The Central Cave is a massive dome underneath a karst mountain in Samar. Inside this vast, silent realm are sparkling formations of immense beauty.
The towering columns, massive flowstone curtains, walls of speleothem formations and still-growing stalagmites are embedded with gypsum crystals.
Those are also translucent, the reason they glow when you shine a light from behind. Such is a true sign of their state: raw, pure and immaculate.
Hence, you’ll see some in actual geological process. Like the stalactite and stalagmite growing into a column with a few more drops or the drapery developing lines of hard rock within its length.
Thanks significantly to its inaccessibility, this domain is preserved. You have to tread carefully, both for safety and its preservation. Even the lightest touch can destroy those precious rock formations.
To get there, you must have Joni “the cave master” Bonifacio as the guide. He knows best this cave for he has discovered and explored it with Elezar Labtic of Huplag Speleologists.
Caving with the master means learning techniques, like single rope technique (SRT). You’ll need this since it requires vertical caving.
Yes, the entrance to and exit from this cave is a sinkhole.
Sorsogon is home to successful ecotourism sites, such as the community-based, NGO-funded wildlife interactions in Donsol and the DENR-managed Bulusan Volcano Natural Park. Recently, new additions followed suit through individual and group efforts.
These include the agri-tourism site Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm in Bulusan and the non-profit organization Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp in Gubat.
Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm
It is a techno-demo farm for backyard beekeeping using kiwot (stingless bees). The technology aids in trasferring these Philippine native bees from the wild to community areas for pollination and production of honey, pollen and propolis.
There’s no need to go to the forest and burn trees for honey. It prompts conservation of endemic trees too especially those attract native bees. At the farm, two scarce local trees it is propagating now are palali and petroleum nut tree.
Why Stingless Bees
The stingless kiwot bees are abundant in the wild. It’s eight species add to the mix of pollinators in the environment, preventing us from experiencing the global bee crisis called colony collapse disorder.
These bees are now considered the key remaining pollinators in certain regions, writes author, researcher and member of a beekeeping society Julian Wright on his website, which deals on pollination in the country. They are “appreciated as a valuable pollinator for a range of crops.”
The UPLB Bee Program, headed by Dr. Cleofas Cervancia, has been using the kiwot bees for large-scale pollination of high-value crops like mango, lanzones and rambutan in certain communities in Luzon.
Kiwot bees have all the features of a honeybee, except the sting. Because pollen serves as their food, they also pollinate the flowers they visit. For these and the abovementioned reasons, it makes production affordable than with imported bees. It is safer too, given the lack of sting and farmers can sell hives as well.
Stingless bees are number one pollinators of mango, said Cervancia in an interview for a government TV network. In Bicol, it increases yields of pili nut and other crops. Luz Gamba, the farm’s owner, said in the same TV interview how not only their crops get pollinated but also the crops of neighbor farms.
Gamba is one of the collaborators in this program, which addresses certain needs of a community. Where she had a hard time starting, it helped fill the gap when technologies and training for their proper use (including of honey harvesting) were made available. Now, the farm is earning and getting known including to researchers.
Bees produce products like honey, pollen, wax and propolis. Propolis is a high-value clinical ingredient; and in the Philippines, it is a component of soap, toothpaste and shampoo. The farm now has honey products and another demo farm in Guinobatan produces pollen. The program’s participatory approach creates livelihood in the community.
Incidentally, it attracts tourists and researchers too that the farm has huts and other types of accommodations for visitors that want to stay overnight. It also used honey in cooking meals for guests.
National Economic Benefits
Stingless bees produce a high amount of propolis, which is rich in anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Inquiries from China and Japan are a chance to penetrate global market through propolis and stingless bee exportation.
In the meantime, this increase in local production narrows the gap between imported products and locally made. Thanks to the increasing awareness of bee products and in backyard beekeeping as a sustainable livelihood for farmers and the community.
As a Tourist Attraction
It offers a farm living experience in a serene and nature-calming environment. The Mount Bulusan is visible at the farm and the thick rainforest that surrounds it. There is a natural spring pool where water comes from Bulusan Lake and a fishing pond too.
If the need for adrenaline rush beckons, there are outdoor activities to try nearby. These include kayaking at Bulusan Lake, hiking at Mt. Bulusan, dipping in hot springs and surfing in Gubat – the next featured destination in this article.
Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp
The Rizal Beach in Gubat attracts tourists for surfing. A group of grateful surfers turned a part of this beach, which was a deadly area, into a thriving tourist destination.
Its mantra: pure fun, healthy eats and clean, simple living. There, visitors have the beach for the playground; the two-floor modest huts for accommodation; the beachfront detox area for idling sans drinking and smoking.
As an ecotourism site, it promotes environmental protection in a number of ways. One is through the use of natural and sustainable materials. From the huts to the restaurant and the function area, everything is built with bamboo.
Trees surround the bamboo tables in the outdoor dining area. The huts’ first level doubles as a day bed, which is open-air and comes with a pitched hammock. It is only at night time will you use electricity and during occasional trips to the bathroom.
Expect locally sourced ingredients – often from the market, sometimes from their backyard – for their homecooked meals. The cook’s unique take on its menu brings about these flavorful meals: tuna seasig (seafood sisig), smoked fish cooked ala bicol express and the grilled tuna jaw. Pair them with fresh fruits and vegetable shakes.
These simple, signature dishes reintroduced Bicol and Filipino food, the Granny’s Hearty Grub way. For that, it was one of the featured destinations in the region for the Flavors of the Philippines last April.
Its founders give their passion for surfing a greater purpose by forming a non-profit organization that is Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp. It helps send local boys and girls to school; welcomes youths to their club, and hold environmental and health-related seminars for the community.
Both promote a simple lifestyle where comfort is found in nature and developed in sustainable ways. So that communities will benefit too, while attracting tourists in the process, without harming the environment.
Photos courtesy of Balay Uma sa Bee Farm Facebook page and Laurie Gucilatar.
“Maliit lang pala ang Sumlang Lake.” (I didn’t know it is a small lake.)
Was that a disappointment? I’d like to ask my companion. Without the Mayon Volcano on sight, it looked like an irrigation source for the nearby rice plants. It sits in the middle of a residential area, too.
But still, there was striking about it.
Rattan furniture adorned bamboo rafts. They were tastefully done, inviting you to indulge in bamboo rafting in style.
Then and Now
Before there were paved walkways, iron fence, knitted rattan swings and canopies, there were bamboo seats and handrails first. Then came the barrels recycled to chairs for cottages, and now the artsy outdoor sets and installations replaced them.
There is now an entrance fee, too. With the LGU on the helm of this initiative, it is easy to see its management similarities with the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
Whereas most “funding for biodiversity conservation was routed through NGOs,” the Puerto Princesa Underground River Management had been creative and innovative in this aspect. This is according to a report by contributing writers Ma. Dulce M. Cacha and Julian Caldecott to this book: Decentralization and Biodiversity Conservation (A World Bank Symposium) edited by Ernst Lutz and Julian Oliver Caldecott.
Moreover, said authors report that “under the DFNS program, which provided 9.7 million,” activities beyond simple site protection became possible. These include the following:
infrastructure development and maintenance and
research and restoration.
In Barangay Sumlang in Camalig, Albay, village chief Felipe Napa, Jr. brought in his rattan furniture business to make bamboo rafting a leisurely affair. The landowner allowed it for use, and private investors provided new developments for a profit share, one of the bamboo raft operators told us. In Puerto Princesa, collected fund went to a trust fund. Its management board comprised of the city mayor, DENR representatives, NGOs and tribal groups.
Both owes its “operational flexibility and increased capability to invest” to a decentralized management, where the LGU has the central role.
Interest alone in the park’s management is not enough. There’s a need for interest in conservation, too, through monitoring. One LGU-managed tourism site that seems to be on this track is Canigao Island.
Found in Matalom, Leyte, this pristine paradise is home to a marine sanctuary. The colorful tropical fish and lush coral gardens speak of its rich marine biodiversity.
During offseason, the sanctuary’s management temporarily closed it for rehabilitation. For instance, last year the Matalom LGU and Canigao management made it unavailable for the first two weeks in July. During that time they prohibited these activities: docking, swimming, fishing and other marine-related activities within 10 meters from its shoreline.
This 2017, the management will hold it on July 1-15.
As to the extent of monitoring, we have yet to know. In PPUR, monitoring includes the habitat in the forest areas and underwater, economic activities at the site, visitorship and other activities and phenomenon that can affect the property’s universal value.
Research is also integral to a successful conservation of biodiversity.
In the 2015 report on the state of conservation of PPUR, there are a monthly bat counting and monitoring of roosting sites in the PPUR cave. Sea turtle conservation was initiated too.
Overall, ”it has been noted that the park biological baseline data were outdated,” a finding mentioned as a conservation issue, along with climate change and public/household waste water.
PPUR, Sumlang Lake and Canigao Islet are successful examples of tourism developments under the LGU management. However, Cacha and Caldecott wrote that lack of conservation interest can be counterproductive in the management of a protected area.
The aforementioned editors also noted that decentralization may or not work. Rather, the answer is to “find an appropriate degree of decentralization of certain management functions” for the promotion of conservation, community and enterprise development.
Simply put, a successful decentralization management is a case to case basis. And as the two contributors put it: The PPUR is a rare example of decentralized management where LGU has a leading role. Now there are a few that are following its footsteps.
State of Conservation Report (2015) Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Prepared by: Park Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park Management
With the support of: Philippines National Commission for UNESCO
Decentralization and Biodiversity Conservation ( A World Bank Symposium) Edited by Ernst Lutz and Julian Oliver Caldecott. Quoted section by writing contributors Ma. Dulce M. Cacha and Julian Caldecott
KAMPONG CHAM, CAMBODIA – Two young ladies happily trailed behind our ox cart with a bike. They were all smiles which were a contrast to our awkward, worried and sometimes pained facial expressions.
As our carts stopped to take a turn, they did the same. Then, they left the bike along the road to join us.
The two continued to tag along with us until only the three of us were on the field. Rice plants and other crops dominate the landscape. Stacked on one side are reaped mature rice crops. They named the cucumber plants (which were in bloom) for me.
Oh, to be young and carefree. Aren’t these among the best things in life?
The farming village
For us, ASEAN journalists who were visiting the province as part of a training from UNESCO, together with Climate Tracker, Cambodia Institute for Media Studies and Malaysia government, everything looked normal. Farmers and the commune chief knew better, however.
Sath Ath, 44-year-old, told us they were able to plant only in one season in the past two years. He said it was because of drought. During those seasons when he couldn’t farm, he turned to fishing to provide food for his family.
Currently, his average produce is 3 tons for $200 – an amount he wished he could raise to $300 to make it profitable. Or produce 5 tons from his one-hectare land instead of the usual 3 tons.
Both were possible according to Kang Meas commune chief Layseng Hong. He said the government can help by finding markets for these crops and sell them at a higher price.
If farmers wanted to earn more via the current method, they would have to use more fertilizers. However, he discouraged this option for it can affect the soil’s nutrients in the long run. It also keeps the farmers in debt.
For him, the ideal option is organic farming.
Climate Change and Hydroelectric Dams
Lands and fish breeding areas had become warmer with hotter temperatures. In 2011, the same year that fish had started to diminish, the province experienced a drought that wells and reservoirs didn’t have enough water supplies.
There were unpredictable droughts, too, in the middle of a farming season in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, the Mekong River did not flow enough water to farms.
Add to this the construction of hydroelectric dams, which a study confirmed has drastic effects on the livelihoods of people living along the river banks.
In an in-depth report of Austin Meyer and Gus Greenstein, these facilities can block critical breeding areas and sediments, which serve as effective natural fertilizer for crops. This blocking of sediments results in “saltwater intrusion, spoiling rice paddies.”
Now that the Lower Sesan 2 Dam is about to be operational in August, the entire village of Kbal Romeas, 5-6 hours from Kampong Cham, will be submerged in water, according to the same report.
But for residents that refuse to budge, there can be hope. The project which mapped the community resources in Kbal Romeas was a good start. They may also find inspirations from Cordillera mass movement, which stopped the construction of hydroelectric dams in the Philippines.
2017 Commune Election
As the commune election result draws near, it would be a good time to ask how elected leaders plan to address the following:
How will they find markets for farmers to sell produce at a reasonable price?
Are they willing to train farmers in organic farming?
How will the LS2 Dam affect Kampong Cham?
How will they cope with the environment-altering effects of hydroelectric dams?
Lastly, how can the government make farming attractive to millennials?
Young generations don’t have the interest in farming. Yet farmers in the area are growing old with ages ranging from 30-60. Farmers make up seventy percent of its population.
For instance, the two ladies said they didn’t want to work on the farm where females usually helped to harvest rice crops. The two could name the crops, but they had fleeting interests. They stayed with us during the field interviews but left when they got bored in the middle of the forum.
Before they climbed inside the truck for their seats, they turned around and waved at me. I waved back and smiled, hoping for these youths to have something productive to spend with their free time while having fun.
Bicol’s third-year participation in Madrid Fusion Manila was so far the most productive.
Renato Jao, Albay’s ambassador for culinary, said this year people already knew what to expect [from the region]. “The optics also shifted to B2B as they showed interests in the products we showcased,” he added.
This MFM 2017 the region placed the spotlight on Daraga, Albay, as three sister cafes and restaurants – Tyler’s + Boulangerie and Cafe, 528 Ilawod and Balay Cena Una – joined the event. Each showcased specialty food and drinks specially made for MFM.
Roasted Coconut Creme Brulee
Tyler’s smoky dessert is tinutungan-inspired as it used roasted coconut instead of the traditional cream. As you bite, the smoky feels hovered around your mouth then settled in your tongue. Masiram! (Delicious)
Bunguran Banana Bread with Pili Nuts
It was moist, not too sweet and didn’t have a bitter aftertaste, perfect for the mocha chili 528 Ilawod was serving. Adrian Ocampo, a part-time videographer based in Manila, said it looked like an ordinary bread until you tasted it. “Fresh, fruity flavors erupts in your mouth.”
The Oriental Hotel showcased bicol express and pinangat, two most popular dishes of the region. It also introduced kinunot, kalo-ko and rice cake with Guinobatan longaniza.
A reporter that visited the booth said his ultimate favorite was pinangat, while another visitor wanted kalo-ko to be sweeter.
The tinapa bicol express from Bicol’s Best was also a crowd favorite, from students to young professionals to working moms. The pure pinagat pleased those who liked it not spicy.
The table next to it displayed bite-sized Guinobatan longaniza. Made of chopped pork meat and lots of garlic, but brown sugar toned it down. Every bite was packed with flavor, thanks to one of its secret ingredients – gin?
Varieties of pili candies completed Bicol’s showcased products, from starters to meals to desserts and drinks.
On the second day, the display box for the bestseller Mazapan (pili nut bar) was empty. “Visitors couldn’t help but get a handful,” said the owner’s sister-in-law.
The choices for spicy drinks and refreshment were Choose Philippines best dessert, the sili ice cream; Da Vinci’s chili garden, and Ilawod’s new cocktail, hablom
Incidentally, we met Rachel from Goldilocks. She ranked Bicol as one of her top picks, along with Nestle and Philippine Airlines.
“Why, was it because the person you’re talking with is from Bicol?” I teased.
“It was filling and familiar (being also a Bicolana) and the delicacies are to die for, especially the creme brulee, Guinobatan longaniza and Bicol express tinapa.
Catch these authentic and specialty Bicol cuisines and more when you visit the region. In the meantime, enjoy these beautiful creations from ShelMed.
Baby back ribs, mashed potatoes, steak fries, cole slaw and a side of barbecue sauce. If you visit Bigg’s Diner at Ayala Mall in Legazpi, can you tell what’s new? Yeah, besides it being the newest branch. 😉
Perhaps this photo in the invitation for Bloggers Lunch held last Wednesday can give you a clue?
You’re right, dear! Bigg’s Diner has a new baby named Southern ribs. Its meat is a little loose, and shreds more easily, yet juicy.
The texture is similar to a traditional barbecue with a pleasant, crisp bark on the outside and tender inside. But of course, these come with a nice pink ring around the edges.
Was it sweet to the bone? I have to try it again to be sure, and I don’t mind because I liked it. We sampled it after our rice meals with crispy chicken and kebab for me. Both were smoky, juicy and tasty on their own, and kebab was especially sweet.
That made me wonder if they would consider serving the Southern ribs an appetizer. (I don’t know about you, but I like eating meat without rice). Its tender, sligtly fall-off-the-bone meat would melt in your mouth. Yum!
As a meal, the java rice and the sauce were just perfect for it. You would like that the sauce is not that savory since the rice is already salty, and how they blend with its moist, sweet meat.
“Yes, I know. It just feels like we’re not moving at all.”
We both laughed because many of the passengers were sound asleep, while we were stressing ourselves about getting to our destination fast.
So we slept like locals did, sans our bodies occupying the whole seat.
There are several hotels and inns in downtown Masbate where you can stay. There is Novotel where you can check out the same time you had checked in.
There’s also a newer bayfront resort next to Rendezvous Resort where we stayed. The latter you would appreciate because of the owner (and for several more reasons enumerated later on this blog). Mr. Cokie Medina knows the ins and outs of local tourism in Masbate.
What some hotel’s desk officers/security guards couldn’t help you with, he could. He knew the ferry schedule and would extend help by calling the office himself. These must be part of basic services by hotels in an island province like Masbate.
Even the lady attendant at a laundry shop gave us this answer: “I’m not from here so I can give you limited information regarding direction and what not.” Meh.
He also knew the culture, that he could delight you with stories from Rodeo to Lapay – two highlight festivals in the province.
“You two should come back during Rodeo Festival in April. You’ll see the regulars and the tradition, of course.”
That sounds interesting, indeed. Yet, I felt like I would return for Lapay Bantigue Dance Festival in September. According to Sir Cokie, it is a cultural dance where students learned the steps during grade school. Interestingly, his daughter was one of the Lapay queens.
Our conversations went on, including the Caucasian-managed Ticao Island to Masbate longganisa which was our breakfast together with egg and rice. Little did I know that the best-tasting binut-ong used to be found in my hometown, Tiwi.
All those stories and his graciousness as a host made me see the difference it can make in local tourism.
Activities: Visit the farm and production site for fresh milk and cookies that this rehabilitation center sells at the Cathedral in downtown Masbate.
No entrance fee.
We spent the rest of our stay napping on this grass-covered ground. And the habal-habal ride for downtown, with drizzle and all, spiced up our afternoon adventure.
The Rendezvous resort can provide packed meals for your lunch at SESE Brahmans Ranch picnic-style. This may include homegrown meals with seafood ingredients, as well as specialty dishes like hardinera and ham (must be ordered 7 days advanced) and dessert all prepared by the owner himself.
The folks at Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary can also prepare your lunch. Castle Kaunan SUTUKIL (popularly known as SUTUKIL) is a must-visit in Masbate, as well as Alben’s Food House (Brgy. Tara) for bulalo, Minlan along Osmena st. for filling, value meals and Tio Jose Bar & Grill for steak.
The milk candy Carmelado is made in Milagros and also available in stores near the port. Add the delicious cookies from Fazenda in your bags of pasalubong.
There’s also a Bigg’s Diner branch with a rodeo theme for its interiors.
Room rates at Rendezvous Hotel and Resort
P800/2 pax – First Ground
P1000/2 pax – Second Floor
What you’ll like about Rendezvous Hotel and Resort is you’ve got an affordable place to stay. Their rates are the most budget-friendly in Punta Nursery, the gateway to Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary.
The rooms have basic facilities. One room on the second floor has a refrigerator and a PC, and some are under renovation during our November visit.
The meals are also a deal, especially they are homegrown, with rates from P180-350 good for four persons. Rice is P45 good for sharing.
8:00 PM -Departure, Pilar Pier, Sorsogon
12:00 Midnight – Arrival, Masbate Pier
12:00-12:15 AM – To Rendezvous Resort via tricycle
12:15-12:30 AM – Check-in
12:30-5:00 AM – Sleep
5:00-5:30 AM – Freshen up
5:30-6:00 AM – Breakfast
6:00-6:15 AM – To Buntod Reef
6:15-9:00 AM – Snorkel, swim, kayak
9:00-9:15 AM – Depart for Rendezvous Resort
9:15-9:45 AM Freshen up
9:45-10:00 AM -Off to the central terminal
10:00-11:15 AM – Off to SESE Brahmans Ranch via Balud-bound UV
11:15-11:25 AM – Walk from the entrance to the house at the middle of the ranch
11:25-11:30 AM – Pay the entrance fee
11:30-11:45 AM – Short hike to the hilltop
11:45-12:00 PM – Rest
12:00-12:30 PM – Lunch Picnic-like (Packed lunch)
12:30-1:00 PM – Siesta
1:00-1:15 PM – Walk back to the caretaker’s house
1:15-1:30 PM – Walk back to the main road where habal-habal is waiting
1:30-1:40 PM – To Fazenda de Esperanca
1:40-2:30 PM – Visit
2:30-2:35 PM – To UV “terminal”.
2:35-4:30 PM – To downtown via habal-habal (We didn’t catch the last trip via UV)
4:30-5:30 PM – Early dinner at SUTUKIL (SUgba, TUla, KILaw)
5:30-5:50 PM – Back to Rendezvous
5:50-6:30 PM – Sunset watching
6:30-7:00 PM – Freshen up
7:00-10:00 PM – Rest
10:00-10:30 PM – Pack up
10:30-10:45 PM – Check out
10:45-11:00 PM – Off to the pier
11:00-12:00 AM – Aboard the fast craft
12:00-2:00 AM – To Pilar Pier
0909-793-0466 – Habal-habal driver from Balud, Milagros
0920-852-3996 – Jose Cokie Medina/Rendezvous Resort