Matnog, Philippines : Hidden beaches on exposed borders

By Gael Hilotin for Yahoo! Travel  

Sorsogon is a quaint province in the Philippines that rose to fame due to the biggest fish in the world - the whale sharks locally called butanding,  that found refuge in the waters of Donsol town. But what most tourists don't know is that aside from these gentle giants, Sorsogon has more to offer to tourists. Another promising town is the craggy and drowsy Matnog.  

The Philippines is divided into 3 main island groups - Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Matnog is located south of the mainland of Luzon, well-known as "The Gateway to Visayas", the main island famous for its white sand beaches, thus frequented by travelers and locals crossing the sea by roro(roll on and roll off). Unknown to most passengers are the immaculate white sand beaches beyond the borders of the bustling pier.

I met a man in his 40's at the market who escorted me to the boatman's abode. We passed by humble huts, smiling faces and curious eyes. Surprisingly, the boatman does not know how much to charge me because they are not used to seeing tourists in their town. The downside to traveling alone in remote islands is that you have to shoulder hefty boat rides (unless you find a fisherman where you can hitch a ride). Good thing in Matnog, the boat fare is fair enough.

Juag Fish Sanctuary

Enclosed by smaller rock formations is a wide expanse of shallow salty waters that is home to diverse species of fish, turtles, sea cucumbers, lobsters and clams. Juag Fish Sanctuary is an area reserved for the reproduction of fish populations. They are collected for studies and breeding and released in the sea once they reached their full egg spawning potential thereby reducing their probability of extinction.

I've seen warning signs by the local government prohibiting illegal fishing in the demarcated areas. I was transported to the sanctuary from its main entrance by a sliding bamboo craft. The area is quite vast with clear shallow waters and sea grass beds. Juag Fish Sanctuary is gradually becoming an eco-tourism destination where visitors are allowed to view the fishes in their natural environment. There is no entrance fee but donations are allowed.

Tikling Island

Near the coastal town of Matnog where the waters are quite unstable lies another pristine beach called Tikling Islands, the last stop for my island adventure. I find the island quite eerie because of that distinct noise of the insects and the chirping of the birds hiding on its lush tropical forest, not to mention the wild shrubs and growing vines on the sands making it look like it is unexplored. The coast is long enough for leisurely walk and the beach is a seductive blend of blue and green.

Tikling Island has no huts for rent and the only people living here are the caretakers of the island who thrives on fishing and copra production. But what really make this island remarkable is its signature powdery pinkish sands.  

Undoubtedly, Matnog town is blessed with pristine beaches just waiting to be discovered and a rich natural environment that needs to be continually protected and nurtured. I hope that in the near future tourism will help its ailing people and boost the economy of the sleepy town.  

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