Let me say it out loud... Babuyan Claro is not for the faint-hearted!
We never thought that we would actually live out the line “See the line where the sky meets the sea”. That line that Moana spoke of was the same line that we looked at for almost two hours trying to catch any semblance of a landform as we traversed the choppy waters of the Luzon Strait. It did not help that it started to rain at the same time. For those who travel often, rains mixed with choppy waters are not a good combination when you are in the middle of the sea.
Finally after 6 hours of sea travel on choppy waters, I was one of the last persons to board a makeshift raft that brought me to rocky shores of Babuyan Claro - the northernmost island of the Calayan Group of Islands.
The journey to Calayan Group of Islands started three months before the day we stepped on the hallowed shores of Babuyan Claro. It started when Share-A-Smile Project made a call for volunteers for an outreach program on Cagayan’s northernmost municipality. My daughter and I heeded the call and together with 22 other volunteers took an 18-hour land and 6-hour sea travel to reach out and discover the communities of these amazing islands.
Calayan Group of Islands is the northernmost municipality of Cagayan Valley. It is composed of four islands - Calayan, Babuyan Claro, Camiguin, and Dalupiri. The largest island is Calayan which also serves as the municipality’s center for governance and commerce. Although there are regular lampitaw trips between Calayan and Aparri or Claveria in mainland Luzon, travel to these islands are still limited due to weather and sea conditions.
Babuyan Claro is the northernmost island of Calayan. It is the home of the Filipino indigenous group, Ibatan - a close relative of the Batanes’ Ivatan tribe. The island is a protected ancestral land whereby giving the domain under the care of the tribe’s elders. Its locals are very shy and, more often than not, are satisfied just watching their guests from a distance. Should the case be that you catch them intently observing you, they are quick to give you their brightest smile before scurrying away from the attention. But do not be decieved by their shyness because they have one of the biggest and the most hospitable hearts that I have experience in the Philippines.
In contrast to the hospitality of the Ibatan, Babuyan Claro is probably the most unwelcoming island that I have encountered in the Philippines. It is not enough that it takes 6 hours of sea travel from Sta. Ana to Babuyan Claro. The waters that surround the island is also relentless in giving you a memorable “splash” that could either excite you or, more often than not, scare the sh*t out of you. And the weather can be quite a uncooperative as you approach the island. I mean rains and huge waves in the middle of the sea are not exactly the elements that you want to toy with. It is not surprising that the Council of Elder’s tourism brochure gives a fair warning to travelers about the difficulty of traveling to Babuyan Claro.
On the side note, travelers need to first coordinate with the council if you intend to visit Babuyan Claro. You need to get their approval before starting the journey.
Reaching Out to the Ibatan Community
Babuyan Claro is the home of the meek and shy Filipinos. The community shares and enjoys a simple way of life that is centered on family and kinship. They live in peace, void of the usual city dwellers’ vice and habits. Electricity is limited. Smoking and drinking liquor is not allowed. Mobile phones are unnecessary as there are no mobile signal in the area. When you visit Babuyan Claro, you live with the community and you learn and realize how to live with the true basic essentials - food, shelter, clothing, and family.
At the core of the community is the school that not only serves as a learning institution but as a focal point for community gathering. With its sprawling lawn, it definitely allows its young minds to play and explore. It also served as our venue for the outreach program where we reached out to the locals who have opened their arms to our group.
In the midst of the fun and games, we were more than happy to give out school kits and slippers to elementary students of Babuyan Claro while solar lamps were given out to selected families. More than 200 school kits and 150 solar lamps from our donors were given out that day.
But beyond the school kits, slippers, and lamps, the outreach opened a more pressing issue that the community elders wanted to address. They wanted help to go beyond school kit dole-outs. They are calling for help to have at least one of their own to continue higher education. They share the hope that at least one of these kids will be able to graduate from college with help from donors. Again, I would like to raise the same appeal on this blog for those who are willing to help make this a reality. You can check out my previous blog on this here. For those who are willing to help, you can contact me through this blog. I hope this call would not fall on deaf ears.
Black Sand Beaches of Askedna
The local council was very eager to give us a quick tour of Babuyan Claro. So right after the morning outreach activity, we all boarded a Colong-Colong, their own version of the tricycle but a lot more exciting, to enjoy an afternoon tour. Babuyan Claro is an island blessed with a rugged coastline. With two volcanos guarding the island, most of its rugged features are an effect of these volcanos’ activity and the black sand beaches of Askedna is not an exception.
The first part of the journey is riding through the paved and dirt roads aboard a Colong-Colong. Riding this version of a tricycle is an adventure in itself that will pump you up with a hefty serving of adrenaline. Our ride zoomed through paved and rough roads that could rival amusement rides for the thrill that it gave us. We screamed in both delight and nervousness as we enjoyed the wind blowing on our faces.
Then came the hour long hike through the lush greeneries and bucolic views of Babuyan Claro. The hike was easy and it was a thrill to find photogenic spots for an instant photoshoot with Asher. I definitely did not miss out on that.
The beach comes into full view as we made way to the clearing. The black sand gave the beach a different but stronger personality. The beach seemed to evoke an aura of being tough with its dark sandy shores and rock formations on both side of the cove.
The cool waters of the beach was a welcome relief and was enough to cool us down from the hike.
Askedna Hot Spring
If you are facing the sea from the beach, the rock formations on the right side is not hard to miss. Its ruggedness make it a good backdrop for amazing photos.
But underneath these rocks is a hot water spring that seeps out to meet the waters of the sea. And when we say hot, it is really hot! The spring source is said to be the nearby Smith Volcano. Take extra precaution when exploring the area to avoid getting burned by its spring waters.
Just above the Askedna Black Sand Beach and Hot Spring is a lighthouse under the care of the Philippine Coast Guard. It serves as a beacon for those traversing the Luzon Strait.
Climbing through the dirt path from the beach, one can climb up the lighthouse to get an amazing panoramic view of the dark sandy shores of Askedna.
As we hiked back to the jump-off point, Smith Volcano was kind enough to give us a glimpse of its flat peak against the sunset. The volcano is one of the two volcanos within the island. It’s gently sloping sides are the first to greet you as you approach the island and you will be captivated by its beauty. Most of the time, its peak is covered by clouds giving guests an impression that it probably has a perfect cone tip. However, the peak of Smith Volcano looks like a plateau from afar but it certainly is a charmer.
Too bad that we did not have enough time to explore the volcano. Local guides say that one can actually do a day hike to explore Smith Volcano. I guess it is something to look forward to on my next visit.
I finally got a hold of the elusive coconut crab from this region. It was my first time to actually see and touch the coconut crab. Earlier this year I was in Batanes and I was hoping to get a chance to have a face-to-face encounter with this popular crab.
This kind of crab looks like a bluish giant spider. It migrates inland where it feeds on coconut. Interestingly, locals say that these coconut crabs are transported to Batanes from Babuyan Claro.
Sidetrip: Sibang Cove, Calayan Island
Calayan Island is the largest island of the municipality and serves as the center for governance and commerce. Its rustic appeal did not go unnoticed by local and foreign travelers that it is now starting to get traction in the tourism front.
Four hours of sea travel on choppy waters, although a lot calmer, from Babuyan Claro, we found ourselves docking into the white sand shores of Sibang Cove. It is the face of the Calayan Island’s tourism. There is no doubt that beach lovers will fall in love with this cove.
Sibang Cove is pristine and remains untouched by commercialism. There are no huts to shield you from the heat of the sun but one can lounge under the trees. Its white sand shoreline stands out in contrast to the towering rock face that protects the cove. In the middle of the cove is a towering rock formation that adds drama to the whole tropical beach scene. Take extra precaution when enjoying a cool dip on its crystal clear waters as the waves actually crash on to the cove’s shoreline.
You can see Nagundungan Hills from afar. Unfortunately, we were not able to check out Nagundungan Hills because of the heat of the noon sun. I guess, Nagundungan Hills will be on my list on my next visit to Calayan Island.
Post Travel Notes
The Calayan Group of Islands is a Philippine destination that is slowly getting traction among travelers both here and abroad. The rugged and pristine beauty of its natural attractions is a treasure that is waiting to be discovered and explored. The relative isolation of these islands and the difficulty of getting there are just some of the challenges that one needs to face but the experience adds up to excitement and the memories. Again, it is a destination that only the brave dare go.
IG: @thetravelingdada conquered another far-flung and off-beat destination this year and, just like last year’s destination, it showed us a different and difficult side of the Philippines. Despite the beauty of the place, the community shares a more pressing issues that most far-flung communities face – the lack of basic government support. The communities have already adjusted to the lack of support but, suffice to say, there is still a lot of work that can be done by the government in addressing the needs of the community, especially in healthcare and education.
Was the trip worth taking? I would definitely give a resounding yes to that question. It is worth taking, not only for the amazing views, but to experience the warm hospitality and meekness of the Ibatans. It is also a great time to unlearn the urban quirks that we have acquired through the years and realize that we can live our lives in its simplest form.
Getting there: Traveling to the Calayan Group of Islands is an experience in itself. One can take a 9-hour bus ride or a 1-hour plane ride to Tugegarao City and then take a van to Santa Ana where you can hire “lampitaws” to bring you to Babuyan Claro, Camiguin Norte, or Calayan Island. If you are planning to visit Babuyan Claro, you need to seek prior approval from the community’s Council of Elders. It is best to get in touch with our guide, Kuya Jefferson Umengan, at +639755 5225878 to assist you with the travel.
Alternatively if you are planning to visit Calayan, you can also take a bus trip to either Claveria or Aparri and then take the public ferry to Calayan. You can also contact Kuya Jefferson because he also organizes trips to Calayan.
Huge shout-out to Mirth Men for keeping me sanitized during the trip. You can check out there Facebook page here for their unique line of products.
Let me also take this chance to thank the wonderful and generous staff of Anytime Fitness Quezon Avenue, Anytime Fitness West Fairview, and Anytime Fitness Binondo for their help in this project.
Huge shout-out to the team behind the "Share-A-Smile Project" for organizing this worthwhile outreach trip.
They are organizing another outreach trip this June 16-17 in Batad and they are currently looking for donors
and volunteers. You can check out their Facebook page on how you can help.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.