The moment the music was played, it was as if my heart jumped with surprise and joy.
“That song…that dance.”
It was the familiar song, my mom used to play every morning when I was little. Then I understood everything the first time I witnessed my relatives danced to the tune of this song in one family reunion.
All I knew was it was named Kuratsa (or Curacha),a native dance in the islands of Samar and Leyte. And being born in the province of Northern Samar, I am not just aware of this, this song also traced back to my roots.
We were at the old church of St. Michael the Archangel in Basey, Samar when the LGU officers welcomed us. Then a young lady with her partner emerged from church’s huge door. Then, the music was played. And they moved to that familiar body language. Its movements were imitating the courting birds, my mom told me that years ago.
Kuratsa is not just a dance, but also a cultural identity of the warays. What a nice way to kick off this travel in Easter Visayas region! It was nostalgic for me, hearing that song and eventually dancing with it when I was asked by the lady performer to dance with her.
I was an awful dancer. But who cares, I was happy. LOL! Though I was raised in Manila, deep inside I am a proud Waray.
The Island of Samar
Samar is the third largest island in the country. Yes, you should know that.
Having a vast land, it is home of one of the most diverse ecosystem in the world. Samar has one of the largest remaining forest in the Philippines. Just to give you an idea, the area is about 455,700 heactares. The home of various wildlife, rivers and cave connections. It was later named Samar Island Natural Park covering the provinces of Northern Samar, Eastern Samar and Samar (formerly Western Samar), declared as a protected area on April 13,2003 (Presidential Proclamation No. 442).
Warays or its people are one of the kindest you’ll ever meet. And by the time we arrived in Basey, Samar that statement was again proven to be true.
We were about to explore and get a glimpse of a little portion of Samar’s protected rainforest. Our next destination – The Sohoton Natural Bridge and National Park. The pride of Basey!
There were five of us on the motorboat as we explored the long stretch of river surrounded by lush green sceneries and amazing limestones and rock formations. With all the chirping birds and the cool breeze of air, it was one of those rare moments when you’ve experienced being one with nature.
A few minutes later, we’ve finally arrived to do our first activity of the day, some cave adventure!
The Sohoton National Park is a protected area about 841 hectares. It’s huge and deep into its forest are cave connections that are yet to be discovered. Richard, our guide, told us they were able to explore more than 30 caves so far and more to follow. That was just for Sohoton, and you have to realize that Sohoton is just a tiny part of the vast rainforest of Samar. So it is true, there are still a lot to uncover in this beautiful island.
The specific cave that we explored is called Panhulugan Cave, but it is still safe to call it Sohoton Cave since this is just one of the very few that is open to the public. I think by the time most of the cave connections in Sohoton are explored and made open for tourists, that’s the time they should name each of those caves. LOL!
The opening of the cave was very inviting. After Richard said some prayers, we were all ready for the adventure.
Richard reminded us that the best way to enjoy the inners of the cave is to simply let your imagination work. Let it go, let it flow. True enough the formations of stalagmites and stalactites were some of the best artworks of nature.
Well, I think we let our imaginations work too much for this one. When I heard some giggling and laughing, I immediately looked up and then I knew why. LOL! This one sounds looks so familiar to me. LOL!
There were some tiny waterfalls inside. Some huge roots of trees clawing onto the cave walls and ceilings also caught my attention. Richard added, it’s the trees, the forest above that keeps the cave intact. So aside from protecting by not touching the mineral formations inside the cave, our focus should be more on the conservation of the whole forest, because in nature everything is connected.
After some cave adventure, it was time for another exciting activity. How about kayaking along the river?
Each of us was partnered with a trained guide as we paddle through the river until we reach our destination where a sumptuous lunch was waiting for us. Whew! I got even more motivated, and excited when I heard that. LOL!
Seriously, kayaking is a must when you travel to Sohoton National Park. It’s an even better way of experiencing nature first hand – the air, sound and aroma of the trees.
The river was not calm when we paddled our way there, and it made the adventure filled with thrill and excitement. Lendon was my guide, and by the time we reached the shallow part with strong flow of water, it was then I realized why we all need some professionally trained guides like him.
We were moving against the current. After minutes of fighting the water flow, there were moments when we had to walk and face the challenge head on. Being with a reliable guide, I could almost tell the river to just bring it on!
Oh Samar it was really an amazing adventure! With all the caving and kayaking, I think the organizers all knew we were damn hungry by the time we reached our rendezvous.
But before I rave about our food, let me just tell you how I was so amazed and in awe of the place where we had our lunch.
It was like we were inside or below a natural tunnel covered with limestone and rock formations plus the river beside us gave us a perfect venue to enjoy nature and savor the delectable dishes served.
When I tasted the longganisa, I instantly thought it was different. The taste was flavorful. Then they told us that it was called Longganisa De Catbalogan, a proud version of the province.
Some of the delicious dishes of Samar served to us were Kurukod (version of suman), bola catalana (Samar’s embutido), white cheese and lechon!
The stand out for me was called Tamalos. It was like their version of kare-kare but it has more peanut sauce and it’s thicker. The taste of the peanut sauce blended well with pork which makes it really delectable. It was good. It was one of my favorites together with longganisa. Oh again, I ate too much rice! LOL!
After the trip, I truly believe that Samar deserves more attention in terms of tourism. This is perfect for eco-tourism and adventure!
This suits well with the recent slogan of Samar Tourism which is Spark Samar! The island has it all – a diverse ecosystem of caves, subterranean rives, limestone formations, natural bridges and forest.
Sohoton National Park is one of the reasons you need to visit. Watch this video below for more adventures and tourist spots in the island. I am just excited to travel there someday and blog about the experience.
Samar is stunning and it just took one trigger of spark for everyone to notice its grandeur. The ball has started to roll for Samar tourism and there are still a lot to be discovered. You don’t need to wait. Pack your bags and start your own adventure in Samar now.
Where to Stay? (Basey / Tacloban)
It is seldom to find hotels in Basey, so most tourists stay in Tacloban which is just near Basey. When we were there, we stayed in Tacloban Plaza Hotel. I had a great sleep there. Highly recommended and not that pricey too. Check there room rates here!
Travel Guide to Sohoton National Park
How to get there:
Book a flight to Tacloban City, Leyte. If you plan to go straight to Sohoton National Park, there are vans at the airport that you can hire to bring you to Basey, Samar. Again, you should be very good at haggling when you decide to go for this option. It will also be more affordable if you travel with a group.
If you decide to go for the usual public transport, once you get to the New Bus Terminal of Tacloban, there are jeepneys that will take you to Basey, Samar. The drop-off point is the Basey Tourism Office near the wharf and market.
The staff there will assist you with regards to transportation and other services going to the Sohoton National park.
You can also get some assistance from the DOT Region 8 office if needed.Below is the contact information.
DOT Regional Office 8 at Barangay 25 Kanhuraw Hill, Magsaysay Boulevard, Tacloban City; or call (053) 832-0901 or +63998-8889715.
Disclaimer: I got invited by Tourism Promotions Board of DOT for a Familiarization Tour within Eastern Visayas region. Sohoton National Park in Basey, Samar is part of our itinerary. Thank you for this opportunity.
For more of the beauty of Eastern Visayas, check out this post about the most beautiful island in Leyte – Kalanggaman Island.