Captivating Natural Beauty of Eastern Samar

My first trip to Samar was in 2005, when I took part in several art workshops, as a facilitator, along with artists from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. We traveled from the northern part passing through the western side and set on the east. It was a long road trip that all I could remember were my dreams, as I was forcing myself to sleep through the endless rocky roads.

Four years have passed and I found myself taking a road trip back to Eastern Samar. The rocky roads have improved somehow but what was new to me in this trip was the sight of so many beautiful rivers, clear blue waters, and sunsets that awakened my senses to the natural wonders. I knew I was bound to discover more than the best of what is known about this quiet and seemingly rustic region.

My Secret Hideaway in the East
Playa de Catalina is a newly opened resort located in the town of Can-avid, bound in a peninsula covering 29 hectares of land with a shore line of 3.6 kilometers (just a little short of Boracay’s Stations 1-3). The front side of the resort gives you the view of the sea that’s perfect for an early morning walk on a beautiful sunrise or a good surf on a windy day. The other side of the peninsula is a huge river where you can cruise while watching the sun set and migratory birds fly back to the mangroves. This resort is fast becoming one of the region’s practicing Responsible Travel destinations.

For inquiries and reservations, you may call:
Playa de Catalina, (632)425-3872 / 0908-5686816 /

The Fruitiest Halo-halo
I have never tasted a halo-halo with an almost all-natural fruit ingredients. We had a sweet stop at Sulangan in Guiuan to taste the locals’ favorite snack of halo-halo. It consisted of bananas, avocado, melon, mango, papaya, and crushed Graham Crackers. It was the most refreshing halo-halo I’ve ever tasted because of its fresh fruits factor.

How do you find it? Look for the Banago Beach Resort in Sulangan in Calicoan Island and you’ll see a small sari-sari store just beside it, THAT’S IT!

My Search for Pearls and Clear Blue Waters
We took a 45-minuite banca ride going to Pearl Island in Guiuan to see the pearls being cultured by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. We coursed through clear blue waters and watched fishes swim along with our banca. We were lucky to chance upon a man diving for seaweeds and gave us a bagful for our dinner.

As soon as we reached Pearl Island, we were guided to ride a glass-bottom boat to see the cultured pearls and amazing living giant clams underwater. We were told that these pearls will be ready for harvest by 2010 and will be brought to the regional office of BFAR in Tacloban.

If you intend to go to Pearl Island, make sure you get your permit from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Guiuan.

My Cruise to a Thousand Rivers
Long before roads became the main transportation route, our rivers were used as nautical highways for trading products and transporting people from one town to the next. In Can-avid, we hopped on a boat that brought us from the mangroves and cruised the ‘Ulot’ river (‘ulot’ meaning hiking from the upstream and down). The river was wide and calm, sprawling with lush vegetation. It felt like I was traveling through time when people lived simply in the abundance of its natural environment. And here in Eastern Visayas, a lot of locals actually still do.

If you want to do this river cruise, I suggest you bring a good book. You can either rent your own boat or ride with the locals while they do their everyday travel. Playa de Catalina Resort in Can-avid can help you with this cruise.

Changing the Way We Travel
It has become a habit for a lot of tourists to research on the more popular ‘what-to-see’ and ‘what –to-do’ itineraries. It’s a quick fix I must say in planning our vacations. What if you try traveling the way the locals live their everyday life? It’s amazing how our travels can change the way we could look at our country. How the simplest ways of living can make you understand the value of preserving our environment and understanding living conditions different from our own. Not just crossing boundaries but building bridges to see what natural real beauty means.

Photos by Karlo De Leon


Finding your Way to Northern Mindanao through Responsible Travel

by Tracey Santiago

Two of the few things I passionately enjoy doing in my life are traveling to faraway places and getting lost in faraway places. This has been a passion since I was 12, when I would find myself lost in the streets of Manila. It was in those times when I learned not only to find my way out of being lost but also finding the best local finds in every place.

Last May, I traveled to Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon with my friend Ronald Lagazo, who is the advocacy officer of Advocate of Philippine Fair Trade, Inc. to visit some of the fair trade producers in the region. APFTI has provided technical support to small enterprises across the Philippines to create and market globally-competitive enterprises using fair trade principles. This means that whenever you buy Fair Trade products, you are not just supporting the local economy but you are also helping producers to observe socially and environmentally just practices, such as promoting gender equity, payment of fair wages, non-employment of children, and protecting the environment. And as we support these Fair Trade producers, we also become responsible tourists because we are also supporting the local communities.

We visited some fair trade producers and local attractions and discovered a lot of the not-so-popular and hidden treasures of Northern Mindanao.

Salay Handmade Paper. Salay is a small town east of Cagayan de Oro City. One of its major industries is handmade paper making which started in 1987 by Loreta Rafisura as a civic organization but is now making big in the export industry as a business enterprise now more known in 1st world countries as SHAPII or Salay Handmade Paper Industries, Inc. Who would’ve thought that this small town supplies paper for Hallmark, Marks & Spencer, and Barnes & Noble?!

To contact SHAPII: You may contact Ms. Loreta Rafisura at (088)858-7517 or visit their website at CSC_0603

To get there: Take the bus going to Butuan at the Agora Bus Terminal from Cagayan de Oro City. It’s about an hour and a half to reach the Petron station in Salay, SHAPII is a few meters after the station.

CSC_0533Vjandep. Aside from the clear waters and white sandbars of Camiguin, this small island in the east of Misamis Oriental is also known for its soft buns with yema filling called Pastel. I first tasted this soft bun 2 years ago when a friend from CDO gave it as a pasalubong. The sweet filling melts in your mouth and is perfect with freshly brewed coffee. Vjandep started making pastel in their small bakery in Mambajao and is now a multi-awarded business enterprise in the region.

Where to buy: You can find Vjandep’s Pastel in Cagayan de Oro City along Tiano St. and the Angel Chavez Complex. A box of 6 costs Php58.00 and a box of 12 costs Php115.00.

Night Café. Looking for an outdoor night gimik? Cagayan De Oro offers a night café in the streets of Divisoria every Friday and Saturday from 6pm-2am. But they don’t offer coffee! It’s an outdoor night market where you’ll find the best ukay-ukay in the city, barbeques and other grilled food, and band concerts featuring local artists.

Bistro Mercedez. I’m always fascinated with adaptive reuse of old houses. This used to be the old house of the Chavezes of Cagayan De Oro City and is now turned into a fine dining restaurant along Chavez St. Boy Gualberto and his wife Farrah who is a New York trained chef rebuilt this house from ruins. Most of the materials used in rebuilding are new but they maintained the feeling of antiquity and home in the heart of the city.

Good Coffee, a Chapel, and a Jolly Monk. Monk’s Blend premium coffee is made from the finest robusta and arabica coffee beans, nurtured in the cold climate, high altitude and unique volcanic soil of Bukidnon. This premium coffee has no preservatives or additives; just the natural goodness of fresh, mountain-grown coffee, roasted and blended to perfection by the Benedictine monks at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in the city of Malaybalay.

The Chapel inside the compound of the monastery was designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin.

One will not miss this jolly monk by the name of Fr. Columbano Adag. He entertained us with his very joyful outlook, very unusual for someone who has lived in a monastery for nearly 28 years. He still clearly remembers how he traveled to Bukidnon in 1981 to find a place to build the monastery for the Benedictine monks.

CSC_0546Sweet Organic Pineapples. We traveled to Maramag town in Bukidnon and tasted the best and only organically grown pineapple in the country. We stopped by a plantation where farmers were currently harvesting. One of the farmers suddenly chopped and sliced pineapples right in front of us to have a taste. With the view of Mt. Kitanglad and a vast pineapple plantation around us, matched with the cool breeze of Bukidnon, we were having one sweet day.

NOFPI or Nature’s Organic Fresh Pineapples, Inc. thought that planting organic pineapples would be impossible. But with a positive and clear vision of creating a 60-hectare of organically grown pineapples in 2006, they have already covered 12 hectares of making their dream into reality.

To contact NOFPI: Call Genelyn Lianda at (088)2212538; 2215222 local 102.

Sir Edwards Bar Grill Seafood Restaurant and Chicken Ati-atihan.
I recommend that you take this restaurant as your first stop when you go to Malaybalay and taste their heavenly grilled chicken. Roy Panes, the hospitable owner, will not only personally take care of your meals but he will also personally bring you around Bukidnon for a tour! A local chef and tour guide extraordinaire!

Roy Panes heads the Malaybalay Food Handler’s Association and one of their achievements last year was to start the Search for Malaybalay’s Best Delicacies. Most of the entry-products such as the piniatos, piniasitas, pine bars, and cheese flavored banana chips are now being sold in this restaurant, your one-stop pasalubong center!

To contact Sir Edward’s Restaurant: Call Roy Panes at 09206249062.

CSC_0103Quadra Eco-Resort. This resort is one of a dozen ranches located within the city. Aside from short rides inside their ranch, the resort also offers day-long and overnight rides on trails along the Kitanglad mountain range with experienced local wranglers as guides. They also have huts fit for a group of 5 for overnight accommodations. Wake-up with the sounds of horses roaming around the ranch and enjoy the early morning chills with the view of the Malaybalay mountain ranges. Visit the Quadra Eco-Resort, Sta Cruz St, Malaybalay, tel: +63(88) 221 3338.

Published at MB TraVel June 25-July 9, 2009 issue, pp10-12