Just an hour away from Boracay lies the province of Romblon, which has three major islands. Tablas is the biggest, Romblon the smallest, and Sibuyan, supposedly the most beautiful and pristine.
People who have had enough of Boracay can explore the hidden promise of Romblon, described as “exciting and fascinating” by the Department of Tourism Region IV people headed by regional director Rebecca Labit, who invited a big media group, including this writer, on a three-night three-day familiarization tour of the province as guests of the provincial government headed by Gov. Lolong Firmalo and several local government units.
But first things first, going there by plane is out of the question presently until the Tablas Airport reopens later this year. The good news is that 2GO Shipping Lines has already started making port calls in Romblon straight from Manila, which is how our trip began.
The Hub@Kilometer 0 beside the Chinese Garden in Luneta is a combined garden restaurant, waiting area and ticket center for 2GO. From there, passengers are brought by van to the port a few minutes away. For our group, a hosted lunch was thrown in by 2GO event as they made a pitch for local and foreign tourists to try this alternative route going to Romblon, a 14-hour cruise ship ride starting at 3:30 PM every Monday and arriving at Romblon port early morning.
In our case, we took the St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the 14 passenger vessels of 2GO, that collectively make 18 ports of call all over the Philippines, and what is good for Romblon is that it’s finally getting its share of tourists, not in the same volume as its more famous neighboring island but it has been growing steadily the past recent years.
Aside from the hosted meals aboard the ship, our four-man cabin and the live entertainment at the upper deck bar, we all enjoyed watching the myriads of starts in the celestial skies, hoping for that meteor shower that never came.
The following morning, we embarked in Romblon and were warmly welcomed by Mayor Gard Montejo and an ati-atihan group that surely woke up the neighborhood that early morning, from the port we were brought to the Dream Paradise Resort, a 23-room mountain side hotel that was only seven minutes away from the nearest beach, the place had nice rooms with scenic views of fields and forested hills, a small pool and friendly staff, with very reasonable rates for its air-conditioned rooms.
And just entering the resort already reminds visitors they are in the marble capital of the Philippines with a zoo featuring marble animals to greet visitors, owner Jocelyn Barnes says she has been getting a steady stream of visitors, including foreigners who do not want the prevailing commercialization of Boracay.
The tour also started that morning with a visit to the Cathedral of St. Joseph built in 1727 that has a reputedly miraculous Sto. Nino image that was just recently recovered more than 20 years ago, resulting to the biggest Biniray festival last January as the local folks celebrated the return of their icon.
We also visited a roadside marble-carving area where specially-designed marble statues including what looked like Chinese terracota soldiers. The locals believe the supply of marble in the province is inexhaustible, more so that large scale operations of marble tiles have practically stopped due to low demand. Too bad we did not see the most expensive marble there, the green onyx. We saw a lot of gray, white, and century, cream actually. We shopped for smaller marble souvenir items, including a miniature “lapida” or tomb marker where one can even put his date of birth but with VIP instead of RIP in the corner.
The best part was when we took a motorized boat and crossed to Cobrador Island, which was about 40 minutes away from the port. According to the barangay captain, it was only three years ago when tourists started dropping by to enjoy the island’s virgin beaches, caves and waterfalls.
We were treated to a hearty sea food lunch under a talisay tree with local lasses entertaining the visitors with cultural dances, after lunch, instead of swimming, I opted to go caving in the company of Expat newspaper writer Javelyn Ramos. With two guides, we explored a seven-chambered cave around 15 minutes away from the beach side, followed by an around the island boat ride.
Formerly known as Naguso, also famous locally for its sweet atis and watermelons, the island became Cobrador with the advent of taxation during the Spanish times as a tax collector regularly would visit the island and collect taxes.
Dinner was back in the main land, at the Punta Corazon, a beautiful beach side resort that gives one a beautiful view of the sun as it seemingly sinks into the water fronting the resort. We were even treated to a cultural number by employees from the provincial government office of Gov. Firmalo, then it was back to Dream Paradise Resort for the night.
Second day was also interesting as we were brought to San Agustin by boat to visit Trangkalan Falls, unfortunately since it was summer, one could say the falls was not true, but we were shown a picture of the same falls during rainy days and it was a pretty sight. Host for the pre-lunch snacks was Mayor Emmanuel Madrona.
Then, it was the turn of Mayor Leila Arboleda to show off the Looc Marine Sanctuary, a 48-hectare haven for marine life. Lunch was right in the middle of the sanctuary aboard a floating bamboo cottage that featured an open area below for fish feeding and snorkeling around the area as the grandchildren of former congressman Roilo Golez were doing.
Firmalo, himself a scuba diver, also joined the group with his daughter and chief of staff Trina, an outdoor adventurer who has conquered the most technical mountain of the country, Mt. Guiting Guiting in Sibuyan Island.
The next stop was our lodging for the night, beautiful Binucot Sunset Cove, with its Bali-inspired cottages and owned by Michaela and Willi Baumeister, a German turned Australian citizen turned Romblon resident of Binucot.
It was love at first sight for Baumeister when he first saw Binucot.
The beach featured fine white sand with clean clear water, with no waves as the resort fronted a cove, but it was not resting time yet as we still visited Ferrol but missed out on the river cruise. Our last dinner was hosted by Ferrol Mayor Jovencio Mayor.
Over breakfast on our last morning, Trina related that a foreign group wanted to buy the whole Carabao Island, another “virgin” island. But the provincial government did not agree as local residents would have to relocate to a very small area to be provided by the developers.
Then it was time to leave Romblon, this time via a big speedboat chartered by the good governor to bring the group to Caticlan for our flight back to Manila. The 50-minute boat ride under the sun provided us a clear view of Boracay and how the development has gone unchecked. Hopefully, this does not happen to Romblon.
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