Riding the island of Samar was much more of an adventure than I thought it would be. First of all, it's huge. Second, it's not so developed...and while it's great to get off the well-worn tourist path, the roads are pretty rough. Third, it was the start of the rainy season. However, the landscapes are great for photography, the locals were friendly, and the food was quite good. I'll show you...
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
My First Glimpse of the San Juanico Bridge
The motorbike for this trip was generously provided by Haven's Rentals in Tacloban, Leyte. Being just across the water from Samar, this gave me the chance to ride across the famous San Juanico Bridge. It snakes its way across the sea, connecting the 2 giant islands. Elegant and picturesque, it's also the longest of its kind in the Philippines.
I rode north and thought I'd easily make it to Calbayog City before sunset. Wrong. By the time I finally did arrive, I was tired, hungry, and quite sore from the ride. The problem was, the city was in chaos. There was no power anywhere, and it was rush hour...so there were cars, jeeps, trikes, and people everywhere.
An Earthquake Left Us in the Dark
I was too hungry to think straight. I stopped at a bank to ask how to get to a hotel I read about. The guard gave directions, and then explained that there was no electricity because of a big earthquake in Leyte, where I just came from. The entire region (both huge islands) was pitch black. Crazy. I rode right through it - I didn't feel a thing.
Unfortunately my hotel was booked, because everybody was clamoring for rooms with electricity (some hotels had generators). I lucked out and got the last room at a clean, modern place called Meaco Hotel. I really needed it. Staff was great, and I was lucky to find some tasty Bicolano food next door at an eatery. They were nice, too. I'm going to like Samar, I thought to myself.
The next morning, I was back on the road...heading to Bangon and Tarangban Falls, about an hour away. The clouds slowly began to clear, and I parked the bike for a quick photo shoot. Nice bike, huh? It's a Yamaha NMAX 155cc. Probably the most comfortable scooter you will ever ride...
My Filipino friends laugh when I tell them how much I love banana trees. We just don't have anything like these back home in California! They look so lush and tropical to me. I particularly loved this vista looking out to some islands in the sea.
I didn't know it, but by the time I took this picture, I had already missed the turn for Bangon Falls. This colorful waterway full of fishing boats was located about 2kms north of where I needed to be.
I guess this was some sort of temporary wooden bridge, but I wanted to take a photo to show you how rough the roads can be. There were construction sites and one-lane detours everywhere! Anyhow, a huge shipping truck came around the corner behind me, so I had to jump back on the bike and and get out of the way pretty quick! Haha.
That Time Nathan Allen Broke Down in Allen, Samar
Ever since I looked at a map of northern Samar and noticed a town called "Allen" (my family name), I knew I had to visit it. Well, right as I pulled in to town, something tried to keep me there, because my brand new motorbike wouldn't start anymore! The locals pointed to a vulcanizing / mechanic shop up the road, so I pushed the bike there.
The guys there were nice and helpful. Soon, we had attracted the attention of some curious onlookers. At first I thought something was wrong with the safety feature that's cuts the engine when the side stand is down...it turns out it was super simple - the battery cable had just come loose! Still, I gave kuya a bit of money for his help. He was reluctant to accept, but I insisted.
Some of the others were very kind to lead me to the Municipal Hall, where I hoped to find more information about the town of Allen.
(Click photos for more info)
Some very enthusiastic employees greeted me at the Municipal Hall. They were excited, and convinced that I must be related to the famous Allen. Haha. It turns out the town was named after Major General Henry Tureman Allen, who was Military Governor of Leyte in 1901. Similar to the Lewis and Clark expedition, he was also famous for having explored over 2,000kms of Alaskan wilderness in the 1880s.
Anyhow, no relation to me (that I know of)...but a good experience in the town of Allen anyhow. Thanks, guys!
As I continued east from Allen, I came across this beautiful "floating" native village. I believe it was near San Jose, in northern Samar.
An Encounter in a Cemetery
I also stopped to take photos of a beautiful old cemetery tucked away in the jungle. There was nobody around, and I ventured inside as the afternoon sun started fading. I lost track of my surroundings, as I was super focused on getting the best shots in the challenging light.
Suddenly I noticed a small figure out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw a small head disappear behind a tree. Trying to not show any fear, I walked confidently over to the tree and looked behind it...but there was nothing there.
Strange. I was positive I had seen it. I nervously took a few more shots on my way out, then prepared to leave by the side of the road. Just before I got on the motorbike, I saw a young boy watching me from the gravestones. I smiled and waived as I rode away...he waived back. I wonder what his story is.
Anything Could Cross the Highway: Kids, Chickens, Water Buffalo...Wait. Airplanes??
I was completely exhausted by the time I started nearing Catarman. It seemed like a repeat of the chaos in Calbayog...dark city streets full of people and traffic...and at one point all the vehicles were funneled through a small hole in a giant wall. Suddenly it opened back up to a huge, dark expanse, with pavement stretching in every direction. It was so odd. It almost seemed...like...the road was crossing a giant airplane runway.
Well, today on a Google Satellite Map, I confirmed that the road does in fact cross the runway of Catarman National Airport! Haha. I realized that riding a
motorbike on an airplane runway is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Anyhow, hotels were all booked once again, but I was lucky to find a cheap room at Mijares Hotel, tucked away on a side street. Had to deal with the heat when the generator cycled off every few hours, but that's life in the provinces. I was already used to it. In the morning I found an eatery nearby called Downtown Silog...
A Toasted Siopao Discovery in Catarman
There are some foods that I really love in the Philippines. One is Emong's Malunggay Pandesal (Moringa leaf bread). The other is Toasted Siopao, which I tried in Naga City for the first time. I was surprised to see it served here at Downtown Silog, and this version is pretty different. It's delicious, sweet like a doughnut...and you HAVE TO TRY IT.
A Yamaha Dealer - Right When You Need One
How lucky is this? Right as I turned onto the road to Calbayog, the "change oil" light came on. I promised to take good care of this sleek motorbike, but I wasn't sure where I could find a trustworthy shop way out here. BOOM. I literally looked up and saw a Yamaha Dealership & Service Center right across the street.
The owner of Haven's Transport uses this bike personally, and he really customized it. The guys at the shop were really drooling over it. A resort owner in Leyte loved it so much that he joked he would steal it in the middle of the night. Haha. Anyway, this team got the job done right...and right away. I really appreciated that.
The "shortcut" road to Calbayog was much more remote than I thought it would be. It really took me into the hills and countryside. Soon, I started seeing these graffiti-type signs on the side of the road. They were painted on old wooden planks, and written in the local dialect. Littered with exclamation points, the only part I could understand was "NPA...AMBUSH!!!"
The NPA "National People's Army" is a rebel group who hide in the mountains. I think they're considered terrorists by the government. Anyway, these signs were clearly meant for people on the road, and each one seemed to get more and more serious as I kept riding. I don't ever feel unsafe in the Philippines, but I started to wonder if there was something I didn't know about this little road...
In the end, it was fine. I'm not sure if it's true, but somebody told me that those signs were just the community trying to convince the rebels to come out from the hills and give themselves up. Anyhow, the road opened back up, and I got finally made it to Bangon Falls in Calbayog. Incredible place, the link to that blog post is at the bottom of this page...
I continued south after photographing the waterfalls. It was getting late (and raining, of course), so I stopped in Calbayog for an overnight at a place called Marju Krisel Hotel and Resort. There was quite a party going on there! So many families eating, drinking, and swimming in the pool. My room was super cheap, I was surprised.
The next day, I hoped to make it all the way to the coastal town of Catbalogan. On my way there, I stopped at a restaurant called Marcial's Grille. This was recommended to me by an American guy who lives in Samar. They serve one of the best pork liempo (belly) I have ever tried!
Photos From Catbalogan
I came across these friendly locals when I pulled the motorbike over to take photos of Buri Island, out at sea.
Lined with huts and fishing boats, this "floating village" is on the outskirts of Catbalogan, near the Bus Interchange. After this, I explored Buri Island a bit, then continued on to Catbalogan City proper. There, I was able to visit the tourist center and also meet with Mr. Joni Bonafacio, Samar's resident cavemaster. He runs an outdoor / adventure shop called Trexplore.
Seeing all his Samar photos and expeditions on the walls, it was pretty clear that I barely even scratched the surface on my trip. Great guy, I enjoyed meeting him. Being that it's one of Samar's claims to fame, I do hope to try caving on my next trip. A far-flung place I was sad to miss was Pinipisikan Falls and Sulpan Cave.
Rice Field Landscapes in Paranas
One my way south to Marabut, I came across these beautiful rice paddies in Paranas. It's been my dream to see the famous Banaue Rice Terraces at a vibrant, early stage like this. Instead, I always seem to end up there near harvest time, when the greens turn to brown. Anyhow, quite a picturesque little scene on the side of the road.
Saob Cave in Basey (Famous For Banig)
This cave area features the famous weavers who popularized banig, or Ticog Grass floormats. It's a peaceful place, and as you can see, nobody was around when I explored the cave in the afternoon. I suppose it made the experience that much more surreal.
Marabut's Fascinating Limestone Landscapes
This was the highlight of my trip around Samar. These limestone rock formations and cliffs give the area a feel similar to El Nido. I absolutely loved it here.
It still has it's own character, though. To be honest, I'm shocked that I didn't hear more about this place sooner. I guess it's not as famous as northern Palawan because it doesn't have white sand beaches. As a photographer / adventurer though, it has everything I'm after. Definitely a place I want to come back and explore more.
You can see more of Marabut's exotic limestone rock formations in my Caluwayan Beach Resort Post. I loved staying there.
(Click photos for more info)
How To Get To Samar
Domestic flights to Calbayog City depart from Manila and Cebu. I think Cebu Pacific even flies to Catarman, the airport with a highway running through it! Haha.
You can also take a page from my playbook - fly to Tacloban and rent a car or motorbike from Haven's ...and start an adventure of your own! The owner Rhoel is a great guy.
Where to Stay
Definitely check out Caluwayan Beach Resort, or for Calbayog City, check out the options below:
Thanks for seeing this post through to the end...I know it was a long one! On this ride I probably covered 2,000kms through Leyte and Samar. Hard to believe. By the way, if you try caving in Samar, please send me your pictures!
Also be sure to check out more of my posts from Samar below...
- Nathan Allen
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!
More Adventures in Samar, Philippines