Eastern Samar makes for a quieter Plan B alternative to the blockbuster Boracay summer

Before visiting the province, I knew nothing about Eastern Samar, aside from the fact that Ferdinand Magellan landed in Homonhon Island in the town of Guiuan on March 16, 1521. So when I went on a tour of the region, I have to admit that the only thing I looked forward to was crossing off the San Juanico Bridge from my list of places to visit in the Philippines.

It felt like crossing over into an entirely different era—far from the modern, bustling Tacloban City with its seaside McDonald’s and busy streets and markets, and into the sleepy fishing region of Samar whose residents, Santiago says, still practice the simplest ways of living.

Rustic retreat
The road to Playa de Catalina, a recently opened resort in Can-Avid, Eastern Samar, is long and winding with zigzags aplenty causing our motley crew to constantly bump against each other at every sharp turn. But what came at the end of the rocky three-hour road trip was definitely worth the initial discomfort: a seemingly endless stretch of sandy beach with a shoreline spanning 3.6 kilometers—just a little shorter than Boracay’s Stations 1 to 3. Imagine a quieter Boracay, equally breathtaking but without all the commercial fuss. If you really want a break from civilization, you will find it here.

The resort, owned by Engineer Nelson Irasga, gives guests the best of both worlds: it faces the sea and is near the rift where the Ulot River meets the Pacific Ocean. Early risers are afforded a magnificent view of the sun rising against the ocean while sunsets are best seen when taking a leisurely afternoon cruise by the Ulot river that runs across Northern and Eastern Samar. Here, flocks of migratory birds flying back to lush patches of mangroves are common everyday sightings for the locals, but for us guests who spring from Metro Manila, they are a sight to behold.

Playa de Catalina practices sustainable development and is fast becoming one of the region’s most responsible travel destinations. There’s plenty to do there; visitors could play beach volleyball, go fishing, clam-picking or enjoy a good read on a balsa by the river, while adrenaline junkies can take advantage of the best thing the resort has to offer: top-notch waves.

East Coast Swell
Last December, the Philippine Surfing Academy (PSA), led by Paolo Soler, hosted the first surfing competition in Can-Avid, which Soler says is actually an undiscovered surf spot in a place that’s known for its countless surf destinations. Samar, after all, is one of the country’s surfing meccas. Guiuan, in particular, is now being packaged as a surfer’s paradise with its miles of sand beaches with powerful swells rolling in from the Pacific. It also serves as the access point to the Calicoan Surf Camp, a high-end resort which has seen a steady stream of surfers (both local and from the world over) getting stoked amidst perfectly-shaped waves.

Also a 20- to 30-minute boat ride from Can-Avid is Pasig Island, where veteran surfers ride waves as high as 8 to 12 feet. Getting there is already half the adventure, because here you will experience as I did the true power of nature: our boat almost capsized because of the strong current. Clearly, whether it’s surf, sand or a sudden rush of adrenaline you’re after, Eastern Samar holds the key to all three!

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Published in the April 2010 issue of Metro Magazine.