Double Happiness in Catanduanes (Carorian Elementary School Outreach)

How do I love thee, let me count the ways...

I love thee not only for your stunning sights; but most especially for the beautiful smiles of the people who take good care of you. Your inner beauty beckons.

I love thee not only for freshest catch on our table each time we eat by the bay or on a cove; but most of all for the treasure trove you own above and below the sea.

I love thee not only for the towering cliffs and verdant hills; but for all the exhilarating adventures you bring.

I love thee not only for the fun experiences; but for the meaningful memories that are sure to stay  in my heart for as long as I live.

I love thee and for this, I long to see you again soon...

Poseidon Rock, Carorian, Catanduanes

It is Land of the Howling Winds NO MORE. People always ask me why I keep coming back to Catanduanes. The question is rather easy to answer. Catanduanes is straightforward, beautiful, and laidback, yet full of surprises. And most of all, Catandunganons are known for being warm and friendly. In every visit we made, we would always go home with happy memories. Catanduanes will not be called the Happy Island for nothing, and I couldn't agree more.

We were back in Catanduanes for the third time this year and while it was not our first time, our excitement was just as intense. We were back not only for the Carorian and Bagamanoc adventure but also for another outreach project in Carorian Elementary School where we shared school supplies to about a hundred students.

A view of the majestic Mt. Mayon
Going There
Aboard the lone flight that plies the Manila-Virac route, and while everyone were sound asleep, I, on the other hand, couldn't wait to land on the happiest island in the Philippines. Catanduanes is accessible by air through Cebu Pacific, and soon, I heard, via Philippine Airlines (can't wait for this!). One may also take the route via Albay flying through Legaspi and taking the ferry from Tabaco Port to San Andres. This route might be long and tiring (coming from someone who cannot even stay put in her proper seat for 10 minutes), but the scenic ride makes a big difference. If you are game for a long and winding journey, you may also drive from Manila to Legaspi and hop on a ro-ro to San Andres.

Breaking Dawn
As the sun peeked into the tangerine skies, the plane screeched, and there... we had just landed. The airport remains the same, with some signs of expansion, I noticed. Catanduanes' tourism is taking centerstage now, competing at par with Batanes.  No wonder the flight, though now on a bigger plane, was full.

Touchdown with our beautiful guides, Shiela and Marj =)

Brekky at Jollibee Virac
We were picked up my the hardworking team of the Catanduanes Tourism Promotion office, and from the airport, we went straight to Jollibee (yes, Virac is a first class municipality, so you have the convenience of urban living and the accessibility of natural wonders, all in one).

Checking In
We had stayed at Rakdell Inn in Virac Town Proper and Queen Maricel Inn near the airport during our previous visits to Catanduanes. This time, we decided to stay a night in Alon Surf Stay and another two nights in ARDCI Corporate Inn for us to personally experience other accommodation options.

With Ms. Carmel and Sir Joel at Alon Surf Stay
The masters bedroom
Another guest room in Alon Surf Stay
A view from the third floor veranda
The al fresco dining and lounge area
A stunning view of Puraran Beach and Alon Surf Stay's infinity pool
The pool is 10ft deep, perfect for intro dive classes actually
Bali? No. It's that place called Catanduanes

Owned by Joel Estrada Joves, Alon Surf Stay is a bed and breakfast atop a hill overlooking the famous surfing destination, Puraran Beach. It is about an hour away from Virac. The place is very cozy and charming and, the best thing about it for me is that it was designed with the panoramic views in mind--each spot in the property commands picturesque vistas, from the veranda to the bathrooms to the infinity pool. If you want to just relax and take in the beautiful scenery, spend a night in Alon Surf Stay. Food can be arranged, too.

ARDCI Corporate Inn on the other hand, has a, well, very corporate feel. Nestled in the heart of Virac just a few meters away from everything--public market, airport, shopping mall, and a lot more--ARDCI is your best option if you are after convenience and accessibility. Room rates start at Php 1000. They also have a cafe, restaurant, a pool and gym. Food is okay and servings are generous.

ARDCI Corporate Inn's pool

The Balik Eskwela Project
When we travel, we are not only after the striking sights a place has to offer. In fact, on the side, what we usually do is scout for communities and schools that can be our next beneficiary for our regular outreach projects. This initiative started in 2014 with our pilot project being in Caucab Elementary School in Brgy. Talahid, Almeria, Biliran. In the beginning, what we could only afford were school supplies enough for Kinder and Grade 1 students. The initiative started following the wrath of super typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Eastern Visayas region, wrecking havoc in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, and Biliran.That made us realize that it was imperative for us to go and share whatever resources we have. After another year, we went back to the same school, this time, we were able to cover from Kinder to Grade 6 or a total of more than 300 students.

The following year, two disasters in a row hit the country, particularly my hometown--San Antonio in Nueva Ecija. The flood brought about by typhoon Lando and Nona made several families in Brgy. Julo homeless because the waters from the river rose up to their roofs. I was so lucky to have friends who are always ready to help me. Just one call for support in Facebook and the next thing I knew, we were already in Julo Elementary School giving away school supplies to almost 330 students. It was very heartwarming to see the smile on the children's faces, as well as their teary eyed teachers and mentors.

Not long after, we had another project in Mauban, Quezon. This time, we had to pass through three rivers and walked an hour to reach the school. Imagine the agony of the students here, who had to go this way every single day. So I think, even without any devastation from a disaster, the school deserves the chance.

In October 2016, through the kindness and hospitality of Mayor Beng Climaco, we were able to see the beautiful Sta. Cruz Island in Zamboanga. Here, we learned that a community living on the island takes good care of this little paradise, making sure all the rules and regulations are implemented. Mind you, majority of them used to be dynamite fishers and are now converted into eco-tour guide. And with that, we felt they deserved to be the beneficiary of our next outreach. Come January 2017, starting the year with a bang, our team made about a hundred students of Silsilah Elementary School happy with new school supplies and even free haircut from the military. 

It was in March 2017 when I first set foot in Catanduanes, using a plane ticket that I almost thought of disregarding because I was not too keen on going to this island at that point, I must admit. Hello, what would I see in the Land of the Howling Winds a.k.a. the typhoon capital of the Philippines? But then, as I have said in the beginning of this article, I saw and experienced it personally--it is Land of the Howling Winds NO MORE.  I got enthralled at how such an amazing place exists, a place where I can truly relax and reunite with nature. So, in June of the same year, our team went back to share our blessings to a community in Tignob Island in Caramoran, Catanduanes. As if this was not enough, we came back to Catanduanes for the third time this year (and for our third outreach also for 2017, a big leap from our once-a-year activity) to share school supplies again to the children of Carorian Elementary School.

Our team segregating the school bags per grade level 

Ms Carmel giving some remarks 

Glen on the job

Happy faces in Catanduanes

Checking what surprises are inside
With the school's OIC
May nanalo na! =)


Seeing each and every child smile when they receive their school packs makes our heart melt. Each time I hand a bag, I felt the joy reverberating in the four walls of the classroom.  I am glad to have been blessed with an opportunity to travel with a BIG purpose. Not just travelling for the sake of FB and IG likes. As Ms. Carmel said in her remarks, voluntourism is alive! Indeed, it is very much alive, and I hope more travellers do the same. Any help, any project, big or small, can make a huge difference in the lives of others.

My heartfelt thanks go to our silent donors who genuinely aim to help other people even without all the glitz and glam. I am very honored to be your instrument in putting things like this together. And of course, kudos to the hardworking team of Ms Carmel: Marj, Shiela, Kuya Allan and Kuya Rey. As always, we were very well taken cared of and our stay in Catanduanes was a blast. To our team, thank you for supporting all my cray-cray projects; for bearing with my oddities, OCness, my curses and my reluctance for anything veggie. You are the best!  Love you all! xoxo

One of our silent donors, who had helped me in ways unimaginable, once told me (on how I can repay her), "Thank me by helping other people, and teach them to do the same." These words are etched in my heart and mind to this day. I will hold on to these as long as I can, for as long as I live.

Up next is our Carorian and Bagamanoc Adventure!


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