Around Donsol

Credits:  “Natural Beauty” quickpage created by Maria LaFrance

After a morning of whale shark adventure, what next?  Just a short banca ride across the San Bernardino Straits, many dive shops offer trips to Manta Bowl in Ticao Island.  We however didn’t have time so I made a mental note to plan for some serious diving there next season.

Fireflies

Instead, we headed out to the Donsol River in the hopes to see fireflies illuminating in the dark.  I was envisioning dramatic strips of trees lit with fireflies like Christmas trees radiating the evening.  Alas, save for the beautiful sunset on our ride to the site, the fireflies were a let down.

We saw a total of 2, perhaps 3 trees with some fireflies glowing but not enough to even show on cam.  It didn’t help, per our guide, that it was a full moon.

Baracuda Seafood and Cocktails

Clockwise:  Home-made Pesto; tuna sashimi; succulent grilled prawns; A very fresh fried lapu-lapu.

Baracuda (with 1 “r”) serves excellent food that’s worth a mention.  After our sorry firefly tour, invited and recommended by the Israeli couple we shared the banca with, the four of us set out for Barracuda bar for some really good eats.  The resto-bar has a very friendly atmosphere headed by the owner herself, Juliet de la Cruz.  She goes around tables talking and offering shots of rum to diners.

Where to Stay

We wanted to stay at Elysia Beach Resort but they didn’t have a room so we settled for the comfortable albeit spartan Dancalan Resort.

Dancalan Beach Resort

With truly enjoyable breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee.

As we were walking around town, we passed Elysia resort and decided to check it out.

A simple but tastefully designed resort with rooms built around a pool.

The food may not be as good as that of the Barracuda or Dancalan (breakfast was good), it was pretty decent.

Since the main activity here takes just half a day, splurging a bit to lounge around the beautiful and relaxing grounds of Elysia makes pretty good sense to me.  I’ve made another mental note to book earlier next time I come back, most likely for those Mantas.

Useful info:

Baracuda Seafood and Cocktails
Contact: Juliet de la Paz
Mobile: +63926-640-0863
 
Dancalan Beach Resort
Email:  Donsol_dancalanbeachresort@yahoo.com
Contact No:  +63905-218-2973
 
Elysia Beach Resort
Email: elysia@live.co.kr
Contact Nos: +63917-547-4466 / +63927-348-2340 / +63926-475-9762
 

Finally!

Contrary to our 2008 attempt when we spent 3 hours waiting and waiting for naught, each attempt a failure.  Disappointed but not defeated, I promised to come back someday.  That someday finally arrived.

“Get ready”, Allan ordered.  We grabbed our fins, mask and sat at the edge of the banca ready for action at the word “go”.  The water was murky owing to a typhoon that hit the area a few days earlier.  As soon as my eyes adjusted to the murky water, I saw a dark image, more like a shadow below me.  Then it disappeared into the deep.  Is that it? I wondered.

Minutes later, we repeated the same exercise but this time with more success.  I could figure out the spots moving gently below me.  Immediately I pointed my camera and shot away, trying to capture images of the world’s largest living fish – a whale shark or what locals call butanding.

Our encounter most likely a juvenile.

These gentle giants can measure up to 15-20 meters long and weigh up to 35 tons.  They have very distinct color markings of pale spots and stripes against a dark background.    Butandings have been observed to converge in the waters off Donsol from November – May.  Each year they disappear in June and find their way back again November without fail.  They come to feed off the plankton rich waters of Donsol.

Sorsogon has been part of the migration highway of one of the highest concentration of whale sharks in the world for generations, sighted and slaughtered since residents could remember.  In 1998, the Department of Agriculture issued a Fisheries Administration order – banning the capture, sale, purchase, possession, transport, or export of whale sharks.

Eco-tourism replaced the age-old hunting practices and since then tourist flock to Donsol in increasing numbers year after year, rising from a 5th class municipality in 1998 to 1st class today.

Barangay Dancalan is where the tourist center is and where one goes to register for a boat and guide.

While close interaction with wildlife is a delicate topic, the World Wildlife Fund has teamed up with the local tourism office to create rules and some best practices for the tour.

With success comes disorganization.  It was disappointing to see that boat operators and some guides or what they call Butanding Interaction Officers (BIO) oftentimes ignore the rules of interaction.

Ironically, a poster of the rules is plastered on the wall of the tourist center for everyone’s guidance while a video is shown throughout the day, a requirement before one goes off to the water.

Outside of the video, pasted on the wall for everyone’s information is the rules of interaction.

Sadly, the non observance has happened in 2008 resulting to our failed attempts.  Today, it is more glaring.

I was engrossed with my encounter, swimming along with this big boy albeit in murky waters, then a fin hits my face,

All after the same fish less than 10 minutes after we jumped.

I looked up and to my dismay, saw more than a dozen heads (definitely more than the 6 allowed per whale shark) bobbing and snorkeling in one direction.  As we were swimming back to our boat, we bumped into a tourist in the water.  Looking resigned he said to us, “This is ridiculous.”  And indeed, it was.

The scene we left — at least a dozen boat fighting for an encounter with the butanding.

Having had 2 sightings, which was more than our 2008 experience, we decided to leave even before our 3 hours were up. Happy with the encounter but saddened by the way things are being handled in that once sleepy fishing village.

A Beautiful Day in Legaspi

Credits:  Paper by Nadi Designs AoD_bloghop (dark green); Elements — PWD Christmas Treasures (staples); SDynes Christmas Elements (bracket); ScrapMatters Life Little Surprises kit – border By Becca.

As I got off the plane, I look up and there it was – a central feature reaching 2,460 meters above the Albay gulf.  Mayon Volcano stands majestic with its perfect cone forming a magnificent backdrop against an otherwise ordinary small town airport.

Mayon hiding behind the clouds.

A very active volcano with its most recent eruption occurring in 2001 while its most violent in 1814 killing around 2,000 residents and devastating several towns.

If not for Mayon Volcano, Legaspi is an ordinary city riddled with tricycles.  The capital of Albay was our gateway to Donsol, the main purpose of this trip.  The cab we hired to take us to whaleshark territory suggested that we take advantage of the clear sky affording a spectacular image of an almost perfect cone.

We headed out to Daraga Church right after breakfast for an unobstructed view of the volcano.  It sits atop a hill overlooking the sea and the majestic Mayon.

Declared by the National Historic Institute a “National Cultural Treasure”, the 18th century baroque church was built in 1773.  Mayon’s destructive eruption on Feb 1814 devastated Cagsawa and 4 more towns and survivors chose to move to Daraga the following year.   So the folklore indicating that the church was built to replace the ill-fated church of Cagsawa is inaccurate.

The remnants of the Cagsawa Church, of which the belfry still stands today, is a testimony of mother nature’s wrath and reminds of the dangers of living close to Mayon.

Huge volcanic boulders left around the perimeter.

Also affording an unhampered view of the volcano, the ruins is the most photographed spot in all of Albay.

Although clouds have covered half of Mayon by now, it remains picturesque just the same.

When in Legaspi, make sure to drop by Camalig and have a feast of their Pinangat.  Along the highway is an eatery called Let’s Pinangat.  Before heading to Donsol, Art, our cab driver parked the cab and announced that we are to have lunch here.

Of course we ordered Pinangat but Art highly recommended Inolukan, a variation of the pinangat, which is pure layers of gabi (taro) leaves cooked in coconut milk.

Inolukan, on the other hand has extracts of small crabs (talangka) filled inside the leaves.  Both I find excellent with a slight preference over the latter.

We had, I dare say, a good start to a weekend of adventure.  ‘Twas a beautiful day indeed.

Useful Info:

If you need a ride to around Albay, call Art of Early Riser.  He can double as a guide as well.
Contact No (Art):  +63906-909-6719 / +63932-156-0246
Early Riser:  +6352-480-8294 / +6352-435-0950 / +63922-866-8456

Caramoan Adventure

Credits: Quickpage by Sarah H from JS bloghop 2010.

An adventure it was indeed.  Not in a thrilling kind of way but more precarious I’m afraid.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish

It started as a simple exploration of the town and while there, we were met with rains so we waited it out at River Inn,

the nearest hiding place when it poured.  We watched the river swell as the downpour continued and seemingly refusing to let up.

We decided to make a go for lunch the moment it waned.  Needless to say, we arrived Sea Porch soaking wet.

The food was good at least so there were some delightful moments that transpired during the day.  After lunch, we decided that it was best to go back when the rain started to pelt down once again.

We hired a tricycle but halfway through, we saw the resort’s van stranded with newly arrived guests.  The river overflowed (which is a common thing, they say).

Children without a care in the world.  So used to it, they saw it as their playground.

It was deep and the current was strong, we couldn’t go further… at least not the tric, so we paid our driver and let him go.  At this point, we were so wet and weary that the idea of a dry, cozy cabin seemed so inviting.  We were told that it would take a while for the flood to subside, my heart sank.   I thought it funny that the resort sent a kayak to get us to the other side.  What?!? The current was strong; I was iffy.  If the kayak topples (which was very likely), my thought balloon goes, “there goes my camera”.  Desperate for a hot shower, I decided to bid my “rebel” goodbye and went for it.  All the worry was unnecessary – as I said, this happens often and they have used the kayak to get them across countless times.  They expertly maneuvered the kayak without us having to paddle a single stroke.  Our only task was to sit upright and not move.  It worked.

I remind myself often to throw caution to the wind and not to underestimate the deftness of Filipinos (or anyone for that matter) especially when caught in a situation.

In no time, we were curled up in our cozy little cabin — dry, warm and clean.  The rain eventually stopped, the water calm once more and the sun dared to peek out at one point as we traveled back to Naga the following day without incident.

A Preview of the Caramoan Islands

December and a typhoon looming at that is definitely the wrong time to explore the islands of Caramoan.  This however did not stop us…  “no guarantees”, we were told.  Do you believe in the power of prayer?  The weather held up for the most part.  We were limited though to 3 nearby islands, the waves were strong thus preventing us from exploring more islands much less snorkel.  But for bad weather, this was answered prayer.  Presenting the three:

Matukad Island

Beautiful stretch of powdery white sand beach walled with limestone cliffs.

At one end of the beach is a cliff that many climb to view the lagoon hidden behind.

Thought it would be wise of me not to climb that cliff due to a back injury I was nursing at that time but it did not stop me from being envious of friend S who got to see the lagoon.  Perhaps to make me feel better, she said I’ve seen better…    🙂

Hunongan Cove

This private cove beside Gota Village was developed to house the booted-out contestants of the Survivor series – what a nice reward, me think.

They have 14 pretty cabana that were not operational at the time of our visit – repairs were being made perhaps also in preparation for the next “Survivor” ocular.  Lunch was served there hence the visit.

Like Matukad, it has a stretch of powdery white sand and it being a cove is blessed with a much tamer shore.

Also like Matukad, it is walled with limestone cliffs but unlike Matukad, this does not have a lagoon anywhere.

Philippine Eagle

It has a regular visitor though whom they feed when around.

The caretakers opened a cabana, which I assume would be typical, for us to take a look.

This will cost P6,000+ a night if they were operational.  No thanks!  Our charming cabin at Gota Village albeit more basic was P3,500 a night only.

Minalahos Island

We were supposed to head back already but were curious with this one particular island with beautiful jagged edge formations so we stopped to take a look.  Glad we did.

The cliff was easy enough to climb and we were rewarded by a stunning view of the other side.  The boatman said that during calm days, it’s a good snorkel and kayaking area.

With the little that we saw, I can deduce that Caramoan is indeed a remarkable paradise that reminds of Palawan and even to a certain extent, Halong Bay minus the junks.  No wonder it has become the choice of many Survivor franchise.  The place is quite enchanting.

The Upside of Being Wimpy!

Credits:  Papers and elements by LivE Designs’ You are Awesome kit — AwwwSome Blue, Color Me Happy and Floral clusters; Frame by Moninda Fall Meditation Frame 4 with shadow.

To finally be on our way to Caramoan was like a project coming to fruition.  This trip was supposed to have happened a decade ago, prevented however by various reasons – the remoteness and the logistic nightmares being some of the major ones.  There were so many other trips so I placed Caramoan in the back burner until Gota Village Resort came about.  Yeah, sometimes I can be a wimp!!  An attempt last summer still didn’t fall through because they were closed for a Survivor shoot.  “Ok, maybe Caramoan really isn’t for us”, I thought.  But late last year, without a plan yet for the Christmas break, I attempted to inquire for rooms and lo and behold, I got an affirmative – but not without a side trip, as you probably know by now.

From CWC, we hired a van and headed to Sabang Port.  At the port, we took this boat so cramped with passengers to Guijalo Port.  2-3 hours later we got into a van provided by the resort and another 30-45 minutes, we finally reached our destination.  Not exactly a breeze but imagine if you took public transport all the way… which would be the case if we had gone a decade ago.  And that, my friends, was the reason this trip only happened now.

Also known as the Caramoan Peninsula, it is a group of islands isolated from the rest of Camarines Sur and like many remote islands, these included, they remain unspoiled by regular tourists.

December however is not exactly the right season to be exploring the islands, the waves prevented us to explore even the island across the resort.

I have to say, this resort is charming!  No beach in sight but as you enter, the wooden cabins and the mountains in the background is an obvious prelude to the charm.

The deck at the reception area allows a peek of the ocean on one side

The cabins from the deck at night.

and the other a bird’s eye view of the cabins.

The dining hall from the beach.

Walk further to the dining hall and you will see the ocean emerge inch by inch and before you know it, right in front of you is a breathtaking view of the ocean and its nearby islands.

It’s like being in the mountains with the beach just around the corner.

As with CWC, the Provincial government of Camarines Sur operates Gota Village Resort, which makes transfers from CWC much easier than doing your own logistics.  In fact, for large groups, one can organize for a fast craft to shuttle you directly to the resort.  It will only take an hour.

It is also said that the resort earned for the Philippines the title of “Ecotourism Destination of the Year” in the 2009 edition of Nature – one of France’s biggest travel fairs.  It was also with France that Caramoan first got its big break.  The French franchise of the reality show “Survivor” chose to shoot one season here.  Many more franchises of the “Survivor” shows followed after that… Sweden, Israel, Bulgaria and Serbia.  And while we were there, they said that they would close again soon to make repairs in preparation for the next ”Survivor” ocular.

The different bridges connecting one tribal council to another.

It is on the adjacent beach called “Gota 2” that they built the different “tribal council” sets.  Not exactly my cup of tea ( I don’t follow this show) but the reality is that they pride themselves of being the favorite of the “Survivor” series… and why not?  Sadly though, they rave more about this when there is so much more to rave about — like their beautiful islands and breathtaking cliffs, perhaps?

Given the rainy season, the crowning point of this trip for me was spending most afternoons enjoying the mountain setting with some wine and cheese (that we brought with us) on our cozy little porch chatting away till dinner called.  Precious.

Useful Info:

Gota Village Resort
Address:  2F Bldg. 11 La Fuerza Plaza Compound,
2241 Don Chino Roces Ave., Makati City
Tel. No.:  +632 817-0831 or +632 710-9086
Mobile:  +63 928-308-3969
Email:  gotavillage@gmail.com or infocamsur@gmail.com

Sili’t Gata

Serve me a dish that combines coconut milk and chili pepper and you’ve won me over, tightly wrapped around your finger at that.  So imagine me in Bicol where sili (chili pepper) and gata (coconut milk) is present in almost every dish.  Absolute bliss, I tell ya! First thing we did after we put to right the mishap was ventured to the Food Court of SM-Naga looking for the food stall recommended by the CWC staff.

At Geewan:

We shared an order of:

Clockwise:  Laing, Pinagat and Bicol Express
Laing:  Probably the most famous Bicol dish.  It’s pork sautéed in garlic, ginger and onions combined with dried taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and spiced with… you guessed it – sili.

Pinagat:  Similar to Laing, Pinangat is bundled taro leaves filled with meat or shrimps, sili, ginger, garlic and onion and then slow cooked in gata.  Until I came to Bicol I thought this was a version of the Laing.

Bicol Express:  Pork meat simmered in gata with lots and lots of chili strips.  Some version use green chili to make the dish less spicy and some versions has shrimp paste to add to the flavor.

Kinunot:  Not something that I’d order but in the spirit of adventure, we ordered it just to taste.  It’s an unusual dish of stingray meat or what they call pagi and malunggay leaves.  Just like all the above, the meat and vegetable is simmered in gata and sili.  It was pretty good, I must say.  The thought however of eating something so beautiful does not leave me longing for it.

Laing Pizza

An out of the ordinary creation we got to try at the CWC clubhouse.  Interesting flavor and surprisingly delectable.

Bob Marlin

Our last dinner in Camsur, we decided to go to town for a more scrumptious experience of Bicol cuisine.  We likewise wanted to experience the taste of the town, particularly Magsaysay Ave., the restaurant street of Naga City.  Shuttles were available at the CWC to take guests to town.  We had ourselves dropped off at Bob Marlin’s Restaurant and Grill.  Crispy Pata, albeit their most popular dish, was not something we’d order as we remained faithful to Bicolano food whilst there.

Given the restaurant’s name however, we cannot not have a Marlin Slab in honor of its namesake.  We were not disappointed.

Because it is my favorite Bicolano dish, we ordered the Pinangat to celebrate Bicol cuisine.

Lastly, we ordered a dish we haven’t tried yet and the curious in me just had to give this dish a try.  Adobong Manok sa Gata — Chicken Adobo in Coconut Milk.  Sounds interesting?  Tastes interesting too.  The dish replaces soy sauce with gata, which made the stew creamy.  Because I absolutely love gata in anything, I utterly enjoyed this twist in adobo and have inspired me to attempt this dish at home someday.

Useful Info:

Geewan (Main branch)
P. Burgos St.
Naga, Camarines Sur, Philippines
Phone Number: (63 54) 472-3888 or (63 74) 811-7272
 
Bob Marlin Restaurant and Grill
Magsaysay Ave.
Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines
Phone Number: (63 54) 473-1339, (63 54) 478-4414