Quest for Biri

Morning horizons in Biri!
Morning horizons in Biri! The bluish outline of Mt. Bulusan afar.

Coming to this quiet, remote island in Northern Samar off the coast of San Bernardino Strait was whimsical at first, having discovered a diving shop that just operated in the locality. With a manifold of dive destinations visited across the islands, we are now in search of secret and unknown sites, again it would be more interesting to uncover new spots. Most likely there would be more stories and amazing discoveries, in most cases unchartered waters mostly reveal unspoiled underwater life.

Initially it was randomly targeted to visit Biri in CY 2012 but erratic schedules and other pursuits deferred the trip until summer of 2013, so May would be ideal according to Angel since Samar is a typhoon path being front in Pacific Ocean waters. Indeed, we were blessed with good weather during the four-day trip.

Spending a Wednesday night at the airport, taking an early morning flight to Catarman, taking a jeepney to Lavezares, and after haggling with the dispatcher took the one-hour cruise to Biri. You will not miss the white big statue of Jesus and St. Peter on the water as you sailed out of Lavezares. Shortly, the waters went choppy but as we went between a strait, mysteriously it went flat. The patches of white beaches, the coco trees, blue waters and the clear, sunny skies were so welcoming. Nearing the town as it loomed before us brought smiles in our lips. It was just a little past of 10:00am when we finally arrived in our lodgings at Biri Scuba Resort.

Into the Rocks

Exploring the town was the most logical thing as we have more than enough time for the day and the sunny weather was just perfect. Dismissing meals we left for the Rock Formations through a hired motorbike under the scorching heat. Our guide cum transpo driver advised us to take advantage of the low tide so we need to leave sooner. We started off at the farthest end at Magasang, passing the area over a cemented foot path I haven’t seen any agri production lot except for the scattered coconut trees covering even the hills. Riding on motorbike over the wide green horizons, the winds just made the heat bearable – I can hear Angel behind me humming a song. 🙂

Rock formation at sea side
Rock formation at sea side

The Biri Rock Formation is declared protected area under RA 7586, preservation of the area is mandatory and thankfully the LGU laid out the necessary regulations. So we need to stop at the parking area and walk all the way to explore the formations to the sea coast. We walked, climb, descend, wade water pools and hike further as we viewed Magasang, Magsapad and Makadlao Rocks. Unique formations which left one wondering how astonishing works of nature are, and I always end up going back to the Lord of Creation. Soaking up under the sun actually is a violation on my part but summer is all about sun! I remembered my friend in Lubbek, Belgium who mentioned that using an umbrella during summer is definitely crazy, stares and sneers surely got you!

Blue waters and blue skies!
Blue waters and blue skies!

Going to Bel-at needs our transpo so we got back to Magasang where we have left off the motorbike, our guide told us that the half-way bridge to the formation is a new structure, barely six months old. It has a shed or hut on its end ideal for picnic. I was wondering why it was not a whole stretch to the formation – budget issues perhaps! Magasang area has been planted with mangroves which according to our guide is about ten years past, many wasn’t full grown and stood like seedlings on the waters. The wooden walk-way to Bel-at is much longer winding along the mangroves ending up at a wide clearing leading to a tidal pool. We found large group of people on a picnic, some swimming on the pool. Further we explored going to Caranas, we found few tidal pools on the way. Going to the sea side, the waves keep splashing the rocks, definitely there were no patch of beaches in the area. It was disappointing that the area wasn’t spared of trashes, so bad we didn’t bring our net bag we could have done some clean-up.

Unto the Depths

Mound filled with soft and hard corals
Mound filled with soft and hard corals

The next morning gave us a wonderful sight in the horizons, early mornings create clear skies free from clouds, which gave us a blue outline of Mt. Bulusan and far yonder, the majestic Mt. Mayon! Our dive guide suggested for an early trip to get away with the current, there was no definite site to explore depending on water situation. It was an exclusive dive for us, judging from the dive guide prattle, very few came to Biri to dive. We aimed for the Managtuka Sanctuary as our first site, just off the coast of the town. We sighted two large herd of dalagang bukid just few meters from our boat, surely the area has active fish life. We entered the waters but it was unfortunate that my regulator had leakage, we aborted our descent. We explored instead the Managtuka Rocks while the boat got back to the shores for another set of gear.

Three nudis in one spot!
Three nudis in one spot!

Exploring the sanctuary was dismissed due to currents as it was late already, so we sailed off to the other side of the island fronting the Pacific hoping the waters would be manageable. The water was flat and blue perfect for a dive, we agreed to have the first descent in Cogon – a surfing area of the island during habagat season, obviously the site is only dive-fitting during summer months. We descent to a slope filled with hard and soft corals, sea weeds is dominant making the area looked like green forage lot. There wasn’t much fish life although juveniles hovered over corals and the perennial nemos over sea anemones. We sighted three nudis on same spot, giant clam and more of the sea weeds. The area looked like green hills all over, a different kind of terrain. We ascend after 56 minutes with my air still at 140 bars.

Fresh sea weeds, anyone?
Fresh sea weeds, anyone?

We sailed and anchored at Magasang for our surface interval, being in the Pacific side is an advantage as we got the view of the formation in a different angle on a wider scale, which I understood can only be done in summer months. Only few encounters of fishers on their banca, obviously the nearby water was all to ourselves to explore. Watching the nearby formations, coco trees dotting the hills and blue waters under sunny skies, was perfect – good enough while waiting for our next descent.

P1040193
Giant clam amidst vibrant corals

Back rolling in our small boat was pitiful but being exposed to such similar conditions before was no trouble at all, we descend on slope once more decorated with soft and hard corals. We swam further passing those mounds again, in search of reef sharks our dive guide brought us to a short tunnel. Further inspecting crevices and sandy hollows under rocks but there was none, going through the holes is quite interesting for me! The sea weeds are still all over, alternately with soft and hard corals. We ascend at Masapad formations after an hour with my air still at 90 bars. Our boat captain searching for us not expecting to cover such distance.

My buddy's tank was falling off!
My buddy’s tank was falling off!

Different locations with different discoveries, perhaps not ostentatious but definitely Biri’s unspoiled depths did not disappoint us, beyond the rocks is a wide marine garden with healthy corals and plants. The surrounding waters has rich marine life, we encountered a boy previous afternoon carrying with him a string of tropical fish – rabbit fish, sergeants, fusilier, sweet lips and moray eel from spear fishing! Well, I could have wanted to see them in their habitat swimming coyly before me.

Travel Notes

1. There are only three commercial lodgings in the island: Glenda’s Hotel, Villa Amor Hotel and Biri Scuba Resort; electricity in the town is only 12:00 noon to 12:00 midnight.

2. Boat fare from Lavezares to Biri Island is P 50.00/pax but you need to wait for the boat to be full; if you are in a hurry, boat hire will cost P 300.00

3. Environmental User’s Fee is P 50.00/pax; local fixed rates of habal-habal is prescribed by Local Tourism Office but if you need to hire for your own transpo needs to the rock formations – P 700.00 for 2 pax including tour guide

4. Diving in the island is best during summer (March to May) and sans the full moon – the tides and currents can be erratic and time adjustments is necessary to dive in certain sites. Only Biri Scuba Resort offers diving in the island. There are more than 20 diving sites including those off San Bernardino Strait.

5. If you need to get a good view of all the rock formations, rent a boat and explore by the waters  for them all lined up in the pacific side – Magasang, Magsapad, Makadlao, Puhunan, Bel-at and Caranas.

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