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September 27, 2022

Missin’ Camiguin

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They say that when you dream of airplanes, it means you will overcome your obstacles; or when you dream of waterfalls, you have a feeling of letting go; and when you dream of flying, it is believed to represent ease of freedom, happily escaping from the process of the real world.

Well, we didn’t just dream of these, we did it altogether in one discovery trip to Camiguin, our first Mindanao destination in 2022.

The inaugural flight of Sunlight Air provided us the opportunity to visit Camiguin island, one of just a few island destinations that we have not had a chance to visit. Thanks to former DOT Undersecretary Art Boncato who has a continuing love affair of this island, Divine and I spent four days and three nights savoring the many attractions of Camiguin.

Not just a Lanzones tale
Camiguin is popular for its Lanzones Festival during October.

Camiguin, dubbed as The Island Born of Fire, is generally known as the place where the sweetest lanzones are found, probably because of the rich volcanic soil from its seven volcanoes. Only one, Hibok Hibok (1,332 meters ASL), remains categorized as active. Its surrounding forest, officially known as Mt. Timpong – Mt. Hibok Hibok Natural Monument, is an ASEAN Heritage Park.

The Camiguin Lanzones Festival, held every third week of October, is the time where the province gets its most number of visitors. There is fun and revelry with street dancing and food fests. Camiguin’s population is 115,000, with many of its 58 barangays joining the week-long celebrations.

Art Boncato shows off Camiguin’s pride — lanzones tree with its fruits.

Other than the festival, you will find that Camiguin is an all-year destination especially during the summer months where nature’s bounty beckons.

Another popular event is the  Holy Week wherein religious devotees mostly from Visayas and Mindanao, will walk the  64-kilometer circumferential highway around the island for two days and nights as part of Panaad (“promise”) and go through the 14 Stations of the Cross on the slopes of Mt. Vulcan. 

“We are presently promoting agri-tourism, farm tourism, and cruise tourism,” said Candice Borromeo-Dael, provincial tourism officer,  recalling that passengers of mid-size cruise ships enjoyed their attractions going to their shore excursions before the pandemic.  She also mentioned that their top three activities are diving, trekking, climbing Mt, Hibok Hibok, and countryside tours. There are about 10 tour guides available to assist, mostly for FITs.

During this pandemic, nightlife is not much encouraged due to restrictions (it only had one virus surge in July 2021 and no cases as of this writing) and unreliable electricity distribution due to effects of super typhoon Odette that ravaged Visayas and Mindanao in December 2021. 

That said, even if you find Camiguin quaint and rustic, it is anything but boring. Consider some of these attractions that will fill your days:

The author at the White Island (sandbar) amidst the turquoise sea on a bright day.
Sandbar

Popularly known as White Island, this shifting sandbar disappears during high tide hence the absence of huts and plant life. Its main draw is that it is close to Mambajao from its designated port in Barangay Yumbing, that is why it is picturesque with the beach in front, Mt. Hibok Hibok at the back, and the ocean in between. Swimming and snorkeling are the main activities and makeshift tents can be rented to provide some shade. There are lifeguards on duty as well.

The White Island is accessible by boat from 5am to 5pm, if high tide, up to 4pm only. Banca fare is Php450 RT, maximum of 4 passengers. The boat ride takes 7 to 10 minutes to reach the island.

If your are looking for the letter “M”, it was blown away by the strong winds from typhoon Odette.
Mantigue Island

A bigger destination is Mantigue, about 3.5 kilometers away from the mainland. It is a 4-acre forested isle with shade trees that was planted years back. It is within a protected marine sanctuary with a carrying capacity of 292 visitors a day. A boat ride (max. of 4 passengers) would take around 20 minutes. From the Port of San Roque in Mahinog a boat ride will cost around P600 RT with a maximum of 6 passengers.

When in Mantigue, look for Mang Ikoy, the very entertaining guide to give you a short tour of the island.

Walking around the island is an added activity that will take around 30 minutes (depending on your physical prowess) while we recommend swimming in between because of the pristine waters all around. There are other things you can do like a nature walk with a very entertaining and informative guide, Mang Ikoy, or just chat the extra hours away while munching on food you can either bring along or buy on the island itself. You can have your lunch on the island depending on your tour package.

Katibawasan Falls

At the foot of Mt. Timpoong, Camiguin’s highest volcano at 1,600 meters ASL, is a 250-meter high waterfall. Its waist deep basin of clear, cold water is most popular and visitors often gingerly step on boulders to reach almost the bottom of the waterfall. The waters of Katibawasan Falls are cold and is best visited during summer. A man-made tub that was once a swimming area was damaged by a recent typhoon and is in the planning stage to be rehabilitated. 

Tuasan Falls

A 25-meter high waterfall that invites less crowds even if it is readily accessible from the main road by car or motorcycle. There is a cemented parking space where a big signage of Tuasan Falls is erected just minutes away from the main entrance. Decorative plants and ferns line the way to the falls and one feels the cool breeze and mist before actually seeing the falls. Those who would rather watch and take photos instead of going down to the falls itself will be glad to know that there are places to sit and enjoy their time at the site. Again, a tub washed away by the past typhoon is being rehabilitated.

Both Tuasan and Katibawasan Falls have entrance fees of P75 for tourists, and P50 for locals.

Cold spring pools

Located in Catarman, Sto. Niño Cold Spring comes from the waters of Mt. Mambajao, the second highest volcano in Camiguin at 1,400 meters (ASL). The cold springs maintain a  24.5ºC as it springs from its sandy bottom. The size of the pool is 24×40 meters with the deepest part at 7 feet. 

Escape the summer heat by dipping into 24.5ºC icy cold spring of Sto. Nino in Mambajao.

The facility is open from 8am to 6pm and has dressing rooms and 15 concrete cabañas where meals can be served. There are women associations who cater to providing home-cooked meals and has uniformed tourist police for security. A mid-morning snack of a local delicacy called Kiping (cassava crisp) glazed with coco jam was a delight before lunch featuring another local dish of Surol (native chicken cooked in coconut milk), kinilaw (ceviche), and vegetables. 

Dubbed as the only one in the Philippines, they say  the water tastes like soda.  Since it is a public swimming pool, we did not try to taste it. Reviews of Bura Soda Water Pool from the Net and our interviews with the people there are varied but most adhere to the belief that the water tastes different. We even heard that there is one popular residence where soda water comes out from its pipes. Locals believed that the water that comes out from the ground is therapeutic and has a healing effect. The resort-type soda pool facility has two big pools available for adults and kids with  fees for tourists at P75, and P50 for locals.

After a quick soak at the soda pool, a pitstop brought us to a popular coffee haven called Beehive Driftwood Cafe, owned by a Belgian married to a Filipina. With a unique interiors made of driftwood and manmade beehives of wood and concrete, the cafe serves authentic Belgian waffles, dragon fruit and passion fruit cake and ice cream along with breakfast and snacks. An ideal chill out place because it is along the shoreline, this is where we tasted our second homemade ice cream, a delicious blend of passion fruit and vanilla. 

Sunken Cemetery

A volcanic eruption in 1871 submerged the coastal city of Catarman along with the Old Bonbon Church. Not only  did that eruption create destruction and destroy the largest town, but it sank the local cemetery. A marker of remembrance was built to the graves that were lost to the sea. The white big cross, a replacement of the original made of hardwood and stones, marks the spot of the submerged cemetery. Looking at the big cross gives one goosebumps, as it shows you a glimpse of the island’s volcanic past.

One can go snorkeling and spot old tombstones or cross to get a closer look and for photo opportunities during sunset. 

If you have souvenir hunting on your itinerary, hold on to it until you visit this place because the street leading to it is lined with souvenir shops.

Gui-ob Ruins

Located in Brgy. Bonbon, just a short walk from the Sunken Cemetery, is a serene and IG worthy location of the ruins of the old Catarman church or known to locals as the Gui-ob Church Ruins. Built during the Spanish colonial days, the church was destroyed by an 1871 eruption. Only the church walls and bell tower remain. The church walls are still intact covered by moss and the farther you explore the ruins gets you to imagine how big it was up until you see the century-old tree where the convent used to stand. The place is well-kept with moss and green grass, and a sprinkling of wild, flowering Begonias adding beauty and character to the ruins. Gui-ob is listed under the country’s natural cultural treasure.

Culinary spots
La Dolce Vita’s fare includes a selection of pasta, bruschetta, and pizzas.

A testament to Camiguin’s rustic appeal is the presence of foreigners who have retired and put up their businesses in the province, the most common are cozy restaurants and coffee shops.

There are around 10 good restaurants and we went to four: Asian, Belgian, Italian, and Spanish.

Upon arrival, we were whisked to an Italian restaurant , La Dolce Vita, to have a late lunch.

La Dolce Vita’s  menu is basically Italian with home-made pasta and brick-oven pizza. From antipasti, we tried the bruschetta mix (tomatoes and tuna). An added surprise was the Cappelacci Al Tartufo, a dumpling or stuffed pasta with truffle that parallels some of Manila’s Italian restaurants. Another one is our favorite Black Chittarine Carbonara Seafood, a squid ink pasta with a carbonara twist. For a much heavier meal, they also serve spareribs, chicken and fish, all are served with French fries or rice. Of course, there are choices of pizza straight from brick oven. 

Dinnertime was spent at Guerrera. Located in Barangay Yumbing, Mambajao, Guerrera sits in the midst of what was once rice paddies, so very Bali-esque, it serves Asian Fusion cuisine. 

5 years ago, Fil-Am couple Mark and Chef Carmel Almadrones who started their restaurant venture as Small Saigon Big Bangkok in Cebu City. They later bought land and put their money in Camiguin. The owners redesigned the landscape of what used to be a rice field and opened their fine Asian cuisine restaurant and villas by the ocean named Guerrera Rice Paddy Villas and Restaurant. Daytime guests will have splendid views of rice paddies and ocean.

Guerrera is a destination for foodies. It serves signature creations of traditional Asian dishes. They also follow the farm-to-table concept as they have around 40 kinds of vegetables growing in their garden. 

Running the restaurant during this pandemic time are Chef Jay and Cha-Cha who related to us a short history of Guerrera. We were offered to try their Thai Tini, a mix of calamansi with Thai basil, coco sugar and rice wine. It was a refreshing cocktail to taste — the sourness of calamansi goes well with the sweetness of basil was as Thai as it should be. The Rendang and Pad Thai tasted authentic enough to bring back memories of our trips in Penang and Bangkok. 

We had the surprising calamansi tart paired with homemade kefir, lime and mango gelato that would serve as an introduction to Camiguin restaurants’ flair for homemade gelatos and ice cream.  

On our second night, it was in Pedro’s Restaurant sponsored by the provincial tourism office. It was a mix of Filipino and local fare with the omnipresent Lechon. We have to admit that Camiguin lechon’s taste is competitive to the best lechons we have ever tasted, and it is now our benchmark. 

A surprise treat was a gift from the tourism office, cans of Masa Podrida, shortbread dry crumbly cookies with a filling that tasted like Chorizo de Bilbao. 

On our third night, we ate at Peninsular, a Spanish restaurant owned and managed by a Spanish lady named Laura who decided to retire  with her partner in Camiguin. 

“We fell in love with the Philippines the first time we arrived with my partner but a few months later we seldom see each other, he is always in Manila, and I am here,” said Laura with a grin.

A spread of Peninsular salad (classic tuna salad with olives), Shrimp Ajillo (gambas), pork loin with caramelized onions topped with parmesan cheese, Paella Valenciana, and Chicken Breast with Allioli were laid before us to feast on, spiked with red Sangria with cinnamon.

Laura acknowledges the similarity between some Spanish and Filipino dishes but with certain twists like caldereta which they make using lamb instead of goat. She acknowledges Spain’s top chefs and said that cooking in Spain is considered one important craft to master. She has been cooking ever since she was young and she showcases all types of cooking from Valencia, Catalan to Cordova because she lived and worked in all of Spain, even taking workshops from many top chefs.

“Culinary tourism is best for expanding one’s knowledge of tourism, visiting all markets at any city  in the world,” Laura gushed.

A shopping pitstop at a Pasalubong Center showed us some variety especially on lanzones so we tried lanzones ice cream, and bought lanzones vinegar, Kiping (cassava crips), tablea, squid chicharon. We, however, skipped on the lanzones wine and sweets.

Lunch on departure day was a rushed activity at Nypa Style Resort that has gardens and cozy cottages to let, owned by an Italian couple, it is just 10 minutes away from the airport. We were served tomato and asparagus bruschetta topped with mozzarella garnished with oregano, followed with homemade fettuccine in cream and roccoli, steamed and shelled shrimps with zucchini and herbs, burrito, and stir-fried chicken in mushroom and broccoli, with vegetable rice. Dessert was a sampler of banana, white chocolate, milk cream and coffee homemade ice cream.

Accommodations

As a nod to the hotel’s name, Nouveau Resort is the newest upscale resort here in Camiguin. The resort has 150 rooms and suites with minimalist design and fancy interiors mostly with balconies and a full sunrise view. The resort targets leisure tourists and family vacationers as it features an infinity pool that extends to 55-meter long lapping pool, a kiddie pool, a pool bar, recreation center with games and music rooms, and toddlers play area. They also have a private docking point and a helipad. 

Nouveau aims to deliver a range of culinary offerings. The all-day dining Mi restaurant serves Asian cuisine, the Bistro del Sol offers aromatic coffee perks and snacks amidst a relaxing atmosphere, and its Waves a beachside grill dining spot by the sea. For the MICE market, banquet and function halls are offered. It is also equipped with a speedboat to cater to guests wanting to go to Mantigue Island. Together with spa facilities and artisan shops, the resort guarantees a worthwhile stay.

Our trip to Camiguin showed us the resilience of an underrated destination that deserves a second look — rustic on one side, and contemporary on the other. It is an experience that will live long after the trip is over.

Direct flights to Camiguin are served by Cebu Pacific (from Cebu) daily, and Sunlight Air (from Manila) via charter services every Thursdays and Sundays. Guests and passengers of Sunlight Air get to experience the comfort of their private terminal lounge (located in Andrews Avenue, Pasay), offering coffee, drinks and snacks. For added details and flight information you may visit their website https://sunlightair.ph.

For inquiries on Camiguin tours, we recommend getting in touch with the Camiguin Tourism Office mobile +63-9067382335, email camiguin.tourism@gmail.com or artboncato@artourismmedia.com.


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