Romblon and Masbate are off the main tourist trails and as such make for a more intriguing ride.
Romblon is a province comprising the three main islands of Romblon, Sibuyan and Tablas as well as four smaller island municipalities - Banton, Simara,Maestro do Campo and Carabao. The islands can be reached by ferry from surrounding islands and there is a small airport on Tablas. We arrived, with our bickes by Bangka from Caticlan at the north west tip of Panay,
Our trip took us up the west coast of Tablas, across and around Romblon and on to Sibuyan before taking a long, four hour journey by pump boat to the island of Masbate due east of Sibuyan.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Romblon and Masbate - Caticlan to Odiongan, Tablas Ride Profile
For the start of our Romblon and Masbate ride we had to be up early to get the ferry back from Boracay to Caticlan,
then catch the 9.30am ferry to Looc on Tablas Island. After the usual
ritual of buying tickets and paying terminal fees we had to ask around
to find the ferry, a bangka, which was tied up at another jetty. As we
were some of the first passengers we got the bikes and bags loaded and
got a seat in the inside. The seats were normal plastic stacking chairs
fixed in threes to wooden cross members. The problem with traditional
Philippine boats is that they have bamboo outriggers and the spars for
these pass through the middle of the boat so getting into the cabin
means climbing over several of them.
The cabin kept filling with more and more passengers it was difficult to imagine where they were all going to sit and weather there were enough life jackets for all of them. Everyone had masses of baggage, boxes with crowing cockerels, bags of rice, a motor tricycle, suitcases and shopping bags. A family with two children sat behind us and the kids were sick all the way. They had camphor rubbed on their chests which made a nauseating combination with the engine fumes.
It took three hours to reach Looc, sailing in the shelter of the islands of Boracay and Carabao. These crew members stood on the outriggers the whole way. Heading north there was a choice of three roads to get to Odiongan and the plan was to follow the one that hugged the coast which looked less hilly than the other two. But somehow we missed a turning and rode up the middle one instead. Up is the right word as this one went up and over many steep, first gear hills.
On the way into Odiongan was a little oasis of a place, a restaurant and deli owned by Peter, called Mouse's Morsels. We stopped for a beer and he persuaded us to return for a meal later and recommended a good place to stay on the outskirts of town. The meal, Cajun barbecued fish with chips followed by cheese and biscuits and washed down by a good bottle of red wine, was great.
Romblon and Masbate - Odiongan to San Augustin Ride Profile
For the first 40 km the road continued following the coastline north. The population density here is very low, with just a few small agricultural and fishing villages. The road was well surfaced at first but after about 25km there were some longish rough surfaced sections. Where the road skirted the sea we had views of the 'Whale Island' which looks just like an enormous whale swimming in the sea.
Calatran is the northernmost town on the island. It is a poor, little visited place and didn't appear to have a single eatery. On a side street we found a little stall offering 'burgers': a small bun with a slice of ham smothered in a generous quantity of (very sweet) tomato sauce.
Accommodation options were similarly limited with just one small beach resort on the outskirts of town. It appeared to be closed, with the bar shuttered and the chairs and tables stacked up. The idea of paying 1200 peso for a room with little chance of finding anything decent to eat was not tempting so we decided to continue to San Agustin.
From here the road climbs over the highlands to the east coast. Peter at
Mouse's Morsels had warned us that the road was very steep and
unsurfaced, but worth the effort of a long climb for the beautiful views
from the top. In fact, since he last drove up here a lot of the road
has been concreted and the gradient was quite easy. From the summit we
had views over the eastern coast and islands of Tablas and a lovely
descent and ride along the east coast into San Agustin.
We booked into the August Inn, close to the ferry jetty. It was quite basic but run by a lovely couple who were very helpful and friendly. Just as we were about to go out to eat there was a brown out of about an hour so we sat drinking beers at a little bar by the pier in the pitch dark.
Romblon and Masbate - San Augustin to San Pedro Ride Profile
The ferry was scheduled to leave at 8am. When we arrived there was
already quite a crowd of people sitting on the sea wall while the
porters loaded the boat. They carried our bikes over and laid them on
the roof. A couple of jeepneys arrived and unloaded more prospective
passengers. Once we were allowed to board the little bangka there was a
bit of a scrum to grab one of the life jackets that the crew were
distributing. The law is that every passenger has to have one to be
allowed on the boat.
We both grabbed one and jumped on. The small cabin at the rear was already full and the only way to access the front cabin was to crawl through one of the window openings. Difficult wearing a life jacket. The only vacant seats were right at the front of the boat. Not so much seats as a plank to sit on. A large crowd of prospective passengers remained on the quay, prevented from boarding by the coast guard as they had no life jackets. Gradually we dug out a few from under the seats and passed them out so most of them eventually got on.
It took about an hour to get to Romblon. As we arrived there was a class of children from the school having a swimming lesson in the harbour.
At the quay side we met an English man who advised us that the best
place to stay on the island was a resort at San Pedro beach, about 10km
This lovely, peaceful resort right on the beach was one of our favourite places of the whole trip. We shared it with a trio of French backpackers, (Vincent, Frank and Julie) Richard, an American, and his Philippine partner Gloria.
Today was spent relaxing on the peaceful beach, snorkeling around the small coral reef in the bay and enjoying the homemade local food in the restaurant.
Romblon and Masbate - San Pedro to Romblon Ride Profile
Today we completed the circuit of this little island, in total only 45kms. The road alternates between rough surface and cement with only a few vehicles. It is never far away from the sea, with frequent views over the ocean and lots of shady palms. On the east side of the island the regional road takes a more inland route, through the hills, but we continued along the coast on an unsurfaced track.
Climbing back up to the national road was a pretty steep, first gear, job at first but then an easy gradient up to about 250m over the hills at the north. This area is renowned for its marble, with numerous quarries and workshops producing statues. Most eye-catching of the offerings was of two dogs in a compromising position but we couldn't imagine who would want to buy it.
A long downhill took us into Romblon town which is a pretty little place, surrounded on three sides by tree covered hills and centred around the busy harbour. The town has a small community of European expats, with a couple of cafe bars serving pizzas and western style foods. There is an old Spanish fort perched on the hill above the town which we climbed to up steep stone steps. At the top were good views of the town but the fort was in desperate need of renovation and looked in imminent danger of falling down the hill.
Today's ferry was a ro-ro, a much easier boat to get loaded bikes onto. During the three hour journey to Sibuyan we were entertained by a young man travelling with his guitar and sound system who used the time to practise his songs.
The ferry arrived at Magdiwang and there was a minibus from Sanctuary Resort, where we planned to stay, waiting to pick up passengers. Edgar, one of the owners, gave us directions to get there and we arrived before the bus. The resort is about 1km from the national road, set in the foothills of Mount Guiting Guiting, the 2060 m high volcano in the centre of the island. The peak of the volcano was shrouded in cloud for the whole of our stay.
We found that Julie, Vincent, Frank, Richard and Gloria from San Pedro were also staying there as well as Hannah, a Polish backpacker. The resort had large attractive gardens and a clear, deep river to swim in.
Around the restaurant area were a couple of aviaries with birds and a large cage to house a pair of orphaned young adult monkeys, David and DJ who had been had been hand reared.
We didn't actually complete this part of our Romblon and Masbate ride by bike, but we have included the profile info for those that are interested.
Romblon and Masbate - Around Sibuyan Ride Profile
The resort had its own jeepney and today a trip had been arranged to circumnavigate the island, stopping at a couple of waterfalls on the way and taking a pic-nic lunch. Richard, Gloria, Hannah and the french trio were all going so we decided that rather than cycle we would go with them.
The road to the west of the island had been badly affected by flooding several years ago. All of the river bridges had been washed away and had been replaced by temporary metal ones. A couple of the wider valleys had no proper road surface, just a track over smooth small rocks which would have been difficult with loaded bikes.
Swimming in the river at the base of the waterfall was refreshing, and Steve and Richard joined the youngsters jumping into the pool from the top of the cliff. Edgar's aunt, a retired teacher, joined us for the picnic and entertained us with stories of her teaching career and love life.
Romblon and Masbate - Magdiwan to Cajidiocan Ride Profile
The road on the east of the island had escaped the worst of the flood
damage and is in a better state of repair. It is mostly unsurfaced and
there is very little traffic. About 10km down the road is another small
waterfall, reached by a footpath from the road. We left the bikes and
walked up to swim in the cool river.
There was nowhere to eat until Cajidican and even there it was difficult to find food. We were directed to a small cafe with a long menu of western food in the window but the only thing available at 2pm was a meagre burger. Although there were two small pension houses in Cajidiocan they were both full so we had to ride another 3km to a small German owned guesthouse called 'Reiners Place'.
Having lived here fro many years, Reiner knew Romblon and Masbate well and advised on the ferry for our trip to Masbate tomorrow.
Romblon and Masbate - Cajidiocan to Masbate City Ride Profile
The breakfast at Reiner's Place was memorable for its very good, home made bread, served in large quantities with marmalade. Still not quite sure of the ferry departure time, we made sure we got there before 8am. As there was no boat at the jetty we asked the coastguard who sent us to a small bangka on the beach.
The boat crew said they had never carried bicycles from Romblon to Masbate before. There were a
lot of locals waiting at the beach side while the crew loaded the
various cargoes, our bikes and a motorbike. At last the jeepney from
Magdiwan arrived with the five french travellers from Sanctuary resort
and all the passengers climbed aboard.
As the 'senior westerners' we got to sit on the big shelf in the wheelhouse which was much more comfortable than the narrow planks that served as seats in the main cabin. The journey from Romblon to Masbate took four hours as the boat was quite slow and had to be steered around the bigger waves. This was the first time we had been on a bangka completely out of sight of land. The only navigation aid was a portable compass and the engine was controlled by a length of fishing line wound around a wooden block. We had a really good view out of the front of the boat but the only thing that we saw in that time were groups of flying fish.
The boat arrived a t Mandaon at 1.00pm and after a quick lunch at the harbourside market we set off to try to get to Masbate City, as the only place on the island where we were certain there was accommodation. It was 63km and we had about three hours of daylight. The road was quite smooth and quiet, slowly climbing up into the hills. The terrain was unlike anything we had seen so far in the Philippines with no trees and grassy hillsides which reminded us of Scotland. This is important cattle rearing country and riding their horse down the road towards us was a group of Filipino cowboys with lasoos and spurs.
After a long climb we reached the col with views over the surrounding
hills and then a long snaking descent back down to the coast at
Milagros. By now it was 4pm and another 20km to Masbate so we tried to
find somewhere to stay. After being directed to the town hall we were
given the name of a resort about 5km out of town called ' Winter Farm'.
Luckily it was on the road towards Masbate City, because when we found
it it was closed.
With no option but to continue we rode as fast as we could but the last 10km were in the pitch dark. At least the road was smooth, there were no pot-holes and very few people drive in the dark here.
Arriving in the city at night made finding a good hotel even more difficult and we settled for the first Guest House we saw which was probably one of the worst places we have stayed in. But at least it had a small restaurant with ok food, internet and friendly staff.
Romblon and Masbate - Masbate City to Cataingan Ride Profile
After eight days of no internet access it was at last possible to catch
up with e-mail and look into ferries from Masbate island. The web sites
of the various ferry companies are not up to date and don't show all the
ferries, or even the right day and time of departure, so the only
option was to go down to the port and ask.
Once we had confirmed that there was a ferry which goes from Cataingan, in the south of Masbate, to Bogo, in the north of Cebu, departing every day at 12md, there was the beginning of a plan.
The next problem was that there was no information about accommodation in Cataingan. It was too far to try and get there before 12md. Sitting in the guest house restaurant, searching on the internet, a man approached us and asked us if we were backpackers and could he help us with anything. We told him our problem and immediately he made a couple of phone calls and arranged for us to stay at a resort near the town in a property owned by a friend.
By now it was 10.30am so we packed up our stuff quickly and got the bikes. Karen's rear tyre was flat so, with an audience of about twenty people, Steve patched it using the last patch in the box. The road down the east coast of the island wasn't quite as smooth and well surfaced as the one yesterday and was a mixture of concrete, tarmac and unsurfaced sections. The scenery here was more like the rest
Only 10km after setting out Steve's front tyre side wall split and the
inner tube exploded with a spectacular noise. We had to put on the
emergency spare tyre and use the last patent inner tube. Finding a new
supply of good inner tubes and patches was now a priority.
The road continued along the coast, skirting the edges of some nice wide sandy bays but except for a couple of shabby local day resorts there were only fishing communities on the shores. It was very cloudy with a cool breeze, ideal for cycling. Closer to Cataingan there were several short sharp rain showers and the sky darkened.
Arriving in the town we went straight down to the small port to check the ferry details. With possible worsening of the weather there was no certainty that the boat would arrive from Bogo the next day. We just had to hope that it would. As we rode back up the hill to get to the resort it started to pour with rain and we were quickly soaked. Just at the top of the hill was a newly built hotel so we decided to stay there instead of continuing a further 3km in the rain.
The hotel may have been newly opened but it had all the annoying features of most other Philippino hotels. The water pressure in the bathroom was too low to use the sink, there was no hot water, there was not a single shelf or anywhere to put anything except the floor, no hangers or hooks for towels and not a single electric socket except the one for the TV where there was not enough depth to plug in the adaptor. The room had a double bed but only one towel. A request for a second towel put 25 peso on the bill. Breakfast was included in the room rate but was only available between 6am and 7am and it did not include any drink.
We were awake early so had breakfast in the snack bar. It was as bad as
expected: cold overcooked fried egg, revolting bright red mushy sausage
and sticky rice.The morning weather was a great improvement on yesterday
with blue skies and little wind so there was little doubt that the
ferry would run.
With little else to do we set off to the port and to buy some food for the five hour ferry journey. On the way through the town a policeman waved to us and we thought he was just being friendly. But no, he wanted us to come into the little police office and bring our identification documents. He was accompanied by a young, apparently new, recruit. The young guy spent a long time copying every detail from our passport into a large, apparently new, ruled notebook. He even copied out the long sequence of numbers and letters at the bottom of the page. He then asked us both for our father's and mother's full names and also the names of all three of Steve's siblings. This seemed to satisfy them both, even though neither of them thought to check whether we had a valid visa. Once the formalities were over we got to the real reason for accosting us, they wanted a photograph of the crazy cyclists with the young recruit.
At the port office we paid our terminal fee and set off for the ferry but were turned back as we hadn't paid a terminal fee for the bikes! New one. The ferry was a big old ro-ro. Unlike the ferries in the west there were no cars on this one, just lorries, a bus, two bicycles and a pig.
The weather was beautiful and the sea very calm so the five hour journey was enjoyable, passing many islands, some of them just bare rocks.
The ride around Romblon and Masbate had been very different and more challenging than the other islands. Now for the next stage, the Central Visayas.
The boat arrived at Bogo at 5.15pm which should have given us about half
an hour of daylight to cycle the 5km into the town centre. But it took
nearly 40 minutes for the boat to get into the right position on the
ramp. It appeared that it was the new apprentice's first try. The boat
went forwards, backwards, sideways, the ropes went onto the mooring and
were tightened but still the boat ramp and the dock were not meeting.
By the time we got off the sun had set and once again we had to ride in
the dark into town.
We booked a room at the Nagano Pension which had no window but did have a very quiet air-con and one of the most comfortable mattresses. It also had its own restaurant with reasonable food. The town only seemed to have three types of shops: Pawnbrokers, pharmacies and bakeshops. A bit of a problem when all you want is a bottle of water and some wash powder.
Our trip continues from Masbate to the Central Visayas incorporating Cebu and Bohol.
Return to our Tours page from Romblon and Masbate
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