Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quezon Roadtrip: 3 Days, 3 Towns, 3 Islands - Part 1, San Andres, Alibahaban, Burgos and Borawan

Quezon Borawan Island Sunrise Boat
Sunrise on Borawan Island off Mauban, Quezon
Our GPS went on the blink along with the Globe signal approaching San Narciso in Quezon Province six hours into our roadtrip from Manila. The few people we asked along the road assured us we were indeed on the way to San Andres, in southwestern Quezon, our intended destination located on the southeastern tip of the Bondoc Peninsula, 366 kilometers from our starting point. The road, which we will later find out to be a national highway, was deeply rutted in not a few places and more fit for motorcycles and carabaos, putting our loaner Kia Carnival to a rigorous test right from our very first day. 

By the time we saw the port town of San Andres with Alibihaban Island in the distance, we have seen three hours worth of rolling terrain, grassland, corn fields and postcard pretty mountain views that contrast against a clear, blue sky. Our three-day roadtrip got started with a 60 kilometer detour. But what’s a real, honest-to-goodness roadtrip without the meddling of fate, when circumstances put the most well-planned itineraries, ETDs and ETAs into mere items on a list subject to changes and reconsideration? This we will discover to be true during the rest of our trip to the province of Quezon, southwest of Manila. 
InFlight July-August 2012 Cover Story
Roughing it out in a Kia Carnival
Back to basics in San Andres and Calibihaban Island.  While the assignment called for a roadtrip as well as putting the Kia Carnival van to the test, we didn’t aim to remain landlocked all the time. Certainly not when there are islands waiting to be explored lying close to the coastlines. The fishing town of San Andres located at the southernmost tip of the Bondoc Peninsula is our jump-off point for Alibihaban Island. Arriving three hours later than our itinerary’s ETD, we found a listless sea. Crossing over to the island will have to wait until the morning when the Ragay Gulf simmers down. 

Plan B means spending the late afternoon hours exploring Long Beach with our local host, Dina Lopinac Dela Torre, a school teacher with an inclination for promoting local tourism. Towards sunset, the shoreline recedes a hundred meters or so in places, exposing patches of areas planted to mangroves. Fishermen were hauling in their fresh catch of small sapsap (slipmouth/pony fish), one of my favorite fishes. It was tempting to buy the two pails full of the fish but as it turned out, the catch ended up on our dinner table fried to a delicious crisp and paired with pinakurat (local vinegar made from fermented coconut water). We had a quiet dinner in the open air dining area of Dina’s house under a huge mango tree. Owing to the weather, there was no pating (shark) or pagi (ray) available but there was kinunot na isda (mackerel tuna stewed and cooked in coconut milk).  Ahh, the simple joys of visiting a place untainted by commercial tourism. 
InFlight July-August 2012 Cover Story Page 3
Whiling the day in San Andres and the morning at Alibahaban
We repaired to the only lodging house in the poblacion, ADC Lodging House and Restaurant and luckily got ourselves billeted in the two air conditioned rooms. Nothing fancy here but the rooms are clean and the location is just a few streets away from the shoreline.  We woke up before sunrise to cross over to Alibihaban Island, 15 minutes away, on a small motorized banca. We got glimpses of the simple life on the island mainly populated by families of fishermen. School children come to school either by banca or walking through patches of mangroves as the men sail to shore with their catch. The school house has an enviable location, right under a canopy of trees with the beach as its backyard. There's something wild and unspoilt about the place. The island itself, all of 430 hectares, has been declared a wilderness area. It is also part of Ragay Gulf, home to endemic sea creatures with regular sightings of sea turtles. 

It was tempting to stay longer to swim and snorkel. Maybe even buy fresh catch, slack off and enjoy the laidback pace. But we had to get back early enough before the gulf waters get any rougher. 
InFlight July-August 2012 Cover Story Page 5
Enjoying Borawan
Going northwest to Padre Burgos and Borawan Island. We avoided the lengthy detour of the previous day, passing through the smoother provincial road of San Francisco enroute to the municipality of Padre Burgos, some four to five hours drive northwest of San Andres, going through nine towns. The wind was blowing in strong gusts and there were white caps on the waters of Tayabas Bay when we arrived. Eating a late lunch of inihaw na tulingan (grilled mackerel tuna) and chamsi (egg noodles with sweet sauce) at Vista Playa Restaurant, we can see and hear the waves pounding the shore with a an emphatic thud. Right then and there, we knew crossing over to Borawan Island, like our hop to Alibihaban, will have to wait until next morning. 

Plan B calls for exploring the rugged coastline of Vista Playa Resort while waiting for the sunset. The view is not lacking in poetry with late afternoon fishermen sailing to and from baklad (fish fences) that lie in the distance framed by the silhouettes of the islands of Pagbilao Chika and Pagbilao Grande.  

The bay was still a bit temperamental when we set out for Borawan Island before five the next morning but we went ahead and sailed anyway. The island has a wonderful stretch of pocket beaches hemmed by limestone cliffs that call to mind the karst formations of Palawan. On the easternmost end, there were basic cottages for daytrippers and overnight guests.   The water is clear, tempting us to take a dip and swim in the two hours we were there. If it weren’t for our planned itinerary, this would be a nice place to stay for the whole day or overnight, chilling out and doing nothing but soak in the sun, swim, eat and sleep.
InFlight July-August 2012 Cover Story Page 8
Essentials: car hires, transport and accommodations
Essentials: Going to and staying in San Andres Car hire will set you back about P11,814 per 12 hours' use of van, inclusive of fuel and driver.  Overnight use of the vehicle willincur an additional P5,907 charge.  Succeeding days' rate is P6,666/day.  Call Carfield at (632) 853.5331 to book.   
To commute, take the SuperLines bus on EDSA-Kammuning. Land travel takes seven to eight hours costing P460 one way. From Lucena (three- to four-hour travel time), hop on a commuter van for P270 per way. 
• There’s only one lodging house in the municipality, ADC, which has two air conditioned rooms and three fan rooms, contact +63999/ 494 2803. Homestays can also be arranged. Contact Dina Lopinac Dela Torre at +63999/ 470 7934. 
To get to Alibihaban Island, big bancas can be rented at P1,300 for the whole day; smaller bancas at P200/ way. 

Going and staying in Padre Burgos.  Car hire will set you back about P10,810 per 12 hours' use of a van, inclusive of fuel and driver.  Overnight use of the vehicle will incur an additional P5,405 charge.  Succeeding days' rate is P6,666/day.  Book at Carfield. 
• Or hop on a bus bound for Lucena such as the JAC Liner. In Lucena, take a Unisan bound bus and alight in Padre Burgos town proper. 
Stay at Vista Playa Resort, which has two air conditioned rooms good for four (P2,500) and several fan rooms with dormitory-style accommodation (P300/pax). Call Beverly at +63906/ 242 3945 for reservations. 
For Island hopping to Borawan Island, Vista Playa offers boat rentals (one boat can accommodate eight to 10 persons at a time) to nearby islands including Borawan. Borawan and Dampalitan/two-island trip costs P1,200; single island trip to Puting Buhangin/ Kuwebang Lampas costs P2,000; and a three-island trip on the same day is P2,200. Entrance fee of P20 (day trippers) or P30 (overnight guests) is charged in Borawan Island; special rate of P15 for students, senior citizens and people with disability. Take supplies with you especially water since there are no stores on the islands. 

InFlight July-August 2012 Cover Story Page 7Next in Lagal[og]:  Quezon Province Roadtrip Part 2: Getting to Mauban and Cagbalete Island

Attribution:  This story was published in Inflight Magazine's July - August 2012 Issue under the title "Crossing Wild Quezon by Mini-Van" • Photos by Hermes Singson and Jocas A. See • Art direction by Jocas A. See • Borawan Opener Photo on this post by Oggie Ramos

Our thanks to our hair and makeup contributing stylist Rocky Orejola for recommending off-the-beaten places in Quezon. Our thanks also to our generous Quezon locals for extending assistance to the InFlight team: Judge Virgilio Alpajora (for housing the team in his resort on Cagbalete Island) and Coco Llamas of Mauban; Cely Rances and Playa’s Beverly of Padre Burgos; and Dina dela Torre of San Andres
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