IF your thoughts of summer don’t necessarily translate to sun and sand, and you’d much rather steer clear of the horde of beachcombers, then Camarines Norte (or Cam Norte) in the Bicol region might just be the perfect vacation place for you.
Roughly 343 km southeast of Manila and often bypassed by tourists on their way to wakeboarding in Cam Sur or cavorting with the whale sharks in Sorsogon, this laid-back destination has a lot to offer – cultural gems, world-class surfing spots, off the beaten path adventures and virtually untouched islands.
Now if you think that sounds just like a perfect summer vacation, here’s a guide on what you can do should you decide to head for and explore this down-to-earth province:
1. Conquer Calaguas. Described as pristine, undiscovered and breathtakingly beautiful, the Calaguas group of islands offers a hidden paradise. The main island, known as Mahabang Buhangin (Long Beach), has a kilometer-long stretch of sparkling powder-fine white sand and cool, sparkling emerald waters.
The elusive island (reached only by a two-hour boat ride through open seas) has no resorts or tourist infrastructure. Guests can stay overnight, but only if they’re ready to pitch their own tents and camp under the stars while dining on freshly caught seafood.
Tourism officials say it’s best to visit Calaguas between the months of February to September. Unfortunately, the rainy weather during our visit early February made it impossible for us to camp overnight on the island as we had planned. But based on pictures alone and the rave reviews of people who have been there, conquering Calaguas is definitely one reason for me to go back to Cam Norte this summer.
2. Learn to surf. Bagasbas Beach in Daet has long been a surfing destination because of its consistent waves through the year, earning for it the 62nd slot among top surfing spots in the world. Provincial Tourism Office head Atty. Debee Francisco says foreigners have been coming to surf at their shores since the 1970s. Joey Cuerdo, who organizes surfing clinics, adds that Bagasbas is strategically located because of its accessibility by land from Manila, unlike other surfing spots that require air travel.
“The beach is ideal for surfing beginners. The bottom is sandy and unti-unti yung lalim niya [it slopes gently] so it’s not dangerous. The beach is also very wide so there’s enough room for the learners and they don’t get in each other’s way,” says Cuerdo.
The Bagasbas Summer Surf, which is currently on its fourth year, will be held in April (tentatively the weekend after Easter). For a P500 participation fee (which includes a free event shirt and pair of Mojo sandals), visitors can get surfing lessons and enjoy other activities like beach volleyball, wall climbing, frisbee and dodgeball.
3. Ride a kite on the water. Another extreme sport making waves (literally) is kite surfing or kiteboarding, which combines the skills of surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and wakeboarding through the water, along with flying a kite.
According to Daet Mayor Tito Sarion, the international sporting event aims to promote Daet as a sports tourism destination. They recently concluded the 3rd Daet Kiteboarding International Fest last December, with tourists and athletes from different countries converging on Bagasbas beach.
Kiteboarding lessons are offered at Mike’s Kiteboarding Resort along Bagasbas beach for those who want to try this “not-for-the-weak” sport. The northeast monsoon season from November to March is an ideal time for kitesurfing. For rates and rental fees, check out www.mikes-kites.com
4. Go fiesta-hopping. This year, the province is also celebrating the 400th year of Daet’s first three parishes. Celebrations kicked off last February 2 at the Nuestra Señora de Candelaria Church in the town of Paracale, which was founded by Fransiscan missionaries in 1581 and assigned a minister in 1611.
As guests of Gov. Egay Tallado, we witnessed religious celebrations at the Spanish-era church complemented by the Pabirik Festival and street dancing depicting the town’s lucrative gold mining industry. Aside from other celebrations to be held at the St. John the Baptist Parish in Daet on June 24 and St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Vinzons on June 29 this year, Cam Norte also has several other notable fiestas lined up.
The province-wide Bantayog Festival (named after the first Rizal monument built in the country which is Daet’s main landmark) will be held on April 15 while the Pinyasan Festival (celebrating the sweet “Queen” pineapple which is one of the province’s major products) will be held on June 24. If you’re interested in historic churches or street photography, schedule your trip around these dates to witness a fiesta with truly local flair.
5. Load up on local delicacies. Like other provinces in the Bicol region, Cam Norte specializes in pili and food cooked in gata (coconut milk) like laing, tinuktok (ground shrimp or crab wrapped in gabi leaves and cooked in gata), and kinunot (manta ray or shark meat cooked in coconut milk). The nautical-inspired Catherine’s Restaurant offers delicious versions of these as well as other familiar dishes like tapsilog (P85), grilled fish with mango salsa (P145) and fresh fruit shakes (P65). Other popular restaurants in Daet include Central Plaza Restaurant for Chinese cuisine, King Fisher Restaurant for seafood and Kusina ni Angel for home-cooked fare.
Keep a eye out for angko, delectable sticky rice balls filled with peanuts and minatamis (which I thought tasted like peanut butter or chocnut). This kakanin, a specialty of Vinzons town, costs P12 for a pack of five. A travel writer in our group (who wolfed down several packs of this in one sitting during our first dinner), said he won’t leave for Manila without buying lots of this pasalubong on our long drive back.
From snorkeling in Quinamanukan Island (Talisay), caving in Cadig cave (Labo), or hiking to several waterfalls, Cam Norte invites you to take your time.
While not everyone might enjoy trekking for 7 hours through hanging bridges and rugged mountains in the rain just to swim at the foot of a waterfall, for me, this road less traveled holds more appeal than the noisiest beach party. But that’s another story. •
For travel arrangements, contact the Camarines Norte Provincial Tourism Office at (054) 721-3087 or email [email protected]