800.00 for rent of the whole boat for the whole afternoon. We went to maybe three nearby islands. It was an uneventful boat ride because the seas were calm that day.
We visited one of the islands where Survivor had shot some scenes. Kuya Jay pointed out the “table” that the Survivor France cast had made. The names of the beaches elude me right now, all I can remember is how clear the water is and how haunting the rock formations appear. In one of the beaches, we spent most of our time throwing starfishes strewn to the shore back to the water.
We finished quite early, maybe before 7 pm, so we were back in town in time for dinner. Dinner for our first night was a carinderia affair in a small eatery called Lutong Bahay. Don’t expect fancy meals here. We had grilled pork chop and some fish, plus plenty of free soup. We were quite disappointed at the prices, though. A small dish costs around P50.00, close to the prices of the carinderias in Manila.
The next day was the highlight of our trip for it was our full-day island hopping tour. Kuya Jay told us that the tour packages usually prepare packed lunch for the tour group joiners and suggested that we buy cooked food from Lutong Bahay to bring with us to the islands. Unhappy about the idea of eating cold and tired-looking pork chop, we suggested passing by the market and buying some fresh fish to grill in the islands. Kuya Jay agreed, and accompanied us during our whole day trip for P600.00 including the 45-minute tricycle ride back and forth from the docking area. We paid P1,500.00 for a whole day’s use of banca with driver. The docking area of the banca is at a place called Paniman. Brace yourself for a harrowing ride, that tricycle could double as an abortion clinic when it passes through some really bad dirt roads (still doesn’t come close though to our death-defying truck ride in Agusan del Sur when we visited a remote farmland). After what seemed like an eternity of getting our knees knocked against cold metal, we arrive at our destination.
Let me say right off that the boat ride was my scariest boat ride EVER in my entire life. The agrarian reform areas I work with are often in places that can be reached by land travel so I haven’t done much banca travelling in my life. We were the only bancas in sight (the others tourists were probably normal people deterred by what appeared to be a brewing storm) and our tiny banca seemed so flimsy compared to the vastness of the ocean. The waves were around five to six feet tall and looked like they could tear our boat into pieces. Each big wave and sudden drop made us scream and hold the side of the banca for dear life. It did not help any that our driver said that banca turn-overs were a common occurence in those parts.
It was all worth it, however, when we got to the island I fell in love with: Matukad Island.
We were brought to the other beaches, like Tinago, Hunungan and Sabitang Laya, plus we saw construction underway at Gota beach, but asked to be brought again to the pristine white sands of Matukad. This was also where we had our lunch, a simple but delicious meal of grilled seafood. Kuya Jay did our grilling for us using equipment borrowed from relatives at Paniman (the port, where we parked the tricycle) and even shared their freshly-caught tangigue with us.
On the way home, we passed by a small shanty where we chanced upon live crabs inside nets. We bought a couple and had them cooked at Lutong Bahay. Dinner was a splendid spread of crabs, grilled fish (for me, as I had developed an allergy to crustaceans) Red Horse Beer.
The tour package offered to us was around P7,000.00, because we were only a small group of three. The promo price of P4,600.00 can only be availed of if the tour group reaches twenty joiners. We spent around P2,700.00 each, had the boat all to ourselves, had entire islands all to ourselves and instead of eating packed tour group lunches and plated dinners, took all the time we wanted gorging on fresh seafood and roasted tomatoes.
Sure, we spent the few minutes before sleeping chasing cockroaches with our slippers and our mornings screaming at the cold water flowing from the rusty faucet. Sure, we had to take public transport through and through, and dealt with everything from an old lady farting inside an enclosed van to a drunken middle-aged man suddenly vomiting inside the jeepney from Sabang back to Naga. Sure, maybe it would’ve been more convenient if the ferry going to Guijalo from Sabang was exclusively for our use and just waiting for us, and we wouldn’t need to sit for three hours in a carinderia with stray dogs at our feet and Marian Rivera posters hovering over us. But well, it was all definitely worth it. Every single death-defying curve of the banca ride, every single incovenience, was all worth it.
And besides, if you throw together three beckies with a taste for adventure, extreme kakuriputan, annoying self-confidence, and enough chismis fodder for all those loooong waiting times, it ain’t really too much of a hassle. 🙂
p.s. Kuya Jay can be contacted at 09212998866. If he doesn’t reply to your text, call him. The LCD of his cellphone is broken.