Friday, April 29, 2016

Things to do in Tablas Island, Romblon

Tablas Island piqued my interest when Philippine Airlines launched their flights to this relatively unknown island last year. There must be more to this place than just the infamous Romblon marbles. So I booked a trip a couple of weeks back and explored this beautiful island for 5 days. 

Romblon has three major islands: Sibuyan, Romblon, and Tablas. Tablas features sloping lands, sometimes even rough to rugged terrain. I was able to explore their municipalities via scooter, which I shall show you later on. 

Where I stayed:

Wanting to book somewhere secluded and cheap, I found Aglicay Beach Resort where a room for 2 went for roughly Php 524  per night. Located in Alcantara the resort is behind a mountain and is approximately 40 minutes away via tricycle from Tugdan Airport. 

with Kuya Louie
Situated along the shoreline of Aglicay Beach, this resort features beachfront and hillside rooms. The amenities are pretty basic with air-conditioned rooms, and a private bathroom with hot/cold showers.

You can camp out here and pay only the entrance fee of Php 100/pax. 

The resort itself has their own cafe that serves typical lutong bahay at Manila prices (Php 100-250 per viand). There's also a tennis court and volleyball court.

The resort is very secluded with most locals visiting for day trips only and I was the only tourist at the resort for the duration.

If you're looking at escaping the big city it would make sense to just relax at the beach, but it would be a shame not to go exploring around Tablas Island. Plus, just lounging at the beach can become pretty boring after a while. 

When on vacation, always ask yourself: 
"What have I accomplished today?"
"Did I go out of my comfort zone and learn something new?"
Here are the activities I did in Tablas that will hopefully inspire you to come visit, too:

1. Snorkel in Looc Fish Sanctuary

I was more than excited to test drive my new mask and snorkel. I hired Kuya Louie for the day so he can take me around while I "studied" the areas for my scooter adventure the next day. 

A fee of only Php 100 (Php 50 goes to the volunteers) payable at the tourism office gives you two hours of snorkeling (bring your own snacks). It only takes less than 10 minutes to get to the sanctuary via boat that accommodates about 10 people.

Non-enthusiasts can bring their own food and lounge here while their companions go swimming. Buy some fish food (or bring bread) and feed the fishes from this "window" on the floor. 

Immediately you'll spot sea stars and fishes near the floating shelter, but venture a little north and you'll enjoy the coral garden and giant clams. I was told the Lemon Sharks sometimes make an appearance though am not sure about that now since I didn't spot any (but I would have loved to).

Snorkeling here is probably the cheapest I've encountered, imagine paying only Php 100 for 2 hours -- true value for money for newbies. Also enough time for you to also get toasty and wrinkly.

2. Visit Mainit Falls

Located in Bgy. Patoo, Odiongan is Mainit Falls purportedly famous for its warmer waters. A trip to this undeveloped spot requires a 40-minute tricycle ride and a 30-minute trek up the hill.

We initially got lost and in the process wasted time (there are no road signs and the best you can do is ask the locals where it is), until we came across a group of kids who guided us to the exact location of the falls. 

When we got there, the kids already got first dibs and were climbing and jumping off the falls. The hike was definitely a challenge I wasn't prepared for, but you gotta love how secluded and raw this place is. With rising temperatures this summer, I'd recommend taking a dip while recuperating from the hike. Don't forget to bring some water and light snacks to tide you over.

3. Stock up on marble

The marble industry in Romblon suffered during 90s when there was a flood of synthetic tiles in the country, but the local government is now making efforts to sustain and further promote this natural resource. The best place to get some is in Odiongan.

Varying shades of marbles ranging from white to black are available for purchase. These keychains are Php 20 each (free engraving), larger marble statues go for Php 300 and up.

Marble purchases are not allowed as carry-ons but they gladly provided a box and wrapped each of my purchases carefully. I also got an eagle sculpture for my Dad. 

4. Visit the Parish of St. Joseph, the Spouse of Mary

Whenever I visit a new place, I make it a point to pay my respects and stop by a local parish church. I passed by the Parish of St. Joseph as part of my tricycle tour.

You know that belief where you can ask for three wishes when you visit a new church? Yes, I do that, too. 

5. Rent a scooter and explore

Probably my favorite and most memorable part was renting an automatic scooter and driving from Alcantara to Ferrol (about 2 hours driving time) to the famed Binucot Beach. I rented a [brand new] scooter at Aglicay from one of the staff for Php 800/day and sort of knew how to get to Looc based on the previous day's tricycle tour. If you look at the map, Looc is sort of the "halfway point" to Ferrol. The rest of the way I had to DIY.

Be prepared to go up and down mountains and pass through lonely highways under the sweltering heat.

As I reached Ferrol I felt a sense of relief and joy -- this was the farthest I've driven on my own in new territory. It was definitely an achievement for me. And let me add that my slipper also snapped on the way so I was barefoot the first hour, but man oh man, look how beautiful Binucot Beach is.

I was told that there are far more pristine beaches in Santa Fe which I shall explore soon enough. Binucot Beach offers accommodations (you can choose to stay here instead of having to drive all the way out), bar/resto food (Manila prices), and more importantly, brewed coffee. Also, please be aware of rotational brownouts in Binucot.

What I've learned on this trip:

I basically learned to be more courageous and self-aware. Tablas Island is very provincial which makes it all the more charming -- and sometimes scary. As much as I loved the remoteness of this island, my senses were also further heightened as I've experienced locals following me around. My understanding is they aren't used to solo travellers, more so if you are female. They were all very curious as to why I was travelling alone: Did I have any friends? Was I broken-hearted? Was I lost and do I need any help at all?

While some were helpful, others were definitely trying to take advantage of me being alone. So girls, just be mindful and aware at all times. 

The scooter drive also reinforced my belief that heights frighten me but in the essence of trying to go out of my comfort zone, I trudged on even when I was so scared and sweating buckets while driving up and down the mountain. If I became sloppy or too cocky, I could've slipped and fallen off the cliff. All I was thinking while driving was how much of a loser I'd be if I chickened out now. Wow, how I wish this same courageous spirit would apply to my normal work life. 

Lastly, I realized that even the littlest of things can bug me. Like when I was looking for brewed coffee (because I try hard to stay from 3-in-1 variants and Aglicay only had this type of coffee), I almost wanted to throw a fit but had to compose myself because "Dayo lang ako, wag mag-inarte."

So I was very thankful that the resort in Binucot Beach had brewed coffee, so much so I wanted to kiss Ate Nimyang for making sure I got a full mug while lounging at the beach despite the brownout. 

All in all, what a wonderful experience in Tablas Island. No other place has made me feel elated, scared, insecure, accomplished, proud, and grown-up all at the same time. Definitely one for the books!

Breakdown of expenses:

Aglicay Beach Resort (4 days, 3 nights) via - Php 1,968 
Tricycle ride from Tugdan Airport to Aglicay - Php 500
Tricycle tour via Kuya Louie (4 spots) - Php 1,500
Scooter Rental - Php 800/day

Contact Kuya Louie Mirambil at 0915.1335836


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