The gray skies growled. Huge drops of rain splattered on my pale shoulders as a strong gust of wind blew my frail umbrella inside-out.We had just disembarked from the freezing-cold Philtranco bus, our butts numb from the 9-hour ride from Manila to Daet, Camarines Norte. Our enthusiasm slowly turned into disheartenment. Mau, Aimee and I had been looking forward to our Calaguas trip all summer, and our arrival in the Bicol region seemed to be the beginning of the rainy season.
Our tricycle traversed the slick roads towards Bagasbas Beach, where we decided to spend our day. Dinky restaurants and B&B hotels line up sluggishly along the boardwalk. A few surfers were walking barefoot on the vast gray shore, waiting for the waves to pick up.
After making arrangements for our surfing lessons at Surfer’s Dine-Inn, where we also checked in, we decided to explore Daet. The rain had stopped but the skies remained melancholic. Daet is a surpisingly busy municipality. Tricycles and jeepneys crowded the bustling streets. We allowed ourselves to get lost in the jungle of hardwares, bakeries, eateries, fruit stands and numerous other shops. We picked up a few keychains and refrigerator magnets in the souvenir shops before heading to a cozy-looking restaurant called Ksarap. Rummaging Daet had us absolutely feeling famished that we ordered Sinigang, Kare-Kare, and Pork Barbeque, oblivious that each dish is hefty enough to serve 3-4 persons.
Aimee was quite excited to ride the waves of Bagasbas. Mau, on the other hand, found the waves too small and unchallenging; he just decided to take photos as I strenuously tried to keep my balance on the board. Surfing lessons in Bagasbas costs Php 400/hour (with a personal instructor).
At around 4, faint gleams of sunshine scattered from the gray skies. We could only hope for a better weather the following day.
5am. The rain drummed heavily on the roof of our diminutive hotel. Our hearts sank. An hour later, the rain had slowed into a drizzle. I opened the door and was surprised to see the clear blue skies. Aimee shrieked with delight. We grabbed our bags, paid Php 1200 for our room then hopped on a tricycle to Jollibee, where the Calaguas tour organizers would pick us up.
A few years ago, going to Calaguas can be quite an adventure. Unlike the famous and hedonistic White Beach in Boracay, there are no resorts, bars, phone signal and electricity (although there is a generator from 6pm until 10pm) in Calaguas. Experiencing its powdery white sand and crystalline water means bringing your own food, tent and other necessities. The transportation can also be a challenge as there are no regular boats that would take you to the Calaguas Islands. But now there are tour organizers that would take care of your food, tent, water, transportation and even ice-cold cocktails.
At around 9 we sailed off from Port Logpond in Vinzons, a town near Daet, with our bags waterproofed in huge plastic bags. The boatmen said that the trip would take approximately 2 hours. I was nervously silent, expecting six-foot waves and ferocious winds based on testimonies of friends who had been to Calaguas. But despite the dismal weather forecast in the PAGASA website, the sea was tame and serene.
The Calaguas Group of Islands, composed of 17 islands/islet, is located 19.2 nautical miles from Vinzons and about 26 kilometers off the eastern coast of Camarines Norte. One of the two major islands in the group, Tinaga, has a long stretch of unspoiled beach with very fine white sand and crystalline turquoise waters called Mahabang Buhangin.
As we neared Mahabang Buhangin, our jaws dropped in unison. The gloriousness of the pristine white sand was magnified by the bright cloudless skies, which made the water shimmer. The cool water would turn milky white as soon as our feet dipped into it. There were no resorts, just tents and cottages. There was no loud music, just the faint sighs of the sea breeze. I removed my slippers. The sand felt good under my feet.
After having a scrumptious lunch, Mau, Aimee and I just lay under a tree with our books and iPods. Other than swimming, there isn’t much to do in the island but eat, sunbathe, play frisbee and drink (yes, there is a store which sells beach necessities like toiletries and beer).I drifted into a deep slumber. The sun sauntered slowly across the sky. Mau and Aimee did some yoga routines against a backdrop of a colorful sunset.
That night after dinner, we lay under the stars while other campers boisterously had Red Horse. We saw a couple of shooting stars, and a few fireflies. We exchanged silly conversations like high school crushes, and laughed heedlessly until we fell asleep. The cold night air seeping into our skin woke us up, so we headed back to the tent.
Part of the second day’s itinerary was to visit the neighboring islands, but we decided not to join. The weather was flawless. We just lounged all day in the cottage and on the shore with our books and some bossa nova from my iPod, took photographs of the breathtaking scenery and hiked up the hill at the end of the island so we could enjoy a good view of the beach from a higher vantage point.
That night, the tour organizers brought a mobile bar, and treated the campers to a drink-till-you-drop party.
The Philippines is blessed with countless majestic beaches and glimmering waters. One can always go to Palawan or Boracay for a paradise experience, but this year our free spirits led us to Calaguas’s fine shores. Disconnected from the world, we found inner tranquility just by looking at the bare white sand and the turquoise waters for two days.
Melvic, the tour organizer, told us that development is worming its way in. Plans to build resorts are underway. My friends and I feel lucky to have experienced this untouched paradise, and to have taken breathtaking photographs of its naked beauty. Personally, it is still best to experience Calaguas in its original form: remote, quiet and isolated.
HOW TO GET THERE
1.) There are many tour organizers that would conveniently take you to Calaguas from Manila and back for a reasonable amount.I’d strongly recommend Hullabaloo, my friends and I found their services very satisfactory. You may contact them at 09065144444.
Included in their package are the food, water, land and sea transportation, entrance fee, tent and overflowing cocktails.
2.) For a “do-it-yourself” trip to Calaguas, take a Philtranco or Superlines bus from Metro Manila to Daet. Fare is Php 580 (as of this writing) for a comfortable airconditioned bus.
Cebu Pacific and PAL Express fly to Naga in Camarines Sur. From Naga, take a bus or van to Daet. Travel time is approximately 2 hours.
From Daet, you head to either of two coastal towns, which serve as your jump-off point to Calaguas.
a.) Vinzons- Take a tricycle/jeepney from Daet to the Vinzons fish port, then find a fishing boat that would take you to MahabangBuhangin in Calaguas. A boat that could fit 5 people would cost around Php 3000.
b.) Paracale- Go to the town’s fish port and find a fishing boat that would take you to MahabangBuhangin. A small boat that could fit up to six people would cost around Php 2000. Paracale is nearer to Calaguas than Vinzons.