Caramoan Lucky 13: 13 Hours, 13 People, 13 Islands

Wednesday, December 05, 2012Ryan Mach

The fact that I believe in premonitions, bad omens and lucky stuff makes me a little superstitious. It's a bad habit, I know, but I just can't help it sometimes. I can't count the times I canceled or backed out from a trip just because something didn't feel right. An irrational fear that's holding me back doesn't sound logical especially to my travel buddies who are expecting my attendance. Oddly enough, most of my hunches were just simply a hunch. And I always end up feeling regretful while looking at the photos of the excursion/out-of-town getaway which I should have been part of.

Upon getting the total headcount of the people who were sure to go to Caramoan, I slightly panicked and thought about making an alibi to excuse myself from pushing through with the trip. We were 13! In my book, that's a red flag. It didn't feel like a coincidence, not to me anyway. But I had to shake off the feeling of doubt and apprehension, it's childish and counterproductive. After all, I was tasked to do the travel logistics which included doing the itinerary, making bus reservations and looking for an accommodation. If I'd weasel my way out, I'm sure my friends would have a hard time forgiving me.

 It turned out that Number 13 had a lucky charm. Our trip couldn't be more perfect than it was. The weather was lovely, the food was great, our home-stay exceptional and our island hopping tour beyond fantastic.

13 Hours: Manila to Caramoan
The trip to Caramoan from Manila via land travel takes approximately 13 long hours, without delays, that is. It includes a 9-hour bus ride (Manila-Naga), 2-hour van transfer (Naga-Sabang) and another 2-hour boat ride (Sabang-Guijalo). Taking this into consideration, it's unwise to spend a day in Caramoan because the travel part alone can take a considerable amount of time. 3Day and 2Nights is perhaps the most ideal time-frame to fully experience Caramoan.
The last time we went to Caramoan, it took us 16 hours (as opposed to the maximum 13-hour total travel time) because the bus we boarded on wasn't very reliable. I was kind of surprised this time when we arrived in Naga 9 hours later without any hiccups(the bus left from Cubao at 5:30pm the previous day). Suffice it is to say that the bus line you choose will play a huge factor in your itinerary. If it messes up with your schedule, then expect some delay. You don't want delays because you want to maximize your stay in Caramoan.
Cagsawa Tours, Penafrancia and Isarog are some of those reliable bus companies that have daily trips to Naga. We chose Cagsawa (thanks to a colleague's suggestion) because it has the earliest evening trip (5:30pm). We were not disappointed - its Royale Class (Php750) was comfortable and had plenty of leg room; we didn't encounter any delays on the road, the temperature inside the bus wasn't too cold and we had a stop-over in Tiaong, Quezon with comfort rooms that were surprisingly clean.

We were the only passengers who were dropping off in Naga. The bus was bound for Legazpi so we told the crew who was wearing a nice chaleco to wake us once we've reached our destination. Wake us he did right after the bus halted on the side of the road in Naga. We scrambled and groggily hurried to get off the bus. A group of tricycle drivers greeted us as soon as we hopped out. A fellow passenger aboard Cagsawa advised me that the regular tricycle fare to the van terminal is Php7.00 so when the drivers told us they're charging 20 pesos per person, we told them pointblank that it's too expensive. They counter-argued that 7.00 is for regular hours. Fair enough, it's 2:30 in the morning and it's cold outside. We agreed at 15.00.
The van terminal is located a few meters away from SM Naga. It's pretty much a walking distance from the bus terminal. Unfortunately, Cagsawa Tours don't have direct trips to Naga so they drop their passengers off the highway, which is several blocks away from the van terminal. First trip is normally scheduled at 4AM but since we came in a large group, they're willing to transport us to Sabang even if it's too early.

Our driver was a kind soul who didn't mind fetching some of our travel companions at CWC. He didn't mind either when we told him we needed to withdraw cash from any available ATM along the way.
Thanks to his favorable sense of urgency, we were able to reach Sabang before the first boat trip to Guijalo(5:30AM). We even had time to have quick breakfast at the port while waiting for boarding. We reveled in the panoramic view brought about by the sunrise.

It was close to 8AM when we finally docked at Guijalo Port, where an L300 was waiting for our arrival. The excitement and elation we felt brushed off any fatigue we might be feeling. It felt good to have arrived at our destination on time, safe and sound.

13 People: Great Company
Side trip at CWC
I've always believed that your travel companions play an important factor in your travel experience as they can influence the journey by either enriching it or ruining the whole thing. I've been with a not so good company in my past travels and they basically made the trip memorable for the wrong reason. My travel buddies in Caramoan were possibly the best bunch I had in quite a while. They're fun, quirky and adventure-hungry. I've traveled and climbed with some of them and they proved to be extremely lovable. Suffice it is to say that they're one of the reasons this trip rocked.

7 Out of 13 Islands

Three days and two nights isn't probably enough to visit and explore all islands that comprise the Caramoan Peninsula. There are about 13 islands, give or take, scattered around Paniman, a small village in Caramoan that serves as the drop-off point for the island hopping tour. During off-peak season (read: no Survivor filming), all of these islands are accessible to public as long as the weather's fine and sea is not too choppy. The waves in Caramoan sea can get extremely nasty on monsoon months and stormy days that sailing under a bad weather condition can be considered as an act of suicide.
Cotivas Island
Locals say that some decades ago, Caramoan was constantly battered down by strong typhoons. The sea got much tamer after the Shrine of Holy Rosary was erected on top of a hill in Tapgon.  The craggy and jagged rock formations on most islands are glaring proof that this section of Bicolandia had gotten some serious beating from tumultuous waves coming all the way from the Pacific Ocean. Even on a fine, sunny day, the current can still get dangerous. We were on our way to Tinago Island where a gorgeous twin lagoon can be found when our boat was crashed by huge waves on both sides, making it sway precariously and sending some of our companions to tears. We ended up going back.
Lahus Island
Out of 13 islands listed in our itinerary, we got to visit only 7, namely; Cotivas, Manlawi, Sabitang-Laya, Matukad, Lahus, Hunungan and Gota. It will take 5 days, tops, to experience all 13 islands. Unfortunately, we can't afford a 5-day vacation. But we're not complaining, 3 days, however short it might seem, was enough for us. We couldn't be more thankful to have been blessed with a lovely weather which made our island hopping a perfect experience. We were also lucky to have scored an exceptional homestay that provided excellent service and great food. The best experience that only this homestay can provide was free access to Gota Beach, a private beach resort in Caramoan where VIPs and producers of the famous reality TV show Survivor stayed during the filming. They have awesome connections, to say the least. (I can refer you to them if you're interested, just send me a message).
Gota Beach

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