My wife's family originated from Bato, Catanduanes (just a short ride from Virac) and she is considered a "mestiza" because she does have Spanish blood, originating from colonial times in the Philippines. I have visited the town of Bato several times, and they always bring me to this amazing church which always seems to be under some kind of renovation when I visit. But there is no denying the amazing construction/architecture- being the only remaining structure of its kind in the entire island.
It has withstood the terrible typhoons of the islands, not to mention World War II. It was able to retain its old glory of massive structure of mortar and coral stones.
Construction took 53 years (1830 to 1883) to build it, going under six different parish administrators.
Catanduanes is also known as an Eco-Adventure Paradise and at Puraran Beach, you will find one of the top surfing locations in the world!
You will just find the basics here - no major 5 star hotels, just huts ... and the waves! Puraran beach is considered the surfing capital of Catanduanes, also internationally known as "Majestic" - waves with its awesome long-barrel-type surf.
Offshore waves are best during the months of August to September, but this is also one of the wettest parts of the country beaing on the east side. Best time to visit the island would be from April to June however for less rain. November to January is just too much rain and maybe even those bad typhoons!
My father-in-law would let me ride on his motorbike (as passenger clinging to him) as he sped away on the asphalt roads from bato to the isalnd's capital, Virac.
He enjoyed buying ice cream for me at a local favourite store and then we would buy blue marlin fish along the way (roadside sales). the ride was fun and refreshing.
Virac started in pre-Spanish times when tribal chieftain Lumibao, scion of Datu Dumaguil who came to the Philippines with the 10 Bornean datus and his wife Milbigan settled near Vidak spring and founded the first civilized settlement with a score of servant followers and their wives. Then the Spaniards came and Catholicism is embraced by 98% of the people and they have very nice Catholic festivals where families parade their patron saints on the roads.
Visit the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Virac where and marvel at itsstained glass windows.
Nowadays, we just ride the plane when we go to Catanduanes. Travel time from Manila to Catanduanes is one hour and 15 minutes with domestic route and Asian Spirit has direct flights daily. The airport at the capital, Virac., is very small but also very efficient. You may see some Westerners with surfing boards during the nice months.
But when my wife and I were dating, we did the bus ride from Manila which was a long 12 hour ride - airconditioned bus of course! You can take the bus in Cubao or Pasay, Metro Manila terminals and jump off at Tabaco Port. Philtranco Bus covers the 580 kms from Manila to Tabaco Port. TAWTRASCO offers its roll-on-roll-off service to its couch passengers in the ferry (Bus station is in front of Ali Mall, Cubao)
Once in Tabaco Point you have three ferries to choose from to get yourself to Catanduanes.
Ride either MV Eugenia, Star Ferry, or MV Regina Shipping Lines. The ferries are small and some people are scared of them, but we braved it and I did not feel seasick at all and the weather was good. Travel time is 3 to 3 ½ hours for MV Eugenia or Star Ferry, which dock straight at Virac Seaport.
MV Regina takes only 2 ½ hours to reach San Andres Seaport on Catanduanes from Tobacco Port and just get to the capital town of Virac via passenger jeepneys or tricycles for rent.
The beauty of the island is so untamed, and so be very careful when hiking into the mountains. I am fortunate that my wife knows the area and so, she brought me to hike into one of the waterfalls. When we reached it, it loked so nice and calm and so refreshing, so I did go in for a swim at the nice pool (maybe about 15 feet deep? or more?) underneath the waterfalls.
So, I swam for about 30 minutes with my wife's lady cousin and my wife decided to just stay at the side...then my wife's cousin and I went out of the pool and into an adjacent knee-deep wash and then all of a sudden we heard a sound ....the waterfall became murky and water was rising up fast from our knees ( a rainshower earlier in the day had accumulated up in the mountain and now the water was cascading down!)...I tried to move and walk onver the water but the pressure was high and then some hikers lent us a hand and we were able to get out...thank God! The hikers also turned out to be distant relatives of my wife, and we were lucky we were not swimming underneath the waterfalls at the time.
I was told to be careful and the elders said it was because the "enchanted ladies" of the mountain probably wanted to take my life...but then they changed their mind for some reason, hehehe...well, here I am now saving lives in my chosen profession...
My Father-in-Law was an official at the governement office which made sure that the natural resources of Catanduanes Island are preserved...true enough, the island is still very very wild with such awesome untouched beaches, rarely seen by Westerners.
You will also see a lot of fish, including blue marlins being sold on the road. It is nice to just buy off the road and then cook it at home...
The abaca and lasa plants that can be found all around the island has become a major commodity for the islanders - making abaca fiber bags, lamps, utility boxes, handmade paper, and so many other gift ideas called “pasalubong” and souvenirs.
The original abaca fiber, commonly called “pinukpok,” created and woven by the locals of Baras, Catanduanes, has also become known internationally in fashion and furniture.
Weather can be very bad in Catanduanes because it is the the first land group of the Philippine archipelago to "kiss" the Pacific Ocean, making it directly open to the path of tropical cyclones! For this reason, the Catanduanes Island has been termed, “The Land of the Howling Winds.”
I once visited and I forgot which motnh it was and it rained so hard that the bridge going from the town of Bato to the airport collapsed and we had to ride a fisherman's boat to get tot he airport...that was wild (year 1995?)...But now, they have changed that wooden bridge to a more formidable stronger metal bridge.
The best time to visit Catanduanes is from the months of March to August - dry. Coolest and most rain from October to the early part of January, hottest from March to May.