Posts Tagged ‘Southern Leyte’

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There are similar legends across cultures about the origins of whale sharks. It is said that there was a time when the gods came down to visit Earth, and somehow they saw the giant fishes swimming gracefully in the seas. The gods were amazed at these majestic creatures they decided to throw silver coins to the sea. The coins bonded with the skins of the giant fishes forming their unique white patterns in their bodies, perhaps as a reminder of the god’s goodwill to the sea and the giants we call today as whale sharks.

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Fellow blogger and Sawum freediver, Alieth, swims with whale sharks in Pintuyan. (c) @badjaw_

Fast forward to present time right here in the tropical islands of the Philippines, we are very fortunate to have whale sharks in our seas. There are known places where whale sharks often hangout: in Donsol in Sorsogon and the infamous Oslob in Cebu province (we will talk about that later). But there’s a new location that you have to put in your bucket-list if you want to see the gentle giants in your lifetime: Pintuyan town in Southern Leyte. Pintuyan is located in Panaon Island of the province at the edge of the diving paradise of Sogod Bay. It is located a town away from the diving world’s famous Napantao Reef!

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A view from above. Toursist has to ride banca to reach and swim with whaleshark. (c) Rocky Fabilane

But before we go to Pintuyan it is important to me, as an advocate in marine conservation, to compare the whale shark watching activities in Oslob to the one in Southern Leyte. As you probably have heard (or seen pesonally), the whale sharks in Oslob are baited and fed with krills (‘uyap’ in the Bisaya) from the boats by fishermen in order to attract the creatures to their boats..filled with excited tourists. This kind of practices have resulted in documented injuries to both whale sharks and tourists. Fishermen fend off the sharks from over boarding their boat by hitting with poles. Tourists often accidentally kick or make physical contact with the creatures. But the more serious effects of the “Oslob thing” is that they are practically taming these wild creatures and taking away their natural fear to humans by making them dependent on their ‘uyap’. Remember these are migratory animals, and only further studies will prove that we are indeed screwing up their growth and migratory patterns. See photos below:

 

 

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Fortunately, there is a better alternative to Oslob right in my province of Southern Leyte. I grow up in Sogod Bay and have heard tales about different kind of sharks, especially whale sharks, roaming around the Bay.  I made my first trip to Pintuyan last January and as of this writing I’ve been there four times! I just fell in love with the idea of having a safe haven for whale sharks in my Bay and that the community respects them dearly on how they conduct the interactions in the area.

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Me recording a whaleshark (not seen in the photo) while another lurks right below me. (c) @badjaw_

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They love playing in the deep, so Louie and I have to breathe up to dive the giants below 🙂 @badjaw_

In Pintuyan, the whale interaction is operated by the KASAKA, an association of fishermen in Son-Ok 2, Pintuyan. There’s strict guidelines in place to safeguard the safety of both tourists and the animals. Feeding the sharks are absolutely forbidden. Since whale sharks don’t stay at one, tourist have to actually hire boats, guides and trained spotters to look for them in some areas in the Bay.

Whale shark watching in Southern Leyte is not just an activity it’s a full blown tour.

We are given a maximum three hours to search and interact with the whale sharks. It’s a long time compared to the 30 minutes (OR LESS) in Oslob. It’s basically whale shark watching with a glorious island hopping journey! There’s no guarantee that whale sharks will appear (it happened on my 2nd trip), so to finally find one is simply euphoric! We are not allowed to touch them or stay closer than 5 meters from the whale sharks. Since they are not fed, they don’t usually surface so having  freediving and swimming skills are really good advantage. For non-swimmers it is important to wear live vest. 🙂

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From David Alfaro

Read: David Alfaro’s travel blog on our Southern Leyte adventure

Also please note of the prices of the Whale shark tour, since it is not a fixed price per head and could be a bit expensive for local tourist (for comparison in Oslob is P550 each for 30 minutes). In Pintuyan this is how they compute the rates if you’re a group of 6 (six):

MPA/Environmental Fee – 6pax x P250 each = P1,500.00
Spotters – 4 spotters x P300 each = P1,200.00
Guides – 2 guides x P350 each = P700.00
Pump boats – 2 x P800 each  – P1,600.00
Grand Total = P5,000.00 (or P834.00 per person) that’s 3hours already of awesome adventure.

Proceeds from the Whale shark tours are going directly to the KASAKA organization and its members which are duly managed by the local LGU.  You can also purchase stuffed whale sharks (below) for your bags (and loved ones)  made by the fishermen’s wives in their association, See Breeze Conservation Sew Mates. For reservations and inquiries, contact Mr. Virgilio Flores of KASAKA through through mobile at 09359296626.

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I can also tour groups of people coming from Cebu on weekends (dont worry I’d pay for my own expenses there). Reach me on facebook at Lester Glenn Tabada, mobile 0977 4990 282 or email me at lester_tabada@yahoo.com

And for the encore here’s Louie’s epic travel video of our great Southern Leyte Adventure!

 

How to Get to Pintuyan:

From Cebu
Ride the Cebu – Hilongos ferry of Roble Shipping or Gabisan Shipping at Pier 3 in Cebu
Available travel time are: 12 Noon, 2:30 PM and 9:00 PM
Travel time is 4-6 hours, and cost P265-450 ($5-9)depending on accomodation

Ride the boat service boat or van from Hilongos – Pintuyan.
Make sure to drop by at Brgy. Son-ok II in Pintuyan.  (Or you may check in first at Pintuyan lodges.)
Bus fare: P150-200 ($3-4).

From Manila
Ride a plane from Manila to Tacloban, available daily airlines are Cebu Pacific and Philipine Airlines. Book in advance for cheaper plane tickets
Ride a bus or van from Tacloban to Sogod.  Bus fares is at P150-200 ($3-4)
Ride another bus or Van from Sogod to Pintuyan. Fare is P150-180 ($3-4)

Where to Stay

La Guerta Lodge I
(in front of Pintuyan Municipal Hall)
Barangay Poblacion Ubos, Pintuyan, Southern Leyte
Contact Number: 09261426986 look for Mrs. Lynrie B. Guias
Rate: P600/per room a night

La Guerta Lodge II
(in front of  Pintuyan District Hospital)
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.
Contact Number: 09261426986 look for Mrs. Lynrie B. Guias
Rate: P600/per room a night

D&D’s Lodge
Address: Barangay Poblacion Ubos, P.S.L.
Contact Number: 09069372486 look for  Mrs. Emmylou Banol

6 A’s Beach Resort
Contact number: 09173211024
Owner: Amy Tandayag

Pintuyan Dive Resort
Location: Barangay Caubang, P. S. L.
Contact Number: 09176597032

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Napantao Skwad

Pip, Nathan, Angus, Lester (me), Lois, Felipe, Leo, Aarron and Sarah!

Its been a two-digit number of days since I left as a local scholar for the Coral Cay Conservation in Napantao Reef in Southern Leyte, Philippines. The adjustment to come back to the outside world was tougher than expected as I had to right away prepare to finish my Masters at SouthWestern Uni and capping off summer for artschool in  UP-Cebu for the Fine Arts degree.  But who am I kidding? I just simply miss all the fun, friendship,  and learning in that remote area. Like most of the volunteers, we just didn’t want all of it to end. But the busy streets of Cebu and familiar papers for Uni beckons me to write at least a descent public post beyond my private journal. I owe CCC that much, so here’s my experience!

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Illegal boating on our off-day Sunday! (c) Leo Willis

I applied to become a local scholar for CCC last February and was fortunate to get selected for the July 19 expedition. But I got moved for the June expedition, which is a real blessing. I knew of Coral Cay for years as an international NGO operating  in Sogod Bay in my home province of Southern Leyte. But I never got the wind to apply or check them out. Until I injured my knee late in 2015 that keep me out of running races and pushed me to rehabilitate through freediving. I fell madly in love with the sea. Since the then I left my job in finance, pursued fine arts and and made tough decisions in life but one thing I got right was spending a month in Napantao to learn the way of the scuba and the sweet science of the seas.

I soon learned Coral Cay in Napantao isnt just about a Europeans’ avenue for research and tropical holidays. Volunteers and staff, Europeans or Filipinos, are there to make a difference to the local community and learning the skills and knowledge necessary to protect the sea. They trained their volunteers and local scholars to have the capacity to collect data underwater that will be used for scientific papers and commendations to set up marine protected areas and other form of legislation. I felt honored to be a local scholar who happens to be one of the direct stockholders of what CCC stands for in the Bay.

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SDP! SDP!

There are two major training each volunteers and local scholars must undergo before doing the actual ‘data collection’ in surveys: learning to dive and learning  the science of the sea. It’s one week of scuba diving course up to Advance Open Water. Then two weeks of  Skill Development Program (SDP!) that includes lectures, exams and underwater validation.  And one week for surveys (you’ll be very proud to be very familiar about fishes, corals, substrates, invertebrates and survey methodologies). I struggled in some part of the training and  I’m not going to throw away excuses that I do have zero background in marine biology nor the fact that I went full 7 years of dumb-ing down my brain in the industry before coming back to Uni.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn for free and I can proudly say “Hey I gave my best and I actually survived it all!” Beers. Beers. Beers.

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The Aarron and Leo Tag Team. (c) Pip Roe

By the end of our first week of the expedition I was the only Filipino left after my fellow scholar Janine of SLSU and Lucas the Filipino volunteer left for valid reasons. So I was the lone Pinoy on the dinner table during the entire time. I wont lie it was scary at first thinking how I’d survive living with the British-heavy European population on the base. Will they accept and treat me like equal? Can I communicate well enough to them? Will I be discriminated on my own bay? But these thoughts are really silly man. Its borderline inappropriate. Everyone from Staff to Volunteers made sure everybody belong and no one left behind (no matter how dumb we are in SDP). My spoken English skills greatly improved thanks to all the long talks and silly jokes we do everyday. Its really different talking to native English speakers than speaking English in a university or office settings. There is no better words I can put this but I have nothing but the highest regards to these Western folks.

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But in Coral Cay fashion, learning about the seas is just one part of the package, the other part is: learning each others’ cultures. Sure we have very very different cultures, educational backgrounds, experiences, and even age gaps but every one treats everybody as family. My favorite part of the base beside doing chores is the dinner table not just for the great meals, but its the area where we can exchange our thoughts, daily plans, ideas and, most importantly, jokes. Their British humor is really divine. There, I adapted to use fork and knife to eat, Filipino uses spoon and fork, or sometimes by hands. I ate less rice but more veggies. I also learn that there’s are several British accents (Asians worship the James Bond accent), I’m most fond of Lois’ Kent accent and dreaded Leo’s faster Bristol version (and I’m closest to the latter volunteer). I’m not sure if they learned from me but I did answered any curiosities they have about the Filipino culture. If they don’t like something about my culture especially corrupt politics and sweet-and-oily culinary, I always blame it to the Spanish colonization. And Felipe, our dear Project Scientist, is Spanish.  LOL.

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A month is such a cruel short time to squeeze in everything at Coral Cay. We are always on a hurry rushing out to meet the day’s dive and daily plans. With two dives a day one mush have a tough mind to survive the grind. There’s always something to do the whole day from the 7am breakfast to the 7pm fellowship dinner. Our personal time mostly comes at night which are spent on reading books, studying, joking around or just chilling at the porch over a bottle of beer. No TV, no Newspaper and shitty internet connection. Life at its simplest best.

It was also a month friendship. I didn’t really have much chances before to meet friends from Europe. Now I have 11 new friends from UK, Spain and Belgium! It was a close atmosphere and I’m thankful for the mutual respect and acceptance. That is what makes really hard to say goodbye to those folks (even if I live just on the opposite corner of the Bay). Those were my brothers and sisters for a brief period of time. Those mural paintings I made at the base, it was a Thank You love letter for all of them. I havent told anyone. But as long as those painting are there I really hope our friendship and learning will last a lifetime.

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Going beyond my Coral Cay sojourn, I’m a better  artist and a nature conscious person now. I’ll just focus my resources and projects about conservation. Its my new niche. But the most important thing I gained here is the awakened passion to protect not just my Sogod Bay but the entire seas. I hope I can really make an impact on my creative pursuits. Its true I put on a massive effort to present art plates last semester centered about marine conservation, but after Coral Cay I’m doing that full time with more conviction and wiser in the ways of the sea. It will be an exciting year ahead  in art school.

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Back to outside world, it looks like everyone is going back to school this year starting this August with me at UP-Cebu. Leo’s on his last year for his degree in Wildlife Conservation. Lois and Pip (my scuba instructor) will take their masters in Marine Biology. Sigh. Will I behold such beauties again? Angus will take on his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering. Nathan will finish his research on jellyfish for his dissertation after teaching SDP  the rest of the year. Felipe would likely pursue his doctorate. Sarah our SDP fairy god-person is back teaching. Aaron will make a terrific dad and hopefully an exciting new career. And Ben I dont he owes me P1000 for a wicked watercolor frame.

It was damn good month. Now let’s get on with our lives. Salamat Napantao. Salamat Coral Cay!

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Salamat sa pagbasa!

 

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There’s always a place to call home.  It could be the place where we grew up, the school we attended, and even the state of peace. Over the last two Saturdays, I like to insert home is also in the company of others. #Belongingness.

The past two weekends I was fortunate enough to attend two events that’s close to my heart: Art.

The DE’s Artroom held two very different art meet-up events called #Artambay. First was in Cebu City last weekend and then yesterday in Maasin City, Southern Leyte.  DE’s Artroom is a distributor of Daniel Smith Watercolors paints and art supplies in the Philippines, and #artambay is not only their promotional events but also a way to reach out and create art communities in the country through meet ups and demos. The DE Artroom is actually composed of Singapore-based Maasinhon couple Dino Dante Pajao and Ethel Pajao, the former is one of the best water colorist I know and the latter is a marketing guru – a very formidable team. We’ve been friends with the Pajao couple for more than a year but I have not really met them in person because of geography. But I’ve been a proud recipient of their generosity and passion for art, may it be from discounts on DS paints and Escoda brushes, and in grass root Debujo events in our hometown.

#Artambay Cebu

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The Cebu edition was held on June 19th at Tazza Cafe and Patisserie. I happened to be in Cebu due to my academic obligations and seriously I didn’t want to miss the event and meeting the DE team.. Bisan pag baktason ang Colon padung Lahug. On the way to the event I rode a bogus taxi and almost got scammed by its fast-moving meter. I had to argue for the fare that’s so unreal, from E-mall to Capitol it was already P175 and we’re not even a third of the destination to Lahug! I probably scared the driver when I was about to call LTO that he dropped me off in the Capitol area for free.

I arrived in the venue 5 minutes past 2pm, a few moments before the event started. I spotted ate Ethel and Dino and was very glad I finally met the legends. I also spotted familiar faces in the Cebu art community like Wee Bong and Joan Florido. It’s a diverse group, most are hobbyists, some students, some full-time artists, youngest is a teenager, two from Leyte, and I believe those are good passionate people. I have to mention also that most brought their A-game brushes and papers. The whole attendees was about 25 artists that somehow perfectly fitted on the fabulous Tazza cafe.

(c) DEs ArtRoom

(c) DEs ArtRoom

by Des Artroom2

The first part of the event was introductory phase of the watercolor qualities by the master himself, Dino Pajao. I cant go on specifics but he did mentioned some key tips. He also performed two demo paintings first in a bond paper and in a proper watercolor pad. The group was tasked also to paint on bond papers to get a fresh grip on the qualities of water and the paints. I painted a sea turtle, and all of us we’re struggling on the spot like beginners. But the thing with watercolors is its a hard medium  to control that one can easily feel like a newbie anytime even if you been painting for many years already (*cough cough*). We were also tasked to paint the same subject boat on the water that Dino painted on his pad. I did picked some of his techniques. He was amazing and fast.

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The snacks, too, were great. After the demo and the individual assignments on the boat scene, it picture taking. And lots of talking and meeting other people. I think something great started that afternoon.

 

#Artambay Maasin

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Last Saturday, the DEs Artroom held another #artambay in our home province in Southern Leyte. Sir Dino and Ethel are both from Maasin City, the capital of the province, where I also took up my accounting course. The event’s target audience are students and young artists from the city. ‘Young’ as in like I’m the oldest. Haha. Unlike in Cebu, the meetup was held early during sunrise at the Espina Boulevard (one of Dino’s favorite inspiration in his paintings). It was a plein air session with pan de sal. Most of the attendees are members of the local art group called ‘Debujo‘ which I co-founded just last year.  I wish I was not elected to lead the group since by the start of last summer until I have been super busy with work and academics (I’m studying at SWU for a masters degree, and this August for an FA certificate in UP). It feels bad not to spend more time with them. Lots of plans but not enough time to devote to the group. #Artambay was one of our rare ‘physical’ meetup.

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(c) Rochelle Gerong/DE Artroom

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For the Maasin edition of #artambay, Ethel single-handedly carried the whole event as she introduced the Daniel Smith watercolors and the importance of using artist grade paints. Dino has to go back to Singapore for work. The goal of the event is not to sell these products but to allow the young people try and to hopefully encourage them to embrace the watercolor medium.

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#Artambay Maasin was a very different setting compare to Cebu. One, we dont have a competitive watercolorist in the group to demo. I’ve been watercolor painting for four years already, and ‘competitive’ is still a distant dream. I did the demo anyway haha. Two, the kids and Debujo people just dont have the materials. We had to share all the brushes, including the Escoda ones, that I brought to the venue. Three, it was a peaceful, laid-back, scenic and joyous learning experience with the young ones at least the space are unlimited.  At the everybody got to taste Daniel Smith and Escoda, and people passing actually stopped by to say hi and check our works. #inspiring

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The past two Saturdays spent in two cities and two very different groups has been a great experience for me as an artist. It gave me perspectives on where I should go, whom I should hangout with, and whom I should strive to help. Being with those great artists in Cebu inspires me to be like them, to try to make use of my time to practice the craft. The need to take that leap of faith in UP Fine Arts was only validated. I have to learn and improve, even if it means years of temporary unemployment. Thanks to #artambay I also met people in Cebu whom I can hangout with on weekends. And lastly, I believe there’s something to be done to the budding artist in Maasin City. They may lack the materials but they were there to meet Ethel, to try Daniel Smith and to really learn the medium.  Also to have fun, lots and lots of it. Their presence means a lot not just as an absentee leader of Debujo but as a fellow student of the craft.  Hopefully there will be more gatherings like this in Cebu and Leyte.

Because #Artambay rocks!

by Tazza Cafe

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Despite the unrelenting summer heat there are places on Earth where rain never ceases to fall. One of them is in a gorge at the municipality of Libagon in Southern Leyte. The place is called the Uwan-uwanan Gorge (‘uwan’ means rain in the dialect, and a ‘gorge’ is like a mini-Grand Canyon) named after the place’s enchanting quality of making rain-like experience from  fresh water dropping from above the cliffs. Rain literally last forever here. And that alone is one damn good reason to visit!

I’ve been to the Uwan-uwanan Gorge three years ago. However, I did not explore the whole area because we were in a big group and we just love to enjoy the place. This weekend, however, me and my life-long pal Ramil Melano who is on a summer vacation from Manila, decided to check out the ‘rumored’ exhilarating challenge the place offers. We had no idea what challenge we were really up against…

Reminders:

Uwan-uwanan is no walk in the park. It’s ‘canyoneering’ one of the most dangerous (and painful) summer adventure you’ll ever experience. It’s best to bring the following appropriate stuff: Comfortable or compression clothing. Durable Islander sandals or aqua/trail shoes. Helmets and vests are not provided but I really recommend to Challengers to bring their own (see below photo). Foods, lunch is good but you’ll need light carbohydrates rich foods. Water tumblers (water is fresh there). Money for the tour guides at P250 each, and environmental fees at P10. GoPro or any action cams (make sure it wont get wet). Dry bags are a must to store the stuff you don’t want to get wet. And lastly a huge dose of spirit of adventure!

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The Uwan-uwanan Challenge!

The challenge turned out to be an epic adventures filled with bruises, busted muscles, death-defying climbs, but ultimately rewarding with drop-dead gorgeous scenes. It’s a challenge unlike any others we experienced before. For a quick statistics its a four kilometer trek from the starting point to the grand finale, you get to become  frenemies with five waterfalls (yes five!),  climb on four of them,  cliff jump on three and we finished the challenge in 5+ hours. Uwan-uwanan Challenge is definitely not for the faint hearted and the weak. It was survival at its core. So #buwisbuhay mode on and GoPro out!

First Challenge: The Trek – Like almost all journeys it always starts with a single stride repeated a million times. From the starting area at the Brgy. Kawayan, Libagon the challengers must walk a 2-3 kilometer trail of rough roads, bushes, and river crossings. There’s no elevation gains and the river crossings are not a problem.  It’s only  foreplay, the easiest part of the challenge. Survival rate is 100%.

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Second Challenge: Hodor – As of this writing we already learned of the meaning of ‘Hodor’ in Game of Thrones, so there’s no proper way to name this small but very meaningful part of the challenge. After the long trek the challengers will see in a river bank and on its wall are the words “Welcome Uwan-uwanan Gorge”. It basically means Welcome to the main challenge you idiots! This is the passageway to suffering and fun. It is highly recommended to take selfies and full body group shots  in this area (while you’re still whole and fresh and innocent bwahaha). Hold the door and take your selfies.

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Third Challenge: Aqua Extremis – By the time you came out of Hodor only then you’ll realize what kind of challenge you have signed in for: a wet and wild adventure date with nature. And its real. From here on out the trek is purely a long and dangerous climb. Every inch of your body will be wet, every strides are potentially dangerous, every muscle of your body pulled out and yes every climb is non-negotiable! Remember this is a five-waterfall challenge with increasing climbing difficulty  and we ain’t got choppers. So man up and hold the door este the ropes.

WaterFall #1 – The first one’s the easiest one to climb. Just a mere 20 feet with ropes and old tires in the right side of the falls to maneuver. Just a left-foot up, right-foot up then push, and you’re there! After conquering this fall you’ll immediately see the second waterfall and a perfect resting place.

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WaterFall #2 – Let it be known that by the time the Challengers get to this point, chances are people are hungry and tired. At the bank of this waterfall is flat surface where everyone can relax and eat. The water is cold and deep, so swim to your heart’s desires!

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To climb this waterfall, the challengers must maneuver at the right side of the fall’s rocky wall. There are ropes tied like nets or spider webs so climbing should be a bit of a challenge ala Spider-man. But make sure to hold on to the ropes and not look down haha. Once you get over this part, remember This is the point of no turning back.

WaterFall #3 – Now this particular waterfall is a thing of beauty to behold… and a stuff of nightmare when you realize that YOU HAVE TO CLIMB THAT BIG BAD THINGY. To be honest I froze like a white-walker when I saw and analyzed my predicament. Yes its a beautiful body of water, quite high, at least 50 feet but then how in the world will I find the courage to climb it? To climb it using the spider ropes and old tires is definitely nuts. Under normal circumstances that is already beyond my fear threshold, but hey I got a willing soul in Ram.  And besides a group of four (three girls and a guy) was already ahead of  us and climbing it. So what the heck. Kat-kat!

This particular climb is absolutely one of the craziest thing I’ve done in my life. It just that scary and having no helmet, vest or climbing gears doesn’t help ease out the misery. Pro tip: just trust your feet. Make sure to step securely on the ropes in every strides. And savor that moment when you reached the top! High five!

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WaterFall #4 – This one looks noticeably smaller than #3 but make no mistake this is one tough waterfall to climb. In terms of climbing difficulty, this one is the hardest part of the Uwan-uwanan Challenge. Like WF#3, your life and success depends on the spider ropes. This time you are facing against the falling waters. Out there it’s Man vs Wild (vs The Ropes). What makes this climb difficult is not the height but on how you pull yourself to the top. The ropes are difficult to climb in because it tends to dance sideways and backwards. Balance has never been this precious. The Challengers must be ready to drain the living souls of their upper body muscles. They must climb with a strong arm and a strong pair of legs. May the Force be with them. Because me, I almost gave up on this one. Too tough, too hard, too tired. I guess it comes in handy to have pride and determination.

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WaterFall #5 – The Hallelujah Waterfall – after the punishing waterfalls in #3 and #4 behold this awesome sight, the Grand Finale! A grand waterfall probably at least a 100ft high that not even a camera can handle its beauty and grace. This is exactly what you came for. Just being there is a trophy moment already. No more climbing, only swimming, selfies and praises to up above. The Challengers must pay their respect and surrender theme selves to nature’s awesome beauty and raise their hands. Hallelujah.

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This is what the goPro can take. A good shot. But the real thing is divine!

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and we met new friends at the gorge finale!

(Note: The guides say there’s still a waterfall beyond, but sadly it’s not for tourists to climb, yet)

Fourth Challenge: Cliff Jump – When the Challengers have their energies refilled and selfies taken at the grand finale they must trace back the exact route towards the starting line. But home is still a long road ahead. Folks we’re not out of the woods, er rivers, yet.  And going downstairs might be faster but it doesn’t necessarily mean easier. Climbing down the waterfalls is actually scary because you can see how high you’re at and how far is your katagakan. But I have one pro tip to offer: cliff jump! All of the waterfalls packed in deep waters below. So jumping is a must try! I jumped at WFs at #4, #3 and #2! Jumping is an exhilarating and liberating experience to let go of the recent painful memories and celebrate thy conquests. And its way faster and more badass. (I almost give our tourguide a heart attack in every jump)

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from 2013. Last weekend I jumped more and higher!

End Game

Now that everything has been said and done it is very important to preserve and promote the Uwan-uwanan Gorge. I know its not going to be for everyone because of its physical requirements but for a Challenger to another please come, test yourself, and have a GoPro worthy good time. You will be challenged, and you will have fun. That I can promise.

There’s still a lot to be done in the area. The Libagon LGU must step in to promote by inviting travel bloggers (*coughs*), instagramers, prints and TV crews etc to take the Challenge.  That’s the easy part. The hard part is developing the area.  Challengers must register and be provided with safety gears. Safety ladders or tighter ropes should be installed in the climbing parts. Of course that entail costs, that’s why its the hard part.

But despite the inherent danger, nobody ever got seriously hurt in the area. Like, never, as what our guide Glenn Toledo assured us. Maybe the guides are good (which they are, so pay them good too), or perhaps in the recess of our civilization, someone or something is looking after the Challengers and the place. I did not have the courage to ask the guides, but Uwan-uwanan is really off-the-charts ‘enchanted’. It’s hard to explain, but I felt there is something beautiful, kind and paranormal in the area. But that’s for another discussion. Whatever it is I am grateful.

Peace Y'all!

Peace Y’all!

How to get there:

The Uwan Gorge is located in Brgy. Kawayan in the town of Libagon, Southern Leyte.

By Air: It can be reached from Manila through a flight to Tacloban City. Then from Tacloban hop in a van to the town of Sogod at P150. Travel time is 2.5 hours.  Then from Sogod hop in a multi-cab or a bus going to Libagon, make sure to ask the driver to drop off at Brgy. Kawayan Elementary School. You should reach the village in 20 mins.

By Sea: From Cebu you may take a ship to Hilongos, Leyte. Then from the Hilongos Port ride a bus to Sogod for an hour’s travel for P80. Then from Sogod catch a multi-cab to Brgy. Kawayan, Libagon.

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Limasawa, an island municipality of 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 ‘Masua’ that he decided to rest for a week his Spanish fleet to recuperate . There’s some serious history in that island. Unfortunately in present time, there’s still a big chunk of the present generation of Southern Leyte has never visited Limasawa Island. Just at the mere mention of big waves and tales of sunken boats, people are enough to discourage people to go there. They are missing a lot.  This time it’s really the destination not the journey that matters.

A painting of the First Mass at Limasawa  by Carlos “Botong” Francisco

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 a white sand beach and rock formations. The place is so peaceful I painted there To pass the time off.

 

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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.

 

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Kings' Landing Limasawa

Kings’ Landing Limasawa

Accommodation

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.

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Totoy-totoy

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 initiated:  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).

 

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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!

Limasawa Sunset

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.

 

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Dinner Time.

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 always  visit the place whenever I’m there. 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 March 31, 1521.

 

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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.

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.

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with Mr. Samuel Galvez

 

Lighthouse

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. Hopefully next time I could bring a goPro to document their hunt!

Hidden Beach

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.

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Tourism Promises

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!

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Seascape in Dakdak Resort

How to get there:

By air:
– 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. [Update: it’s now P350, as of April 2018]

This is a repost on my article in Aktib.Ph, the g0-to-place for races in Cebu and the Visayas.

Who in the world is Pareng Tomas? Artista na? Igsoon ni Mang Tomas? Tomas is actually not a ‘he’, it’s a learning institution, a university. Residents, students and alumni of the Southern Leyte State University – Tomas Oppus campus don’t ask “Kumusta naman ang SLSU-TO?” We fondly say “kumusta naman si Pareng Tomas“?

It was last year when the school played with the concept of hosting a fun run. I thought they were joking or were losing their grips due to the high academic standard. I laughed at the idea because it was then a wrong idea at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Southern Leyte is no running province, the municipality of Tomas Oppus is perhaps a hundred years behind from becoming a fitness destination. Or perhaps, I laugh because I was terrified of making a race nobody will participate at. That scared me. And Yolanda happened.

We were not affected but I certainly came out of the shell to step up and help create some worthy running events in Tacloban through the Unity Runs. They were baptism by fire. So when the university sports council toyed once again in hosting a fun run this year, I grabbed it. There’s so much that can happen in one year: i became a marathoner, I became a TOES, I DNF, and I DNS. And to help make a fun run in the very place I work at, suss, piss of kick! I mean, piece of cake.

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Let it be clear that I did not organized the “Dagan Pareng Tomas”. I was only assisting the student body of the school (SSC) on how to make and organized a race. I’ve been in running long enough to know how to make a decent race. I’m more like in a consultancy service. It’s the SSC’s project, it’s their money, and it’s their net income/net loss. It’s also their job to execute my race design to perfection. Me? I’m just a volunteer and I paid my race bib. 🙂 I’m only fulfilling my promise in CCM to spread Running in the province. And Dagan Pareng Tomas is the best shot I got in fulfilling it.

Comes race day, the incredible happened, people came and run. The 800 race slots for P50 I presented to the SSC (w/c is supposed to be a suntok-sa-buwan number) were sold out and 732 runners turned up on race day.The crowd was a lot bigger than I anticipated. Everyday said they enjoyed the event. The kids did really really well in organizing the event. I think it’s one of those races when nothing went wrong. I run in the 5k category and was seriously thinking of competing against my fellow TOES sir Gary and fellow SLSU co-worker sir Moding Abina but decided to just have fun when I managed to borrow a GoPro camera from a friend. Man I wanted to document this historical event, who knows it might just be the start of the running boom in Southern Leyte. I had a lot of fun running w/ a camera a-la-Boying Milan, hahaha.

Here’s a video coverage of the event:


There’s a zumba party after the race which every dug in including me. I really hate those mandatory zumba sessions on the gym. But that time everybody danced including the guests so I indulge myself. I think I fared well, barely.

So yeah, the event is a curious one. Expectations were low that most of the faculty and staffs of the school didn’t participate/replied to the communications because perhaps Fun Runs is a damn silly thing in this kind of place. But for the young people it meant everything, That day I saw in the eyes of those students the happiness running brings, that runner’s high and that overwhelming celebration of life despite doing something punishing to their bodies. The world is full of ironies and when you least expect something comes and change the way society views it. This time it’s running, the province is ready. And for sure, we started on a bright and loud note. Dagan Pareng Tomas!

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I have been to Limasawa Island this weekend and the decision to explore the entire island on foot was a great one. Through running, I was able to witness first-hand  the island life out there. Though it was only for a short time I was convinced that Limasawa Island is a very beautiful place every traveler should visit. I’ve been to many islands before such as Boracay, Guimaras, Camiguin, Canigao and et cetera  but there’s something unique about Limasawa. Things like  Humility, Promise and History.

Let’s start with History. Unless you skipped your history subjects in Elementary and High School, you probably heard of Limasawa Island. This little island according to our best friend Wikipedia is “is where the First Mass in the Philippines and Asia was celebrated.” Although until now it is still hotly debated if it’s really Limasawa or Butuan is the  “Mazaua” port where Magellan landed. According to legends Magellan and that lucky island ruler with five-wives (thus the term Limasawa) grew close and fond with one another that they made blood compact (sandugo) with the European putting up a cross on the highest hill and conducted that famous Mass. Nobody would know the exact location of that island because all the involved are, well, long dead. So let’s just stick to Limasawa, shall we?

A detail of Carlos V. Francisco’s First Mass in the Philippines painting

So aside from that important part of Philippine and Christian history, what else is there in Limasawa? Trust me, History is only foreplay the real fun begins when you go out there and explore the island. I have a conversation with an office mate about my recent trip in the island, and I was taken aback when she proclaimed that island is dull and boring straight to my face. I was pretty sure Limasawa is Paradise. The island itself is a treasure to behold, you only have to look at the right direction.  And that my friends is why I’m writing this.

Here’s my list of the what are the activities you should do in Limasawa:

1. Visit the Shrine of the First Mass in Asia – it’s located in Brgy. Magallanes. They have nice paintings and some sculptures about the First Mass  inside.  When I got there the shrine was still close because I’m too early. Down below is what it look like inside

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That’s the shrine. Lovely place and garderns nearby. 🙂

2. Drop some coins and make your wish on the Wishing Well – it’s just nearby at the right side of the shrine. I dunno if it really worked but I did dropped a few coins and wished for a sign. It worked.

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Yes, you have to ring the bell. It kinda worked on me.

3. Visit the Cross Magellan planted  – warning: to get there 450 steps ahead waiting for you. The view and the sight, however is all worth it!

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You might as well call this Stairway to Heaven.

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4. Relax and unwind on the valley near the Cross – at the back of the cross there’s a valley on top of that hill. It offered one of the most relaxing spot on the island (under a tree)  and a spectacular view of the whole island. Please forgive my camera, it failed to capture its beauty out there.

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5. Visit the Valley on top of that cliff – it’s on the Northern part of the island. Remember just straight ahead. Or you’ll end up like that guybelow.

Limasawa Chronicles cover

 

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6. Pick your beach – on either side of the island there are beaches and all of them have white sands on crystal clear blue waters (Boracay can only wish for). The white sand are not really as fine as other beaches in Bantayan and Boracay, perhaps that’s the Limasawa flavor. See for it your self.

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7. Do the monkey pose at Dak-dak Resort!monkey king

The You are From Southern Leyte facebook page admin sir Armando Gaviola also has his own version of the pose:

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8. Camp out on the hills somewhere – once again you can pick where.

9. Go mountain climbing!  There’s a 704ft high point on the island that I was not able to climb because I was alone and lacked the time. But given the opportunity I’ll give it a go. I’m sure the view up there is to kill for. Kuyog nya ta ha!

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10. Dive! – Limasawa is marked as one of the top diving spot in the province so don’t be surprised if you see some foreigners on boats spelunking the area because we’re talking of whale watching, and dolphins, giant squids, healthy corals and etc! There are also  fish sanctuaries in some parts of the island where one can go snorkeling to see the wonders of the sea. See pictures below courtesy of the Limasawa official website. (there’s even a cave to dive in somewhere…)

11. Train and explore – This I can vouch, Limasawa is just so perfect for training for a marathon and even triathlon. Whether you are a runner or a sportsman in vacation you will definitely find the entire island a welcome challenge. There are cement roads, off roads, trails, uphills & downhills, straight up shores that stretch kilometers and many more.

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12. To relax – Ok it’s plain and simple, you go to an island not to go wild and bring your paperworks from the office. Go to Limasawa to relax and may you  find  for yourselves the Tranquility that you seek. I found mine that weekend.

13. Meet the people and experience their culture – with only a 24 hour visit to the island, I wasn’t expecting I’d be able to meet and great and even get to know the people in the island. But I did! The people there are so friendly and warm, I never had trouble asking for directions and I even make friends out there.

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A volunteer teaches some lessons to the young ones of the island. It’s one of the random moment you’ll see there. Meeting those kids were simply priceless.

These are only 13 of the many reasons why you should visit Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte. Dont ask me why I cut it to thirteen its just a number for Magellan’s sake. I’m just too sleepy already. LOL. Feel free to add on the list after your visit. But for now we are praying you get to visit the island and I’ll be glad to be of service in planning your trip (it’s so near in my place).

How to get there:

By air:
– 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. [Update: it’s now P350, as of April 2018]