DAY 1, TABLAS ISLAND
I was booked on the early afternoon flight to Romblon together with the rest of the editorial group and arrived at 2:30pm. Romblon congressman Eleandro Madrona’s staff were already waiting for us. We drive past a rugged coastline fringed with towering coconut trees. The road around Tablas is generally smooth and easy, with some parts still undergoing construction.
On this four-day trip, we are to scour Romblon's two islands, Tablas and Romblon, in search for that tourist ideal —beautiful, unspoilt, sandy beaches.
Halfway through our drive we stop by the Madrona Beach Resort, owned by the congressman. Here I take my solitary afternoon walk on flat pebbles, trying to appreciate the grey weather. There is only one structure that held its strength on the ground – a wide hut of sturdy bamboo flooring where I sit to read a book.
We are to spend the night in the congressman’s guest rooms in his ancestral home further down the road in the town of Bachawan. Dinner is simple and homey: soup and fish. Then we walk out looking for a convenience store but there seems to be no life after dark here. At about 7pm in the evening the town is dead; and to ease the loneliness of the atmosphere, we take a slow stroll by the breakwater, which has somehow been converted into a mini-boulevard lit up by lamp posts. We chat until we are ready for an early bedtime.
DAY 2, ROMBLON ISLAND
At dawn, we drive about 15 kilometers to get to the San Agustin port just in time for the ferryboat that will take us across to the next island, also called Romblon, the capital. For P100 (about US $2) for about an hour's trip, MV Maria Querubin sails us to this quiet getaway. From the deck, we see traces of the historical Spanish town center and its bare landmarks, most famous of which is a centuries-old cathedral with a belfry this town is proud of.
We arrive on the island just in time for breakfast. I find mine at the Romblon Deli and Deli Island Treasures, which is just a few steps away from the port. I sit on the terrace as though I am in one of those outdoor cafes in a small, unknown town in the French Riviera. The homemade bread is excellent. This is continental breakfast with jam and tea served with milk in ceramic cups for only P75 (about US$2). Tea with milk is not Filipino fare, but the owner of this deli is British. The menu also includes spaghetti, fish, and calamares at an average price of P190. Tel +63939 221 0446, visit Romblon Deli and Deli Island Treasures.
After breakfast, we head to Tiamban Beach Resort, set in a lush outgrowth of pandan trees. It has a small cove that stretches to some 50 meters and is ideal for small picnics or to just laze about in privacy. The beach has creamy beige sand, gradually sloping seabed, and clear waters. The atmosphere is lazy, so lazy that even the dogs would rather sit by your feet while you read a book at a washed-out picnic table under the wide awning of a Talisay tree. Call Tiamban Beach Resort at tel +632 723 6710.
Our next stop takes us to Talipasak Beach, a favorite of foreign tourists. It is only about a kilometer long and rounded off like a cove, has creamy colored sand and clean, clear waters. From the beach you have a good view of Tablas Island in the horizon. There is a marine sanctuary at one end of the beach, home to untouched reefs, pelagics and diverse marine species. To get to Talipasak Beach from the port in Romblon town, hire a cab for P150, one way, to take you 15 kilometers west of the main road of Romblon Island, from where you take a short walk down a zigzag path to Talipasak Beach. Talipasak is certainly one beach for my short-list of unspoilt beaches.
If you like Talipasak you can book a stay at San Pedro Beach Resort, which has native-style cottages overlooking the beach. One could sit and dine here under a trellis of vines or find a secluded spot to enjoy the lush garden with its colorful magenta bougainvilleas and red orange hibiscus. A room here costs P800 a night. Some divers stay at the resort, but bring their own equipment or rent from a nearby resort. To book, call owner Mina Mingoa, tel +63928 273 0516 or email [email protected]
Close by to the resort is a local bar known to locals as Totoy, the owner’s name, where foreigners, mostly Swiss, love to hang out for some rhum and a buffet of local Filipino dishes every second Friday of the month. Robert Abdon, whom everyone calls Totoy, runs the place. He also sells plastic tubes of instant coffee, dried noodles, and other convenience food and essentials, and makes and sells bamboo bracelets. Bob Marley songs play in the background. Adorning the bar is a sculpture of an indigenous god in a Buddhist pose.
Sadly, we are not staying the night in Talipasak. Our guides have made arrangements for us to stay the night at the Punta Corazon Resort, which has hillside cottages with air-conditioning and television (room rates are from P1,200 a night). The room I am staying in has a balcony overlooking the placid sea and in the distance, other smaller and uninhabited islands. It has been raining with little let up since we arrived and it puts us in the mood to just sit and listen to jazz music. I ask for a masseuse to help me nap and relax but no one came because of the weather. We could not kayak and there is obviously so little time to dive. Nightfall comes easily and the air of peace immediately settles on the horizon. Tel +63908 471 8660, visit Punta Corazon Resort.
DAY 3, COBRADOR ISLAND
I miss breakfast of rice porridge my companions had in one of the food stalls, while I wait for the outrigger that will take us to Cobrador Island, located north of Romblon. There is sign of hope that the sun will come out, but only briefly for today. The captain of the boat is Raul Mortel, a crewmember of the congressman's yacht, and "chief of the island", which is celebrating its traditional feast of Flores de Mayo, usually celebrated at the end of May. Mortel, who shuttles passengers twice a day, is friendly and accommodating and knows Romblon like the back of his hand.
From Romblon Island’s port, we reach Cobrador Island in less than 45 minutes. The shore appears as idyllic as any other in the archipelago, with a stretch of small colorful fishermen’s outriggers docked on the beach and brown-skinned children playing in the water. The beach coves are beautiful, covered by fine white sand and crushed corals. There are no lodges here so it is a place for a good day-out, swimming and snorkeling.
Cobrador is also known for its native atis fruit they call ‘sweet apple’, orange and oblong-shaped watermelons, and juicy, sweet pineapples. During our coverage, nearly all of Cobrador’s 1,000 people are gathered here in Sitio Cabugaan’s town plaza – teenage boys playing basketball for a championship, teenaged girls selling the local halo-halo dessert and the local councilors cooking festive dishes over firewood.
We taste their one-of-a-kind iiswi shellfish, and jackfruit in coconut sauce and extra spicy banana hearts at a picnic table under a tree, fanned by a lovely breeze blowing in from the sea.
After our meal, we started walking in the afternoon heat. From Sitio Cabugan’s beach, we take a two-kilometer hike towards the southern direction, down a dusty road past the elementary school, further on past an abandoned resort, up the concrete steps to a cemetery on a hill — where we come across an old woman wearing a cowboy bandana, dark shades, and a cigar pressed between her lips — and past more thatched shacks, some of them beaten from last year’s typhoon. We must have gone past two barangays before we finally reach Sitio Maracay-racay, where a modest, rustic bamboo house surrounded by a Bermuda grass lawn and tropical plants greeted us.
The house overlooks a beautiful fine white- sand beach with clean, clear, waters. Our holy grail is found! There and then, we decided this is the place to stay the night.
We ask the caretaker, an elderly woman by the name of Azon, if we can stay the night. I know it’s cheeky, but it’s worth a try. Luckily, she says we are welcome to stay; we are guests of the captain after all. The owner of the house is on holiday in France with his wife and has appointed the captain as overseer.
The house is made of bamboo with cogon roof. Azon leads us up the thick bamboo steps to a room standing on a dais of chiseled rocks. There is a single bed with a mosquito netting draped from the ceiling. We hear the sound of the rolling waves. Azon makes us feel at home. She puts frangipani flowers in the spacious bathroom by a bamboo grove and tealite candles in the bedroom. There is no electricity here and the power generator goes off after dinner so the candles will come in handy. Tonight all three of us will sleep in one room, but no one minds this. The prospect of a dip in the nearby sea and a nap far outweighs everything else. Lunch is tinned tuna and some vegetables, the only food available at the nearest store. All this is rather impromptu but we did arrive without notice.
The star of this trip is the beach, with sand as fine and white as that of the famous Boracay Island. The seabed has rocky parts, but slopes gradually, ideal for swimming lazily and for kids to play in the shallows, close to the shore. The water is gin-clear. From here, you can hire a boat to take you to nearby uninhabited Tacut islet, home to Tacut Reef, a marine sanctuary and an excellent diving spot. Out here in sleepy Romblon, you get the privacy and local welcome you don’t get in more developed destinations.
We take our nap in the gazebo by the beachfront, the household dog sleeping with us. I can smell the salty sea air and hear the waves and the wind, blowing fiercely. The clouds indicate that it would rain tonight. But who cares? We’ve found our paradise of a beach and our little private heaven in Romblon.
PAL Express flies three times a week from Manila to Tablas, one of the three major islands of Romblon province. Visit PAL Express. Best time to visit is from August to January. Check out the Ati- atihan parade, the local mardi-gras that takes place on the second Friday of January. To inquire about tours and general travel help, contact the Romblon Tourism office, tel +63926 718 8286, visit Romblon. For more information on our perfect beach In Maracay- racay and requests to stay the night in the house mentioned in our story, contact Congressman Madrona’s office, tel +632 931 5001 loc. 7684. The beach is open to the public.
All information contained in this article are from Romblon’s tourism office, tour guide Joey Morada, and InFlight Traveller’s research team and archives. Our thanks to Congressman Madrona for his help in InFlight Traveller’s editorial coverage of Romblon province and to his staff for their assistance.
Originally published in InFlight Traveller August to September 2009. Updated March 2016