I write this as we sail on a traditional wooden Philipino Banca (Lady Eve) passed the oldest lighthouse in the Philippines from Calumpang to Roxas City. The banca was pretty full and because of this we had to sit in he roof of the boat with all the luggage! With the island of Masbate not being a touristic hotspot, and the boat being what seemed to be a large fishing boat rather than a modern ferry, you can well imagine we were the only foreigners on this very local journey.
Masbate, one of the 7117 islands in the Philippines is the poorest island in the Visayas and Luzon Regions and the third poorest island in the entire Philippines was clearly evident as soon as we arrived from the Sorsogon Province. Once we were out of the city of Masbate we found that there was minimal infrastructure with most houses having either a basic breeze block shell or a timber structure and all shops being the traditional Sari Sari stores. Although there were roads inter-connecting most major towns, once in a particular town the bichiman roads soon became dirt tracks. Despite the islands overall poverty, the ranching tradition gives it its unique attractive character with acres of open grass fields with grazing cattle in amongst low lying rolling hills, as well as the picturesque coastlines lined with coconut trees.
It was never our intention to spend much time on this island but rather use it as a stepping stone to get to Boracay, but due to a specific ferry schedule on set days we were forced to spend two days in Balud. Despite the initial frustration it was definitely a lucky misfortune as we found Paraiso de Palanei, a really nice local resort on a long white sand beach just one kilometre from the centre of Balud. This small resort with only a few modern bungalows, was set on the beach close to a couple of other resorts and was mainly visited by local families. This small holiday resort set in amongst the dense rows of coconut trees that lined the beach was run by a very friendly elderly local couple who most definitely enjoyed the company of a couple of foreigners for two nights. Although there wasn’t very much to do there, we just enjoyed the beautiful weather on the long clean and quiet white sand beach with a few fruit smoothies.
During the late afternoons as the air became slightly cooler and the tide went far out, it was really pleasant to sit on the beach and admire the beautiful sunsets which coloured the sky in vivid reds, yellows and oranges.
With many of locals at the resort providing their own food, we were the only guests ordering food and so we were given the choice of virtually anything we wanted with them offering to go to the market for us. Having had three meals of our choice, for our last meal in Paraiso de Palanei we offered to go buy some fish from the market where we bought very cheap sardines which they then cooked for us along with a tastily fresh pumpkin soup. As if a kilo of fish with soup wasn’t enough, after getting to know a friendly and very intelligent local Masbatenio named Brent, we very kindly got invited to join their family barbecue with his Papa, Tito and a couple of their workers. Our small meal couldn’t really compare to their shark, grouper and squid all cooked in their traditional ways which was then complimented with an endless supply of brandy. Despite growing up in Balud, Brent now lived in Dubai and was only back on vacation, enjoying his hometown with his Papa who still lived on Masbate running their family Ranch, whilst his mother and siblings worked in Manila (Like he said, their family were living the 21st century way of life thanks to technology).
Brent and his family
Despite having just missed the annual rodeo competition, with Brent’s dad owning a ranch we were able to meet the 2015 runner and so despite our short stay on Masbate we got a real feel of the island.
Getting to Calumpang beach for our ferry from Balud meant we got our final taste of their local way of life as we made the 45 minute journey on the back of a Hubble Hubble along the ajoinining dirt track in amongst many of the local timber houses. When we arrived at the ‘port’ it was pretty much a man with a clipboard writing down names. Children enjoyed the morning jumping off the boats.