Cagbalete Island – I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Tayabas, Quezon without ever hearing of this beautiful gem of an island off the coast of Mauban, Quezon, which is a neighboring town. In 2010 I stumbled across a few blog articles raving about Cagbalete and was captivated. A few days later a friend asked me for suggestions for her out-of-town weekend birthday party. No brainer – let’s go to Cagbalete! – and she went for it. Unfortunately, nearing the day, here comes Murphy (in the form of a client) forcing me to cancel my Cagbalete weekend. Four years later in the summer of 2014, while thinking of an impromptu quick weekend getaway, Tess reminded me about Cagbalete Island.
The Road to Cagbalete Island
So off we went to JAC liner to catch their 5:00 AM bus direct for Mauban. We were hoping to hop on one of their newer China-made buses, but they used an older one instead that had a very rigid suspension. The leg from Tayabas to Mauban was still as scenic as I remembered it from my childhood. I think my townsfolk called the area Little Baguio because of the hilly verdant terrain.
We arrived in Mauban around 9:45 AM, giving us a good 45-minute breather for the 10:30 AM commuter banca to Cagbalete. When we got to Barangay Daungan, where the port is, we found that the banca had left already, since all the seats filled up early. That’s island-time in reverse. No worries, we hooked up with a group of three, who were booked at the same place we were, and shared the cost of a private-hire banca that took us straight to our resort’s beachfront in 1 hour and 15 minutes. About a kilometer from Cagbalete, we kept gazing into the water because we could clearly see the white, sandy and shallow bottom. To our right rose the low peaks of Alabat Island.
Checking in at Villa Noe and Exploring Bonsai Island
We checked in at Villa Noe, with its prominent Hollywood-esque signage. The accommodations weren’t plush but they were clean. We didn’t mind the communal toilet and showers since we knew about that beforehand. We spent the rest of the day lounging around, getting a little wet, lying on the fine sand, reading into the clouds and walking a bit. There were a few other guests but the whole island seemed to be ours and we liked that very much.
The tide was receding which revealed a sandbar bridging the shore to a rocky outcrop christened as Bonsai Island. Bonsai I guess because of the dwarfish trees as they look from afar, but up close they look to me like a small patch of mangroves. Okay, so the Bonsai isn’t remarkable. What’s remarkable is the rocky outcrop itself. It’s like a giant stone plateau which got hammered producing a spider web of cracks on the surface. In the stone pools where the outcrop meets the clear water we could see a variety of small fishes waving at us.
We came upon Joven’s Blue Sea Beach Resort and immediately staked our claim on their nice beach recliners. They were the only resort we’ve seen so far that had them. After ordering fresh buko (coconut) juice each, Rexie, the owner, and Raul, the manager came up to us at different times for a chat. Joven’s we were told is one of the newer resorts and all the resort owners on Cagbalete are relatives. Their forebears, the Tainos/Pansacolas, owned a very large piece of the island which got handed down, and divided, through the generations.
Though the beach was so pristine, we couldn’t help but notice the broken corals and shells being washed to shore. There aren’t mounds of it, but it’s there, and Rexie let on that these were the deep-seated consequences of unmitigated dynamite fishing years ago in the waters of Lamon Bay that surrounds Cagbalete. Eradication of the practice is uncertain in other areas, but in theirs it has because of the concerted efforts of the resort owners, local government units and non-government groups to educate dynamite fishers who all have a stake in promoting tourism and reviving the environment.
We walked around the resort and took a liking to one of their rustic bahay-kubos (bamboo cottage). The communal showers looked new and well-maintained too. So right there we decided to spend the next night at Joven’s.
We woke up early to enjoy the sunrise and were pleasantly surprised when the staff informed us that Villa Noe would be comping us breakfast, which they then laid out for us right on the beach. A fisherman and his son pulled up to shore in their small banca and offered the day’s catch to the resort staff and its guests at less-than-market prices. Villa Noe has outdoor grills which are available to the guests for free.
Wandering Around Cagbalete’s Barangay Uno
A local kid, Marco, came up to us barefoot and shyly asked if he could be our guide if ever we wanted to roam around Cagbalete. He could and we did. We wanted to visit the village at Sabang so we started on the inland trail behind Villa Noe which fed into a network of trails. I thought to myself that it would be nice to have a bicycle here to explore the trails. Pictures on some blogs would show a swamped trail, probably because the photos were taken during the rainy season. Fifteen minutes later we were at the village. Marco said they call the village Barangay Uno or Centro.
First thing we did was head for a sari-sari (general) store and bought Marco a pair of flip-flops, then proceeded to aimlessly walk around. There is no electricity fed to Cagbalete even if Mauban hosts the 460MW Quezon Power Plant. The local households pool together resources to buy and run diesel electric generators that they usually have on from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM. The resorts do the same too.
The village people were very amiable, we kept exchanging “magandang umaga po’s (good morning’s) with them. Narrow streets, clean sidewalks, women doing the laundry, children running around, teens hanging out, men engaged in DIY repair work or drinking lambanog.
We came upon a small eatery that happened to be run by Marco’s aunt, who asked us to call her Ate Susan. Her eatery’s specialty was arroz caldo (porridge/congee) and fried chicken. We sat down in front of her stove and trays and ordered a set, but we ended having 6 chickens apiece while chatting with Ate Susan, her neighbors/customers and the teens playing billiards on the other side of her stove. Customers were coming and going for dine-in and take-out. We came exactly during the mid-afternoon snack hour and her arroz caldo/fried chicken combo was quite a popular snack fare.
Marco brought us to the southwestern side of Cagbalete where there were a few lesser-known resorts. All of them didn’t seem to have any guests. Further on seemed to be the start of a dense mangrove forest.
Tracing Cagbalete’s Shoreline
Marco took us a different way back to Villa Noe. We traced the shoreline from Sabang and checked out two other resorts – Pansacola and Doña Choleng. Pansacola’s beachfront seemed to have the most gently sloping beachfront and the most pronounced sand ripples at low tide. Pansacola, one of the older resorts on the island, sits at the southern tip of Cagbalete.
I imagined guests there have the satisfaction of enjoying the sunrise and the sunset. The powdery shoreline was dotted with what looked like Agoho trees (usually mistaken for pine trees). The fine white sand here was comparable to Boracay’s white beach.
Marco pointed out a flock of birds that he called “tagaks” on a sandbar in front of Doña Choleng. I think they’re herons in English. A flock of other low-flying birds swooped across. We mused out loud… maybe Cagbalete is a sanctuary for migratory birds? Marco seemed to have understood and he raised his hand and pointed to an islet to the left of Alabat Island, saying that that’s where there are many different kinds of birds, and that the islet’s called Baliscar which is an hour’s banca ride from Cagbalete. We took note of that, just in case we had time tomorrow to squeeze in a side trip to Baliscar.
Checking in at Joven’s Blue Sea Beach Resort
We hung out at Doña Choleng’s and had drinks before continuing our shoreline walk back to Villa Noe, where we packed our gear, thanked the staff, checked out and then checked in at Joven’s Blue Sea Beach Resort. Beach recliner time again while enjoying coffee and trading jokes with two guys on the staff who were raking the sand and picking debris. The guys said we had the whole resort to ourselves that night. After a dinner of grilled fish, eggplant ensalada and rice, Marco bid us goodnight with a fair day’s pay in his pocket for a fair day’s work.
Monday morning – I was up early to photograph and enjoy the sunrise; I discovered that we weren’t the only guests as we were told. Movie actors Alessandra De Rossi and Sid Lucero were there too, and they were in Cagbalete shooting a movie.
Exploring the Estuary
Marco returned, and we all had breakfast by the beach. He said he’d take us to the ilog-bukana (river mouth or estuary) this morning, so off we went, walking again by the shoreline, northward. As we walked, even with the natural debris, the beach looked more and more virginal and unsullied.
We passed by an estuary edged by mangroves to our left, and as we neared the river mouth, we saw the MVT Sto. Niño resort sitting on the other side. We waded into the river whose waters were very clear although the currents were pretty strong.
Going Back to Mauban
Back at Joven’s we relaxed for a bit before packing up and checking out to catch the 1:00 PM commuter banca from Sabang back to Mauban. Following the trail behind Joven’s to Sabang was a leisurely 15-minute walk. We watched the boat M/B Neneng approaching until it anchored about 50 meters from shore. The tide was low, so all the passengers had to take a flat boat transfer from the banca to shore. After all the passengers got off, the boatmen started unloading boxes and boxes of what looked like canned goods and – lots of concrete hollow blocks! How’d they manage to load all that?
After a considerable wait, it was finally our turn to get on the flat boat and be transferred to M/B Neneng for its return trip to Mauban. On the boat, we were already talking about a return trip as we fondly watched Cagbalete disappear over the horizon.