My colleague loves the saying ‘the best treasures on Earth are hiding in plain sight’. I knew he meant about some girls I should be dating. At 28, people really want to marry off, but I’m not the marrying type. I have to endure the pleasure of being single guilt of skipping past candidates a bit longer. TBH I prefer travelling, reading and painting more than dating a person. But hey, it’s summer I believe there’s always something to discover and there is something definitely hiding on plain sight I wantto share. It’s not a girl, it’s an island – the great Limasawa Island.
Limasawa, now an island municipality in Southern Leyte province, was the place believed to be where the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan landed and held the First Mass in Asia en route to discovering the Philippine archipelago in March 1521. The conquistador might have loved the island port then called ‘Masua’ that he decided to rest his Spanish fleet to recuperate. There’s some serious history in that island. Unfortunately, in present time, there’s still a big chunk of our youth here in Southern Leyte who has never visited Limasawa Island. Just at the mere mention of big waves and tales of sunken boats, people are discouraged to go there. They are missing a lot about nature, adventure and their cultural heritage. This time it’s really the destination not the journey that matters.
A painting of the First Mass at Limasawa
by Carlos “Botong” Francisco
I’ve been in the island a few times before. The first one was a mandatory one-day pilgrimage during college – a Religion subject. The second one I was out of breath because I literally run the whole island! My latest one was a soul-searching adventure. I wasn’t just looking for a place to cool down; I was looking for myself and perhaps a reason to write again… #deep
I live three towns away from the Padre Burgos port going to Limasawa Island, so I was confident to I’ll catch the 9 AM boat trip only to find out that they changed the departure time to 8:30am. I had to wait until 1pm for the next trip! With the free hours, I was able to visit Tangkaan Beach a few kilometers from the port. It’s my first time to visit that beach and was surprised to see white sand beach and rock formations. The place is so peaceful I painted there To pass the time off.
We boarded the lantsa towards the coast of Limasawa right after lunch. The boat was carrying my motorcycle, some thirty other passengers and crates of Coca-cola! After an hour’s crossing I saw the familiar cliff the overlooking lighthouse. A sparkling white beach greeted us upon landing at the port. And that moment, I knew I’m in for an adventure.
Kings’ Landing Limasawa
I immediately went to my home stay near the Triana port at the residence of Annilyn Billiones. She is a workmate of my college classmate and the island’s Municipal accountant Eldie Laurejas Jr. They have a nice house with comfortable rooms with the basic amenities at a much cheaper cost of P200 per night. There are actually two resorts in the island. One is Dakdak Resort at Brgy. Lugsungan and the newly established Evashore Resort very near the Triana port. The resorts are beyond my budget but for tourists but these are the go-to places to stay. Each have front beaches in their lawn from each sides of the island. Dakdak on the west, Evashore on the east. More details at the end. But here’s an un-updated 2014 map on my moleskin.
After settling in my bag I looked for Eldie to deliver my pre-loved watercolor materials and to ask for directions to the hill called ‘Totoy-totoy’ that overlooks the whole island. He gave me confusing landmarks and alternative routes which I have zero idea about. So Plan B was to blend in and go local.
One thing every tourist should do in the island is to meet and befriend the locals. People in Limasawa are gentle and friendly, and they won’t mind walking the extra mile (or hill) to help. It happened that afternoon when I asked one local fellow and the next thing I know I have 6 local kids as my tour guides to Totoy-totoy hill! I’m grateful for their hospitality, really. We climb immediately the nearest hill and told me they are taking the ‘shortest’ and safest route. However, they didn’t tell me the degree of difficulty of the route and the steep elevation the climb. Look, I’m no stranger to trails and hiking hills but they made me look like an amateur. They are fast climbers as if they’re just walking on a flat road. And I’m like, “Can we stop here again?” Under the burning afternoon heat, we finally arrived at the summit. The kids all look fresh and I was drained the living soul out of me. But the view there is nothing short of spectacular! Totally worth the pain (and humiliation).
And the kids be like, let’s party party at the top!
We climbed down fast and furious because halo-halo is waiting. My threat for them!
It was a fun to have the kids around even after we devoured our halo-halo. We decided cool down at the nearest resort to try out their new stand-up paddle and kayak. The rent for stand-up surf board is at P150/hour, the kayak at P250. We chose the former. I haven’t swam in a while so it was vindicating and refreshing to be back in my element. The stand up paddling is actually easy and definitely a new experience. I used to see tourists in Boracay riding those but never considered renting one. While we dive and swam our hearts out, the sun gloriously set in the West.
The last time I was in Limasawa I had a hard time looking for dinner. Fortunately this time Evashore Resort now operates their restaurant for the tourists for lunch and dinner! Dinner is always a great time to catch up with old friends and Eldie was game for the food trip. We talked about art, our profession and our plans this year. I kind of ordered too much food for both of us. Blame the low prices! The must try menu are their Limasawa Express, Shrimp Sinigang and mango shakes. And oh, don’t forget their wicked special halo-halo!
Sunrise in Magallanes
We have to remind ourselves about the historical significance of Limasawa Island, we’re talking about the cradle of our nation and the Catholic faith. I’ve already visited the place whenever I’m there. But I must admit I went to the island in search for summer adventures. It is the part of the island where Magellan landed, made friends with the locals, and most importantly held the First Mass in Asia in 1521. Though up to this day, the exact location of the mass is still claimed and debated by other provinces.
After running in the shores of Dakdak resort in Brgy. Lugsungan I decided to go to Brgy. Magallanes for my morning exercise at the ground of the Shrine of the First mass. When I got there, I saw some improvements in the area. There is now a replica of ancient Masua house, improved landscapes and finally a local historian even on a Sunday morning. The area houses a Parish, the actual Shrine of the First Mass, a wishing well and the punishing climb to the replica of theCross that Ferdinand Magellan put there to commemorate that event. There were other tourists staying in Dakdak resort who are enjoying the views of the place.
Limasawa v Butuan
Most importantly, I met sir Sam Galvez who is the caretaker and local historian of the area. I even found out the he once studied in my hometown’s agricultural college with my father. He’s quite the energetic guide and always game to entertain us of tales about the place. I believe I must get those history books from the cabinet and dive deep to the 1500’s.
with Mr. Samuel Galvez
Mr. Galvez told me about the recent visit of the Butuan congresswoman bullying her way into the island claiming that her province is the rightful claimant of the first mass. Mr. Galvez however was able to explain and hold them off, based on his knowledge of the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s expedition scholar. Limasawa is safe for now, but for how many years has this debate been going on? As much as we need to defend Limasawa, it is also our obligation to revisit and learn our history.
(I found Butuan’s claim does not make sense since Pigafetta clearly stated they docked in an island, and Butuan is part of huge Mindanao area)
I had to skip breakfast because I overstayed at the shrine because I cant resist intellectual and historical conversations. Lol. My next destination was the Limasawa lighthouse that I mentioned earlier. The cliff and the valley are located up north in Brgy. San Agustin is one of the most photogenic aerial view of the island. The high cliffs in the area are quite a high drop, but sea below is crystal clear. Please don’t jump there. There’s not much there than bushes and solar panels near the lighthouse but it’s like a metaphor on life: we see bushes and boring problems in life below but if on a bird’s eye-view above our lives are so much beautiful than we give credit.
I met kids in the area and told me they were going to dive for fishes. In their hands are ‘pana’ or long fishing rods to catch fish and they wore wetsuits. I had to resist temptation of diving with them since I brought my phone. Hopefully next time I could bring a goPro to document their hunt!
One thing I love about Limasawa is that there’s always something new to discover in the island. It’s only lately that I realized I accidentally discovered the hidden Bitoon Beach two years ago when I got lost on the road finding the lighthouse two years ago. To get there one must trek a rocky trail and unpaved roads. It’s exciting and the beach is quite a catch! I swam like a kid and dived in the blue waters. I heard there’s a fish sanctuary a kilometer away but I still saw some coral and school of fishes in Bitoon. As a far as my count goes I’ve been to three really good beaches of Limasawa: the one in Triana, the one in DakDak resort and Bitoon beach.
My two-day stay was almost done when I came out of Bitoon. It’s a really quick visit but that is how my vacation always goes. There’s still a few places I haven’t been to like the Fish Sanctuary and diving spots, the underwater caves, the ancient clams in some hills, the pagatpat area and I haven’t eaten their famous ‘swake’ (sea urchin paste) and ‘buwad nukos’ (dried squid). Another activity that I should do next time is to rent a boat and go island hopping. I heard there are whaleshark and dolphin sightings now and then, so crossing fingers!
The problem with the current powers that be of the province of Southern Leyte province is that they are focusing so much in developing the tourist spots in Maasin City when we have an island paradise hiding in plain sight. Millions are spent developing the Danao Eco Park that also houses the Maasin Zoo. Roads were built to get there, and landscaping took a big chunk of the budget too. But people only go there during jamborees. However, after visiting the island, I believe there’s a clear and present need to talk seriously about Limasawa Island. One is it’s history and one for its tourism promise.
It’s the election season and I hope whoever sits in the Capitol will pay close attention to Limasawa. The destination is there for the taking but the main problem is how to attract tourists there. There’s marketing works to do. The historical claims must be decided once and for all. The roads must be repaired and completed. The government must strive to attract investors to put up resorts there. And sadly, the island only has electricity from 1pm to 1am (an improvement from the 5pm-1am before). Hopefully these problems will be addressed in the coming years.
With a heavy heart I left the island after lunch. Two days of stay in paradise is just isn’t enough. So much to explore, so much to see. For my mission, I believe I was able to spend time with myself to ponder on my future. I decided to pursue something I should have fought for a decade ago. They said no man is an island, but it took an entire island to find the man that I should be. Limasawa with its beauty and soul-searching power is a paradise worth fight for. And as far as cliché goes, I shall return!
Seascape in Dakdak Resort
How to get there:
– Book a morning flight from Manila to Tacloban City. (Tacloban airport only caters flight from Manila and Cebu).
– From the airport go directly to Abucay terminal via motorcycle or jeep.
– Ride the V-hire or Van for Maasin City. The price is around P150-200. Travel time is 2 hours
– From Maasin City terminal, ride a bus or a multicab for the town of Padre Burgos. Fare is usually P50-70. Travel time is 20-30minutes. Makes sure to drop off at the port, not on the Municipal grounds.
– Ride the ‘lantsa’ or passenger boat to Limasawa island. There are daily trips to the island at 8:30am and 1:00pm. I’m not sure about special boat trips. Travel time is 1 hour. Fare is P50 only
By sea: (especially if you’re from Cebu)
– ride a night trip to Hilongos, Leyte at Pier 3. Shipping lines like Roble Shipping and Gabisan departs at 9am and arrives in between 3Am to 4:30Am. Fares starts at P250-400 depending on accommodation type.
– from the Hilongos Pier, you must ride the boat service buses going to Maasin City, or ask for the buses that goes directly to Padre Burgos (via Maasin). Travel time is 1hour+. Fare is P70-90.
– Once in Padre Burgos, ride the ‘lantsa’ or passenger boat to Limasawa island. daily trips to the island are at 8:30am and 1:00pm. Travel time is 1 hour. Fare is P50.
Where to Stay:
Dakdak Resort – Contact numbers 0915-520-3660 and 0906-642-6868. I am not sure about the price range but it’s definitely P1,000+ minimum. They have huts and room accommodations.
Evashore Resort – Contact number 0917-874-1302. Price of rooms are P2,000 good for 6 persons. You may visit their facebook account here:
Billiones Residence – (where I stayed) Contact number 09169261266. They have rooms for accommodation at P200 per head a night.