Sohoton Weekend: Brief, Clandestine, Wonderful

Serene horizon…

Seize this moment now, as there might be no chance next time…

Coming to Sohoton is always a joy and even how brief and quick my hop few days back it was a great way to welcome summer and a refreshing break from work.  After two moths I was back, but this time with Angel after three years when he first came to Butuan  and Surigao to catch glimpse of Northeast Mindanao.  It was some kind of homecoming especially that he wanted to dine at Margie’s for his cravings!

On the Move

Although it meant long road trip for Angel, he decided to have his entry and exit point in Cagayan de Oro which I was grateful as I have a companion during the rides.  So after three hours of sleep on Friday night and sneaking from home, our escape started too early when we catch the 330am King long bus for Butuan, and after more than five hours took another bus and at noon reached Bad-as, Placer with the rains constantly pouring on our way.  Thankful that the summer sun is brightly shining while at Bad-as, we waited for more than an hour  before the van left to Port Hayanggabon in Claver, with our boat already waiting. Watching the blue waters and feeling the fresh air as we drove along the coastal towns gave a spirit lift wanting to reach my haven sooner. We rode the afternoon waves cruising to the islands, and as if to welcome us the waves kept splashing on us and gave a shower of salt water on our skin. It kept us swinging as we drew near with smiles on our faces, but halfway the waters cleared and we sped off straight to Cinnamon. The POs cottage had been prepared ready to embrace us for the remaining precious hours in my little paradise.

Dust at Port Hayanggabon

Not wanting to waste time, we rushed off with our guide Reggie to Marka A Island, a rock mountain islet in green vegetation surrounded with blue waters with small patch of beach.  Angel and I wanted to freshen our gills as it’s been four weeks since our last dive.  From our yellow small boat, we jumped off to the waters to swim and snorkel, indeed we were not disappointed. The sandy slope was decorated with variety of corals – most are table corals in different colors and sizes punctuated with variety of fish species. Trumpet fishes, Moorish idol, damsels, anemone fishes, pipefish. Sweetlips, fusiliers and lot  more.  A bluish boxfish wiggling its way from us, he hid away down the corals as it noticed us following him.  We drifted with the late afternoon current as we watched the scenery below us, as we swam shallower we caught glimpse of striped fish in herd camouflaging as one big fish, then a pair of trumpets attacked them and they scattered but grouped back again, the poor herd was bullied at least twice.  We swam to the small white beach as the waters getting colder joining other people there.  We lingered for some time in the shallow waters with the orange horizon beyond as the day’s sun ebbed down.

Watching sunset with its crepuscular rays while on the waters…

One Night Magical

It was getting dark when we rushed back in our refuge in Cinnamon, only kerosene lamps illumined the place creating a warm glow in the dark.  As usual the singing cicadas cutting the stillness of the night, coupled with the waves in the nearby shore was all the audible sounds you have in the island.  Our nipa & bamboo cottage was just perfect for a good night’s rest without doubt, it was such ideal for unwinding after a long week at work.  Our sumptuous dinner of fresh and organic food under the canopy of stars with fresh sea air in candlelight was just lovely! Something that is very rare in the city.  And finishing it off with fresh cinnamon tea, felt like one fresh pot was not enough for me and Angel, after we tried concocting it with honey, and later with calamanci extract! We enjoyed too the company of PO staff who seemed to accommodate every wishes we had.  Retiring for the night was all we need after a long day with lack of sleep, our fresh linens seemed to beckon.  Imagine sleeping with open windows, cicadas singing, waves rolling with the stars above,  then  few fireflies inside our cottage hovering up – rare sight on summer months!  This is what living in rural setting is all about – so natural, organic and unaffected – away from the complexities of city life.  Unending stories until we drift off to sleep….

Water, Water Everywhere

Nothing is refreshing than waking up with gentle sea breeze blowing and sounds of rolling waves nearby, with the morning twilight in the horizons.  We need to start early to make most of our time but not without getting an idyllic breakfast near the shore. Watching the horizons, while sipping our cappuccino – again in candle light. C’est la vie!  The hopeless romantic in me was completely absorbed in such opulence feeling like were in a beach villa  overlooking the shore.

Green waters and lush green vegetation

Our visit to the islands was not complete without seeing our jelly friends, it was our first stop for the day, we sped off to the reception center and transferred on a small banca.  We paddled our way with our guide, that same placid lagoon that housed million of stingless jellyfishes.  But to our dismay, it wasn’t on its peak yet, only few of the brown jellies were matured and the rest of the population was still too small.  By estimates, they will be full grown by June yet – somehow they were affected by climate changes, perhaps.  We got off from the banca to snorkel for awhile, playing few of the jellies that came near us but again to our dismay, the guide told us to be back on the boat. Swimming with the jellies was not allowed anymore! The swim was brief but perhaps enough for now…

It started to drizzle when we sped off to Sohoton Cove, the tide slowly subsiding. It always gave me that sense of wonder every time passing that opening for the cove.  It’s intriguing that under the semi-cave shade, one could hardly get the chance to explore the entrance with the fierce currents, the deep blue waters mesmerizing. Variety of plants grew on the rock islets – iron wood, pitcher plant, agoho tree and more species that can survive on rocks rather than soil.  Our first stop was the Hagukan Cave which was indeed snoring when we got there.  The vacuum inside gave that sound as the water wasn’t low enough yet, the entrance still almost covered with water.  Angel and I jumped off, and a guide led me to swam deep and got inside, I was gasping when I float up!  We linger for a moment and swam inside feeling the cold and warm waters.

Entrance to Hagukan Cave

We sailed next to Magkakaub Cave catching two boatful of tourists, Angel all beaming suggested for the jump – which was precisely the reason for getting there.  We went last from the other guests, but rock climbing in the cave seems easier now after some time of doing it again and again.  But alas – I still have to gather the courage to jump which I did eventually, and even for Angel!  The great splash was too liberating – I will do it again and again until I still have the strength to climb for the cave exit.  J  I still wanted to swim but we were such in a rush for lack of time.  We sailed back for our return with the rain pouring – as if some great blessing was poured on us from heaven!

The cottage was in full motion when we got there preparing for guests on lunchtime, we just need to freshen up and pack although my heart wanted to stay longer.  We went nearby with Roldan to gather some fresh cinnamon barks, the island is blessed with these trees scattered around and which they utilized as welcome drink for guests.  Our fresh buko was ready, but choose to have it during our meals. I wanted to slow down as our stay nearing its end – how pathetic we barely had twenty hours in the islands!  Our sumptuous lunch glued us for some time on our table – the fresh fish, the soup, the buko – everything delectable and natural to our liking.

Leaving Home

The Bucas Grande group has been a home for me and Cinnamon is exactly the spot where I can relax and be comfortable like my first home.  I can snorkel and swim in the waters just few steps from the cottage or I can just laze around in the small patch of white beach or simply sit on the porch and watch the endless horizon beyond.  It is an environmentalist’s dream.

We rode the waves on our small boat under the blazing noon sun, but promising myself to be back again in its bosom to explore more of the islands – like that elusive cave that traverse to another barangay or even to try diving in its turquoise waters.  And just like when we come, the sea water flashing gave us some shower as if to bid bye.  Our brief stay was incredibly uplifting and wonderful and I was wishing I could have stayed for another day.  Surely, there are reasons to be back again in Sohoton.

Notes:

Sohoton National Park is a protected area – terrestrial or coastal. The communities within the Bucas Grande islands are organized – fisherfolk, women, youth – duly registered.  These rural groups were recipients and partners in  community-based resource management program for coastal communities.  SAVE Sohoton, the PO which run the cottage and coop store in Cinnamon,  is one of them.

A Time and Space…

Beautiful horizons…

I’m still grieving for my mother’s demise, I can’t deny it. The hole in my heart is still there, there seems a forlorn feeling deep in me.  And I wanted to be away, alone in a deserted place to be just by myself. I need a quiet time, to reflect and embrace the pain and hopeful to cast it away soon inside me. I was weighing my options what to do and where to go, embattled by management principles yet I need to pursue it for my sanity’s sake.  I have to limit expenses, for the past months there was too much cash outflow yet the inflows were in trickles and I need funds for my scheduled trips. But the holidays is gawking at me as if pointing a finger – getting a leave is not easy and I’m allowing the free days go down the drain – such opportunity loss! Last minute I decided to escape to Sohoton but without neglecting the essentials: attend the flag raising for the 112th Independence Day – singing the Pambansang Awit head held up, my right hand on my breast watching a 20×50 feet flag waving proudly up there gives a different kind of feeling; birthday breakfast with a good friend and catch up with her – women talks are too long! ; visit my optometrist for consultation and order my dailies; finish the laundry and grab some needs at the supermarket. Left on a Sunday after attending mass and a relaxed breakfast, I was bidding my time after all I’m on a vacation… Great Escape I was thankful I arrived in perfect shape and just in time, although I left CdeO with the 10am aircon bus, I step in at the reception center of the park at 620pm almost dark. The timing of the connecting vehicles was just perfect, when I arrived Hayanggabon port at Claver, my guide and the boat was already waiting. Joseph (the guide) said we should do some marketing for food, we did it hastily as it was almost getting dark. We sped off for the cruise riding on the waves, which is natural during late afternoons. Halfway, the waters have cleared and we cruised freely, orange skies in the horizon as the sun finally sets for the day. I haven’t arrived yet and I’m feeling good already, riding on the small boat with cool sea breeze on my face, surrounded by the vast blue sea and the green islets!  The little mermaid in me is rejoicing, this is where I belong….

Boats for Bucas Grande group…

Until now, there’s still no electricity in the place, so when it gets totally dark the stars started to decorate the skies and illumined the waters. DH said I would spend the night at Tiktikan Lake since the guest house is fully booked. I admired the expertise of the boat people, the could easily operate the vehicle even in darkness. So we cruised to the lake and climbed the path to the cottage, it was like camping. It’s an open cottage but large, and I have an airbed with matching mosquito net, which is actually what I need – I don’t like the mosquitoes! My bed was on a corner, so I get a good view of the stars in the sky!  DH said, I’m the “princess” of Joseph & Ranil during my stay. Indeed I was, they took care of my needs including cooking my food – such opulence! I woke up at dawn when the wind blew hard, in different directions my mosquito net is flying up – a little while it started to drizzle. Then I found out I got a message from Angel, which left me wondering since my bed spot has no signal!  Nobody knew my escape except one little sister at home (in case for emergencies) and have no plans to chatter about it even to Angel!

The placid Tiktikan Lake

The stars slowly fading out when morning came, watching the placid lake as I wake up is just too wonderful! Just One Day for Me I think it wont be too much to ask to just have a day for myself doing things randomly in the sanctuary of nature, in a different time and place. I leisurely take my breakfast while sending messages to Angel (I hardly do these on early mornings!) until other guests came to the cottage for boating at the lake. I talked with DH previous night about my planned activities, but I was aghast when I found out that Spirit was missing and not anymore at La Fortuna! The stingless jellyfish is out of season already and so my plan to snorkel at Tojoman Lake is cancelled.  😦   So my itinerary goes: Explore Crystal Cave and traverse to come out at the Mangroves in the other barangay Snorkel, snorkel, snorkel Island hop at nearby islets Visit Hidden Island Resort

Overlooking view near the fish sanctuary

Not quite spectacular or strange but one of those simple things that give simple joy to a soul who loves the water. It was still drizzling as we set out for our exploration, I was with Reggie and Joseph – my reliable guides. It’s good to be back at Crystal, we crawled tunnels, climb slopes, walk, look up, crawl again, entered holes but we never got out. We searched every corner for a tunnel leading to the exit but there was none. We retraced our steps and went round again. We found a snake wallowing in a pond, we found vandals as early as 1957, found nests of balinsasayaw with eggs, touch a chick not capable of flying yet and feel the balinsasayaw darting back & forth perhaps disturb by our presence. I told my subjects to abort and just got out from the cave. Well, got blue and scratches on my legs from the crawling! We went next to snorkel at Marka A Island, a nearby islet with a patch of white sand beach. The corals were colorful and amazing but I was wondering about the dead corals and rubbles and the locals offered these explanations: • During rainy season, the corals discolor due to waters losing tis saltiness • During low tides, in shallow waters the corals were exposed to too much heat and they tend to die • Corals in near shallow water tend to break and got destroyed as splashed by big waves especially during the habagat

A patch of white beach

We went to another spot in Caasinan (because in the olden days, the community used to produce salt from this place) for another snorkel. The corals are more colorful, tremendous and varied and there was fish life although juveniles but it was too wonderful to behold – oh, I miss my cam! I could have taken pictures of the anthias over a table coral, the bright red clown fish on anemones, butterfly fish, wrasses, angel fish, bat fish, damsels and more. I spend more time just going around and around. Then we sailed back in time for lunch. In the afternoon, we went to another islet Pulong Gamay near a marine sanctuary and climb on its top and had a good overlooking view on surrounding waters. Then we sailed on the vast waters and visit Hidden Island Resort, which was somewhat deserted when we got there. We were allowed to come inside after telling we’re guests of DH. I was surprised when they have two sharks, five  turtles, napoleon wrasse and other pelagics wading in the water pen! How could they do that? They are supposed to be in the wild… We didn’t stay long as the people there were not too friendly, perhaps disturbed by our presence. It’s a good place though but not as attractive in the pictures at the net!

Quiet beach, blue horizons, calm waters…

We cruised to Dahican, an island with white beach and few cottages. DH was suggesting to stay overnight there but I cant imagine sleeping in an open cottage near the sea, it would be too cold! It’s a good place though – quiet, serene, idyllic – and the caretaker was friendly and the kids also are kind. We stayed for awhile, me just sitting on the beach watching the horizons – the vast waters in front of me and the green patches. Soon I’ll be missing the view. We cruised back to the reception center, it felt free cruising the vast blue waters in front of us. I arrived at the reception center  bit exhausted but refreshed and renewed.  Before it got dark and my stay drawn to a close, I went for a swim in front of the reception center, it was  already late and there were no more guests. I wade, swam and practice getting down with no weights but no success – someday I will. Angel and I aimed for that.  Like, I can control my buoyancy and I can scuba dive with only one weights with me!  Then a small brownish jellyfish came near me, pulsating and floating, I took the time to play with it. it was some kind of manifestation and assurance that my friends are just around.  Later  I ate my dinner (fresh broiled fish & baked mac I brought with me) with a kerosene lamp, isn’t it some kind of romantic? 😛  I spend my night at the guest house, I need a good rest as my day was just too full! Another Next Time I was telling DH that next time I should be able to traverse the cave and he should be ready with a good guide, and I should not miss the jellyfish in the lagoon! I wake up the next morning opening my window and watching the placid lake in front me – so peaceful and so quite, it simply feeds your soul… I promise to be back again, I’m sure I would be missing again the vast seas surrounding me – away from the land, the crowds, man made structures. Here, it’s all nature – ordinary but so pure and true. The serenity is all consuming…

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…