The Calayan islands: Chasing a Humpy Tale

In Adventure, Culture, Environment, Hiking /Trekking, Landscapes, People, Photography, Portraits, Travel on August 8, 2009 by ayshey

Bigger Fish

I got back fifteen days ago from a wonderful but exhausting trip to Aparri up north in the province of Cagayan Valley. We also ventured into the un-touristy areas of Camiguin and Calayan Islands–both part of the Babuyan Islands. In fact, the Philippine maps are wrong when they refer to these islands as the Babuyan islands when in fact, they are the Calayan Islands. I should look into this again soon just so I can be more firm about my facts.

We left the bedlam of a Florida bus station in Espana at 10:30 in the evening. We were waiting for H  who was late–should I say, again? But she arrived in time and we then settled back into our nice Super deluxe seats. J had the misfortune of being seated next to a hyperactive little boy who wanted to befriend everyone that night. The Holy Week season always sends stressed-out people from Manila into the places we call “provinces”. And so  the bus rolled out of Manila and into the highway to the North.

It was the usual gang of R,C, J,H and myself. R had this brilliant idea of looking into these islands that no one seems to know much about. She asked someone from her Makati office if anyone knew of the area where the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) volunteers had sighted the humpback whales, where they do research. Looking back now, I think R wasn’t really into the humpbacks really–and there was no promise that we would see any since it was already April and they usually come around the Philippine waters in February and March. The idea was just to check out the islands because we have never been there before  and it was a “let’s just see what the place has to offer”. I think that was the attitude. That was good enough for all of us.

Canon G10 performs

I had a Japanese dinner with N and T –it was almost their birthdays, these photographer friends of mine. And then Wena arrived with her brand new Canon G10 and there was a short lecture on how she can maximize her camera while on her Tibetan trip–yeah, this was  another adventurous Pinay friend who will be traveling on her own to China. It’s a trip i would also like to do. But that’s for another time.

We arrived in Aparri at noon the next day. We went straight to St Patrick’s Hotel. We got this idea of staying at this hotel in Aparri from a guy we met on the  bus. He seemed to be the team leader of a group of backpackers. St. Patrick’s was reasonably priced and it was AC! Aparri was terribly hot and any cool air was welcome. That evening, we bought our supplies for the next few days. We also bought lunch and bottles of water for our boat trip to Camiguin, our first island for the trip. We enjoyed  the sweet custard cakes at Criselda’s. Later,we  decided to buy big plastic bags at the market  to protect  our food supplies and our backpacks when we cross the big blue sea the next day. R had to work so she went to a nearby cyber cafe. The rest of us went back to the hotel to repack our stuff and to take our much needed showers. Wake up call the next day was at 4am but we put our alarms at 3:30am. Geeze.


Next morning, while our bodies wanted us to continue lying in, it was Day 1 of our journey to a place /places we had never been before. We gathered our packs and struggled down to the main lobby with our  plastic bags of  food ( vegetables,red and white eggs,canned goods of corned beef,sardines,a bottle of gin,etc. ). We were ferried to the pier by a white pick-up which was probably owned by one of the guests, we really didn’t ask anymore. It was 4am! The pier was dark and there were voices speaking in Tagalog. I could hear the locals saying in Ilocano that the small banca will be bringing the visitors to the bigger boat first. The rest of them will just have to wait. Hmmm. That was so Pinoy –to think of the “bisita” first before the locals. But it was the rule of the morning it seemed. We got on the small banca with our stuff. It was still dark but light was coming up soon in the distance. Then we were on the boat called The Saint Vincent. We sailed for Balatubat, Camiguin island at around 7:30am after a Coast Guard inspection. The other locals had to go down because we were too crowded. J sighed in relief. Maybe I should have too but I was too busy thinking of things to shoot, what the stories will be about.

Balatubat, Camiguin. It is the center of Camiguin island. It is also where we would be based for the rest of the days but we didn’t know that yet. We went straight to the house of Manang Awit whose husband was waiting for us. Manang Awit’s son Jun Jun helped us with our stuff as we got down the smaller boat to land on Camiguin. Manang Awit’s house was the usual base for WWF volunteers, we learned later. It had a kitchen,a bathroom, rooms and beds and plenty of water. It was also near the beach where we spent much time playing around with our cameras. It had  great sunsets too.

Camiguin is just like any island town in the Philippine archipelago. There were rice paddies, mountain vistas,a water falls (Tappao Falls), and a fiesta.We arrived on the day of their fiesta. We did not go out to check  the action later that night. We were tired and had agreed to go to Calayan island the next day after R talked to the boat captain…After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

After lunch, we ventured out to the   settled down and made our beds on designated areas of the house we were in. Our food that night was vegetables and adobo

That same afternoon we arrived, we went to eat halo-halo at the nearby center of town. The fiesta mood was just beginning and the ice drop, the junk food, and other food was being sold.

I will just post pix  here so the story will be more complete. Enjoy!

Wreck 1

Wreck 2

I spent much time shooting these metal parts from some ship or other. I enjoyed the quiet time i spent on the beach. Great travel. Thank you, Ranhel for fixing this trip. Much appreciated.


13 Responses to “The Calayan islands: Chasing a Humpy Tale”

  1. Hi Im from Calayan.Good Post..

  2. i hope you had a great time there..I’m from Calayan as well. (daughter of the former Mayor).

    • “HI” My name is Bob. i have spent hours trying to find out information about Calayan(home stays,food, fishing & the cost to stay there. i hope you will give me sone information. My wife is a filipina. l am 79 years old,but in excellent health. Salamat Po Bob

      • Hi Bob. I’ve been to Calayan many times since 1998. My filipino wife was born there so most of her family are still there. I’m an Aussie, 69 years old & my wife & I both live in Australia & we visit Calayan once a year.In Calayan there is no comforts there for the tourists but if you like ‘roughing’ it it’s fine. Whilst I’m there my adopted family feed me on fresh fish, mussels & even Lobsters. The town is very lazy & quiet – it’s like stepping back in time. There are no Hotels, no supermarkets (only small to large sari sari stores)& electricity is only available 12 hours each day IF there are no breakdown in the one & only power grid (often happens). The people are extremely friendly & most of the men love to have a drink (gin – red horse) with you. Getting by with only English is not a problem with most of the people here, which is surprising given the remoteness of this island. Really nothing much to do here but to sit back & relax & just ‘drop out’ for a week or so. A tiring trip overland to Sabang Cove beach (about one hour from central)is worth the ordeal to set eyes on this amazingly beautiful untouched piece of paradise.
        The ferry ride has improved since the unfortunate sinking of one a couple of years ago. They grounded all the old large bancas & provided a modern ‘safe’ ferry that does the trip in about 6 hours via Camiguin. Travel is still restricted to outside the cyclone months – usually March to July/August is ok.
        You have to travel (one hour) to Santa Anna (from Aparri) to get the ferry & include an overnight stay. Hope this is helpful. Cheers

    • “HI” again, i don’t know if my email went through to you. Please get back to me.My wife is filipina. l would like information about Calayan. l can’t find much on the internet. Salamat Po Bob

      • Hi Bob, I remember that we went to Aparri in the Northernmost part of Cagayan Valley. Then we took a boat from the pier. Thats how we got to Calayan.
        In Calayan, u can stay at small guesthouses. I know we stayed at a small guesthouse in Camiguin. Please ask when u are in the town of Camiguin. The mayor and his staff can also give u info. The local tourism unit will be able to help.They are very nice people out there. Good Luck. Btw, the waters between Cagayan and the Calayan Islands were not calm at that time in March. Maybe summer in the Philippines is the best time to go. Best, A.


  3. hi. my wife and i are planning to visit calayan. can anyone tell us how we can get a place to stay at nights. thank you

  4. Hi nathan b, I have just returned from Calayan island afte a 16 unintended stay – originally planned only a whistle stop of 3-4 days – but the ‘new’ passenger ferry blew it’s engines after leaving Santa anna & may not be operating for quite awhile. So we were stuck (trapped) on Calayan with pressing business to attend to on mainland Aparri. Finally the coast guard allowed a small number of passengers to ride back on a cargo banca boat & that we did – a 8 hour trip sitting on the floor of the boat & very rough sea conditions.
    Electricity has now been cut back to only 4 hours per day, & after my many visits I feel the place is going backwards. The people here are too tolerant & rairly complain about anything.
    But if you are adventuous & a long distance swimmer (lol)Calayan is still an unspoilt extremely laid back place to vist. There is a small guest house in ‘central’ that can put you up. Ask at the Municipal buiding that is located close to where the boats arrive. Hope this is of help. cheers
    ps. You MUST visit Sabang Cove on the island. Your filipino friends will catch fish for you whilsts you swim or sunbake on this small piece of paradise then bbq it for you there & then. Yummee!

  5. Oh, further more until the new passenger ferry is repaired (at Santa Anna) the only way over is to get on a carge banca that leaves from Aparri ‘river side’. You should plan for a couple of weeks in Aparri town waiting for a banca to depart. Could happen any day without notice so you have to check every day.. That’s life in the province – unpredicable.

  6. Hi, this is Terence & I live in Australia. I travel to Calayan quite regulary & this is how you can get to Calayan from Laog. Get a bus to Aparri & check down at the port when the cargo ferry is operating (not often). At the moment travel is very restricted due to the Eagle passenger ferry breaking down last April & still having repairs. If your trip is urgent you could get off the bus before Aparri at a small town called Claveria & hire a small banca boat that can take you there. The trip is under 5 hours but make sure the sea is calm. Hope this has been some help. Cheers
    ps. A good cheap hotel to stay in at Aparri is the Hotel Veroza (manager Lenny). Tell him I recommended his hotel & he’ll look after you.

  7. hi Terence i am from Calayan..can i ask your full name maybe i can i ask my mom if he knows you…we live in central.but havent been there for 4 yrs now.I was amaze by know everything about Calayan and Cagayan.May i ask your wife’s name?I am from Singun and Castillejos clan…
    thank you for being so accommodating…

  8. I cant find enough information about Cabang beach: everybody write that its paradise, and very difficult road to that place)) But what about details (temperature of water, deep or narrow, waves). There also mountains near the sea: are there any snakes, insects? And the most important thing how to come to that beach: is there any public transport or I should rent scooter for coming here?) About beaches on Camiguin – everywhere stones? no sand? what about sea – there also big stones? (in this case can be dangerous to swim there)

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