Calaguas on my Mind

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I am not exactly a late bloomer in the island adventure department as I have been to a number of islands.  Lately, I find myself browsing articles and bucket lists on nice places, beaches,  islands to go but kept my island fantasies tucked in my mind. I ticked off in my mental list the places I would like to go to but it remained just that, an imagined picture of me in rash guard rushing towards the waves….. until the wanderlust in me can no longer be silenced…..

Some of my references are:

In a rare show of my adventurous side, I shared the post on the best islands to visit with an open invite to friends who might want to join my adventure.  Some got excited but few responded.  We began making plans, choosing the place, fixing the date and budgeting.  As I was organizing the travel, my potential travel buddies began losing steam… budget, uncertain if they can deal with the lack of amenities, got busy … with life🙂

Then, the family began thinking about our annual summer outing and I tried to squeeze in my island plan.  There were oppositions and same misgivings… too far, budget, time… I got fed up and decided to go on my own bringing only willing adventurers.

Originally, I wanted to try some nearby island and Cagbalete fitted the requirement.  I began my research as soon as the cast was complete…. that would be me, MD, OS and my nephew (MN).  On the dates we chose, accommodation was not available for chosen resorts.  Then, the thought of Calaguas came over me and I pondered over the 8 to 9 hour land trip, the 2 hour boat ride, staying in a tent, non-flush toilets. My thought was interrupted by the lure of sugary white sand, azure water, unspoilt beauty…. and soon I sent an email to Hullabaloo.  A couple of email exchanges more and we were booked for our first island adventure.

We didn’t have to make too much preparation as everything’s taken cared of by the tour operator… transpo, transfer, boat ride, food (excluding Day 1 breakfast and Day 3 dinner) and accommodation.  All these can be had at a package price of P3,500 per pax plus P1k RT bus fare.  There was only one guideline… pack light to fit a regular backpack.

The day came…. We were all looking forward to it since Calaguas appears to be in a no nonsense  backpacker’s list.  I read some reviews, mostly positive and some that tend to border on OFIs.  With some admonition on toilet facilities, scheduled electricity supply and tent living, we set out to experience our island adventure.

First stop: BLTB Bus Terminal in Alabang.  It was a night trip and we slept mostly through the night interrupted by some stops for toilet breaks, sharp turns on winding roads and a blockage somewhere in Quezon stalling us for about 30 minutes.  By the last stop before we reached our destination, OS, MN and I were motion sick as Kuya Driver twisted, turned and swerved at every bend  and we had to take bonamine.

We arrived in Daet around 6:00am and had breakfast in Jollibee.  After getting our tummies filled, we went back to the bus to bring us to Vinzons.  From there we were ushered to 2 jeepneys for a short ride to the port.  We got in the boat.   While MD and I relaxed and enjoyed the 2 hour ride, OS and MN tried to get some shuteye.

Some islands came into view after one and a half hours of no land in sight.  So much unexploited beauty all around us and some enterprising individuals might some day turn these into tourist spots and I wish that would be me.

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The boat began shifting its bow towards our final destination and we couldn’t wait.  From afar, the shimmering white sand can be seen. Just before noon, we reached Munting Buhangin, the long stretch of beach in Calaguas Island.  We were mesmerized by its beauty.

After settling down, we stayed in our cabana awaiting lunch and feasted our eyes with the charm and wonder of a hidden gem.  So unlike the unsettling bustle of the usual destinations.  I guess I made the right decision after being bitten by the island hoppin bug to make this our first stop.

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Lunch was a simple yet filling fare of fish, meat and veggies.  Any meal would actually be satisfying in this setting.  After lunch, we couldn’t wait to get to the shore.  Who could resist the powdery white sand and pristine waters.  But the sun is stinging so we stayed in the cabana for awhile.  MN napped.

When we can no longer resist the lure of the water, we waded in the clearest water we’ve seen and frolicked like little children till our palms are wrinkled.  I noticed that the right side of the island had more people than our side of the island.  There are a little over 20 persons in our tour.  I remembered seeing  an aerial view of Mahabang Buhangin showing the right side marked as Budget Packages.  The tour coordinator who was also wading in the water told us that 55 more guests are coming the following day.  We came on a Friday.

We then explored the nearby rock formation.  Thankfully, we had aqua shoes on.  MN got bruised and cuts as he went barefoot.  We went back to the beach in front of our camp.  MD would tell me there were plastic cups underneath….  she couldn’t reach it as it was hard to dive deep as she kept on floating….. too much buoyancy.

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Soon, it will be dinner time.  We took turns taking baths so that there would always be somebody at our tents.  There was a reminder to be responsible in securing one own’s stuff.     People queued as they take turns using the toilets.  MD and I bathed by the artesian wells instead of using the toilets.  This is not the place for pinicky.

By around 8:00 pm everything was quiet and we settled in our tents.  No sooner than expected, the discomfort was felt.  There is no mattress and the packed sand angled around 45° was not the best sleeping option.  There was no breeze too and it was hot  inside of the tent.  MD and I were fanning each other to sleep.  I called OS at the other tent but got no response.  He must have been sleeping already from exhaustion.  MN initially slept in the cabana but transferred later.  We managed to sleep turning and tossing to cool our backs.  At one point, I rose mesmerized by the beautiful sight of a full moon.  We managed to sleep through the night.

I woke up early and MN was up too.  MD and OS couldn’t be awaken by any lure.  I and MN decided to explore the nearby hill which gives a top view of the beach. As we walk towards it, I noticed some trash cans toppled by dogs with trash spewed.

Reaching the foot of the hill, a girl would serve as its guardian collecting fee for access to the hill.  A trail was set for hikers so it was an easy climb.  We went through the peaks and had a view of the different parts of the island.  I would learn from other blogs that trekking the island would be fun….. and the side of the island leading to Tinago would make exploration even better… so maybe, next time if I still will have the chance.

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We went back to the camp and found MD and OS awake.  We were right in time for breakfast.  We spent the rest of the day in the beach, breaking for lunch and building sand castle.   The Saturday crowd arrived and the camp suddenly felt inundated.

After lunch, we joined the boat ride to the island across Mahabang Buhangin.  The boatmen chose to dock at the unoccupied part of the island because a lot of boats are docked in the usual docking site.  Unfortunately for us, the rock formation on that side made the trek more difficult.  OS was grumbling all the way.  After feasting our eyes with a 360° view of the seascape, we descended, got in the boat and went back to Mahabang Buhangin.

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Dusk  befell and we all snap pictures of the setting sun.  We posed by the sand signage created by MN as backdrop.  Passers-by were drawn to the sand signage and asked permission to take groupies.  We obliged them and even took some shots… happy customers🙂  MD said we could have used the earnings to pay for the Coke and bread we snacked on earlier had we collected fees😉

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By early evening, the tour organizers were setting up the mobile bar.  There was an open invite for everyone.  The cabana for the bar was the charging station too.  The friendly staff extended their invite to me and MD when we went there to charge our phones.  How nice:)  Whenever we returned to check on our mobile phones, we were told it’s not party time yet.

Dinner was served after a while and there were more food than what we had the previous day.  I figured that Saturday must be the highlight of the tour.  The mobile bar would be functional in a little while …. with a staff doing vjing chores and bar tending.  MD, OS, MN and I would just be observing from our cabana.  But then our phones were still there so we had to claim it… and we did.  We were offered a shot as ‘fee’ for charging;  I and MD took it and went back to our cabana and later to the tent to try to sleep.

By this time, a bigger crowd had gathered and was dancing to the music.  Our tour coordinator positioned herself on top of the huge speakers was soon ledge dancing.  In between trying to sleep, the party would turn alternately from sober to loud.  Thank goodness, it will end at some point…..  so we thought we can sleep even if we had to deal with the same conditions like the previous night.

Suddenly, a guy would be talking boisterously to occupants of a tent located at the back of ours.  I waited for them to take cognizance of the fact that there are other people and we were trying to sleep.  Not to happen.  I was still mustering enough courage to tell them nicely to go some other place to talk, when MD jolted and in a loud voice told them off, still decently but firmly in an even, loud voice haha…. This girl took after someone I know so well😉  The guy apologized and left.   Finally, peace …..

Morning came, breakfast was served…. As I and OS were filling our plates, I noticed that one of the dishes which looked like leftover from the previous night’s dinner smelled funny.  I took a little portion and tasted it and found out it was spoiled.  After getting our food, we went back to the cabana and I told MD.  MD and MN had some of the bad dish on their plates  and I told them not to eat it.  MD asked if I told the organizers.  Not yet, I said ….. and she gave me a disappointed look… Ok, ok, I said… I will be the ‘contrabida’ again.  And I was🙂

After breakfast, we spent the morning enjoying the clear waters for the last time…. OS would not want to wade in the water anymore …..  too hot, he said.

We were going back home later and we were scheduled to go back to Vinzons around 10:00am.  We were told there is no need to change as we are still going to Bagasbas Beach in Daet, Camarines Norte, a surfing place, which is the last part of the tour before we depart for Manila.  We were packed by around 10:00am and was led to the smaller old boat which was dangled as the faster one.  The bigger boat was being filled too.  It was taking time and when we asked the coordinator, we were told that some guests requested if they can take their sweet time….. and???!!!! Apparently, they were allowed….. the reason why we and the rest of about 20 people were waiting.  At some point, I wondered why we were in this boat when there were still space in the bigger boat when they led us to this boat.  I decided against asking because the coordinator and the tour camp organizer were with us.  Soon, the bigger boat left and we kept on waiting for like 15 minutes more…. When the late guests arrived, there was no remorse nor the courtesy of apologizing for their misdeed.

The boat left shortly….. and I would take one last look at the island.

When we reached Vinzons Port, there were lots of vendors selling ice cream and ice candy at half the price of what we bought in Calaguas.  The vendors at Calaguas explained that they had to pay for transpo to cross the seas too.

When all tour participants were aboard the waiting jeepneys, we were brought to Jannah’s Pasalubong  where we bought the most delicious pastries and tarts I’ve tasted.   After shopping, I approached the coordinator and asked where to go.  She pointed to a parked bus.  When we got in, all seats were taken or reserved.  I went down and asked the coordinator where we would seat.  She told me the other bus left because they couldn’t reach her by phone while we were cruising.  So what now, we would stand up for a 30-minute trip to Bagasbas.  Isn’t this part of coordination…. ensure that guests are properly taken cared of.  She went up the bus and asked her cousin and some acquaintances to give up their seats for us which they did.  Thank you.

Once we reached Bagasbas, we were received in one of the lodging places and guests mad scrambled to get to a room.  Again, why can’t they just assign room…… After unloading our stuff, we sat down for lunch of fried chix and rice.  Since dinner is not part of the package, we pre-ordered.  After lunch, we set out for the beach….. It has a very long shorelines and the waves were pulsating and inviting.  It’s a public beach, yet it is amazingly unlittered.  However, being so open we couldn’t leave our stuff on the shore so I let MD, OS and MN had a grand time ramming the waves while I stayed on the shore.  They would break and I would have my turn…… OS and MN told me they enjoyed this more than their time in the island…. hmmmm

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After some time, we headed back to the lodging place, cleaned up and dressed up.  MD and I had a back massage too by a masseuse stationed at the place.  After which, OS and I explored Bagasbas Promenade as we made our way to Bagasbas Lighthouse and discovered a really neat resort.  Maybe, when I developed a liking for surfing, we will go back here and book that place.  We went back to the lodging place and dinner was served shortly.

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We left for Manila at 6:00 pm and got home at dawn the following day.  We were all tired and sleepy but felt good and full with the new experience.

Some afterthought ……..

I realized that the reviews I read before coming to Calaguas are not so recent.  I am afraid Calaguas appears to be headed to the fate of Boracay if the tours keep going the way they happen now… I am hoping not.  To tour operators, don’t be afraid to impose discipline to preserve the natural beauty of the island.  Lots of tourists today will not translate to sustained tourism revenues if you do not take care of the place.  A place loses its value by imposing too much pressure on its resources.  Don’t be afraid to impose rules and make us aware of proper behavior when visiting your island.  There is too much beauty to skip this destination which can happen if visitors give a bad rap about this beautiful place.  With laxity,  the appeal of this haven may be lost in the near future.

I hope I have given a balanced view of what is good and what needs improvement.  I wouldn’t say I won’t go there anymore because of the mixed experience and with so much options still to explore….. Next time around if that will happen, we will be more prepared.  Perhaps, we would be with a bigger group of familiar people and maybe do a DIY if we are large enough ensuring there are able-bodied individuals who can make our stay comfortable …..

I have high hopes for Philippine tourism and will continue to entice friends and family to spend time discovering our beautiful destinations.  I would very much welcome seeing the locals leading us in keeping their place pristine….. and we would gladly follow your lead.

Meantime, I hear other islands calling out my name🙂

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