Roughly at 11.20pm, we were along EDSA in Cubao desperately hailing a taxi to get home. A ride getting home shouldn't be a problem on a regular day but this was not a regular day. It was December 31 and we just came from a 14-hour trip from Caramoan. 25 minutes and four cabs later, we were home and 15 minutes ahead of 2019. And 20 minutes after ringing in the new year, we were comfortably asleep - tired after returning from our supposed yearend trip and after we got "Usman-ed" in Caramoan.
Our planned trip started out smoothly days before the onset of the new year. The plan was to explore the beautiful beaches of Caramoan on the eastern seaboard of Camarines Sur. This tourist destination took the limelight after being featured on a number of seasons of the international franchise of "Survivor". With its pristine white sand beaches, off-beat rustic ambiance, and 13 islands to explore, it is not surprising that a lot of locals will try their luck in surviving Caramoan.
Day 1: A Surprise Sidetrip
We started out our trip smoothly with two families, a couple, and a solo traveler. We all boarded a van for an overnight trip to Caramoan. Weather was fine when we left although I was aware that a typhoon was going to hit land in Samar which may affect the weather system in the area. I expected some rains and some winds on our first day.
It was drizzling in Naga when we stopped over for breakfast. And just after breakfast, our first itinerary change was announced. Our sidetrips to Naga, initially scheduled on the third day was moved to the first day. It was understandable since we cannot afford to set out to explore islands in that kind of weather. But a major change was that our side trip was to include Albay. I was reluctant because by moving towards Legazpi meant getting closer to the typhoon which meant more rains. But when you are a joiner on a trip, you are at the mercy of the organizer's discretion. We had no choice but to go with the flow.
The heavy downpour in Naga did not allow us to fully explore two of the city's popular destinations - the Penafrancia Minore Basilica and the Camsur Watersport Complex. We were able to make a short visit and view the image of the Our Lady of Penafrancia. However, the rains were relentless when we reached the CWC that we just had a quick tour of the complex.
The rains were more considerate when we reached Legazpi City. While some of our companions managed to hop on an ATV and enjoy a trail run, our group decided to enjoy lunch and go for some pasalubong shopping at the Cagsawa Ruins. It has been years since I first set foot to explore the ruins and it was a nice to come face to face with this iconic attraction. Too bad though that it was raining and Mayon was not in view.
After the brief stop in Albay, we finally headed up to Caramoan and arrived at around 9pm amidst a heavy downpour. We later found out that our van was the last to have crossed the mountains to Caramoan.
Day 2: A Rainy Staycation at Rex Inn Garden Resort
We were jolted out from our slumber at around 6.15 in the morning. The frantic wake up call woke us in the midst of a flooded room. In no time, I was scampering to get our bags up on the bed. I was scooping stuff floating around while Jeh and Asher was securing our important stuff inside our Hull and Stern dry bags. We did not feel any fear. In fact, we were all laughing at our predicament.
I evacuated Asher first as water was rising fast before Jeh and I started to haul our things out of the flooded room. At one point, I feared that the presence of snakes in the floodwaters. By the time that I made a final sweep in the room, water was already on my thighs. It rose from ankle-deep waters up to my thighs in a matter of 30 minutes.
The great thing with Rex Inn Garden Resort was that we were ushered in to a new room on the higher grounds of the resort as fast as we were evacuated. All affected guests were well-taken cared of. In no time, we were already sorting out our wet clothes from the dry ones. After breakfast (which was served and delivered to our room on time), I was able to get a clear picture of our situation. The heavy downpour in the evening that continued through the early morning caused the adjacent river to overflow and flood the resort. Baranggay officials were even mapping out a rescue plan to save 3 families stranded in one of the hills near our resort at the time that I was assessing the situation. The families sought higher grounds when the river swelled.
By midday, we were made aware that all roads leading out of Caramoan was blocked by landslides, a total of 18 landslides along the access road. Access to town was also blocked by another landslide. There was no easy way in to and out of the place as clearing operations may take days. The only way out was through the Caramoan Feeder Port in Guijalo and it would entail navigating through muddy trails because of the landslide.
We decided that sitting out the storm was the only option as we were stranded anyway. Our island hopping activity turned into an unscheduled staycation at Rex Inn Garden Resort. We enjoyed just relaxing in our room, enjoy the sumptous meals which were always served on time, and enjoy the rainy and windy weather. Some of the guests took the opportunity to just enjoy a dip in the pool.
Day 3: Three Beaches and A Church
With the sun breaking out of the clouds, our guide, Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours, organized a quick beach hopping activity to give us a sneak peek of Caramoan's rustic beauty.
We couldn't go far because a gale warning was still in effect in the area and the closest island that we can get safely into was Bagieng Island, more popularly known as Survivor Island. This is the island that is used by the international franchise for their location for the popular reality tv show.
There are three beach spots in the area. Our first stop was the Balete Beach characterized by its cream-colored sand and the abundance of Balete trees. The place is a solitary spot which is also ideal for camping. It's solitary atmosphere make it a great spot to enjoy a slice of some peace and quiet.
Bagieng Beach is another stretch of cream-colored sandy beach at the "back" of the island. This is the landing area of motorized boats to access the location of the reality show. Its sugary sand and lush greens make it another photogenic spot for those cool and, sometimes, wacky shot.
Sabitang Laya is the main attraction of the island as this is the spot where the series is shot. Its vast open space and sandy shores, it is a great place where you can have a picnic and enjoy a cool dip. Asher loved the spot. Its dramatic limestone formation are great backdrops for photos. Its natural beauty would make any survivor enjoy spending time in the island.
As our exploration was limited due to safety issues, we were already headed back to the resort by midday. The beach hopping activity was really meant to give us a short preview of what to expect when we return sometime soon.
Later in the afternoon, we had the chance to head down to Caramoan town after one lane of the road was cleared of mud. The short trip to the town gave us a clear picture of the devastation brought in by the rains of Usman. Not far from our resort, flood waters was as deep as 10 feet. Locals were all busy cleaning up the mess inside and outside their homes.
In the midst of the typhoon mess stands a Spanish-period church that dominates the skyline of the town of Caramoan. Built in the 15th century, the St. Michael Archangel Parish Church is one of the oldest churches in Camarines Sur. Its brick walls, glowing in red-orange hues in the late afternoon light, reflects its simplicity, its age and its rich history. Its three-tierred facade is highlighted by the image of St. Michael on the second tier and a belfry on the third.
The simplicity of the church extends within the walls of the church. Its main attraction is its altar and its three-tierred retablo with the image of the Crucified Christ as its centerpiece. The top level of the retablo bears the image of the church's patron saint.
We visited the church just as its afternoon mass was ending. As the faithful spilled out of the church's concrete pathways, I caught a glimpse of the church's wide courtyard still bearing puddles of floodwater. The church survived typhoons and earthquakes in all its 400 years of existence, which the town will be celebrating on May of this year, and no amount of Usman's rain is going to dampen the townfolks' faith.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
As we sailed across the waters of Lagonoy Gulf in the middle of the rain, I asked my little girl if she enjoyed our trip. Asher replied with a resounding "yes"! We both agreed that it was a different experience but it was one for our travel books. Our plan may have deviated by a mile but we love the fact that we did not allow the flood, the rain, and the wind to spoil the fun. We defined what was fun.
We only realized how Usman drenched the region after we boarded our bus to Manila, the last bus trip for the year. We never had any idea of how much damaged it has caused until we got connected back onto social media. Now, we understood why our families were worried. It was a different experience. That I guess is the essence of our yearend trip - trips are never perfect. Something's bound to happen that will derail you from the plan. And that is the best part because you discover something new and different about the place and about you.
My biggest pick-up from the experience - always waterproof your bag and it wouldn't hurt to have a Hull and Stern Waterproof bag. And yes, we are planning our return to Caramoan soon.
Special Note: I have to commend Kuya Joseph and the staff of Rex Inn Garden Resort for taking care of me and my family. I cannot thank you enough for your fast action and for making us feel comfortable throughout our stay. We really enjoyed our stay in Caramoan kahit na-Usman kami sa Caramoan.
Getting There: Raymond Bus Lines have direct land trips to and from Caramaon from their Cubao Station. Advance bus reservations are required weeks ahead so plan your trips very well. My recommended place to stay is Rex Inn Garden Resort.
For hassle-free joiner tour, you can get in touch with Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours, based in Caramoan, that includes van transportation, accommodation, meals, and island tours. He can also make accommodation and island tours arrangements if you are bringing a car with you.
As I am writing this down, my family and I are sitting out the torrential rains and strong winds of typhoon Usman as it traverses the Visayas area. We are in Caramoan for our much anticipated yearender trip until a hurried wake-up call from one resort staff this morning. We woke up to a flooded room and we had to sweep on every single stuff that we had, both wet and dry, to move to a higher area of the resort in about 30 mins. I wil be blogging about it soon and how it pulled-off to be a yearend surprise.
2018 was another great year of going around the Philippines. I was more organized with the scheduling of my trips this year with "big" trips happening every quarter and the shorter ones filling the in betweens. I have explored the popular ones and those that are considered off-beat, focusing more on places that I have yet to explore. I am learning to turn down the usual trips in lieu of being able to explore new spots in the country.
When I started the year, I aimed to continue exploring provinces of the country that I have yet to cover with my #GOT81 goal. I identified one province from Luzon, one from Visayas, and one from Mindanao to explore. I had Catanduanes and joining the Pahiyas Festival in my 2018 bucket list, as well.
In retrospect, I was able to accomplish 3 out of the 7 items on my travel bucket list for 2018. Batanes was impressive but it was Catanduanes that made a mark on me. Antique was really awesome because I loved the solo backpacking scene which I have not done for a long time. Although I missed out on Pagadian this year, my Siargao, Mati, and Samal Island trips (Mati and Samal blogs are still on the works) were so awesome that Mindanao is my priority for my travel bucket list for 2019.
For my year ender, I wil be sharing with you my top local destinations for 2018.
Siargao Island is my top destination for this year. The place charming and endearing that Siargao grows in you slowly. I love the unique mix of its rustic atmosphere and vibrant island party feel. You get immersed with its natural beauty and get the rush with its activities while getting your fill of gastronomic delights from a wide selection of restaurants.
Siargao grows in you. Its vibe intoxicates you that you fall in love with it, more and more each day. Going around Siargao reminds you of your summer vacations in your parents' hometown where you just watch the day pass by going around town and observe the community's afternoon runs. You smiled at everyone you meet and the favor is returned. Every now and then, someone will make a short conversation with you and you really don't mind it. You feel that you are part of the community, not just a mere visitor.
This was Siargao to me. It goes beyond getting amazed by its natural beauty or its adrenaline-pumping activities. It makes you feel that you are part of the community.
You can read on my full Siargao blog here:
#GOTOffBeat: Caramoan, Camarines Sur
Our yearender trip to Caramoan is my off-beat destination for the year because of two things - Caramoan remains to be an off-beat tourist spot despite its popularity and it also got us off beat from the usual course of travel because of what we went through.
It is amazing that despite the popularity of Caramoan, locally and internationally, it has remained an off beat spot. I was pleasantly surprised with the absence of the usual restaurants and hotels present in the "more" popular destinations. Local small businesses thrive and you can still manage to get cheaper priced goods and services. It managed to remain rustic and off-beat probably because of getting there is not a joke.
But what made our Caramoan experience unique was the experience. We signed up with a tour group that came in at a time that storm Usman was about to hit Samar that also affected in the area. Despite the weather bulletins, we managed to get to Caramoan safely on schedule and with minor changes in the itinerary. The next day we woke up to a flooded room, we had to be moved to a higher area of the resort, and we had to sit it out the rest of our second day.
By the third day, we were told that we were stranded as there were 18 landslides that needed to be cleared out along our route. It was on the same day that we realized how much damage Usman lashed out on Caramoan and its surrounding areas.
It was a different and difficult experience but we took it in stride. We even managed to squeeze in a quick tour of the area before finding our way back to Manila. We learned a thing or two which I am excited to share with you on my future blog entry about this trip.
And no worries, we will be back.
(Kudos to Kuya Joseph of Gayon Travel and Tours and the staff of Rex Garden Tourist Inn for taking care of us during the ordeal. It was not the most ideal yearend family vacation but you made the whole experience bearable, comfortable, and fun. Maraming salamat po!)
I consider my Antique trip a "lucky trip". It was initially cancelled because of personal reasons and, with sheer luck, I was able to rebook it a month later because of an airline consideration due to, again, a weather disturbance. It was also my first solo backpacking trip after a long time.
Antique was a laidback charmer. It was very rustic and peaceful. It was a perfect place to unwind and detach from the world. This was a place that gives you that sense of adventure and rewards you with real quality time for self. I like the mix where a little hiking and water adventure makes you see the beauty that lies within its province and then enjoy a soothing kawa bath or morning meditation in the midst of nature. It allows you to see, experience, and be one with nature.
In its very essence, Antique is ideal for solo travelers. The serene atmosphere that it offers is ideal for those who are soul searching or for those who just simply want to detach from the world and re-charge. There are nature activities to try out and historical sites to explore to keep you amused. And you can end your day reading a good book or just simply drowning out in music while having a hot cup of coffee.
Read more about my Antique trip here:
#GOTDiscovered: Isla Maria, Cavinti, Laguna
And of course, our 2018 will not be complete without my discovery for this year - Isla Maria in Cavinti, Laguna!
Imagine having a whole island for yourself as a vacation spot. It was one of the coolest way to spend a Christmas day-out and it is just 4 hours away from Manila. Isla Maria is a small island in Lake Lumot ideal for a weekend family trip or a company teambuilding activity. You really get value for your money that includes a short island-hopping tour of Lake Lumot, unlimited use of the kayak, and you can even go try your hand on fishing.
This is another upcoming blog that I will be sharing with you soon and I just needed to share my unique destination find for 2018. You can check out their Isla Maria's Facebook page here.
As 2018 ushers in 2019, my project #GOT81 is still in effect and I am taking on the theme of #Mindanao1 this year. My trips to Siargao, Mati, and Samal Island made me realize that I still have a lot to explore and discover in Mindanao. So for this year, Mindanao will be my priority hence the number "1". I think it is also high time that I get to show that Mindanao is a safe destination to travel coming from someone who was born in Cagayan de Oro.
So what's on my travel bucketlist this 2019?
This landlocked destination missed out on me in 2018 and word is out that it is one off-beat destination that defines locked and loaded. This is one destination that has haunted me since the time that I read about it and I am rearing to explore it.
2. Balangiga Bells
It's back and I have got to hear it. After concerted efforts, the bells of Balangiga is back in its home. This is one historical and cultural treasure that I have got to see and hear as it is a mute witness to the horrors of the American occupation.
Gear up for another backpack adventure through Mindanao this March. I am excited to explore the wonders and the colorful heritage at the heart of Mindanao. This is going to be one of my biggest trip, if not the biggest, for the year.
Again, Pagadian also missed out on me in 2018 because of a family emergency. So I am re-planning the long overdue trip and this time crossing through three other cities in the area.
5. Dinagat Island
Off-beat destinations continue to charm me and Dinagat Island fits the pack. After watching it on "Byahe ni Drew" and seeing it from above (on my way to Siargao), Dinagat Island has caught my eye. And there is only way to quench my curiousity - checking out its spot.
6. Masskara Festival
This is another festival that I have been wanting to experience. Having seen its winning group perform during the Dinagyang week, I think the festival is one celebration where I can join in the fun and the dancing. And hopefully, I will be able to do it this year.
7. Swim with the Whale Sharks in Donsol
The best way to swim with the whale sharks is to swim with them in their natural habitat without disturbing its usual course. It would be a great experience to observe these gentle creatures in the wild.
I still have a couple of blogs that I am still working on as of this writing. I hope to share them with you in the coming weeks. As we work on heading back to Manila just in time for the New Year (as we are now aboard a boat to Sabang Port), I hope you enjoyed your travels this 2018 and I hope you also enjoyed mine, as well.
And with 2019 rushing in, gear up for another exciting year of exciting adventures and misadventures. Cheers to the new year!
PS. We arrived home safely 15 minutes before 2019 ushered in.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.