Riding the waves

Thursday, 27 August 2009

For many people, hearing the word Siargao conjures images of roaring waves and surfboards under the bright sun.

But the island is more than just the proverbial surf and sun. The islands surrounding Siargao and the Caraga region in northeastern Mindanao remain hidden, waiting to be discovered—breathtaking nooks and lagoons seemingly taken out of a Tolkien book; soaring cliffs and tranquil lakes—ready to take their rightful place as one of the country’s best tourist attractions.

“We want to show that Caraga is more than just Siargao,” Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director Leticia Tan told the BusinessMirror. “We are a region of culture, adventure and nature.”

The director has reasons to be proud. No other destination in the country can boast of a recorded history of thousands of years, still-unspoiled wonders and the sheer majesty than Caraga.

The region, part of the tourism belt of the Central Philippines Super Region, now has a fledgling tourism industry. It already boasts an exclusive lagoon resort that is becoming popular among Korean honeymooners, a world-class surfer’s paradise in Siargao and vast lagoons where tourists can swim alongside millions of non-sting jellyfish within two hours of each other.

In 2008, the region’s consolidated tourist arrivals hit 385,000, up by 23 percent from the previous year. This despite limited access to Manila, and inadequate access from the nearest hub in Cebu. It is still far from Cebu’s 2.1 million consolidated arrivals in the same year, but Tan said getting a significant slice of their neighbor’s arrivals would be a huge success for this region in the unfortunate perennial backdoor of Mindanao.

WITH only around 10 wellappointed super exclusive villas(top left), Club Tara resort in Butas Grande is slowly becoming a honeymoon destination for Korean couples. PHOTO BY DESINATION SPECIALISTS CEBU

The region, composed of the Agusan and Surigao provinces, as well as the mystical Dinagat province, is accessible through its three airports in Dapa, Siargao, Butuan City and Surigao City and through an adequate network of highways to key Mindanao cities like Cagayan de Oro and Davao. There are ongoing plans to bring in more flights and more shipping routes to the region, Tan said.

After a recent visit to the region by Cebu-based tour operators and journalists, Tan reported that the local tour operators were visibly excited, adding that efforts by local officials for many years are starting to bear fruit.

“We believe our time has come and our people are ready,” she said.

More than just surfing

Siargao is the crown jewel of Caraga region. But while most of the passengers coming into the Siargao airstrip are tugging surfboards, Siargao and its people are also making an effort to offer more into their basket.

Pilar town, due north of the surfers’ hotbed of Cloud 9 in the municipality of General Luna, is slowly becoming a magnet for game fishing. Its last tournament in May drew anglers from America to Asia. Even tuna capital General Santos City sent a team to the international game fishing tournament. The winner was a 120-kilogram marlin caught just off the coast of the island.

Without a single hotel in the town, the local residents, including the mayor, have opened up their spare rooms for tourists in a home-stay program that is slowly becoming a model in the country.

Del Carmen town, an hour away from General Luna, is laying the groundwork for its main attraction—an 8,000-hectare mangrove forest that is the biggest in Mindanao.

“The tourists have been a long dream of our people and now it has become a reality,” Del Carmen Mayor Constantino Navarro IV said. The town has established a tour of the huge forests culminating in the tourist center in one of the coves.

ONE of the attractions of Siargao is the huge mangrove forest. Activities include kayaking through these forests.
Accommodation is already set in Siargao with accommodations like Bayud Resort and Pansukian ready to accommodate the higher-end market.

For Gerry Degan, owner of world-famous Sagana Resort, Siargao has the waves not offered by just any other island anywhere else.

“For surfers, Siargao is still the place to be. The waves here are just spectacular,” Degan said.

In fact, world-renowned sport apparel Billabong will title-sponsor for the third time the Siargao Invitational Surfing competition next year. Degan, the organizer of the event, said 48 surfers, including 36 of the world’s best, will be in Siargao for the tournament.

Degan said a lot of families are descending into the island for a weekend getaway while the kids go to surfing. While foreigners still make up most of the arrivals, the number of locals is growing.

“You can see the effects on the community. Before, children aged 14 would just sit around drinking tuba. Now everybody has a surfboard,” Degan said. “The biggest drawback is many locals kids would go surfing than go to school.”

Aside from being a healthy sport, many Siargao kids have become surfing trainers, easily taking home P1,000 on a regular day.

At the Billabong-Siargao Invitational Surfing tournament last year, a local boy Edito Alcala defeated the world’s best and pocketed close to P500,000.

“This becomes an inspiration for everybody and where you see the positive effects of tourism and surfing to the local community,” Degan said.

The mainland

The region’s biggest city, Butuan, is considered the seat of civilization in the country. This claim is backed by the discovery of balangays during a government ditch project in the 1970s.

The boats were carbon-dated to as early as 300 AD—a sign that an advanced community, capable of trans-Asian travel and international trade, was already existing in the region more than a thousand years before Magellan landed in Masau, Butuan, for the first Mass (still contending with Limasawa, Leyte, up to the present).

The name Caraga comes from many lores—it was the supposed name of the ancient kingdom in the region named Karagan. It may also come after the Visayan word “kalag,” meaning the region was full of spirits.

The spirits must have been generous to the people of Caraga, given its wealth of natural resources. And its people are known for their warmth and hospitality.

Just a two-hour drive from bustling Butuan City is the tranquil 15,000-hectare Lake Mainit, the deepest lake in the country at more than 230 meters deep.

The lake recently became a key destination for roadsters in Mindanao, thanks to the investment of the Almont Lakeside Hotel, just by the lake’s shore.

Nestled at some 50 meters above sea level, Lake Mainit is now starting to grow a following at least within the affluent circles of northern Mindanao for the fishing activities in the area.

The cove

Sorsogon may have its tourists swimming with whale sharks. In Sohoton Cove in Butas Grande Island, tourists can swim, touch and even have their pictures taken with millions of nonsting jellyfish.

Butas Grande is just 20 minutes from Claver town in Suriago del Nore (three hours’ drive from Butuan City). Its main attraction is Sohoton Cove with its blue-green waters and solid rock cliffs packed with virgin forests. Eagles glide in the sky to welcome guests.

Sohoton comes from the Visayan word “sohot,” meaning to sneak in, as visitors, especially at high tide, literally have to duck and weave among stalactites in the cave entrance into the cove.

Entry into the cove itself is like being transported back in time. At the back and top of imposing cliffs are freshwater lakes the size of football stadiums, which until the present remain pristine.

Dhodo Ajoc, the officer of the tourism center established by the people of Socorror town in the cove, said visitors can see at least five species of eagles and countless other animals.

“Our members used to be fishermen and loggers in the cove until we realized the treasure that we have,” Ajoc said. “We have grouped ourselves and dedicated our time to protect our jewel.”

The jewel of Sohoton is perhaps its jellyfish lagoon. A kayak ride through the winding mouth of the cove leads to a small lagoon inhabited by millions of non-sting jellyfish.

Tourists can see jellyfish—brown, purple, lavender, blue, transparent ones—from the boats. The braver ones can jump and wade in and feel the gelatinous creatures slamming into the body. Tourists can also scoop one for a photo op.

The international market has started to take note of the potential. An exclusive Korean-owned resort, Club Tara, has opened in one of the lagoons offering honeymoon suites with a breathtaking view of the lagoons and its cliffs greeting guests each morning.

“Our guests are mostly Koreans looking for a holiday and adventure,” Club Tara owner Sing Hoon Kang said. “They always say they seem to forget they are in the Philippines.”

In her speech before local tour operators in Butuan City, DOT Central Visayas director Patria Aurora Roa said the Central Philippines Super Region has a great chance of capturing the international market because of the diversity of destinations it can offer.

“Caraga can now ride in the coattails of Cebu by tapping the tourists that arrive in the region,” she said.

Her counterpart from Caraga, Director Tan, said her region and Mindanao must rise to meet the challenges in order to succeed.

“We cannot just sit down. We need to get up and move forward,” she said. “Caraga has a lot to offer and its people deserve to benefit from their efforts in preserving their environment.” (Businessmirror)

Tourism, transport highway map unveiled in Mindanao exposition

August 23, 2009 - A three-dimensional (3-D) map showing the connectivity and accessibility of Mindanao’s tourism destinations was unveiled during the recent opening of the Mindanao Travel and Tour Exposition 2009 (MTTE 2009) at the Davao Convention and Trade Center in Davao City.

The Mindanao Tourism and Transport Highway Map (MTTH), a 3-D landscaped model map of Mindanao, shows key tourism sites and the major highways, seaports and airports connecting various tourism and key destinations.

Some of the areas shown in the MTTH map include Dakak in the Zamboanga Peninsula, Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, the Island Garden City of Samal on Samal Island, and the Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Norte.

An inter-agency project of the Department of Tourism (DoT) and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DoTC), the tourism and transport highway map features the multi-modal interconnectivity of the transportation and infrastructure development of Mindanao.

This project stresses the accessibility as well as the connectivity of the key eco-tourism sites of southern Philippines with the end view of encouraging domestic tourism within Mindanao while showcasing the ease and affordability of travel and tours within the island.

Changes and updates may be made even after the launching, as the map is an ongoing project. In the future, results of the project may be made accessible via Internet once the system is set in place.

At the interagency workshop on the MTTH Map held last month in Cagayan de Oro City, Tourism Undersecretary Oscar Palabyab stressed the importance of the map in identifying the gaps in tourism, transportation as well as the needed infrastructure support.

“Our neighbors have the basic infrastructure requirements, that’s why they have more visitors and tourists,” said Palabyab, adding that Mindanao has the best tourism destinations whether in terms of culture, adventure or nature.

He also said that the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines–East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) is one important strategy for tourism marketing of Mindanao. (Manila Bulletin)

Surigao del Norte town aiming to become Southeast Asia’s game-fishing capital

Wednesday, 05 August 2009 SIARGAO Island, Surigao del Norte—A sleepy community of barely 10,000 people, Pilar town and its people have big dreams—to become the game-fishing capital of Southeast Asia, if not Asia itself.

With the support of the national government and the Department of Tourism (DOT), the people of Pilar are pooling their resources, bayanihan- style, to lure tourists. Some 27 homes in the town have signed up for the town’s home-stay program, which allows tourists to live with local families and experience rural life in Pilar while enjoying the town’s outdoor adventures.

The program started a year ago, when the town hosted the first Siargao game-fishing tournament. Without hotels and pension houses, town mayor Lucio Gonzales rallied the residents to open up their homes to their local and international guests. The DOT pitched in, identifying 16 houses which became recipients of a P75,000 grant to renovate their houses.

“We had nothing to offer, but our hospitality,” Gonzales said. The 2009 version of the game-fishing event drew anglers from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan and the United States to compete with local anglers from all over the country.

The event was opened by President Arroyo. This year’s winner caught a 120-kilogram marlin just off the coast of Siargao.

One of the participants of the home-stay program was Carmencia Umbros. Although Umbros did not get the cash assistance, she opened up her three rooms to a delegation from General Santos City, who stayed in her house for two consecutive game-fishing tournaments.

“They liked it here the first time so they contracted me to host them again in May this year,” Umbros, a retired public-school teacher, said.

Her brother-in-law across the street just finished installing air-conditioning units in a room and is wrapping up a paint job, courtesy of the cash assistance from the DOT.

For P1,200 a day, Umbros’s house offers an air-conditioned room and full board meals plus a little extra.

“When the anglers come home from a day at the sea, I could not allow them to go to bed hungry so I cook for them,” Umbros said. “As with men, there should be unlimited rice.”

Mayor Gonzales said Pilar wants to show the other side of Siargao aside from the now world-famous surfs of Cloud 9.

“Our fishing grounds are perhaps the richest in the country,” he said. “Our dream is to be the fishing capital of Southeast Asia.”

With a community like Pilar and residents like Umbros, the dream may not be that far from becoming a reality. (Written by Willy Rodolfo III / Reporter)

Davao expo to regale visitors with miniature showcases

Owners and organizers of adventure sports in the island resorts plan to regale visitors and exhibitors to the Mindanao Travel and Tours Expo (MTTE 2009) later this month with a miniature setup of their respective adventure sports.

Outside the venue of the MTTE exhibition would rise a miniature showcase of such famous offerings such as Fantasyland of Gloria de Dapitan of Zamboanga del Norte, the surfing waves of Siargao Island in Surigao, and the ziplines, rock walls and rappeling of Edge Outdoors resembling some of the highland adventures in the Davao region.

 Team Everest of Pastor Emata would also set up a miniature mountain wall for climbing enthusiasts.

Araceli Ayuste, chair of the Davao del Norte Tourism Council and organizer of the MTTE 2009, said the showcase exhibitors “would set up the miniature replicas of their resorts and the adventure sports that they offer.”

The Gloria de Dapitan, for instance, would set up its colorful shooting fountains, rides and parks, the same famous attractions that complement the historic place of exile of Philippine hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

“Ziplines would be installed from the venue to across the street of the Davao Convention and Trade Center,” she said. “We would also have a preview of the famous waves of Siargao because the resort owners promised to bring wave-inducing machines.”

The 11 slots for these miniature adventure showcases have been filled for the August 20-22 MTTE, she said. The other showcase would be presented by Sarangani province with its bay festival; the municipality of Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, with its boulder-face challenge of Mt. Apo; the Philippine Eagle Center, with live eagles and other eagle and hawk species to show its conservation and ecotourism program; the Davao del Norte province with its cultural village; the Wind and Wave Davao, with its diving and parasailing; Punta del Sol Araceli Beach Resort with its summer beach hut; and Nature Spring with its summer splash.

Pasalubong showcases at the lobby would also complement the adventure showcases outside the venue. Exhibits include the sausages of ParaΓ±aque City and still-undisclosed items from Digos City in Davao del Sur and the province of Guimaras, famous for its mango export.

Also at the lobby, Phoenix Philippines would put up a miniature (3 meter by 8 meter) gasoline station, Lake Sebu tinalak tribal weavers would have their own booth to show actual weaving of authentic tinalak, and the Davao regional office of the Department of Tourism (DOT) would install an adventure showcase.

Forty-five entities would put up 54 exhibit booths at the main exhibition area, with the Davao Region comprising half (23 entities and 24 booths) of all exhibitors. Four cities outside the Davao region (Kidapawan, Cotabato, Zamboanga and Dapitan) and the province of Camiguin Island, Sarangani and South Cotabato, as well as the DOT offices of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Central Mindanao and the Zamboanga Peninsula, would also participate.

Nine booths would be taken up by Puerto Princesa City of Palawan, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the Philippine Tourism Authority and the DOT offices of Bicol, Cagayan Valley, Ilocos and Pangasinan, National Capital Region and Western Visayas, and the national office of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

The MTTE 2009 would be held alongside Davao City’s weeklong Kadayawan Festival, also the island’s largest fruit-harvest festival.

 Meanwhile, a separate Mindanao Trade Exposition organized by the Davao City-based MTE Foundation said 50 institutional buyers from Manila and some other parts of the country and 30 companies from Cebu City have confirmed their participation to MTTE 2009 on Thursday.

The trade expo would be held at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas exhibit area here.

MTTE 2009 chair Ann Pamintuan said “a wide array of opportunities are provided for the 100 exhibitors considering that the visiting buyers have varied preferences and interests.”

“Some buyers are interested on the finished products that will be showcased, but some might be more interested to enter into agreements wherein certain Mindanao entrepreneurs will provide them with raw materials,” she said. (Written by Manuel Cayon / Reporter)

About Siargao

Siargao is composed of 48 islands and islets-politically divided into nine municipalities: Burgos, Dapa, Del Carmen, Gen. luna, Pilar, San Benito, San Isidro, Santa Monica, and Socorro. Read more...

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