Captivating Calayan - A Secret Paradise

May 4, 2019

When was the last time you explored a place that's unfamiliar, underestimated, and untouched?

 

When was the last time you felt lost, scared, and excited at the same time?

 

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

 

It's been a while since I've had a trip where I didn't plan anything. Just said yes to it - zero expectations, no idea what adventure awaits. All I know is that it's challenging but worth it. Is it now?

 

It took us almost a day to reach this beautiful group of island called, Calayan. It is part of Cagayan Valley which is situated in the northern most part of the Philippines. I was first told that we're going to Babuyan Islands. I've read about this in our history lessons as a kid and I giggle every time I hear this because it sounds like baboy or pig. Shallow I know, but come on, I was a kid. But did you now that Babuyan came from the Ilocano word mabuya? So that area of Babuyan Claro literally means to see clearly.

 

 

Also, Babuyan is just a small part of Calayan group of islands. Other islands include Dalupiri, Camiguin Norte (not the one near Cagayan de Oro), and of course the Calayan mainland. There are also three ports to get to these islands: Claveria port, Santa Ana port, and Aparri port. We took the route from Aparri which is a 14-16 hours bus ride from Manila. Yikes! Someone should've given me a heads up about this lol

As I said, I wasn't expecting a full-on adventure like this until I took the bus ride. My adventurous friends and I took the Florida bus from Sampaloc, Manila at 5pm. We preferred to ride the bus because it takes less effort (sit, eat, sleep) so prepare and download lots of movies and series for this trip. Aparri terminal is 586km away from Manila and I've never travelled anywhere that far for land travel. There are also several stopovers: Tarlac, Nueva Vizcaya, Santiago, and Tuguegarao where you can eat and stretch your legs. But if you have the budget and prefer to travel faster, you can also ride the plane to Tuguegarao then take a van to whichever port mentioned above. I suggest that you take the Aparri port though as this is safer and protected by coast guards. 

 

The good news is that the Calayan airport is functional for government planes for now, but we were very fortunate to have a sneak peek of what it is now. I was even able to fly my drone in the runway! (Just wanted to say I'm one of the firsts to fly something there lol) I'm very hopeful that this will soon be commercialised. The island is slowly preparing for this but there's still definitely a lot of work to be done. Once this opens, it will definitely boost the islands' tourism and livelihood creating more opportunities for the locals to prosper. The islands has so much potential and I can definitely see a lot of curious tourists flying in and eager to explore the islands. 

 

Until then, we'd have to go by bus to the port then take another 4-5 hours boat ride depending on the kind of boat being used and port of origin. We arrived the next day in Aparri at 7:30am. From there is a short tricycle to the shallow waters leading to the sea. We took a small boat guided by coast guards and got into a bigger boat at 8am. Don't expect a comfortable ride here as well as they maximise the occupancy for transport of both commercial goods and travellers.

 

 

Being stuck in the same sitting position for hours was gruelling. However, it did test my sleeping skills (yes, it's a skill for me lol) to be able to sleep instantly anywhere regardless of the position. Do you know anyone who's like this? I was seated in the middle of a plank that's a make-shift to become like a bench. I tried several sleeping positions to make myself comfortable but it's no use. You become quite creative when you're faced in situations like this. My friends seem to have adjusted quite well as they found a good spot to lay in the middle of the boat where the engine is located underneath. They simply pulled a tarp over the hard cover of the engine then slept like babies. I tried to sleep too, but I guess the bus ride already took up almost all of my sleeping time so I can't help but observe and just be with my fellow passengers. I was wondering what they plan to do in Calayan. One had a bucket of Jollibee chickenjoy to bring home, others have commercial goods like eggs, chicken, and other stuff to sell. A family from Tuguegarao hopes to relax and enjoy the pristine beaches of the island. The boat men were cooking papaitan, a bitter soup packed with beef innards which is also a specialty dish found in Ilocos. 

 

 

The boat ride can be very scenic. It seems like you're traveling in the middle of nowhere, just endless waters in search of land. Sometimes, we'd pass by different islands of Calayan. The warm and salty breeze from the sea felt nice too. After 5 hours in the boat, we reached the mainland. The beauty of this is the forced detachment from the internet, social media, email, calls, and SMS (only Smart coverage is available). Electricity isn't always consistent, but it's actually better now compared to years ago. Luckily, we're staying in Jillian's Resort Calayan. Not only do they offer cool and chill amenities, but they also have a generator and solar panel, enough to charge your cameras and cellphones. Feel free to contact Julius at +639479500943 for reservations and other inquiries.

 

 

We arrived at the resort around 1pm. Our meals compose of fish that's freshly caught for the day that's either steamed or fried, then paired with meat that differs everyday (we had papaitan, fish soup, bistek, pork sinigang). Each meal is just Php 150-200! So after eating a sumptuous late lunch and freshening up, we started exploring the island. Here are some of the highlights that you'll find in Calayan Island.

 

Traveling around the island can be done by arranging a kuliglig, a motorcycle ride (if the place is nearby) or by chartering a boat. If you're traveling to another island, it usually costs Php 7,000 to P 10,000 depending on the weather conditions and/or your bargaining skills. Best to arrange everything with Sonny, our tour guide, who offers the best and scenic routes possible. You can reach him at +639983249288.

 

 

 

MUST SEE PLACES IN CALAYAN:

 

SIBANG COVE

Sibang Cove is probably the most popular attraction in Calayan brought about by its untouched natural beauty. Its sand is soft and shiny, too soft that you actually sink when you step on it. We come here every morning via Sonny's motorcycle to catch the sunrise at 5am. I love that I can relax and meditate in this virgin beach. Seems like we owned the cove since we're the only ones here.

 

 

I can just lounge here all day! The weather's perfect for sun bathing, the wind is cool and refreshing, the water is so inviting that I found myself literally riding its waves effortlessly. Other than that, we also relaxed by the tree shades while listening and enjoying the music. Sonny also extended to eat our lunch here so that was really a good experience. As usual, the food's fresh and delicious! 

 

CANIWARA COVE

If you walk from Sibang Cove, you'll end up in Caniwara Cove where sand and grass mix. It's quite refreshing to walk and be in this kind of environment because this is truly something that is only found in Calayan and nowhere else. Well, at least for me. 

 

 

 

NAGUDUNGAN HILL

Another famous spot is the Nagudungan Hill as it transports you to a different world where goats master the art of climbing rocky hills and you find yourself drifting from the strong winds blowing from the sea. This hill is also known as Bangaan, from the word banga or jar. It is called such because of the burial jars spread on top of the hill. We noticed some broken off parts of clay jars which seems to have been damaged in search of artifacts. It is said that they are as old as the times when vikings were sailing our seas. 

 

 

Not far is the lighthouse that's been cut off at the top due to a storm, but still a good subject for photos and videos. 

 

BASSIT-A KADARATAN

There are several ways to get to this place but what we did was travers around the rocky Kababaan cove and enter a small hole leading to Bassit-a Kadaratan which literally means small beach. We played with rocks for a while, using them as targets. Next thing you know, it became a game for all of us.

 

 

PALLAYPA HILL

Pretty stoked about this short hike as we're the first ones to go up Pallaypa Hill, which is just a short trek from Sibang Cove. The 30-minute hike is definitely worth it. From the top, you'll see a better view of this side of the island. If you carefully climb the edge of the hill, you'll see Sibang Cove and Caniwara Cove.

 

OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO IN CALAYAN:

 

- Visit the Puraw Rock which literally means White Rock

- Check out the Kababaan Cove and Malangsi Cove

- Charter a boat to Bataraw Falls, Kanaway Cove, and Lussok Cove where you can also do cliff jumping.

- Visit Malansing Falls and Cove, Kasaluran Cove and Purao Cove

- Visit other islands: Babuyan Claro, Dalupiri, and Camiguin Norte

- In Babuyan Claro, you can hike Mt. Pangasun and see the wonders of Smith Volcano. The Askedna hot spring can also be found in the southern base of the island.

 

And just to plug a little, I highly recommend bringing your own coffee if you prefer a really good kind since there aren't any cafes found in the island. I love how JoeSip Coffee has neatly packed coffee drips (just add hot water) and really good crushed coffee grounds that I can use with my Vietnamese coffee press. This just really makes our experience extra. Get these in their website for convenient and quality coffee anywhere you go.

 

 

Aside from the island's coves, hills, and other natural environment, the island is also a great place to appreciate the moon and stars that light up the night sky. My biggest takeaway during this trip is learning how to do astrophotography. Luckily, my photographer friends taught me how to setup my camera to achieve this. Here are amazing shots that's taken by my beautiful, amazing, and funny best friend, Erika. (She made me write that lol oh and hi Beej hihi can't wait for our adventure too, happening soon!) Aaaaaahhhh-mazing, right?!!!

I also got to spend time with the locals and really understand how it is like to appreciate the basic things in life. The untouched beauty of the island's that is vibrant, lush, and full of life; the simple celebration of someone's wedding that brings everyone together; the sounds of the waves singing to you at night; that  the genuine laughters from the kids seeing something for the first time, these are just some of the memorable moments that make this trip unforgettable.

 

Overall, this trip would not have been made possible if it wasn't for the leap of faith and lust for life.

 

So when will you explore a place that's unfamiliar, underestimated, and untouched?

 

What will you do to feel lost, scared, and excited at the same time?

 

What are you willing to do for the first time? 

 

 

Until then, see you anywhere in the world!

 

xoxo,

MJ

IMPORTANT DETAILS AND CONTACT NUMBERS

 

Manila Private Group Arrangement - Erick +639179275662

Calayan Tour Guide - Sonny +639983249288

Jillian's Resort Calayan - Julius +639479500943

 

- Waterproof your bags. The boat ride can get rough. You can also bring a raincoat if you don't want to get wet.

- Bring flashlight. It can get really dark at night since street lights aren't that common

- Get a Smart SIM card if you want to be connected

- There are no ATMs in the island so make sure to bring plenty of cash with you

- Prepare to be stranded. (Say, whuuut?) I know this isn't ideal but the weather conditions can be very unpredictable so make sure that you don't have anything important to do 1-2 days after the trip.

 

 

 

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