Camote, Cebu City, Tacloban
February/March 2009
Part I - Camote

If you want to skip directly to the next part, then just hit
Part II  - Cebu City, Tacloban


This is an abridged description mainly of a trip to Camote (see map below), a small group of islands between Leyte and Cebu, in February-March 2009. The intention is to give a firsthand personal experience of how we, Joy and I, traveled through the country to get to that place in the first place.

Since this is not only a travel report but also a personal memory album I don't apologize for Joy mostly standing or sitting in the way while taking the photos. This may also be proof of my copyright.

How to get from Berlin (or Frankfurt) to the Camotes Islands

There are several ways to get there. One is to Cebu directly (with Malaysian Airline via Kuala Lumpur, for example). The other is to Manila (as described in some of my previous travel reports) and then with a connection flight to Cebu City, for example with Cebu Pacific or with Zestair, both are always offering cheap promo fares.

All this depends on what other parts of the Philippines you are visiting and whether you are living in the Philippines. Camotes Islands ought to be just good enough for a short trip or one of several nice places as part of a whole itinerary.

As far as I am concerned I was neither coming from Manila nor from Cebu but actually from Northern Samar, where I stayed with Joy in her home village for a couple of months before we went on this trip on the road and by boat. Thus this travel report will also include some of the places we passed through.

However I will start with Ormoc to Camotes Islands first and then continue with our journey to Cebu City. From there I will describe our way back to Northern Samar. Thus all the information will also be valid vice versa, of course.


Ormoc is a busy city and port at the north-western coast of Leyte. The town had been hit by a typhoon in 1991 and was almost flushed away. More than 5000 people died and 50,000 lost their homes. I hope the people and especially the politicians have learned and that logging in the mountains, illegal or not, has been stopped and that new forests had been planted to also stop any future devastating floods coming down.

Still, no typhoon now was imminent while we were traveling through and around those mountains from Tacloban (described in Part II). We arrived after a two hours mini-bus (van) ride in Ormoc. The fare was 120 Peso (1.95 Euro) per person. Where to stay? My first choice was the
Don Filipe Hotel
Ormoc City, Leyte
Bonifacio St.
Tel.: 255-4661
just beside the mini-bus terminal and in front of the sea and the bayside park, thus just a few steps to walk. We took the better room on the six floor with sea view and paid 1440 Peso (23,20 Euro).

Ok, from here on I will only state the prices in Euro for simplification. I took the average exchange rate of 62 Pesos to the Euro valid at the time we went on this trip.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

The Don Filipe Hotel, from above ... looking down to the Bayside Park
There may be other and better hotels in and around Ormoc according to some guide books (but don't always trust the Rough Guide) but the Don Filipe was just right for one night and in the middle of everything. Actually there was nothing special to see in town, but it was nice strolling around. In the evening we ate in the restaurant of Don Filipe: A big Lapu Lapu fish for two including sides and drinks for 7.80 Euro.
Heroic Monument Holy Church
Next morning we walked along the street between the port (where the Cebu Ferries and Supercats to Cebu are leaving) and the market to the wharf, where our boat was already waiting to leave for the Camotes Islands, scheduled for 9 a.m. every day (as we inquired about the place and time the day before). There was supposedly another departure at 1 p.m.
Our pump boat Jun Mar with Joy
The fare was 2.75 Euro per person. Using the Karaoke machine was extra, of course. And for that kind of price you cannot expect cushioned seats.
A Karaoke machine What a joy for Joy
And everybody seemed to be happy about this. Big bottles of San Miguel beer beside other drinks and snacks could be bought from the booth between the Karaoke machine and the captain, who seemed to be very sober ... and serious.
Happy passengers Serious captain
The crew was right, when I asked them back in Ormoc how long the trip will take to Camote: Two hours. But that was only to the first port Pilar on the first island called Ponson as one of the three smaller Camotes Islands. It took another two hours until we reached our fourth and final destination: Tudela on Poro Island.

The town of Poro would have been closer to our final destination, but that's the way it was. A Filipino sitting behind us (we had an interesting conversation) suggested to rent a van for 16 Euro instead of hiring two motor-bikes (one for each of us, because of our luggage) for 9.70 Euro. He offered to call one van to be waiting for us at the pier in Tudela. Either way, it seemed to be overpriced comparing it with the cost of transport on the mainland ... and with the cheap boat ride.

But having had a cheap boat ride we accepted that offer. The fare would have been even more expensive if the boat would have ended up at the third port, Porto Bello, which may happen on certain weekdays.
First port of call on Ponson north Second port on Ponson south
After only 30 minutes van ride we arrived at the
Mangodlong Rock Resort
Himensulan, San Francisco
Camotes Islands
Tel.: 032-344 6899
which was located at the south-west coast of Pacijan Island, the third island of the Camotes, connected with Poro island by a dam road.

The resort stands on two hectares of coconut shaded gardens in front of a white beach with an extended sandbar leading to a coral islet: the rock.

And one more thing: bring enough cash because no resort will accept any credit card and there are no banks.
The Mangodlong Rock Resort That's the rock in front, thus the name
First night we had a room in the garden for 27.50 Euro. I had made reservation by phone the day before we left Ormoc. I had actually asked for accommodation at the Santiago Bay Garden Resort (same owner), but was told that it was temporarily closed because of no water supply.

We transferred next day to a sea view front cottage for 31.50 Euro. The room was basic (no TV, no hot water) but clean and convenient. In front: our terrace to sit, read and watch and the restaurant to eat good and cheap. American breakfast was 1.60 and Filipino breakfast 1.10 Euro. Fried grilled fish (from the freezer) with rice for 2.70 and a Tocino meal (chicken, veggie, rice) for 1.10 Euro. Our indulgence: coffee and chocolate cake for 55 cents (same as a bottle of beer).
Our accommodation in the back With the restaurant in front
And then the white sandy beach to relax and then the crystal clear water to swim (though stony bottom) and finally the rock to snorkel around (saw no life corals though but small fish between the crevices). The following pictures will be self-explanatory.
Sunbeds to relax in the back And the beach to swim in front
The little swimming pools viewed from the side Aren't Olympic size but they look very nice
Jumping into the water is not advised But once climbing the rock it's the only way
Many picnic huts on the rocky island And many more at the coast beside
Locals just finished their outing Finally alone and tranquil again
A look at the rock at four o'clock The evening sun at five o'clock
Over Cebu far behind Sunset at six o'clock
If it's the first time on this island then it's mandatory to see the island some day. First thing, we needed some kind of a transport. So, we rented a motorbike and driver and traveled habal-habal. The word is derived from the copulation position of pigs: belly to back, and that sometimes with up to five and more people, all in one row on one bike, depending on the extension of the seat.

We were only three, including the driver. He also was our guide who knows where to go. The rental price was 8.00 Euro for the motorbike including driver for the whole day. It would have cost 6.50 Euro without the driver. Gasoline was another 2.60 Euro.

First thing was checking my emails in the only internet cafe in San Francisco, the main town of the island (I left my computer and modem at home). After that we took a look at the Santiago Bay Garden Resort, which was open again after they fixed the water pipe. It looked all nice and we made reservation for the next day.

There are several other resorts in Santiago, one was the
Payag Beach House and Resort
Santiago, San Francisco
Camotes Islands
Tel.: 0922-712 5582
right in front of the beach with cramped rooms from 11.30 to 24.20 Euro (from non-aircon, no bath to aircon and bath and window).

The other one was the
Masamayoris Beach House and Resort
Santiago, San Francisco
Camotes Islands
Tel.: 0917 832 6266
in the second row from the beach and rooms from 14.50 to 24.20 Euro. The rooms are dark and facing the backyard.

I wouldn't recommend any of these two, so take a good look first and book only the first night (if everything else should be full) and then decide.

Ok, let's continue now with our round-the-island trip and getting next to the huge fresh water Danao Lake. Nice to look at but not much to do (could have swum).
Next day visiting a lake The huge lake Danao
Really a nice raft to explore the lake But the steering wheel didn't work
There was nothing to do at the lake, just relaxation This boat on the beach is also out of operation
But then we came to a beautiful nice white beach, the Bakhaw Beach south of barangay Esperanza (also a nice place to swim). No resort was around but only two private houses. Couldn't find the Borromeo and Suson Beach Resorts as shown on our map south and north of it.
But it was a vast empty stretch of a beautiful beach except for some crippled pandamus trees
But this one looks good And these are even better
What for? Of course to be climbed by my monkey But now, beautiful beach, we had to say good bye
But what we found was an environment spoiling fishing village called Tulang Dako at the most northern tip of our beautiful Pacijan Island. The local map even named this place Tulang Dako Beach. But what a beach. I had experienced that especially fisher families in Asia (worse was in India) don't care about their own beach and the waterfront, and the water, and the future of the fish population, and thus their own future.

Fortunately, dynamite fishing is not done anymore. Dwindling fish resources may not be always the fault of the local fishermen. Big fishing trawlers from China and Japan plying the ocean all around and sometimes even get into Philippine waters (many fisher boats from China have already been seized by the Philippine Coast Guard).

The small island opposite of Tulang Dako is called Tulang Diot (actually the fourth Camotes island). This island is supposed to have the best beaches and snorkeling and diving places around (according to the guide books and the Diving Station at the Mangodlong Rock Resort). Yes, one beach looked white and nice from far away, so probably looked this dirty beach from there. Next time I will find out.
That's a dirty beach with a lot of garbage but this boat is also already garbage
For the best clean and crystal clear water we had to go underground. Camote has many places with caves and this was one of them we have visited.
Get out of the village and better get down into a clear water cave underground
After that we went all the way back to San Francisco and then further on via the dam road and found a damned beautiful place, called the Boho Resort just before the town of Poro. But it seemed not to have any accommodation, only some huts or sheds for picnic outings with some water splashing actions, either in the swimming pool, which was not finished though (or just decaying?), or jumps from the concrete diving boards, if you dare.
Then going to a place called Boho Resort but I wouldn't jump from that diving board
After a quick look at Poro town and the port we drove back to our Mangodlong Resort, where our driver dropped us off. We made an arrangement for a pick up next day noon for our transfer to the
Santiago Bay Garden and Resort
Santiago,San Francisco
Camotes Islands
Tel.: 032-344 6899
Since it belonged to the same owner and we have already stayed at the Mangodlong Resort we did get the deluxe room for 29.00 instead of 32.30 Euro. The price range for various accommodations was from 16.00 to 45.00 Euro.
Then finally we ended up at our Santiago Resort with a beautiful view to the bay with a nice white beach
The deluxe rooms were not luxury but very basic and similar to the ones in the Mangodlong Resort. Our room was just recently renovated and was waiting for the television to be installed. Similar was also the food (and prices) in the restaurant. The menu was identical but you tasted a different chef (don't try Beef Tapa: tough as buffalo leather, Cebuano style).
Sleeping inside a room like this The outside: a view like this
Eating in a restaurant like this Or celebrating anything like this
Many places to relax and wander around
But the place and location of this resort was completely different and I recommend staying in both for a while. The Mangodlong Resort had some rustic coziness and a swimming pool, though small.

The Santiago Resort had a nicer view down to a larger and better white sandy beach, even if you have to walk on it during low tide to get into deeper water to swim (more sandy than stony bottom). Also the snorkeling options along the rocky coast (just a few steps down from the resort) were better (even in low tide) with some real corals (mostly brains) and colorful fish.
Walking along the rocky coast with the beautiful Santiago landscape
Looking down Looking up
And you can snorkel around the rocks to the east until you can reach a very nice secluded beach. I didn't want to swim and snorkel to that beach alone but rather walk a mile with Joy all the way around. Either way it will be a surprise to just not stumble over bones but falling over graves. Almost the whole two adjacent beaches have been declared and used as a cemetery.

I mentioned once that many Filipinos don't seem to appreciate their own beaches very much. Instead to live close to a beach they rather prefer to live along a road, or better: air-polluted and noisy highway. And if they live at a beach, they spoil it, like the fisher folks. But this is really the worst proof of their "appreciation": a cemetery.
Seeing far away a beach not easy to reach After walking a mile. Oh, what a nice beach
But oh my God. What's this? An old cemetery in it's midst
Behind the rock another beach Another place to "Rest in Peace"
You don't believe it? This will prove it
Why are many white beaches like Boracay (according to Gloria: a premier tourist spot) valued and visited by many Filipinos now, too? Because foreign backpackers have mostly discovered them many years ago. "What the white foreigners like, we must like". It even goes that far that they also want to look like a white foreigner now: White (and possibly with a long nose). You can't buy a body lotion or face cream without a whitener in the Philippines. But white foreigners want to get brown. But in this case it does not count what the foreigners want but what they look like.

Though many Filipinos can't afford this white craze and still work and live the old way, and often the hard way to catch enough fish or harvesting enough rice to make both ends meet.
Some fishermen still live close by Some farmers are plowing the old way
Not many fish seemed to be caught. The resort offered every day the catch of the day. However it was not fresh but came out from the freezer. We bought real fresh fish from the market in San Francisco and had it prepared by our chef. It was expensive, more so to add the fare of almost 5,00 Euro just to get there with a bike back and forth (motor gang cartel?).

Who cares. Filipinos think that all Caucasians are rich anyway. Actually not all, but some really are, like the Norwegian who owns a nice house opposite the resort, I was told. But on the other hand there are many more rich Filipinos than tourists coming to the Philippines every year.
This fish we bought in the market in San Francisco Some rich people are living here too, in Santiago.
This is the biggest town of all the Camote Islands with modern buildings and a modern church
There came the time to leave this nice island. In order to get on the boat in Poro on time before 6 a.m. without getting up too early and without any hassle (maybe raining during the nightly motorbike ride from Santiago) we decided to move the day before to the
Big-Z Pension
Poro, Camotes Islands
Tel.: 0920 666 4760
just right in the middle of town between the sea and the main street. The price for the 'best" big simple room with sea view was 22.50 Euro. There were other cheaper rooms from 13.00 Euro. The people were very kind. Joy could use their kitchen to cook our dinner (there was no decent restaurant or eatery in Poro).
The other town is Poro on the island of Poro
Next morning we were at the pier at 5:15 a.m. We had been told that the ticket office will open at 5 a.m. but actually did at 5:45 a.m. The computer printed personal ticket (your name will always be registered to know who sank with the ship) did cost 6.10 Euro. After we embarked, the Oceanjet jetted off at 6:50 a.m. and arrived at 7:50 a.m. at Pier 1 in Cebu City.

View from where we stayed before heading off to Cebu City
The Oceanjet is leaving from Poro every day at 6 a.m. and also supposedly on some weekdays 12:00 at night. There was another shipping line with slower boats leaving at 5 p.m. but going to Danao, 40km north of Cebu City. Not very convenient to get to Cebu City unless you want to continue to Malapascua Island in the north.

Ok, that was Camotes Islands, still only a part of it. We could have easily stayed longer either to relax or taking a look at some of the other but few interesting places. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more about the places we have visited then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

If you want to skip now to the next part, then just hit
Part II  - Cebu City, Tacloban

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