Excel V. Dyquiangco
Photos by: Bernard Supetran
The journey to Bicol’s most famed tourist spot came to almost a surprising halt. It was already past midnight when we finally reached Paracale, a small and lazy town in the second district of Camarines Norte. As I got off the van, I realized that not much has been really said about this province; in fact it’s all about CWCs and wakeboarding activities on the other side that have hounded the newspapers, the media and the Internet. But what about Camarines Norte?
I soon discovered the answer the next day. We trooped for a camping adventure in one of the most celebrated islands here in the region—the Calaguas Group of Islands. I finally found what made the two-hour boat ride a thrill, and how this unchartered territory has been attracting droves of tourists. But more than this island, Camarines Norte has a lot of attractions for the history buffs and the adventure seekers.
Arts and culture in Cam Norte
When we finally got back to Paracale the next day, we headed to Paracale Church which was closed during that time. Quite interesting was that even when the façade of this century-old church (which was made from hardwood cut from forests and adobe blocks) looked somewhat old because of the dilapidating structure, the statues on the three corners were newly painted. From far away, these statues symbolized the Trinity as they were all placed in a triangular figure—one at the top and two at the bottom. This church recently celebrated its 400th year anniversary.
Just within the vicinity of the town proper also lies the Museo Bulawan, known as “The Golden Museum” which is also a must-see for tourists especially for those who are interested in arts and culture. Among the many collections in the museum include the floater or the boya, a round and hallowed crystal ball that is attached to a net and laid on the body of water to keep the net floating horizontally; and the collection of kitchen utensils such as silver spoons, fork and butter knife which are heirloom passed on by the first Governor of Camarines Norte, Governor Miguel Lukban. Museo de Labo is another museum worth the visit. Located in the town of Labo beside the municipal library, other interesting finds here include set paintings on the walls of the first governor to the latest; the historic travails of their homegrown hero, former governor Wenceslao Q. Vinzons which the town Vinzons and Vinzons Hall at the University of the Philippines was named after, seen through pictures and writings; and maps of the whole province of Camarines Norte.
One of the more fascinating ancestral homes we also visited was located in one of the busy streets along Vinzons Avenue, sandwiched between hardware shops, restaurants and grocery stores. The Rufino Pabico Ancestral Home built in 1917 is a two-storey white and maroon brick house, obviously well-kept with its lawns constantly shaved and the grasses obviously greener on this side. An octagonal fountain lies in the middle of the lawn. As the caretaker Francisco Temoner, the grandson of the original owner came to greet us, he reminded me of the character-actor Cris Daluz aimlessly walking down the path—white hair, jaw line firm and taut and his built seemed in tiptop shape even though he was already in his seventies. He led us inside the house and there were graduation pictures of the owner’s children—a surefire sign of the close-knit ties of the family. Inside the house looked like a typical stone house with arches and columns prevailing all the way up to the second floor. It has a masonry feel to it with wooden floor-boards and intricate woodwork, especially with carved wooden walls. Further inside was a quaint-looking tea table with polka dot drapes and four metal chairs propped on each side. On the second floor of the house atop the marble staircase was a grand piano with paintings of abstract art on the walls and on the ceilings. The Pabico house seemed like a huge mural, with art and culture echoing loudly in all four corners.
Roughing it out in Cam Norte
Cam Norte is also blessed with beautiful waterfalls and clear fresh rivers and creeks. One of those we visited was less than an hour away from the town proper. In the town of Labo, Malatap Falls finally came into view. Just 100 meters away from the highway, this not-so tall falls seemed a little bit overpowered by all the boulders and rocks surrounding it. Tourists can have a refreshing swim at the base of the falls and a natural “hydromassage” in the cascading river waters.
Mampurog River in the town of San Lorenzo Ruiz is also one tourist spot you shouldn’t miss. Referred to as one of the cleanest bodies of water in the whole country, the river is apt for swimming and diving. I even laid in one of the rocks for the longest time, propped in the rocks and allowed the cascading waters to massage my back. For Php100-150 (±US$2-3), you can rent a hut which is good for families and couples. Remember to bring your own food. Entrance fee is Php2 (±US$0.05) and if you have a car, parking fee is Php15 (±US$0.34) for the whole day.
Another attraction in Mampurog is that above the gushing waters is a hanging bridge that we crossed back and forth just for fun.
In Daet Bagasbas Beach which faces the Pacific Ocean is also a known tourist spot for adventure seekers simply because it’s a known surfing destination. We went there very early in the morning and I watched some of my friends hop on the board, trying to learn how to surf. I noticed that the waves were fierce—more so than the time we surfed in La Union—but even with it, the lessons still pushed through. Surfing lessons is at Php400 (±US$9), surfboard rental at Php200 (±US$4) and instructor fee at Php200 (±US$4). For accommodations, inns and rooms for rent surround the area. For just Php200 (±US$4) in general, you can rent out a simple room which only includes a fan and sleeping area and nothing else. But if you want a more high-end place to stay, you can check out the Bagasbas Lighthouse Hotel Resort and Restaurant just fronting the beach where you can get rooms as low as Php1,750 (±US$39).
However if you are tired of surfing the surfboard, try a different kind and head on to Baybay Beach in the town of Mercedes. This time surf with a kayak and a paddle. I did try it (my first time) and it was glorious experience even though the waves were rough. Just a tip: do the kayak surfing when the sun is about to rise or about to set. Rent a kayak and have fun with this activity for only Php200 (±US$4) per hour.
By the time our trip ended, we were spent but filled with a joyous hunger. I didn’t know that Cam Norte is this fun and I am so raring to go back. Nothing can truly compare with this experience.
Many jeepneys and tricycles ply the area. Make Paracale as your start-off point as this is quite close to the cultural hotspots of the region, like the ancestral homes and the museums. You can also ride a jeepney that can take you directly to Mampurog River and Malatap Falls, which is just a walking distance from the main highway. Travel time for both of these spots is about 30 minutes to one hour. Take a jeepney to Daet and visit the world-famous surfing spot Bagasbas Beach.
For a better experience, have three to four days of rest in Cam Norte. You can also visit any of these spots: Colasi Waterfalls in Mercedes, and go island hopping in Malasugui Islands and Apuao Grande in Mercedes.
Paliza del Rio Tourist Inn
Tel Number 02-542-3888
Cel Number 0912-7409266
Bagasbas Lighthouse Hotel, Resort and Restaurant
Tel Number (054) 731-0355
Cel Number 0916-647-7209
Provincial Tourism Office, Daet
Distance – 210 kilometers from Manila
Travel time – Travel time is eight to ten hours
Via Public Bus from Manila to Paracale:
Ride a bus going to Daet (Superlines and Philtranco) Php600 (±US$14.18) one way. Get off at Talobatid Junction (centro) then ride a bus going to Paracale. The fee is Php20-30 (±US$0.47-0.71). Telephone numbers of Superlines: (02) 414-3321 or (02) 414-3319.
From Daet terminal, take a jeepney ride or tricycle to Mampurog River or to Labo.
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