Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Sohoton Cove National Park - Adrenaline Junkie Paradise!

We actually didn't plan anything in advance, we just knew we’d celebrate life in a spontaneous way by defying the laws of nature - Low Pressure that is!

It was already raining when we left Cebu for Surigao, so we were hesitant to continue with our Sohoton trip. This however did not stop our itchy feet. 

Generally, it is best to visit Bucas Grande Islands during Summer but for people who are always on the go like us, there's no better day than the present day to travel. 
If you are from Surigao City, travel time is approximately over 1 hr before reaching Hayanggabon Port in Claver, Surigao del Norte. However, it only took us about half an hour to reach the place from Brgy. Mapaso, Placer. (V-Hire Fare: Surigao City to Hayanggabon via Terminal is P120/person and first trip is 4am)

We left the house at 5am and arrived at about 5:30am. No need to fret if you traveled early and haven't eaten 
your breakfast yet because there are food stalls and carenderias in the area. 

There are a lot of pump boat operators at the port. Rates vary depending on your “tour plans” and destinations. If you only want to visit Sohoton Cove National Park, the rate is only P3500 (standard rate). But if you want to add Socorro on your itinerary, there's an additional P2000 on top of the standard rate. (Note: these rates do not include entrance fees of the places to visit)

Ahead of time, we have contacted a family friend who owns a pump boat for hire (capacity is good for 30-35 people) so it was a bit easy for us and haggling was no longer required. (Contact Person: Bolantoy - 09308165919)

We waited with bated breath as the banca approaches the pier. Clearly we don't have an itinerary ready but when you are as excited as we are, who needs one. Fortunately though, the owner knows his way around Sohoton Bay - which sites to visit first, islets that require more time and of course those soul-stirring, tick-off the bucket spots! 

So our instant itinerary includes: Sohoton Gamay (crystal cave and bolitas cave), Tiktikan Lake, Club Tara Resort, Sohoton Cove National Park, Kapihan Adventure and Nature Park in Socorro all in one day.

The Philippines boasts of a cluster of islands rich in  biodiversity where different species of marine organisms are endemic to this country. This is true to Sohoton, Socorro, Surigao del Norte. The area screams adventure and teems with ethereal beauty of nature. 

We skirted along Sohoton Bay and finally end up at Bucas Grande Islands where activities involve spelunking and swimming. So it was just befitting that our first stop was Sohoton Gamay, the home of Crystal and Bolitas Caves. 

Before entering the caves, you need to register first and pay the entrance fees (P50 for adults and P10 for kids ages 10 years old and below). It is inclusive of tour guide fees (you may opt to give a tip if you want) and protective gears (helmets) & flashlights (to be distributed once you are at the entrance of the cave). They are open daily from 5:00am to 7:00pm. Contact Person is Lorna Artigo 09501785255 / 09474807077

The path going to the caves definitely involves trekking. Hiking through this mountainous area of Sohoton is an incredible stroll across stunning landscapes for thrill seekers. An abundance of flora and fauna embellished the entire surroundings - colorful flowers in full bloom paint the place whilst birds chirp in perfect harmony. 

The first few steps inside the cave was undemanding but as you go deeper, it was already pitch black. Hence the use of the flashlight. This cave holds crystalline stalagmites & stalactites and balinsasayao birds. There were numerous holes on the ceiling resembling a secret passage but in reality they are home to countless wild bats who seemingly squirm as they are hit by the brightness of the light emitted by the flashlight. 

As a reminder, you are not allowed to touch the crystals because they would tend to lose their glimmer upon contact with people. 

Unfortunately the other cave (Bolitas Cave) was temporarily impenetrable while we were there due to high tide and heavy rains. 

After Sohoton Gamay, we proceeded to Tiktikan Lake (derived its name from a local fish called Tiktikan) - a paradise of its own. Upon registration, you have to pay the environmental fee of P25 (8 years and above).

The lake, situated at the core of the island is hidden behind lofty mountains; blanketed by tall and towering trees. While treading the short trail towards the lake (ascend and descend), we were swaying with the breeze as the sweet smell of the mountain permeated the atmosphere. And by the time we reached the resting place, it was pure nature bliss. 

You can kayak your way to the other side of the lake by paddling smoothly on the green lagoon or simply sit down and enjoy the impressive vista of the steep sided landforms. 

Apart from kayaking at the lake, you can also dive and swim at a designated villa near the registration booth where a diving board awaits tourists and locals alike. 

There are islands in Sohoton Bay which have shallow, submerged sandbars in between; making it difficult for the pump boat to pass, but we slowly drifted triumphantly out to sea. 

We girdled our way towards Sohoton Cove and passed through an islet where the white sandy beach hollers us to stop. The place is absolutely a nirvana because of the crystal clear waters, white powdery sands and playful waves. We were enjoying a little solace while swimming at the incredible water colors of pastel blue. 

Our next stop was Club Tara Resort where tranquility breathes its existence through the stillness of the sea, placid environment and exceptional villas. The serenity of the place and the mesmerizing views will forever haunt you as if begging you to stay and never leave. 

Tourists are charged P20 (Day Use/Entrance fee) and free for kids aged 7 and below.

Villas are categorized into 2 types: 

Family - 8-16 people P1000/head/day
Jacuzzi Type - good for 2 people P6500/day inclusive of breakfast; P1500/extra person 

You may contact them via:
Email: clubtara_rsvn@hotmail.com
Hotline: 09175225500

After the much needed dip at Club Tara Resort, we continued our journey to the main attraction - Sohoton Cove National Park. 

Registration is a must before entering Sohoton Cove for the proverbial orientation and of course paying the required fees. Entrance fee is P100/person and P800 for the Sohoton Cove Eco-Tourism Tour Fee (maximum of 8 persons/banca). Paddle boating at the Jellyfish Sanctuary (formerly Tojum Lagoon) is P100/trip (single person only).

After being officially registered, we sailed our way towards the tour guide station for our protective gears and our assigned tour guides. Our quirky tour guide Rene gave us a rundown of what to expect inside the cove. 

The cove can only be entered during low tide due to its very low opening and narrow entrance. In fact you have to lower your head so as not to hit any of the stalactites once you step into this tunnel-like passage.

As you navigate through the islets, there is a single landmark that one has to be mindful of - the “horse shoe” which is a rock formation barely touching the water inside Sohoton Cove. It serves as the guiding “rock” to not get lost inside the maze-like routes. 

There is also an enchanted cliff where fishermen said to have heard a church-bell like sound echoing throughout the cove between 1am to 2am thus given the name. 

The cove is said to be home of the country’s most durable and hard wood which is “Magkono” - aptly called as the ironwood tree. Cutting of the said tree is strictly prohibited though most of the times these trees are being cut secretly while authorities are said to be “not looking”.

You will also find pitcher plants here which according to our guide is a carnivorous plant because it preys on insects and closed in for the kill. It resembles a pitcher hence the name.  

He mentioned that the cove is composed of seven islets with two fascinating caves: the “Hagukan” or snoring cave (haguk is a local term of snoring) and the “Magkukuob” which is the diving cave. 

It was said to be named “Hagukan” because as the water and air collides inside the underground chamber, it creates a sound resembling a man’s snore - loud and eerily noisy. It can only be reach if you dive and submerge yourself (hold breath for 8 seconds) towards the cave. Rene added that the prominent character that separates this cave from other caves is the brackish water that is said to be luminous - making one’s skin glow underwater like neon light sticks. He even joked that since I am dark skinned, I must come inside so I can have a fair skin for a few moments. But nah I bailed out. Laughs. 

Magkukuob cave is not for the faint hearted as well. It involves wading towards the long and not wide entrance of the cave where you have to walk like a duck and stand breast-high in the water. Inside the cave are stalagmites forming human figures that our guide referred to as “rebulto,” or religious statues.There are also fruit bats on the ceiling of the cave.

Our guide mentioned that supposedly the only way out is through an opening above the cave floor where you have to climb your way towards the exit. Just outside the cave opening at the top is a diving board perched on a cliff. It is where tourists have to jump back to the waters. But it was under construction so we wade back from where we entered. And yes I did breathe a sigh of relief. Thank you very much! Chuckles. 

Unfortunately, it was not the season for stingless jellyfish so we opted out of this activity. (July and August are the best months to visit)

However, we’re still lucky because outside the sanctuary while we were striding down shorelines, we were able to get hold of a different type of stingless jellyfish (transparent). It has been known that Sohoton is home to 2 types of stingless jellyfish: the golden brown / orange translucent ones called “spotted jelly” (jellyfish sanctuary) and the transparent “moon jelly” (wild and roaming freely within Sohoton bay). 

Luckily our tour guides made the outing more enjoyable and memorable especially Rene because of his comical antics and outrageous ad libs. (We gave our guides P500 tip)

Before heading out towards Socorro Island, we had our seafood lunch at Cafe Grande. Lunch rate per head is P200 (inclusive of 3 viands) minimum of 10 persons; P80/kg for the rice and P100/1.5 liter of soda. It was a bit pricey for a meager serving so it would be best to buy/bring your own food and have a sumptuous meal at the banca (pump boat).

                Adobong Pusit

           Tinolang Isda (Fish Soup)

         Sautéed Saang in Soy Sauce

After doing the wet activities, it was high time to keep the ball rolling by trying another extreme activity which is ziplining at Kapihan Nature and Adventure Park in Socorro. 

Kapihan is the highest point of Socorro; islands upon islands is surrounded by turquoise blue waters and lush green hills. It provides a beautiful glimpse of the enchanting scenery of Bucas Grande Islands. 

We were there to experience our first ever ziplining attempt. But when we saw the distance and the depth of the Zipline zone, we chickened out. 

Listed below are rate and contact details as follows:

Zip Zone Rates: Zipline 750mx2

All Rides Zip Package: P450
Non-Socorronhon: P400
Bonafide Socorronhon: P300
Bayanihan Members: P200
100m P100 (13 years and above); P25 (12 years old and below)

Discounted Rates: 
Bonafide Socorronhon: 25%
Bayanihan Members: 50%

Location: Kapihan, Socorro, Surigao del Norte
Contact Nos.: (0910) 292 3539 (Smart)
FB: facebook.com/kapihannatureandadventurepark
Operating Hours: 8am – 5pm

Habal-habal Transpo: P400 (good for 2 pax round trip)

Tricycle Rate : P500 (good for 2 pax round trip)

Visiting Bucas Grande Islands is like doing your own groceries because it is like a one stop store of natural wonders, extreme sports and world class resorts. So if you want to answer the dominating call of the wild, this is the place to be - where adrenaline junkies and mere mortals can marvel at the magnificence of God’s creation.