When my plan to climb Naga’s Mt Isarog fell to pieces I did what any good Australian would do. I went to a bar. I began talking to the wait staff to try and get some ideas about where to go for my remaining few days in the Philippines. The resounding answer was one that I had heard from a few other locals along the way which piqued my interest even more; island hopping the Caramoan islands.
If you’re a fan of the show ‘Survivor’, and more importantly watch either the French, Israeli or soon-to-be eastern European version then you may have heard of Caramoan. It’s a very remote, pristine collection of islands which sees very few foreigners. In a nutshell: my type of place. With that description, it’s not hard to believe that it is quite an effort to get from Naga to Caramoan. Starting at 6.30am, I took a two hour minibus to a small beach village where ‘Harry’ the ferry boat would take the 50 or so passengers 1.45hrs to the main port of the island, where another 20 minutes in a trike would finally land me in the small town center.
After a quick nap and a walk around the town I jumped on a motorbike for the 30 minute ride to the beach. For the moment, motorbikes are the only form of transport between the town and the beach due to an overweight truck attempting to cross the bridge collapsed it. Whilst sad news for the businesses trying to get supplies (the bar was almost out of beer!), it also means that motorbike drivers now own the market and can charge whatever they wanted.
Once at the beach I wandered around and every few meters was a group of smiling kids of all different ages saying hello starting a conversation with me. Families were having BBQ’s on the beach whilst their kids were swimming in the ocean and it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere. But it was hot, extremely hot. So, once again, I went to a bar. The staff at the bar were sleeping on the chairs and after ordering a beer and chatting to them for a while I decided to have a nap too. And no, sleeping bars isn’t something I do regularly, but they suggested it and, well, I was quite sleepy.
An hour later I woke up feeling refreshed and just hung out in the bar all afternoon reading, watching the ocean and just relaxing. It was great. Come dinner time a group of two Filipino’s from Naga and two Americans came to the bar and we decided to group together to save costs on island hopping the following day. Unfortunately, due to Survivor some of the islands had been closed off to the public, which meant we couldn’t go to the more popular/famous beaches. What we did see however was absolutely stunning and only makes me wonder what those other islands and beaches had to offer.
We set off at 8am in a small boat heading straight for the stormy gray skies on the horizon. It wasn’t looking good. The ride took about an hour through some big swells (relative to the boat size) and rain but finally, we were at the first beach. The water was clear, the sand soft and even the rain had passed leaving behind some very dramatic skies. Just beautiful. Wandering the shallow waters I spotted a few crabs, one who raised his little claws and started to aggressively circle me before deciding against an attack and instead chose to scuttle off. There were at least 30 starfish I spotted too, some of them mating – or at least I think they were mating, have a look.
After about 30 minutes we decided to head to the next island which was more picturesque and didn’t have locals trying to sell shells to us. This time however, we weren’t so lucky with the rain and after about 15 minutes thought it would be best to move on to the third island. About 300m from shore you could gaze through the blue waters and see the coral and sea grass below. Excited to check it out we asked the driver to stop and let three of us out to snorkel and swim to shore. I didn’t have a snorkel, or fins for that matter but it was still fun swimming around with my goggles and seeing what my camera could do underwater. Returning to the boat impressed with what I saw, especially considering the area isn’t known for its coral, it was time for lunch – grilled fish with rice and a simple soy/chili/lemon sauce. Delicious. I’d never eaten with my hands before, making this an entirely new and enjoyable (whilst at times frustrating) experience. There is just something about being able to feel the textures and smell the food in your hands as you eat it that makes it so great. After lunch we explored some of the islands closer to the beach we departed from which meant due to its accessibility, we weren’t the only (or one of two) boat(s) on the islands. The crowds were there for a reason, they were beautiful, and to get away from everyone we decided to swim around one of the islands to see what was underwater and saw some cool slugs, coral and fish before heading back to town at 4pm.
Island hopping is one of the quintessential experiences people describe to you when you ask them “what is there to do in the Philippines?”. Most tourists base themselves in the more popular areas like Boracay, however if you want something a lot more remote, untouched and far less touristy; head to Caramoan, the locals do.