Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bumming around in Basey: An eco-tourism experience

by Gina Mission
Photo by Centro Outdoors Sports Unlimited

The flight attendant is announcing that the airplane is landing at the airport of Tacloban City. Out of habit, you look out the window for one last look at the sky. Just when you start feeling in your gut the quick descent of the aircraft, you see the clouds quickly disappearing, flying away, to reveal the breathtaking, if fleeting, view of Eastern Visayas’ seemingly endless rugged coastline, its numerous islets, and verdant mountains.

The aircraft brings you to the coastal airport, which is mysteriously quiet. Walking to the arrival area, your mind filled with images of unexplored mountains and caves, exotic wildlife, cloud-hidden lakes, islets sculpted by harsh weather conditions, all those things you see in glossy tourism flyers, you wonder whether it will be worth the trouble getting there.

Even before adventure travel fever hit the country, the islands of Samar and Leyte, collectively known as Eastern Visayas or Region 8, were already popular destinations for people interested in Philippine history. Nowadays, these islands exude a wonderful combination of history and mystery, its tourism potential spelled out in the words ‘adventure’ and ‘fun’, for the thrill-seeking traveler.

Even with local tourism slowly picking up, however, there’s still no mistaking its trademark rural charm.

According to the 1995 census, some 3.4 million people live in Eastern Visayas‘ 21,562 sq. km land area. The population is growing at an annual average rate of 1.8 per cent. The average annual income of the region’s 700,000 families is around P50,000. According to the census, the average annual expenditure in the area is P37,500; the remaining amount goes into savings.

But like most statistics, these figures hardly reflect the living standards of the locals. A look at the people’s lives tells a story of poverty and want in a truly rural setting.

Adventure seekers and accidental tourists, however, do not find the region’s "rural-ness" a problem. Samar and Leyte offer opportunities for action sports, romance with history, and scenic strolls. And for the travel nut, the region’s isolation only means you’ll have everything all to yourself. Like Basey town in Samar, and its many splendors.

Rich, rich Basey

From the airport, you take a Tamaraw FX to Basey. You pay P15 for the 30-minute trip across the 2.16 kilometer San Juanico Bridge that connects Tacloban City in Leyte with Basey in Samar.

Basey is a third-class municipality whose glory days date back to colonial times when it was the population and trading center of the island. It now lags behind its former sitio, Tacloban City, which is the regional capital. But the local government of Basey is trying to catch up with its more developed neighbors by offering visitors what it has in abundance: its rich natural resources.

Basey is home to the grand Sohoton National Park (SNP), an 840-hectare natural park, made up of high and broken ridges of hilly-to-moderate rolling terrain. It has a maximum elevation of 107 meters above sea level. Three main geologically-defined land types exist in the area: an upland plateau, an intermediate karst-limestone block, and lowland areas.

The park offers a great deal of natural wonders. There’s the Sohoton Natural Bridge, a magnificent stone bridge connecting two mountain ridges from which the park got its name. Sohoton" is a Waray word, which means "to pass through." Underneath the bridge is the Sohoton Natural Swimming Pool. " Inside the park is an exciting array of caves, waterfalls, and rare flora and fauna.

Panhulugan Cave I is the largest and most spectacular cave found in the park, with an estimated floor area of 546 square meters. This cave is geologically active, as evidenced by the constant dripping of water from stalactites and the large accumulation of material beneath its chimney holes.

Panhulugan Cave II is a long scar, about 50 meters high, that cuts into the face of the Panhulugan Cliff, a steep rock formation.

Sohoton Cave is a very large cave situated in the eastern portion of the natural bridge. It has a high cathedral-like dome with a parabolic arch-type entrance about 15 meters high. Inside are spectacular limestone formations that approximate the shapes of a eagle’s claw, an image of the Sto. Niño and the Virgin Mary, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and musical instruments, among others

Another attraction in Basey is the Cabungaan Waterfall, about 50 meters high, the base of which has a fantastic tunnel-like passage leading to the Sohoton Natural Bridge.

It takes around four hours to tour the park, one and a half hours (around the lifespan of two petromax lamps) of which is spent spelunking in the area’s gorgeous caves.

To ensure its protection and management, the park was placed under the National Protected Integrated Areas (NIPA) in 1989. According to the local NIPA representatives, visits to the park have not increased significantly since then.

A visit to the Sotohon Park involves taking a native outrigger for an hour and 45 minutes on the Basey Golden River, passing through small, picturesque villages. Rawis, a riverside barrio, houses the still unexplored Rawis Cave, which, according to the locals, is even better than Sohoton.

Basey teems with many caves still waiting to be explored. But the town seems to be in deep slumber, oblivious to the wealth of adventure that it can offer tourists. And though its local government is promoting Basey’s many attractions, it might still take a while for the people of this town to achieve, if only because of its sheer vastness, of their area’s full tourism potential.


cdokay said...

Leyte has a lot of really nice things in stored when it comes to beautiful natural spots. It never fails, just like what we could see in other parts of the country.Cagayan de Oro

Ricky Bautista said...

Thank you for your comment, yes, indeed, Leyte is beautiful. But Basey is located in Samar. Samar and Leyte comprised the Eastern Visayas region. The country's longest bridge - San Juanico Bridge connects the twin island. The region has so many things, beautiful tourist spots to offer such as mysterious caves, white beaches, panoramic waterfalls, historic ruins, and the people itself.