It was supposed to be a sunny island weekend trip. First day was a city tour to be capped by a therapeutic dip in the salt-water pools of Maquinit Hot Springs. The second day was an island hopping with a visit to Calauit Safari and Game Reserve as the first item in the itinerary. And the last day was a morning trek to Mt. Tapyas to witness the sunrise in Coron before we head back to Manila.
Apparently, Mother Nature wanted to have it her way and we mortals could only do so much about it.
It was in late October when our flight via SkyJet’s 80-seater, four-engine British Aerospace jet got delayed due to air traffic caused by Typhoon Odette. So our early afternoon city tour was replaced by a late lunch, which forced us to adjust our itinerary for the whole day.
It was raining when we left Sophia Garden Hotel, our host for our entire stay in Busuanga. Some 30-minute drive through unpaved dirt road, we reached the Maquinit Hot Springs. At 40 degrees, the water was not that easy to manage given the cold weather at the time of our visit. But once you get in, and your body got used to the temperature, all your troubles would vanish including the body pain caused by the bumpy ride going to the resort.
Maquinit Hot Springs, which is one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world, is a therapeutic bathing establishment with picnic ground facilities surrounded by mangrove trees. The water that flowed from the underground gets heated by a volcano and springs up into the two circular pools at the site. The water from these pools cascades into a bigger pool where visitors can actually swim (that is if they can bear the temperature). The flooring and walls of the pools are covered in pebbles giving it a natural feel.
Though it’s relaxing and therapeutic to soak your body in the warm tubs, staying in the pool longer than 30 minutes is not really advisable according to our guide. Hence, after spending some enough time bathing in the rain soaked in warm water, we left the resort to have dinner at the recently opened Roof Deck, a restaurant that offers local and foreign cuisine specifically adapted to neutral taste buds. The restaurant that offers food and cocktails is also managed by Sophia Garden Hotel.
While having our meal we were told that our call time the next day would be really early. It’s going to be packed breakfast for us because we have to leave the hotel before 6 a.m. to accommodate the itinerary for the entire day. “Don’t forget your rush guards,” reminded our tour guide.
Some two-hour drive from our accommodation to the north-western coast of Busuanga, we reached the Calauit Island. We took a ten-minute boat ride from the small jetty port and crossed the calm waters to reach the park. It was already raining but the animals would still be roaming around regardless of the weather, assured our tour guide.
At the reception area, we were briefed on what to do and not to do while we’re with the animals.
“Always stay in a safe distance. They’ve got powerful and heavy legs and can kick you from any direction,” our tour guide said referring to the tallest residents of the safari.
The secluded Calauit Island is popular
among tourists as the place where one finds exotic animals brought into the island from Kenya during the Martial Law era. Then President Ferdinand Marcos issued a proclamation that declared the 3,400 hectares of Calauit Island as a Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.
To “save them from extinction,” 104 feral African animals from eight species were transported to the island. Among them were 12 bushbucks, 11 elands, 11 gazelles, 15 giraffes, 18 impalas, 12 waterbucks, 10 topis, and 15 zebras.
“Most of these animals died out on the island. They were not able to adapt to the new environment. Only the reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, waterbucks and common elands remained,” said our guide.
Around a 100-meter walk from the island entrance, we were already greeted by some migratory birds from China. And a few steps more, we were already seeing zebras munching on the grass.
We got to feed the animals with leaves provided by our guides. We also observed some Philippine freshwater crocodile, the Philippine porcupine, freshwater turtles, leopard cats, the Palawan bearded pig and the Philippine macaque while they’re in their pens. But the real highlights of the tour were the giants famous for their height and their magnificent, spotted coat – the giraffes.
Today, there are 24 giraffes in the park and most of them are naturally born on the island. They are the third generation offspring of those giraffes that arrived in Calauit some four decades ago.
Although, the population of the animals that remained on the island is thriving, park staff appealed that maintaining the game reserve is getting challenging each year.
“Lack of funds is our biggest challenge. The park doesn’t even have its own veterinarian. We don’t have any trucks or vehicles to use around the area considering its vast size. The previous administration didn’t even know we’re here that’s why we’re hoping that the current president would pay us a visit just like what the other presidents did in the past,” a member of park staff told us.
After our tour around the safari park, we headed to the main port of the province for our island hopping activity. But the heavy rain and strong winds prevented us from even getting off the van we’re in.
“We have to go back to the hotel. It’s zero visibility and it’s too dangerous to sail out to sea,” Chef Francis Ocoma a.ka. Lakwatserong Kusinero.
Chef Ocoma is the Corporate Executive Chef of Sophia Garden Resort, which offered us a private paradise during the rest of our stay in Coron while the province was being battled by the tail end of typhoon Odette.
Right at the hotel resort, we dined boodle-style and al fresco, at one of the poolside cabanas feasting on the food Chef Ocoma prepared for us. And for the rest of our stay, we just lounged in the hotel’s multi-colored outdoor swimming pool and heated jacuzzi.
We didn’t do anything else after our last activity but we still had a grand time just swimming and eating in between. And just like what one of my colleagues said during our flight going to Manila, “This paradise is just 30 minutes away. There will always be a next time. Just don’t let bad weather turn your island paradise trip into the something stressful. “