Resilient and Raw in Catanduanes

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos are known for having positive attitudes. Whether they play their cards right, or when they are dealt with the wrong cards, they pick themselves up and move on.

No one best exemplifies this resiliency than the Catandueños, natives of Catanduanes, a province situated in the eastern tip of the Philippine peninsula. The constant battering the island gets from the monsoons coming in from the vast Pacific Ocean spawned the nickname "The land of the howling wind."

Despite having to brave through one calamity after another, Catandueños have not only survived but thrived, and are living harmoniously with their rich land. Ironically, it is because of this environmental conditions, that the island is blessed with arguably some of the most pristine beaches and unspoiled terrains in the Philippines.

Surf the turf

The only sure thing that comes out from a collision between strong tides and land are powerful waves. And when wave after wave start to batter the shore, there are only two things to do: Go inside and stay dry or meet the water head on and surf!

Waves hit the island virtually year round because of the open waters of the Pacific in the east. However, from September to November, that's when the world class surf waves hit the shores of Catanduanes. During this season, surfers from around the world gather in Puraran Beach, the best surf spot in the island.

About one to two hours drive from Virac in the municipality of Baras, Puraran Beach produces some of the best surfs in the world now dubbed as the “Majestic Waves.” When winds start to blow offshore and meet the breaking tides, long powerful barreling waves are produced in this island that are perfect for seasoned surfers.

Of tropical foliage, lost camps and phallic myths

En route to the municipality of Bagamanoc, a three hour drive north from Virac, the province’s landscape showcases the rich diversity of the island. The road from the coastal communities to the rural farmlands, all the way to the inland shrouded by dense tropical foliage, cuts across the rolling terrains of Catanduanes. This helps people achieve a sense of connection with the land.

Just offshore of the Bagamanoc coast is a landmark dubbed as “Boto ni Kurakog” that rises about five meters from the water’s surface. The formation resembles the figure of a male organ, which the locals believe to belong to a giant named Kurakog, who had his body washed away by the waves leaving only that part behind.

As amusing as the stories behind the place is, the real beauty of Bagamanoc is even more amazing. A short boat ride away is a hidden beach that personifies the quiet splendor of the province. At the tip of Panay Island, in the far-flung barangay of Quigaray is Loran beach. Loran, which stands for Long Range Aid to Navigation, is an American base built around the early 1950s as an outpost to monitor movements in the Pacific. Abandoned in 1960, the camp was then used by local coastguards in 1980 and was again abandoned.

The beach, which is a short walk from the drop-off point, has white sands that lead to a stairway up a hill where the base’s structures are located. From there, a marvelous view of the Pacific’s turquoise waters crashing against the shoreline is more than enough to compensate for the long journey.

Withstanding time and the elements

Closer to the province’s center is a structure that embodies the resiliency of the Catandueños. Bato Church, which lies at the banks of the Bato River, represents the toughness of the place and its people. Enduring the constant battering of nature since the 1800s, this holy place stands steadfast, outlasting all other structures in the island province.

The outer façade of the church shows its age in the moss and fern that cling to its walls of mortar and coral lime stones. The perimeter of the church is a spiritual space while the interior resonates with years of worship, from the tainted window panes to the arched entrances. Although the church is currently under renovation, traces of its age can be seen on its walls.

Where to stay:

Southeast of Virac, on the tip of Cabugao Bay is the Twin Rocks Beach Resort. The cove has a stretch of white sand beach marked by rock formations on both ends, like sentinels on the pristine waters.

Aside from its natural beauty, the resort offers attractions and activities for those looking for a more adventurous outing. Ziplines, wall climbing, obstacle courses, rappelling as well as an all-terrain vehicle ride are just some of the land activities, while Snorkeling, kayaking and Jet Ski rides are also available.

How to get there:

By Air

Both Cebu Pacific and Zest Air offer flights to Virac, Catanduanes, every Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

By Land and Sea

Air-conditioned buses travel direct from Manila to Virac daily while other buses can take you from Manila to the Port of Tabaco, where a ferry boat can take you across to Virac, Catanduanes.

May 24, 2011, 8:36am