Calaguas: The Summer That Was

An epic summer in the Philippines is not complete without a trip that involves a long drive and a beach during the height of Holy Week. Our trip to Mahabang Buhangin in Calaguas Island last summer more than fits that bill.

Finally! approaching Mahabang Buhangin

Every year, my friends organize an extended out-of-town trip where we can relax and get blotto. This year, all roads led to Bicolandia, to an island likened to Boracay - 20 years ago.

At Vinzons port, Daet

At 3:00 in the morning, Filipino time at its best (the original schedule was 1AM), our rented van set off to Camarines Norte. Going to Calaguas Island is a literal pain in the butt, so I salute anyone who's traveled over 12 hours to see its pristine beauty.

skirting the Pacific coast. I think that's Mt. Lobo

Packing light is out of the question when you have a toddler in tow. A large expedition-type duffel bag was not enough to carry my small family's camping provisions for 3 days. Blame it on the Girl Scout mantra that has settled into my instinct (laging handa)!

Fishing boat turned tourist boat

We board a pumpboat at Vinzons port, an inland fishing wharf in Daet. Navigating through a Nipa mangrove, I spot a couple of interesting avian species (an Egret and some sort of small sandpiper). Just as we steered clear of the brackish water, foamy wave crests appear in the horizon. Hey, I didn't sign up for boat surfing!

Doesn't feel like Lent

Beach boom
I was expecting we'd arrive at an unsung paradise that sees only a handful of backpackers at a time - you know, like its predecessors Anawangin, Potipot, Cagbelete, Palaui and other recently-circulated discoveries before they got too popular.

Scenic sunset

So, I was somewhat disappointed when we were greeted by a crowded beach - not as packed as Boracay or Puerto Galera (thankfully), but give it time and it'll prolly get there. There were tents everywhere, boats anchored by the shore, kubo cottages sharing spaces between coconut trees, fences and cement structures mushrooming here and there.

Wild and free in this stretch of beach

Later on, I learn that Calaguas tour operators bring visitors every week in busloads. I guess progress is inevitable, and I was simply a little too late to experience the island in its heydays. Now, a signature resort of Boracay fame is setting up shop there, halfway done in construction.

We've come a long way for this (./?)

Okay, rant over. I'm hopeful that the locals won't allow Calaguas to be another Galera or Bora. With proper island management (hello, street planning) and stringent rules in waste disposal, it still has a promising potential.

Morning swim

Island life
Shaking off my expectation woes with Empi Light proved to be effective. By day 2, I've already adjusted to the island life.

Yes, we LNT'ed when we left

Electricity and cellphone signal on the island is close to nil, so we had all the time to enjoy the virtually rock-and-coral-free powdery sands and clear cerulean Pacific waters that surround our campsite. The waves were calm and the sun was perfect.

Aside from water activities, other things to do in Calaguas include: walking the entire length of the beach, hiking to the lookout hill (for P25 fee, I was turned off), flying a kite, visiting the barangay town (on the opposite side of the island), talking to the locals, exploring the rocky edge of the beach and stargazing at night.

baking under the summer sun

After spending 3 days on the island, I realize that the beach does deserve all the attention it is getting. I'm still glad that I caught its last few days as an electricity-free, second-storey free beach destination. By next year, this destination will never be the same, and I'll always remember this first Calaguas trip as the summer that was.

Interested in joining a (modest) group tour? Leave a message here, I'll hook you up.

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