Bucas Grande: My Island, My Home

Serenity is where home is…

There are places you wanted to come home to even how far and remote it could be. A place where one can find comfort surrounded with green and blue waters listening the crashing waves, yet secluded from great structures. Bucas Grande Islands has always been my favorite get away.

After a lull of almost two years, I was back in the islands. There was no plan actually, my summer was void with trips except my farm visits. Things just fell its place, randomly our good friend in municipal tourism gave a ring and my travel buddy just pop up to visit the islands. My mind drift off to serene waters, blue lagoons, green environs, patch of white beaches, the nocturnal crickets singing, and the crashing waves that lull me to sleep. Simple pleasures that can be savored only in these remote islands.

We arrived Port Hayanggabon in time for lunch, so had a stop in a seafood shack while waiting for our boat. Lot of new structures sprouted at the port since my last visit. We found our boat and wasted no time for the cruise amid the waves, smiling our way as the sea breeze blew on our skins cooling the hot afternoon. And headed straight to tourism center for some pleasantries with our hosts and picking up where we left off since our last meeting.  After more than ten years there has been changes to cater the growing number of tourists and crew, and in a way surprised of new structures around the area.. The old tourism center almost dilapidated gave in to a larger shack with wider receiving area, surrounding ramps, platforms and docking area. There’s a floating cottage and floating restaurant nearby – well, I was wondering about its waste disposal!

Rushing up to get most of the remaining afternoon and the low tide, we head straight to Sohoton Cove – the mystical maze of islands covered in green foliage. We entered smoothly, our boat maneuvered perfectly with no hesitation or doubt. Once inside, I still had that same feeling of wonder like getting into a different realm, into another world – a city on the waters! We did our homage in Hagukan Cave, swam the warm waters glad of the super low tide, most importantly it was all to ourselves, such perfect timing! That rock in the middle was all to ourselves to stand on, as we view above the rock formations. I skipped the Magkakaub Cave, it was bit crowded. Angel did the climb and the plunge perfectly. 🙂 It started to drizzle as we did the last round and finally headed for the exit and in few minutes we were back in the center.  Later, we hopped to Puyo Island but decided to settle for Marka A Island for a swim.  We picked up few trash from the shores as we went around, the good thing was because it was already late, it was all to ourselves again.

We had a relaxing dinner back at the center, all the crew and tourists called it a day so we were left in tranquility, savoring again the serenity of the islands. The crickets started to chirp in the dusk. The center is now lit with few colored bulbs, a new improvement I guess as they were able to generate energy supply from few solar panels installed.

Unfortunately, Cinnamon Island where we had our lodgings for the night were full of guests so we missed its relaxing mode like it used to be. The crashing waves though, muffled the laughing and singing of the people.

Time was too limited, the next day though we revisited few sites we love. Our first agenda was the Tojoman Lake in search for the sting-less jellyfish, but there was none and instead looked up as brown giant bats started flying above the trees. We paddled around and our boat guide led us to Lubogon Lagoon, we found few juveniles silently floating the waters.  Tiktikan Lake used to be operated by fishermen coop, more structures were now at the entrance, bigger shack, slides, catwalk, platform and diving board. The interior lake itself was maintained but was deserted when we got there after a short trek, more people preferred the fronts which offered diving from heights.

La Fortuna was our last stop, the small strip of white beach at the front was an attraction but more was in store for us.  We trek for ten minutes for Bubon Lagoon, we have explored this secret nook before but now went beyond watching the placid waters. We kayaked around the lagoon, the lush foliage covering karst cliffs reflecting on the waters was purely a relaxing sight. It was all to ourselves! We’re on the run, yet we snatched few minutes to swam and play at the beach as we got back in the front.  Clottie joined us without complaining, this cute curly pup goof around with us, I gave her a bath but didn’t like it! And we enjoyed Raffy’s fresh buko, enough to quench our thirst and made us full!

We had late light lunch back at the center with our hosts, had brief pleasantries and finally bid bye. It was so short.  We cruised the afternoon waves for the port, again the sea breeze blew gently on our skin as we watched the vast blue sea before us. So brief, yet it felt so refreshing!

Last Note

It’s now more than a decade since I kept coming back here and I am glad that the islands have maintained its pristine waters and still free from trash. As we get around hopping to our fave spots, my keen eyes noticed few scraps which I pointed out to our boatman, in turn he assured me that a team was assigned for such task on a daily basis. The lesson I learned from the locals was that, getting the community involved to protect and preserve their invaluable resources was an effective strategy, they understood that nobody would do it for them except themselves and its protection is their ultimate mission if not to sustain this nature’s gift for their livelihood.  The coastal communities around the islands understood well that natural resources is always worth of care and preservation for the next generation.

Back to My Little Paradise

jellies started floating up!

One of those few things that I never grow tired of doing during summer is to be in Bucas Grande group, this secluded place is like home to me.  The peaceful environment with its natural attractions has captured my heart and nagged me to savor its beauty even just once in a year.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my paradise unexpectedly, it was unplanned although I knew I must go.  So I seized the opportunity when my trip up north was postponed due to unfavorable weather. The adage was true that while the city is in typhoon, it doesn’t mean that in the distant islands it’s pouring rain, the sun was perfectly shining like summer!

My sister dropped everything back home when I invited her, although at short notice she simply gave in to my whim.  Leaving Butuan almost 2pm, we arrived almost 4pm in Bad-as junction and was grateful that van for Port Hayanggabon was stationed leaving any minute.  The afternoon sun gives a warm glow as we drove along the coastal towns of Placer, Bacuag, Gigaquit and Claver. We arrived at the port almost sundown, our boat waiting.  Rushing to buy for needs, we left almost getting dark. The stars started to appear in the skies and some fireflies welcomed as we cruised for our night’s lodge. The boatman with trained eyes managed our boat single handedly until we reached at Tiktikan Lake almost 7pm.  Somehow I still have gotten energy to climb up to the reception area even in dark with only a small torch to illumine our way.

magkakaub cave entrance

Just as it is, everything so natural and unspoiled.  There’s no electricity, but they got used to it already, the small kerosene lamp served as our light.  The cicadas singing in the darkness, cutting the stillness of the night.  We woke up the following morning watching the placid lake before us and the sunrise breaking behind the limestone cliffs.

Sohoton in a Day

We rushed to the information center for a courtesy hi with DH, somehow I’m grateful with all the necessary arrangements he made for my trip, even how short the notice was.  So we started early taking advantage of the low tide, I wanted to revisit the hidden charms of my paradise.  I always feel that familiar rush of blood flow when entering the cove, so mysterious it felt like I’m transported into another world. We went around and got first into Hagukan Cave, swam inside, stayed for awhile and mingle with other guests.  We  then proceed to the challenging Magkakaub Cave,  walk inside, view the formations and the fruit bats up, then went rock climbing for the exit. Well, we got at the ramp ready for the plunge but alas I still have to gather much courage for the jump 😛  It’s my fourth time and yet my spirit needed some urging.  It felt so free having the big leap, the big splash and the water rush felt so good!  🙂 Navigating around the cove watching limestone cliffs covered with greens, clear waters and blue skies is like paradise to me.

the landmark for exit!

My most favorite spot here is the Jellyfish Lagoon (Tojoman Lake), I was ecstatic when DH told me it’s peak season of the jellies!  When we entered the lagoon, all others were coming out so it was comforting it won’t be too crowded.  And there I watched in awe, of my brown friends starting to float up in view. I swam around getting up close with them.  My sister can’t believe it’s stingless. All of them in varied sizes, pulsating like talking to me, and swimming right there all around me. I stayed in the waters long to my heart’s content, swimming with my jelly friends.  I still have wanted to linger more but my companions seemed tired already, so I finally went up the boat feeling sorry I have to leave.

boats ready...

After our late lunch and brief rest back at Tiktikan Lake, we cruised to La Fortuna to explore another inland lake there and hoping to get some fresh buko. We walked on a trail to the lake and have some swim there.  When we got back, we swam on the white beach while waiting for our boat.  I missed Spirit, it should have been fun playing with him in the waters.  We cruised to another spot to buy some buko, it was a white beach too and while waiting I swam again with the waves pushing me ashore.  😛  We got back to the info center, catching up DH with some visitors.  We savor the fresh buko lamaw while discussing latest updates in the park and the PO.  We hastily finished up to see the spot where the new cottage owned by SAVE Sohoton was built.  Actually, it’s a good improvement – a new economic activity of the PO.  It sat in a cove with turquoise waters and white sands, a simple cottage of indigenous materials still with works on-going.  It promises a wonderful spot for swimming, snorkeling or just lounging on the small patch of white beach.  We rushed back at the info center and finally sailed to the guest house for night’s refuge, when it began to get  dark.

Promise to be Back

The next morning, we woke up watching the placid waters from our window.  How serene and beautiful, so peaceful and divine.  I knew I never grow tired of coming to this place. I was too glad that it has maintained its unspoiled beauty, its people have well-preserved its environment. I was glad I didn’t see any litters, except few when we got to the lake which our guide defended coming from open waters brought by the tide.  Sohoton folks have done great job in preserving this paradise.

Our boat left riding on the morning waves – my favorite haven getting obscure as we got farther.  Still I promise myself to be back again, hoping its beauty will be same as I knew her.  It’s about its serenity, the vast sea, limestone cliffs, crystal waters, elusive marine life, orange skies, starry nights, singing cicadas, placid lakes and my jelly friends.   My place, my refuge, my paradise…

Sohoton Again!

Entrance to another world…

My sister and I  planned for a summer trip to Sohoton Cove, we promised ourselves to once again relish the hidden splendor of this favorite spot alone.  We shall be exploring a new route via Claver to get away with the long trip through General Luna  to maximize our time.  We wanted to see more of Sohoton’s  other pride – the caves, lagoon, white beaches and  islands.  And we carefully scheduled it after the Holy Week, as we will spend the holy days at the farm – coming home – ou r tradition every year .  But surprisingly, Angel asked to join us.  I thought he would be joining the group tour we’re planning for our travel friends.  I can’t find any valid reason to say no, I just thought it wont be too bad to have someone with me and Cherry in our private get-away trip.

So after a quiet and relaxing sojourn at the farm, I rushed back to M. Calo on Easter Sunday to prepare for the trip – few chores to do for the rest of the day.  At lunchtime I called up Angel to check if he arrived already and gave him directions for M. Calo.  We talked about our trip and left him in the sanctuary of his room for awhile for a good rest – he just came from his Jomalig voyage.  Kay and I hastily went to the supermarket for our needs, then did the backyard garden until Susan called up.  I joined them at Razon’s after I dropped at Gaisano Mall for Odessa’s request.  It was kind of treat after Karin’s (my inaanak) high school graduation.  They dropped me home a little past  7pm so I could catch up for the last evening mass (in English).  Kay and Angel joined me to attend the mass.

We got back home by foot and run for few things and suggested to Angel to further explore Butuan by night.  We went to my fave café – Margie’s Kitchen – one of city’s pride. 🙂  I was thrilled to let him try our much loved cookie monster and food for the gods!  It wasn’t a mistake we went there – he love Margie’s and was sorry we have to leave before it closed at 1am.

Deep blue waters, green islets, blue skies!

We woke up early as agreed as we need to leave at 5am, we need to catch up an early bus for Surigao City.  The bus finally left at 6am and it went smooth until we got our breakfast stop at Kitcharao.  We dropped off upon reaching Bad-as to get another transpo for Claver.  It would be something new as I haven’t tried this route, we waited for awhile  for a bus to Tandag until the man I talked to suggested we took the jeepney bound for Carmen, Surigao Sur.  Our contact kept on texting and finally reached me when we were in Gigaquit.  We had a stop though at Parang where there were fresh melons on sale.  We finally arrived at the stop for Hayanggabon Port, Dodo waiting for us.

We took the boat for the  Sohoton cruise which was about thirty minutes, fortunately we were blessed with a very good weather.  We were transported to  our lodgings  in the lagoon to deposit our stuff, it was about lunch time.  We took our baon and leisurely had our lunch at the dining hall overlooking the calm waters – so beautiful!  Angel, Cherry and I enjoyed our lunch talking amidst the serenity of the lagoon – and I was lost in thoughts on our adventures for the rest of the day.

Afternoon Adventures

We didn’t want to waste our time so after putting things in order, we got to the boat and left for the Sohoton cove to start off.  It was sure on low tide and again as we got into the entrance and maneuvered through it, I had that familiar feeling of being transported into another place – so mysterious.  We toured around and swam into Hagukan Cave to view the rock formations and swam in its clear waters.  We waded inside the Magkakaub Cave, viewed its unique stalactites & stalagmites, rock climbed on it’s wall towards the exit for the big jump.  We lined up, Angel first but he wanted me to go ahead, but in the end he jumped! 🙂  Then Cherry with wobbling legs came next, then finally me but again I gathered enough courage to do so (after having done twice)… We lingered for a moment snorkeling in the clear waters, there wasn’t much fish life though.

White beach all to ourselves!

We went next to La Fortuna Beach – a secluded white beach north of Sohoton with beach huts. It was such a great spot to just laze around, we played with Spirit – a lovable spitz who stayed and put up with our antics.  We throw him into the waters and impressed by his swimming prowess! 🙂  Angel and I snorkeled viewing the wonderful and beautiful corals – the area was filled with colorful hard corals in all sizes.  We lingered longer at the spot and while waiting for the boat, we took our baon (bread, bananas) when we got famished a bit.  And when it almost got dark, we got into the boat and sailed back into the park’s reception area.  We talked with Dodo about the park, their needs and the PO’s activities. We discussed about sustainability, preservation and protection of the coastal resources – while waiting for our dinner.  And it finally came, we were so famished already but it was such romantic because they don’t have electricity – so we’re having dinner in kerosene lamp! 🙂

I was asking Dodo if we could go to the posh Club Tara – to inquire about their diving (there’s no other available diveshop in the area) and of course to see the place. The boat took us – we ended up boating in the dark night. What about boating with the fireflies around?  It was simply majestic!  We were ushered when we got to the resort, they have security protocols – we need to have IDs before getting into the premises.  It was an exclusive and luxurious place.  And we were aghast that it will cost $80 per site to dive with them, and the DM warned us that there isn’t much fish life – only corals, wonderful as it is.  He was asking about our previous destinations, feeling sorry that we would only be disappointed as the fishes around the area are juveniles.  After some pleasantries we bid our byes with them.  We sailed back to the park with the moon shining – glorious!  🙂  Finally we were brought to the guest house – it has been a long day… We took turns at the bath, Angel inside the room while Cherry and I went upstairs for another room.   We finally got unto our bed.  You can hear the cicadas in the silence of the night.  It was dark…

New Adventures!

I was up early and after my prayers got out side to take early morning photos in the lagoon, it was down cast and started to rain. We packed our things as it was getting late already with our schedule, the rain wasn’t stopping after all. We took our boat and went to the reception area for our breakfast.  We discussed again with Dodo about Sohoton’s needs. I told him the spots we have planned for the day.

Waiting boat…

Our first adventure is exploring the Tojoman Lake – lagoon filled with friendly stingless jellyfish.  We were early so the lake was all to ourselves. We got down to swim and snorkel, playing with the brownish jelly fish – in different sizes – thousands & thousands of them!  Angel was just too excited swimming with them. I swim with them looking at them closely – they’re pulsating as if breathing or maybe shouting!  🙂  The boatman motioned for our return but I still wanted to stay, Angel gave me another 15 minutes…  Swimming with the jellyfish is my favorite in Sohoton!

When we returned at the reception area, we got into the pumpboat with Dodo for Tiktikan Lake. Fortunately the rain had stopped, and we enjoyed our boating at the lake viewing the old mangroves and the elusive resident mother bangus. They have huts and a coop store maintained by the PO.   We trekked the trail up and down and get back into our boat, we need to get away with the low tide or we will get stuck in the lagoon.  We got next to  Bolitas Cave and Crystal Cave – I have been wanting to explore these caves long before.  We got first to Crystal – viewing the white rock formations that sparkles, with lighted candles it’s even more sparkling. Now getting into Bolitas is more challenging, it had a small entrance and so you got to lie flat and maneuver your body to get through. I need to be careful or I could get scratches and bruises from the sharp stones, it was bit difficult but we all made it.  We lighted our candles again, and went through – white round pebbles abound inside – it’s a wonder how it got there.  Then a balinsasayaw keeps on flying darting back and again, our guide tried to catch one and Angel took some photos of the illustrious bird that emits saliva for their nest for a very expensive bird’s nest soup at Chinese restos.  The guide told us that the other end of the cave is another barangay with the mangrove plantation – it will take about 2 hours to go through the whole stretch – maybe next time we can do it, I thought. We went out and going through again the small entrance was a test of patience, agility and strength.  All of us were laughing as we tried our way out – I felt so dirty  when I finally got out.  I quickly washed myself in the lake waters.

The placid Tiktikan lake…

We got into the boat again and Dodo led us to Lim-ao Island where another secluded white beach welcomed us. I needed to swim to wash off all the dirt.  The waters were bit choppy but we went to snorkel again and viewed the colorful corals in different sizes. We lazed in the white beach, swam and snorkeled,  and finally got into the boat when we felt pangs of hunger.  We took our leisure lunch at the reception area and got back into the guest house for a quick bath.  Again, we were at the reception area to bid byes to the staff and of course to settle our bills!  🙂

Noon fishers on our way…

We cruised for Hayanggabon Port with Dodo and Reggie beaming and grateful for the wonderful time at the cove.  When we got to the port, we waited almost an hour for the bus to Surigao.   We decided to go down the city so Angel could catch glimpse around. I called up Gay who promised to pick us up at the terminal.  As Gay didn’t know of any coffee shop in town, we went to the Tavern Hotel instead, to have our dinner there.  We talked and talked – you know Gay!  🙂  We had a leisure walk at the Boulevard to get the Surigao City by night experience, before we finally left for the bus terminal.  We boarded the 10pm last trip bus for Butuan feeling so tired.

We arrived home past 1am already, thankful for a safe trip.  It was good to have Angel with us, he wasn’t an intrusion after all – he put up with Kay’s & my chatter, shrieks, loud laughter and silence as well.  We have shared much during the two-day trip, we had a great time and promised to be back again.  There’s still so much to explore at Sohoton…

Snorkeling @ Tojoman Lagoon in Sohoton

Rowing at Jellyfish Lake!

I revisited the enchanted Sohoton (in Siargao Island) last Saturday to once experience the wonders & challenges in the cove.  Just like my first trip, it was a crisp downcast morning which is unusual during summer but not in Siargao – it could rain anytime. Before we had breakfast, it started to rain already.  The two other guests (Cara & co.)  from  Manila whom I have convinced to join us (to save boat rentals) withdrew fearful of the rains. I told them it will stop later – even before we could reach the island.  But to no avail, they’re scared as they don’t know how to swim.  Our host informed me of something new in Sohoton – the jellyfish lagoon.  Actually it’s not new, they just failed to mention it last time and the occurrence of jellyfishes is seasonal. I decided to bring along my mask & snorkel to try a close encounter of the jellyfishes.

stingless jellyfish floated up...
Stingless jellyfish floated up…

So after a rush breakfast , we took off.  Rains, waves, winds were with us as we cruise silently to Bucas Grande.  I love the sights along the way – vast ocean, islands, fishers on their boat, blue waters, blue skies, green mountains, etc. The rough waters of Siargao is not unusual but we arrived safe in Sohoton. The caretaker mentioned it was timely for us to come as there were so many guests the previous day,  the cove was flowing with people.

I learned that jellyfish naturally choose quiet & secluded place for their sanctuary. The species used to inhabit the lagoon in the cove but due to noise of motorized tour bancas, it disturbed their ecosystem. They transferred into another lagoon used to be a place of sea urchins. So the bancas going there are non motorized, we have to paddle  going there which I enjoyed (just like kayaking).  Only one guest in each banca (small enough for two people) – I was thinking its purpose is purely economics.  Anyway, we have to go to jellyfish lagoon first, the cove later…

We got into our cute bancas, I paddled with the guide to the lagoon.  We paddled fast at the entrance as the surface current was bit strong. Getting inside, I watched in awe of the sight before me – a quiet green lagoon with lush green vegetation on the side.  If you could see those brownish thing (at the photo above) on the waters, those are the jellyfishes! By the way, they’re stingless.  I was thinking of white ones just like what we saw in Calauit. I learned there were brown, even bluish ones.

With the guides….

It was so tempting I asked the guide to go down for a snorkel – it was beautiful!  Getting up close with small, medium, large jellyfishes and swimming with them!  I could watch them move like they’re breathing or maybe shouting at me not to go near them! So many of them floating on the waters.   The guide said there were much more in the past days but due to many guests, it disturbed them and choose to remain down under. I swam for awhile savoring the serenity and beauty of the lagoon.  I was wishing I had an underwater cam so I could get photos. The clear waters with the jellyfish, few corals, sea urchins would be so perfect. And I could see the lagoon floor, it would be so ideal for photos…. I was so engrossed I realized my sister & friends have gone, I can’t see them anymore.  The guide summoned me to the sides so I could get back into the banca. Time was up we need to rush to the cove before the high tide.

I promised myself to be back in the lagoon, I want that time when there would be so many jellyfishes filling the waters – so many I could get lost in them!  It would be amazing!  🙂