THE UNSUNG HEROES OF TOURISM IN CATANDUANES

Island Tourism Situationer (Conclusion)
THE UNSUNG HEROES OF TOURISM IN CATANDUANES
by Pablo A. Tariman

Before the inspiring enthusiasm of Tropang Turismo, there was also a tourism movement called “Go Catanduanes” and it’s co-founder, Ezra “Tisoy” Efondo, was the symbol of the islander who gave everything to promote the land of his birth.

Island tourism hero Ezra Efondo on FB. His post reflected deep love for the sea.

Island tourism hero Ezra Efondo on FB. His post reflected deep love for the sea.

Born on January 12, 1984, Ezra was a web designer but was later known as the one who single-handedly promoted the island by forging a good network with surfers and travellers. He founded the first surfing school in the island, he is the man behind the seaside festival called called Catanduanes Reef Break (CRB) which was a gathering of longboard skaters, surfers, musicians, islanders and tourists who wanted to stay n the island for at least three days.

The event brought to Puraran Beach surfers from all over the country.

Indeed, his passion for the island is so deep he went ahead promoting travelling and surfing in Puraran even without visible resources.

The last time I saw him in Puraran during the Holy Week of 2014, he deplored the lack of support for his projects and I said I was in a similar situation promoting classical music in the island often with zero sponsorship.

Interior of Museu de Catanduanes. A must in a tourist's itinerary.

Interior of Museu de Catanduanes. A must in a tourist’s itinerary.

As his brother Genesis recalled, his brother had a good job in Makati. But from afar, he heard the sound of waves of his island and promptly left his job to promote it full time. He returned to the island in 2012, went to Puraran and his soul and the sea became one.

True enough, he became a true believer in the pristine beauty of his island.

There are others who loved the island with their heart and soul.

Mr. Ivanhoe Arcilla who is member of the provincial tourism council spearheads regular beach cleaning activities in the island, blogger John Tugano writes regularly about the beauty of his native Panganiban town and Tropang Turismo head Ferdie Ocol went after vandals of island landmarks by exposing them on FB. His post of the vandalized Bote Light house in Batalay, Bato town got angry reactions from local netizens.

Former Virac Vice-Mayor Ariston Sarmiento is probably one of the last symbols of the islander who loved classical music.

Sarmiento’s ancestral house often reverberates with the music of Mozart and Vivaldi and he has a good recollection of the island in the early days. “In the days of yore, the mountains of Catanduanes were virtual rainforest. During the island’s first road construction project, I remember the nights when a deer would casually peep into our tents. There were no tricycles, just horses and carabao carts. Our house was filled with recordings of famous orchestras and opera singers and piano lessons were a must in most families. What I really want my fellow islanders to acquire is a taste for the finer things in life even with the onslaught of natural calamities.”

A tourist’s itinerary should include a visit to the Museu de Catanduanes.

To be sure, a glimpse of the glorious past of Catanduanes is unraveled in the barely five year-old Museum in the old capitol building, one of the historic landmarks of the 12th largest island in the country.

On exhibit are the 1895 window panel from the ancestral house of Don Ariston Sarmiento, including his antique typewriter belonging to the same era; a 1914 baul donated by Maria Magno; old photos like the 1928 wedding of Jose Surban and Carmen Arcilla of Calolbon (now San Andres town) along with a 1938 Ballesteros-Santelices nuptials.

A photo of Pablo Tariman at Binurong Point that even actor Coco Martin liked on Facebook. Social media remain a good tool for tourism promotions. Photo: Ferdie Benavidez Ocol.

A photo of Pablo Tariman at Binurong Point that even actor Coco Martin liked on Facebook. Social media remain a good tool for tourism promotions. Photo: Ferdie Benavidez Ocol.

In those photos which clearly reflected the lifestyle of the island middle class: the gentlemen were in white suits with proper hats and the ladies looked like characters from The Great Gatsby. This must be the era when the island was virtual rainforest, when deers roamed the island and the houses of the middle class families (notably the Sarmientos and the Alcalas) reverberated with the music of Bach and Beethoven.

As it is, some islanders wanted to keep what was left of the island’s natural and cultural heritage.

Tropang Turismo’s Ferdie Benavidez Ocol and his fellow island photographers document not just the newly discovered tourist spots but the remaining bird species in the island. He said there is still what he calls the “Little Mindanao” in Viga town and in one sojourn, he replayed recordings of bird sounds. To our surprise, the live birds in the area responded.

For now, preserving what is left of the island’s pristine beauty is the priority of Tropang Turismo who guards against invaders who can destroy the island natural attractions.

Meanwhile, the local provincial tourism office noted increase in foreign and domestic tourist arrivals by 19.77% in the third quarter compared to the same period in the previous year. Early this year, it recorded a total of 40, 258 tourist arrivals for the months of July to September 2015, compared to just 33,612 in 2014.

It also noted that most of the foreign visitors were from America, Russia, China, Canada, and Taiwan.

Island writer Rosulo Manlangit contributes his share on how to improve tourism in the island. “We have to define and focus on cultural activities which are primary attractions to visitors, and instill in our communities the right discipline and tourism orientation that will make the visits of tourists and travelers wholesome and eventful. Communal sanitation and medical facilities are essential as they assure tourists of safe sorties within the island. Religious events (we Catanduangenos being famous for that) are spectacles tourists will enjoy. Consolidating all these activities for tourism purposes is probably all what is needed to place us into the doorstep of the industry that we feel was destined for us.”

Ivanhoe Arcilla's tree planting brigade along the beach of the island.

Ivanhoe Arcilla’s tree planting brigade along the beach of the island.

What is clearly important is that both private and public sectors should close ranks.

An interisland vessel like MV Silangan Express 1 should get government support. Thus far, it is the cleanest and fastest jetboat which can transport tourists from the Bicol mainland in a span of only an hour and a half.

Its operator wrote to the tourism office about its existence and never got any reply.

What we clearly need is a tourism head who can harness both private and public efforts in a manner that will send good signals to the tourism sector.

Because in the end, not all the promotions made by visiting celebrities and famous TV personalities can make any difference if the domestic stakeholders (hotel owners, tour operators, transport sector, LGUs) are not properly mobilized for the common good.

But for now, it is time to give recognition to the unsung heroes of Catanduanes tourism.

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