Friday, May 24

enchanting bucas grande island

it has been a very long time since adri and i had been on a (mostly) non-birding trip and i was so excited to be exploring the beaches of surigao. the plan was to go to popular siargao island via cebu and use the island as jump off to the lesser known bucas grande island.

our flight to cebu was very early (i.e. cheaper), so we had a long wait at the mactan airport for our flight to siargao island after lunch.  when we finally got to check in at noon, and as we were enjoying our zubuchon lunch, we heard the bad news over the sound system: our flight had been cancelled! we stared at each other in disbelief.  as we were lining up (again) to reclaim our baggage, we searched the net for alternative options. (1) stay in cebu city and lose a whole day and take the same flight out the next day or (2) catch the ferry to surigao city (there were no more flights to surigao from cebu in the afternoon) from the cebu port, find our way to bucas grande island and lose a half day. what the hey, sometimes plans change, and even the most careful and detailed preps have to be trashed. 

we check-in, our flight is cancelled, and we ask for a refund for our tickets

we hurried to the cokaliong shipping lines office to grab tickets and headed straight for the pier to board the m/v filipinas maasin. despite of the horrible traffic from the airport to the port area (via taxi), the slightly confusing transfer from the check in area to the correct pier (via minibus shuttle) we made it on board an hour or so before departure. we were wonderfully surprised to see that our ferry was immaculately clean and neat, the tourist area was comfortably spaced and temperature controlled and that there was wifi available on board! we were sure the twelve hour inter-island journey would pass very quickly.

7pm departure on m/v filipinas maasin: the cleanest ferry ever!
the cokaliong fleet

and it did. being myself, i instantaneously dozed off a few minutes after we had left port and did not wake up (not even to grab some blankets or dinner!) until the morning and we were approaching the port of surigao city! the voyage was smooth and uneventful (well, uneventful enough to allow me to sleep right through it!). a local couple we had met on board helped us with our logistics which were easy enough to follow.  

calm waters throughout the night

from the pier we took a public power cab to the bus terminal and then from there took a public van to the port of hayanggabon in the town of claver. at hayanggabon pier, we were met by the boatmen (led by tata) who would bring us to cinnamon island on bucas grande, a very short 30 minute bangka ride. 

our duffel bound to hayanggabon

kids enjyoing summer at the pier

after a quick market visit for our rations and supplies on the island, we were off and arrived at our destination before lunch!

welcome to cinnamon island!

as we got off the bangka i felt the sand and sea between my toes, i was officially on summer vacation! we were met with cups of warm cinnamon tea, made from the bark of the cinnamon trees which grew on the island and gave the island its name. we discussed our lunch menu with the cook, omar, and were shown to our thatched roof room above the eating area.

welcome drink: hot cinnamon tea

our room for the night
the view from our room was classic: the small cove in front of the island with our bangka, the day tripper, anchored off the short stretch of white sand beach and blue skies peeking behind cottony clouds.

whatta view!

we had a delish lunch of octopus kinilaw and tuna inihaw. we discussed our plans for the day with dodo, who had arranged our entire stay on the island which was run by a local peoples organization.  

kinilaw na octopus: yum yum!

the main attraction was sohoton national park: a series of crystal clear lagoons dotted by limestone islets accessible only thru a cave entrance when the tides allow it. the park was a protected land and seascape and exploring it would take up the rest of our day. the day tripper took us to the visitor center just ten minutes away. 

the visitor center at sohoton

we registered and were each assigned a boatman and a smaller outrigger to take us to the first stop: jellyfish lake. my boatman explained that motorized bangkas were not allowed at jellyfish lake, nor was swimming in the lagoon. originally called kadjuman after the long spined sea urchins which lined the narrow entrance to the lagoon, its main attraction were the non-stinging jelllyfish whose population exploded during the month of may.  

enchanting crystal clear waters

it was truly enchanting, the landscape was so serene with the crystal clear waters and the limestone islands covered in vegetation. it was quiet save for the slap of the boatmen's paddles on the water and an occasional bird call (brush cuckoo! philippine bulbul! olive backed sunbird! -birding by ear only this time). as we entered the lagoon, the boatman pointed out the huge mangkono (ironwood trees) which grew on the seeming inhospitable limestone cliffs. i was also surprised to see pitcher plants dripping from the trees. they were actually all over the islets of sohoton, banishing my belief that they only grew at high and cool elevations. 

pitcher plants and mangkono

as we floated over the water, my boatman began pointing to the jellies which had began appearing. they were all sizes, from smaller than my fingernail to larger than my hand.  we were allowed to touch them (just to prove they didn't sting i suppose) but not to lift them out of the water. 

non stinging jellies of jellyfish lake

adri's and my boat were near each other and as we admired our surroundings, what would we hear but the loud calls of rufous hornbills. as we tried to peer in the direction the calls came from, we spotted one of them flying behind a nearby rocky islet. (remember: non birding trip = no binoculars!)

when we had taken in the sights and committed them to memory, our boatmen started to row back to the visitor center. across from the current visitor center was a larger structure being built which would be the new visitor center. even here the water was crystal clear and mesmerizing. 

clear waters at the visitor center

the new visitor center in the works

we transferred to a motorized bangka which would take us to through the cave entrance to the maze of lagoons inside sohoton. we were all issued hard hats for safety, and as we approached the entrance i could see why.  because the low tide had not yet peaked, we had to duck low as we entered the cove. our boatmen expertly navigated the narrow entrance which also had several shallow parts and rocky outcrops which narrowly missed scraping the outrigger. 

the entrance to the lagoon

as we entered the lagoon, a strange rock formation called the horse's foot was pointed out to us.  because the lagoon was so maze-like, this served as a marker to the boatmen that they were near the entrance/exit to prevent them from getting lost.

the horse's foot

they took us to magkukuob cave. we had to swim thru a low entrance which opened up into a larger cave. we were helped up by our guide through a short but challenging climb across the cave wall to an exit which opened up almost opposite of where we came. and surprise! we had to jump off a platform around 5 meters high from the water below where our boat was waiting!

entrance and (unexpected) exit to magkukuob cave!

the next stop was hagukan cave, whose entrance was below the water level! i told adri i would follow after him, so the guides helped him navigate the entrance as he dove under water. he only spent a few minutes inside what he said was a fairly large cave which was eerily lighted by the light reflected from outside. by the time he came out i was chatting animatedly with our boatman and i decided to pass up on the experience.

the underwater entrance to hagukan cave

we were then taken around the dizzying coves and islets of the lagoon. it was certainly captivating: limestone rock formations, rich vegetation, crystal clear waters revealing colorful corals and fish, and a series of coves and mini-lagoons.  too soon, we passed the horse's foot again, and it was time to duck (not so much now as the tide was lower) again as we left behind the secret world of sohoton. 

back at the visitor center, tata was waiting for us with the day tripper, ready to continue our exploration of bucas grande. they took us to a popular beach stop facing the surigao mainland: the marka-a. as we swam in the warm waters, we admired 2 brahminy kites riding the winds above us.

marka-a beach

we then headed to jump off to tiktikan lake. however, because it was already late in the afternoon, we didn't hike up to the hidden lake, but did a short spelunking tour of a nearby cave with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites.

more stalactites and stalagmites

as the sun began to set, we continued our tour of the surrounding coves and beaches, passing thru the high end tara resort which was just a cove away from cinnamon island. 

club tara resort

the sun sets on a full day

it was a full and satisfying afternoon of island hopping. we still hadn't had our fill of the beach so as soon as we arrived at cinnamon island, we continued to enjoy swimming in our small cove, lying down on a bamboo raft to enjoy the stars coming out. as if to tease our birder instincts, 2 mindanao hornbills landed breifly on a tree just behind our cottage, honking loudly!

as it got darker, we had our dinner, enjoying the quiet of the island. before retiring for the night, we watched the night skies, the stars numerous and bright above us.

the stars in the sky and the lights of surigao mining operations

baby the stars shine bright (spot the southern cross!)

we woke up to a beautiful morning, and another delicious breakfast of fish and crab. the beach invited us once again to go for a swim. 

morning at cinnamon island

chitons and limpets

unfortunately, because of the cancelled flight, we only had one night on the island, and we arranged with tata for the day tripper to bring us to siargao, 2 hours away. before noon, we crossed the island to the back where the day tripper was anchored in deeper water. 

the back way and a cinnamon tree seedling

tata informed us that they had lost one of the propellers the night before and the crew could not find it in the water.  but they were able to borrow one and repair the boat, so there would be no delay in our journey. even if the shorter way to dapa pier on siargao would be the pacific ocean side, our crew decided to pass through the passage between surigao and bucas grande, as it was mid morning and the waves were quite large on the former. an hour into our journey, our bangka stopped at a beach to check on the repaired propeller. there was also a refreshing waterfall called magkahuyog falls at the beach stop. 

surprise: magkahuyog falls on the beach

we quickly enjoyed a quick and cool dip as our boatmen checked the boat. it was a hot morning, so as we walked on the beach exploring, our boatman could not resist taking a dip in the waterfall pool as well!

mudskipper marks

soon, our boatmen motioned to us that it was time to go.  as we said goodbye to enchanting bucas grande, it was hello to the next part of our adventure: the surfing mecca that is siargao.

the day tripper

the adventure continues...


  1. wow! gorgeous beach, lots of jellyfish, fresh seafood... and no bins! =) sarap naman! =)

  2. Hi! Ask ko lang if hm did you pay for the bucas grande overnight stay plus tours thank you