Philippines 2011. My last week around after six weeks of backpacking through the stunning archipelago, only getting a tiny glimpse of the cultural and ecological richness, untouched nature and a life with the tides. I decide to go to Bicol, a peninsula east from Manila, the shooting location for the French edition of “Survivor” and a secret favorite spot for alternative tourism.
Coming from Naga, a collective taxi and a bangka ride bring me to the sleepy port of Caramoan. The other people on the bangka seem to be locals which results in me getting a lot of attention when arriving at the port: Filipinos wait in line with their scooters, all of them want to be my taxi. In my last few weeks I learned to ignore the pushy ones and choose the most quiet one in the back. He doesn’t say much, just smiles and me and nods. I get on his scooter and say: “Can you bring me to a hotel?”
Living with locals
He tells me there are no hotels open at this time of year, as there are no tourists. He can bring me to the house of a friend though, but first we have to go to the village to pick up his kids from school. Alright then. I am already part of the local life, love it.
The view from the bell tower
The town itself is a small street with small bakeries, restaurants and souvenir shops to either side, an elementary school in between and a cathedral from Japanese colonial times at the end. We are in the catholic part of the Philippines and religion plays an important part in people’s lifes. The bell tower is one of the best place around here – the view is amazing.
The only tourist around
The tricycle driver brings me to an inn: sheltered by palm trees, I get to live in a house with a kitchen, bathroom and terrace to myself, as I am the only visitor around. Asking the tour guide when he thinks the next tourists would be coming, he tells me: maybe in February, in summer. It’s just me with the locals then. Amazing.
Roosters without mercy
The following morning I wake up early, the roosters don’t really care that this is my last week in the Philippines and that I am trying to have a last few lazy days. So I get up at 6 anyway, discover the already prepared breakfast in the kitchen – bread and eggs. I make myself some coffee (Nescafé powder, as everywhere around here) and enjoy my morning on the terrace, reading, and listening to the leaves of palm trees waving in the wind, waiting for my guide to pick me up for our island-hopping trip…
A private boat trip
As we ride on a motorcycle to another end of the peninsula an hour later, we get to enjoy the stunning landscape of Caramoan National Park: rice fields shimmering in the sun in front of small mountains next to slow rivers. Only parts of the street are actually paved, and as it is rainy season, the mud turns our trip into a motocross-ride at times. Our boat trip starts from Paniman, another small village by the north coast of Caramoan.
Seagrass to remember names
Ahead of us are lying the islands Minalahus, Lahus, Matukod and Cagbalinad. Alongside my new friend, his cousin and a boatman accompany us. Minalahus is the smallest island, in fact the beach itself is only a few meters long. The three guys put all their efforts into writing the names of the islands into sand for me to remember them: They even get seagrass from the water to make it more readable =) So sweet.
Next stop – Lahus. The crystal clear water invites for snorkeling, and I get to see loads of yellow, white, dark blue and light blue fish. So beautiful…
The freshest coconut ever
In Matukod we cook freshly caught fish with rice for lunch. One of the guys climbs up the palm tree to get coconuts for our drinks! Seriously, he climbed up that palm tree, cut off some coconuts with his huge bush knife, cut it open and handed it to me with a straw he brought. I could not believe it, you cannot book such an experience anywhere and even if you can, it would not be half the fun. Unf*ing-believable 😀
No milkfish but a great view.
And of course we also had to climb the rocks to the inside of the island to see the big milkfish. To be honest, I didn’t see any fish at all. The guys were so excited when we arrived at the top (I was mainly busy with catching my breath, as climbing in tropical areas was not something I do every day) and the kept point down to the green water: “There! Do you see it? There!” After saying “no, I am sorry” a few times I finally had to lie to make them happy. After all they had brought me all the way up here. Anyhow – the view was amazing and the climbing was fun. Glad I wore a dress that day so I look a bit fancy and my exhausted face is not the focus of each photo 😉
Snorkelling on Cagbalinad
At the end of our tour we went to the snorkelling paradise Cagbalinad Island – only a few meters from the shore you can find the most colorful corals, big shoals of fish swimming with you, sea snakes hiding behind rocks and little clownfish (yes, I saw Nemo!) bathing in sea grass…
Peaceful and beautiful Caramoan – a true paradise.
Even days in paradise come to an end. The sounds at the beach in Caramoan by night stay unforgettable, I do not remember any other time in my life where “silence” was so loud. Frogs, crickets, dogs, … but listen for yourself.
Thanks to my great tour guide and his friends for this amazing experience! I am so sorry I do not remember your names and cannot find it in my notes anywhere. Thanks for treating me with such unbelievable respect, all three of you. There was not a second I had to worry about anything in this week, feeling so safe has given me so much trust in the world and in people. This was my first time traveling through Asia by myself and I hope it was not my last. Thanks for everything, I will never forget you guys!