Saturday, May 26, 2012

A beach trip off the beaten track - Matnog, Sorsogon

Sorry for the overprocessing, I overexposed the shot.

There are some islands in Brgy. Calintaan, Matnog, Sorsogon Philippines that have always cropped up in conversations between my cousins and I about the best spots to go to that’s near my hometown. I have, with a flurry, explored the many great spots that litter the area around my beloved Gubat, Sorsogon. In a much, much longer post, I will tell you the tale of how, in about two years, I’ve gone to so many amazing places that, at most, are two hours removed from my ancestral home.

But for now let’s stick to what locals call, Subic Saday or Small Subic, which is in my opinion erroneously named because I think people in Matnog don’t know HOW MUCH better their beaches are than those in Subic, Pampanga.

To get there, you have to first travel to Matnog port, which is easily found by riding a Sorsogon-bound bus in Manila or taking a plane to Legazpi City and traveling by bus or public transportation (read: jeepney) first to Sorsogon then another jeepney ride to Matnog.

When you get to the port central, you’d imagine that you’d have to work through the hagglers usually seen in more well-known spots as Puerto Galera (Sir, pa-White Beach po? Sir may bangka na po kayo? Sir, dito po, paalis na, Tawaraw beach) or Cebu. Well, to some extent you get that, with people buzzing around obvious tourist jeeps and cars asking those same questions, but without the aggressive beat-you-to-submission sales shove. More like a gentle inquiry that stops once word gets out that you have arranged for boat services. People are so helpful here, with the boatmen we hired going the extra mile and accompanying us at the beach, even cooking the fresh fish we bought at the port for us!  To help you out, here’s a useful website full of tips and travel info on Matnog.

Crystal clear waters, I tell you

But the real draws here, which you will notice right from the get go as you leave the port, are the pristine waters and the virtually untouched islands that make for great snorkeling or even diving spots (forgetting your goggles or snorkeling gear will mean wasting a great opportunity to see breathtaking coral formations). You see these islands with their sheer rock edges and lush flora 10 minutes into the 20-30 minute boat ride, with some spots along the way having water so clear that, from the boat, you can see the underwater heaven they are home to 40, 50 feet below you.

The video below shows just how fresh and untouched the waters are, on the way to the Fish Sanctuary. Mind you, this is the kind of water clarity you can expect all the way to, and around the islands. I went there smack in the middle of summer, but I think I’ll go back there sometime later in the year, when it isn’t as busy, I’ll report back on the water quality then.

Sucks that you have to wear a vest.
They first take you to the Fish Sanctuary tucked inside a cluster of islands. A well-managed (tough some friends and cousins tell me that it wasn’t that well managed before) place that houses beautiful, colorful fishes of all shapes and sizes that you can swim with (depressingly, they will not let you snorkel or swim without a life vest) and who leap through the surface of the water when you feed them food you buy at the entrance. That, all by itself, would make for a good trip. Icing on the cake? They don’t charge an entrance fee. I assumed the costs where subsidized by the local government, but was reminded by our ever helpful boatman, Jordan, that it was private property and that the owners only make money off of the small store they run at the entrance. Wow.

And now, we get the thick of things: the island they call Subic. As a first timer, I went there without any information at all and was glad that the people there were helpful enough. In the video below, you’ll see that there are two beaches, both with the extremely fine white sand with specks of red. We went to the larger beach, mainly because of electricity. Now, some people who visited the island before told me that the smaller island without electricity offered up even more mind-boggling corals, but I had kids with me, so it was comfort before adventure.

But even if I wasn’t in the best beach in the area, I was still in the best beach I HAVE EVER BEEN TO. I’m no world weary traveler nor live-for-the-beach adventurer, but I hit the beach whenever I can. But man, this was the best beach trip I’ve ever had. You see, other places have clear waters, some have spectacular snorkeling and dive spots, others have fine sand that you just can’t help but roll in, some offer jaw-dropping views, while others had the value for money thing going for them. But rarely do you get two or three of them all at once. Some beaches have great views and corals but have rocky beaches that just sap the fun out of just wading in shallow waters. Some have great swimming beaches but have zero underwater flora and fauna. Some have everything but clear and safe beaches. Some have sucky locals who just want to rip you off of your last peso. Some are just great for pictures.

This beach had all of the things that make a great beach and then some.

Never mind the overweight, burned-to-a-crisp bald guy, look at the that fine sand
The sand was so invitingly fine that lounging around it consumed the afternoon hours of our stay, and that’s rare for a busybody like me. I don’t usually just lounge around when I go on trips, but it was soft, clean and warm, it’s powder consistency so inviting I had had to chill after all the swimming.

You get there and people don’t smother you with offers like in more famous beaches, they genuinely want to make your stay as fun and comfortable as it can be. Sure, the amenities are bare, and as I said, you have to tough it out, but the warmth and care of the people in the island more than make up for boring hotel tubs and room service. Air-conditioning? Nah. At one point, while we were out for a swim and left our drinking table alone, the people moved it, together with the chairs and finger food to a shaded place when the sun made our spot too hot to bare. I mean, man, talk about hospitality.

And for me, the most beautiful thing about these islands is that they have no beachfront bar or watersports services that befoul the more famous Philippine beaches. You can't go Banana-boat riding, para-sailing or reef walking here, you just get a beautiful beach with calm virgin waters and thriving ocean life. You get the minor inconveniences like a considerable jellyfish population (I still have tell-tale red marks all over my body one week after the trip) and lack of amenities, but if you are more than just a tourist, you'll really enjoy it here.

And the waters, the corals. Oh man. I’ll shut up now and let the pictures talk for me.
How's this for a view while drinking ice cold beer?

If you go here, make your boatman takes you to the caves around the island.
Tucked in the many enclaves around the islands are places like these.
The ocean life is just bursting with spell binding colors.

Contact my man Jordan (+639484123728), the son of a boat owner and tour-guide in the city and arrange your visit with him, he can hook you up. Now, some tips of my own. Since it’s kind of hard to reach, lugging around too much stuff on your way there can be an unnecessary pain, when you talk to Jordan, tell him I told you about the whole food thing since he told me that if people wanted to, they can shun the whole bring-your-own-food thing and just alert him to get fish straight off the boat, cook it for you any which way you want, also provide the rice and all so that all you need to bring are your personal stuff and water. Life vests are  a must and are really useful, you can rent some at 35 pesos a pop for the whole day. I don’t think you can rent snorkeling gear though, so bring your own.

Go here with as many friends and family as you can as that will seriously drive the costs down.

  1. Boat costs: (20-30 pax) 1,500-2,000 php for the day, 2,500php overnight.
  2. Fish here sell for anything from 120-200php per kilo straight off the boats in the Matnog pier.
  3. Bring tons of water and ice that you can buy from the pier city, as these are prime commodities in the island.
  4. B.Y.O.B – Bring your own booze.
  5. Strike a deal with the boatcrew to take you all around the islands. They’ll only ask you to pay for the additional fuel costs.
  6. Plan your trip on the weekdays or off-season so that you don’t have to jostle with people, we were only given 15 minutes in the Fish Sanctuary because of the pile up of boats filled with other tourists.
  7. If you plan to stay overnight, make sure you can abide without the amenities that you are used to, and people who did stay there overnight tell me that the mosquitoes are as big as cows and come at you in droves. Somehow, I think that’s an exaggeration.
  8. Lastly, man up, don’t expect this to be a head to toe pampering sort of a trip, this is more like see nature at its most pristine thing.

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