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…