Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Romblon, Romblon is a heritage town

All I knew about Romblon was that it was literally sitting on marble and that its cathedral is a National Cultural Treasure. But little did I know that the town's historical fabric was very much intact and if you compared the center of town to postcards from the prewar years, nothing much has changed. Walking around the streets of Romblon, Romblon was indeed a blast from the past! You could already see Fort San Andres as you enter Romblon Port.

From the port, I walked towards the Romblon Shopping Center in from of Freedom Park where all the marble souvenir stores are clustered. There are a lot of really nice souvenirs but they should improve the ones with engravings which usually say "ROMBLON SOUVENIR." The way they engrave and paint the words in most of the souvenirs, in my opinion, cheapens the marble. Anyway, I decided to purchase souvenirs after I dropped off my stuff at the hotel.

I was looking forward to seeing the Romblon Cathedral which is a National Cultural Treasure. But I did not expect the entire town to be a heritage treasure! Around the plaza are most of the elements of our old towns, including the church and convento, the municipio, a Gabaldon schoolhouse, old houses, several colonial bridges and a charming Rizal monument in the center of the plaza.

The Cathedral of St. Joseph was one the 26 colonial churches declared as National Cultural Treasures in 2001. The church, dating back to the 15th Century, was constructed by the Augustinian Recollects, and its interior features several Baroque-style retablos. Behind the church is Fort Santiago, one of the two forts in Romblon, Romblon. But I didn't climb up since the locals said there's nothing much left.

But Fort San Andres on the opposite hill is a lot more intact. Built at about the same time the church was constructed, its main purpose was to alert the town about the arrival of Moro pirates. A 210-step stone stairway will bring you up to the fort where a PAG-ASA station is located.

Where to stay
There are a lot of standard accommodations in Romblon which offer both electric fan and air-conditioned rooms.

Blue Ridge Hotel
Gov. Fetalvero Street
We stayed in this inn and got a really good deal. Non-aircon rooms have TVs and start at PHP700. While air-conditioned rooms with TV start at PHP800.
+63 919 3819393
+63 921 3748717
+63 920 8712643

Romblon Plaza Hotel
Pres. Roxas corner Fetalvero Street
This seems to be the best hotel in town. Ordinary fan rooms start at PHP550; while air-conditioned rooms start at PHP1000.
+63 42 5072269
+63 42 5072277

Parc Bay Mansion
This inn seems relatively new and is conveniently located in front of the ferry terminal and offers air-conditioned rooms for as low as PHP650.
+63 9215757760

Part 1: Romblon is more than marble
Part 3: Romblon's food surprises
Part 4: Aglicay Beach and Trangkalan Falls in Tablas

Monday, April 07, 2008

Romblon is more than marble

Romblon has always been synonymous with deposits of high quality marble that are reputed to be among the best in the world. But I would discover that Romblon is more than that. Gone are the days of tiresome ferry travel since Manila to Romblon flights are now available with regular SEAIR trips to Tablas three times a week.

For this route, SEAIR uses their 19-seater Let 410 UVP-E plane. But for the flight to Tablas last Saturday, I was on a fully-booked proving flight of SEAIR's Dornier 328 since they will be using this larger plane in the future given the high demand for flights to Romblon. Flights to Tablas are usually an hour but since we were using the Dornier, it was just 30 minutes.

At the Tablas Airport, I was met by Romblon Congressman Eleandro Madrona who was on his way to Manila. But he was kind to assign people to take me around his district. Our first stop for the day was the town of Odiongan where the Kanidugan Festival was being held. On the way, we stopped to check out the port in Looc where a regular ferry service to and from Caticlan leaves four times a week.

In Odiongan, we arrived just in time as the street parade was moving out of the central school. Kanidugan means kaniyogan and celebrates the abundant coconut produce of the town. As in most festivals in the country, the highlight of the Kanidugan Festival is the competition of various "tribes" or performing teams during the street parade.

After taking a few photos, we proceeded to the town of San Agustin to have lunch at the Madrona Residence in Brgy. Bachawan. Our plan was to take the 1 p.m. pump-boat ferry service for Romblon island which leaves from the port of San Agustin.

How to get there
SEAIR flies to Tablas three times a week. Flights leave Manila at 7:20 a.m. every Monday and Saturday and arrive at 8:25 a.m. On Thursdays, flights leave at 10:50 a.m. and arrive at 11:55 a.m. Call SEAIR at (02) 8490100 for booking.

The M/V Aikho from Caticlan arrives in Looc four times a week. It leaves Caticlan at 9:45 a.m. every Sunday, Wedenesday and Friday and arrives in Looc at 12 noon; and on Mondays at 8:00 p.m. arriving in Looc at 10:00 p.m. The two-hour ferry costs PHP200 one-way. SEAIR has regular flights to Caticlan.

There are also regular ferry services from Manila and Batangas to Odiongan, and from Batangas and Lucena to San Agustin.

Getting around
Jeeps are scarce in Tablas and there are a limited number of trips a day between major port towns. From the Tablas Airport in Tugdan, you can walk over to the National Highway to wait for a jeep to pass by. But this will need a lot a patience and jeeps are usually jam-packed like a can of sardines. If you have already pre-booked with a resort, it's best to arrange airport transfers with them.

San Agustin has daily pump-boat services to Romblon and Sibuyan. Aside from public transportation, another option to get there from the airport is to hire a motorcycle. But a trip from the airport to the port in San Agustin is said to cots about PHP800. For groups, a van or pick-up truck charter to the port would cost about PHP2000. Pump-boats leave San Agustin for Romblon twice daily at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and cost PHP85.

Part 2: Romblon, Romblon is a heritage town
Part 3: Romblon's food surprises
Part 4: Aglicay Beach and Trangkalan Falls in Tablas

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Zambales: Capones Island and its lighthouse

Capones Island has always been famous for its white sand beaches and the Spanish colonial lighthouse perched on top of a hill. It was the last stop for our San Antonio, Zambales trip. From Anawangin, we had prearranged with our boatman to pick us up and bring us to Capones Island. We made it there just in time for lunch.

The island was so picturesque as we slowly closed in on it. When we finally made landfall, I was raring to find a shady place to take a nap having had no sleep for the last 30 hours. And I did and found myself cozy on the sand drifting away to lala land.

Since we didn't have much time left, we had to forgo the hike up to the lighthouse. Add to the fact it was hot and I had already consumed my supply of water. So we were content with making one round by boat on the way back to Pundaquit.

What's sad about Capones Island is that its riddled with tourist garbage and vandalism. The fantastic rock formations have been converted into modern petroglyphs etched with names of stupid tourists who do not know any better. And the sand was full of garbage! Here are the list of things that have to be done:

1. The Municipal Government of San Antonio, Zambales should lead efforts to clean up the island. They can charge fees to pay locals to ensure that the place is kept clean all the time and to reprimand tourists who vandalize the rocks or leave their garbage on the island.

2. Boatmen should be trained to brief tourists who hire their boats. They have to remind tourists that everything they bring to the island, especially garbage, they should bring back home with them. In fact, the community should take the initiative to make sure the island is clean since it is their source of income.

3. Finally, tourists should share the responsibility of caring for the environment. As the saying goes: "Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time." So don't leave your garbage anywhere.

Anyway, the boats to Capones and Anawangin are quite small. It can fit about four people. Don't even try to be stingy since the waters around Capones are known to be quite rough especially in the afternoon. And these are open seas. So it's best not to overload especially since there are no life jackets. We learned about the rough waters first hand as we went around to check out the lighthouse. There were just four of us and the waves were pounding and water was getting in our small boat. But we did get our photos but not with ease.

The boat ride back to Pundaquit was about 30 minutes and it was relieving when we finally made it. You usually take a shower at the house of the boatman. But since we wanted to leave as early as possible, we just washed out the sand and freshened up.

On the way back to Subic, we stopped by the house of President Ramon Magsasay in Castillejos, Zambales. We made one last stop in Subic for a hefty meal at one of the Korean restaurants before motoring back to Manila.

Part 1: Hiking up Mt. Anawangin and down to the beach
Part 2: Anawangin Cove in San Antonio, Zambales

Related entry
Nagsasa Cove in San Antonio, Zambales

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Zambales: Anawangin Cove in San Antonio, Zambales

The famed beauty of Anawangin Cove has spread far and wide as being one of the best beaches in the country. And we were finally there, well almost. It was an exhausting trek to Anawangin Cove. But the hike to the beach was not yet over. At sea level, we still had to navigate a kilometer along a dry river bed.

But the bizarre landscape felt mysterious in a way. It didn't look like I was in the Philippines with all the pine trees right beside the beach. Walking the dry river bed with that pyramid-like mountain in the background added an eerie feeling to an already uncanny trek. Anawangin got its name from nuang the Ilocano word for carabao since there is an abundance of it there. Remember the wild carabao?

After several meters under the hot summer sun trekking on the rocks, we finally made it to the shady cluster of pine trees. I wonder how they got there. Our guide said many were planted after the Mount Pinatubo eruption but he added the trees were there even before. To add to the mystique were crystal clear streams that reflected the tall pine trees on the surface like you were in some enchanted forest. And to think this whole area was devastated in 1991. It just shows how fast nature heals itself.

And then the beach finally appeared. It was a long strip of near-white volcanic sand dumped by Mount Pinatubo. The locals said that before the eruption, this area was mostly rock. The sand from Mount Pinatubo had created a wonderful playground for beach lovers. And it's even more wonderful that the locals take good care of it. So whatever they charge you, they most probably deserve it.

After taking photos, I went for a dip in the beach. The cool water washed away all the exhaustion from the climb, all the stress from school. It was a great way to welcome the summer!

How to get there
You can take any bus from Manila to Iba or Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Buses to Zambales leave the Victory Liner stations in Caloocan (about 23 trips from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight) and Pasay (four trips from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.) Fare to San Antonio is about PHP235.

Get off at the town proper of San Antonio and charter a tricycle to take you to the jump-off point in Pundaquit. That's about PHP50 per person or PHP200 per tricycle. Boat rentals to Anawangin and the nearby islands range from PHP800 to PHP1200 depending on your itinerary.

Where to stay
While many visitors to Anawangin camp there for the night, there are a lot of accommodations available in Pundaquit:

Punta de Uian
+63 918 888UIAN (8426)
+63 918 800UIAN (8426)

Nora Resort
+63 919 6374917

Part 1: Hiking up Mt. Anawangin and down to the beach
Part 3: Capones Island and its lighthouse

Related entries
Anawangin's mystical beach
Nagsasa Cove in San Antonio, Zambales

Friday, April 04, 2008

Zambales: Hiking up Mt. Anawangin and down to the beach

Anawangin in San Antonio, Zambales is fast becoming a popular destination for those seeking a beach to getaway from it all. There aren't too many amenities on this secluded beach. In fact, there are none. It's a favorite of those who want to camp out with nothing but bare essentials. And that's because there are only two ways to get there, by pump boat or via a 5-hour hike up Mt. Anawangin.

We decided to do the latter, a night hike at that! We left Manila at 1 a.m. and after a leisurely drive, arrived in the town proper of San Antonio, Zambales. Our destination was Pundaquit, a barangay several more kilometers down the road by the beach. If you get lost, you could easily ask the tricycle drivers how to get there. We finally made it to the jump-off at 4:30 a.m. just in time to start our night trek.

The silhouettes of the mountains showed us why Anawangin is such a popular destination. As the sun slowly rose, a beautifully landscaped environment greeted us. Nature is indeed the best landscaper. We marveled at how the bamboo, the trees and the rocks were artistically arranged creating this surreal scene.

By the time we neared the peak, the sun was up. And the heat added to my exhaustion (it was another sleepless night and being the designated driver, I could not catnap). But to make the long story short, we reached the pass leading to the beach. The view of Anawangin Cove was nothing but fantastic! But instead of going down to the beach, the group decided to go up a few more meters to reach the summit.

With that settled, we all thought going down was going to be a breeze. But it wasn't! The rocks were just too much. And the sad part was that the grass was tall enough to cover the rocks so you couldn't see if your next step was on soil or on rocks. And that could spell disaster if you lost your balance. It's good thing I got myself a pair of Colombia Titanium Kailua sandals the night before and it did me wonders.

We finally made it down. But not before we almost got attacked by a wild carabao. There are a lot of wild carabaos in the area according to our guide so be careful. It was a good thing our guide saw it in time and scared it away.

Part 2: Anawangin Cove in San Antonio, Zambales
Part 3: Capones Island and its lighthouse

Related entry
Nagsasa Cove in San Antonio, Zambales
Related Posts with Thumbnails