Month: February 2015

The Other Side of Cebu

The Gentle Giants

If Sofio, the boatman, glances my way, he would see the childish astonishment on my face. “Do not panic. They’re harmless,” he calls out to a lady who furiously back-paddles when a giant tuki or whale shark breaks into the surface amongst a dozen snorkelers. Holding my breath, I freeze for a moment when a larger one heads straight towards me. Its broad mouth is agape as if ready to swallow me whole. Nervously fumbling for the buttons of my small camera, I watch in awe as the seven-meter creature glides within a few feet from my face, turning its enormous and beautifully dotted body away from me only seconds before impact.

“We used to ride them when we were children, but we discourage it now because they become frisky,” says Sofio. According to him, the tuki have been frequenting the shores of Oslob for centuries due to the abundance of alamang (small saltwater shrimps), which is their primary food. The whale shark or Rhincodon Typus is the largest known fish specie, which can grow up to 18 meters long. Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant peril to humans because it only feeds on tiny food, like plankton, by sucking water through its wide mouth.

A fourth income class municipality in the province of Cebu, Oslob became a popular destination in 2011 when tourists started flocking to its sleepy seaside village, Tan-awan, to see the gentle giants. This has provided additional income to the townspeople, who live mainly on fishing and agriculture.

Seeing more dorsal fins on the surface, I find myself reluctant to leave the clear glistening waters. But since each visitor is limited only to a 30-minute whale shark interaction, Kuya Raul, the gracious driver from the Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort, excitedly suggests that I also visit the nearby waterfalls.

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Tumalog Falls

A 15-minute van ride from the whale-watching area followed by a 500-meter trek on a steep mountainside pathway takes me to the foot of Tumalog Falls. Squinting through the large spray from the mushroom-like rock formations, I see why Tumalog Falls easily enthralls many visitors. The stream of clear water bounces several times from one rock to another before it reaches the shallow pool below. Surrounded by towering age-old butong (bamboo) trees, the cascade looks like silk that drapes beautifully on the moss-covered cliff. Besides being a major tourist attraction in Oslob, the waterfalls is also an important water source for the villagers.

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Rich Heritage

When the Moro piratical attacks on Christian communities all over the country began in the 16th century, the small coastal towns of Cebu were not spared. These pillages were the Moros’ retaliation against the Spanish invaders, who had displaced them from the political and economical dominance they once enjoyed. For more than two centuries, many Christianized Filipinos were either killed or captured for slavery and their villages looted and burned to the ground. Determined to end the atrocity, an Augustinian Friar named Julian Bermejo, who was assigned to Boljoon Parish in southeast Cebu, organized a defense system and led the construction of a series of baluartes (watchtowers) where cannons were mounted, stonewalled churches that served both as places of worship and refuge and barangayes (fast-sailing ships used to pursue Muslim boats). Many of these watchtowers and centuries-old churches still stand today as silent reminders to the traumatic era.

One of the resilient edifices is the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Oslob, which was started in 1830. Since the parish only relied on voluntary labor from the townspeople, the construction was finished 18 years later. In 1858, the bell tower was built. The thick sturdy walls of the church and the three-tier belfry were constructed out of corals quarried from the nearby seas and lime from powdered seashells. Parts of the church burned down during the Second World War in 1955. It was eventually restored but was hit by fire again in 2008. Its restoration was completed once again in 2010.

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The Immaculate Conception Church

Within the vicinity of the church are two other historical structures: the cuartel and the watchtower ruins. Started in 1860, the unfinished building, also made of coral blocks, was intended to be the cuartel or barracks for the Spanish armies. It was not completed due to the arrival of the Americans in 1899, which marked the end of the Spanish regime. Not far from the cuartel are the ruins of one of the seven baluartes along the coastline of Oslob. Built in 1788, the 7-meter tall watchtower has a hexagonal structure, thick stonewalls and a small entrance.

the cuartel

the cuartel

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the cuartel

the cuartel

the cuartel

the baluarte ruins, behind the statue of Fr. Julian Bermejo

the baluarte ruins, behind the statue of Fr. Julian Bermejo

In the town of Boljoon, next to Oslob, stands the oldest remaining original stone church in Cebu. In 1999, the Boljoon Church or the Church of Nuestra Senora Patrocinio de Maria was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. It was started in 1783 after the original church crumbled in fire, and was completed in 1814. The church has a simple barn-like structure, with high arch windows just below its pediment. Being in the center of Fr. Julian Bermejo’s defense network, its walls were made very thick with impregnable coral slabs, lime and mortar. Despite the calamities that struck Cebu during the past years, about 90 percent of the church is of its original construction, including the clay roofing, choir’s loft and the pulpit.

Boljoon Chuch, the oldest stone church in Cebu

Boljoon Chuch, the oldest stone church in Cebu

the ancient walls of Boljoon Church

the ancient walls of Boljoon Church

Adjacent to the church is the largest existing Spanish watchtower in the Philippines built in 1808. Referred to as El Gran Baluarte, it served as Fr. Bermejo’s headquarters during the peak of the Moro raids. Today, the two-story blockhouse serves as a bell tower, with iron-cast bells replacing the artilleries that were once installed in its crenellated walls. Its ground floor has a prison cell and a storehouse for ammunition.

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El Gran Baluarte, the largest existing Spanish era watchtower

At the back of El Gran Baluarte is an American era stone house called Esculea Catolica, which has a double grand staircase. Built in 1940, this was a dormitory for children who were required to stay in-house the night before their first Holy Communion.

Escuela Catolica

Escuela Catolica

Further, in the town of Carcar, I see another beautiful Spanish period church. The two Muslim-style bell towers, each with a crucifix on top, on both sides of the low-pitched pediment make the St. Catherine of Alexandria Church distinct. Its construction began in 1860 and was completed in 1875. The patio is surrounded with a concrete fence and pedestalled statues of the Apostles. Inside, my eyes feast on the beautiful ceiling of blue and gold, intricately sculpted Stations of the Cross, statues of angels holding the lampposts on the columns and the tombstones of the church’s previous caretakers on the walls.

St. Catherine of Alexandria Church

St. Catherine of Alexandria Church

the  church's interiors

the church’s interiors

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It is only in Carcar where I see so many well-preserved American era structures. Under the intense afternoon sun, I find myself drawn to the Carcar Dispensary, an eye-catching two-story building with exquisite latticework and stained glass doors and windows. It was built between 1929 and 1938, and houses the Carcar Museum today. The municipal building beside it also exhibits the same detailed woodwork. Also on the same street is the ornate Saint Catherine School, an all-girl Catholic school founded in 1923.

The Carcar Dispensary

The Carcar Dispensary

The Carcar Municipal Buiding

The Carcar Municipal Buiding

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Luxury in Paradise

Even the lucent aquamarine waters suckling on the white sandbar of Sumilon Island have secrets to tell. In 1813, this dreamy island silently witnessed a bloody battle between the locals led by Fr. Julian Bermejo and the Moro pirates, where the latter had decisively fallen. Since then the marauders no longer dared to show themselves anywhere near Cebu.

Sumilon Island's gorgeous sandbar

Sumilon Island’s gorgeous sandbar

The name Sumilon is believed to come from the word sumilong (to take shelter) since the island has mangroves and small natural caves that provided refuge to fishermen during storms. Teeming with underwater life, Sumilon Island was declared a marine sanctuary by the Silliman University in 1974. The 24-hectare coral island can be reached through a 15-minute boat ride from the coast of Bancongon in Oslob.

Noticing the beads of sweat on my face, the staff from Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort offers me a cold towel, a Lemongrass Cooler and a sincere welcoming smile as soon as I alight from the boat. Lunch is hefty and unforgettably delicious. I enjoy a full-course meal consisting of Cream of Lettuce, Shrimp Salad, Chicken Adobo Canapé, Fillet Steak, Mashed Potato and Tablea Swirl Cheesecake at the resort’s pavilion, which offers a gorgeous vista of the sea and the nearby mountains.

Afterwards, Evianne, the assistant manager ushers me to my elegant seafront villa. She asks if I want to tour the island. “Yes, please,” I eagerly reply.

Trekking on the rocky irregular terrain, my guide Dondon and I stop by the ruins of another 200-year old watchtower. Nestled in the luxuriant forest at the topmost part of the island, the baluarte has indeed a strategic location that might have contributed greatly to the downfall of the pirates during the epic battle. A nerve-racking climb to the top of the solar-powered lighthouse beside it rewards me with a breathtaking panoramic view of the island.

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the modern lighthouse in Sumilon Island

As we move further, I see that despite the luxurious amenities the solitary resort offers, a large part of Sumilon Island, including the pocket beaches around it, has remained pristine. The cottages along the largest beach are made only of natural materials.

The island also has a natural lagoon, surrounded by thriving mangroves, where visitors can feed the fish and go kayaking. Beside the lagoon is the “glamping” or glamorous camping area for guests who want to experience camping without sacrificing comfort.

Exhausted and unable to think of anything else to do, I decide to spend the rest of the afternoon at the medium-sized infinity pool overlooking the turquoise waters of the Bohol Sea. Watching the bright blue skies give way to pale yellows and purples while listening to the sea waves below is the perfect conclusion to a sweltering day of swimming, trekking and church hopping. Or is it? I am suddenly undecided when I see the bamboo cabanas, where guests can get a hilot massage, perched on one side of the cliff. I end up doing both. After all, it’s not everyday that I get to have a deluxe experience in paradise.

a view from the top

a view from the top

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the jacuzzi overlooking the Bohol Sea

the jacuzzi overlooking the Bohol Sea

the massage area

the massage area

inside the villa

inside the villa

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inside the villa

the infinity pool at sunrise

the infinity pool at sunrise

the seafront villa

the seafront villa

the infinity pool at night

the infinity pool at night

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Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken and Baked Tahong

Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken and Baked Tahong

the appetizer, salad and soup

the appetizer, salad and soup

Cream of Lettuce

Cream of Lettuce

Shrimp Salad

Shrimp Salad

the super rich Chocolate Cake

the super rich Chocolate Cake

Tablea Swirl Cheesecake

Tablea Swirl Cheesecake

Steak Fillet and Mashed Potato

Steak Fillet and Mashed Potato

Breakfast at the pavilion

Breakfast at the pavilion

 

How To Get There:

1.)  Tan-awan, Oslob (whale-watching area)

  • If you are coming from Cebu City, go to the South Cebu Bus Terminal. Ride the Ceres Bus Line bound for Oslob. Travel time is 3-4 hours and fare is around Php 150
  • If you are coming from Dumaguete, which is nearer, ride a tricycle or multicab to Sibulan Port (Php 150), where you can ride a ferry (php 60) to Liloan in Cebu. The ferry departs every hour and travel time is around 15 minutes. From Liloan Port, ride a tricycle or bus to Tan-awan, Oslob. Travel time is around 15-20 minutes.

2.)  Sumilon Island

  • Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort provides shuttle services and boat transfers upon reservation
  • If you won’t stay at the resort, you may rent a boat from Brgy. Bancongon in Oslob. (Php 1,500)

3.) Tumalog Falls

  • You’ll find motorcycles that take tourists to Tumalog Falls right outside the whale watching area (Php 120).

 

Where to Stay:

Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort

Bancongon, Oslob, Cebu 6025

09176317514 or 09176317512

Email: fo.sumilon@bluewater.com.ph

www.bluewater.com.ph

 

 

 

 

A Travel Guide to 4 of Caraga’s Most Stunning Secrets

The Enchanted River

The Enchanted River

Tinuy-an Falls

Tinuy-an Falls

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Bucas Grande Island

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Located in the northeast section of Mindanao, the Caraga Region is an 18,847-km2 stretch of lush evergreen forests, rugged coastline lapped by sparkling waters, towering waterfalls, limestone karst bedrocks that house many spectacular caves and soil endowed with rich mineral resources. The region is composed of five provinces: Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur and Dinagat Islands.

A few days ago, my travel buddy Aimee and I braved the stressful bus commute and the seemingly endless habal-habal ride on a dirt road to see four of the region’s most beautiful destinations.

1.) Bucas Grande in Socorro, Surigao del Norte

Our chatter is interspersed with silence as soon as our flat-bottomed boat sails toward Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande Island. Small jungle-covered hills sprouting out of the placid and clear emerald waters greet us from the half-submerged entrance. I have not seen this much green in my life. As we marvel at the carnivorous and brightly colored Pitcher plants dangling over the water, our silence is punctuated by the cooing of the birds among the Magcono trees (Philippine Ironwood), which is said to yield the hardest timber.

There are many caves among the seven broccoli-shaped islets inside Sohoton Cove, most of them unexplored. After the nerve-racking skin dive at the beautiful Hagukan Sea-cave, our guide Zeewar takes us to Magkukuob Cave. Kuob means to bow. “Be careful, you might injure your head,” he warns. Indeed, one has to bow his head to avoid the pointed stalactites at the cavern’s low ceiling. A short climb through a dark passage, whose adjoining walls exhibit many jaw dropping rock formations, takes us to a wooden platform on a cliff. According to our guide, the easiest way out of the cave is to jump off twenty feet into the clear turquoise water below. Exciting indeed!

Besides the enchanting Sohoton Cove, Bucas Grande is also a home to the stingless jellyfish, many small white-sand beaches, and inland lakes clad in dense wilderness.

How to Get There:

From the Surigao City airport in Surigao del Norte, ride a tricycle to Pier Uno (15 minutes), where you would find a boat going to Socorro town in Bucas Grande Island (3 hours). Make sure to arrive before noon because there is only one trip everyday. In Socorro, hire a bangka (outrigger boat) to Sohoton National Park.

Where To Stay:

Villa Harkrisha Resort

Brgy. Taruc, Socorro, Surigao Del Norte

09102924264

My Expenses (excluding airfare):

Tricycle from the airport to Pier Uno- Php 150

Boat to Socorro- Php 200

Hotel (Php800/night for 2)- Php 400 each

Food- Php 500

Boat Rental to Bucas Grande (Php 2,000 for 2)- Php 1,000 each

Sohoton Cave Tour (Php 1,410 for 2)- Php 705 each

Total- Php 2,955

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the half-submerged entrance to Sohoton Cove

the half-submerged entrance to Sohoton Cove

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a beautiful white-sand beach at the Bucas Grande Island

a beautiful white-sand beach at the Bucas Grande Island

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playtime :)

playtime 🙂

the stingless jellyfish at the Bucas Grande Island

the stingless jellyfish at the Bucas Grande Island

selfie with a stunning background

selfie with a stunning background

2.) Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig City, Surigao Del Sur

Tinuy-an means an intentional act to achieve something. Indeed, one has to deviate from the well-paved main road and endure a bumpy and dusty habal-habal ride to see this four-tiered waterfalls in Burboanan village. Nestled in a rainforest with lofty century-old trees and rich biodiversity, Tinuy-an Falls is said to be the widest in the country. The largest tier has a breathtaking width of 95 meters and its cool clear waters plunge 55 meters into a rocky pool that shelters many freshwater fishes.

Crossing the river on a bamboo raft, we are drawn to the beautiful stair-like rock walls behind the thundering waters. “Beautiful. They look like they’ve been carved by human hands,” says Aimee, her eyes fixed on the flat boulders at the bottom of the waterfalls.

According to Kuya Marco, our driver, Tinuy-an Falls has only been opened to tourists in the late 2000, after the shutdown of a large paper company that operated within the area.

How to Get There:

From Tandag City in Surigao del Sur, where the airport is, ride a bus bound for Bislig (4-5 hours). Tell the driver you will be alighting at the road going to Tinuy-an Falls. From there, ride a habal-habal (motorcycle).

If you are coming from Surigao del Norte, go to the bus terminal and ride a van to Butuan (2 hours). At the Butuan Bus Terminal, ride a van/bus bound for Mangagoy in Bislig City (4 hours). From there, ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to Tinuy-an Falls.

If you want a hassle-free trip to Tinuy-an Falls, Enchanted River and Britannia Group of Islands, call Kuya Mark Linag at 09489750475. He has affordable packages that include the tours, food, accommodation and entrance fees.

Where to Stay:

Casa De Babano

Bislig City, Surigao del Sur

+63 86 853 1297

My Expenses:

Van fare from Surigao City to Bislig City via Butuan (3 rides)- Php 400

Hotel (1 night)– Php 1,000

Food- Php 500

Habal-habal to both Enchanted and Tinuy-an- Php 1,500

Souvenir-Php 100

Total-Php 3,500

Tinuy-an Falls

Tinuy-an Falls

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3.) Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur

“It looks even more beautiful than in photographs.” I overhear a tourist who is eagerly fumbling for the camera in her duffel bag. I easily agree with her. I have never seen a river as clear and blue as the one before my eyes.

Hidden among the towering rocky mountains, the Enchanted River is clad in mystery because its exact source has never been determined. Palm trees and indigenous ferns surround its sparkling waters, which is a home to some fishes like the Maya-maya, Katambak, Danggit and Kitong.

A glance at the river takes me back to my childhood when my nanny would tell me stories about the engkantos and their beautiful abode. According to some residents, they grew up listening to stories about fairies and mermaids who guard the river and give it its strange bluish color.

The river glints silver under the afternoon sun, as if enticing us to explore its unfathomable depth. Our guide says the a group of divers once attempted to explore its abysses but were only able to reach 150 feet after consuming several tanks of oxygen. The current underneath is also said to be very strong, making it impossible to dive deeper, thus making some people believe that the river is indeed enchanted.

How to Get There:

From Tandag City in Surigao del Sur, where the airport is, ride a bus to the town of Hinatuan. Tell the driver you will be alighting at the road going to the Enchanted River. From there, ride a habal-habal (motorcycle).

If you want a hassle-free trip to Tinuy-an Falls, Enchanted River and Britannia Group of Islands, call Kuya Mark Linag at 09489750475. He has affordable packages that include the tours, food, accommodation and entrance fees.

Where to Stay:

Casa De Babano

Bislig City, Surigao del Sur

+63 86 853 1297

My Expenses:

Please see #2 (under Tinuy-an Falls)

The Enchanted River

The Enchanted River

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4.) The Britania Group of Islands in San Agustin, Surigao del Sur

“Only six among the 25 Britania Islands are open for tourists, but it doesn’t mean you’d go home feeling shortchanged,” says Manong Isko, our friendly boatman. I understand what he means when we reach Hagonoy Island, our first stop. As we sink our feet into the soft sugar-colored sand, we are greeted by the breathtaking view of the forest-covered islets rising up from the sea. We find it difficult to resist the clear turquoise water crashing gently on the shore, so despite the intense midday heat, we frolic in the shallows with abandon.

Still devoid of massive tourism, the Britania islands are the perfect conclusion to an exhausting Caraga adventure.

How To Get There:

From Tandag City in Surigao del Sur, where the airport is, ride a bus to San Agustin. Tell the driver you will be alighting at the road going to the Britania Group of Islands. From there, ride a habal-habal (motorcycle).

If you want a hassle-free trip to Tinuy-an Falls, Enchanted River and Britannia Group of Islands, call Kuya Mark Linag at 09489750475. He has affordable packages that include the tours, food, accommodation and entrance fees.

Where to Stay:

Mac Arthur’s Place

Britania, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur

09999910845, 09399163745, 09328823460, 09258221481, 09165850171

Expenses:

Habal-habal ride from Bislig to San Agustin (Php 1,000 for 2)- Php 500 each (this is not the recommended mode of transportation because both towns are far from each other, but since the regular commute takes a longer time, we rode a habal-habal instead)

Food- Php 500

Hotel(Php 1,000 per night)- Php 500 each

Island Hopping (Php 1,200/2 persons) – Php 600 each

Fare from the highway to the port and back- Php 100

Total php 2,200

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Our 5D4N Surigao del Norte/Surigao del Sur Itinerary

Day 1

9:30am- ETA from Cebu to Surigao City Airport via Cebu Pac

10am- depart to Pier Uno, early lunch etc.

12nn- boat departs from Surigao City to Soccoro town

3pm onwards- boat arrives in Socorro, hotel check-in, explore the town, dinner

Day 2

6am to 11am- hotel check-out, start of island hopping to Bucas Grande, quick lunch

12 nn- arrive at Hayanggabon Port via same boat for island hopping, depart to the   town of Badas where we’d find vans for Butuan

1pm- ride a Butuan-bound van at the Badas Terminal

3pm- arrive in Butuan Terminal, ride a bus bound for Mangagoy, Bislig

8pm- arrive in Bislig, hotel check-in, dinner, rest

Day 3

8am to 4pm – explore Tinuy-an Falls and Enchanted River

Day 4

5am- hotel check-out, depart to San Agustin for the Britania island hopping

8am- arrive in Britania port

8:30 am- start the tour to the Britania Group of Islands

12nn- end of tour, lunch

1pm– ride a van to Tandag City***

2pm- arrive in Tandag, ride a bus bound for Surigao City

8pm- arrive in Surigao City, hotel check-in, rest

Day 5

7am- explore Surigao City (public market, museums, churches etc.)

1pm- flight back to Cebu via Cebu Pac

 

*** Tandag City in Surigao del Sur has an airport but there are no flights on weekends so we decided to just go back to our starting point, which, by the way, is very exhausting. If you want to explore these 4 destinations in 5 days, make sure you arrive at the Surigao del Norte airport and depart at the Surigao del Sur airport to avoid the long travel time.

Villa Harkrisha Resort in Socorro, Bucas Grande

Villa Harkrisha Resort in Socorro, Bucas Grande

Villa Harkrisha Resort in Socorro, Bucas Grande

Villa Harkrisha Resort in Socorro, Bucas Grande

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