Trailblazing in Bicol: Penitan Bay and Mercedes Group of Islands
Hello, world! (A mandatory greeting for first posts and because I’m a programmer, so… *joke dies a silent death*)
So, this blog will document my and Hali’s travels, though he is unfortunately not included in this post as he was getting inked by Apo Whang-Od at the time of our trip. We agreed that I will do most of the writing and he, as a photographer, will provide the photos. As this is our blog’s first post and I had not brought with me a reliable camera, most of the pictures here are grabbed from (and duly credited to) various acquaintances from our trip.
It’s a particularly satisfying moment for a traveler to discover a place that’s unexplored or, at least, has not reached the level of commercialization that brings with it the usual large throng of tourists seeking time away from the city, as well as excessive environmental issues and local fees. So I’m proud to present our last summer weekend trip in Penitan Bay in Camarines Sur and Mercedes group of islands in Camarines Norte.
Budget needed? Around P2000 all-in, including travel expenses and food, for a weekend of splashing in the sun in exclusive or almost-exclusive places.
Penitan Bay (Camarines Sur)
Lately, Calaguas and Caramoan have been getting popular that it’s been jam-packed particularly this summer. From what I can see on my dashboard it’s even difficult to get a solo shot in the beach. Penitan Bay and Mercedes group of islands are a very welcome alternative to these destinations.
From what I know Penitan Bay is pretty much unheard of. It’s not a tourist spot and most of the beaches in the area are located in private properties. Luckily, our friend Roschman of Pandawan Outdoor Group (POG) has access to Penitan Bay. It’s a 2-hour boat ride from Mercedes Port in Camarines Norte.
We planned to stay in Penitan Bay on our first day. We camped at Ate Nelia’s property, where there’s a makeshift kubo and shade to pitch our tent. Food was already bought back in the market in Mercedes or otherwise purchased fresh from the locals.
What I particularly like about this place is it’s quiet. Aside from the few locals in the area, we basically had the beach for ourselves. The caveat? It’s still jelly fish season when we got there, and I’ve been told that it lasts until July.
I had my first dikya experience. I rushed to the sea, and a second later, felt a sting on my leg that made me shout in short pain and surprise. We immediately went back to the hut for first aid. Good thing we had brought a large plastic bottle of vinegar, and this I poured to the affected skin. Needless to say, after this I was very wary of anything transparent moving in the waters.
Penitan Bay is not as pristine as Calaguas; there are blackened leaves near the shore. However, the ambiance and solitude it offers outweigh this and in fact adds to its untouched charm.
Also, I have to mention, especially for those with no or minimal experience in backpacking, that we did not stay in a resort. Hence, there are no comfort rooms and we have to relieve ourselves the old-fashioned way. That is to say. we have to go somewhere wooded and away from the campsite. Taking a dump means doing it the mountaineer way: digging.
Still, for those looking for a more established comfort rooms, there are local houses just walking distance of Penitan Bay, where residents may welcome you. There’s also a sari-sari store where you can buy kitchen staples and alcoholic drinks for socials night.
Mercedes group of islands: Caringo, Apuao and Canimog Islands
There are several destinations in Mercedes group of islands but we opted for these three, which according to friends’ recommendations are the best. Our second day was thus reserved for island hopping.
Caringo island is relatively developed compared to the other islands included in this trip. There are beach resorts, although the vacationists are still few. The beach could’ve been cleaner; I spotted two or three plastics floating in the shore. Still, this island is still a decent swimming location.
I’ll put a disclaimer here and say this photo does not do justice to Caringo Island. There’s a part of the bay where you only have 1-2 meters of shallow water and then the water immediately turns to a deep, dark blue.
A few minutes away from Caringo island is the Apuao Grande island. Kuya Fray told us that’s it’s the poorest among the islands in the area; basic commodities such as water are bought via boats in Mercedes. Apuao is distinct in that there are a lot of agoho trees lined up across the shore. There’s also a resort where you can stay overnight. For daytrips you have to pay a minimal amount as entrance fee (P20, as I’ve been told). We stayed here only shortly, because the spot where we took refuge had an unpleasant fishy smell.
Lastly, there’s Canimog Island. This is my favorite among the three because we apart from us there was literally nobody else in the island, it’s free of jellyfishes and, while the place is not strikingly beautiful, it has a quiet charm to it.
A weekend crossing CamSur and CamNorte
This is one of the most sulit trips I’ve taken. It was very budget friendly. Plus, although our time was limited to a mere 2D/1N, we managed to not only explore both Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte but also to do so in hitherto uncrowded, delightful beaches, away from the brimming crowd of summer people.
Penitan Bay lived up to its expectations, and we plan to go back there when the jellyfish season is over. Apuao Island Grande was a bit disappointing, but I hope this won’t discourage everyone else from visiting the island. After all, we only stayed there for less than an hour. Caringo Island can also be a worthwhile trip despite the cleanliness issue mentioned above, and lastly, there’s the Canimog Island, which is definitely not something to be missed.
I also met new friends. This event was publicly hosted by CJ, and aside from the members of POG whom we’ve known from our Calaguas trip last November, most of our companions were unknown to us initially.
Penitan Bay and Mercedes group of islands itinerary
Credits to CJ Balignasay for making the original itinerary for our Penitan Bay + Mercedes group of islands getaway (and also for organizing this event).
(Day 0: Friday)
0800 PM PHILTRANCO bus Cubao
0900 PM ETD
(Day 1: Saturday – Penitan Bay)
0600 AM ETA Daet, Camarines Norte
0630 AM take passenger Jeepney going to Mercedes port
0645 AM ETA Mercedes Port (breakfast, buy supplies)
0900 AM Boat ride to Penitan Bay
1100AM ETA Penitan Bay – camp, lunch, swimming
0400 PM Trekking the hills
0600 PM Prepare and cook dinner
0700 PM Dinner time, kulitan, whatever goes~
(Day 2: Sunday – island hopping in Mercedes group of islands)
0600 AM Wake up call, prepare and eat breakfast
0800AM ETA Caringo Island
1100AM ETA Apuao Grande, lunch
0100PM ETA Canimog Island
0400PM ETD Mercedes Port, cleanup
0700PM Dinner (or sidetrip to Bagasbas)
0900PM ETD Philtranco/Superlines in Daet
Expenses for an approximate group of 10-15:
RT bus tickets: around P1100 (Philtranco P565, Superlines P520)
Food: P2,500 (250 each)
Boat rental: P8000 (good for 20 people)
Total budget: Around P2000 or depending on the size of your group
I would like to thank everybody for this successful weekend getaway, POG in particular for helping us discover these islands and Ate Nelia and company for letting us stay in Penitan Bay. Mercedes group of islands is easily accessible to public, but if you want to see Penitan Bay for yourselves, contact POG in its Facebook page.
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).