Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vacation 101: First Day taste of Camiguin

Last weekend I finally traveled to Camiguin. It was practically a "now or never" situation. The trip was planned a year ago and was booked twice. Anticipation was nursed and crushed at the same time. Days before the exact trip, I was already a master of repressing expectations.

Based from my travel guru-friend Carlo, who has been to Camiguin thrice, it is a peaceful and relaxing island. It is a place worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Camiguin is a land born of fire, to take it metaphorically, it is an island built from volcanic eruptions. To date, Camiguin has seven volcanoes, some active, some aren't. Despite its threatening geological structure it didn't shade the fact that Camiguin people are one of the most friendliest people in the country. No matter how provincial this place is, Camiguin is self-sufficient and a very nice place to live in if you like nature, silence and hot/cold springs.

Totally sold on the idea of trying something different, we planned the itinerary and tours with the help of a person who could easily be an adopted son of Camiguin. Carlo, a travel blogger, was able to assist us on this four day trip of ours. He shared his contacts which gave us discounts on almost everything.


Manila going to Camiguin requires a plane ride to Cagayan De Oro.

Mitch and I caught the earliest flight to Cagayan De Oro approximately at 4:40 am, Cebu Pacific. But due to unforeseen events, we were re-booked to the 6:30 am flight. As far as Cebu Pacific is concerned, the passenger has to check in at the counter 45 minutes before departure, or else the inevitable of re-booking and repurchasing would occur. The rule was formalized just last month so it came as a shock to most of us who are used to checking in 20 minutes before the flight. The travel time to CDO is more or less 1 hour and 15 minutes.

After landing at 7:30 am, we declined taxis on queue and walked out of the airport premises. Carlo suggested that we search for a taxi outside the airport compound to get a metered rate against the fix rate the airport taxis demand of you, which is around 350 pesos. A metered taxi outside at the airport would only cost you 155 pesos to 170 depending on the "slight" traffic.

**just outside the airport, metered taxi's (non-members of the airport taxi group) are waiting.

We asked the driver to take us to the Agora Bus Terminal. The place is highly popular so we didn't bother explaining anymore. This is the primary bus terminal going to different neighboring provinces of CDO. We got there at around 8:15.

From the Agora Bus terminal, we rode the air-conditioned bus (Bachelor) going to BUTUAN, which would pass by Balingoan Port, which has ferries or "lantsa" for Camiguin. The bus ride from Agora to Balingoan is 2 hours and 30 minutes more or less. The bus fare is 130 pesos per person.

Since we arrived late, we had to wait for the next batch and we were able to leave the Agora Terminal at around 9 am. Our consolation price were the scenes going to Balingoan. It countered the annoying part that the bus driver must've been a fan of the Band Survivor. I listened to the whole CD at least three times before he switched to FM. The result, I kept on humming songs like "The Search is over" over and over again.

At around 11:10 am they dropped us off at Balingoan proper. Mitch at that time was stressed already because he's not really used to long land travels by bus, carrying my luggage and his photo gear at that. We found out that to be able to go to the port, we had to walk 200 meters or just pay 10 pesos each for a tricycle ride. It was a no-brainer. We got a tricycle.

The Balingoan Port is not as organized and pretty compared to Tagbilaran port in Bohol. Do not expect it to be world class. We were hopping frantically to get to the next ferry trip because we were so behind schedule only to find out that the ferry I had in mind is totally different from what I saw. All along I thought the ferry was a motored banca that most of us are accustomed to ride going to Boracay or to Puerto Galera. But no. What was in front of us was a large boat, more of like a "Lantsa" that can accommodate cars. It has open and close sections for viewing. The boat was old, rusty and stinky. There were no seating arrangements therefore you if you arrived late, which we did, expect yourself to be sitting on floors or on your bags. The trip to Camiguin island takes 1 hour and 30 minutes or even less (depends on the lantsa) and costs 130 pesos per person. We can't be choosers, so we rode the Donya Pepita line.

On or way to Camiguin, I was multi-texting our travel guide a.ka. driver and my uncle's relatives on our whereabouts. We were scheduled to have lunch with relatives at Bura, Camiguin, but so far we were running late. I had to extend their patience knowing that we had to travel to the cottage first to settle down before actually going to Bura which is a good set of kilometers from where we were staying. My uncle's relatives are so very kind and told us not to worry while the driver pledged that he would wait for us at Camiguin port stating to look for his bright purple multi-cab and him wearing a Kota Kinabalu shirt courtesy of Carlo.

**Our Multi-cab with Kuya Ray

After semi-sunbathing and squatting for an hour or so, we arrived at the lush Camiguin Port just eager to finalize one more leg of the trip. We got out and looked for the purple multi-cab and Mr. Ray, our contact. It wasn't hard to find the shocking purple multi-cab and the man near it with full smiles. We introduced each other and he was very accommodating despite his long wait. We told him of our super late lunch engagement and asked him to take us to Bura where also the Sto Nino Soda Pool is located.

But first thing's first, going to our Padua's cottage just across the famous Paras Resort was a good 30 minutes ride from the port with no traffic. The roads are smooth and well paved. While you're at it, stick your hand or head out because the air is so crisp, cold and divine. What I breathed in there is fresh air at its finest. Also going to the cottage we passed by Camiguin's simple City of Mambajao noting a few ATM units at main buildings.

WE arrived at the cottage at around 1:45 and settled a little bit before leaving for our late lunch. On our way to Bura, we passed by a sufficient grocery store to buy knick knacks, water and canned goods. We had to load ourselves with whatever basic sustenance we could think of because Camiguin is not like Boracay wherein you could just walk to buy stuff. Stores and restaurants could be pretty far from houses and resorts. It's not quite a problem for other tourists because most of the main hotels have restaurants, but if you're on a backpack tour or on a budget, it might be cheaper to buy canned goods and ask the accommodation's kitchen to cook for you. This you would have to confirm though.

Going to Bura, we saw pleasant scenery, passed by the Sunken Cemetery and overlooking cliffs. The air is so fresh and cold that you don't mind the open drive.

We arrived at our hosts' quaint home at around 2:45. Even though it was the first time we saw each other, they made me feel that I know them forever. I kept on telling them how my uncle was doing in Manila and even shared information about my aunts and mom who have traveled to Camiguin when they were kids. After a good lunch of grilled fish, chicken curry, chicken adobo and salad they instructed the driver to take us to the nearby Sto. Nino Soda Pool just a few meters from their home. By 3:45 we left the house and went to our first tourist spot.

The Sto. Nino Soda Pool takes its name from the tangy taste of fresh water directly derived from the mountains that make up the brilliant backdrop. The Entrance fee there is 40 bucks per person and you could get to sample their fresh water at the main reception. Since the pool's location is secluded from main thoroughfares, there was a lack of annoying crowds which was perfect. I swam the cold pool as Mitch was able to get some backdrop shots.

By 5 pm we left the Soda Pool and drove back to our Cottage. While going home, we stopped over at scenic cliffs for photo-ops. Mr. Ray greatly obliged and instantly became our impromptu photographer. By 6 pm we were already home.

Upon taking a bath and settling down, we paid Mr. Ray a discounted rate of 700 bucks for the day, which included the rate for his service, gas and impromptu tour to Bura. We also asked him to organize our itinerary for the following day, which required a whole day of touring.

By 8 pm our stomach demanded dinner and since we had no desire to eat canned goods at the moment we crossed over Paras Beach Resort and ate at their restaurant. Surprisingly Paras Resort is big and sufficient. The restaurant was packed and we had to wait for around five minutes to be seated. Their menu is also extensive from Filipino dishes to Italian. I remembered Carlo recommended their Sisig, although not quite a sisig fan myself, I put myself up to it. We ordered Calamares and rice to go with it.

Fortunately, the FOOD was amazingly good and we had no leftovers. The Calamares was tasty and I really liked the pork Sisig. It has the right spice, crunch and flavor. Both dishes have generous servings and just cost around 120 each. Not bad for resort food. I added a dessert of mango float for 30 bucks to the bill. All in all we just paid 350 bucks for a stuffed and yummy dinner.

After scratching our tummies, tiredness crept in from the long journey. We went home, watched a couple of basketball reruns and surrendered to sleep.

That was our first day taste of Camiguin.

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