BY RICKY MONTECILLO
May 29, 2017
Getting there is bit tiresome. After all Camiguin Island is off Cagayan de Oro, the gateway to Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines.
From Manila, we had to fly for about an hour and a half to the new Laguindigan airport, take a one hour road trip to the Cagayan de Oro City, then took another 2-hour bus ride to Balingoan Port before taking the Ferry boat shuttle for another hour to Camiguin island.
Whew! Plane, van, bus, boat and finally a 20- minute tricycle ride to Yumbing town.
Oh but when we alighted from our tricycle at the Guerrera’s Rice Paddy Villas and Restaurant, where the 3-villas and restaurant affair is located, we just knew that we were in for a memorable experience.
Guerrera is located by the beach where you could see Camiguin’s famous White Island. The cabanas are built amid rice paddies and has a front seat view of majestic Mt. Hibok-hibok. It is a piece of heaven.
Mark Almandrones, the genius behind Guerrera’s, welcomed Tina and I, helped carry our bags and showed us our room. We loved the villa. So artfully designed and tasteful. It has a sliding door that opens to a small veranda with an outdoor tub. One can just hang out and relax there while enjoying the best view of rice fields and the volcano and breathe the fresh air.
Mark and his chef wife Carmela says this is their dream. Running the resort and restaurant in wondrous Camiguin. Carmela learned her culinary skills in Thailand and she is very good. The main house is also the restaurant called Fine Asian Street Food and as you may guess, her cooking is mainly asian cuisine. Mark says that they grow most of the stuff they serve like the rice, the spices and vegetables.
It is already making a name in Camiguin as more and more guests go there to dine especially at night. Once you try Carmela’s cooking and Mark’s personalized service in this cozy rustic setting, you will surely come back for more.
We had very limited time. We lost a night because our non-revenue airline tickets were space available basis and we got bumped off on the earlier flights. Such is the life of airline employees. (I work in an airline).
We arrived in Guerrera’s around 7am tired and famished. But as soon as we saw the place, we were suddenly recharged like magic. We ordered a sumptuous breakfast consisting of french toasts with bacon, good old tapsilog and a bowl full of fresh fruits. We were also served freshly pressed coffee.
We set an appointment with Allen, our tricycle driver, at 9am to tour the island for only 1300 pesos for the entire day. We wanted to see as much of the attractions as possible.
Camiguin is such a charm and even if it’s already an old tourist destination, it has not lost its allure. Probably because it is far flung and difficult to reach, it has maintained its provincial ambiance. It has wide roads, no big trucks or buses just tourist vans, private suvs, tricycles and scooters. Traffic is always light and the roads are well maintained.
Even with our limited time, Tina and I were able to see most of the famous sites.
Old Volcano- it’s the site of the major eruption of the Old Volcano where the locals built the Stations of the Cross going up the volcano. It is 30-40 minute climb up to the mountain side. There are cemented stairs most of the way and it is quite challenging. The religious locals and visitors usually take a moment of prayer and light a candle at every station. By the 12th station Tina was very tired and thirsty. We left our water bottle in Allen’s tricycle not knowing that we were gonna need it.
“Mauna ka na. Balikan mo na lang ako” (Go ahead, just come back for me) Tina told me as she gasped for air. With only a couple of stations left, I continued the hike determined to conquer the challenge.
At station 13 I chanced upon a caucasian couple cleaning up the surroundings and picking up some empty plastic water bottles and caps. “Such a pity” the man said about how people would just throwaway their trash around.
I could only agree, ” Yes, it’s a pity.”
Then I asked them if they had some spare water and told them that my wife who was resting further down could use a sip. After a few more minutes of walking I finally reached the 14th station of the cross, Jesus has Risen! From that high point you can enjoy the view of the ocean and the Cross down by the sea which marks the Sunken Cemetery.
I was on my way back when I saw Tina coming my way. She said a tourist couple was kind enough to offer water to her and this gave her enough energy to soldier on to finish the trek. It’s just so like Tina never to give up.
The hike got our juices going and we went next to the Sunken Cemetery. There we had a corny yet cute picture taken as a symbol of our wedding anniversary.
After the Sunken Cemetery we went to the Old Church Ruins. Camiguin is sometimes called the island of fire because of its many volcanoes. The Old Church ruins is one of the sites ruined by volcanic eruptions way back in the 1800s. Only some of the walls and structures remain standing.
Next stop, we cooled off with a swim at the Soda Springs in Bura. It is a big public pool filled with fresh and natural spring soda water. Entrance is only 30 pesos. We took the opportunity to swim and enjoy the cold spring. It was invigorating.
Tuasan falls is the most popular Waterfalls in the island. Being an island with several volcanoes, it also boasts of many falls. Tuasan is very accessible, it is just by the roadside. I took a dip in the cold catch basin near the powerful currents but there is a string attached to both sides as warning not to swim directly below the falls.
After sometime we were getting hungry already and we checked the internet for a good restaurant. We found Casa de Rocca. Run by a Canadian and his Filipina wife, Casa de Roca is a cute and cozy bed and breakfast place rested on a hill top with an ocean view.
The food was surprisingly delicious. I had lamb Ragu with biryani rice and Tina had the fresh fish and prawns. The food was tasty and flavourful. To cap our meal we tried the apple pie ala mode with brewed coffee.
With full stomachs after lunch, our next destination was the Ardent Hot Springs. It was a nice idea to relax and soothe our tired muscles with a dip in hot springs. Ardent consists of 4 pools, the hottest the locals told us, is the one at the bottom. The water is clear and clean and there were a number of people dipping. But honestly, it wasn’t as hot as the ones in Los Baños Laguna. So we didn’t stay for long.
We headed back to Guerrera’s to rest. We took a nap. Tina on the bed and me in the outdoor tub. We were poofed from our whole day touring and the traveling the day before.
Before sundown, we walked towards the jump off point to Camiguin’s main attraction, the White beach. All it takes is a 10 minute banca ride to reach this wondrous creation of nature. It’s a huge sandbar in the middle of the sea. It has white powdery sand.
From the white beach, you can see Camiguin island and the two biggest volcanoes, the Mt. Vulcan and of course Mt. Hibok-hibok. It was late afternoon and a bit overcast so it wasn’t hot at all. Visitors can only stay till 5:30 pm just as the sun sets.
Back in Guerrera’s, we relaxed in our villa before going to the main restaurant The Fine Asian Street Food. Mark setup a table for us alfresco by the porch of the restaurant where it was breezy. It was a romantic candlelight dinner. What better way to end our hectic adventure.
Food was really exquisite consisting of Asian wrap salad, Vietnamese springs rolls, and spicy pork laced herbs paired with red wine. Mark joined us and made for some good conversation.
So much has happened in so short a time and it made our wedding anniversary trip an enriching experience. Camiguin has magic. One cannot help but fall in love with this enigmatic island.