Minaogan Fish Port
I wonder if the universe had conspired to demur me to the last bit of my patience and sanity, from reaching the promised paradise I have been longing to set foot on for so long. Sure every traveler suffers setbacks and challenges while on the road and this was nothing new for me. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was pure coincidence that one mishap after another was being laid in my way or if I was being tested as to how much misfortune I could take before finally reaching breaking point and forgetting about my Do It Yourself trip to the famed Calaguas Islands.
It all started with missing our bus en route to Daet. The overnight bus trip would have been perfect for our haphazardly made itinerary. It would have taken us to the town proper early in the morning and given us ample time to prepare and shop for our food supplies before catching the passenger boat from Minaogan Port at Vinzons. Instead, my sister and I found ourselves haggling with the driver of a colorum bus parked outside the Philtranco Bus Terminal in Pasay. The Naga bound bus wouldn’t go through Daet, but we decided a series of cumbersome transfers was more desirable than delaying our trip for another day.
Seated bolt upright in a cramped non-air conditioned bus, I tried to get some much needed shut-eye as our bus barrelled along the familiar windy road I had grown accustomed to after countless trips between Manila and my hometown in Albay. After 6 hours of sleepless bus ride, we found ourselves under a waiting shed at the fork that leads to Daet on the left and Naga City on the right. We were dropped off at Barangay Tabugon in Sta Elena at half past four in the morning and were greeted by two bored teenage boys who were busy fiddling with their phones while waiting for their mother who would be arriving from Manila as well.
It was cold and still dark and the thought of passing the time waiting beside the highway until the next bus bound for Daet arrived suddenly didn’t seem appealing to me. I really wanted to be at the jump-off point as early as possible and I reckoned it would save us time if we continued with our journey ASAP. A few minutes later, one of the drivers of the tricycles parked on the other side of the road approached us and offered to take us to Sta Elena town proper. He said there was a jeepney there that leaves for Daet around 5 in the morning and it would only take thirty minutes and 120 pesos for us to go there.
Accepting his offer led to another unfortunate and budget-hurting decision. The jeepney didn’t really leave until six in the morning, and by the time it did, the bus had already arrived at Sta Elena. We should have waited back in Barangay Tabugon and saved a few pesos and a few hours of travel time. The jeepney we took cruised along the road as if it was a school bus picking up students from every village along the way. On the brighter side of things, the unhurried procession to our destination gave me a chance to get a good glimpse of the countryside. After all it was my first time to set foot in Camarines Norte.
Buried deep in thought, I suddenly remembered the route via Paracale. It would probably save us some time so I promptly asked the driver to drop us at Barangay Talobatib instead. Unfortunately, it was too late and we were way past it. After almost 2 hours jeepney ride, we finally reached Daet and alighted at the jeepney terminal. From here, it was a short 20-minute ride to Vinzons market where we stocked up on fresh fruits and bottled water. Good thing the lady we met on the way to Vinzons had tipped us that the tricycle ride from the market to Minaogan Fish Port cost 8.00 pesos per person only. It saved us a few bucks from getting ripped off by “special trip” only drivers who prey on unsuspecting tourists.
With Ate Vicky and other locals aboard the passenger boat.
We made it to the fish port around nine in the morning and it didn’t take long before a horde of boatmen approached us offering to take us to Calaguas. But we were firm about our decision – we will take the passenger boat. It only costs 60 pesos to go to Barangay Banocboc and from there the boat rental to Halabang Baybay or Mahabang Buhangin (Long Shore) would be way cheaper. I can understand now why going to Calaguas could be quite pricey especially if you’re a small group and you would rent your own boat. The boat rental now starts from 5000 pesos to 10,000 pesos and while you might find small boats that ask for a lesser fee, the stress and discomfort of braving the rough waves of the Pacific wasn’t worth it for me.
Even while passing time between the internet shop and the karaoke joint near the port, my eyes were constantly fixed on the only passenger boat currently loading up with baggage and crates of ice. It was almost 11:00 and I was starting to get impatient. Suddenly, I overheard someone saying that the boat was already overloaded and won’t be accepting passengers anymore. I was so dismayed and even thought there was a conspiracy between these boatmen so we would be forced to rent our own boat. I could not believe it was all happening. I started to suspect I was being punished or perhaps it was a sign that I should visit church more often than just special occasions.
We contemplated renting a boat, but luckily another passenger boat opened up miraculously. We squeezed ourselves into the boat and didn’t even wait for the loading of crates and baggage to finish up. I wasn’t taking any chances this time. After waiting for two hours (which seemed like eternity) we finally left the port around 1:00pm. It was such a great relief to be finally cruising along the dark mossy green river and the refreshing palm trees – at least for 30 minutes, that is! It was already low tide when we left the port so we got stuck in the middle of the river before even reaching its mouth towards the open sea. Perfect!
And so we waited and waited for hours for the ebb of my luck to return again and finally transport us to the open sea. It was 3 hours of pure boredom in the middle of nowhere, but surprisingly it didn’t annoy me anymore. In fact I took it as an opportunity to catch up on my sleep, plot my next destination and have a chit-chat with the locals, which proved to be fruitful later on. Nothing could really dampen my spirit anymore. Bring it on!
Around 4:00 in the afternoon our boatman decided it was time to write our own faith and actually do something about our situation. He and his boys jumped in the water and started pushing the boat to the deeper part of the river. And I thought pushing and towing vehicles happens only on land. With a bit of heaving and pushing and a mix of grunting and cheers from the anxious passengers, we finally made it out of the river… and our adventure finally started!
It was to this date the roughest boat ride I have yet experienced and I was so glad we had chosen the big passenger boat over the small outrigger bancas. The waves were huge and I learned a bit too late why everyone was wrapped cosily inside an improvised plastic raincoats and why Ate Vicky offered her umbrella to me. The constant splash of cold water didn’t bother me though, nor the hot plywood just above the boat’s engine where I was sitting. It was how our boat swiftly and smoothly glided over the long and tall waves that made me gasp and exclaim for nearly two hours. I have a new definition now of rough boat rides and our sojourn to Calaguas had totally overtaken my nerve wracking voyage around the Polillo Group of Islands.
After our unpleasant boat ride, I wasn’t so keen anymore on braving the sea in the dark towards Mahabang Buhangin. My sister and I agreed to camp at Barangay Banocboc for the night and head to the beach the next day. We really had no idea where to pitch our tent there but that didn’t worry me at all. Our luck hadn’t completely run out though. Ate Vicky had been convincing us from the time we got stuck in the middle of the river to camp near her place in Sogod, a sitio of Barangay Banocboc. She said there was no one to look after us in Barangay Banocboc and most of the barangay officials live in Sogod.
Tired and hungry, we finally agreed to her generous offer. She also offered to find us a boat that would take us to Mahabang Buhangin, which was less than an hour from Sogod. We hurriedly pitched our tent on the balcony of her other house which was currently being built. It didn’t take long before curious onlookers and little kids started to surround us probably wondering what the heck these two crazy girls were doing in their place. But just when we were about to settle in our tent for the night, Ate Vicky’s mother in law came by asking us to move into her house. She didn’t leave us until we finally agreed to her offer. She gave us a nice place to sleep and prepared food for us even though we had declined a thousand times and had told her that we were self-sufficient for at least two nights of camping.
This was one of the reasons why I was never scared of going to far-flung places with no knowledge of accommodation or things to expect. I have always believed in the kindness and generosity of the people and I have proved that in many of my trips. As long as you come to their place humble and respectful, people will often offer you much more than what you are asking for. I was challenging myself to spend only 2500 pesos on this whole trip and it was great to have free accommodation at least on our first night, but I still left Lola Auring a small amount. It was nothing big to pay back her generosity but we were overwhelmed by their kindness and willingness to help strangers like we were their own daughters.
After a restful sleep, we were picked up by our boatman the next day and together with Ate Vicky, we finally set out to our final destination. It was a whole different adventure and definitely deserves its own separate blogpost.
It may have taken me 3 years to reach this paradise since I first learned about Calaguas and longed to set foot on it, but our meeting was nothing short of admiration, ecstasy and fulfillment. All the troubles we had gone through made it all the more rewarding. At last, I see you Calaguas!
To be continued…