Sunken Sun of Camiguin...

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Asia » Philippines » Mindanao » Camiguin
February 18th 2013
Published: March 1st 2013
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Bugong BeachBugong BeachBugong Beach

outside Jasmine by the Sea
Our next island to visit was one we’d seen back in 2009. At that time we were sat on Anda Beach, Bohol and thought how nice it looked with it’s own personal volcano stuck out there in the middle of the sea.. we never thought we’d be visiting it 3 years later and had been looking forward to it since we arrived in the Philippines, we hadn’t anticipated we’d be so delayed in getting here but we were finally on our way.

With the camera’s arrival now unknown we didn’t want to hang around Dumaguete for another few days so reluctantly headed over to Camiguin. We say reluctantly because it would mean we would have to make a return journey to Dumaguete for the 4th time and ditch the plans to go to Mindanao but part of travelling is adapting to what it thrown at you so adapt is exactly what we had to do.

There are only really 2 ways to approach Camiguin if you are travelling overland. One way is from Bohol which is the way we went, and the other is to approach from the South via Mindanao.. The ferry from Dumaguete to Tagbiliran, Bohol is dominated by Oceanjet fastcraft who charge an extortionate P680 for the 1¾ journey, this price stung even more knowing we’d have to pay it twice but it really is the only option so we were left with no choice. It made us think that some things in the Philippines offer great value for money while others are so way out we wonder how local people can afford them. This boat journey was one of the more expensive options but as a comparison we managed to get a haircut (Dale) and a manicure (Sophie) for just P130 the other day (£2.11). Later on we went to get a couple of ice creams which amounted to pretty much the same sum! Just imagine if it was the same back in the UK.. either you’d be getting a super cheap hair cut or be eating the most expensive ice creams, here though some things which we class as luxuries are made affordable for everyone which we really like.

The journey over to Bohol was painless, we watched some truly awful movies including one about sinking ships which wasn’t the best choice but it passed the time and we arrived in Tagbiliran just before 9am. We’d actually been to this port before 3 years back so knew the routine up to the bus station to catch our bus going East to Jagna, the port from which the Camiguin ferry leaves.

We’d forgotten how pretty Bohol is as we travelled along the coast and enjoyed the views from the bus for the 2 hour journey (P60). At Jagna we were dismayed to learn that the cheaper 1pm slow boat is no longer running and we would have to pay P600 for another fastcraft but the sun was out and we sat on the top deck to enjoy the views of Bohol then emerging Camiguin in the distance like a lush green lost land.

When we arrived at Benoni we battled our way through the taxi mafia and opted for a Jeepney to take us North to the main town of Mambajao (P25 each). From there we caught a Westbound tricycle to the resort area about 10 minutes out of town (P8 each). The tricycles here are pretty different as they are just like mini jeepneys and fit around 8 – 10 people in each one (at a push!). As the sun was coming down and we weren’t sure how spread out the resorts were we opted to stop at the first one we’d read about in the book. With just 4 rooms it was a risk but we struck lucky and bagged the only available room at Jasmines by the Sea and were greeted by the lovely Mimi who settled us in. We had a huge seafront room for just P500 (£8.11) so felt quite pleased with ourselves as we’d planned to stay here for a week and this would be perfect.

To say that the weather we experienced while we were on Camiguin was mixed is a complete understatement. It ranged from glorious sunshine for the first 2 days and by the 3rd day a storm had set in which remained for the following 4 days. Always the optimists we woke up each morning hoping for clear skies but it wasn’t to be so like true Brits we braved the elements and tried to fill our days as best we could. There is a huge amount of things to do on this island from trekking to snorkelling and mountain biking to relaxing on a pure white sand bar and we'd hoped to be able to do a bit of everything.

To add insult to injury Sophie suffered from a bout of food poisoning for our first full day meaning that one of the two sunny days was ruled out entirely. Dale had to amuse himself around the area by taking various walks along the beach and checking out the competition resorts. While he was doing this Sophie was well taken care of by Joel who worked in Jasmine’s, he made her fresh ginger tea throughout the day to try and calm her stomach. We cannot speak more highly of the staff who work in this place, they are so accommodating and will go out their way to ensure you are made comfortable. They don’t have an active restaurant any longer but will cook evening meals for their guests, you just need to tell them what you want and they will go to the market that afternoon to get the fresh ingredients. They even made a really special effort on Valentines day buying some pretty flowers to go on our table and cutting the vegetables into pretty shapes, there was a power cut that evening and we wondered if the island had done it on purpose to create a romantic candlelit setting for everyone!

As we said we were still determined to make the most of our time here on the island.. what’s a bit of rain to us when we get it most days back in the UK!? We had rain jackets and an umbrella and we made full use of them! The first day we got out and about was pure sunshine so it gave us the chance to hire out a bike (P300) and do a bit of exploring, little did we know that there would be such a change the following day otherwise we might have chosen our activities a little more wisely but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Camiguin is a volcanic island with no less than 20 cylinder cone peaks, this makes it the island with the most volcanoes per km² than any other on earth! It still has one very active volcano with the last eruption occurring in 1951 when 600 people died. The evidence of this eruption can be seen all over the island and it makes for a very interesting landscape. On the first day Dale managed to see the top of the highest peak which is Mt Mambajao with no cloud, something the locals said they hadn’t seen since August!

Even though the weather was pretty hot we opted to visit the Ardent Hot Springs on our fist day. This was because the pools are emptied and refilled every Wednesday so by going on the Thursday you get the cleanest water. These springs are a real treat, the setting is beautiful and they are very well maintained so we enjoyed relaxing in the various pools the hottest of which is 38ºC. We enjoyed these springs so much that we went back again a few days later to warm up after a long day getting soaked on the bike. The second time we visited it was a Saturday afternoon and it was full of families getting together, cooking on the BBQ’s and having a few drinks, we both thought what a nice place it was to spend an evening and it’s always great to join in with locals when relaxing on their days off.

Back to day 2… We didn’t want to spend the whole day in the springs under the cover of trees so made our next stop an educational one by driving up the mountainside and visiting the Philippine Institute of Volcanology & Seismology Station. This is a little centre which monitors the Hibok-Hibok Volcano and has a display showing the result of the 1951 eruption and other volcanoes around the Philippines. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of information there but the guys looking after the centre were really helpful and answered any questions we had. If you are not interested in learning about the volcanoes it’s worth coming up here anyway just for the beautiful views out from the island.. The white horseshoe sand spit known as White Island is directly in front and there is nothing more tropical than seeing this sight emerging from the turquoise waters. You can take a boat trip out there, mornings are recommended as the sun can be too intense but sadly we didn’t think to do this on our first active day and the boats didn’t run for the rest of our time on Camiguin as the water was too choppy in the storm so we didn't get to visit in all it's glory.

We drove further up the mountainside in what would prove to be a bit of a wild goose chase to find the popular Katibawasan Falls. This is one of the major sights here on the island but could we find it…?! We only had the LP map to help us and the 11th edition of this guide book really has become useless with the map we tried to use bearing no representation to the roads which actually exist (bring back the old style maps please). On two separate days we drove to the end of two separate paved roads, on the map it says the waterfall should be at the end of a road but we chose the most likely two and neither had the waterfall at the end! We asked around and everyone kept pointing this way and that but still it was no use so we gave up in the end!

So we had 2 days of pure sunshine and 4 days of tropical rain, driving round on a bike in the rain is not much fun especially when you get a flat tyre and have to push it to the next vulcanizing shop (motorbike repair shop). There was no point in both of us walking as it was
White IslandWhite IslandWhite Island

from the Volcano Centre
a fair distance so Sophie took the easy option and jumped in a Jeepney to take her to Jasmines leaving Dale to fix the problem… little did she know he’d sail past her after she got off the jeepney too early waving from the cab of a truck! Someone had taken pity on him and put the bike in the back of his truck to drive him to the shop rather than have him push it all the way. Dale offered him some money but the local insisted on nothing and bid him good luck. We both agree that here in the Philippines 90% of the people are super helpful and will go out their way to assist you if you look lost or have a problem which is one of the reasons we enjoy spending our time here so much.

By day 3 the rains had well and truly set in so we waited for a small break in the monsoon conditions and set out on the bike again. After the second unsuccessful attempt to find the waterfalls we managed to complete the 14 stations of the cross. This is a nice walk up the side of one of the volcanoes with statues at various intervals illustrating the 14 stages of Christ’s crucifixion. The views from the top are supposed to be quite spectacular but we didn’t really get to see this as the clouds were so low around the mountain! Nevermind, we enjoyed the walk nonetheless and Sophie took photos of each & every stage with the idea for a collage later on! We got some strange looks as we walked up as the heavens really had opened as soon as we took the first step and everyone else was coming down as we were going up!

Another activity was one Sophie had read about in the UK, this is a Giant Clam Sanctuary on the south of the island. Again this was done in a gloomy day but we found this visit both entertaining and informative and would recommend it if you do visit the island. They have a number of tanks where you can see various types of clams, some of which are really beautiful colours. Among other things we learnt that clams can live up to 100 years and that there are 20 species in the world. We also opted to do the guided snorkelling and even though the sea was quite cold we were really glad we did as we got to see 2,500 clams all lined up like something from the Aliens movie, it really was quite a sight. Sophie did laugh though when she asked the guide how old all these clams were, “we don’t know” he said “we are only breeding them”.. oh ok then! We were also taken for a 15 minute snorkel across some coral, nothing too amazing that we hadn’t seen before but we did spot the biggest sea snake we’ve ever seen which must have been over 1m long. Finally we got to see some more older clams, some were huge and again such beautiful colours we’d not noticed before when we’d seen them in the wild.

Because the weather was against us we decided to leave the island one day earlier than planned but this would not be before we crossed off the last two activities we really wanted to do. We’d spotted the perfect island of Mantigue on the way in from the ferry and after speaking to a few of the locals they said that this is hands down the best place to snorkel in Camiguin. With the rain lashing down we’d held out as long as we could in the hope that we’d be able to visit in the sunshine but it wasn’t to be so we had to just go for it.

When we got to the boat departure point we were the only people there and the boatmen gave us some funny looks when we said we wanted to go over to Mantigue (P550 per boat for up to 6 people + P20 each environmental fee). They explained that tourists didn’t generally want to go over when the sea was so rough and it was raining but they would still take us. We were initially a little concerned that the sea would be too rough but the boatman assured us it would be fine, he looked like he’d had a lot of experience so we trusted his word. We got a bit nervous again when we realised it wasn’t the experienced boatman who would be taking us but 2 teenagers who were just laughing that we were going… holding onto the banka for dear life we got out of the port area ok despite going out sideways to the oncoming waves and the rest of the 20 minute journey was actually ok, yes we got wet as the waves splashed over us but we were wearing our waterproofs so that didn’t bother us.

Mantigue really is a picture postcard perfect island with white sand all around and a forest of various trees in the middle. There are a few local fishermen who live here but aside from that it is deserted and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. You can do a small walk through the forest which in itself was quite interesting as the variety of trees is immense, I don’t think we saw the same tree twice in the 30minutes we walked though it. After exploring the forest we donned the snorkels and headed out to the coral, the water was pretty murky after being stirred up by the storm but we gave it a go and were certainly glad we did. Visibility was only about 5m but we managed to see a massive variety of fish we’d not seen before and the size of them was incredible, this seemed like the area for giant fish! There were a group of about 20 batfish which Dale had only ever seen diving before, the leader of these must have been about 60cm, there were huge ~1m sweetlips and finally a trigger fish who must have also been getting on for 1m.. we steered well clear of him as we didn’t’ fancy getting nipped by his big mouth! Although we were a little disappointed we hadn’t got to see this island and it’s surrounding reef in clear sunshine it was still worth the trip and we left glad we’d made the effort. Just a beautiful place we would certainly like to return to again.

Our final visit was to the sunken cemetery on the North West side of the island. We’d gone past 3 times before in previous days hoping to be able to snorkel there but it always looked too choppy to be safe. We’d already visited the 17th century Spanish Church a little further down the road a few days before, this is a church ruined by an eruption in 1871 which now houses a small chapel in it’s grounds. This eruption was also what caused the cemetery to fall below the sea level which is now known as the sunken cemetery. We both had visions of what this would like with Sophie getting especially excited about the chance of seeing skeletons and coffins.. of course it isn’t like this and had we thought about it more we really should have known better! 100+ years of being in the sea has turned this cemetery into a coral garden and the tombs are now quite difficult to make out as they are covered beyond recognition.

We were the only people snorkelling at this time and caused some more raised eyebrows as we got the boat over to the cross which is the marker for the cemetery but we carried on regardless. You can get into the water from the steps of the cross and the cemetery is located behind the cross marker itself. We swam around for 10 or 15 minutes seeing pretty corals and fish but after this time it was so cold we decided to get out. We were told the best time to snorkel here is at low tide, when we went the water was only about 6ft deep but at low tide it’s more like 5ft and the original cross of the cemetery emerges from the water.

Again we were glad we’d made the effort, sometimes you just have to make the best of things and with the chance you might never return to a place again it’s a real shame to always wish you’d done some of the things you’d travelled all that way to do. Unfortunately we had to miss out on the trip out to White Island because the boats would not go out but we managed to do all the other sights we really wanted to do so left very happy that we’d made the most of our time there.

This island really is a gem, even in the rain it’s a stunning place with the mountains raising up pretty much from the coastal road. We really enjoyed our time on here and can see why those in the know rave about it as it offers so much for such a small place and it will definitely be a highlight of our trip for us. Our plan to leave one day earlier was confirmed when we woke up to yet more torrential rain for our journey back to Dumaguete. The rain was so bad we even elected to pay for an expensive taxi (P350) to the port because we couldn’t face the thought of waiting around at the side of the road for a tricycle then again for a jeepney! Our journey back to Dumaguete was as above but in reverse and we were glad to see some slightly clearer skies when we returned to Bohol..

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1st March 2013

i was in Dumaguete last week and hoping I'd bump onto you (i knew you were still waiting for your camera to get fixed) hehe ...maybe next time :) i've been to camiguin but why are my photos not as beautiful as yours?! =P glad you enjoyed your visit. x

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