Search and You Shall Find in My World

11 April 2011

Off to a road less traveled: Cawayan, Masbate

Three hours bus ride and six hours overnight boat ride is a serious travel business. Unless your destination is a well renowned tourist spot. 

But Masbate, I assume, is not a good tourist destination. I have not seen ads nor heard tourists recommending the province in that part of Bicol in the Philippines. In fact, all I heard about Masbate are typhoons and deaths. Armed conflict, be it the revolutionary type, blood wars or gun-for-hires were my description of Masbate, thanks to the Philippine media who would rather sensationalize gore and drama.

Map showing our travel from Bogo City in Cebu to Cawayan in Masbate

And to make it worst (unless you've been there before to say the worst), my destination this time is to a more elusive town in that part of Masbate- Cawayan. Elusive because if you search for Cawayan in the internet, all you get are incorrect data pointing to another parts of Bicol. Yes there are some vague town data that won't help. At all. No data for hotels or pension houses. No official website. Fuzzy pictures from residents of Cawayan. All are adding mystery to that place.

But the road less traveled, I think, is the most exciting place to go. I packed my bag and go. 

From Cebu City we took the Ceres Bus at the Cebu North Bus Terminal for Bogo City where a direct ferry ride for Cawayan is available daily. This is a good three-hour trip so I made myself ready. It is advisable to take the six or seven PM trip to Bogo because the ferry departs at 12 midnight for Cawayan and there is nothing much to see in Polambato, Bogo City.  So getting there at past ten is justifiable. 

Disservice at its best

I say our trip was not quite good. We were seated at the economy section and the winds at night were extremely cold. Everyone of us was shivering from cold despite our jackets and hoods. You have no chance of getting a good night sleep because Super Shuttle Ferry is a seating ferry. That means no cots to sleep on Mister. 

Worst, the crew and staff would not and did not offer good service to paying clients. You could not even distinguish them from other passengers. They would just grab your tickets and leave you wherever you are onboard.

I have to knock several times at their food bar for me to be noticed despite they were just seating in the passengers' seat right next. Worst still, they jacked up their food and beverages at 200 percent making a 5 pesos junk food into a premium commodity without the service. The beer in can that could have saved me from the cold was worth 65 pesos, the price of a 1 liter (grande) Red Horse Beer. I got drunk just by asking the price.

Despite the happy colors, the seats of Super Shuttle Ferry does not offer comfort
This sign as well as other facilities and other services in the ferry show how the staff and management has taken the passengers for granted

Halfway through the trip, the waves were getting bigger and the noise from the machines and the seemingly upturned cargoes made me shut my eyes without sleeping. I was so glad when the ferry finally docked six hours after.

Good sign

From afar, Cawayan was engulfed in a fog, a good sign for me. When we got near the port, the place seemed remote and rural, their port being far from the town center in a barangay (village) called Mahayahay. Since we were there because of a friend's invitation, we were billeted at their home in the Divisoria section of Cawayan, a jumble of the old and new Cawayan and the goods they trade.

The port of Cawayan, Masbate, small and still undergoing road construction
Barangay (village) of Mahayahay in Cawayan

Without rest we were toured around town. From the town proper up to the highlands of Cawayan, down to its marine sanctuary in Recodo. We were supposed to go to some islands in Cawayan but time is against us. But one thing worth remembering during this trip is the hospitality of the people there despite the short notice and the short visit.

Mind you, everywhere we go food were served and we were not allowed to go without eating as if it was our last visit. It was in Cawayan that I first tasted a binga (a kind of shell) cooked in a simple way- salted and steamed- to get its flavors from the sea. When I saw its original form I was shocked because of its hugeness that was unseen from the tender slices of its meat. Maybe because it was cooked in its simplicity or when still fresh from the sea.

The shell called Binga
The cooked binga meat is a good beer accompaniment
Manta ray meat cooked in oyster sauce is definitely delicious.
Our master chef and host is Eric Dubongco.
In fact most of the food I tasted from there were fresh, literally jumping before they were subjected to coal fires or vinegar. Their kinilaw (fresh raw fish with vinegar, spices and coconut milk) has a different taste and the fish crunchy to the bite. The saang were tender and sweet. The variety of seaweeds dipped in vinegar and garlic interestingly bursting with a taste I never experienced in Bohol, Cebu or Samar.


Nowhere, I said, no-where had I seen an open market that was so big and so varied my sense of smell and sight were intoxicated by its presence. Cawayan's market was a sight to behold and to be experienced. From transistor radios to ukay-ukay, vegetables to seaweeds, from livestock meat to fish of different species, we found them all in their market. 

Although I did not made notes and do not wish to, seeing the whole of Divisoria on a Sunday was like seeing the whole island of Masbate.

The open air market extends right at the beach
Sea cucumber locally called bat is one of the unique displays up for sale in the Cawayan market 

The only thing I detest in these kind of markets in the provinces is the uncontrolled buying and selling of illegal species. I do not know if getting the egg sacs of squids are illegal but they were abundant there. Rays, mantas and stings, were butchered right in front of the public. I am glad I did not see turtles or dolphins.

The squid egg sacs put on sale with tiny squids still squiggling inside

When we left Divisoria for Mayahay port, we made a promise to go back. And as I looked back I wondered what would happen to Cawayan years from now. The fresh air we breath there were occasionally mixed with the foul smell from somewhere. Although I did not see overflowing garbage bins in the roadsides, their rivers and seas were already floating with plastic and other garbages, a sign that the municipal government is not stringent in its waste disposal laws, if there are any.

Plastic and other garbage litter the waterways of Cawayan
Divisoria is quite dirty and the local government should make moves to have a real marketplace, separating wet and dry goods. In their case, the sea is the main reason why the wet market is at the beach front- water. It is a sad fact that this part of Cawayan lacks proper water system and of course drainage system.

I envy the village of Recodo who is "far from civilization" but was able to put up a good water system. Why can't the municipal government do the same?

But in all, my travel to that side of the Philippines was worth it. New friendships were established and a new experience was realized on my part. I will be back.

Relevant information:
Super Shuttle Ferry [#38 Gorordo Avenue, Cebu City 6000; Telephones: (032) 232-3150, 231-0639, 234-4121, 345-5581; Fax: (032) 233-5733, 345-5583] leaves from Polambato, Bogo City to Cawayan, Masbate every day at 12 midnight and departs from Cawayan to Polambato every day at 12 noon.

For bus trip schedules in and out of Cebu call Ceres Liner Cebu at telephone number (32) 345-8650.

More shots:


kg said...

what a nice trip edik! gusto ko din pumunta somewhere na hindi tourist spot and experience the culture!

Edik said...

oo nga. i am really privileged to go to Cawayan and being pampered at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Nice trip indeed!! I suggest you should visit Pasil(sand bar) and Isla Florencia the next time you go there.
Presko gyud tinuod ang seafoods didto, ikapanghambog gyud.

junjun condor said...

recently a nationally funded water system was begun in cawayan town and the town now has had a website, lgu cawayan masbate. just check it out.
though far from complete, were trying to post in some useful info for travelers but just bear with us (or rather me. as one of the admins of the website, i'm a medical professional not a web designer/programmer. but i'm trying to learn )

Edik said...

Thank you for the information Mr. Condor. I went back to Cawayan just this year during the holy week and was quite impressed with the developments. Garbage has now lessened.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Please visit again cawayan and tell us more on what you observe.