Legazpi, Catanduanes, & Quezon

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Hard to miss . . . . .

You won’t believe this. I left my Tagaytay house with permission from my wife to go to Baguio to spend Holy Week there. As we were driving along Silang to SLEX, I toyed with the idea of going to Baler and Casiguran instead. Called my friends for accommodations. I was told the Vice Mayor of Casiguran will take care of me if I don’t get a room.

But as we approached SLEX in Sta Rosa, I just instinctively decided we will head south. Bicol maybe. Crazy, but those who know me will not be surprised that I travel without a fixed destination in mind.

Welcome to Quezon !

Quezon Province: Land of coconuts

No, the people are not nuts. But Quezon province probably has the most number of coconuts among all the provinces of the Philippines.

cocolandia

We stopped for lunch in a carinderia past Pagbilao, just before the ascent to the Eme, that zigzag road that leads to the Quezon National Park. Others mistakenly call this the Bitukang Manok, which is another long zigzag road leading to Daet in Camarines Norte.

After Atimonan, we drove along the coastline dotted with beach resorts. Next town was Plaridel, formerly known as Siain. Next was Gumaca, where we decided to stary for the night. We asked around and were told to proceed to Nellie’s Hotel, beside the Petron staion. The mestiza lady at the table outside the hotel door was munching on fresh jack fruit, and offered me some. I asked if she was Nellie, and said yes she was. She works at SunLife, and is managing the hotel which she inherited from her parents.

The rooms are cheap but not clean. For P500 per room per night, I did not expect even a 1-star standard of cleanliness. That is why I always bring with me my own linen, pillows, blankets and toiletries. What the hotel lacked in maintenance, they more than made up for in hospitality.

That night, I had drinks at the hotel cafeteria with Nellie’s husband, their son Jong who, in his travel to Vietnam knew my friends there. There were lots of stories to exchange. We were joined later by still another guest whose family was already asleep. They were going to Daet. And even later, we were joined by two call center guys who were also on a roadtrip. They drank Ginebra while I finished my 8th bottle of San Mig Light. When there was no more SMB, they shared their Ginebra with me. I learned that the guys and Jong went out much later in the night, after I went to bed at 2:30am. I woke up feeling normal, without any hangover. I was also surprised myself. Then we checked out and drove to Bicol.

Tabaco and Legazpi

We planned to take the 4×4 to Catanduanes Island via roro, so we first went to Tabaco Port to check how we could do that. After the clearances, we were set to take MV Calixta at 1pm the next day.

So we drove back to Legazpi and phoned a friend. My friend directed us to a brand new hotel owned by a mayoralty candidate. The hotel is called La Roca, near the airport. It is a beautiful hotel and at P2,000 per night is a steal. I figured a room like this would cost at least P3.000 a night, maybe even more.Maybe it was an “introductory”rate? Hmmmm, we will see.

my room at the brand new La Roca Veranda Suites

La Roca Veranda Suites Hotel is at Lakandula Drive, Gogon, Legazpi City. Telephone number is (+6352) 4803247.

My friend invited me to Embarcadero, the center of nightlife in Legazpi. This is their equivalent of Greenbelt and Eastwood combined. Live bands play on a stage al fresco, and one can pick a table outside and order drinks while watching the performance. Several Manila-brand restaurants are in Embarcadero.

nowhere but to Embarcadero for a fun night

Catanduanes

We were at the Tabaco port at 11 am, to allow for boarding of vehicles. I had to get myself a ticket to ride the ferry since only the driver of the vehicle gets in for free. Travel time from Tabaco to the Catanduanes port of San Andres was 3 hours. Getting off the ferry, I called my friend who is the daughter of the former governor, who promptly invited me to stay in their beach house for the night. Kosta Alcantara is huge and seemed like a hotel, with several air conditioned rooms, and an open area that can probably sit 100 people over dinner. We had grilled dorado fish for pulutan over San Mig Light. And dinuguan, bopis, etc for dinner.

Beautiful and very private Kosta Alcantara, Catanduanes

I suggested to my hosts that I stay in the center of town the next night, even as I loved the place. So the following morning, we drove off to different towns, passing Bato with its beautiful church facing the sea, Baras where I had merienda on a carinderia by the sea, and in Puraran, most famous among surfers, and is “the” destination in Catanduanes. From Puraran, we drove to Gigmoto where we found spectacular views of mountain and sea. In fact, Gigmoto can be Caramoan and Boracay rolled into one, if facilities can be put in place. The road is also largely unpaved.

From Gigmoto, we found ourselves in Viga, and then San Miguel before going back to the town center in Virac.

We stayed at Catanduanes Midtown Inn. I got a Royal Room for P1,400 a night, and a single room for P680 a night for my driver. Pretty nice hotel. I actually watched the Viernes Santo procession from the veranda outside my room.

The trip back to Tabaco was from the Port of Virac, via MV Penafrancia. It was a larger boat than Calixta, but the travel was one hour longer because of the different sea route. Still, it was a more pleasant trip than the trip to Catanduanes.

Back to Legazpi

We had to stay in Legazpi for the night. This time I stayed in the newly opened St Ellis Hotel, the former La Trinidad Hotel. I went there because La Trinidad used to be my favorite hotel in Legazpi, where I once checked into its Captain’s Suite on a trip to Legazpi just to watch Mayon Volcano “in action”, watching the lava flow at night, years and years ago. 

There is no trace of the old hotel, except perhaps for the second-floor pool that could not be relocated, and the one and only elevator to ferry guests to higher floors. The lobby alone will tell you it is a new hotel, having taken up the space of the adjoining mini mall to create a spacious 5-star lobby. The restaurant at the ground floor also looks and feels 5-star. I thought they were a sister hotel of my favorite Naga Hotel (Avenue Plaza), but I was told they were being operated by Genesis, a professional hotel management company.   I took a junior suite at nearly P6,000 per night. It was comfortable, and definitely a step up from the old La Trinidad.

St Ellis Hotel – – – no trace of the old La Trinidad

the new lobby extends to what was a mini mall

my junior suite

St Ellis Hotel is at Rizal St in Legazpi City, near my favorite mall in Legazpi, LCC. Book St Ellis at (+6352) 4808088.

Another good hotel is Pepperland, where I used to stay until I decided to try the new hotels La Roca and St Ellis. Pepperland is still a good place to stay, especially if you want some entertainment right in your hotel. The bar at the ground floor is always packed, and even upmarket locals go there for the band that always plays good music. Just be sure to get a room farthest from the bar if you can’t sleep unless it is totally quiet.I checked into a VIP room the last time I stayed, but realized that the rooms at the ground level, by the courtyard, are still the better (yet cheaper ) rooms. Unfortunately, these rooms were booked then.

Book your quieter room ahead. Contact numbers are (+6352) 481-8000 and (+6352) 481-4428

Pepperland Hotel - - - good band in their very popular bar

My driver was booked at Tourist Inn, near LCC Mall,  where air conditioned rooms cost P1,000 overnight. When my driver picked me up from St Ellis, I went to Tourist In to check this budget hotel. It is in a busy part of the city. The rooms are not 5-standard clean, but ok. Definitely good value at P1,000 per night, and I figure I do not mind staying there when I want to extend my travel funds.

Lunch when we arrived in Legazpi was in one of my favorite restaurants, Small Talk.  Make sure you order what people go there for : pinangat pasta. For the uninitiated, pinangat is what we Tagalogs call “laing”. Do not try to visualize it. You can even close your eyes while savoring this dish. And you will swear you will have it again, and again, when you are in Legazpi.

pinangat pasta, only at Small Talk Cafe

Get to know about Small Talk Cafe on their facebook :

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Legazpi-City-Philippines/Small-Talk-Cafe/186176090111?v=wall

Stopover: Naga

We decided to have lunch in Naga. On a tip from a local, we went to Basilica Kaffee Haus inside the Basilica compound. I immediately loved the place. We sat outside, in the fenced in area. There were other tables set outside. I went inside to use the toilet and saw that the place resembled a not-trying-hard Cafe Adriatico.

The menu was good. The food great. Seafood paella which could be had by three was only P180. We had as side order tuna sisig, which complemented the seafood paella well.

Quezon, Quezon

I wanted to take the trip to an island off Gumaca called Quezon Town in Quezon Province. I was told a resort has been built and therefore there are accommodations in the island. I am saving that for another trip.

Caramoan, Survivor Islands

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probably the last of the unspoilt destinations

Caramoan Peninsula has been the filming site of several editions of Survivor programs, most notably Survivor France which has filmed in the peninsula twice. Three other countries have shot their Survivor editions in the many islands surrounding the peninsula.

Pick your own Survivor island

Easy route by boat

Most people go to Caramoan by boat from the Port of Sabang in San Jose, from Naga and Pili, Camarines Sur.

No, they don't use sailboats!

I knew about this after my Caramoan adventure, just to check out possibilities for less adventurous friends. I met a man who introduced himself as Bisaya, and he sure knows how you can park your car overnight or as many nights in one of the resorts in Sabang, of course with parking fees. This is the easier, lazy route to Caramoan.

4×4 Route


I took the route less traveled. We drove all the way to Lagonoy from where we started a 4×4 drive on practically non-existent roads. Ok, that may be a bit exaggerated – – there were cemented portions here and there, and mostly at the start of the journey. The view is fantastic, immediately after passing the long bridge that leads to Lagonoy Lake. About 2 hours away, which seemed like forever, we reached the small town of Presentacion. Lunch was in a carinderia beside the town hall. We asked how much longer, and were told that it was going to take another 2 hours to Caramoan. This time, the road got even tougher. There were sharp curves downhill on muddy, slippery unpaved roads. I was literally holding my breath, thinking we could turn turtle anytime. I was prepared for that. The trip was made worse because I went to Caramoan on the rainy season. The few trucks and Sarao-type jeepneys who dared take on this road were prepared – – apparently they are experts at handling the road condition! They would pour several sacks of rice husks (ipa) when the road is too muddied and slippery. They even had a ready crew with “bareta” and what nots to clear the mud, put some stones and ipa, to get out of being stuck in the mud. I figure this scene happens to every single truck or jeepney at least 10x on each one way trip.

my 4x4 Hi Lux survived the practically non-existent roads

Just as well I was on a 4×4. The only annoyance is that we naturally have to wait when a truck or jeepney is stuck, and we are able to pass only after they get out of being stuck.

About an hour away, we got a flat tire. The road was really punishing. While my driver was changing tires, I took the opportunity to use the bathroom at the back of the house of the old lady who sold bananas on the road. We were lucky we were in a populated sitio when we got the flat tire. I just bought all of the bananas, thankful of the relief after using their Antipolo-type toilet. It was clean, though. And no-stink because it was practically open, with just some sawali for cover.

Buy bananas, use their toilet

Accommodations

We finally got to Caramoan. Instinctively, I went to Gota Beach because my internet research showed Gota to be the place to go to. I was told by the guard they were closed for renovation. Survivor France was filming again in January, thus the renovations. Oh well.

It was raining and we had to do two things – – find accommodations and get the flat tire vulcanized. Or else we will have a problem going back, with no spare tire. We found a vulcanizing shop, but they didn’t have a tire gauge. We looked at auto supply shops, no tire gauge.

We were directed by locals to Rex Hotel, in the center of town. Climbed the concrete stairs carefully because the stairs were wet, and found a lady at the front desk. The rooms were at P1,500 for two. I negotiated for two rooms at P1,000, one each for me and my driver. The lady agreed, saying it was low season anyway.

The room was spartan.  Air conditioned, moderately clean. Food can be ordered at the nearby fast food, owned by the sister of the hotel’s owner. We feasted on cocido, barbecue, vegetables, all told dinner for 4 people (we treated the friendly hotel staff to dinner) and ordered daing, fried egg, and rice for breakfast for two. The total bill for all of these was just P400.00.  I don’t mind staying at Rex Hotel  again.

Rex Hotel can be booked by mobile phone 0919 8821879, 0919 3089675

Island Hopping


The next day, we drove to Paniman beach to hire bancas for island hopping. The banca hire was P1,500 but the trip was well worth it. We moved from island to island, each one different in character. One island, Matukad, is perfect for camping.

Perfect campsite

Another island, called Lahus, is  actually 2 islands with a sandbar in between, so visitors can swim on two beach options – – five steps away from each other.

Another island looked like a mushroom.

All island photos taken by my friend ABJ on a recent trip

My favorite is Matukad, and I shall one day camp in this island. Meanwhile, I had to settle for a souvenir taken from the island, a very very white stone that was probably from corals and got its fine edges from being constantly crushed on the shore.

Paniman beach

I like Paniman Beach. In fact, having seen Gota and the other El Nido -type accommodations in the different coves, I thought I’d stay in Paniman when I go back. And start from there for an overnight in Matukad. Paniman is a fishing village and some locals have erected cottages for rent.

Breeze & Waves in Paniman

I met a lady by the name of Myrna Rodriguez who opted for early retirement as VP at Philamlife. She and  family decided to go into the growing tourism business in Caramoan, and  built a few cottages near the beach. Their place is called Breeze & Waves. The cottages, as built, looked like mini bungalows, each one in a different color.

candy-colored cottages, photographed from their brochure

I engaged her in small talk about design for resorts, and suggested that she repaint the units in earth colors. And maybe have cogon on the roof, for a resort feel, She was taking down notes all along, and said she will follow my advise. She was so pleasant, and thankful,  I got a free “nilagang camoteng kahoy” for merienda.

This location allows visitors to engage the locals in some banter. Breeze & Waves has a little cordoned off area in between their rooms and the shore. There is even a karaoke, and facilities for barbecue.

Package Tours

photo of their brochure

Apparently, the Rodriguez  family  has also sent out brochures and posted information on the net for packages to Caramoan : island-hopping, accommodations, and meals all inclusive.

You may reach Mrs Myrna Rodriguez by phone 0918 9139623.

You can book package tours as follows:

1 day and 1 night, minimum of 10 pax:

P2,300 per pax, pick up at Guijalo port (in Caramoan)

P2,400 per pax if picked up in Sabang port (in San Jose, where you will ride the boat to Caramoan)

P2,500 per pax if picked up from Naga City.

2 days and 2 nights, minimum 10 pax

P3,400 per pax, Guijalo, Caramoan pick up

P3,600 per pax, Sabang pick up

P3,700 per pax, Naga pick up

Package inclusive of van (if from naga), boat (if from Sabang port), jeepney (from Guijalo), seafront room accommodation, boat for island hopping, all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

Rates for groups of less than 10 can be arranged;

Contact : Freddie 09082911072    Labeth 09198319497       Junjun 09265677770     email : labethsingson@yahoo.com

Here comes Ondoy

Testing my spirit of adventure, Ondoy came the evening before we were leaving Caramoan, taking the same 4×4 route. Imagine how tough it was going, and how much tougher after raining all night? I had visions of me being airlifted by my friends in Naga and Legazpi, thinking that maybe my driver can stay behind until the roads are more manageable. But then I decided to go for the drive. The downhill portions on our way to Caramoan proved to be the most daunting – – – driving uphill on unpaved roads made even muddier by Ondoy! Of course we made it through, or I will not be able to write about it. Will I take this 4×4 route again? You bet.