Among the provinces in the Bicol Region, Masbate province remained unexplored territory for me until recently. Its remoteness and raw beauty are part of its allure. I had previously visited the Burias Islands and Ticao, and this time, I set my sights on the larger Masbate Island, starting my journey from the southwestern tip of Balud, home to the Jintotolo Lighthouse, a lone sentinel watching over the Sibuyan Seas.
The knife-edged-shape Ticao island is another fascinating destination for me. I’ve read articles and seen photos of this island, so I kinda know what to expect – stunning seascapes, rock formations, age-old settlements, and towering waterfalls pouring directly into the sea. And I finally got to see this for myself. After a day of interacting with whale sharks in Donsol, we rode a large outrigger boat to Ticao island, one of the three major islands of Masbate. It’s a 2-3 hours rocky boat ride but no rough waters can keep my excitement.
I was enjoying lying on the bow of the large outrigger boat coming from Pasacao Port in Camarines Sur to our destination of San Pascual in Burias Island, Masbate. I wanted to enjoy the fresh sea air and not be bounded inside the tarp-covered windows of the shaded boat seats behind me. The splash from the ride didn’t reach the bow that much so I enjoyed the sea view and conversation with the local guide in the area. Suddenly there was a rustle of activity that led me to see what was happening. We were approaching Burias Island already and just in time when the afternoon light came in, spreading its golden hue over the high cliffs bounding the bay where the municipality of San Pascual is nestled in.
At the towering limestone cliff walls in Palawan or high up the ceiling in the deep cave chambers in Cagayan, I have seen harvesters risk their lives climbing sharp walls or hanging by the ceiling supported only by a rope in order to gather the swiftlet bird nest. The swiftlets locally known as the Balinsasayaw uses their saliva to build their nest. When the nest is submerged in water, it becomes gelatinous and has been used as an exotic ingredient by the Chinese in their Bird’s Nest soup for over 400 years. People risk their lives for this as this lucrative nest cost about US$2000 per kilo. A house however in San Pascual, Burias Island in Masbate has another story. There is a Balinsasayaw House where an estimated 80,000 swiftlets lives right under their basement.
The day was quickly coming to a close. When I thought we were heading back to the mainland we were told that we’ll visit one last island on our way back to San Pascual proper. Tinalisayan islet is only 1.5 nautical miles from the mainland, roughly a 20-minute motorboat ride from town. After seeing the two islands Animasola and Sombrero Islands, I thought I wouldn’t be surprised anymore but Tinalisayan islet has a little bit of everything. A white sand beach, a scenic hill with nearby rock formations, a long sandbar off the coast, and a burst of sunrise and sunset colors.
Filipinos really have a knack for naming places or islands that are easy to recall like common things like – hats! In Burias Island, Masbate, another set of islands got the moniker of Sombrero Island just because the island looks like the top of a cowboy hat. It’s funny though that the Sombrero Island Masbate in San Pascual is a set of two islands close together, fraternal twins I may say. The other island near the hat-like island has a gorgeous-looking stretch of beach and sand bar. Sombrero Island Masbate is our second island destination in San Pascual, quaint and laid back.
From afar, it looks like a miniature version of the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Ilocos Norte with its shoe-like formation on top, and the island itself resembles the formations from the famous Biri Islands like a slightly squashed cake with lines and layers running along the sides. Animasola Island was a surprise in terms of natural wonders, much like the municipality it belongs to which is San Pascual in Burias Island, Masbate. It was just the start of our three-island and didn’t expect this first island to be a favorite among the three.