TJE 57: Dear Friend, Got Kinda Lost in Catanduanes

Audio version 😉

Dear Friend,

I want to tell you a story, a travel story.

There was a long weekend from February 25-28, 2016. One of my official travel friends was my neighbor at the time. And both of us just had a strong urge to take that opening for an adventure! And adventure calls for tough destinations such as: Catanduanes.

We were both based in Muntinlupa, conveniently near South Luzon Express Way. Going to the provinces at the south of Luzon was pretty convenient. Hmmm, four days seemed enough time to go far. Also at the south of Luzon is my favorite region in the Philippines: Bicol. And I had to go to a province that I hadn’t visited yet, hence, Catanduanes.

Based on our agreement, it was his car’s turn to be used in a road trip.

February 24 evening, we already started the trip to really maximize our time. Driving to Bicol takes hours. And, we were not headed to Catanduanes immediately.

We had to make a few stops to sleep or take a nap. I mean, we were both used to sleeping early, that an evening drive was actually a challenge. He took the driver’s seat for the most part, for maximum accountability of his car’s wellbeing; I was just there as backup when he’s really weary.

At around 6 AM, we were already in Camarines Sur. While in Nabua, we saw a nice old church and decided to drop by. When we resumed driving, I looked at the GPS and saw a lake nearby. I thought it could be interesting so I told my friend that we check it out. So instead of going straight via national road AH26, we took a detour via Poblacion Road that will pass by the body of water. This is why I love road tripping: there are more chances for spontaneity. One’s destination need not be the only place to explore.

Bato Lake – is that body of water I was referring to. We caught the morning bustle as fisher folks brought their first catch to the shore. I remember asking a few kids nearby what the name of the lake was. At that time, there was no label in the map. The first ones didn’t answer and just gave an awkward look. Then a woman responded. She then added that the kids probably didn’t understand me.

Alright, it was time to move to our target destination for Day 1: Donsol, Sorsogon. Why else did we go there, but to swim with whale sharks! It was my friend’s first time to go there, and Sorsogon in general. I didn’t mind, even loved going back!

We headed to the Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center, attended the mandatory briefing, changed to swimming attire quickly, carried along our snorkels and fins and waited for our boat. There were 4 other tourists with us on the boat.

We were so excited! However… it rained the previous days. That lessened the frequency of whale sharks going to the surface. The concentration of plankton, part of whale shark diet, is reduced with precipitation. I suspected that as an explanation and did a quick web search and found a few articles. But the sun was out that day, so we would definitely spot some, the tourism officer said.

Our skipper and spotter were searching for close to an hour already. We were getting sleepy. Then finally, we got the first chance. With snorkel and flippers on, and a waterproof camera tied to my wrist, I jumped to the water. Okay, let me take a… shit! The camera wouldn’t turn on! Sigh… as it turned out, that camera I borrowed from an officemate was not well sealed anymore. LOL, I had it repaired before returning to my colleague at work.

In our 3 hours at the open, we only encountered 2-3 whale sharks! Sigh… well, basically hanging out in the open sea was a nice experience, with some sun bathing and a bit of intense swimming.

Okay, time to head further south. We went to Bulusan and looked for an accommodation. I remembered going to a hot spring before, so we thought of staying in that resort, for a relaxing end to the day.

We had a minor problem though. After swimming, we didn’t know where to get food. We hadn’t eaten properly that day yet. I brought fried tikoy (sticky rice cake) with egg, which was our breakfast. I also brought tangerine, which was our snack while waiting to encounter whale sharks. We didn’t have proper lunch. We went to Irosin town proper and had limited options. Most stores were closed already. We went to perhaps the only restaurant open: El Amigo Kitchenette. Well survival instincts kick in when traveling, so we’re not really choosy, we appreciate finding food. Haha!

Why did we go further down anyway? Well, part of our itinerary was to have a touchdown at Matnog! My friend hadn’t been there yet. He basically just wanted a touchdown at the southernmost tip of Luzon, and I again didn’t mind.

We got to Matnog early in the morning. Then we made our way up. The port going to Catanduanes is in Albay. We were just grabbing food on the go. Our breakfast was bread at the local bakery near the port. We stopped along the highway at one point for fresh buko juice. We thought we still had time to drop by the queen, Mayon Volcano. So we included a stop at Cagsawa Ruins park. And since we were practically in the developed city, Legazpi, we looked for the familiar Jollibee and had lunch. That’s our most expensive meal so far in the trip!

Okay, where to go next? Tabaco Port. Hopefully we could catch a RoRo! A quick search of the schedule and travel time suggested that we would make it. But the question was, could we get a slot? Yes. With the car on the ship, we were excited to push this road trip further.

We got off the port of San Andres. Then we started driving to the capital, Virac, to look for an accommodation. Dinner would be nice! We made a couple of stops along the way. First, we visited Luyang Cave, as mentioned by a local that my friend talked to while in the RoRo.

Luyang Cave was a site of the tragic death of a village, in the 18th century. Inhabitants hiding inside burned the dried tree branches concealing the entrance of the cave, as they thought it would drive their enemies away. However, the wind blew the smoke inside the cave, that it suffocated the villagers to death.

We resumed driving to Virac 10 minutes later. But we couldn’t resist the sight of the coastline at golden hour that we stopped again for a quick breather and photo op.

Virac was pleasantly a thriving provincial city that tourists would surely enjoy. As we were driving and looking for an accommodation, we were also inspecting for possible restaurants to dine in. We checked in at Marem Pension House. We asked the receptionist for restaurant recommendations. One of the few she suggested already caught our eye: Blossoms. So we walked to that restaurant, and didn’t regret it. Their food was really good! It’s our best meal of the trip.

While dining, we had a conversation with locals at the other table. One of them was a very enthusiastic teacher who recommended many places for us to see. We took note of those, including ones from the hotel receptionist. We had an ambitious plan for the next day: Circumnavigate Catanduanes.

We were up by 4-4:30 AM as we knew we had a loong day ahead. While getting to the car, we saw a pop-up burger joint opening already. So we crossed the street and decided to take breakfast first.

First on our itinerary was the Bato light house. We wanted to catch the sunrise there! Using Google Maps per usual, we drove towards it.

We were directed to a narrow road, essentially a dead end for the car. This road is beside a rice field. We thought, well, time to hike? So we got off the car and started walking. We didn’t expect a long walk. The time for sunrise was fast approaching. But then, it was gloomy with on and off rain, so we would not be able to see the sun anyway.

Then we saw a paved road. We crossed it to check out the river on the other side. Suspecting that we should be driving through that road instead, we asked a local as soon as we saw one. And yes, we should be taking that road to reach the lighthouse!

So, we hurriedly made our way back to the car. Upon reaching it, we were greeted by a perplexed man. He asked us if the car was ours. It’s blocking the road that his tractor couldn’t pass. We apologized for the inconvenience!

So using the correct road, we finally reached the beach where the lighthouse was. There was kind of a mandatory guide who showed us the way. We hiked a bit on rocky slopes. It was raining and the wind was blowing. We carefully climbed the tower, and wow! It was windy! But the view was amazing. I loved the rough feel of Catanduanes! The forces of nature are strong in that island.

When we got down, we stayed a bit at the beach. I was kind of hypnotized by the strong waves approaching shore. Okay, time to move again!

Next destination: Puraran Beach. We decided to grab food in this place, and swim as well. We paid for the use of shower too. The day’s weather was officially rainy and windy. We didn’t mind when swimming. But it’s proving to be a challenge for the day’s goal.

Driving further, we were met with an unexpected condition: not all circumferential road was paved. There were rough roads in between that slowed us down. My friend even got off at one point to clear the road of rocks that can damage the car. If anything, we were just appreciating the view. Well, it’s mostly me doing that as I didn’t drive as much. And whenever I did, it’s because my friend took naps.

We kept driving, and realized that we wouldn’t have enough time. It’s already afternoon and trying to complete the road trip wouldn’t make sense in terms of appreciating the views. We wouldn’t be able to, at dark.

That decision was made at Bagamanoc. We just got to the nearest coast, and looked at the Buto ni Kuracog, another point of interest, from afar. Before leaving, we thought of taking an afternoon snack.

We took the Viga road, that cuts across the island, for a faster way back to Virac. This Viga road is connected to Catanduanes Circumferential Road. And we quickly realized it was the main road.

February 28, 2016. We drove to San Andres early in the morning to catch hopefully the first RoRo trip to Tabaco port. There was a restaurant near the pier, so we dined in there while waiting for our time.

Good thing we started early. As we were waiting at the pier, the conductor approached us and asked if we would board the car. We confirmed. But he said our car wasn’t on the list. We just learned then that we had to enlist the car prior, to ensure a slot. So we were put on the wait list. We hoped that there’s enough space.

While waiting and hoping, we saw a former officemate, husband of our previous boss. We learned that Catanduanes is his hometown.

Finally, we received good news from the conductor. The car can dock!

During the ship ride, we had a good catch up with the officemate. We sent our regards to our former boss before saying goodbye. That’s a cool coincidence.

Alright! Our road trip back home started. We hoped to have enough fuel to reach Naga City. We were not refueling much in Catanduanes because gasoline was expensive. The car’s small anyway and has high fuel efficiency.

At Naga, we looked for the famous Geewan to have a nice lunch. I was happy to see the glow up of the restaurant. It looked quite different in 2009!

As we were heading out of Naga, we saw a a familiar cafe. “Ermegerd, I’d love to have Starbucks coffee!” So that put us in a good mood heading out of Bicol.

Hope you’re doing well!

– Jerico

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