Catanduanes (Baras – Bato – Virac) PH
“A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints.” — Wilfred Peterson
This is an account of my recent trip to Catanduanes — Luzon’s easternmost province. I hope it will be able to help you (my readers) in any way. If you have queries, just leave it at the comments section and I would be most willing to respond if I have the time.
Day 0 and Day 1:
Travel from Chaotic Cubao to Breezy Tabaco City. ETD was 6PM but the bus – Alps (Php545?), left at around 6:15. I tried to get a decent sleep but damn, the aircon was way too cold despite me wearing a jacket. I arrived at Tabaco City 6:10 AM, just in time to catch the 6:30 RO-RO vessel bound for Virac (paid Php300 for AC area plus Php30 terminal fee). Purchased a ticket and lined up (a very long and slow moving line) to pay for that damn terminal ticket. (Why can’t they just sell it together with the vessel ticket???). The ETD of the vessel wasn’t followed. It was around 7AM or so when it left Tabaco Port. Since the AC area isn’t full, I occupied one entire bench and tried to catch more sleep (despite the very nausea-inducing RORO ride).
After 4 hours and 15 minutes (11:15AM), I welcome myself to Virac – the capital of the Philippines’ Land of the Howling Wind. I initially planned of eating my breakfast-slash-lunch first since I haven’t eaten anything since last night. BUT, when I saw that the Baras-bound jeepney is already packed (and when I say packed, even the top part of the jeepney is FULL) – I hurriedly made my way to the top for some toploading action. Just when I thought it would already leave (since it is already packed with people and furniture and goods and many more), but it waited for mooooore passengers (to which I wonder where they’d be staying since, “did I say that the jeepney is full?”) hahaha. Okay 30 minutes or so and we finally left Virac with my stomach growling. (BTW, fare from Virac to Baras town proper is Php35.00).
It was sweltering hot atop the jeepney, nonetheless, I enjoyed the ride because the surrounding vista is a feast to the eyes. It was great seeing the verdant countryside of the island province and the “sea”neries dotted with beautiful rock formations and wave-battered shores — too stunning not to notice. On the way to Baras (my planned destination that day), we had to pass by the town of Bato (which is pretty much in proximity with Virac). I also saw the PAG-ASA Radar Station in Buenavista. One could easily notice it as it stands proudly atop a mountainous area.
After an hour, I arrived in the quiet town of Baras. I walked a few meters from where I was dropped off, bought a few pieces of bread and a bottle of water, then I went around to look for a tricycle. I saw one and asked to be brought to Brgy. Puraran. The driver initially said that it would cost me Php 100 to get there but with my charm and haggling skills, he gave in with Php70.00 (hahaha, kapal ng mukha sa charm). It was yet another 15-minutes of winding road travel. We passed by the jump off to Binurong Point before reaching Puraran Beach – the home of the Majestic Waves.
My tryke driver dropped me off at a gate that says “Puraran Beach” and I paid an entrance fee of Php10.00. I had to walk a few meters to reach the beach. I went on to look for a place to stay (Okay, I really didn’t look further as I was starting to feel lethargic). So I went on to ask the front desk personnel of the 1st resort I saw (which was Puraran Beach Resort), and asked for their cheapest accommodation. It was a nipa type of accommodation that costs Php500 good for 2 persons. I went to check it out and boy, it was a good find. I also asked for their menu (since they have a resto) and ordered myself a bowl of sinigang. So while waiting for my breakfast-merienda-lunch, I had a shower and went for my usual “staring-at-the-walls-and-ceiling” moment. A few more minutes and my sinigang was served. I was surprised to see a sinigang that contains papaya. It is pretty unusual for me since as far as I know, this sour-tasting stew usually comes with stringbeans or even eggplant. Nonetheless, it was good. I like the slightly sweet taste the papaya imparted. It was a tummy-filling meal that I felt sleepy afterwards. I went to rest a bit before I decided to go to Binurong Point. I have made a separate write up on Binurong which you can read here BINURONG POINT.
My haggling skills (and charm) was put into test when my motorcycle driver told me that I will be paying Php500 for a Binurong trip (back and forth). But I insisted nicely that I can only afford Php300. (hahaha, my innate Ilocano frugality creeping in…), and so, with my therapeutic communication skills, I was able to convince Jun-Jun (name of my habal-habal driver) to give in. #WideGrin
I spent more than an hour at Binurong. I would have wanted to camp out there for the night but I wasn’t prepared so I I had to go back to the resort. I had dinner and hit off the sack early. I wanted to re-energize myself from that long trip to Catanduanes.
I woke up pretty early as I wanted to see the sun rise. According to the resort owner, the beach is a good place to view the day’s first glow. But instead of waiting for the sun to rise along the beach, I opted to go to Balacay Point, a place suggested by Jun-Jun. He said that this is the best place to watch the sunrise. So I hopped on his motorcycle (yes, we already had a deal before he went home) and off we went to Balacay Point. The distance from Puraran Beach to Balacay is shorter and the road is paved all the way to the top (unlike the path to Binurong). And true to the description he uttered, the sunrise view at Balacay was majestic and grand. What a great way to start my day in Catanduanes! (I paid Php150 for the trip to Balacay and back to Puraran Beach).
After more than an hour, we went back to the beach where the resort owner was waiting for me. I informed him that I will be surfing that morning. I quickly changed into my rash guard and surf shorts and off I went to assess if I still have my surfing moves. I will have to write a different blog for my Majestic Puraran Waves experience so that’s an “I owe you” for now.
After surfing, I spent some time bumming around Puraran’s beach. I have come to know that there were 2 other resorts (Majestic Wave and the other one I failed to remember the name). It was around 10 AM when I decided that it was time to leave Puraran and proceed to my next destination.
Since I have become friends with Jun-Jun, he gladly accepted my offer to bring me to the town proper of Baras. (I paid him Php100). Upon arriving at the town center, I went to look for a place to eat. It was yet another breakfast-merienda-lunch moment. I had tinola and ginataang bilo-bilo. Both were really good. (I paid Php55 for the food I ate with soda). I was about to finish my food when the Virac-bound jeepney passed. I hurriedly paid my bills and ran my way to catch the jeeney. (Fare is Php30 upto Bato Town Proper).
After 30-40 minutes, I reached Bato and looked for a habal-habal driver. Here I met Kuya James who agreed to take me to Bote Lighthouse for Php70 one-way. I thought it was pretty pricey but I did agree. While we were on our way to Bote Lighthouse and Sakahon Beach, we talked about politics and his life in Catanduanes. I have learned that he was actually from Dumaguete and is married to a Bato local that is why he and his family are now in Catanduanes. Kuya James was actually heart-warming and genuinely nice. I am impressed that he knows a lot about our politicians. We really had a great conversation that I hardly noticed how far the way to Bote was. The road was quite rough and even longer than my Binurong trip ( I kinda felt guilty having agreed with the Php70 price).
We reached Sakahon Beach and I was amazed how well-tucked and pristine the beach was. I had the place all by myself. Kuya James asked me if I think I can manage my way to the lighthouse. I wasn’t certain so I said no. He led me the way to the lighthouse and I was surprised as to how challenging the trek was. And when I say challenging, the trail was steep and rocky so I had to catch my breath every now and then. My arms and legs were quite hurting then as I just had some surfing action early that morning. Despite being shaded because of the trees, the trail was still warm since it was mid-day. Moreover, I forgot to buy a bottle of water. Good thing kuya James was encouraging. I have been on countless climbing spree, but this was quite different. According to blogs I have read, the climb to the lighthouse would usually take around 20 minutes. It took us around 30 or 40 minutes to reach the place.
A few more steps and we reached the lighthouse. I was quite disappointed as I was greeted with lots of vandalism. The lighthouse per se is perched on an area that is surrounded by vegetation unlike most lighthouses I’ve been to. Still catching my breath, I decided to climb to the topmost part of the lighthouse. Well, it is already a cliché to claim but yes, the view was astonishing and all. I had a good 30-minutes of cool and relaxing stay atop. Catanduanes kept on surprising me.
A few more minutes and we decided to go back to Sakahon Beach. The descent was easier… And so I thought, until my guide-slash-habal-habal driver said we were lost. I tried to be calm and helped kuya find the right trail. A few minutes of getting mislaid and were back on the right track. #SighofRelief hahaha. I rushed to the shores of Sakahon and dipped my feet to cool it off. Walked a few meters to take photos and went to buy some drinks at a small store I saw. Kuya James and I had some merienda before leaving the place. I asked kuya if he could bring me to the other places I have in my list and maybe bring me to Virac town. He agreed without setting any price.
We went back to the town proper of Bato wherein he brought me to the old and beautiful Bato Church. I am impressed as to how well-preserved the church is. It is strategically located near the highway with a beautiful view of a river. I went inside the church to say some prayers and spent some time appreciating its lovely interior.
Kuya suggested that we go visit 2 waterfalls. I was already feeling tired so I just told him that we go see one – Maribina Falls. The way to Maribina is pretty easy. From Bato, take the national road to Virac. Once you’re near the Virac – Bato boundary, a narrow road with a sign that says “Maribina Falls” can be seen. An entrance fee of Php20.00 is collected per visitor. The waterfalls is 3-tiered and have shallow catch basins ideal for swimming. It was a good way to cool down after that tiresome trek to the Bote Lighthouse. A few dip and I decided to go to Virac.
The first thing I did in Virac was to look for a place to stay. I chanced upon Marem Pension House that is near the capitol of the province and inquired for their cheapest room. I was fortunate that they have 1 available fan room that costs Php250 per night. I quickly checked it out and I find it good enough. I said goodbye to Kuya James and gave him Php500. He even asked in disbelief if I was giving him the entire amount. I told him how happy and grateful I was to meet him. I got his number and asked permission if I could publish his digits. Maybe through this means, I would be able to help him and his family. (So if you are reading this and you want an honest and nice habal-habal driver who would show you around Catanduanes, here is Kuya Jame’s number — 0912-598-7212.
After settling my things at Marem, I had a chit-chat with the super accommodating owner while waiting for the merienda I ordered. I could’ve opted to just lie down and watch TV at my room that afternoon but my wandering spirit got the better of me. So I went out and walked my way to the Catanduanes Museum (which is a minute away from Marem).
A Php50.00 fee was collected at the museum and I was accompanied by 2 of their staff who enthusiastically answered my questions about Catanduanes and the things I saw inside the museum. They also gave me some very useful brochures on Catanduanes. I have to say that these tourism officers are some of the most approachable I have encountered in my years of traveling. Kudos to everyone!
After the museum visit, I walked my way to the very beautiful Virac Cathedral. The dome of the cathedral would immediately catch one’s attention. Once inside, you will be much more amazed with the stunning and intricate ceiling. This has to be one of the most beautiful church ceilings I have ever seen. There was an on-going activity when I was there so it was just a brief stop to say some prayers and just enough to admire how lovely the church is.
It was almost 5 in the afternoon when I asked some locals which place I should go to if I want to watch the sunset. The unanimous answer I have elicited is Mamangal Beach. So I looked for a tryke driver who can take me to this beach. Most of the drivers I talked to turned down and said it was quite far until I was able to convince one. I had to pay for Php120 (it was originally Php150) for one-way since it was already late and they claim it to be far. So off we went to see the skimboarding beach of Catanduanes – Mamangal.
And wow, it was a pretty long ride. I think it took us 30 minutes or so. The beach is tucked away from the town center. We had to pass by some rough road. At first I was worried I won’t be able to catch the sunset. Maybe the driver sensed that so he hurriedly drove his tryke. Hahaha. We arrived at Mamangal, just in time before the sun drifts. Actually, there was enough time that I was able to skimboard a little, admire Mount Mayon from this side of Catanduanes and capture a number of photographs.
It was already dark when we headed back to Marem. I immediately went for a quick shower before I went out to eat dinner. I have read that one of the places to try for a cheap, good food is Café de Au. The café is near Marem so I decided to walk my way. I guess the write ups I have read are true since it was quite filled with people dining when I arrived. I tried their binalot na adobo (with cabbage) and mango shake. What a delightful surprise.
I walked my way back to the pension house and called it a night. Twas a tiring but fulfilling day.
I woke a little later than my usual waking time. I would have wanted to watch the sun rise at their boulevard but the sleepy head in me wanted to stay in bed. Besides, it was drizzling that early. So I just went down to their in-house resto and ordered their home-made tocino. It was actually good. I would have wanted to try their home-made tapa but it was already sold out (that early!)
After breakfast, I prepped up myself and decided to go and see the Twin Rocks Beach at Igang, still in Virac. I went to the market and looked for the tricycle bound for Igang. Fare was Php20.00. The travel time was around 15-20 minutes. At Twin Rocks, there is a Php50.00 entrance fee. But if you wish to use other facilities like swimming pool, or do activities like kayaking and rock climbing, a separate set of fees apply. I spent almost the entire morning just bumming around Twin Rock’s beach. It was quiet despite a number of people frolicking the area. It was almost noon when I decided to go back to the town. I asked for the frequency of tricycle passing the area and the guard said it was quite rare during that time of the day. But I guess luck was on my side because the manager of the resort is off to fetch some visitors at the town so they told me to ride with them. Yehey!
Back in Marem, I pavcked up my things and bade the super friendly staff goodbye. I went to the jeepney terminal to catch the trip bound for San Andres (a town north of Virac). The travel from Virac to San Andres was around 45 minutes and the fare is Php35.00. Upon arrival, I immediately went to buy my ticket first (Php220 – RO-RO, non AC as the AC area is already full). While waiting for the vessel’s departure time (1PM), I went to visit the church of San Andres. It was yet another lovely church. I feel happy and fortunate to visit these beautiful, old churches we have in the Philippines.
And before embarking on that 3-hour boat ride, I first satiated my palate’s wanting to eat halo-halo. The vessel left San Andres Port at around 1:15. It was a breezy and smooth ride compared to that vessel ride going to Virac. I opted not to sleep because I wanted to see Mayon Volcano as we approach Tabaco City. At first, Mayon was fully covered with clouds. But, as we get nearer, Mayon slowly peeped and showed a bit of its grandeur. We arrived at the Tabaco City Port at 4:30 PM.
Since I haven’t eaten my lunch yet, I went to seek for a restaurant that can satisfy my hunger. I decided to visit the Tabaco Church first (which by the way is equally awesome as with the churches I have seen in Catanduanes). Near the church is a resto where I had a hearty late lunch. After which, I was about to go to the bus terminal when a Cubao-bound bus passed right in front of the restaurant. I hailed the bus and yey! I was on my way home (Php850.00)!!! It was yet another 12-hour grueling bus ride.
Thank you Catanduanes for that super awesome trip!!!!! Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust! Take it easy ebri’juan’…