Remember the times when mom would tell you to finish a meal that you don’t like, and make you feel guilty about kids who aren’t as lucky and have nothing to eat? The same concept applies to travelling. When something goes awry, always think about someone who’s worse off, one who’s having more miserable misadventures. Something didn’t go according to plan in our recent Samar adventure.
But there’s something about Northern Samar that makes you zen. There, life is really slow. No traffic jams to stress you out. The people are gentle and trustworthy. The scenery is beautiful. No ugly billboards. Maybe it’s the abundant nutrients from Samar seafood that supports overall metabolism. Samar makes you kinder.
Last Sunday, we woke up early for the trek to Lulugayan Falls near Bobon. Motorbikes picked us up at our resort and took us riding through the countryside. Can’t get more rural than this. I loved it.
After the ten-minute bike ride, we got off and started the trek through the woods. It felt like a scene from Brillante Mendoza’s “Captive” where the Abu Sayaff were herding the French captives through the forests of Mindanao.
The hike wasn’t too long – about 15 minutes in all. But it was hot. The trail was narrow and quite slippery. The hard part was keeping ourselves quiet. The locals told us not to talk loudly lest we upset the spirits inhabiting the enchanted forrest.
When we got to the top for the falls, this was what we saw.
A slab of stone. It was dry. Not a drop of water. The locals told us to come back during the rainy season.
Sigh. After all that effort. So, we took more pictures. We didn’t complain. It’s all about perspective, really. At least I wasn’t that person whose wallet had just been stolen by the Niagara.
The Rock Formation in Biri defines the entire province of Northern Samar. That’s the high point of a trip to that part of the Visayas. It’s just too sad that it isn’t as popular or visited as other landmarks like Bohol’s Chocolate Hills or the lake in Taal. Believe me, it’s spectacular. Nothing is as dreamy in the archipelago.
The locals describe the gigantic rocks as the “battle of the gods”, formed through the ages by crashing waves, fierce storms, the heat, quakes and strong winds. Everything’s carved out by nature to cinematic proportions.
Our guide tells us that there are four drop-off points after a ten-minute motorbike ride from Biri proper. There’s a specific time of day that’s ideal for every point. We chose the farthermost point – Bel-at – at 4pm. The tide was low, the conditions weren’t as turbulent. Plus, it wasn’t so hot late in the day.
Just a few travel tips:
Bring 15 pesos for the bike ride, and 200 for the tourist fee.
Walk slowly on the loooong footbridge that takes you to the Bel-at rocks. Look down the whole time. The planks aren’t even and not attached closely together.
Have a guide who knows the trail and who’ll help you tread and climb up the slippery rocks.
Swimwear, of course. There’s a natural lagoon you can swim in. You can’t swim in the ocean, though. Much too dangerous.
The ignoramus in me would always tease my Northern Samar-born friend, haute couture fave Dennis Lustico, about his birthplace as nothing else but copra country. It must be overflowing with “gata” (coconut milk), I’d say. While Samar is abundant with “buko”, there’s more that awaits the traveler who loves nature at its most pristine, and food at its freshest, and cheapest.
I immediately said ‘yes’ to his invite to see his place in June for the first time. I had vowed to see more of the Philippines. I also wanted a different kind of adventure – the rough kind. I was curious about how far I could manage without the usual luxuries from my travels.
Well, proudly I can say, I survived Northern Samar (that’s in Eastern Visayas, underneath Bicol, adjacent to Leyte, and to the east of Cebu). I survived the 45-minute jeepney ride from the Catarman Airport to the port where we a banca ride to Biri. The motor was rumbling loudly and unbearably for 45 minutes. I shut my ears with my hands for the entire trip. After landing on Biri and spending a short pitstop at Dennis’ relative’s home by the beach, we took the a 10-minute habal-habal ride to our resort. The habal-habal is the lone mode of transport in Biri Island (15 pesos for every ride). It’s a motorbike with a long makeshift metal seat that could fit in 3 passengers. It sounds like death on wheels. But it’s actually cool. The drivers are skillful. The ride is not dangerous since the roads are good, and there’s no traffic on the streets.
The resort – Villa Amor – was clean and spartan. Don’t expect multiple thread-count with the bed sheets. The fabric felt like my non-absorbent high school uniform. Plumbing works, but the water pressure in the shower isn’t strong enough. I used the “tabo” the whole time. There was an A/C, but power would get cut from 12 midnight till noon. Get ready to sweat well before dawn.
But you’d forget you’re not in Shangri-la Boracay when you look out and see the Pacific. The sea is at its clearest in Samar. That’s what happens when there are no hotels or Andok’s restsos erected by the beach, and no throngs of people who misuse and abuse natural resources.
My only wish is for the national or provincial government to at least give Biri 24-hour electricity. Samar is scorching during the dry months. Basic full-functioning utilities, they owe the tourists. And the locals, who would get even more productive with working electricity. For chrissake, it’s 2015. Our hardworking countrymen in the South do not deserve 12-hour blackouts. I heard in nearby Capul, another tourist destination known for its beaches and Spanish-era architecture, they only get 8 hours of power.
The food is as much a highlight as the scenery. The best seafood is in Samar. There’s something about the Pacific that makes marine life taste sweeter than usual. Must-eats aside from fish: baby lobsters, slipper crabs, crabs, squid, seaweed (“lato”). Sea urchins are everywhere but the Samarenos don’t eat them. So, bring gloves to cut the urchins with if you plan to have fresh uni. In Samar, they don’t have the concept of fastfood. You catch it, you cook it. Nothing’s frozen.
Here’s a peek into Northern Samar. The high point of our trip – the Biri Rock Formation – is up next.