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.