When I was trying to complete the list of 81 provinces I visited, Masbate was the last I visited in Luzon. That was in 2016 when I finally ticked off Masbate from my list when I hopped on a boat from Pasacao in Camarines Norte to Burias Island to do some island hopping. But Burias is not the center, it is Masbate Island, where the capital is located.
During my early years of back-packing, Masbate was not an easy place to visit. The only known entry point was in Bulan, where one must take a 12-hour bus ride from Manila, then another four hours by ferry to Masbate City. There were smaller boats from Pasacao and Pilar going to the islands, but it wasn’t easy to get their schedules. There were also flights from Manila to Masbate City, but their price could already eat up more than half of the backpacker’s travel budget. Plus, except for the yearly rodeo festival, I felt that Masbate was not attractive enough to travelers compared to the other provinces of Bicol Region, where it belongs.COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS
When I received the invitation from the Tourism Promotions Board and the Masbate Tourism Office for a nine-day exposure trip to Masbate, I got curious. The province must be making a grand reveal of its many hidden attractions for nine days that no curious traveler like me can resist. We were also told that we will be flying to Roxas City, do the circuit run to the three major islands of Masbate, then exit to San Andres in Quezon. The idea of experiencing what Masbate has to offer got me all excited, so I signed up immediately.
We flew in from Manila to Roxas City in Capiz, where we spent two days enjoying the seafood and heritage sites of Capiz. After enjoying Roxas, we took a ferry boat from Culasi port to Calumpang port in Balud, Masbate. As soon as we arrived in Balud, we were immediately taken to another boat for another 30-minute ride to Jintotolo Island to visit the stunning Jintotolo Lighthouse, built in 1895.
After our visit of Jintotolo, we were taken to Paraiso del Palani for a dinner by the beach and rest. The next day when we woke, we were surprised to see that the beach in Palani was kilometers long of empty white sands. What surprised us even more was when the LGUs came in bringing with them freshly caught seafood, which they cooked immediately. I swear, I never had that much consumption of freshly-cooked crabs, shrimps and lapu-lapu for breakfast in my life!CATANDAYAGAN FALLS
That would become our pattern for the next couple of days in Masbate. We would visit remote islands, and in between island hopping, a buffet of freshly cooked seafood was served for lunch. We visited Guinlubugan, Namatayan and Kurukabayo Sandbar in Cawayan and out came shrimps, crabs, and a whole lechon out of nowhere. Then in Ticao Island where we explored Snake Island, Halea Nature Park, Borobangkaso Rock Formation, and the majestic Catandayangan Falls, the only waterfalls in the country that flows out into the sea, it was difficult to focus on swimming with the buffet of grilled meat and seafood tempting us to forget our diet. In Burias Island, the LGUs prepared a boodlefight of fish and squid on the boat as we explored the remote islands of Animasola, Tinalisayin and Sombrero.SESE RANCH
We also got to experience the rodeo attractions of Masbate, from riding a horse and viewing an endless field filled with hundreds of cattle in Sese Ranch, to witnessing an actual livestock auction in Curvada, to witnessing a rodeo dance performed by students, and to tasting their own version of beef bulalo (the meat is fresher, and the soup is spicier). We also visited several community-based tourism and agri-tourism projects in the province: Lumawig River Cruise run by fisher folks, Bongsanglay Mangrove Park where members protect the century-old mangrove forest which contains 36 out of the 38 known mangrove species, Dampasa Pabrika, a budget-friendly seafood restaurant run by a community-based tourism organization composed of fishermen, and Uma Koinonia, a farm-site eco-tourism park propagating organic farming.TICAO ISLAND RESORT
But beyond the natural attractions of the province are its people, warm, hospitable, and always ready to smile. They came from many places, from Bicol, from Southern Tagalog, from Panay and from Cebu, and have brought with them the best traits from these regions to form a new breed of resilient, hardworking Masbateno. There is a Pinoy colloquial term for cool, easy-to-get-along-with people: they are called “cowboy.” Masbate is truly a land of “cowboys.”
(The author is a senior who recently retired from work as an engineer in an auto manufacturing company. He used to be a regular contributor to MB's Cruising Magazine. His taste for adventure has not kept him from travelling, usually via not-so-usual routes.)