It was a clear morning when we left Revlun Pensionne to start our Bucas Grande tour. The sun was just about to shine as we rode a trike going to Hayanggabon Port, the jumpoff point to Bucas Grande Islands. Along the way, the sun was slowly peeking out from the mountains, a good indication that we’d enjoy a bright and sunny Sunday in Bucas Grande.
It took about 20 minutes to get to Hayanggabon, passing through some quiet barangays of Claver and Taganito Mining Corporation, one of the mining firms operating in the municipality. Evidence of nickel mining can be seen on the bald mountains and the reddish dust covering the provincial road. I saw a lot of signages made by residents, posted on tree trunks, stating their support for responsible mining. This is the first time I’ve encountered a mining community, and it’s interesting to note how it changes the environment as well as the lives of people in positive and negative ways.
Anyway, let me continue with my Bucas Grande story. My friend and I arrived in Hayanggabon Port at around 6:30 AM. We were told that the public commuter boat is set to leave for Socorro at 7 AM. Since we still had 30 minutes to spare, we decided to eat breakfast at a nearby eatery. When we came back, my friend asked one of the bystanders where the boat for Socorro is. To his surprise, he was told that the only trip going to Socorro is scheduled at 1 PM. “Patay na,” I said to myself. We sat down for a while and talked about our next move. As we looked over the port, we got envious of the groups of tourists who were already starting to board their rented boats. “Let’s hitchhike,” my friend jokingly said. But since we were two shy individuals, we didn’t have the nerve to approach tourists to ask to accommodate us.
Not wanting to spoil our day, my friend chatted with one boatman waiting at the port. He asked him if he could take us on a tour. Initially, he offered 3500 pesos. The price was steep, considering we were only two people. I told him we’d rent his boat only until lunchtime. He thought for a moment, and offered his last price of 2500 pesos. Although still a little high, my friend and I agreed with the price because we didn’t want to waste time looking for another boat. It was almost 7:30 and we wanted to finish by 12 noon. So we got into the boat and started our journey.
In all fairness, our boat looked very nice! It was newly painted with colorful shades, and it had bright yellow curtains! Very fashionable. Haha. Moreover, it was so huge it can accommodate 20-25 people, perfect for large groups. Our boatman, Kuya Kenny, smoothly maneuvered the boat over the gentle water. The water was so calm it looked like an endless piece of dark blue silk cloth drifting in the air. It was a sight to behold.
|Caution: low ceiling|
After 45 minutes, we arrived in the Sohoton Reception Center. Along with the Municipal Tourism Office of Socorro, an organization who goes by the name SAVE Sohoton handles most of the tours within Sohoton National Park. I just love it when tourism in a given place is regulated because a system is set in place, thereby making tours more organized and hassle-free. I just hope LGUs exert extra effort in promoting tourism in their areas through the internet so that it will be easy for prospective guests to organize trips. On the other hand, the absence of information oftentimes adds thrill and excitement in a trip.
|A view of the entrance as seen from inside the underground river|
The staff in the reception center suggested to us an itinerary based on our allotted time of around 3 hours. My friend would have wanted to visit Crystal Cave, but the receptionist said that it would entail an additional cost and would require more time to visit. He told us that Sohoton Cove is more recommendable, followed by a quick visit to the jellyfish sanctuary. We finally agreed with the proposed itinerary and paid for the fees before ushering us to our motorized boat.
Our first destination was Sohoton Cove, just a few minutes away from the reception center. The first experience was already an exciting challenge as we had to pass through an underground river around 60 meters long. The water was not low enough for us to quickly cross, so we had to wear hard hats and dock at some parts for safety as the stalactites and rocks had sharp edges. Good thing our guides Richmond and Kuya Lito and our driver Kuya Jayhard were experts in the area.
|Small entrance at Magkuku-ob Cave|
|Colorful formations inside Magkuku-ob Cave|
After passing through the underground river Richmond pointed to us the Horse Foot, a rock formation that resembles the leg and foot of a horse. We passed by scenic views of rolling hills with lush foliage on our way to our first major activity in the cove, spelunking. Well, I call it mini-spelunking because it was a little cave that we explored. The cave was called Magkuku-ob Cave. The entrance was half submerged which meant we had to get inside with only our heads exposed. My friend was able to bring his camera inside and I brought with me my underwater camera. Kuya Lito held the flash light while Richmond took our cameras to take pictures of us and the interiors of the cave. There were colorful stalactite formations inside. A trail up the cave led us to a small exit on top of a small hill with a diving platform on its edge. Apparently, that was the exit. We had to jump into the water 5 meters below to be able to get back to the boat. I wasn’t scared at all since I’ve been diving in most of the waterfalls I’ve visited recently. Constant practice paid off, I must say. Haha.
|Trail to the top|
|Ready to jump! Photo by our guide Richmond|
Second major destination was Hagukan Cave, an underwater cave that also had interesting stalactite formations. To get inside on days when it’s somewhere between high and low tide, one has to swim further down to avoid getting cut by the sharp rock oysters on the cave entrance. It was quite a challenge for me since I am not that good in getting myself under water. Fortunately, I was able to do it easily with the help of our guides. It was dark inside and Kuya Lito directed his flashlight on one side as Richmond showed me about the formations that looked like cobras frozen in the stalactites.
|Cobras in stalactites?|
Our last destination was the Daungdong Wall, a flat-faced limestone mountain which is said to be inhabited by enchanted creatures. “Daungdong” in their local dialect means “moan.” Locals say they hear moans coming from supernatural beings in this part of the mountain.
Before heading back to the reception center, we passed by several Mangkono(Philippine Ironwood) trees, a species of Ironwiood endemic to the Philippines. On our way back to the entrance (which is also the exit, by the way) we saw a stingray swimming near the side of a rock formation.
Our tour lasted an hour and a half. The place was indeed very enchanting, as mentioned in the reception center’s tarpaulin ad. It’s really amazing how God has placed all these wonders in one place.
|Bats in the entrance|
To get to Sohoton Cove, you may rent a boat at Hayanggabon Port in Claver town or ride a commuter boat to Socorro then rent a boat in Socorro. Boat rentals in Socorro are said to be cheaper, but boat trips to the town can be very unreliable in terms of travel schedules, so it is best to hire a boat in Hayanggabon. If you wish to hire Kenny, you can reach him at 09394380618.
|Daungdong wall again|
HOW TO GET TO BUCAS GRANDE ISLANDS:
You can read my detailed post here or refer to the directions below:
From Butuan City:
At the Butuan City Integrated Transport Terminal, ride a bus bound for Surigao City. Tell the driver to drop you off at the junction in the town of Placer, Surigao del Norte. Fare in an air conditioned bus is around 150 pesos. At the junction, wait for vans or buses bound for Claver proper, Hayanggabon, or Tandag City. Fare is 60 pesos if you’re headed to Claver proper and around 80 pesos if you’re heading straight to Hayanggabon.
From Surigao City:
At the Surigao City Integrated Transport Terminal, ride a van or bus bound for Claver proper, Hayanggabon or Tandag City. Fare is 75-80 pesos to Claver, 100 pesos to Hayanggabon. If you plan to stay in Claver proper for the night, tricycles can take you to Hayanggabon Port the next morning on a special trip for 200 pesos.You can also take a van or bus to Hayanggabon Port for around 35 pesos.
Once in Hayanggabon, rent a boat for about 2500-3500 pesos (large boat good for 20-25 people). You can also catch a commuter boat bound for Socorro then hire a boat from Socorro to Bucas Grande.
HERE’S WHAT YOU HAVE TO PAY TO EXPERIENCE SOHOTON COVE:
Boat Rental good for 20-25 persons – 3500 pesos for whole day tour, 2500 pesos for half day tour
Boat docking fee – 100 pesos
Entrance Fee per person (one-time fee for all attractions) – 25 pesos
Environmental Fee per person (one-time fee for all attractions) – 25 pesos
Life vest (one-time fee for all attractions – 30 pesos
Pumpboat rental and driver’s fee for Sohoton Cove (good for 3 persons) – 500 pesos
Tour guide fee (2 guides per boat, mandatory) – 330 pesos