Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Immersion in Northern Samar (Biri Island/Allen)

All the while I thought there is nothing to see in Samar, knowing that it is the highway of super typhoons I thought it is always a troubled world. But my impressions was turned over like a magic spell as if I am being drawn deeper in the heart of the province and I can't help but explore and immerse myself into it! It took weeks before I came up with a final itinerary because I had a hard time calling and sending text messages to contact persons that I've read on blogs and websites, since it's only a year after the devastation of typhoon Haiyan.  I made several calls but only one person took my call and gave hope to my intentions.

Terminal in Tacloban City

We booked a flight to Tacloban City and took a bus going to Allen, we know it's going to be a long travel so we prepared for it. It is a 5 hour travel by land, we left Tacloban at 8:30 am and arrived in Allen, Northern Samar at 2 in the afternoon. We stayed at Villa Veronica resort which will be our base camp for two nights. We had lunch in the house of a family friend, afterwards we prepared some things for our trip to Biri Island on the following day.

It was a cloudy day on our second day, I called our tour guide and advised him about our arrival at Lavezares port. Lavezares is a municipality in Northern Samar and is the gateway to Biri Island. While waiting for the tour guide, I took some time looking at those fresh caught fish in the market and they look so fresh! There were tuna, squid, shrimps and many more, I thought of buying and just grill it in the island but we have no more time to buy the things that we need for grilling, so as soon as the boat docked, off we went right away!

It would be a 45-minute pump boat ride, on the rough San Bernardino Strait, a waterway which separates Samar from the island of Luzon and  which is famed for being unpredictable, one moment the current is calm then suddenly it becomes wild and with all those water vortex along the way. There is this big statue of a lady on top of a ship which I got so curious about, well, according to our guide, there was a pirate ship which sank a long time ago and a lady appeared on top of the ship and saved the pirates...well that's interesting and makes sense.

Upon arrival at Biri Island, we rode a "habal-habal" (a motorcycle modified to accommodate passengers more than its capacity), which is the only transportation in town due to its narrow roads. We went straight to the tourism office in the town proper to register. Biri Island is located in the northernmost tip of Northern Samar, it became famous for the gigantic rock formations standing along the Pacific Ocean which guards the town from all possibilities of water surges and I must say that they're enormous! There is a long boardwalk from the street going to our first rock destination and along the way there are mangroves around, some are big and some are newly planted.

Boardwalk going to Bel-at Rock

First rock formation to see is the Bel-at Rock, I can't figure how these massive rock formations were formed, they were gigantic as if it was a battlefield of the children of Zeus in the primeval eras. They are standing fronting the Pacific Ocean and terminates big blows of waves of the ocean! We went on top of Bel-at and it was scary! I was being paranoid of falling because of the narrow passages we stepped on considering that it was so windy plus the roaring sound of the Pacific Ocean, can you imagine how scary but thrilling it was to be up there?

Standing next to Bel-at rock is the Caranas rock formation. We planned to go to Caranas but the water was still high so we just took a dip in the natural pool nearby.

Caranas Rock Formation

Natural pool

And on the other side of Bel-at rock is the Puhunan rock formation which has a resemblance to a sphinx posting as a gatekeeper of Biri Island. And that rock formation next to Puhunan is the Makadlao rock formation, can you see it?

Puhunan Rock Formation and  Makadlao Rock Formation

Before going to the other rock formations, we ate lunch at a nearby eatery along the way and ordered "halo-halo" (a native dessert which consist of different sweetened fruits with crushed ice and milk). The owner of the eatery was kind enough to let us eat our packed lunch in her store. A simple meal of grilled tuna and pork filled our tummies and regained our energy! Burp! Fantastic! By the way we bought the meal in Oceanview Restaurant in Allen, they take orders of packed food and pick them early in the morning.

Thank you to the store owner who makes delicious halo-halo.


After some time spent in the store we headed to the next rock formation...the Magasang rock formation. There is a boardwalk from the main road going to Magasang, but it is not long enough to get us to the rock formation, at the end of it we walked across the water. We were very careful because the rocks in the water are shaking and sharp and it can hurt feet.

Bridge going to Magasang Rock Formation

This boardwalk was constructed to let the tourists cross even if the tide is high, the stairs was suppose to be near the beach but due to consecutive water surges that happened a year ago caused by strong typhoons the water went far and away from the beach. I think the Magasang rock is the biggest of them all, its base is almost equal to a mall, a big mall! We can get around the rock and climbed on top of it but it has a higher elevation than the Bel-at rock formation.

Magasang Rock Formation

This was at the other side of the Magasang rock formation, there were some indentation on the surface of the rock in the shape of feet of people, animal hooves, like what I've said, it looked like it  was a battlefield in the ancient world. My imaginations became so wild while roaming around these rock formations, really I began to think of so many things while staring at them.

Natural Stairs

There is also this natural stairs which made our ascent very easy, no sweat! Well I think this place was a mass of land thousands of years ago, which fell apart due to an earthquake or volcanic eruption, but I'm not sure that's only my observation.

I told you it's enormous, just look how small we are and this was only a portion of the rock formation.

Magsapad Rock Formation

Standing next to Magasang rock formation is the Magsapad rock formation which looks like a giant toad or head of a giant sea turtle? What can you see?

This is the view on the left side of the rock formation from where I am standing. With the aid of the rock stairs it was not at all difficult to climb on top of it as well as with going down.

And this is the view on the right side from where I am standing, overlooking the mainland of Biri and cerulean Pacific Ocean. Well, I asked our tour guide about the story of these rock formations but he gave no answers, there are six rock formations which stands at the gate of Biri Island they are the Caranas, Bel-at, Puhunan, Makadlao, Magsapad and Magasang and whatever way they were created, I do not know but one thing is for sure, they are truly immense!

After the rock formation trip we went to the town proper and went straight to the boat. By the way, day trip in Biri Island is possible, only you have to hire a private boat to pick you at Lavezares port and wait for you and take you back to Lavesarez. It was a fun filled trip, I swear, you should try it!

1. If you're coming from Manila, take a flight going to Tacloban City, take a bus or UV Express going to Allen. I suggest you take the ordinary bus because it goes directly to Allen unlike with the UV express that you have to get off in their terminals in Catbalogan and Calbayog and take another van, yes they're faster but you have to wait and buy ticket again for the next's kind of inconvenient. The ordinary bus takes longer by an hour but it is safer if you're not on a rush. I have nothing against the UV Express, but it is better to take the bus.

The terminal going to Allen is in Abucay, Tacloban City, just ask the taxi driver to take you to the bus terminal. You will see a number of bus liners and UV express in that place. The name of the bus is JM Bus Lines, the fare going to Allen is 240 pesos. The fare for van going to Calbayog is 100 pesos and from Calbayog take another van going to Catbalogan City for 100 pesos and from Catbalogan to Allen is 130 pesos. So it's your decision what transportation you'll take. There are also cars for hire for 3500/day excluding fuel.

You can also take a flight to Legaspi, Albay and take a public transportation to Matnog port in Sorsogon. Take the ferry going to Allen port.

There are also buses in Metro Manila which takes passengers to Samar.

The shortest way is through Catarman airport which has flights from Manila via Philippine Airlines only.

2.  When you arrived in Allen, Samar take a tricycle or jeepney (very seldom) going to Lavesarez port.

3. At Lavesarez port, there are pump boats which takes passengers to Biri Island for 50 pesos, but you have wait for the boat to be filled.

1. Be sure that you go to the tourism office to register, the tour guides knows about it and they will take you there.
2. You can bring food but there are small retail stores in the island where you can buy some food and drinks.
3. Please don't leave your trashes in the island, take them with you and dispose them properly.
4. There are a number of accommodations in Biri Island if you're planning to stay overnight, you better go to the tourism office and ask.
5. If you're going to make a day tour and stay at Allen or Victoria, Samar, there are several resorts in Barangay Buenos Aires along Maharlika Highway, just tell the bus driver what resort you're getting off. I recommend Villa Veronica Beach Resort, Wayang-wayang Beach Resort, Spice of Life Beach Resort. There are also restaurants in Allen that serves delicious food.

If you need a contact person in Biri Island just call or send a text message to Jun Giray at mobile #0928 830 9396. His father operates a pump boat if you want to hire it for 2,000 (negotiable) for a day tour at Biri Island.

That's it, thank you for reading and I hope you'll read my next blog more about Northern Samar.

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