Camarines Sur perfectly blends adventure, history

May 15, 2015 11:07 am 

By John Mark Escandor

NAGA CITY, May 13 (PNA) — What comes in mind when one mentions Camarines Sur is wakeboarding in Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC), or Caramoan, with its exotic white beaches and islands — Survivor style.

And that’s Camarines Sur since it has become a sought-after destination of local and international tourists starting 2006 with the successful promotion of the watersports facility and the exotic islands of Caramoan town, which became a favorite location of television reality show “Survivor.”

But there’s more in Camarines Sur other than adventure sports, white beaches and exotic islands — the historical significance of places like Naga City and the Partido District where ruins and Spanish period structures still exist today.

With 35 towns, one component city and one chartered city, Camarines Sur is the largest Bicol province with a land area of about 526,682 ha, or 30 percent of the region’s total.

The province remains on the top of the registry of tourist arrivals in Bicol in 2014 with 1,861,010 local and foreign tourists.

The 2014 tourist arrivals have grown 20.25 percent from 2013 record of 1,547,678 tourist arrivals, according to the recent data from the Department of Tourism (DOT).

It’s fringes are generally mountainous on eastern and western seaboards and the lowlands comprise the Bicol River Basin, the drainage of the Bicol peninsula, in the middle of the province that crosses the cities of Iriga and Naga and 8 towns of Camarines towards San Miguel Bay.

Mount Isarog, a national park with numerous endemic species of flora and fauna, is the highest peak in the province at 1,996 meters.

And it camouflages numerous waterfalls and hot springs in its 10,112-ha area that can be reached by trekking in groups organized by outdoor clubs and the provincial government.

On the estuary and mudflats in the northeast of the province at the edge of the Bicol River Basin lies the migratory feed’s stop where 34 species of migratory birds have been spotted so far in the months of October to March.

Flying in groups to escape the cold and freezing months in temperate regions, migratory birds visit every year the 232-ha Cabusao Wetland with hundreds of flocks enjoy frenzy feeding on mudflats in the peak months of December to January before continuing their journey to the south.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the municipal government of Cabusao have constructed access road going inside the wetland and elevated wooden planks underneath mangroves leading to a birds’ hideout where bird watchers can observe the flock of birds.

“Camsur Adventure”, a guide book published by the provincial government of Camarines Sur, promotes new guided activities for the more adventurous and athletic tourists.

Going beyond the lure of CWC and Caramoan, the provincial government of Camarines Sur offers new packages for adventure including spelunking, hiking, motorbike cruising, mountain climbing, rock climbing, rappelling, river tubing and bird watching.

The Camarines Sur Provincial Tourism Office has introduced in the present package of Caramoan tours new sports and activities, aside from island-hopping and beach-combing.

While on island hopping, visitors have the option to try adventure sports. Cliff-jumping spots identified so far are the 17-ft Lagpitaw Cliff and the 54-ft Cagliog Cliff.

For rock climbing, one have a thrill in Gota Village.

Caramoan also offers spelunking at the cathedral dome of Omang Cave which can be reached from Gota Village by river tubing, bamboo rafting, or stand-up paddleboarding over Sohotan River.

But there are neat options other than adventure and extreme sports for visitors in Camarines Sur to enjoy a unique experience other than wakeboarding and island-hopping in this province.

For the reserved, culturally-inclined and non-athletic visitors, Naga City, the socio-cultural center of Bicol since the Spanish era, is a perfect place to stay and leisurely wander for a day or two.

The city, the socio-cultural center of Bicol since the Spanish era, was established in 1575 after Ferdinand Magellan came to the Philippine Islands 54 years earlier in 1521.

It is named Ciudad de Caceres by the order of Spanish Governor General Francisco de Sande — the third Spanish royal city he named and declared, after Cebu and Manila.

One of the oldest girls school (escuelas de niñas) established by a Nov. 5, 1867 Royal Decree of Queen Isabela which the Daughters of Charity runs and owns is the Universidad de Sta. Isabel (USI), formerly Colegio de Sta. Isabel.

It opened on April 12, 1868 and after seven years on Sept. 18, 1875, it was upgraded to normal school for women and renamed “Escuela Normal de Maestras.” It is said to be the oldest normal school for women in the Philippines and the Southeast Asia.

Across the street where the USI campus was established more than a century ago, lies another period building preserved for more than a century inside the compound of Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.

Built during the Episcopal reign of Bishop Francisco Gainza, O.P., 1862-1879, of diocese here, the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary stands out with its Moorish-like architecture in its façade of red bricks and series of arches.

Bicol luminaries in the 19 th and 20 th century were schooled in this seminary that started as Casa Clerigos (House of Priests) in 1793.

Then it was made into a seminary in 1840, and transformed it into seminary-college in 1865.

The college was abolished in 1925 but the minor seminary education was retained by Bishop Francisco Reyes and was renamed Seminario del Santissimo Rosario.

On June 11, 1978, the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary building was declared a “National Historical Landmark” by the National Historical Institute.

Inside the Moorish-like building the alley looks cavernous where the shadows of more arches lead to a courtyard facing two small museums — one with Bicol artifacts and the other one, a variety of collections from the Ming Dynasty of vases to dinosaur’s fossil eggs; and the other one, a collection of Spanish period retablo pieces made of silver, religious statues, vests and vessels.

From Naga City, one can go to the Partido District, 54 km going northeast to the town of San Jose where the remnants of Spanish-era structures still stand today that remind of a progressive past in the coastal village of Sabang.

Spanish-era Moro watchtower, which according to resident Abraham Hilario, 63, has inscription written in the year 1834, stands as sentinel beside the road.

Hilario said he was told by his elders that the watchtower was used by inhabitants to watch out for Moro marauders coming from the sea so that everyone will be alerted.

On the other side of the road, the remnants of two old buildings which, he said, belonged to Smith Bell and Co., a hemp trading company, had been in operation since the turn of the 20th century to the 1960s.

San Jose Mayor Antonio Chavez said Barangay Sabang has high historical value that it needs protection. (PNA)

RMA/FGS/JME/CBD/EDS

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