Friday, April 24, 2015

Calmed by Camiguin (Part 1)

Alluring waterfalls. Adorable hot and cold springs. Awesome islets and sandbars. All these in one enchanting island endowed with beauty so wild, wind-blown and wickedly enticing. It’s the ideal destination for world-weary souls seeking calm and comfort from the chaos and confusion of the rat race.  It’s the perfect hideaway truly worthy of a second coming–Camiguin!

Camiguin: Island Born of Fire

Revisited after six years, the island province off the coast of Northern Mindanao charmed me anew with its picture-perfect pulchritude—a sad thing of the past for other islands which have fallen into the snake pit of crass commercialism. To my delight, Camiguin has retained much of its virginal allure that enthralled me the first time I stepped into its irresistible shores several summers ago. 

For this recent sojourn, I had the pleasure of joining the company of college chums who’ve also become frequent weekend wanderers themselves, making the adventure such a wonderful experience. The summer escapade to the tiny pear-shaped island also turned out to be a reunion for most of us since our boisterous bunch had a bacchanalian gathering in Davao. 

Team Camiguin

On a rainy April evening,  Team Camiguin, our bevy of excited travelers composed of ten “young once” and eight young ones (children of my buddies), left Davao on board a 15-seater white van and a black SUV that meandered through the well-paved Davao-Agusan Highway in the dark of night. Good thing, the heavy drizzle ground to a halt by the time we started our journey.  
The port town of Balingoan in Misamis Oriental: Gateway to Camiguin


Port of Benoni

Roughly six hours down the road, we reached the port town of Balingoan in Misamis Oriental where sea vessels bound for the island are docked. We hopped into the one that’s about to depart for our destination—without taking our brekkie! Upon arrival at the sea port of Benoni over an hour later, our vehicles then snaked their way into the smooth span connecting Camiguin’s towns.

In Mambajao, the provincial capital, our team pulled over at the house of one of my friend’s relatives for our breakfast (or was it brunch already?). Sated, we headed for one of the resorts there where we were billeted for three days. Entering our respective rooms, most of us (except for the young ones) opted to hit the sack for a few hours before embarking on our island tour. 

Said to be the country’s second smallest island (next to Batanes), Camiguin is home to about 84,000 people who occupy its 238 sq. km sprawl. The entire island is so small anyone can round it in less than a day’s time, passing by the province’s five towns—Catarman, Mahinog, Guinsiliban, Sagay and Mambajao.

Camiguin is the country's second smallest island

Remains of Mt. Vulcan
The exhilarating joyride around the island was a visual feast for us city slickers as we bask in the dazzling and dizzying panoply of Camiguin’s rustic charms—verdant rice fields, lofty mountains, dense forests, rocky promontories, vintage houses and the cerulean blue waters of Mindanao Sea a.k.a. Bohol Sea.

Dubbed as the “Island Born of Fire”, Camiguin, which was formed through centuries of volcanic activity and tectonic movements, boasts of seven volcanoes—Guinsiliban, Hibok-Hibok, Mambajao, Timpoong,  Tres Marias, Uhay and Vulcan—dotting its landscape. These peaks make the tiny province one of its kind in the whole country—with its volcanoes outnumbering its towns!

Katibawasan Falls' slim drop

Of the seven, only Mt. Hibok-Hibok remains active. Rising 1,332 m (4,370 ft) above sea level, it has six hot springs (Ardent, Tangob, Bugong, Tagdo, Naasag and Kiyab) and three craters (Kanangkaan, Itum and Ilihan). When the stratovolcano last erupted in 1951, it caused much damage to life, land and livelihood.

Camiguin is known for its slim cascades so we went falls hopping. Destinations? The island’s two amazing wonders—Katibawasan Falls and Tuasan Falls. Unlike my companions who were mostly first-time visitors, I was more excited to catch a glimpse of the latter as I missed seeing it during my first sojourn. Still, I enjoyed the visit to Katibawasan Falls for it brought back fond memories.

Nestled in a lush forest right smack at the foot of Mt. Timpoong, Katibawasan Falls, with its spectacular drop of 76 m (250 ft), attracts throngs of local and foreign tourists who either want to stare at its enchanting allure, snap its exhilarating splendor or swim into the energizing waters of its natural pool.

It was late in the afternoon when our team boarded the vehicles that shuttled us to the cascade. Entering Mambajao’s woodlands, we reached a narrow dirt road that leads to the falls.  At the parking area, we could already hear the faint rush of water that seemed to beckon us. We then paid the entrance fee of Php30 which the provincial government charges for the upkeep of the place.

Walking towards the trail leading to the cascade, some of my friends were drawn to the numerous hawker stalls selling various souvenir items and ended up  scouring for a piece or two of Camiguin which they could take back with them as pasalubong. I joined the others who went straight to the falls.             

Hiking further, we finally saw what we came for. From the ravine where I stood, the falls looked exactly the same as the day I first laid eyes on it. The water dropping into the lagoon where a number of swimmers were frolicking was gentle yet robust—quite remarkable considering that many of the water bodies I saw in other places have already dried up due to El Niño.

The cold, turquoise waters of the pool are bordered by small and huge boulders, flowers, shrubs and ferns. Phone, digital and DSLR cams have started clicking even before we reached the concrete staircase leading to the view deck and pool, which the local government had put up to make the descent and ascent of visitors more convenient.

I stared with quiet amusement at my team as they regaled themselves at the falls, taking copious snaps—selfies, duofies, groupfies—with Katibawasan at the backdrop. A few of them braved the cold waters and took a dip while others engaged in humorous banter. Some simply gazed at the spectacle, apparently spellbound by the beauty of one of the island’s slender falls. 

Tuasan Falls' powerful drop

The next cascade on Team Camiguin's list was the equally slim Tuasan Falls. Hidden somewhere in the inner sanctums of Catarman, the cascade isn’t as popular compared to Katibawasan. I’ve already heard about this raw beauty before but didn’t get to see it. Like Katibawasan, it also has a slender yet powerful drop, with a total length of about 25 m (82 ft).

Time was when intrepid visitors had to hire a habal-habal, then take a hike along a craggy path before they can catch a glimpse of the pristine falls. Because of its inaccessibility that time, I struck off Tuasan Falls from my itinerary. Someday, somehow, I’ll get to see you, I told myself. And I did this year!

To my delight, the concreting of the road leading to the cascade has been completed so we saw to it that we’d get to drop by the remote falls. This time, we only had to walk a few steps from the drop-off point, making the once-off-the-beaten path attraction a fitting destination for travelers with small children.  

After visiting the two falls, we then headed for the hot and cold spring resorts of the island.

Ardent Hot Spring Resort at night

Camiguin, I believe, should be tagged as the "Spring Resort Capital of Northern Mindanao” because of the hot and cold spring resorts punctuating the tiny island’s rugged landscape. During this recent sojourn, I joined my companions as we explored two of these resorts, offering steamy as well as chilly spring water emanating from underground sources.

Team Camiguin's first stop was Ardent Hot Spring Resort in Mambajao where we had a grand time immersing in the different pools of hot mineral water spouting from the bowels of Mt. Hibok-Hibok. Ardent has a number of amenities and accommodations—huts, cottages and dormitories—that’s perfect for family picnics, spa parties, swimming sprees and the like.

It was already dusk when we arrived at the resort yet the throngs of people going to the resort didn’t seem to dwindle. Despite this, we managed to find ourselves a decent cottage where we had our dinner—fresh bounty from the sea that was grilled to perfection with matching ceviche on the side. 

Almost all of the pools—some with temperatures as high as 40°C—were  crowded that time but I found a nice spot where I immersed my weary feet and legs into the water for quite some time. Later, I moved to another pool and then to another one, searching for one that could relax my aching body. And I found it—the best natural steam pool I’ve been yearning for years!

If Camiguin has hot springs, it also boasts of a fair number of cold ones, the most popular of which is Sto. Niño Cold Spring Resort in Catarman. This most-visited oasis has two stone pools, a huge, deep one for adults and a smaller one for kids, whose refreshingly cool water—the perfect foil to the sweltering heat of summer!—emanate from the spring’s sandy bottom.

Sto. Niño Cold Spring Resort 

After immersing ourselves in the icy cold waters of the huge pool for hours, we heeded the call of our tummies. Lunch consisted of fresh seafood (again!), chicken stew, pancit canton, grilled pork, among others.
White Island's immaculate shores

Undoubtedly, the island province’s charming cascades and cool pools won our hearts. But it was the visit to White Island that turned out to be the crowning glory our group’s three-day sojourn around Camiguin. Contrary to its name, the sought-after destination isn’t an island nor an islet—it’s a sandbar!

White Island: a slice of heaven here on earth

Located off the coast of Mambajao, the shape-shifting, uninhabited sandbar can be reached via a 10-minute pump boat ride coming from the villages of either Yumbing or Agoho.  Motorized boats can be hired from any of the private beach resorts fronting White Island.

The sun was already up when our group (first batch) left for the sandbar. The other batches, who were still busy cooking our food, followed suit, reaching White Island past 7 a.m. Locals, however, suggest that the ideal time for visiting is between 5 to 7 a.m. as the current isn’t too strong, the sun isn’t too hot and the place isn’t too crowded.

It was so heartwarming to see White Island once again. Geez, I couldn’t find enough words to describe my excitement over my second coming! Like the first time, the spectacular shoal tugged at my heartstrings the moment my beach-hungry feet stepped on its powdery shores, a feeling that lingered up to the time of our return to mainland Camiguin.

Mt. Hibok-Hibok as seen from White Island

Not wanting to waste the limited time in the sandbar, I broke away from the pack and went around on my own, taking as many pictures as I could for posterity’s sake.  Having had my fair share of snaps, I went back to my colleagues, joining them for a mouth-watering feast that consisted of fried eggs, hotdogs, corned beef, luncheon meat, rice cakes, bread, hot choco, coffee, etc.

Frolicking at the spectacular shoal, we had the time of our lives sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, swapping jokes with each other, shooting pictures and what have you. Past 8 a.m., our group began leaving the sandbar in batches. Much as we wanted to linger there, we had to follow our itinerary so the first-timers could see most of the island’s tourist attractions. 
Mantigue Island

From island to highland, from springs to sandbar, from cascades to coasts, Camiguin offers its visitors the perfect summer adventure that would definitely leave a lasting impression, especially for first-timers. Chances are, they’d be thinking about a second coming even before the first one is over—just like what some colleagues of mine had in mind.
How I wish we had more time to spare for there are other adrenaline-pumping stuff worth doing—trekking the walkway to old Mt. Vulcan, hopping to Mantigue Island, scaling Mt. Hibok-Hibok, among others. Short as it was, the sojourn to the island did wonders to calm my senses and cast away my cares even for a few days. I guess Team Camiguin felt the same way, too. :-D

(to be continued)


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