The historic San Bernardino Strait

San Bernardino Strait with volcanic Mt. Bulusan in the background.

theLOOP map_bicol.gif The San Bernardino Strait or better known during the Spanish colonial era as the Embocadero de San Bernardino is a narrow waterway separating the islands of Luzon and Samar.

Eons ago: worldwide waterlevels were so low that the islands of Luzon and Samar were connected by a land bridge that made it possible for species to cross and disperse both ways. When the seas started to rise, these bridges disappeared. Now, there are species and subspecies found in both islands that are almost similar or related to each other.

Late 16th – early 19th centuries: The Spanish Galleons from Manila passed this strait on their way to Acapulco in Mexico loaded with the riches of the Orient. It is the last terra firma that the sailors see before negotiating the treacherous and often uncertain fate awaiting them while crossing the great Pacific Ocean.

Mid 18th – mid 19th centuries: Moro raiders frequented these passageways in their forays for human slaves for the international slave market in Batavia (now Java, Indonesia) and later Sulu when it rose to prominence as an international trading hub. As a consequence, several towns in the Visayas and Luzon, particularly Bicol, often suffered from their incursions. Churches, houses and buildings were torched, towns abandoned and the economy of these places plunged.

Word War II: San Bernardino Strait was one of the areas where intense naval fighting between the Americans and Japanese in 1945 occured.

30 December 08: I was on my fourth crossing aboard the Santa Clara, not a galleon but a roro ferry from Matnog in Sorsogon bound for Allen in Northern Samar pondering and looking back at these snippets of history. The sea is calm, the vessel is slowly riding the waves. The view of beautiful Mt. Bulusan getting smaller and smaller into the horizon as the coast of Allen slowly gets bigger and bigger.

I was also looking back at my own travel history. Back in 1992 or almost 16 years ago as a college student heading to Ormoc with a classmate when I first set foot in Bicol, saw the majestic Mt. Mayon and finally got a glimpse of the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

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