PALOMPON, LEYTE – Kalanggaman Island, some 45 minutes away from this town, is becoming a popular destination for local tourists after its existence catapulted to national attention on a dispute of its ownership.
So, as some local tourists went off to the just newly launched ZIP Southern Leyte at Sogod, Southern Leyte, a good number went the opposite direction to make good of the sunny weather and went to Kalanggaman.
Canigao Island in Matalom also remains a favorite haunt for beachgoers but for those who preferred a more pristine and quiet white sand beach, Kalanggaman was the obvious choice.
In posts in their Facebook accounts of a group led by Cristina Magallon, proprietress of the popular Zaibatsu Bar in Tacloban City, they could not stop waxing romantic about the beauty of the island.
Their stay was made more comfortable with the facilities now available in the island, plus clear-cut government regulations and tourism guidelines that the newly elected Oñate administration have imposed.
Around two months ago, the municipality has amended ordinances regulating its tourism industry, to make it more tourism friendly and practicable. They have also accredited tourist utilities like hostels and pumpboats to ensure high standards and prevent cutthroat competition.
The LGU also has its own facilities for rent like scuba equipment and boats, but as a rule, they’d rather give the business to the private sector.
These developments do not come as a surprise to those who know Mayor Ramon Oñate. A former three-term mayor of the town, it was during his time that Palompon was cited as a “Galing Pook” awardee for its ecological program in rehabilitating the denuded Tabuk islets.
Now, with his fourth mandate, he is with a youthful and dynamic team led by Vice Mayor “George” Arevalo, a lady doctor who is not only pretty but athletic as well. Their team, when they want things done, gets them done in a short time.
To reach the island, one has the choice between a government owned pumpboat or speedboat or privately owned pumpboats. The use is the government utilities are for free but the visitors will have to pay for the gas and is only good for groups of 8 to 10.
The town has the so-called “Package 4” which is the Kalanggaman Snorkelling and Scuba diving adventure. Guests availing of these should be ready by 5:00 in the morning and go to the tourism office at the mainland for a tour briefing and gear preparation. Which means they would have to stay overnight at the town’s many lodging houses and hostels, all of which may not be classy hotels but are clean and manned by professionals.
Among the activities are the wall diving at the Alegre and Logon side, aside from snorkeling at the islet.
Privately-owned pumpboats would be the preferred mode for bigger groups. Day trips are at P3,000 (negotiable) and overnight stay (at the pumboats and not at the island) ranges from P3,500 up.
At the island, the tourists pay depending on their status (international, local and non-Palomponganon) and ages/occupations (college student/HS/Elementary). Senior citizens of the town are free but those from other areas are charged P120, 20 percent lower than the regular adult rate of P150. These are the snorkeling and swimming rates or what other areas would probably call “ecological fee”.
Separate fees are charged for those who’d want to stay overnight.
But visitors who come without gears like snorkels and scuba but would want to try it can rent them from the LGU. Snorkel and mask are for P30 and fins, P15. Reef boots are for P20 and 1 set Scuba gear plus dive guide is P1,000. Cottages are for P200 each.
Environmentalists that they are, Palompon officials also urge visitors to “take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints”. Visitors are strictly admonished to bring their trash back where the town has a collection bin, to discourage them from throwing it into the sea.
Tabuk Island adventures
For the tame-hearted and those who dislike long trips over the sea, the town has its Tabuk Marine Park Fish and Bird Sanctuary Packages 1 and 2.
Package 1 is a day tour which includes a 3-minute ride to Tabuk Island, just across the town hall about a stone’s throw away, and an eco-walk and lecture at the boardwalk crisscrossing the rehabilitated mangrove islet.
There is time for snorkeling and bat watching.
Package 2, however, is more extensive, including a marine safari in the evening. It ends at 10:00 PM for the “lights out” and an early morning bird watching. Tabuk is bird sanctuary.
The rates for both packages range from a low of P5.00 for an elementary pupil from Palompon to P300 for an international tourist.
Underwater caves and walls
Divers would also like to try “Package 3”. A day activity, tourists will be brought to a point 27 kilometers away from the poblacion (by land), or 45 minutes of pumpboat ride, or 20 minutes by speedboat.
There, they can dive at the Talisay Cove, the Coast of Buenavista, Milagro Cove for walls and underwater caves.
Aside from the fees, the LGU requires a driver’s license as “security” from people availing of the packages. This is to ensure that they have a valid ID of the person “responsible” as scuba gears are expensive.
Food also is exclusive of the packages so pack your own. You can also buy from the public market nearby. If you go there on a Monday, you’re lucky. It’s their market or “tabo” day.
Fish and fresh seafoods abound, including “kinilaw sets” or a pidgin of fresh fish, sea urchin, lukot, lato, even shellfish ready for making into tinola or kinilaw, with or without coconut milk.
So, summer’s just started. There’s still a full month and a half to visit Kalanggaman if you haven’t yet.