Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday, February 08, 2015
San Miguel Island
The Angela Manalang Gloria ancestral house

S A N   M I G U E L


A N D   M O R E

My epicurean pursuits in the Philippines has always managed to make me miss my target by minor details. And it's a good thing as I love surprises. The resulting experience is more remarkable than just being pleasurable. One such visit of a place in the province of Albay that's famous for being called the city of love -- Tabaco -- had me on my toes guessing what to see, taste, and feel next after one memorable viewing of a misty landscape set against the silhouette of Mayon Volcano, a sampling of the filling buchi for merienda, and skinny-dipping at a secluded beach.

Tabaco City is known by more than one origin and neither is shown to be true in any historical record. Some experts opine that the name of the place was derived from the usual case of being lost in translation when a group of Spanish soldiers misunderstood something that a local said. If anything, the early decision makers among its residents managed to make its official seal leaning towards the word used for the short, broad sword called the tabak. Hence, the prominent related marker at the public plaza and the annual Tabak Festival that celebrates the city's booming cutlery industry.

Tabaco City Port
Saint John the Baptist Parish Church
San Miguel Island's rocky beach where I skinny-dipped
The pastoral terrain at San Miguel Island

A Day At The City Proper

Booked for three days in January at the newly-opened tourist inn called Hotel Fina, I set out to move around like a local at the city proper. For my first day, I tried to score a native dish but ended up satisfying my sweet craving with Albay's cheese-topped snack pride called DJC Halo-halo instead.

The weekday afternoon allowed me to see how bustling the city proper was with students running around in school uniforms, locals with young ones in tow from the public market, and a few tourists taking selfies aboard the prominent environment-friendly pedicabs. I was aboard the hotel's e-trike which allowed me an unobstructed view of the local hustle in all directions.

Plaza at the city proper
Most memorable was a visit to the most popular old Spanish stone house in the city called Angela Manalang Gloria ancestral house which was named after the late Filipina poet who was a pioneer in her time. While gazing at its two-storey splendor from a corner in Quinale, I remembered my local friend telling me how the female poet challenged the pre-war conservative residents of the place with her seemingly beguiling ways.

I also visited the Saint John The Baptist Parish Church which was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2001.

Tabaco City Night Life

By nighttime, I hied off to the nearest night life venue of JJ Midcity Inn for a fun-filled videoke hour cum reunion with friends from Tabaco Travel and Adven-tours, plus a necessary night cap at its bar and restaurant. I realised that, unlike in neighboring Bacacay, there's a night life in Tabaco! By morning, I got a glimpse of the stunning sunset over the distant San Miguel Island that's visible from the hotel roof deck.

Farming fields, rolling hills and stunning cliffs of San Miguel Island's Barangay Rawis
Overnight accommodation at San Miguel Island

Leaving Tabaco City Port

My second day had me check out the villages of the island via a private boat provided by my booked hotel. Tourists and residents can ride the passenger boat that normally leaves the Tabaco City Port on two schedules -- very early morning and late morning.

Overnight Island Stay

When I arrived at the island, I checked out the decent overnight accommodation that the hotel is managing for guests who may want to experience an additional overnight stay there or potential guests who will directly arrive from the port from any point in Luzon. It's a simple bungalow with a vast private outdoor space and backdoor grilling area. It's also spacious inside with its rustic high ceiling, a studio that's laid out into a living room and a bedroom with a couple of beds, complete with bathroom and kitchen.

Interiors of the overnight accommodation at San Miguel Island
The Picturesque Barangay Rawis

After lounging at the front yard hammock, I hopped on a habal-habal (motorcycle) to check out Barangay Rawis, one of five villages there, where I could see the island's farming fields, stunning cliffs, and rolling hills. Almost 10 minutes along the way, I spotted more than just what I anticipated. The island is known by a few tourists as quiet and I discovered that because it's densely populated despite patches of land that have no trees, the vastness of the terrain could leave a visitor solitary for more than an hour if on foot. We did pass a residential stretch but there were areas that were just rolling hills, grazing plains and farming valleys for minutes on end. It was breezy most of the time and looking out into the inland panorama was soothing to the eyes because all you'd see was lush green, except for a few fields of yellow (cornfield) and magenta (field of sweet potato).

View of my Albay sunrise over San Miguel Island from the Hotel Fina roof deck
The beach at San Miguel Island
Where we docked at San Miguel Island near the collapsed lighthouse
The collapsed lighthouse of San Miguel Island

I might have failed to see up close baskets and mats that the island locals weave there for a living, but I spent enough time lingering at the peak of a few hills that were accessible from the narrow cemented road for motorcycles. From the various high points where I stood in awe, laid on my back like a kid, and sat in a relaxing mood, I got mesmerized by the motionless Lagonoy Gulf. It did look like it was frozen in time, including the scenery inland, because most of it was the way it was decades ago. The pastoral terrain looked charming for long walks and impromptu picnics, especially where the hilltop gently slopes down toward the cliffs. Scattered boulders jutting from the verdant ground added charm to the sun-drenched expanse. At a glance in one area of the village, it looked deserted, but after a few minutes we saw a group of children heading for the only school at the island. The whole road trip took an hour to make but it felt like only minutes had passed.

Where I skinny-dipped at San Miguel Island
Island Skinny-dipping

To complete my experience of San Miguel Island, I went to a secluded shoreline aboard the private boat. We docked on a cove where a wooden cross was erected nearby and a collapsed lighthouse stuck out rather oddly from the highly vegetated rocky beachfront. A few steps away from the boat where it was partially hidden by a curve of rock formations, I behaved like a kid sans my skivvies for a few minutes and culminated my plan for a tropical skinny-dip.

Getting Back To Mainland Albay

The 20 to 30-minute boat ride back to the Tabaco City Port had me pass a deserted island that looked flat all over. My guide from the hotel informed me that it used to be populated until a typhoon devastated the small island leading many residents to drown to their death. That day, I only saw a few fishermen at its beach for an early morning catch.

(left) Aboard the e-trike of Hotel Fina; (right) Passengers at the Tabaco City Port
The Angela Manalang Gloria ancestral house
The view of Mayon Volcano from the Cagsawa Travel and Tours terminal in Tabaco City
(top) Aboard the e-trike of Hotel Fina; (bottom) A pedicab and its driver in Tabaco City

The rest of my second day and third day were spent resting at Hotel Fina and testing its reliable Wi-Fi internet access for social media duty. It was also an opportunity for me to view the majestic silhouette of Mayon Volcano from the hotel roof deck.

In the era of epicurean pursuits, there is still space left in our world that seems to be on the edge of greatness so much so that it's attractive enough to be experienced simply for the way it is. Tabaco City can care less about how its name can nurture its identity and future for as long as it's always on the brink of being, well, great.

San Miguel Overnight Accommodation Via Hotel Fina
Phone: +63 (52) 487-8885 or +63915 898 9055 (Globe) or +63933 600 9205 (Sun)

San Miguel Island Motorcycle Rental 
Contact Person: Dong
Mobile: 0909-754-0673

Where To Stay In Tabaco City:
Check out my Hotel Fina review here

More Photos Below: 

Approaching San Miguel Island
Buchi for merienda at the city proper
Arriving at San Miguel Island
Waiting at the Tabaco City Port

DJC Halo-halo


  1. cool post karl! I've been searching for a place to stay sa island pero medyo mahirap nga.... thanks for the info... and yes I love their halohalo too! ^_^

    1. Thanks. That cheese-topped halo-halo is really worth the visit of the city. Should you be calling Hotel Fina regarding the beach bungalow, not all receptionists are knowledgeable about the hotel managing that rustic accommodation on San Miguel Island, so just make the inquiry explicit and ask for, Maria Cedita Bariso, who regularly maintains the accommodation.


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