Saturday, September 1, 2012

Samar and Leyte Adventures!

I have been fortunate enough to have many travels during my two years here in the Philippines but there was one region that I had not yet visited. So with my time here quickly coming to an end I planned a trip with two other volunteers to visit Region 8 of the Philippines in the Eastern Visayas. This region is known for getting the worst of the storms as it lies on the Pacific Ocean. But with their rainy season ending and the rain still pouring where I live in the Western Visayas, it would be the perfect weather for our trip!

The Eastern Visayas is primarily made up of two large islands, Samar and Leyte. Samar Island is the third biggest island in the Philippines after Luzon and Mindinao. For a long time this island was off-limits to Peace Corps Volunteers due to the active presence of NPA or New People’s Army. The NPA is a communist organization in the Philippines whose aim is to overthrow the government but they usually hide out in mountainous areas. However in recent years the NPA has receded to the northern parts of the island and PC has deemed it safe to travel to and even has assigned volunteers in southern and eastern parts. Samar and Leyte islands are known for being more rural and beautiful, with many beaches, caves, rivers and blue waters.

It took me two flights to reach Tacloban, Leyte (which is unusual since you can usually get anywhere in the Philippines with only one flight!) The small city of Tacloban is located on the northern tip of Leyte island. Just north of the city is a 2 km bridge connecting Leyte to Samar, making Tacloban the perfect place for travelling to either island.

After meeting up with volunteer friends we made our way into Eastern Samar to the town of Guiuan, where some of our PC friends are assigned. They took us on a sightseeing trek around their site, walking along beautiful rocky coastlines and crystal blue waters and into some caverns along the beach. Just a few years ago there was a US base located in Eastern Samar. The coastline is very rocky and then drops off, allowing for lots of wave action along the shore that could be dangerous. So in the very hot Philippines weather the soldiers made make-shift “pools” that they could swim in by blowing up areas of the coast line and creating large tidal pools. As an environment volunteer I definitely do not condone this coastline destruction, but the soldiers are long gone by now and the large tidal pools have remained behind, offering a nice swim for us along our hike.

The beautiful coastline of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

stepping inside one of the beach caverns

relaxing in one of the tidal pools left by the US soldiers

Our next stop in Samar was to the town of Lawaan. There was a PCV assigned to this site but he has since left. So the volunteers in Guiuan put us in contact with the old local counterpart in Lawaan who arranged for us a guide to hike to some waterfalls in the area. (Another example of how PCVs are the best source of information and contacts when traveling abroad!) When we arrived in Lawaan we met up with our guides and set off on the hike. It was a hot day but the hike was through beautiful thick Philippines forest and along the rivers. We came to about 4 different waterfalls, allowing us a nice refreshing swim along our hike in the ice-cold waters.


Our final stop in Samar was to the Sohoton National Forest. We stopped in the town of Basey where their tourism office is surprisingly organized and efficient! We arranged for our tour to the caves of Sohoton. We rode a river boat inland to the caves, passing by many of the river villages along the way. When we got to the caves it almost looked like something out of a movie and made us feel like we were in the amazon! When we arrived to the caves we were greeted by our cave guides who gave us helmets and held lights as we walked around the three huge caverns of the cave. Along the way our guide pointed out rock formation, their names referring to what they resembled. I was very impressed with the state of the caves considering how many tourist come through their on a weekly basis. After the caves we hiked a bit farther to a swimming area where we could cool off from the heat of the day. The river and rock formations were truly breathtaking and I would urge anyone travelling to the Philippines to visit the Sohoton Caves of Samar if you are able.

arriving by boat to Sohoton National Park

LOVE the helmets!


Sohoton was our last stop in Samar, so afterwards we made our way back to Tacloban and then continued south to Hinundayan, Southern Leyte, the site of one of my volunteer friends. We spent the next few days with her swimming and snorkeling at her site and meeting her coworkers. Its always fun to see where other volunteers live and work and explore their site with them. She took us on a short boat ride to some of the rocky coastline where there was a nice place to jump off into the ocean.

exploring Southern Leyte

beautiful coast!

jump away!

After our time in Southern Leyte it was time to return to Tacloban for my flight back. My flight to Iloilo via Manila was 6:10am in the morning… not a pleasant time to catch a flight…. Especially after spending a night out in Tacloban and only getting to bed at 2am… What made matters worse is that I forgot to set my alarm and did not wake up until 5:30am! I was so sure I would miss my flight but quickly gathered by belongings and hailed the first trike I could find to take me to the airport. The trike ride took around 20-30 min, the whole time I was preparing myself to miss my flight and have to pay to rebook. When we finally reached the airport I ran up to the counter and asked if my flight had left yet. I was a mess, breathing hard from running and slightly hungover. But the nice Filipina at the check-in counter simply smiled at me and told me that my flight was boarding and of course I would make it. I was so happy I almost started to cry! Only in the Philippines!

After checking my bag I made my way on the plane, thanking my lucky starts I had made it!
My travels to Samar and Leyte were some of the best times I have had travelling here in the Philippines. Its not a popular tourist visit which makes it all the more appealing to me. It was an amazing week filled with hiking, swimming and exploring the islands of the Eastern Visayas. These island are perfect showcases of all the natural beauty that the Philippines has to offer and I highly recommend taking a visit if you get the chance!

P.S. Aug 21 marked my two years in the Philippines! How time has flown! With only two months remaining I am finishing up spending my grant monies with two additional trainings (one on management strategies for the new MPA management board, and a second on performing biophysical assessments for the fisherfolk associations). It seems like a lot to do but I know I can get it done!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Stefanie!

    Just chanced upon your blog while browsing through volunteering opportunities in Samar. It´s nice to know that the PCVs have finally reached Eastern Samar. As far as I can remember, they were only assigned in Samar and that was in the 80s.

    I´m a native of Basey and I´m glad you and your friends experienced Samar´s natural wonders even just for a brief period. Hope your stint as a PCV in the Phils. as a whole provided you enormous experience that would someday help you in whatever endeavour you pursue.

    Good luck!