Not far from Naga is a place called Caramoan which has a group of islands made famous on account of many of the Survivor programs being shot there. I’ve not seen any of them, I like reality TV about as much as I like being stabbed in the face. Oh and when I say “not far” I mean like the moon isn’t far from the Earth, it’s quite the fucker to reach but it’s very worth it. You can catch a bus into Caramoan proper these days, just show up at the bus terminal in Naga at 6am and ask around, but we were told that the road was shit and it’d take half our lives to get there, so we went the classic route which involves a minivan, a boat then a tricycle. Yeah, next time we’ll probably just get the bus. I’ll stick all the “getting there” shit at the bottom of this post as it’s about as exciting as reality TV.
I’d tried shopping around for island hopping tours including camping on a beach but they made my wallet shrivel up in terror though to be fair they did include all manner of useful things such as food and a guide to tell you stuff and things. The accommodation isn’t exactly on the side of the budget we’d grown accustomed to either, most of it was by the beach but still, the thought of throwing ₱1200 at a room we were only going to use for sleeping very much upset my inner Scrooge. You could probably pick up a cheaper place in Caramoan itself, about 6.5km from Paniman which is the jump off for the smaller group of islands, and about 5km from Bikal which is closer to the larger group of islands. Another option for the actual island hopping would be to go to the beach and haggle with a boatman but you’d probably need to speak Tagalog for that to occur and anyway, I’m about as good at haggling as I am juggling fire clubs with one hand whilst drunk.
We found a middle ground in the form of a chap called Ramil Cruel (details below) who has a homestay in Paniman a mere three minute shuffle to the beach, and he only wanted ₱600 a night for a non-AC room. He’ll arrange for a boatman to take you out too, no guiding or food, just the transport. It’s pretty much the cheapest way I found of doing it bar rowing yourself on a raft crafted from discarded water bottles and string. So the thing with Ramil, whilst his English was fine it’s not amazing and I’d decided to wait until we met him before discussing the itinerary, I thought it’d be easier. As soon as we jumped out of the tricycle at his homestay he showed us our room and said, “So, you are ready?” Wait, what? No, not really, we kind of thought we’d chill a bit, stay the night, then start checking out the islands the next day. To be fair there’s exactly fuck all to do in Paniman so it made sense to get going, we just weren’t prepared. We hadn’t even sourced a tent for the whole camping thing we had planned. Ramil said he’d get one for us but the guy who owned the tent he had in mind wouldn’t be back until after we’d left. He assured us he’d send the boatman back to us with it once he’d picked it up. Me and Tarrant exchanged glances. Yeah, we’d probably take Tarrant’s basha, just to be safe.
Food then. We’d need enough food to sustain us for roughly 24 hours. We’d picked up some snacks and canned shit in a supermarket in Naga as well as other essentials such as a bottle of rum and some cola. Since we’d gotten to the Philippines we’d been eating from 7/11’s and restaurants so we actually had no real idea of how much local food was. We’d seen the little places with the ready cooked food all laid out but we hadn’t tried them yet. Ramil lead us to a carinderia where we picked our food from the display and the lady bagged it up for us. I believe they’re also called turo-turo which literally means point point. It’s just that. You point at shit, shit gets handed to you. It’s glorious and, it seemed, it was the cheapest way to feed yourself here.
I’m not even shitting you. Two portions of pork each and two portions of rice each, plus a few more snacks, it came to not much more than ₱100. We looked at her. “For everything??” She nodded. Fucking hell, guys, we’d been paying ₱150 per meal. This was a game changer.
Right then, let’s go hop some islands. We were loaded into a bangka and as Ramil pushed us off the beach and into the sea he called out, “So Survivor is filming, Matukad island is closed.” What? So the island we said we wanted to camp on, the island you said would be fine, it’s closed? You fucking what? You couldn’t have told us this before we committed? Partially my fault, I should have thought to ask. There are still plenty of islands to explore so it’s not the end of the world, but of course the TV show takes the best ones and with the island we thought we’d arranged to stay on overnight out of bounds we had no idea where we’d be sleeping.
Our first stop wasn’t even an island but a beach further down the coast but it was a lovely little cove. We splashed about in the water, took selfies like the utter tourists we are and strolled around the beach. This is about as close to relaxing as I get. I’m not a relaxer. You give me a beach and tell me to chill and I will look for the nearest thing to do that preferably doesn’t involve sand. Our boatman and the boy who could have been his son, could have been an assistant, who knows, were lovely. They didn’t decide when we left, that was down to us. Once we’d had enough of the frolicking that is compulsory when presented with gorgeous, warm water and a golden, sandy beach we climbed back onto the bangka with minimal injury and we chugged along to Minalahos Island.
This island has a lagoon, and you can climb up some rocks and gaze over this lagoon. You could probably climb all the way down the other side to visit the lagoon but when you’re crawling around rocks in your swimwear with a significant portion of your flabby, white flesh exposed you become acutely aware of how sharp and pointy aforementioned rocks are. We gingerly made our way up far enough for a view and some contrived gazing-out-over-the-view photos before clambering back down, choosing now to remember I have exactly zero balance or coordination.
It’s fun though. Again we frolicked in the water and harassed random sea life before heading to Cagbanilad Island where we were promptly accosted by a Filipino woman who asked us if we were Survivors from America. No, we replied, we’re English, we’re just on holiday. She excitedly waved her family over shouting, “Survivors from America!” whilst frantically pointing at us. Ah well. Generic white people. We posed for photographs with them for a bit then headed back to the bangka to be taken to a campsite for the night.
Caramoan, Camarines Sur Luzon, Philippines
Stayed at: Some manner of beach.
Useful Shit To Know – The classic route from Naga to Caramoan
– A block behind the SM Mall, by the Plaza Medica on Carnation Street, there’s a Southbound van terminal and this is where we went at 6am to catch a minivan to Sabang Port. They’ll leave when full and it’s ₱100, but we took up so much room with our bags that as the van was about to pull away we were cheerfully informed that we’d have to pay ₱200 each.
– I’d heard boats from Sabang to to Guijalo left every hour between 7am and 11am but this is probably wildly inaccurate. We rolled in before 8am and were told that the bext boat was at 9am. Filipino time, mind. As in they started loading us on at ten past nineish and everytually maybe left at half past. It’s only ₱120 each on the oversized bangka which appeared to be called a Harry, plus whatever you want to pay the porter to take your bags so you can concentrate on boarding the boat without stacking it into the fucking water. They brought this sort of floating platform over which joined the boat to the beach and as we queued a bloke collected ₱10 off everyone which is totally worth it because basically your only other option is to swim to the boat. Don’t forget to sign the manifest, you won’t be permitted to board without doing it.
– Once you arrived at Guijalo Port, hopefully as dry as when you left Sabang, there’ll be porters waiting to take your bags for a small fee so all you have to do is walk along a narrow plank off the boat wihout having a complete nervous breakdown in front of all these people, and of course there’ll be enough tricycles waiting for everyone, just big enough for two foreigners, all their luggage, the driver and his wife and kid. Ramil had already told us it was ₱300 to Paniman for the tricycle and the guy knew Ramil, but I think it’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone.
– Ramil Cruel can be contacted on +63 907 435 1962. I’ve read many accounts of Pinoy travellers having a great experience with him but ours wasn’t so good. Perhaps you need to be able to speak Tagalog, his texting English is fine, his spoken English not so good.
– His homestay is called Caramoan Homestay and is located in Paniman.