De-stressing in Camiguin

For someone who has been traveling for 22 years, all roads looks the same. All sea voyages are the same, as well the port with its busy people hurrying to go home, porters getting their luggages for some coins and vehicles lining up to get into a good spot in the ship. When I got the assignment to go to Camiguin, I was expecting the same kind of trip I always have whenever I go home to my island province of Marinduque.

As it turned out, the trip unveiled not a few surprises.

Anticipating Camiguin

Our first stop was at The Gardens of Malasag eco-tourism village where the owner treated us to a generous lunch of shrimp sinigang and the best humba I ever tasted, Visayan style with the right blend of sweetness.

There was also stuffed squid and kilawing maya-maya. The two ethnic tribes in the village, the Higaonon and the Subanon, offered up a tribal dance—complete with colorful costume and headdress—as part of the welcoming rites.

After lunch, we started the one-and-a-half hour road trip to Balingoan Port, some 88 kilometers away from the airport of Cagayan de Oro for another one hour of sea travel. A stop-over at the Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort, where we were treated to buko juice, revived our energies.

We docked at Benoni Wharf in Mahinog, Camiguin just when the sun was about to go down. After about half an hour we finally arrived at Hotel Villa Paraiso, our home for the next three days. On the evening of our first day, a natural warm bath relieved my sore muscles at the Esperanza Ardent Hot Spring, an ideal place for a natural spa with the 40 degrees Celsius of hot spring in the middle of a rainforest.

If you are taking a dip during the evening, the sound of crickets, wild birds and the humming of the leaves of old tress and the cool breeze will send you right to sleep.

Morning walk and afternoon bath

The little island, which measures only 64 km. in circumference, reminds me of my own province, green and solitary when you look at it from the sea.

Camiguin is often called the Island Borne of Fire because of the devastating volcanic eruption of Mt. Vulcan Daan in 1871 that rained lava and volcanic rocks on the town of Bonbon just when the sun is setting down at six in the afternoon. All that remains of the town is the church’s thick upper walls now a major attraction in Bonbon, the Old Catarman Church Ruins and the more popular Sunken Cemetery which is marked by a large white cross and can be reached through a boat ride from Bonbon. During low tide, you can still see the graves which sank during the eruption with the rest of the town.

On the second day, we started the day with a breakfast of grilled fresh fish at White Island, an inhabited strip of white sand, 2 km. away from the towns of Agoho and Yumbing.

A 10-minute boat ride will take you to the island which is a favorite spot for snorkeling, diving and swimming. A fantastic view of Camiguin Island with the towering Mt. Hibok-Hibok and the old volcano as the background is an ideal location to shoot good photographs perfect for post cards with its pristine white sand and shallow blue green waters. From afar, the volcano looks like a pregnant woman in her peaceful slumber.

The local tourism office built 15 Stations of the Cross along the trail leading up to the peak of the mountain. During the Panaad Festival, celebrated during the Lenten Season, the old folks of Camiguin would hike up the Old Volcano trails barefoot to commemorate the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

On the top of the mountain is a breathtaking view of the island with its tall coconut trees and white beaches that clearly defined the pear-shaped island. It also offered a distant view of the Sunken Cemetery.

After the exhausting hike, we took a dip in the first and only soda pool in the Philippines, the Bura Soda Water Swimming Pool, in Catarman.

After the refreshing soda splash, we traveled on to Sto. Niño Cold Spring, a 25 meters by 40 meters pool of freezing water. Its temperature can be compared to that of water that has been in the fridge for three days. Camiguin also boasts of some beautiful falls in the country, the Katibawasan and Tuasan respectively located in the towns of Mambajao and Catarman. Both cascade are amidst unspoiled forest land and plunges into deep clear waters. Repelling down the falls is another activity one should not miss.

Of old houses and festivities

The Lanzones Festival is the most popular activity in the island. Started by the local tourism office 25 years ago, the festival is a showcase of colorful costumes, street dancing, drum beatings and local and foreign tourists.

According to legend, a black diwata (goddess) once roamed the forests of the island, handing out poisonous fruits to young boys. Those who succumb to the love of the goddess will inherit the bad spirit from the black goddess and will die. A White Goddess allegedly came later on and pinched the fruit, expelling the poison from the fruit, leaving it sweet-tasting.

Since then, the town has been paying tribute to their White Goddess with songs and dances not just for saving them but also for the good harvest of lanzones. Lanzones is one of the major exports of Camiguin.

Going around the town of Camiguin, one will notice a lot of old Spanish houses. The houses were able to preserve their original look, with big windows made of capiz shells, large and airy azoteas or living rooms and stairways adorned with religious relics and old four-poster beds of the upper classes during the Spanish time.

In the afternoon of our last day, we took another hike, this time to the Philvocs observatory station in Payahan Hills in Mambajao. The station serves not only to monitor Mt. Hibok-Hibok, but also as a showcase for the memorabilia collected during the 1871 eruption.

In the evening, everyone bought their boxes of pastel, a famous delicacy of Camiguin, a coffee bun which has rich and creamy yema filling inside soft milky bread which is perfect with coffee to bring back home.

We also took home tableas, the local chocolate tablets made from cacao beans which when melted in low heat is great with champorado or a morning drink mixed with milk.

Getting there

If you are planning to visit Camiguin, reserve your whole week for exploring the island. Coming from Manila, Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific has a daily flights to Cagayan de Oro airport. You can also take the ferry trips of WG&A, Negros Navigation and Sulpicio Lines.

From the Cagayan de Oro airport, you can go to the Agora Market where the terminal of buses going to Balingoan is located. At the Balingoan Port, it takes another hour to reach the Benoni Wharf of Mahinog. From there, it takes less than an hour ride to reach Mambajao.

Another route would be a three-hour ferry ride from Cagayan de Oro terminal to the port of Guinsiliba.

Original published in Manila Standard Today