Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mercedes Group of Islands (Apuao Grande)

MERCEDES, CAMARINES NORTE (APUAO GRANDE)

Last year, I was in the beautiful island of Boracay over the Labor Day weekend joining the bandwagon to celebrate the famous hashtag Laboracay. It was by far the most tiring yet super fun summer vacation as you get to beach party with your friends and even strangers all day, every day. So much YOLO! But this year, I opted to spend the weekend off in a place perfect for R&R (rest and relaxation). Away from city life, we, the Backpackers and friends headed to Mercedes, Camarines Norte.

In terms of tourism, Camarines Norte has a lot of alluring places to visit and activities that can be done such as island hopping, surfing, beach bumming, chasing waterfalls and even church pilgrimage.

And if you will be going to Mercedes, Camarines Norte by land, bus ride to Daet is just 8hrs away from Manila. Then from Daet, you only need to take a tricycle or jeepney to reach the Mercedes Fish Port.
Our group assembled in PhilTranco Bus terminal, EDSA- Pasay on a Friday night supposed to be riding private vans but instead, a chartered bus took us straight to Mercedes, Camarines Norte. Yes, PhilTranco let us rent their bus a little expensive but we get to sleep comfortably and arrived safely.

However, we were way behind our schedule due to circumstances beyond our control. But we may think of it as part of the adventure. It can be annoying and disappointing at first, but rest assured that it will pay off with a tremendous adventure. Just believe and do it. 
Chartered Philtranco Bus with Mommy Weng
As we arrived in Mercedes Fish port, the Tourism people excitingly welcomed and led us to the Tourism office for drop off and registration. Then while some friends hurriedly strolled around the place to explore and grab breakfast, the BPs along with Mommy Weng, Eric and Paeng went to the wet market to buy food to be brought and cooked in Apuao Grande Island Resort. After we have finished food shopping, we then went to the fish port to buy seafood. In getting fresh seafood, the locals taught us that we need to whisper to the ear of the fisherman to get a reasonable price. Whispering is their strategy to haggle so prices cannot be compared to other buyers. When we are done with the errands, we stayed at the Tourism office waiting for our departure.

Basket of crabs
BP Heinz and Mommy Weng doing some "shopping"
"Senyorita" BP Ghei
SEVEN ISLANDS OF MERCEDES

I barely know about the province of Camarines Norte especially that it has charming islands in Mercedes. Islands uniquely named as Caringo, Canton, Malasugui, Canimo, Quinapagihan, Apuao Pequeña and Apuao Grande. The latter is where we did overnight beach camping and we only get to visit Caringo and Apuao Pequeña.

When you go Island Hopping in Mercedes, it is best to coordinate directly to the Tourism office to seek help arranging the trip. Also, they’ve got full list of activities, transfers and accommodations with its corresponding prices.

Part of the Island hopping is paying entrance fees for every island to be visited.  This is per person basis. As for me, it is ok to pay the fees serve as a help as long as the local government of the quaint communities is using it to preserve and protect the beauty of the Island and of course, taking care of the families living there.

APUAO GRANDE ISLAND RESORT AND APUAO PEQUENA

We consists of 25 wanderers all excited to arrive in Apuao Grande Island. At around 10AM, we jumped in to our boats which took us 45 minutes to reach our destination.

On the approach to the island, a serene long stretch of fine sand, pine trees and glassy waters will spell paradise.  I got stunned by the picturesque view made me more thrilled to beach bum and traipse by the shore. It is like the Anawangin/Nagsasa Cove in Zambales but waaaaaaay better version, perfect for beach camping and bumming away from the crowds and hustle and bustle of the metro.


Where's BP Nickson?


Our very funny and regular friend, Poms
There was a time when the Island was owned by a private company but eventually abandoned after it got hit by the strong typhoon that caused terrible damages. But despite the fortuitous event, admiringly, the natural beauty of the Island remained.

Things here are as simple and laidback as it gets. Island visitors are advised to bring their own food, drinks and other camping necessities. You may also opt to rent beach huts and thrifty rooms for more comfortable stay. But our group just pitched tents, put up beach hammocks and mats.

Our Open Cottage complete with beddings and cooking area at the side
This house serves as the caretakers house
After we have settled in, some of us swam into the beach while others took a rest having chitchats while waiting for lunch being prepared by Mommy Weng and Rose Ann. Lunch was enjoyable since the food was so delicious. (Thanks, Mommies!)

The next activity after lunch was a walk to another Island, Apuao Pequeña. It is only walkable as the two islands are connected by a white sand bar. There is a bat sanctuary inside the jungle of Apuao Pequeña that greeted us while strolling uphill reaching the vantage point. There are lots of noisy huge fruits bats flying atop the pine trees took us a pause to look up and watch.

Rare specie in the island of Apuao called BP Heinz (Lol!)

On our way to Apuao Pequena
It took us 15 minutes to reach the top where you can see the stretch of Pacific Ocean and other neighboring Islands. It was a lovely sight that let us stayed a little while for photo-op, rest and nature appreciation.

BP's Ivan and Des
Group shot at the top of Apuao Pequena
The "Solo-ista" friends who joined us
When we return to our beach spot, we went back to our respective activities. There was a group that hanged out in the small sari sari store hoarding all food and drinks they could get. Takaw! Some also went swimming taking video groufies while BP Des and her friends played cards over beer seating pretty on the beach mat. Our friends in the beach hut were having merienda prepared by Kix. Gosh! It was the most delicious ready-to-cook pasta I’ve ever tasted. (Kix, please share the recipe).

We were accompanied by a very young grade schooler first time traveller, Destin who was a little shy expressing her excitement.  Her Aunt Melissa brought her in this trip as a reward because of her school achievement. Keep it up, little sis! BP Nick and BP Heinz taught her putting up the tent while BP Ivan is taking photos of them that the kid can share to her friends. She was also excited to sleep inside the tent fixing their stuff giving comfortable space to sleep. This can be a legit Girl Scout survival camping trip for her, right?

Our little Destin and her tent
Sunset
SOCIALS

Whenever I join the Backpacker adventures, I always look forward to the Socials night. It is truly admiring how strangers became friends always after the trip. I’ve personally experienced and witnessed building camaraderie within the group and how it continues while we move on to our separate lives.

When I arrived at the bus terminal, I barely know most of the people who I will be with over the weekend. Along with the BPs, they are the BP’s friends, friends of friends and few of them are incredibly nice strangers who discovered our group online, followed our Facebook account and constant readers of our Blog. But I know at the end of the adventure, all the acquaintances will turn into friendship. And it happened!!!

After we had dinner, as always, BP Nick and I hosted the Socials night having 3 activities. We aim not just to enjoy but to get to know each and everyone in the group. And ultimately, get drunk!! (I kid.)

The first activity is a battle between the Girls Team and Guys Team. This allows each player and the group to come up with a strategy, test their sharp minds and of course, know everyone’s name.  And we call it, ‘Hi! I am (w/ a twist).  Everyone must say their name follow through with a movement (ex: dance steps). It should be unique so only few can remember. They needed to do their best to remember each name and the person's action from the opposite gender. When the exchanging was completed and everyone had shared names and actions, boys were divided from the girls and parallel lines were formed turning their backs with the other group. Then, BP Nick and I would pick like two boys  to face the girls only to find out that only 3 was actually facing them and do the guessing.

(From left to right) THE BOYS: Marvin, BP Heinz, Emer, Eric, Kix, Poms, Paeng, Wil, Menandro, BP Ivan, Jhunnie and Jon)
(From left to right) THE GIRLS: Yhang, Jiji, Roan, Mommy Weng, Melissa, Jen, BP Des, Rose, Marianne, Maylette
Boys strategizing
Girls strategizing
In the end, whoever was cherry-picked must say the name and do the action of the other group. Each correct recall is an added point. And tadaaaaah! The Girls won.  As a consequence to the guys, they had to pull off their bottoms and ran away by the shore. So funny that few of them were not wearing their undies so they had to run flaunting their butt cheeks. I can still imagine. Yikes!

Next was the "PINAKA game", where the group was divided into three and each group would pick a representative for each "PINAKA category" given by BP Nick and me. In example: Pinaka mahaba? / Which is longer?.  Once they have chosen their representative for each category, we will then reveal the adjective that they need to act and battle for with the other groups. Meaning, if you have the bigger whatever that we were looking for or if you did it best, then it would be a point for your group.

Each group is very very competitive from the putting up a creative name down to the contest itself made the activity extra entertaining. The teams are as follows:

Team 1- DAETICIAN
Team 2- Tutti Frutti
Team 3- Alta (magkano ka?!)

Team 1 - DAETician
Team 2 - Tutti Frutti
Team 3 - Team "Alta"
 Everyone has their unique personalities and interesting stories made me want to dig in to get to know them better. That was our last and formal activity called the introduction and getting-to-know-you (over liquor). Everyone in the circle has their shining moments introducing his/herself starting with the name, how he or she found out about this trip and the Group, and impression of the Group followed by a shot.
Significantly, there are talk pieces that struck the BPs’ and others’ humble hearts, shared laughter and life stories that made us appreciate everyone in the group.

After our formal socials, we let some to rest already while others may still stay to make the most of the night hanging out. There are connecting small circles within our big circle each has their own random topics like dreams, love and life stories, and even crazy-anything-under-the-moon-and-stars shiznits. While everyone is engrossed listening and gossiping, there were rotating shots of hard liquor being managed by Marvin and BP Ivan and another glass of beer by Emer. I must say, they have high alcohol tolerance finishing 1 huge bottle of Fundador, 5 Empirador light and 5 big a** Red Horse beers. Strong kids. 

We had so many reasons to laugh during the night influenced by the smart and elite Poms and friends uttering random jokes that got us crazy. Them friends have been our constant guests for events that would tick off each and everyone’s bucket list. It’s flattering that they explicitly shared to the group how they like our company and organized adventures.

And as the night deepens, conversations got serious seeing Kix, Yhang and Mommy Weng seated on a broken log looking afar nowhere. They then walked along the shore aiming to reach the end of the Island but little did I know, there were dogs chasing them so they had to hurry back running for their lives. J There were also moments where BP Ivan was being hot seat by the hot girls throwing questions about his personal life. But the girls failed on their mission as the Emeritus BP Ivan was just smiling or sometimes changing the topic right away.  Unfair!

Honestly, I have less memory of the stories told as I found myself sleeping on the beach floor (not because I’m drunk, OK? J). And they only woke me up to tidy up and help others walk inside their tents after the sesh.

But I remember BP Ivan sharing with me this heartfelt statement of Marvin “Thank you, Ngayon ko lang nakitang pinakasaya ang asawa ko/ Thank you, my wife is at her happiest.” When I heard of it, it makes me want to cry. So much feels and makes me want to get married already. Ooops! Just kidding.

I also got caught by Paeng’s noteworthy realization. He admitted that this was by far the furthest enjoyable trip he had. He also was honest enough to tell that he is a bummer and spendthrift. And now, he reminds his self to invest into something that could give him permanent happiness like of course, adventures. Go, Kid! Make life worth living!

In all honesty, I am grateful that through travel adventures, we were able to somehow touch the lives of other people made us realised that love, happiness and passion are totally contagious. There’s really more to life. You just need to get out of your comfort zone and take risks. You’ll do great in what you aim, just trust and love yourself. Because, believe me when I say, travelling is not only about exploring the unexplored and doing the things you never thought you could, but it is also helping others and becoming an inspiration to them. And that is, contentment and genuine happiness.

To all our friends and guests, we are more than grateful that we have met each and every one of you. You guys are one of our inspirations and reasons why we never stop exploring. Thank you from the bottom of our sincere hearts. Let’s walk with our itchy feet together, yes? Tara! YES TO ADVENTURES!!

Sunday morning. I was one of the people who woke up late just because I slept late made sure that everyone is fine, comfortably asleep after the socials. When I unzip the tent entrance, I got dazed by the view that greeted me. I paused for a while cherishing the moment just staring at the beach. Aaaaah! It was really a good morning for me more so when I heard my friends laughing their hearts out reminiscing the unforgettable moments during the socials. When I saw them, they are obviously energized, no alcohol hangover, had their breakfast already and excited onto our next activity. At around 730AM, we break-camp and fixed our stuff getting ready to climb in to our boats for our next destination, Caringo Island.
(c) Jon Lakwatsero
Jon Lakwatsero
Jiji Jarata
Destin and Melissa
We had such a beautiful stay in Apuao Island. Thanking heaps the local caretakers for the hospitality and care to us.

CARINGO ISLAND

Caringo Island is known in Mercedes as a perfect spot for snorkeling and boat sailing. You’ll be taken to the coral reef sanctuary on a small paddleboat.

Majority of us did the activity while few took a rest and strolled around the quaint community looking for refreshments. Right after we jumped out of our boats, we saw beautiful corals and lots of school in the Caringo fish sanctuary.

Yhang, Menandro, Poms, Kix, Paeng, Wil, Jiji and Jen
In the middle of the sea, a paddleboat sunk when Wil tried to climb in to it. We were laughing but at the back of our minds, thanked heavens they were wearing vest and did not get drowned. Because of the sinking happened, Jon and Pom were worried if they could climb in successfully as well. J

I also tried paddling the boat back to the island and it is never easy! I was complaining to the boatman why we were slowly (very slowly) moving despite all the struggles I made. HAHAHA! Guess I need to work with my arm muscles.

Prior to the snorkeling activity, we met Yukiko-san, a friendly solo traveller. I admire her for being so brave to travel all to herself (wish I can do it as well!). We initially saw her in Apuao but we were told that she’ll camp in Caringo Island. We made an instant Japanese-Pinoy friendship! She joined us in the activity up to dinner and travelling back to Manila.

BP Ghei
Solo traveller Yuuki with Bhombie, BP Des and Maylette
When it’s my turn to roam around the island, I got lost in the vibrant and friendly streets of the community. We actually bumped into few locals because they are all gathered in the basketball court waiting for the Pacman-Mayweather fight to start. We were invited by the local official to join them in watching the pay per view match and of course, no one declined that rare opportunity and one of a kind experience.

Intense Pacquiao-Mayweather fight
We were not able to visit other Islands as we chose to stay in Caringo for the water activities and to watch the momentous Pacman-Mayweather fight with the locals. We also thought of the boat/fishermen who would not want to miss the game.  I don’t actually watch any Pacman’s fight but this game is an exception. It was a cool experience as I get to share the “feels” with my friends while watching in the humble community of the island. We were all shouting and jumping every time the Pinoy’s pride is giving the hugger-opponent awesome punches but got disappointed when it announced that he did not win. But Manny, we all knew from our hearts and minds that you put up a really really good and honest fight. Great job!

Even if we only saw the 3 islands of Mercedes, it became a reason for me go back and see the neighboring beauties. I don’t mind the long drives or expensive flights… I don’t mind the hassles I may possibly encounter…  Mercedes is absolutely worth returning.

And the next time I will visit the Islands, I should do sunset sailing… with my better half. Hihi.

Apuao Pequena semi group picture
The friends who joined us in this event
Wacky pose
BP's Ivan, Heinz, Des, Mommy Weng, Ghei and Nickson
Video Created by Emer Ocado:




MERCEDES TOURISM CONTACT NUMBERS
(54) 4441261
(54) 4441151

LIST OF EXPENSES as given by Municipal Tourism Development Operation Center of Municipality of Mercedes:

MTBOA Boat Rental:
Day Tour = PhP3,000.00
Overnight (2D1N) = PhP4,000.00
(Every boat has a capacity of eight (8) tourists plus the boat crews and tour guide; with life vest and tour guide included)

KAYAK RENTAL:
Within Mercedes = PhP150.00/hr; PhP500.00/day
Outside Mercedes =  PhP1,000.00/day

CARINGO:
Entrance Fee = PhP15.00/pax
Paraw Rental @ Caringo Sanctuary = PhP50.00/boat (w/ boat guide)
Snorkel Rent = PhP100.00/set
Floating User's Fee @ Caringo Sanctuary = PhP20.00/pax
Binut-ong/Glaman Making Tutorial = P50.00/head (minimum of 10 pax)
Homestay Accomodation = PhP250.00

APUAO GRANDE:
Entrance Fee = PhP30.00/pax
Picnic Cottage Rental (Small) = PhP200.00
Picnic Cottage Rental (Big) = PhP400.00
Hobiecat Rental = PhP300.00/hour

ACCOMMODATION
Open Cottage = PhP1,500.00
(Overnight, w/ electricity from 6pm-12mn, w/ complete beddings)
House Rental (3 houses) = PhP3,000.00
Overnight, w/ electricity, good for 10-15 persons, 3 rooms with CR, w/ bathing water)

Food Package (Need Confirmation)
Snack = PhP50.00/pax
Breakfast = PhP100.00/pax
Lunch = PhP200.00/pax
Dinner = PhP200.00/pax

Other Expenses:
Philtranco Bus Rental = PhP22,040 (good for 40pax)

Photo courtesy of
Jen Ochangco




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