Cagbalete Island is within the territory of the town of Mauban in Quezon Province. To get to Mauban, we took the 5 a.m. bus (JAC Liner) in Kamuning, along EDSA. It’s right in front of GMA 7. There is another trip scheduled for Mauban at 12 p.m., but we were hoping to catch the 11 a.m. public boat ride to the island.
The bus ride cost P277 and took five hours. We had a bit of a problem with the driver, as he wanted to leave as soon as the bus was full, even before the scheduled departure time. And it was easily filled. Unfortunately, one of our group was running late. Although she arrived a full 10 minutes before 5 a.m., the driver had sent the conductor to ask us if our “late” group member had arrived, umpteen times between 4:30 a.m. and 4:50 a.m.
I have no idea why the driver was so antsy to leave Quezon City before 5 a.m., as we arrived in Mauban a full half hour before 10 a.m.
We took a tricycle to the Mauban Port (P15 per head) where the four of us registered at the Tourism Desk and paid the P50 per head environmental fee. Although we had arrived early, the public boat was filled to capacity. There simply was no more room for us. Fortunately, we met a group of four young men who agreed to share a private boat with us.
The tourism desk regulates all private boats going to and from the island. The rates are fixed and regulated. For a group of eight, it cost us P2,500 for a round trip contract. The boat would take us directly to our resort and pick us up from there, going back. Divided equally, the fare cost P312.50 per head. Compared to the P50 per head per trip on the public boat, it was a huge sum. But we had no choice; the 11 a.m. boat was the last for the day.
We exchanged mobile numbers with our boatman and off we went. The boat fit eight people snugly. It had a motor and outriggers, and looked clean and sturdy. I wasn’t worried, as the morning ocean was flat and calm. Even the two members of my group who didn’t know how to swim didn’t think twice of getting into the boat. The ride took 45 minutes and when we disembarked, it was at our resort, the Villa Noe.
There are no piers on the island, so at low tide, the boats drop anchor some distance from the shore. As we arrived close to noon, we splashed down into shallow water that came halfway up my leg, just below the knee. The water was warm and clear, but the sun was too hot, it was painful on the skin.
We registered at the resort, showed the receptionist, Ate Emma, the BDO deposit slip for 50% of the cost of our stay. We had reserved a cottage for four at P2,000 per night (P500 per head). It was a quaint bamboo and thatch cottage, clean, with a porch and a table where we could take our meals. The resort provided us with two thin mattresses and four very soft and thin pillows. No blankets, no towels. Good thing we each brought pashminas or malong and towels.
Truth be told, the cottage was crowded for four. It can accommodate two people comfortably, but not four. Then again, when you hit the sack at the end of a very busy, physically active day, you don’t really notice anymore.
The resort offers to cater meals for the day at P750 per head, inclusive of three main meals and an afternoon snack. We opted for another alternative. We met Joel and his wife, Myla, at the resort. They were not employees, but they and many like them offer boating and cooking services to resort guests.
Myla and Joel offered to buy fish and other seafood and cook them for us. They charged P200 to cook dishes for each meal, exclusive of the other ingredients, like cooking oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc., for which they charged us at cost. During our three-day-two-night-stay at the island, Joel and Myla cooked us three lunches and two dinners, consisting of fresh fish (samaral, dalagambukid, lapu-lapu), squid and shell fish. Total cost was P2,653 (P663.25 per head; P132.65 per meal per head).
On our second day, we took up Joel on his offer of a boat ride around three spots: White Beach, a coral reef and the Bonsai Forest. For four people, it cost P1,200. We left the resort on the boat at around 6:30 a.m. and arrived at White Beach half an hour later. After an hour, folks started pouring in and we left for the coral reef. Snorkeling gear can be rented at P50 from the resorts. The water was crystal clear. I’ve never seen water so turquoise.
We spent another hour at the Bonsai Forest, a wide outcrop of flat rock hosting a small mangrove forest. The mangroves on the rock were so small, the locals called them bonsai. Joel informed us that these mangroves have been growing on the rock for at least a century. And although both rock and mangroves go underwater during high tide, the mangroves persist in thriving.
We could have had lunch on the outcrop, but the sun by this time was merciless. We decided to go back to the cottage.
On our last day, the boatman picked us up at around 1 p.m. We took a tricycle (P50 for the four of us) to a van terminal going to Lucena City. If the boatman had not been delayed, we would have been picked up at exactly 12 p.m. and would have caught the 2 p.m. JAC Liner bus back to Kamuning in Quezon City. Lucena City was the fastest alternative.
The van charged P60 per head. In 45 minutes, we were at the Lucena City bus terminal, where I boarded a bus for Cubao (fare: P218), while the others boarded one for Pasay. Because it was a Sunday, the SLEX was congested. It took five hours to get to Cubao.
In total, we spent P8,283 (P2,070.75 per head) for our Cagabalete trip, excluding personal expenses, like jeep/bus/taxi transportation, snacks, water, etc. Not bad. I will go back with friends, yes, but I will probably look for another place to stay.
Villa Noe’s cottages are too small and the toilets and baths are common. Their water supply is erratic and the drinking water supply (bottled water stock) is easily depleted. And overnight guests are not exempt from paying the entrance fee of P50. A small value, I know, but leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Not good customer relations.
Electricity on the island is provided by generators. At Villa Noe, the generators are turned on at 6 p.m. and turned off the next day at 5 a.m. or earlier. The resort has no air conditioned cottages; all huts are provided with an electric fan.
Cagbalete is fast becoming popular. I hope the locals are able to maintain the cleanliness and serenity of the island and the waters around it.