It may be a cloudy day but the sheer beauty of Matnog's sand and sea still shines through.
On our recent trip to Sorsogon I was nearly bummed out when I woke up to the sound of rain on our second day. Rain may be a welcome relief to a hot and humid weather but no, not on my vacation! Especially on a vacation where I'm going to the beach!
But we were still pushing through, of course, because everything was already arranged by the staff of the very chic Siama Hotel. At least the rain started letting up by the time we boarded our van. We were headed for Matnog.
Since my childhood days I've known Matnog to be the southernmost point of Luzon where buses and trucks board a ferry going to Samar. For those traveling by bus, it's the gateway to the Visayas, and it's a route that I've plied at least twice in my life. But that was it.
Little did I know then that this small town is host to some charming little islands with white-sand beaches and surrounded by some really clear waters. Yes, there's more to the province of Sorsogon than whale shark-watching.
Busy morning in Matnog. In the background is one of those ferries taking passengers, vehicles, and cargo to Samar.
Outriggers at bay, waiting for their share of tourists, while kids nonchalantly play around, some asking visitors like us for money.
After about an hour's drive from Sorsogon City, we presented ourselves at the local tourism office in Matnog, where all visitors are required to pay a Php 70 fee before they can even hop on a boat. I learned that only registered boats (those with assigned numbers painted on their bows) can service tourists. There's also a tariff that they follow for boat charges. We were charged Php 1,600 for the basic island-hopping route.
There was no orientation whatsoever. They guy who issued the receipt simply handed us a black garbage bag; for our trash, he said.
Soon enough, we were off to the islands.
Never mind that local kids were relentless in asking for change, and who wouldn't let go of our boat even as the engine started roaring already (Sorry, but I was also relentless in not giving in to their pleas) because just a few meters out into sea, the view was already spectacular. The hilly terrain of Matnog was already a sight to behold but the mere presence of the glorious Mt Bulusan in the distance simply ups the wow factor.
Beautiful terrain jutting out into the sea. Would have loved to check it out up close.
That same piece of land, made even more beautiful by the Bulusan Volcano as backdrop.
We headed first to Tikling Island, which boasted of a small stretch of white sand beach that sloped drastically into the sea. The surrounding water near the beach was an enticing aquamarine hue that seemed to whisper for me to jump. But afraid we'll run out of cottages at Subic Beach, our main destination, we simply made a quick pass before speeding off to our next spot.
A couple of boats were docked at Tikling Island when we passed by.
So long, Tikling. Some other time, perhaps.
I was always checking out Bulusan in between islands. Much like with Mt Mayon in Legazpi City, I'm mesmerized.
Nestled between islets and mangroves, this spot enjoys some really calm waters that's almost glassy in appearance, and through which the corals down below are easily visible. The rock formations are nowhere near as tall as the limestone cliffs in Coron but are beautiful nonetheless. If it weren't for the Labor Day crowd, I reckon this would be a pleasantly quiet place.
On our way to the Juag fish sanctuary.
The water here is just so pristine. I mean, just look at it. This is still outside the sanctuary proper, though.
The marine sanctuary itself is private property, composed mainly of a lagoon whose perimeter is cordoned-off with nets and where several marine life are allowed to thrive, albeit in a controlled environment. The owner, according to people at Siama Hotel, has eventually welcomed visitors and is now offering fish-feeding and swimming with the fish as activities.
I was also told that -- though I haven't confirmed this -- they also sell fresh catch from the lagoon. Either way, Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary is like a glorified fish pond. But then let's not forget that it's private.
The main sanctuary is that cordoned-off area in the distance.
I love the water's varying hues of green and blue.
I really wanted to see the fish and all that but the snooty in me was turned off by the rowdy groups waiting in line to crowd over the small bamboo raft for the fish-feeding activity. Some other time, I guess.
Flat tire at sea
En route to our next stop our boat's propeller caught something that twisted it to total unusability. Good thing our boatman had a spare (Wow!). They sought help from another boat that towed us to shore so they can properly replace the propeller, which didn't take long, by the way. Too bad for the boatman but it was a new experience for me.
Another boat towed us to shore.
So this is how you replace a flat tire at sea. If you can see it, the broken propeller is at the bottom center of the photo.
No, this ain't the one in Olongapo but Subic Beach was the main reason why we picked this tour. It's got white sand strewn with pebbles and again, very clear waters. Never mind that I wasn't able to get a proper tan because the sun was shy but the beach itself did not disappoint.
This is Subic Liit (Little Subic), which we passed by going to the main beach.
Subic Beach is divided into two sections: the main beach Subic Daco (Big Subic) and a smaller stretch of sand called Subic Liit (Little Subic). It's no surprise that the main beach is the crowded and noisy one where cottages, sari-sari stores, and videoke machines abound. Subic Liit, on the other hand, is the quieter, and presumably more relaxing, alternative to all that chaos.
We were booked for lunch and a cottage at Subic Daco, though, but at least this was at the far end of the beach, so it wasn't crowded. This spot actually had a cluster of fan room and air-conditioned cottages for those wanting to stay overnight. At least I know we have a place to stay in case we decide on coming back in the future. However, I cringe at the thought of how proudly the owner declared he was building a pool there. I seriously hope he won't.
Elsewhere on the main beach, there are a couple of facilities that cater primarily to day-trippers. In addition to cottages and a host of different stores, there's a grilling station, restrooms and shower rooms, and even a tattoo pop-up shop.
A picture of serenity at Subic Daco...
...but that's until you see this.
Subic Beach is still fairly unspoiled. Fairly.
My beautiful Kwittiegirl enjoying her time at the beach. Like I said, we were on the far end of the beach, so it was less crowded.
Basic cottages are available for overnight stay here.
I'm happy that tourism brings jobs to people in places like Matnog but I'm also worried about their readiness in handling the growing influx of tourists. There may be trash bins along the beach (plus the trash bag from the tourism office) but there seems to be little consciousness among visitors as far as proper waste disposal goes. I saw a couple of discarded food packaging on the beach and a developing pile of garbage in one spot.
Tourists may the ones primarily at fault here but the local government and even owners of facilities on Subic are also partly to blame. Filipinos can be a stubborn lot and most of the time all it should take is a little enforcement and perhaps an iron will.
Maybe owners of cottages, stores, and the like could show a little more concern, too. I was aghast when a cottage owner said that cleaning up should be the local government's job because they were collecting Php 20 from visitors (apparently Php 20 of the Php 70 tourists pay serves as an environmental fee). Really?
A glimpse into the more crowded areas of Subic Beach.
The dreaded videoke, to where people with horrible singing voices flock.
Early warning signs of trash.
I still hope for the best, though.
Calintaan Sea Caves
After enjoying our short time at Subic Beach, we started our way back to the Matnog port area. We followed a different route this time since we had at least two more attractions to check out along the way, first of which were the Calintaan Sea Caves.
A study of contrasting colors.
Nature sure has its way of creating things, like these crevices carved by waves.
The caves are located just around the bend from Subic Beach. Formed by the force of waves and other elements over time, crevices like these are aplenty in the Philippines. They may not be as fantastic as, say, the Underground River in Palawan but these "little caves" do possess their own charm.
I spotted a couple more beaches along the way, though I couldn't tell from afar if these beaches were sandy or rocky. Our boatman proudly pointed to one beach and said he's from that area. He asked us if we wanted fresh coconut because we could make a quick stop. We politely declined, however.
Pockets of white-sand beaches are aplenty here. Our boatman offered a quick stop here for fresh coconut but we declined.
Bulusan quick check: still as beautiful as ever.
A small and dilapidated lighthouse was our last stop for the day. Our boatman kept on asking us if we wanted to check out the "house light" (of course he meant lighthouse) and eventually we said okay. It's a little out of the way from the usual Matnog island-hopping circuit and you'll be asked for a little extra if you want your boatman to take you there.
The lighthouse itself appears to be in a non-working state already. It's built on a small rocky outcrop of land in the middle of the sea. It's just there, all alone at sea. Our lazy group didn't bother setting foot anymore, and so our boat simply circled around it instead. On one side, however, the lighthouse enjoys an impressive backdrop of hills, mountains, and the Bulusan Volcano.
The small and worn-out lighthouse, alone at sea.
It's not much, really, but when viewed at certain angles the lighthouse offers great opportunities for photographs.
Save for the roaring noise of the boat engine, the rest of our trip back to the port area was a relaxing one. It was nice to just stare quietly out into blues and greens. Later I found myself snapping photos of Mt Bulusan again.
It definitely was a good experience.
By air + land
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific/Tiger Air operate multiple daily flights to Legazpi City from Manila, Cebu, and other select domestic locations.
Matnog is around 3-4 hours from Legazpi. Get yourself to the Legazpi City Central Terminal first via tricycle. I'm not sure if there are any UV Express Vans going straight to Matnog but there are such vans and buses going to Sorsogon City. From Sorsogon there are jeepneys that can take you to Matnog.
This is the simplest, though not necessarily the most convenient, way to get to Matnog. Several bus companies in Cubao and Pasay ply the Manila-Matnog route. But since the trip will take you 12 hours or more, I suggest getting a night bus. You can check and book online with Pinoy Travel.