Calicoan Island (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Talisay Beach

One of the 2 reasons why Jandy and I dropped by Guiuan (the other was the town itself) was to visit Calicoan Island.  Called the “Sleeping Beauty of Eastern Samar,” this island is blessed with long stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches; limestone cliffs (tempting for rock climbers); alien abstract rock formations (great for camera buffs); dive destinations (Pearl Island, Binabasalan Island and Baul Island); crystal clear blue waters; numerous, cathedral-like caves for spelunkers (the large Buro Cave is accessible during low tide) with stalactites along the seashore; 20 isolated and romantic coves; 6 huge and unexplored saltwater lagoons and nature trails inside tropical virgin forests (50% of the area).  

Causeway to the island

Come morning, after a hearty Filipino breakfast at the Calicoan Surf Camp’s restaurant, we opted to burn calories by exploring the island on foot (for me still the best way), bringing along resort staffer Mr. Marcial Orocay as guide.  From the resort, we cut across the 3-km. width of the island, to the western side which faces the calm waters of Leyte Gulf, its 8-km. long beach ideal for swimming, snorkeling, picnics and watching magnificent sunsets.   The forest along the way is said to be home to mischievous monkeys, monitor lizards and colorful birds.  Though we didn’t get to see any up close, we did get to see a snake crossing our trail.

Sulangan Beach

Skirting the western coast, we visited Sulangan Beach, the habitat of the world-famous and rare Golden Cowrie (Conus gloriamaris) shell. These shells were being sold (at a whopping PhP1,500 per piece) at souvenir shops at nearby  St. Anthony of Padua Church, also a notable pilgrimage site.  With its schools of multi-colored fish, Sulangan Beach is also an ideal site for scuba diving.

The original 3149 Base flagpole

Caliocan Island, a low coralline island in Brgy. Ngolos, 23 kms. from the town was, during World War II, the site of the U.S. Navy’s 3149 Base.  The base’s original flagpole still stands.  The late U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy, a PT boat commander during the war, was also stationed here.

Guiuan Airport runway

The runway of the former U.S. Navy airbase, located on the eastern edge of the town, was once one of the biggest U.S. bases in the Pacific and was also used actively until the Korean War.  Its 60 m. wide and 1.9 km. long runway was built, during the liberation, by U.S. Army engineering battalions in December 1944.  Here, the B-26 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan (August 6, 1945), was launched.  Disused for some time after its turnover to the Philippines, it is now undergoing a PhP142 million rehabilitation (its runway, now with an overlay of asphalt, is now 2.134 kms. long) and will opened this October as a feeder airport for chartered or regular flights.  Its opening would be heaven-sent as it would make Guiuan easily accessible by plane (cutting its dependence on Tacloban City’s airport), thus supporting the commercial and tourism industry in the region, most especially Calicoan Island, an upcoming island resort which boasts of miles of white sand beaches as well as powerful swells rolling in from the Pacific over the 10,000 m. Philippine Deep, making it a surfer’s paradise. A PhP38 million water system that would supply the island resorts’ operational requirement is also nearing completion. All these aim to promote Guiuan as the next eco-tourism hub in the country, a place that offers visitors a lot when it comes to cultural and historical heritage sites, natural beauty plus the warmth and hospitality offered by its 38,694 Guiuananons.

Calicoan Surf Camp (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Our Guiuan host, Ms. Vibina “Bebeng” Juacon, facilitated our visit to Calicoan Island with a call to Mr. Danilo Molina, Gen. Manager  of Calicoan Surf Camp, the resort where she recommended we stay overnight.  Once given the green light, we thanked Ms. Juacon and Jandy and I hired a tricycle (for PhP400) to get to the island and the resort.  There were to be no boat crossings as the “island” is connected to the mainland by a short concrete causeway.  Once across, we traversed a dirt and gravel road  which runs the length of the island.

Calicoan Surf Camp

Calicoan Surf Camp is island’s best and most luxurious.  This hideaway was developed by Cebu-based lawyer and pioneer developer Maning Go who owns about 500 hectares of the island’s 1,600 hectares.  It was designed, with distinctive Asian-inspired (Thai, Balinese, Indonesian and Filipino) lines, by Frenchman Nicolas Rambeau, owner and creator of the highly-acclaimed, high-end Pansukian Resort in Siargao (Surigao del Norte).

Bungalow interior

After a short interview with Mr. Molina, we called it a night and Mr. Molina checked us in at one of the resort’s 7 well-appointed, spacious bungalows with its soaring rooflines.  Each bungalow has a native feel, with its own deck and floor with alternating dark and light wood stripes.  Modern amenities include airconditioning, compartmentalized bathroom with hot and cold shower, satellite TV, coffee/tea maker, hair dryer, minibar and safety deposit box.

Infinity pool

Tired after a long trek around the island, we dipped our tired bodies at the resort’s inviting 300-sq. m. saltwater infinity pool bordering the 3-km. long, white ABCD Beach, the island’s prime surfing area.  Verdant pandamus trees (locally called bariw) grow through the pool’s uniquely-designed wooden deck, embracing it and providing cool shade, thus binding nature with design.  Here, we watched the surging, breathtaking surf (boasting perfectly-shaped left or right reef breaks) as the island’s  eastern side juts out to the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean (its powerful swells tirelessly rolling in over 10,000 m. Philippine Deep), making it a surfer’s paradise. The best surfing months, according to  Mr. Molina, are March, April and September to October when southwesterly winds blow offshore, piling up incoming ocean swells and carving them into glassy shaped hollows.  Surfboards are rented out for a small fee and beginner’s lessons can be provided, on request, by the resort staff.  Surfers must wear booties as protection against the sharp rocks. Although the currents are strong here, the island offers opportunities for big game fishing along the “Tuna Highway,” the migratory route for tuna to Japan.

The resort’s restaurant

Also quite famished after such a long trek, we later indulged ourselves at the resort’s restaurant which offers International and Filipino cuisine including seafood such as freshly caught, fleshy, sweet and delicious lobster, prawns, scallops, abalone, crabs and fish.  After a filling lunch, we packed up our gear, checked out, thanked the resort staff and hired a tricycle (this time for PhP350) to bring us back to the bus station at Guiuan town proper for our trip back to Tacloban City.  Along the way, we made a brief stopover at Calicoan Island Ocean Villas, another of Maning Go’s development projects.  Go enlisted the multi-awarded architectural firm of Francisco “Bobby” Manosa to prepare the island’s master plan.  He envisions zoning development where visitors can make nature treks to large areas of the island without encountering any bar, souvenir shop or billboard, thus offering more natural attractions and leisure activities with less of the hustle of the better-known Boracay.  With continued but controlled growth, may it stay that way, making Calicoan truly a diamond in the rough.

Calicoan Island Ocean Villas

Calicoan Surf Camp: Calicoan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar.  Manila Tel: (632) 376-5818.  Website: www.thesurfcamp-calicoanisland.com.

Church of the Immaculate Conception (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Church of the Immaculate Conception

After attending the star-studded and colorful Sangyaw Festival of Tacloban City, Jandy and I decided to get some “rest and recreation” at the progressive town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar, our first in the province. To get there, we left the city after lunch, proceeded to downtown and boarded an airconditioned Van-Van van.  The trip took just 3 hrs., made possible by the opening, in the late 1990s, of the South Samar Coastal Road which cut land travel time to Guiuan by about 2 hrs..  As usual, we crossed the beautiful, S-shaped San Juanico Bridge (the country’s longest) into Samar, traveling along a coastal highway which runs past mountains, steep cliffs, distant rock islands and boat-filled bays, then making a right at a T-junction (the left goes to Borongan City) to an occasionally potholed asphalt road all the way to Guiuan.  We arrived there by 4 PM and were guests at the house of Ms. Vibina “Bebeng” Juaban. 

San Juanico Bridge

The best way to explore this coastal town is by hired tricycle.  Vestiges of Spanish era history can be seen at the “fortress Baroque” Church of the Immaculate Conception, considered to be the finest in the Eastern Visayas.  Started in the 1630s, it was rebuilt in stone in the early 18th century.  From 1844 onwards, Fr. Manuel Valverde and Pedro Monasterio renovated the church, covering the roof with tiles. In 1854, Franciscan friars added a transept and baptistery and built a massive bell tower (which once served as a watchtower) on top of a seaside bastion of the fort.   

The church belfry

The church’s façade has triple but slim engaged columns, arches and carvings at the pediment’s borders and 3 entrances with elaborately carved, hardwood doors.  Inside are a single nave with a main altar and two side altars, a beautiful retablo from Franciscan times, a Rococo frontal with the Augustinian emblem and old santos.  The church is enclosed within the partially preserved quadrilateral fort of cut stone, said to be the best and most regularly planned in all the Visayas. Today, this church has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure (unique structures that possess outstanding artistic, historical and cultural values that are significant to the nation), one of 26 named as such by the National Museum in 2001.