|A grassy hill on Sambawan Islands provides an incredible vista of the island chain and mainland Maripipi.|
|Picturesque rocky islets of Sambawan Islands|
After exploring mainland Biliran, I ventured farther to the Waray-speaking islands of Maripipi and Sambawan. Upon approaching the island municipality of Maripipi, northwest of mainland Biliran, a column of clouds ascended from its peak, providing a glimpse of its former self: an active volcano rising out of the Visayan Sea.
Named after two lovers – Maria and Pepe – who eloped to this island ages ago, Maripipi is dominated by a single peak with graceful slopes carpeted with coconut groves and old trees with flying foxes, which take flight at sundown. Its coastline is ringed by boulder beaches and sparse pockets of white sand. It is best explored on motorbike along the meandering 23-km single-lane ribbon of concrete that circumnavigates it.
I hired a habal-habal motorbike to visit Maripipi Island’s handful of tourist attractions for a few hours. The first stop was the St. Michael the Archangel Parish Church and Spanish-period lantawan watchtower, overlooking the Samar Sea. The old watchtower served as a look-out for Moro pirates during the colonial period. A marine sanctuary suited for swimming and snorkeling, Candol Beach in Barangay Agutay is the only decent pocket of white sand on Maripipi Island; while Napo Beach Resort is an oasis of comfort with a saltwater pool and private jetty that sits on a boulder beach. Lastly, Viga Cold Spring in Barangay Viga was the clearest spring I’ve seen! There were lots of fish, too. (I wish I had brought my snorkel.) The spring water flowed through concrete pools properly designated for drinking, bathing and washing clothes.
|The only pocket of white-sand on Maripipi Island, Candol Beach is a marine sanctuary suited for snorkeling.|
|Spanish-period Lantawan Watchtower|
Just when you thought you’ve seen Biliran’s best, you come across a sliver of heaven only 20 minutes away from the western coast of Maripipi. Sambawan Islands is a string of stony islets linked by boulders. The eastern side, facing Maripipi Island, harbors some stretches of white-coral beach and crystal waters, while the western side has beautiful volcanic outcrops that wouldn’t look out of place in El Nido. Some native cottages have been recently put up to accommodate visitors.
The best vantage point is the grassy head of the central islet, where the ruins of an unfinished lighthouse stands. The islets are topped with tough cogon grass, which has sharp blades that can easily cut your skin. So it’s best to put on some shoes and pants before venturing to the viewpoint. From here, you can admire the entire island chain with magnificent Maripipi island in the background, which somehow reminds me of a downsized panorama of Batan Island and Mt. Iraya from Racuh A Payaman (Marlboro Country) in Batanes. Hands down, Sambawan Islands is one of the most beautiful islands I’ve seen in the archipelago.
|Crystal clear waters of Viga Cold Spring.|
|Napo Beach Resort|
HOW TO GET THERE: For transportation and accommodation details for mainland Biliran, visit my previous post. A daily ferryboat, Viga Express, leaves Naval for Brgy. Binalayan, Maripipi at 10:00 AM; and returns the following day at 5:00 AM. Confirm schedules with boat owner, Felisa Mulles at +63 9057815295.
Habal-habal motorbikes (1-2 pax) can take you to various points on the island for PHP 15 to PHP 50. The entire island can be toured in a few hours for PHP 400. I recommend my friendly habal-habal driver, Bing-Bing Fua (+63 9268999557).
To get to Sambawan Islands, you can hire a small boat (1-3 pax) from Maripipi Island for PHP 500 (return trip). Travel time is only 20 minutes. Contact Cynthia Requiero at +63 9185166075. Larger groups can charter outriggers from Kawayan or Naval in Biliran Island (1 to 1.5 hours). Entrance fee for Sambawan Islands is PHP 50 per person. Overnighters can rent open-air cottages for PHP 500. For more information, contact +63 9289043673 or +63 9264104866.
WHERE TO STAY: Judith Gaviola’s lodging – a “homestay” run by nice elderly sisters – has double fan rooms for only PHP 250 per person at “bungtod” or the main town of Brgy. Ermita, near the old watchtower. Contact May-May Gaviola at +63 9297669790. If you want beachfront accommodation (albeit a rocky one), you can check-in at Napo Beach Resort on the northern coast of the island – cheapest rooms at PHP 600 for double fan rooms.