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.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.