Monday, September 5, 2011

Northern Samar: Capul, Biri and San Bernardino Islands, August 2011

A map of northwest samar showing our route
A short flight to Calbayog, a van to Victoria, a 30-minute bangka crossing to San Antonio (Dalupiri Island) to check in at the charming Haven of Fun resort, then a one-hour bangka ride brought us to Capul Island. After a beach landing at Capul town, we visited the old Spanish Church and the ruined fortress where people used to take shelter from the Moro raiders. The island was often the last stop of the galleons before Acapulco, hence its name. It was formerly named Abak and its people speak a language called Inabaknon. Interestingly, that language is not closely related to Waray, Cebuano or Bicol, but to the Samal language spoken in Tawi Tawi.

The beach landing in Capul
The old Spanish church in Capul. The historical marker was installed in August 2011
The Capul Lighthouse

The Capul Lighthouse

A 9-km habal habal ride to the north tip of the island took us to the old Capul lighthouse. Its construction started in 1896, was interrupted by the Philippine-American war, and was finally completed in 1904. The view towards Sorsogon across the San Bernardino Strait and around the lighthouse is breathtaking. Capul Island offers a great combination of natural beauty and historical interest and is definitely worth a visit while in Samar.

The Capul Lighthouse building
The view from the lighthouse, with the south tip of Sorsogon Province across the San Bernardino Strait
Biri Rock Formations
Back to Victoria, a tricycle brought us to Lavezares and from there a bangka took us in one hour to the town of Biri on Biri Island, where we checked in at the excellent Biri Resort. The Biri rock formations are a few minutes away from the town by habal habal. After a long walk through the mangrove, you find yourself in a fantactic mineral landscape with the ocean as a backdrop. You can spend hours just walking around amazing shapes and colors. I will let the pictures do the talking.

Sunrise over the mangrove at the back of the rocks


Taking pictures of the Back-naped Tern
A colony of Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana), a rare bird in the Philippines,  was nesting in the cliffs

San Bernardino Island

San Bernardino Island is located in the middle of the San Bernardino Strait, about one hour away by bangka in a northwest direction from Biri town. It is rocky all around and it was not possible to land due to the southwestly winds on one side and the Pacific Ocean surf on the other side. A lighthouse built in 1896 stands at the top of the island. There is a smaller rocky islet beside it. A large colony of Bridled Tern and Black-naped Tern, both rare birds in the Philippines, were nesting on the island.
On the way to San Bernardino Island at sunrise
Approaching San Bernardino from the southeast
The rocky islet seen from the north, with the main island in the background
A Bridled Tern flying over the lighthouse
Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
Mount Bulusan (Sorsogon) in the distance between the main island and the rocky islet
Leaving San Bernardino Island

Sunset over Mt. Bulusan seen from the Biri Resort

The Biri rock formations are one of the most underrated natural attractions in the Philippines. I would place it as one of the top 10 destinations in the country for natural beauty. Go and visit Northern Samar!

See my other travelogue "Off the Beaten Track in the Philippines"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Palanan and Maconacon, June 2011

A map of the area showing our route
This trip started in Cauayan City, Isabela, with a 23-minute Cyclone Air flight to Palanan on the east coast of Luzon, on a single-engine 7-seater plane flying low over the rain forest of the Sierra Madre. From Palanan we took a bangka to Divilacan, and from there land transportation to Maconacon. We then flew back to Cauayan City from Maconacon on the same Cyclone Air flight. There is no road passable to vehicles leading to Palanan, or from Palanan to Divilacan and Maconacon.

Flying low over the Sierra Madre from Cauayan to Palanan, Isabela
Palanan seen from the air

Our plane at Palanan Airport

The Palanan welcome arch

PALANAN is a town of about 16000 people that can only be reached by boat in 7 hours from Aurora Province, by foot in three days from San Mariano, Isabela, or by plane from Cauayan or Tuguegarao. There is no hotel nor restaurant, but homestays are available and can be arranged by the tourism officer at the Municipyo. Our homestay was the house of Tess and Kikoy Pagigan, who were delightful hosts. Palanan is located a few kilometers inland on the Pinacanauan River, about 30 minutes by boat from the sea. The town is well known in history as the place were Emilio Aguinaldo took refuge in late 1899 and remained until his capture in March 1901. Palanan is an old town that was founded by the Spaniards in 1609. The local dialect, called Paranan,  is a mix of Ibanag, Spanish, Tagalog and the indigenous Dumagat language.  
Our homestay in Palanan

The historical marker at the Aguinaldo Shrine
THE AGUINALDO SHRINE. A shrine with a bust of Aguinaldo and a historical marker stands where the house of Aguinaldo once stood. Aguinaldo was captured there on 23 March 1901 by American General Funston, who walked from Casiguran with Macabebe Scouts pretending to be a high-ranking American prisoner to be delivered to Aguinaldo.

The Aguinaldo Shrine built at the spot where Aguinaldo was captured in March 1901

Sunrise on the Pinacanauan River

Dicotcotan Beach in Barangay San Isidro, Palanan
Disadsad Waterfalls in Palanan
A peaceful scene on the Pinacanauan River


Dumagat families going to a Born-again Church service

A Dumagat Village Chieftain in Barangay San Isisdro, Palanan
The Dumagat Chieftain's happy family

HONEYMOON ISLAND BEACH. The bangka trip from Palanan to Divilacan takes about two hours. A stop on Estagno Island along the way is a must. The island is better known locally as Honeymoon Island and boasts of one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Totally undeveloped, with pure white sand sloping slowly into a crystal clear water, it is a paradise for nature lovers.
White sand beaches as far as the eye can see between Palanan and Divilacan
The beautiful beach on Estagno Island, locally known as Honeymoon Island
You can walk half way to the other side on pure white sand in crystal clear water
I rate it one of the top ten beaches in the country
A shady spot on Honeymoon Island

DIVILACAN is a friendly town of about 4600 mostly tagalog-speaking people. Like in Palanan, there is no hotel nor restaurant, and homestays can be arranged by the tourism office at the Municipyo. Our host was none other than the Mayor's wife Flor Bulan. Jane, the guide assigned to us during our stay in Divilacan was very pleasant and highly competent. The main means of transportation in Divilacan as well as Maconacan is the three-wheel kuliglig, a derivative of the one used in rice fields in central Luzon.    
The friendly town of Divilacan seen from the Municipyo
The Divilacan Municipal Building
The Kuliglig, the main means of transportion in Divilacan and Maconacon

In July 2009, 50 captive-bred Philippine crocodiles (Crocodylus mindorensis) were released in Dicatian Lake in Divilacan.  The endemic Philippine crocodile is critically endangered and is the most severely threatened crocodile in the world, with about 100 individuals surviving in the wild. They are not easy to see and at least an overnight stay at the lake is required for a chance to spot them. We didn't see any. We paddled back to the road on a narrow wooden boat, a crossing that was not for the faint-hearted.
Dicatian Lake, where 50 Philippine Crocodiles were released in 2009

Another view of Dicatian Lake

MACONACON is a town of about 4000 mostly Ilocano-speaking people. It is reached in about 30 minutes by road from Divilacan. The town was devastated by Typhoon Juan in October 2010, a direct hit with 305 kph winds. It seems that everyone is still talking about the typhoon all the time. Most buildings and houses were destroyed or badly damaged. Many trees were uprooted and those that remained were thoroughly defoliated. There is a dormitory-type guesthouse for visitors, a wet market and a few restaurants, but no electricity except few a few private generators. 
On our way from Divilacan to Maconacon
The road to Maconacon showing the trees damaged by the October 2010 typhoon
The town of Maconacon. The destoyed building on the left was a gymnasium. The municipyo (white building in the center) is just a shell. The Smart tower is new.
Our guesthouse in Maconacon
Leda's Snack House, the best restaurant in eastern Isabela, where a plate with 8 lobsters costs P150

On the road to the Blos River, 25 kms north of Maconacon
The road leading north from Maconacon
The east Luzon coastline in the bright morning sunshine
The Pacific Ocean waves crashing on pebble beaches
A Dumagat Settlement on the banks of the Blos River
The refreshing Blos River. The bridge over the river was destroyed by Typhoon Juan.
The stunning coastline of northeast Luzon

Maconacon Airport with the runway in the foregound, where a 4-seater Cyclone Air plane crash landed on 8 June 2011.
Busy ground servicing activities at Maconacon Airport
Maconacon seen from the air
Flying back to Cauayan City over the Sierra Madre National Park

See my other travelogue "Off the Beaten Track in the Philippines"