Day 1: Climbing Cliffs
I pressed my body against the rock; its sharp edges pinched my skin. The cliff ascended steeply above me. My cold clammy hand fumbled for a handhold as my foot struggled to reach the trunk of a small tree amid the cliff. Fel, who was ahead of me, suddenly slid backward as her foothold crumbled. I watched, paralyzed, until she assured me she was fine. “Careful. You daughter is still a baby.” I laughed nervously. Inching shakily to the top, I could see in the corner of my eye the white sand of Matukad Beach. Terrified of heights, I screamed. “Thank God, I’m alive!”
“Wow, look at that!” Fel’s eyes were glued on the pristine shore below us. The clear jade-green water glinted under the sun. Giant limestone karst formations stood like stalwart soldiers from the sea. Fel and I were silenced by the breathtaking panorama. “Sir, ayan na po yung bangus.” Kuya Rico, our dusky mild-mannered tour guide, pointed at a huge milkfish swimming in the small lagoon on the other side of the cliff. “It’s huge. Why is it alone?” I asked. “Sabi sa kwento, dalawa daw yan dati. A fisherman caught one for his family’s dinner. Poisoned, he and his family died the next day. Simula noon, wala ng gumalaw sa isa pang bangus” Kuya Rico replied.
Sweat trickled from my brows to my mouth as I descended. Still trembling, I turned to Mike excitedly. “I just climbed a cliff, and I didn’t die.” He laughed as he handed us some fresh buko from a vendor nearby. “You’re lucky to be able to visit Matukad. This beach was off-limits to tourists when Survivor Israel was filming not too long ago.” Kuya Rico said.
The afternoon breeze rustled the leaves of the trees on the cliff, quietly ruffling the glassy shallow water. Some visitors were starting to climb back to their boats.
“Hindi ba delikado yan?” Fel blurted upon seeing Balat, Kuya Rico’s child, playing with a pile of jellyfish he collected from the shore. “That’s the harmless kind. We call that law-ang law-ang here.” Kuya Rico reassured.
“Is that flying fish?” Mike turned to Joe, the boatman. A school of fish jumped out of the clear water and glided through the air as our boat traversed the passageway to Tinago Beach. Their tiny bodies glinted silver, like needles. “Hindi po, dilis lang po yan.” he replied. “Tinago means hidden, which describes this secluded place.” Kuya Rico briefly explained. “This place looks eerie.” I said as I buried my feet on the golden sand. The towering jungle-covered limestone cliffs guarding the small beach stared down at us, as if we were unwanted guests. Birds and crickets chirped simultaneously. The water remained treacherously quiet. “Let’s get out of here. There are plenty of jellyfish.” Kuya Rico warned.
“Kunan ko kayo ng jump shots dito.” Kuya Rico volunteered as we walked towards the sloping white sandbar connecting two massive limestone clusters. “This looks charming.” Fel said, glancing at the children running across to the other shore. I knew she was missed her baby back home. “I think I know why this is called Lahos Beach. In my province Leyte, lahos means to pass through. Here, you can easily pass from one side of the beach to the other. Is that right?” I asked. Kuya Rico nodded. “Also, during high tide, that sand bar disappears and the water goes to the other side.”
A few more outriggers parked on the shore, spilling large groups of rowdy tourists. “Let’s take a quick dip, tapos alis na tayo. It’s getting crowded.” Mike suggested. We all agreed.
“Are you sure you still want to do this?” Mike asked, wiping his drenched face as the waves broke into a spray. His voice sounded serious. “Yes of course!” I quickly replied. My heart started to race. The waves slapped the sides of the boat. Can I actually do this? I started to doubt myself. Dark clouds loomed overhead, shrouding the afternoon sun. The rain started pouring from afar. Our boat’s reverberant engine slowly died down as we neared a giant cliff rising from the sea. “This is it!” I said under my breath. “Kaya mo yan, Togs! Wohoo!” Fel cheered. I struggled to keep my balance as our boat bounced on the rough sea. Kuya Rico held my hand tightly as I stretched my leg to reach the boulder at the bottom of the cliff. I clung to the stairs of rope and bamboo and carefully inched my way to the cold wooden platform around 30 feet from the sea. Gazing down into the dark gaping sea, I could feel my knees shaking uncontrollably. The piercing screams of Mike and Fel sounded gibberish. The cold breeze and the drizzle felt like thousands of needles on my bare skin. Trembling, I shut my eyes, inhaled deeply, screamed and ran into the air.
I suddenly remembered a friend who jumped off a building many years ago. This is how he must have felt like. I imagined how helpless he was in the air, uncertain where his head and bones will smash against.
Splash! Then a few seconds of darkness. I quickly rose to the surface. Grasping for breath, I screamed, “I did it!” Kuya Rico, who jumped off the cliff too, grabbed my back. “Okay lang po kayo, sir?” He pulled me against the current, towards the boat. I nodded, unable to believe what just happened. Fel and Mike were giggling over the video they took of my jump when I climbed back to the boat.
The skies cleared up during the night, exposing the big yellow moon above the flat sea. Fel, Mike and I lounged at the beachfront restobar of our hotel in Paniman Beach. “This day is amazing, I conquered some of my fears.” I smiled as I poured cheap wine into our glasses.
Day 2: Sandbars, Jellyfish…
“575 po.” Kuya Alan, a dark lanky man wearing a fisherman’s hat, said. He was referring to the number of steps to reach the grotto of Our Lady of Peace in Mt. Caglago in Barangay Tabgon. “Let’s take our photo up there. Para na rin tayong nag Rio De Janeiro para sa World Cup.” Fel said, clutching a few bottles of water. We could see the open arms of the image from afar, resembling the statue of Jesus in Brazil.
A group of fair-skinned tourists walked past us, their faces glistening with sweat. The morning sun hammered down its heat towards us.
“C’mon, this is a good workout for your legs.” I turned to Mike, who stopped when he reached the halfway point, ready to quit. Fel, after running her fingers on the brightly-colored flowers lining the stairs, continued her hike.
Tiny birds circled above the Talisay trees when we reached the last step, as if welcoming us. A 26-foot statue of Our Lady of Peace stood on top of the mountain, facing the sea. We rested at the foot of the edifice. Across us was a panoramic view of the sea dotted with limestone cliffs and islands. “Breathtaking!” Fel sighed. “It must have been hard constructing this statue.” Mike turned to Kuya Alan. “That’s right. When the construction began in 1989, people had to carry the materials up here.” Kuya Alan said. “Actually, hindi na po ito ang original. The first statue was struck by a lightning in 1999.” A small shrine stood just below the statue. According to the caretaker, mass is usually celebrated here every first Sunday of the month. “Buti nalang hindi dito ang Simbang Gabi tuwing Disyembre,” quipped Kuya Rico. Our group burst into laughter.
It was past 10 when our boat carefully glided into the shallow sparkling water of Manlawi Sandbar. “Saglit lang po tayo dito. The boat will have difficulty getting out during low tide.” Kuya Rico warned. “Ang ganda.” I said. Like children in a toy store, Fel and I ran towards the wide and long stretch of off-white sandbar. It looked like a large glass extending beyond the horizon. Giggling, Fel did cartwheels midway. The small and empty floating cottages, arranged like a crescent moon, sat comfortably on the sand as the water subsided. A few fishing boats lounged on the shore, some hummed from afar. Fel lay flat on her stomach, eyes closed, face turned towards the gentle breeze.
According to Kuya Rico, a cottage could be rented for 200 pesos. “However, if we stay here for lunch, we could get stuck for a long time. We still have many islands to visit,” he added.
“Oh my God, this is the best laing I’ve ever tasted.” Mike said with his mouth full, sending bits of rice flying back to his plate. Fel and I agreed. “How come our version of this in Leyte is soggy?” I asked Kuya Rico. “I thought my lola’s version was the best, but this is tastier. Don’t tell her I said that.” Fel laughed. “The secret is in the leaves. The gabi leaves have to be dried out first,” he replied. He happily shared his Laing recipe with us and it sounded easy:
First you need to sauté the ginger, garlic, onion, chili and pork. Add the coconut milk and gabi leaves. Then simmer until the sauce has been reduced. Finally, pour in the coconut cream and cook until the oil comes out.
“I’ll definitely cook this at home.” I said. The dried nipa roof of the cottage rustled in the wind as we ate hungrily. Across us was a stunning view of Cotivas Island, it pinkish gold sand glowed under the sun.
Sipping fresh buko juice, we lounged by the shore while waiting for the tide to rise.
After paying a hundred for the cottage an hour later, we trod back to our boat, which was moored far from the shore. The bright skies unveiled plenty of colorful starfish under the sparkling water as we moved away from the island.
I flinched after descending into the shallow turquoise water suckling on the long golden shore of Sabitang Laya.“Ang init ng tubing!” According to Kuya Rico, Sabitang Laya has the longest shore among the Caramoan Islands and it extends up to 2 kilometers when combined with the shoreline from the other side. The grasses thriving on the sandy bottom tickled my feet as I walked towards the jagged fortress-like limestone clusters at the tip of the island. A group of children were frolicking below a huge rock, which stood majestically offshore. “This is also a favorite spot for the Survivor series,” boasted Kuya Rico. “It’s a no-brainer. This place is one of the most stunning in Caramoan,” Fel said. Holding a camera in one hand, I struggled to climb the smallest boulder to get a good view of the surroundings.
Boisterous laughter broke out from Bag-ing Beach, the other side of Sabitang Laya. “Those are the sets of Survivor.” Kuya Rico pointed at the wooden structures on the shore where a group of tourist was posing quirkily. It was our last stop. The late afternoon sunlight filtered through the leaves of the Talisay tree behind me. Scattered in the shade were several other tourists, chattering. Weary, I sat on the shore and watched the waves wash off the golden sand clinging to my toes. Everything was peaceful until a frantic scream caught everyone’s attention. “Jellyfish! Jellyfish! Ouch!” It was Mike. He was stung on his leg. Kuya Rico immediately ran to him and pulled him towards the shore. Some women, who were splashing in the shallows, quickly walked out of the water. “Pakiabot ng suka!” Kuya Rico, who prepared our lunch earlier, fortunately brought with him some condiments. He poured vinegar on Mike’s affected areas, which extended from the upper front of his legs down to his toes. Both Fel and I stared helplessly as he carefully peeled off the jellyfish’s tentacles from Mike’s leg, which turned pink with rashes. “Don’t worry. It will be fine.” He gave us a reassuring smile. “So no need to amputate?” I jested, trying to lighten up the mood. “Hayop ka!Ikaw talaga!” Mike reacted, raising his fist to my face jokingly.
As we sailed past the islands with small champagne-colored beaches, jagged terrains and towering cliffs on our way back to the hotel, I told myself that patience and sacrifice really pay off. Thirteen hours of journey to get to the Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur was distressful but all our discomfort plummeted into the dark abyss of the sea when our boat cruised towards Matukad Beach. I conquered my fear of heights. Trembling with anxiety, I climbed a steep sharp-edged cliff because I knew that an amazing view awaited at the top. Jumping off a cliff into the gaping sea taught me that falling isn’t the end of everything. Yes, I almost fainted but it didn’t kill me. Doing what I thought was impossible felt amazing. I realized that I waste so much of my life fearing and worrying about the unknown. Indeed, this journey was more than just basking under the scorching June sun and lounging on the golden shore.
As we left Guinjalo Port the following day, all I could think of was the Laing recipe Kuya Rico taught us. I’m sure everyone at home will love it.
1.) To save time and energy, have your tour and accommodation arranged before you visit Caramoan. Kuya Rico gave us a personalized package. He was our guide, cook, photographer and lifeguard. Reach him at 09126871930
2.) Make sure you book your bus seats in advance. Getting a bus from Naga to Manila can be quite difficult. When we arrived at the terminal, most of the seats were already taken. We had to wait for 7 hours for the next trip.
How To Get There:
1.) From Manila, take a bus or plane to Naga City. Travel time by bus is approx. 9 hrs.
Plane- Cebu Pacific and PAL
Bus- Penafrancia, Isarog, RSL, Raymond, Cagsawa, Philtranco, DLTB and Amihan
Bus terminals can be found in Araneta Center, Cubao and Taft near the MRT
2.) From Naga City, take a van bound for Sabang Port. The van terminal is in front of SM City Naga. Travel time is 1 hour.
3.) From Sabang Port, ride the MB Harry boat bound for Guinjalo Port in Caramoan. Travel time is 2 hours.
|Exclusive 3d/2n Tour Package (full board meals, island hopping, van ride, accommodation)||Php 5200. It is way cheaper if you come in large groups|
|Bus (Manila-Naga-Manila)||Php 1650|
|Boat (Sabang-Guinjalo-Sabang)||Php 240|
|Cottage Rental in Cotivas Beach||Php 100|
|Environmental Fee||Php 30|
3d/2n Sample Itinerary
|8pm||Bus leaves from Manila to Naga City|
|5am||Bus arrives in Naga City|
|6-7am||Naga City to Sabang Port|
|8-10am||Sabang Port to Guinjalo Port|
|7am-5pm||Island Hopping with lunch in one of the islands|
|6:30am||Depart to Guinjalo Port|
|7-9am||Guinjalo Port to Sabang Port|
|9-10am||Sabang Port to Naga Bus Terminal|
|12nn||Bus departs from Naga City to Manila|
|9pm||Arrival in Manila|