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Exploring Calaguas: Surreal, So Real

Karla Rey explores Calaguas, a group of islands in Camarines Norte whose beauty lies in its near-pristine condition.


Amazing photos have been circulating about this beach bum's destination off the Pacific coast of Camarines Norte. Simply referred to as Calaguas, this group of islands has been dubbed by adventure-seekers as the Bicol region's Boracay as early as 25 years ago. Could this be true? Fleeing the pollution of Manila, my friends and I hopped on a bus, and several hours (and a boat ride) later, found our way to what indeed was a beautiful, almost sacred place that put all our doubts to rest.

For a group of budget travelers, the cheapest way to get to Calaguas from Manila is to take an 8-hour bus trip from Manila to Vinzons, which is in Daet, Camarines Norte's main town. A word of caution: choose the most comfortable bus your budget will allow. There are a couple of bus lines plying this route and the rule of thumb is to choose a bus with ultra comfortable seats and plenty of legroom. It will definitely pay off because on a bad day, the usual 8-hour travel can stretch to a 10-hour trip. A faster option is to go by plane from Manila to Naga City. From the airport, you have to go to the Central Terminal where there are vans that take the Naga-Daet route, roughly a two-hour drive to Vinzons. Head to the Vinzons fishport where you can haggle for the price of a boat to take you to Calaguas. Prices begin at P4500 for 4 to 5 people. The roundtrip boat price will depend on its capacity, too. For a DIY trip, you have to bring food, refreshments, a tent, and other equipment you need to camp as there are no hostels or inns on Mahabang Buhangin, the island that has become the poster child of Calaguas. Visitors coming to this island, even through organized tours, have to pitch tents on the shore.

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The boat ride from the fish port to Calaguas Islands is half the fun of the whole trip. The two-hour boat ride can be an adventure in itself, depending on the waters. So despite the venerable skills of the fishermen maneuvering the boat and the durability of these vessels, it is still highly recommended that passengers strap a life vest on for the duration of the boat ride. It is also important to secure all your electronic gadgets like cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players in a waterproof, tight pouch. The occasional splash of waves on your face every time your boat meets a big wave is reason enough to do so.

Seeing the glistening white shore of Mahabang Buhangin, which translates to long beach, is like a balm to the soul. There are flags of various colors waving welcome that mark the island's shoreline and some bamboo shelters camouflaged in the background. The island is almost virginal, with crystalline waters gently lapping on the white sand beach against a lush green landscape. After the boat ride, which is scenic but can be long if you are taking it for the first time, the powdery sand in between your toes feels divine. Though breathtaking in its beauty, its present state is not for the traveler accustomed to five-star accommodation and pampering. There is, however, a basic toilet bowl and deep well. So if your goal is communion with nature, this is the place to be.

 

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Going Alone:

For a worry-free trip or if you are not traveling with a group (doing a solo Calaguas trip will be more expensive), you can sign up for tours organized by locals like Melvic Brinas. A 2D/1N package, is affordably priced at P3,200, which includes a round trip (Manila-Daet-Manila) bus ticket or P2,000 without the bus ticket. This package already includes:

* Land Transfers (A/C VAN) from the bus terminal in Daet to the port

* Boat transfers to and from Mahabang Buhangin (island hopping is a separate fee)
* Tent accommodation on the island
* All camp meals (note that breakfast on first day and dinner on last day are not included)
* Life jackets

* Environmental fees

The package also come with the following freebies:
* Complimentary drinks
* Basic surfing land lesson (surf board rental and instructor are not included)
* Basic skim boarding lesson
* Free use of skim board
* Free use of body board

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