Guiuan, Eastern Samar 2015
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Where Have I Been This Year?: Beaches in the Philippines 2015

Bantigue Beach, Malapascua Island, Cebu

It is too early to be nostalgic. But it is December already, and there is a certain demand to retrace the places we have been to before forgetfulness erases them for good. It has been a fruitful year, and I should pat my own back because I owe it to myself for working hard to live the life I want for myself. As early as now, I have to reiterate it: in order to live the life you want, Jona, there is no other way but to work your ass off for it. Nobody will do it for you.

But perhaps I’m just one lucky human for having jobs that echo my passions: literature, writing, and travel. These three are the core of my daily life.

But it dawned on me that perhaps it is wrong to encourage the younger ones to find their passion as early as now, to not let others but themselves dictate the course of their own life.

Perhaps it is wrong to tell others to be a creature of passion, of fire, of fierceness. Because doing so is like saying, “you know, living a life like mine is the best,” which is nothing short of arrogant, really.

Beaches in the Philippines 2015

So I wanted to know how your 2015 was? And how is your 2016 going to be?

My 2015 looked like this: beaches, books, and words. But let us focus on beaches on this entry. It was my project this year to check the small islands. I become the type of traveler who checks the map first, check the name of small islands, and go there no matter what. As long as the island is inhabited, there is definitely a way to go there.

January | Doing Something New: Diving

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

PADI Open Water Diver!

New Year’s Eve is family; but I broke yet another tradition. Despite everyone’s persuasion, I stuck to my plan and stayed in the city, photographed the city’s way of New Year’s celebration, and hopped in the first bus the following morning, with one destination in mind: Dauin. So yes, I started the year with conquering an intimidating fear: allowing my body to depend on an oxygen tank. It was scary, it is still scary, but it was fulfilling especially my instructor, the shy Patrick Williams at Bongo-Bongo Dive Shop, decided to have the final dive at Apo Island. It was my second time in Apo Island but to be able to stay underwater for 40 minutes is awesome! And you know, the corals in Apo Island are so alive. I was so noisy and giddy (not advisable but I can’t help it!) underwater.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Diving Apo Island, Negros Oriental. Photo by bongodive.com


Quick Facts

Bongo-Bongo has single rooms for P300.00, and it does not look like a horrendous single room that I am so used to. PADI Open Water Course: P13 000.00-P16 000.00 ($300). Bongo-Bongo is the cheapest place in Dauin, Dumaguete City, Philippines area.


February | Buying Katorse and traveling to Dinagat

This year was primarily Mindanao and Visayas. I was in Lake Sebu (read the narrative: Tales from Lake Sebu) and Cagayan de Oro last January for writing assignments, and I was back in Mindanao, particularly in Dinagat Group of Islands (you can read the narrative: We Are Called Langitnon), for my usual solo sojourn. I was happy that I did not let my fear win. No throngs of tourists. No fancy accommodations. Empty beaches. Just nice locals. And interesting religion.


Aside from traveling to Dinagat, one random thing I did this year was buying Katorse, a folding bike. Interesting name? It was the 13th, and I was single and happy that I decided to spend the clothing allowance (one of the many teacher’s perks) on a folding bike. So on Valentine’s Day, the 14th (Katorse in Bisaya) I went on a road trip from Lambug Beach (Badian) to Moalboal—my usual spots down south.

I do not believe in Valentine’s Day, but I believe in awesome dates with the self. Girls should do it often. Going to restaurants, beaches, or movies. Alone. 

I had a quick weekend trip to Malapascua trip with college friends too. I introduced the island that I’m so in love with to them.


Quick Facts

A night at Bahay Turista in San Jose, Dinagat costs P600.00 It is highly advisable to travel with a group to lessen the expenses. Island-hopping can be costly.


March | Remote Olutayan and Sicogon Island

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Olotayan Island, Roxas City

After visiting Gigantes Group of Islands last year, I decided to check other clusters of islands in the map. I still have to write the narrative of these islands, but these two were beautiful on their own rights. Only Claire of Traveling Light wrote about Roxas City’s Olotayan Island. It is not really meant for tourists, but most of the time, you do not remember a place for its beautiful hotel or comfortable bathroom; rather you remember it for its people and yes, admittedly, for its inconveniences: from the lack of food to non-existing accommodation. We had canned sardines and instant noodles for dinner, and there we were thinking of fresh fish.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Olotayan Island, Roxas City

Luckily, Sicogon Island has a family that accepts visitors for P300 a night and rents out tent for P150.00. This island is so broken yet so beautiful. It must have one of the finest (I’m not exaggerating) sand I have set foot onto. The perfect image of “sand melts in your toes.” Sadly, the Ayalas bought most parts of the island already, and some people were forced to evacuate.

You do not remember a place for its beautiful hotel or comfortable bathroom; rather you remember it for its people and yes, sometimes, for its inconveniences: from the lack of food to non-existing accommodation.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Sicogon Island, Iloilo

I made a quick trip to Bantayan Island too with two close poet friends, and we conducted a writing workshop among high school students. It was endearing to see kids writing in their own language: Bantayanon, a kind of Bisaya that is a mix of Cebuano, Ilonggo, and Waray.


Quick Facts

No overnight accommodation in Olotayan Island, so better bring your own tent. Because the electricity is limited, this is the best place to stargaze. | How to go to Sicogon Island: there is a direct boat trip (Balt)  from Bantayan to Estancia (STT) and Estancia to Bantayan (MWF). This is a cheaper and better alternative route for Isla de Higantes too.


April | Awesome Birthday Trip 

Santiago Bay, Camotes Island, Cebu

Santiago Bay, Camotes Island, Cebu

Camotes Island is like Cebu City’s backyard kind of island: it is the nearest, unlike Malapascua or Bantayan Island. I said yes to a writing assignment on Suroy-Suroy Sugbo, a tour organized by the provincial government. It was something new to me. The ones I have joined are usually the sugarcoated media tour. You can read the narrative here: Seeing Camotes through Suroy-Suroy or a Pretentious Solo Backpacker Joined a Tour for the First Time.

On the third week of April, I went back to Malapascua with Jessrel, a poet friend from Bantayan Island, with the sole intention in mind: to be wild. As if, we are not wild enough ;-). By six in the evening, we were already drunk with our local friends. I’m not the kind who travels to just get drunk, but it was one of a kind trip for several reasons that I’m not ready to disclose here yet.

Unlike my previous birthday trips in the past years (2012: Surigao del Sur {Tinuy-an Falls, Enchanted River, Britannia Group of Islands, and Mabua Beach } and Surigao del Norte; 2013: Baguio-Batad-Sagada-Kalinga; 2014: Albay-Sorsogon-Capul Island-Biri Island-Southern Leyte-Siargao), I decided to just go somewhere small like Deagan Island, Masbate.

Perhaps it is a sign of aging? So yeah, no resorts; I slept in an open cottage with Rena, a helpful local girl. She showed me around her small island, and we met a group of fisherman worthy of a narrative.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Deagan Island, Masbate


Quick Facts

How to go to Deagan Island Masbate: You can do it via Bogo, Cebu to Cawayan, Masbate, then bus to Dimasalang. I just asked for the boatman to bring me to Deagan for P300.00 But I think it can be cheaper. If you are staying overnight, bring your own tents.


May | Negros with Love 

Bais, Negros Oriental

Bais, Negros Oriental

May was with fellow writers mostly in Valencia , Negros Oriental (the place of Casororo, Tejero Waterpark Resort, Forrest Camp, and Mt. Talinis) for the 54th Silliman Writers Workshop. We spent three weeks in the Writers’ Village and had our literary works butchered. I sent pseudo-travel essays, and my works were the most chopped, which is really helpful in the long run. Writing is never easy.

But one weekend, with three other writers, we joined Harold Mansion’s snorkeling/diving trip to Apo Island. It was Ari, Trish, and Abby’s first time at Apo Island, so I obliged and became the guide. We had fun swimming with the turtles. I had fun recalling my January memories.

And then the highlight of May is seeing pods, like pooods, of dolphins in Bais! I went crazy! They are like cats in water. So adorable and cute. Bais ha this strip of white-sand islet, and if you leave in the morning, you can see hundreds of dolphins crossing the sea on your way there.


Quick Facts

Apo Island, Negros Oriental: For day trips, it is better to do it with Harold’s Mansion (P1000.00 all in). DIY Nonlocals’ (Filipino or otherwise) boat fee to the island is P300.00  one way. I stayed at Ronor’s for P300.00 a night (off-season, traveled solo). You can check Pinay Travelista’s budget accommodation in Apo Island.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Manjuyod White Sand Bar , Bais City, Negros Oriental


September The Lull after a long trip

There was a lull before and after my five-week trip in Asia. I did not bring my camera for a walk. I did not go for solo road trips. I was mostly in the city. My brother is temporarily living with me for his OJT, so I decided to tag him along to Kawasan Falls and Moalboal. He had fun. In our family, I am the only who aches for places. So, it was like introducing him to the places I have been to. He enjoyed it a lot.

Normally, I round the whole south. But we just decided to trek up to Kawasan’s lagoon and then snorkeled around Panagsama. Jboi got scared of the famed drop, the very place where I test my own lungs.


Quick Facts

Cheap backpackers’ place in Panagsama, Moalboal, Philippines:
Backpackers Lodge has a dorm bed for P275
Cora’s Palm Resort’s room starts at P500 for a double bed room. It is 700 for three people.


October | Pasaway sa Sipaway

It was Friday, I packed my bag and hopped in the bus and checked the map of Negros. Sipaway Island is a small island near San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. I just wanted to read a book by the beach. I just wanted to have my usual me time. I just wanted to forget about writing, about observing places, about pondering. I just want to not think. But the habal-habal driver did not make it easy! He was too close for comfort. He wanted to sit on my tiny scarf with me. He had this romantic notion of traveling around with a girl! Yes, he did not treat me like a paying customer at all! But eventually, he got it that he was annoying me and allowed me to just read my book.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Sipaway Island, San Carlos, Negros Occidental

While waiting for the last trip back to Dumanjug (a little misadventure on this one as well), I snorkeled by the port. Yes, when I go to beaches, I bring my snorkeling/diving mask with me: one of the many things one must have if you travel around the Philippines. There were some usual snorkeling suspects: clown fish and the like.


Quick Facts

My entry point was Toledo, and I bused to Guihulgan, Negros Oriental  and ferried to Dumajug, Cebu. Passenger boat to Sipaway Island is only P18.00. The island can be toured for three hours for P250.00 You can stay at Whispering Palms Island Resort. But P1,500 was too expensive for me, so I went back to San Carlos City
and stayed at Yoyong’s Travellers’ Inn for P300.00


November | How’s Eastern Samar Post-Yolanda?

Nothing dramatic. I just wanted to check the public markets. Eastern Samar, though it has faded on mainstream media, has not fully recovered yet. I wonder if fully is even possible. If there is one thing that adulthood taught me, it would be this: there is no such thing as full recovery, a place has to learn to carry its own pains and wounds.

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Eastern Samar, traveling wise, has a lot to offer: tidal pools similar to Siargao’s Magpupungko and Biri Island’s. So many beach empty beaches as well. The resorts in ABCD Beach are not up yet.


Quick Facts

Where to stay in Guiuan:  there are three fully operating pension houses in Guiuan. Guiuan Pension House: Starts at P300.00 (single room, fan, shared bathroom). Hotel Khaishra: Starts at P600 (single room, fan, shared bathroom). Addison Pension House: Starts at P800 (double room, AC, TV, private bathroom). WiFi is not available in all three. BANKS: Landbank and Metrobank. Where to Eat: Kusina ni Paring and many other carenderias.


December | In Defense of Touristy Places

Yes, it is December already. And here I am at Moalboal, checking papers (too lazy to check papers) with the view of the sea, the sound of the waves is unlimited rice and lechon to my ears (talking about bad synesthesia. Don’t mind me).

Off-the-beaten Beaches in the Philippines 2016

Bantigue Beach, Malapascua Island, Cebu

Some friends wonder why I keep on coming back to touristy places such as Moalboal and Malapascua. Why not just focus on the remote islands completely. There is a long essay brewing about this: In Defense of Touristy Islands. Believe me, they are not the happiest place as they are perceived by others. Believe me, I would cry in the middle of the disco seeing teenage girls prostituting, catering themselves to passing foreign travelers.

Believe me, the so-called touristy places are war zones, wounded. Believe me, the beaches, the waves, the sun, the clouds, the sky are just fronts. A friend said, I’m not strong at all. I cry for the simplest reasons. Maybe.

We have different reasons for traveling. We have different reasons for coming back. Some travelers are like waves. They keep coming back. Again and again. I happened to be that kind of traveler.


How about you? How was your 2015? How is your 2016 going to be?


 

Excited for 2016, 

Jona

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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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5 Comments

  1. Emily G Bihag says:

    I am hooked to your travel blogs!

  2. Anj Vios says:

    Hello! I was wondering about the overnight accommodation at Sicogon. How did you make reservations for tenta if we went there as backpackers?

    • Hi there, Anj. There is only one family that accept guests. We did not reserve any in advance. I got their number, but it was in my old diary. Currently traveling around. Just go to Sicogon, the passenger boat stops in front of the house. Ask the locals about it. They sure know where it is. They also have tents available. Php300 for two. 😀

  3. Gazle says:

    Hi Jona! I so love your Travel Blogs! so very natural and sincere. Keep it up!

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