After five hours at sea and with my senses barraged with stunning seascapes off Ticao, I finally arrived in Masbate City from Pilar, Sorsogon. Its terra firma and its the first time that I’ve been here. What can I expect? Are there old churches or houses that I can visit? Colonial era fortifications and other tourist spots? With just nine hours before I leave for Cebu, I cannot really go beyond the city limits.
The island province is located between Bicol and the Visayan islands of Leyte, Cebu, Negros and Panay. It is nearer to Samar and it’s two main islands are Burias and Ticao with several islets strewn in its seas.
During the Spanish colonial era, it was conveniently in the eastern route of the Manila – Acapulco galleons and had been a supply area just before these trading vessels head out into the Pacific. At the height of the Muslim slave and piratical raidings, Burias and parts of Masbate became a base for these fishers of men where they launched periodic incursions in Bicol and the Visayas.
Even during Spanish times, the forests of this province have already been exploited. Among them as source of wood in the construction of the galleons. Logging has continued into modern times. Then as now, it has the same situation as Cebu: heavily deforested with precariously small patches of forests left.
Because of the wide expanse of cleared lands, ranching is widely practiced. Every year, sometime around April, Rodeo Masbateño is the main crowd drawer. There is another aspect that this province is known for: a notoriously dirty political atmosphere that it has one of the bloodiest come election season.
I was a bit disappointed, really. While asking at the tourism center at the provincial capitol, I was told that there are only two Spanish colonial era churches left: San Pascual and San Jacinto. Both are in the islands of Burias and Ticao respectively. The woman who attended to me didn’t know of any existing fortifications, even if its in bad condition. I have heard some accounts, though, that there are some caves in the island that have altars made by people who retreated into the interior when the slave raiders came ashore.
As for ancestral houses, there are only a handful of which, Villa Bayot, built in the 1880s is prominently located at the town center near the pier. Unfortunately, when I asked permission to look inside, I was told that the matriarch is not feeling well and can’t receive visitors. Like the old rich in other towns, they are also caretakers of Lenten images that have pilgrims’ following.
Tourist areas like beaches are present but these are beyond the city limits. With no other thing to do or visit, I spent some time sitting at the park. It’s a wide area near the capitol with tall trees and benches underneath. Just breezy and refreshing. Later in the afternoon, I killed time at an internet cafe before heading to the pier.
It’s already evening and I was aboard the Trans Asia passenger ship. For a tourist accommodation (airconditioned with comfy double decks but crowded, set inside a small area) the ticket is quite steep: just a few pesos short of P900. In a few hours, I will finally be home in Cebu.
Was the trip worth the extended travel time? Of course. As always, its an opportunity to discover new places and enrich one’s experiences.