Tourists at last.

We just went on our first holiday since we arrived in the Philippines. It has ‘only’ been 4 months but in that time we haven’t had time to be just tourists and go somewhere outside of Cagayan de Oro (CdO) even for a couple of days. So destination: Camiguin or the island born of fire as the official website puts it.

It is situated only a couple of hours by boat from CdO and is perfect to get away for a few days. Every time you mention Camiguin to a Pinoy or a foreigner living in CdO, it’s all Ooooohs and Aaaaaahs. Everyone just loves it…and that now includes us.

We spent 5 days there and simply had a brilliant time. We stayed at a resort called ‘Camiguin Action Geckos‘. A nice place with a great atmosphere, great people (staffs and guests), great food, great great great. We’d definitely recommend it to anyone going to Camiguin, and we’ll stay there next time we go (yes, there will be a next time). They were super accommodating with our (animal cruelty-free but admittedly not chef pain-free) vegetarian (me) and vegan (Ann) diet and agreed to cook tofu as long as we were bringing it with us (our claim to fame might turn out to be that we have brought tofu to Camiguin…no one in the kitchen knew what it was).

The island is mostly famous for it’s 7 active volcanoes and the many dive sites around. Although the couple who manage ‘Geckos’ are dive specialists, and many of the guests stay there primarily for the diving trips on offer, there was no diving for us this time (I haven’t done any diving in 7 or 8 years and Ann is not interested), so we concentrated on other things. That means we haven’t been to two of the most popular places around the island: White beach – a sand bar with nice views of the island, and Mantigue Island. Both are well known for their coral and have great snorkeling and diving. Next time.

On our first day it was pouring… a proper tropical downpour (see the video here)…Not the best start but no big deal either. We did go on a what-was-suppose-to-be-a-short-walk in search of an Italian restaurant called ‘Luna’ that Ann had been to on her previous trip to the island. It turned out to be a walk to…well nowhere.  We got further and further away from the coast on a muddy road up in the hills. It was getting dark, it was raining. We didn’t get there…Ann – anything to add? The rest of the day we just sat at the terrace, enjoyed the scenery, drank a couple of beers and relaxed.

The next few days, although some of them had intermittent rain, we visited the island. We attempted to climb Mount Hibok-Hibok (one of the volcanoes) but had to turn back because of fog at the summit. It was quite damp and slippery and as the path to the summit is more about scrambling over rocks than walking a clear path (our guide had to use his machete a few times to clear the vegetation), we decided to turn back. We had left at 5.30am (I know!) and it sucked not to reach the summit but so it is. On the way down we stopped briefly at Ardent Hot Springs, a hot spa that is a natural pool with water of up to about 40 degrees Celsius. A really nice place with…well…warm water, surrounded by the forest. We liked it. We went back the next day.

We were more successful in “hiking” the walkway to the ‘Old volcano’ (I’ve seen it described somewhere as a major hike… don’t believe a word of it, it’s quite mild but has great views). There are statues depicting  the stations of the cross along the way (very popular with Pinoys during the holy week). We also stopped by the sunken Cemetary (not much to see I’m afraid except a giant cross over the water marking the spot of the old capital that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vulcan) and the ‘Old Catarman Church ruins‘. On that day we relied on public transport and it didn’t work so well (waiting time can be rather long). So the following day we opted to rent a motorcycle and tour the island instead. Camiguin is fairly small and has a road that loops around the whole island following the coast line (about 70km) and as traffic is minimal (and is mostly other motorbikes) it’s pretty safe.

It was by far the best way to see the island and the many different amazing spots it has to offer.  A great thing about Camiguin is that although it is quite a popular destination, it hasn’t (yet) been completely taken over by tourism and people are not (yet) sick of seeing tourists. As a result, people are warm and friendly and almost everyone says hello when you pass by on the motorbike (resulting in no end of honking for me and hand waving for Ann).

We stopped at the ‘Camiguin Giant Clams Sanctuary’ near a little place called Cantaan. It’s a well hidden cove and to get there you have to “take a side road and continue on it for a while even though you’ll think it looks like you’ve gone in the wrong direction” as Ulrich (one of the managers at our hotel) described it. Well worth the detour, it’s the only white beach on the island and could pretty much be an advertisement for a tropical beach: White sand, Palm tree, turquoise water…

We had lunch in a great seafood restaurant called the ‘Fish Pen’, where I ate a grilled Lapu-Lapu that was absolutely excellent (by far the best fish I ate in the Philippines). They prepared a vegan meal that was good for Ann, and we enjoyed a cool one while looking at  a peaceful lagoon where a guy was building what will be his floating house.

On that day we also stopped at the ‘Enigmata Tree House’. What we thought would be a really ‘cool’ place full of art and music turned to be a rundown and fast decaying tree house. It really has an atmosphere that let’s you imagine how once it was an up-and-happening creative place full of artists…but then one day people just left…quite depressing actually. I don’t know if maybe the people who started the project still come once in a while and breathe some life in the place, but it sure doesn’t look that way.

But our favorite spot on the island was Saai cold springs. We tried to make it there on the first day we rented the motorbike but arrived to late in the day…so we rented the motorbike an extra half-day. Saai is tucked away inland and one has to walk for about 20 minutes to get there. There is kind of a road but it’s in such poor condition that there is no way we could drive there). It’s much quieter than the other springs on the island. The afternoon we went there, there was no one else, and we liked it that way. Unfortunately we had forgotten the camera but we promise to get pics next time. Imagine a fast flowing river that fills up various pools. Tropical forest and coconut trees all around you. The sea in the distance. It was e.x.c.e.l.l.e.n.t.

The rest of the time was filled with alternating reading and napping in a hammock near the beach and that…was also great.

There are a few places we haven’t been able to go to while on Camiguin (White Island, Mantigue, a couple of waterfalls) so between these and the places we want to get back to, another trip is definitely in order.

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