Thursday, September 26, 2013

Camiguin: What You Need to Know

Camiguin is a pear-shaped island lying on the Bohol sea, some 54 km southeast of Bohol. Presently, it is 248 square kilometers, only slightly bigger than the smallest province in the country which is Batanes (219 square kilometers). Truth be told, Camiguin used to be much smaller until Mt. Bulkang Daan (Old Volcano) erupted in 1948, spitting out land and lava that eventually cooled to become an extension of the island.

It's a sleepy province with a relatively small population of 90,000 people. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody else. Even the political leanings of each family are common knowledge.  "You see, when there is a death in the family, we are able to see which politician's face appears in the tarpaulin and tent they use during the wake," Region 10's Tourism Director Catalino E. Chan explains.

This is just one of the many quirks of this charming province, where everything is laid-back and easy -- where  lights go out promptly at around 10 pm and the night time silence can be deafening. Camiguin Governor JJ Romualdo brags that you can walk Camiguin's streets at night without fear of being mugged, or harassed. Crime rate is very, very low, and the province' drug usage is at a miniscule .05 percent.

photo by Teddy Pelaez: Mantigue Island

Camiguin's roads are usually quiet and uncrowded, plied by jeepneys, vans, multi-cabs, and the quaint motorela, a small, motorized carriage. It is in the month of October when the Lanzones Festival brings these streets to life, with dancing, parades, beauty pageants, and various contests. This weeklong celebration showcases the province's signature fruit, the lanzones. 

Aside from the Lanzones Festival, Camiguin is busiest during the Panaad Festival, which happens during Holy Week. Devotees from all around the world come in droves to walk the entire 64 km road that runs the perimeter of Camiguin. This procession ends at the foot of Mt. Bulkang Daan, where a hike takes them up through the 14 Stations of the Cross. During this entire week, half of the roadway is closed down.

Photo by Teddy Pelaez: White Island, Camiguin

Folks in Camiguin believe that if you visit their island and you are able to circumnavigate the 64 km perimeter road, you will be back. So see to it that you circle the province' perimeter road, to make certain you will set foot on this island paradise again. 

Things To Do in Camiguin:

1. Frolic On the Sands of White Island

When we were in Camiguin, our call time to White Island was 5 am, and it was an optional trip. But who in their right mind would actually miss a chance to see this Camiguin jewel? So we forced ourselves out of bed,and after a cup of sikwate (hot chocolate) to ward off the early morning chill, we were off to the island.

White Island, Camiguin

The usual route to White Island is via the port from Paras resort, where boats that can fit up to six, leave for the 10-minute ride to the island.  As for us, we took a very short motorela ride to Balbagon Port from our resort (Bahay Bakasyunan). 

It was a 20-minute ride from the port, and upon reaching the shore, we saw just how popular this long sandbar was -- several boats had arrived ahead of us and people were already busy swimming,  snorkeling, and building sandcastles.

White Island, Camiguin

We took our leisurely time walking on the soft white sand, and gazed at the outline of Mt. Hibok Hibok in the distance. Then, we were approached by a man selling uni or sea urchin. He opened one for us, cleaned up the unedible parts, and scraped the flesh off the shell. Doused in a bit of coconut vinegar, uni has a briney, even creamy taste that is actually quite delicious.

Uni or sea urchin, White Island in Camiguin

2. Take a dip in the freshwater springs

Bura Soda Water Park
Bura, north of Catarman, 4 km from the highway in Catibalac (you can see their sign from the road)
Entrance Fee: Php 20

You'd have to experience it to believe it. Bura Soda Water Park features a soda water pool -- whose waters you can drink and swim in, AT THE SAME TIME.

Sto. Nino Cold Spring Resort
Entrance fee: Php 20

This resort is perfect for the summer, with its chilly spring waters that sprout up from its sand-bottom pools. Several huts flank these pools, and there's even an area where drinks can be cooled by the cold spring water. With just an entrance fee of Php 20, it makes for a very affordable and enjoyable picnic place. 

Ardent Hibok Hibok Spring Resort
Tagdo, Mambajao
Entrance Fee: Php 30.00

Ardent is one of the five hotel-resorts that are accredited by the Department of Tourism  Having a Php 30 entrance fee already makes it  the most "expensive" in Camiguin.

Ardent Hot Spring Resort, Camiguin
The hot springs here are heated by Mt. Hibok Hibok, and the pools' temperature ranges from 32-39 degrees Celsius. Now, for that cold September evening when we visited, taking a dip in these warm, comforting pools was the best way to end the long day.

3. Swing by the Sunken Cemetery and the Church Ruins

Sunken Cemetery
Bonbon, Catarman

In 1872, Mt. Bulkang Daan erupted so intensely that a 5-hectare Spanish cemetery disappeared into the sea. To mark the area where cemetery sank, a big, white cross was erected in 1982. You can see the cross from a view deck. Those who want to get closer, can have themselves rowed to the cross.

Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin

Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin

You can also do a bit of pasalubong shopping here. The narrow street that leads up to the view deck is lined with small stores selling Camiguin souvenirs like windchimes made of seashells, refrigerator magnets, keychains and even lanzones vinegar and chicharon from Carcar, Cebu.

Camiguin seashells

Old Church Ruins
Bonbon, Catarman

We then swung by another casualty of Mt. Bulkang Daan's 1871 eruption -- the ruins of the Old Catarman Church. As with most churches of olden times, this one was built with egg yolk, and adobe. But all that remains now of this 16th century Spanish church are the moss covered walls. 

Old Church Ruins, Catarman, Camiguin
Old Church Ruins, Catarman, Camiguin

Old Church Ruins, Catarman, Camiguin

Old Church Ruins, Catarman, Camiguin

4. Drop by J&A for fresh fish and a zip line

J and A Fishpen is a spot, where the mountain spring water meets the sea. It's a restaurant with eateries on stilts, with the added attraction of a zip line. Guests can opt to go on a zip line ride while waiting for their freshly-caught fish to be cooked.

We decided to try the zip line. A  multi-cab drove us up to the first launch point. After we were strapped in, Superman-style, we zoomed 700 meters, 150 feet above Tanguines lagoon. 

The return zip of 360 meters was a breeze, and we settled back at the restaurant and tucked into a merienda of pancit canton, Coke, and really good, freshly-baked bread.

5. Visit A Marine Sanctuary 

Mantigue Island lies 3.5 km off the coast of Camiguin. Special permission from the local unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is needed to explore Mantigue, as the government wants to preserve its pristine state.

Mantigue Island, Camiguin

The boat ride took just 20 minutes, and soon we docked on Mantigue's soft white sand. Local guide Ikoy ushered us into the 4 hectares of the island's evergreen forest. There, he pointed to us, to the different kinds of trees and the best spots to take photos.

The pristine shore of Mantigue Island, Camiguin

Mantigue Island, Camiguin

Mantigue Island, Camiguin

Aside from this trek, guests of the island can go snorkeling, kayaking, or diving. But if you want to see some underwater treasures but don't want to get wet, a glass-bottom boat ride is your best bet. This is what we did, and we spotted colorful reef fish, and beautiful coral. If you're fortunate, you might even spot the resident pawikan (hawksbill turtle).

We didn't see anyway pawikans, sadly. But we did get a pretty good idea of the underwater treasures that the Mantigue marine sanctuary is protecting.

Other places to see: 

Katibawasan Falls (approximately 5km from Mambajao on the road running past the Provincial Capitol) which at 75 meters is the highest waterfall in the island. Its pool are great for cool afternoon dip. There's also the Giant Clam Sanctuary (located in Cantaan, 3 km from Guinsiliban -- just follow the signs from the National Highway), which is home to over 2,000 giant clams. Currently it has 6 of the 7 clam species in the world. They're just waiting for the granting of their request from Australia, to send over the 7th clam specie, thus completing their "collection."

Where To Stay In Camiguin:

There are only five Department of Tourism (DOT) accredited resort/hotel in Camiguin. They are the following:

Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin
Balbagon, Mambajao, Camiguin
Tel. No.: +63 (88) 387-0131
Mobile: +63 (917) 721-2798

This was where we stayed. Bahay Bakasyunan is located just a 10 minutes from the airport. The grounds of the resort are quite lovely, with coconut trees and large swathes of green grass in between the columns of bamboo bungalows and A-frame cottages. 

Though modern comforts such as air-conditioning, wifi and TVs are provided in each of the cottages, the real draw is the porch view of the swimming pool and the ocean.

Room 120, Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin

Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin

We ate twice there during our stay. For lunch we had surol (native chicken in coconut milk, with oregano, and chili),  squid, fish, and vegetables -- which was served al fresco, on a long table facing the sea. We also had breakfast here, and their buffet features a basic breakfast fare of eggs, sausages, fried fish, rice, and fruits. 

Lunch by the sea at Bahay Bakasyunan, Camiguin

The other DOT accredited resorts in Camiguin are:

Paras Beach Resort
Yumbing, Mambajao, Camiguin
Tel. No.: +63 (88) 387-9008
Mobile: +63 (917) 715-2285

Camiguin Highland Resort
Orasan, Sorosor, Camiguin
Tel. No.: +63 (88) 387-0515 to 17
Mobile: +63 (917)827-0200

Ardent Hibok Hibok
Tagdo, Mambajao, Camiguin
Tel. No.: +63 (88) 3879049

Secret Cove Beach Resort
Yumbing, Mambajao, Camiguin
Tel. No.: +63 (88) 387-9084

Tour Guides

Our guide, Milo Dahilayan (+63916-4089472) is a DOT accredited guide. For Camiguin first timers, it's best to hire a guide. They can  can fix for you the best routes and schedules to see all the great spots in Camiguin, via the fabled 64 km route.

Our guide, Milo Dahilan, an accredited DOT Tour Guide

Contact the Camiguin Tourism Office for help:
Address: Capitol Hills, Pandan, Mambajao, Camiguin
Tel. +63 (88) 387-1097

Moving Around

The transportation options in Camiguin include the following: 

Van Rental: Php 2,500 good for 10-12 people

Multicab Rental: Php 1,700 good for 8 people/ Php 2,000 good for 10-12 people

Jeepney Rental: Php 2,000 good for 16-18 people

*Rates will cover an island tour of 8 hours, a Php 150 is charged for every hour in excess

Motorela rates: Php 8.00 (minimum)

Camiguin's tricycle is called a motorella -- a cross between a motor and a "caretella"

What to buy in Camiguin

The number one pasalubong from Camiguin is of course, the lanzones. Lanzones from Camiguin is famous throughout the country for its sweetness. Our guide says this is because it grows on the island's volcanic soil. The sweet, translucent flesh of lanzones is best eaten a day or two after it is picked off the tree, when the fruit's dagta or sap is not as evident. 

Because of its abundance, lanzones in Camiguin is a mere Php 40 per kilo -- almost half of what it's sold for in the markets of Manila.

Camiguin Lanzones

If you're going to buy lanzones as pasalubong, make sure that you can get back home in two or three day's time. I bought 10 kilos of lanzones (got a little carried away) on a Tuesday, and by the time I landed in Manila on a Thursday -- several of them had gone to the dark (overripe) side. 

For five kilos of lanzones or more, you can opt to pay an additional Php 70 for a sturdy basket, in which they will pack the lanzones for you. 

Vjandep Pastel

This custard-filled bun called pastel is a Camiguin specialty.  And the most popular brand is Vjandep. Vjandep is a shortened version of the names of the owners -- Virgilio Jose and Elena Popera. They started this business in 1990. 

Pastel - a custard filled bun is a Camiguin specialty

The traditional flavor is custard, but dozens of other flavors have been added to the roster as years have passed -- cheese, chocolate, guava, langka, even durian, and squash malunggay. A box one dozen costs around Php 165 for the regular pastel.

The original branch of Vjandep Pastel is in Mambajao, Camiguin, but they have since expanded to Cagayan de Oro as well. They also have distributors in different cities all over the Philippines.

How To Get There:

Manila-CDO-Balingoan-Benoni, Camiguin

There are direct flights to Cagayan de Oro from Manila. From Cagayan de Oro, go to the Agora Bus Terminal and hop on a bus to Balingoan Port. From the town of Balingoan in Misamis Oriental, there's an hourly roro  (roll-on, roll off) boat to Benoni Port in Camiguin Island, which takes one hour and costs Php 130.

Manila-CDO-Macabalan Port-Benoni Port

Another route is via Macabalan Port. From Cagayan de Oro's airport head on to Macabalan Port via cab or van. From the port, take a fast craft to Benoni Port, Camiguin. The trip takes two hours, and there's only one schedule: 8:30 am- 10:30 am


Alternately, catch a flight from Manila to Cebu. From Cebu,  ride the Cebu Pacific flight to Camiguin.
The plane leaves Cebu at 9:35 am and arrives in Camiguin at 10:15 am, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  

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