|Sambawan Island's northwest side and Maripipi Island towards sunset|
Riding the Van Van transport from Tacloban, we alighted in Naval town center that seems busier (more prosperous) from what I remembered from before. There were mini-malls, branches of national store chains (Cebuana Lhuillier, Monterey Meat Shop, Mercury Drug) and banks (Landbank, Metrobank). Still, I get this impression that out-of-towners are still few.
|Southeast side of Sambawan Island glowing in the late afternoon sun|
On one hand, it was commendable that the Kawayan LGU has standardized boat hire fees for visitors to the outlying islands. But on the other hand, the rates are suited for large groups (not that this is unique, just a lament from someone who usually travels solo or in really small groups; well even most accommodations seem to penalize the solo backpacker). We took a look at the sea (a bit wavy) and the sky (cloudy blue) and decided to make a go for it, opting to stay overnight and arrange a pickup next day (P3000/around US$61).
|Atlas, Sambawan Island's sentinel canine manning the shore|
Approaching the sunset hour, we hiked up 130 steps to the highest point on the island with a thatched hut providing a 360 degree panorama -- Masbate to the west, Almagro, Camandag and Limbangcavayan islands farther northeast. Earlier in the day, it was drizzling in Tacloban when we landed but out here, we were gifted with post-card pretty cloudy blue sky and a turquoise sea. The island's undulations were glowing where the setting sun touched the land, rocks, vegetation. Standing on the view deck, the wind seems to blow from here or there, sometimes seemingly from all directions all at once. We caught sight of a swift that floated playfully on the air currents, hanging suspended in the air without flapping his wings for long stretches -- it was that windy.
|It's 130 steps to the island's highest point, a hut with a 360 degree sweep of the seascape|
Desperately craving sleep, we skipped shooting the night sky (it turned cloudy later anyway), and ate kamayan-style on the bamboo ledge that fronts our hut. It's not like me to fall asleep before 8:30pm but the lapping waves just lulled me to sleep. Waking up at 3am and stepping out to gaze at the sky, the sea was quietly murmuring. Apart from that and the bleating of goats on the easternmost islet, it was quiet; the distant islands veiled by mists. Standing later on the view deck hut in the dark, it's easy to fall into a meditative state. Given more vacation time, it would've been swell to stay for days.
How to get to Sambawan/Sambauan Island: Short boat ride from Maripipi; a ferry leaves Naval around 11am daily • From Kawayan, it's a 45 minute to 1-hour boat ride
Accommodations available: There are huts/enclosed cottages for groups of 5-6 (P1,500/night) and 10-12 pax (P2,500/night) both with toilet and bath. As fresh water has to be shuttled from Maripipi, the small huts get a 100 liter allowance per day, the bigger hut 200 liters; extra consumption is charged per liter thereafter. There are five (5) small open cottages that can sleep 3-4 people (P500/night) and six (6) newer and larger open cottages that can sleep 6-8 people. There are also 2-3 person tents for rent (P350/night). The open cottages and tent renters share a common toilet and bath.
Entrance fee: P100 visitor fee
Where is Biliran? Located in Eastern Visayas, Biliran is accessible by air via flights to Tacloban (45 minute to 1 hour) and land transport to Naval (around 3 hours) • There are also ships that ply the Naval - Cebu port route.
For more on Biliran, visit www.biliranisland.com