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Caramoan, a secluded paradise

Welcome back to our blog series about Philippines. Next in line is the south-eastern part of Luzon island with Legazpi City and the Caramoan peninsula.

Caramoan got into our planning at the last minute. We are huge fans of the reality show Survivor. We have seen all 40 seasons of American version, plus few seasons of the Survivor Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and of course the Czech version too. I even applied to the Czech one, but my journey ended quickly in the later stage of casting process. Caramoan is popular place for filming these competitions as it offers numerous inhabited islands to film on. Logically, we had to see it too.

Beach on Lahos island popular among Survivor filming crews.

The flights from Siargao to Legazpi were eventless. The first thing that was different after landing in Legazpi was the lack of people in front of the airport exit. No groups of taxi drivers shouting at you their offers, finally! We didn’t need it as we found a very helpful host through Couchsurfing! Maria shared with us her cosy new house and we enjoyed dinner together in one not very good restaurant. Or better said, in the restaurant in which they served us cold food. To be honest, they looked a bit surprised about the fact that tourists came into their establishment.

Next day, we had to get up super early to catch our van to Naga and then bus to Caramoan. Luckily, Maria offered to drive us, which was amazing, thank you Maria again if you are reading this now!

The trip overall was a bit challenging, although it was nothing to compare with the trip back, but more about that later. The van was full to its absolute limits. We were squeezed there like sardines for more than 2 hours. One good thing was that from the van we enjoyed a nice view of nicely symmetrical Mayon volcano (one of the reasons we wanted to visit Legazpi). At least, the next bus had a lot of room for our legs. You should know that Caramoan is a bit secluded area. The road there isn’t fully paved yet, which means the trip takes a lot of time. It’s alright on the paved part but it slows down significantly closer to Caramoan. Overall, it took about 6 hours with one short stop for lunch in the middle. Up until 2017, you could only travel to Caramoan on boat and from our experience we can say the bus is better, you will soon know why. Beside the filming crews, not many tourists choose Caramoan due to that. Moreover, we went there during the off-season and we were so glad to do that, because it was without doubt the best part of our holidays in Philippines.

Rain is nothing that could ruin our day, plus it makes other people hide, so we had the Cagsawa ruins in Legazpi just for ourselves!

The Caramoan town is small, you could walk through all its streets within an hour. We found reasonably looking accommodation online (The Central Discovery Hotel), but even though they had their web in English, they didn’t speak much English, which proofed to be problematic later. Next in business was to rent a scooter. Well, trying to rent a scooter in a town which almost never host tourists was difficult. We walked through the whole town asking and the only thing we got were people staring at us like we are crazy. Well, people were staring at us in general, it felt weird but cool at the same time. We have never before visited such non-touristy place. We ended up in a tourist office in which they told us there is no renting service and we should ask in the hotel.

Fortunately, the hotel owner had few motorbikes and rented us one, but it had manual shifting. All the previous scooters were automatic, but Míša learned it quickly, she is natural with everything that requires some practical skill. I would kill myself within the first few meters.

The sun was going down quickly, so we hurried to at least see the port and ask about the island hopping. What we didn’t expect at all was fulfilling of one tiny dream we both had. We found place called Breeze and Waves. They offer accommodation and island hopping, but most importantly, they also help in the camera crews while filming Survivor, so they got some probs too. The one which caught our attention immediately was the individual immunity necklace that player can win and be safe for one round of the game. Neither of us will probably experience that in true Survivor competition, but the nice people from Breeze and Waves allowed us to try it on. Our inner children got incredibly happy! We continued to feed our love to Survivor by buying t-shirts, bag, and magnet with Survivor logos on them and looked forward to visiting the islands where the show is filmed!

Full Survivor mode and small dream coming true.

The next day was important for us as it was the 8th anniversary of our first date. First date is more important to us than the day we officially started dating, simply because our first date was truly awesome! So, awesome that every year we always repeated our routine – dinner, cinema and then bottle of wine while sitting by the Vltava river in Prague. There is no doubt that our 8th first date in Caramoan was the best, because there is a huge difference between sitting by the Vltava river in Prague at night in December and being in Philippines.

The island hopping is great by itself, you have hours and hours of time to marvel about all the beauty that surrounds you, but doing it alone without any other tourists made it so much better. Moreover, our guide worked as cameraman for American Survivor, so he knew loads of background stuff and was generally fun to be around.

Our guide from Breeze and Waves was a great companion!

The islands looked even more beautiful than those in El Nido! We got lucky with the weather too! There was simply nothing that could ruin it. We could stay on any island as long as we wanted and explore it properly, which was another perk of doing it alone.

Let’s start with more details. The most magical place was the Matukad Island. "Matukad” is Bicolano word for “Steep Climb” and we can only recommend climbing the rocks and enjoy the view on the island and a secret lagoon. Just wear a proper footwear and be careful, the rocks are sharp.

There is legend surrounding this lagoon. It’s a story of two mystical fish. Many years ago, a man discovered 2 giant milkfish in the lagoon. The man caught one of the fish and took it home to feed his family. The following day his daughter died. And new second fish appeared in the lagoon the next day.

The mysterious hidden lagoon surrounded by sharp rocks.

And we saw both! The water is crystal clear, and the fish are big, so it was easy to spot them and there were indeed only two of them. Many say that there is lady in a white dress protecting the lagoon too. And to add even more mystery, the lagoon is surrounded by many trees, but there are no leaves floating on the water surface. Maybe the mysterious white lady cleans the lagoon? Maybe there is some secret pipe sucking the leaves away? No one knows. You simply cannot miss this lagoon!

Mysterious lagoon on one side and this view on the other, our favorite photo from Philippines

Next stop was the Lahos Island which you may recognize from Survivor! “Lahos” means to pass through in Visayan, which totally fits. You can pass right through from one side of the island to the other. Actually, the island is basically a small white sand beach sandwiched between two large limestone rocks. We couldn’t miss the chance to make few videos in the same style Survivor has.

There are many local languages on Philippines, almost 200 actually! Majority of people speaks Tagalog, however, there are more like Bicolan (Bicol Island), Visayan (Visayas islands), Cebuano, you get the point. Plus, many people speak English, Spanish or even Chinese as Philippines were sort of historical playground for these nations.

Another beautiful spot was the Minalahos Island. There is no story behind it, nor is used for Survivor, it’s just simply nice. We ended our day on Cagbalinad Island right in front of the Gota Beach Resort, which is used as the main station for the filming crews.

Quick shot on tiny beach of Minalahos island

Our idea after island hopping was to refresh ourselves, eat something and head to the Gota beach and celebrate our anniversary on the beach. Unfortunately, after a super bumpy ride, we arrived at a blockade guarded by policemen who told us that Gota beach is closed due to renovation, so we headed the same bumpy way back.

So, instead of that, we had one of the tastiest chicken wings from a man with a tiny stand on wheels in the town and celebrated at the terrace of our hotel. I already mentioned that Filipinos love karaoke. Our hotel had karaoke too, so after we got drunk a bit, we headed there to sing our favourite songs. What a great day it was!

Next day, we returned for second island hopping between different, yet similarly beautiful islands of Caramoan. We started at the Manlawe Sandbar with incredibly soft sand. Just be careful here, there is no shade, use a good sunblock. Next stops were Bag-ing Island and Sabitang Laya with nice beaches and opportunity to snorkel. Last thing we have visited was the Guinahoan Island with lighthouse. We were met by local children who offer you a guide for the trek uphill. We took one of the kids with us as it is expected and gave her a small tip afterwards. The view from the top is great, you can definitely snap some cool shots there.

Manlawe sandbar is huge, but be careful with sun, there is no shade at all!

Since we didn’t have any time limit, we spent on each place at least an hour and tried to film our own Survivor with everything! A competition, hidden immunity idol search, it was fun! You can check it on our Instagram.

This island hopping does not include lunch like it is in El Nido, so you need to be prepared for that too. Although we were prepared, after return to the port we felt hungry and we didn’t want to eat in our hotel as they didn’t cook very well. We asked the lady from Breeze and Waves and she made a wonderful yet simple lunch for us. It consisted of typical Filipino ingrediencies – chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, chilli, garlic, and rice. Simple, but tasty! It was a great farewell to the mesmerizing islands of Caramoan.

I almost forgot about the spider incident. Last night before checking out we encountered this little fella below just hanging out on our closet.

We were not sure whether it is dangerous or protected, so we went to the reception ask the girl sitting there. She barely understood us, but based on the following events, the spider was not dangerous. The girl tried to kill it with the softest mop ever, so naturally the spider went on the run. After several minutes long chase and our room turned upside down, the girl finally suceeded in killing the spider. The was fun experience for sure.

We probably exhausted our Karma throughout the previous 2 days because the next day quickly became a nightmare, this time to me, not Míša. I woke up in the morning feeling sick with diarrhoea and strong headache. Funny thing was that we ran out of toilet paper, so Míša went to ask for more and got refused because were about to check out in an hour! So, Míša had to steal some from the restaurant bathroom. I felt like absolute shit, but we managed to pack up our stuff and head out to port to catch a boat. We wanted to try different style of transportation, plus it was supposed to safe us some time. It didn’t. The schedule told us that there are 3 boats leaving Caramoan that day – at 7:00, 9:00 and 11:00. We have chosen the middle option and decided to get there at least 45 minute earlier to be sure. We got to the port at 8:10 only to find out that the boat at 9:00 got cancelled and the earlier boat left at 8:05! We weighed our options and decided to wait until 11. Note that I haven’t eaten anything and barely drank how bad I felt. Finally, 11:00 arrived and we boarded the boat. Unfortunately, it took 28 attempts (yes, I counted it) and another hour to start the boat. Moreover, the boat couldn’t move at its full speed. In the end, we arrived in the Sabang port at 15:30. We were supposed to be there at 14:00 (or 12:00 if we got on the boat at 9:00). It was still far from over, we needed to get back to Legazpi. First, we took a jeepney to Goa, then second jeepney to Tigaon. Some people told us that from there we’ll be able to catch a bus to Legazpi. In Tigaon, we needed to get from one bus station to another, so we caught tricycle. The driver was driving us around for maybe 15 minutes even though the trip was supposed to take 3 minutes. Basically, his goal was to get as much money as possible from us and asked for 500PHP! I gave him my strongest “I hate you/wtf” face and gave him 50, which was already at least three times more than it should. At the bus station we found out that the last bus to Legazpi has already left and we need to stay for a night in Tigaon. Not an option for us, so we asked around and ended up in another jeepney. I almost never felt worse in my life. The only worse experience I have ever had were mine brain surgeries, lumbar puncture and when my father died. And to add to my overall discomfort and already irritated stomach, some lady hopped on the board of our jeepney with box of fish. That smell was almost unbearable, so the following 20 minutes became the ultimate low point of the journey back to Legazpi. This jeepney took us to town called Anayan. Then, we had to walk to a different bus station until finally we got on board of a bus heading to Legazpi. To summarize, the trip from Caramoan started at 7:30 in the morning in a tricycle to the port and ended at 21:30 after we switched from tricycle to boat, to jeepney, to another jeepney, to another tricycle, to yet another jeepney and finally to the bus. All that while being sick and exhausted. Míša felt better, but not that much. Plus, she got her period on the boat! The only toilet there was a hole in the back of the boat. What a superb day, don’t you think?

The hot black tea, shower and subsequent dinner at the hostel were like blessing for both of us! Next morning, I felt so much better, ready to explore Legazpi. Renting a scooter proofed to be a challenge once again. We found just one place located in rather questionable poor area of Legazpi. We were doubtful at first, they wanted quite large deposit and originals of our ID’s, but in the end, we made a deal. The weather was bad, which isn’t something that would stop us from travelling, but we couldn’t see the Mayon volcano in its full beauty. At least we saw it from the van on our way to Caramoan, but we don’t have any proper picture – just these poor attempts:

Mayon volcano in almost its full glory taken during bumpy tricycle ride (left) and the view we had for the rest of the time in Legazpi.

There isn’t much to see in Legazpi beside Mayon. We went to see the Daraga church. There is a nice view on Mayon too, but with the clouds covering the sky, we only saw the bottom of the volcano. Next stop was the Cagsawa ruins, the ruins of an old church that was originally built in 1587! The whole area around Legazpi is affected a lot by the still active volcano. This church was burned by pirates, rebuilt, destroyed again, rebuilt, and finally destroyed yet again, this time by the last big eruption of Mayon in 1814. Definitely cool spot to visit! There is an option to rent ATV and enjoy adventure ride closer to the volcano. We didn’t do it simply due to the weather even though they offered us 50% discount.

It’s time to wrap it up. Legazpi gave us interesting experience as it remains relatively untouched in terms of mass tourism. We are glad for going there even though we didn’t enjoy proper view on the volcano. It was still unique for us.

Next day was the Christmas day (24/12), the most interesting Christmas day in our lives for sure, but about that in the next blog.

Summary of expenses:

Van from Legazpi to Naga: 630 PHP

Bus from Naga to Caramoan: 400 PHP

Tricycle from Caramoan town to port: 100 PHP

Terminal fee: 10 PHP

Boat from Caramoan to Sabang: 300 PHP

Jeepney from Sabang to Goa: 44 PHP

Jeepney from Goa to Tigaon: 20 PHP

Tricycle between bus stations: 50 PHP

Jeepney from Tigaon to Anayan: 80 PHP

Bus from Anayan to Legazpi: 280 PHP

Summary of our stay in Legazpi – Caramoan – Legazpi:

Length: 1 night – 3 nights – 2 nights

Accommodation: free (Couchsurfing) – 3500 PHP – 2000 PHP

Scooter rental: 1200PHP on Caramoan+ 100 PHP for gas; 600 PHP in Legazpi + 75 PHP for gas

Activities and places, we visited:

- Island hopping – 1600 + 2200 PHP

- Cagsawa ruins: 40 PHP

Food: 6075 PHP

Result: 18224 PHP = 315 eur*

*We spent bit more on other stuff like cigarettes, but that is different for everyone, we just wanted to show the basic expenses, so you have something to start with when planning trip to Philippines.

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