A few days after my fun but subtly frustrating trip up north (read about it here), me and my friends got to spend the Holy Week down south. In accordance with our annual tradition to visit a new destination during this time of the year, we decided to explore the underrated island of Samal in Davao. Sadly, due to a family emergency, my friend who planned most of the trip wasn't able to go with us. (If you're reading this, and I'll make sure you do, here is what you missed.)
Samal, or known as the Island Garden City, holds a lot of promise and potential. However, since it is situated in isolation, even from the metropolis of Davao, the locals got used to the distance between establishments and the rarity (twice a month) of visits from doctors and other medical practitioners. I hope and pray that most, if not all of the citizens are in top shape all the time or at least until the doctors arrive. (I don't even want to imagine the scenario of an emergency). From Davao City, the only way to get in (legally) is through Sasa Wharf. Vehicles and commuters alike have to ride (15-20 mins) a barge going to the island. It was my first time to ride something like that and it was an interesting experience - slow and steady. Upon reaching the island, we still had to travel by land (1.5 hours). I'm very thankful that we availed of the transfers offered by the resort (Php 1,800) because I can't imagine myself and my companions balancing ourselves mounted on a "habal-habal" (modified motorcycle to seat more than two persons), since it is the major means of transportation on the island. And like what our driver told us, you have to go through hell before you reach heaven. He was referring to the rough roads that we had to go through before we reach the resort. While in transit, we were able to see glimpses of the breathtaking views of the nearby islands across big lagoons.
We reached Island Garden Resort in Pangubatan at around 6pm and we were welcomed by the mystical view of the blood moon and its reflection on the ocean. I immediately noticed the serene native island feel of the place with the sound of the waves from a distance. Staff were really welcoming and receptive. They immediately showed us to our room and our personal tree house. One of the accommodations that we availed is atop a tree just a few steps from the shoreline. You can definitely hear the waves and calm sea breeze every waking moment of your stay. If this doesn't relax you, I don't know what will.
The next day, we took advantage of the affordable island hopping and snorkeling package (Php 1,600 good for 6 pax). On the way to our first stop, we were lucky to pass by a pod of dolphins swimming not far from our boat. I was even surprised that in the middle of the ocean, my phone gets an LTE signal while on the island, it was just getting 3G. Weird. Anyway, after more than an hour worth of boat ride, we reached the Coral Gardens. Just before I started snorkeling, I excitedly turned on my GoPro and to my surprise, it emitted a deadly beep and died (Boo!). For some weird reason, it ran out of battery and died on me. I took a long deep breath and tried my best to stay calm and contain my frustration so it wouldn't spoil the adventure. I just told myself that it was God's way of telling me to appreciate His creations in their raw and true forms. When I began to dip my face into the waters, chills came over me when I saw the majestic view of the Coral Gardens. Perhaps, the island was named after this beauty. Underneath me was a vast display of corals in various shapes, sizes and colors. To me, it was not just a garden, it was like having another city beneath me. I was amused and entertained by the liveliness of the marine biodiversity in action right before my eyes. After 30 minutes or so, we started setting off to Isla Reta, a commercialized island with cottages, tables and of course a shoreline with light sand. This was where we had our lunch after several minutes of lazing in the sand, feeding schools of small fish, and swimming in the clear waters. For our last stop, we went to Mushroom Island - a small reef marked by a mushroom-shaped rock. At around 1 pm, we started to head back to the resort and experience the relaxing atmosphere that it offered.
The next day was a whole new exploit. We availed of the Inland Tour Package (Around Php 600 good for 6 pax) which included visiting the Bat Caves, Hagimit Falls, and the Vanishing Island. However, due to conflicts with the schedule, we weren't able to go to the Bat Caves. When we reached Hagimit Falls, there were already several people ahead of us. We decided to pay an additional Php 10 to trek a little higher and see a different part of the falls - I'm glad we did. It seemed like we had the area all to ourselves and we were able to enjoy the refreshing water from the small basin. After a few minutes, we headed to a small resort where the port going to the Vanishing Island was located. From their small murky beach, you can already see the island while waiting for the boat. We were able to reach the island after just 5-10 minutes. The moment I stepped out of the boat, I was awestruck because of the wonderful view of the island. At that moment, since the tide was still quite high, all that's visible was the sandbar, a few trees, an abandoned house on the edge of the island and a dock on the other. This was the point when the locals consider that the island has "vanished". Shade was quite scarce because the trees were small and didn't offer a wide coverage. Because of this, it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy basking in the scorching heat of the summer sun while dipping in the calm waters. After more than an hour of sun worshiping, and since the tide was starting to subside, we had our lunch on the island before heading back to our resort.
On our last day, after exploring the other parts of the island near the resort, we decided to take our brunch at the resort's floating cottage. It was just a short boat ride from the shore and it was also conducive for snorkeling because of the reefs under and surrounding it.
MF Says: The whole experience was simply indescribable. It was a much needed breather from all the noise of the city. Being under the water gave me a different level not just of relaxation but of solitude and personal recollection. Again, Samal Island has a lot of promise and potential that can still be further cultivated without trampling God's masterpieces above and beneath the surface. I wouldn't be surprised if one day, in the not-so-distant future, the Island Garden City will be considered as a major tourist destination.
As for the resort, Island Garden Resort in Pangubatan exceed my expectations. Although their menu needs more variety and additions, most of our meals were tasty and their servings were good for 3-4 people. Their Chopsuey and Lemon Chicken are surefire must-tries. The design of their accommodations were also very shabby chic which all the more accents the overall native island ambiance.
This was definitely a delightful trip and this time the resort made a big difference.
For landscape photos, click here