Time for Biri Island
Being Retired in Samar, anyone would think that after living here for over two years, we would have already visited the beautiful rock formations at Biri Island. So when my friend and his visiting father dropped in on us for a visit at our house where we live just west of Calbayog City, a discussion ensued and before we all knew it, we were online making reservations for a two night stay at the Villa Amor Resort on Biri Island. We would be leaving before the weekend got here. So now we finally decide to take an unplanned trip to the far north of Samar Island to do some sightseeing – why it took us so long to plan a visit to Biri Island, I have no idea…maybe we have just been content enjoying what our local area has to offer.
After Reservations were made, it was agreed that our friends Carl and Emelyn would pick us up along the highway on Friday morning about 9am. From there we would make the two and a half hour trip north, just past the small city of Allen, to Barangay Lazevares which is the jump off point for land travel. From here, we would hire a banca boat (or pump boat) to take us to Biri Island.
Biri Island, is a little known and somewhat isolated island along the Northern coast of Samar Island in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines. The shores of Biri lie along the San Bernardino Straights off the mighty Pacific Ocean and face the equally beautiful Mt. Bulusan Volcano which is situated across the straits on mainland Luzon. Recent pro-active campaigns by the Tourism Departments of both the Philippines and Samar have begun to capture the attention of Filipino tourists and international travellers alike. This is definitely an off-the-beaten-path spot but is a wonderful sight to see for tourists and adventurers. Biri’s beautiful rock formations are considered to be the Philippine’s foremost National Geological Monument and one of the Top 5 Gems of Philippine Islands. The rock formations at Biri are composed of 7 magnificent rock formations namely, Magasang, Magsapad, Macadlaw, Puhunan, Bel-at, Caranas and Pinanahawan. These formations are believed to have been forced up by underwater tectonic plate movements some 20 million years ago. Most of the upheaved formations appear to be of sandstone which at some time were then covered with a coating or skin of volcanic lava, and after millions of years of effects by nature and ocean waves, today you can see a fantastic mineral landscape of varying colors, patterns and designs.
By Land and By Sea
The Boat Trip from Lazevares to Biri Island cost P500 (private) and took just under 1 hour. We were told we could wait around for an ordinary boat at a cost of P50 per person but we could wait for hours for a departing boat. We experienced fair winds and following seas during our transit with a light southwesterly breeze and small waves produced by the seasonal SW monsoon, or Habagat (June-Sep) as it is referred to in the local language. The trip to Biri can be smooth and dry or rough and wet depending on the strengths of the prevailing monsoonal conditions. The NE monsoon, better known as the Amihan (Oct-May), can also make for some rough wave conditions in the San Bernardino Straights. All I can suggest here in the absence of “good-luck” weather is to simply be prepared to keep your things dry.
Once We Arrived at Biri Island, we were quickly met by several baggage handlers, habal-habal drivers and a small entourage of curious onlookers. Before we knew what was happening, a couple of opportunistic “self-employed” porters assigned themselves to the offloading of our bags from the boat and carried about 4 pieces the whole 30 feet to the welcome sign, which apparently qualified them for a payment or tip. Although we did not ask them for help with our bags, we grudgingly obliged them with a P70 tip (which was way too much for the work performed), but we now knew better for the return trip. After a short walk down the road, we decided to hire three habal-habal drivers to take us and our baggage to the resort, which was much farther than the 1 kilometer we were initially told. As it turned out, it was just over two kilometers to the Villa Amor Resort. Habal-habal fares were just P10 per person, so P20 per bike (two passengers with baggage per bike).
A Warm Welcome was given to us by the host “Rolly” at the Villa Amor Resort which is owned by a local woman and her Australian Husband and managed by her brother Rolly and his family (from what I gathered). We took a downstairs room which had aircon and a fan (until *midnight), a queen sized bed, and comfort room with no hot water (which cost P1,300). Once we got settled into our rooms, we began the rest of the day with a free can of Australian beer offered by our host, some picnic table chat and relaxation. We decided to take a stroll downtown to see if we could find something to eat, but we discovered only two candelarias (canteens) and nothing really all that appetizing. After learning that we missed the village fiesta by only one day, we decided to return to the hotel where our host prepared an à la carte lunch of fresh caught Lapu Lapu (grouper) Sinagang and rice. After lunch, we enjoyed an afternoon of more relaxation, swimming, and some refreshments. There is not much of a beach at the resort and probably just enough sand to make small children happy with their buckets and shovels. To get wet, I had to wade through ankle-deep water about 30 meters across rocks and a coral bottom to a 1 meter deep hole where I could stay submerged and cool.
All the While our host Rolly was preparing our à la carte dinner of fresh fish, crab, vegetables, and rice, we gathered on the roof-top for a beautiful sunset behind Mt. Bulusan, an active but quiet volcano just across the San Bernardino Straights. After sunset we returned downstairs and enjoyed a nicely prepared dinner under the stars on a beautiful evening. We relaxed some more and turned in at about 10 pm after free-lancing some sketchy plans about making our way to the rock formations in the morning. As soon as the power went off (midnight) I was awake in anticipation of the coolness wearing off, and as I expected, the coolness was slowly replaced by tropical warmth and humidity and I had a hard time getting back to sleep. After a couple restless hours, I took my pillow and beach towel outdoors to a hammock strung between two coconut trees, which is where I should have taken up residence for the night all along. Now I had a nice sea breeze (the ocean was only 8 meters away), the sound of waves gently crashing on the beach, and a brightly star-lit and crowed night sky. My only worry now was a falling coconut. But soon after counting all the stars I could (akin to counting sheep), I dozed off and awoke just before sunrise, covered up with my towel like a blanket, as I had a good tropical chill going on. Darned sun, I could have slept another three hours!
Coffee and Habal-habal
Once We Were all up and moving about, our host, kuya Rolly, began preparing eggs, garlic rice, toast and coffee for breakfast (the ladies placed the order the evening before). The breakfast surprise was the addition of stir-fired corned beef and onions and toasted hamburger buns substituting for the toasted bread. That was okay. I just took an egg, slapped it on a bun, topped it with corned beef, and I had a McMuffin, Biri style. It was good…I ate two! Soon after breakfast we hailed three habal-habal drivers for the short 10 minute ride through town, the countryside, and through some cool jungle flora out to the rock formations.
Now it Was Trek Time as we dismounted our habal-hablals. At this point we agreed to pay our drivers P25 per hour for waiting for us as we had no idea how long we would spend at the formations. From here it was all on foot through the low tide, over and around big boulders to the first two formations called Mangasang and Magsapad, left to right, respectfully. We walked entirely around Mangasang and observed some beautiful colors, patterns and nature sculptured rocks, took some pictures, and enjoyed the beautiful views these majestic monuments to nature had to offer. And with picturesque Mt. Bulusan as a backdrop just across the Straights, it made for some great nature-scape views. Here we witnessed the power of the Pacific Ocean as it crashed alongside the rocks below us, throwing occasional plumes of water far into the air. And this was a calm day, oceanwise! We made our way between Mangasang and Magsapad and took some more photos, and then I just couldn’t take it anymore – and against the advice of our local guide – I jumped into the pulsating waters of the incoming swells between the rocks (I supposed that he had no idea of my ocean swimming qualifications and that made him very nervous). With our guide, I took the pleasure of using the same expression a foreigner might hear over and over, especially when Filipino methodologies are questioned…and said “it’s okay!” As I anchored myself in a waist-deep pool, I enjoyed the massagic powers of the pulsating and swirling waters for a short while and then we were off to the next set of monuments, Macadlaw and Puhunan. And our guide…he was just happy that his safety record was intact.
The Foot Bridge at formations Macadlaw and Puhunan was our next destination so we trekked back to the road where our habal-habal drivers were waiting. We mounted up and headed back down the road over to the next entry point where we would use a constructed bridge to cross the large protected mangrove, wildlife sanctuary and fish habitat. This long wooden bridge (I estimated to be longer than one kilometer) made for a somewhat easier trek to the next two formations, as it prevented people from wandering into the habitat causing potential damage to the fragile ecosystem of plants, trees, and wildlife. The bridge really serves two purposes; to make it easier to get to the formations while helping to preserve and keep this area as pristine as possible. Transiting the bridge was somewhat tricky in the sense that the large deck planks were spaced so far apart that you had to pay more attention to each step (to prevent from stubbing a toe or twisting an ankle) which detracted from observing the habitat while walking. Bottom line here is you either walk, or observe because it was difficult to do both at the same time.Teri stubbed her big toe three times on the way out to the formations.
Once we crossed the wooden foot bridge, we made the rest of the walk through habitat and through large formations and a small boulder canyon until we found a place to camp in the shadows of the rock formation Macadlaw. There we broke out some crackers, fruit and water and then it was time to get wet again. It was as good as anyplace to hang around so here we swam, relaxed and took in the majestic sights. I took the opportunity to break out my mask and snorkel and ventured around the large deep salt water pool observing small underwater caves with large schools of small fish, live corals, plants and individual colorful reef fish. I even snuck up on a small barracuda (18 inch) who decided to have nothing to do with me and made himself scarce. After about an hour here, we all decided we were getting hungry so we made the decision to head back to the road and our waiting habal-habals and drivers.Once we arrived back at the hotel, we quickly realized that we had rushed to see everything and rather than spend another day there, we decided to return to mainland Samar where we could eat a late lunch. After the boat dropped us back off at Lazevares, we just decided to jump into Carl’s green machine and head back on down the road to Calbayog City.
All in All it was a quick but very enjoyable trip. I can recommend the Villa Amor Resort for overnight accommodations but be prepared to have a limited selection of things to eat. Our host Rolly was excellent and was always right there to please. As far as visiting the rock formations, consider taking some food and plenty of drinking water along and take your time. While the trek is rather easy, it would be easy to get dehydrated on a warm day and there is nothing available to eat or drink once you leave town. If we had planned better, we could have spent the entire day enjoying the formations if only we brought along some more rations, like lunch. *Also, one thing we learned after arriving on Biri was that the Island has no power from midnight until 12 noon, daily. The Villa Amor Resort does have a generator for those guests who are willing to pay for the cost of operation from midnight until 6am. Our host offered us the additional creature comfort option at a cost of P600 but we declined and decided to take our chances. We will definitely return to Biri Island and we recommend to anyone who enjoys nature hikes to make this worthwhile trip. Personally, there will be one thing for certain for me next time I make this trip – I’ll definitely be looking forward to counting the stars again… only this time I will shake the coconut tree first, just to eliminate that “one” worry.
For many more pictures of the Biri Rock Formations.