The Marinduque Diaries:
Journey to the Heart of the Philippines

Originally posted on May 4, 2012

Maniwaya Island in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, beckons with its white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters

I LOVE Sta. Cruz, Marinduque! Not only is it because it’s the hometown of my husband Raff and the home of the famous Moriones Festival, but also because it’s an amazing place with super friendly people with bright, sunny smiles for everyone and super accommodating people who will always go out of their way to assist you and make you feel right at home. I experienced this in the several times that Raff and I have been home in Sta. Cruz. It was always during Holy Week, because that was just about the only time of the year when things would kinda slow down at work and, if we took a leave of absence on the three working days of Holy Week itself, we could have nine straight days for a vacation in Marinduque. It’s also the perfect time of the year to visit Marinduque since the Moriones Festival is on and we can mix business with pleasure and so some work while on vacation by covering the Moriones festivities, which take place in all six municipalities of the Southern Tagalog province (Boac, Torrijos, Buenavista, Mogpog, Gasan and, of course, Sta. Cruz). We also always “squeezed in” some food shoots of local delicacies and dishes while shuttling between the two houses of my brothers-in law, Kuya Junior and Kuya Floro Zulueta. Their houses are on the same street and walking distance, at that.

Dalahican Port in Lucena City is the gateway/nautical superhighway to the Southern Tagalog province of Marinduque

Raff wanted to go home to Marinduque again Holy Week this year, but we couldn’t work out a schedule, and the idea of joining the throngs of people in the ro-ros (roll-on, roll-off sea vessels) that should be expected at this time of the year wasn’t exactly inviting. All roads lead to Marinduque during Holy Week, and sometimes the crowd is simply too difficult to manage. We had brought our FX with us in the past, with Raff driving from Manila to Dalahican Port in Lucena City, then we would get the FX on the ro-ro and brave the 3- to 4-hour trip (depending on which port you’re heading for in Marinduque), and once we hit land, he would drive down to Barangay Lapu-Lapu, which is also fondly called Bitik by the locals.

Montenegro Lines’ M/V Reina Divinagracia

Anyway, Raff really wanted to go home to Marinduque this year, and when we missed the chance last Holy Week, he was kinda sad. So I said we could go at another time, not exactly during Holy Week, and maybe avoid the crowd. “How about the town fiesta?,” he asked. We took a look at the calendar, identified the date of the town fiesta(May 1 to 3), and checked if we could work out a short visit. There was no way we could be in Marinduque for the entire duration of the fiesta since it runs smack into the middle of a workweek. But if we could get there a few days earlier and leave on May 1, Labor Day, which fell on a Tuesday, sandwiching April 30, a Monday, in between the weekend and May 1… Lightbulb moment!

Now boarding…

“Will four days be OK with you?” I asked Raff, and when he said “Yes,” we started talking about logistics. We weren’t bringing the car with us this time. It wasn’t practical for such a short visit. We googled Zest Air for its Marinduque schedule and price. Too expensive for a short visit. It didn’t take a long discussion for both of us to agree to take the bus to Lucena, then the ro-ro(passengers only certainly cost a lot less than boarding on it with a car), then either a jeepney or UV Express ride from the port to Bitik.

Inside the M/V Reina Divinagracia ro-ro

We sounded off Kuya Junior, asked Raff’s nephew Glenn (Deligero) to work out a shoot schedule with Raff’s long-time friend and now a local chef Eddie Rey so we could incorporate a little work into our “long weekend” vacation (I’m a workaholic! I can’t help it!), and packed our bags.

Before I knew it, Raff and I were on our way to our nth journey to the heart of the Philippines – Marinduque, which is a heart-shaped island that sits right in the center of the Philippines. Excited, we both were, especially since the small island of Maniwaya just off the main island of Marinduque had been receiving a lot of positive publicity lately, with a Marinduqueño couple, Clarence and Esther Pernia, having just developed a serious, honest-to-goodness resort on Maniwaya. Since Raff’s elder sister Ate Rosie with funnyman husband Kuya Francis were also going home to Sta. Cruz for a visit with daughter Marivic Estrella and her family (husband Ferdie Estrella, also a native of Sta. Cruz; and kids Maja and Jamoi) at about the same time, the clan in Sta. Cruz excitedly arranged a swimming trip to Maniwaya for all of us.

I had been to Marinduque several times in the past, but little did I realize that I would be seeing Sta. Cruz in a totally different light this time around.

Approaching the beautiful Southern Tagalog island province of Marinduque…

 

DAY 1 – APRIL 28, 2012
Unlike in the past, when our trips to Marinduque would start after lunch to catch the 5:00 p.m. ro-ro schedule from Dalahican Port in Lucena City to Marinduque, this time the day began very early for us. By 5:20 a.m., Raff and I were already on board a tricycle that took us from our house in Cainta to the gate of our subdivision, where we then took a cab to the JAC Liner terminal in Kamias, Quezon City. There were several bus liners to choose from, but Raff picked JAC Liner because, he said, its buses were new. It’s also a Wi-Fi bus, so if I wanted to work (Yes, I brought work with me; I always do on trips so I could work just in case there suddenly are lull periods) or check the FB, I could at no extra cost. The P227.50 passenger’s fee you pay for the trip would already cover that.

The pinagong of Quezon

Well, the JAC Liner bus that we took wasn’t all that new, and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the Free Wi-Fi because I was still sleepy and thus spent most of the 4-hour ride snoozing, if not talking with Raff, catching snippets of the video playing on screen, or taking bites of the pinagong (sweetish bread that looks much like a monay in texture but with slits on top that make it look like a turtle’s shell) that we had bought from an ambulant vendor in Sariaya, Quezon. Groggy and sleepy people don’t make good writers, so I reserved that for the ro-ro trip later. Nonetheless, the Kamias-Dalahican trip was comfortable and the air-con kept me cool and happy.

Working on a few articles during the 3-hour ro-ro ride from Dalahican Port in Lucena to Balanacan Port in Mogpog, marinduque

Getting off at Dalahican Port in Lucena City at about 10:40 a.m., we headed straight for the ticketing booth of Montenegro Lines, whose M/V Reina Divinagracia was scheduled to leave at 12:00 noon. We were catching that trip, and we were right on schedule. Miss that trip and you’d have to wait till 4:00 p.m. for the next trip to Marinduque. M/V Reina Divinagracia’s route was Dalahican-to-Balanacan, a beautiful and busy port in Mogpog, Marinduque, which sits right next to Sta. Cruz, but we were ready for that. Transfers to Sta. Cruz were not a problem, since tricycles, jeeps and vans were always on stand-by at the port.

After paying P520 at the ticketing booth (P260 per person), we entered the passengers’ waiting area and were surprised to bump into Ate Rosie and company. We had thought that they were taking the night trip the night before, but as it turned out, we were aiming for the same 12:00 noon ro-ro trip. We had fun waiting together at the terminal, and calming down our growling tummies while waiting. The problem was that there were only about five food booths at the terminal, and two of them were selling doughnuts! We opted for the dim sum rice toppings, but, that early, there was no more rice to go with the Japanese siomai Raff and I ordered. If only there were more food booths selling rice meals, then the passengers – all captured market already – would have enough real food to keep them nourished while waiting for their trip…

No, this is not Palawan; this is proudly Marinduque!

Before long, we all headed towards M/V Reina Divinagracia, whose vehicle area could fit 30 cars, and climbed the stairs towards the passengers’ seating area. What’s good about M/V Reina Divinagracia was that it had a spacious air-conditioned seating area for passengers on the upper deck, so everyone could sit comfortably throughout the 3-hour trip. Our group occupied two long, cushioned rows. The front row even had a fixed table in front of it, so I was able to work on a few articles for FLAVORS Magazine while on board the sea vessel, and the only reason I had to stop was that the battery of my laptop was running low. Occasionally, we would leave the air-conditioned seating area and get out on deck to catch a better view of the calm seas and the occasional treat of schools of flying fish jumping out of the water and diving back in again in very graceful fashion. Here, you also feel the cool wind brushing against your cheeks and breathe in fresh air so unlike the polluted air that you breathe in Metro Manila, so some of the passengers really opted to sit on the benches outside.

Picturesque Balanacan Port in Mogpog, Marinduque, crowned by a big statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The view upon the approach to the Balanacan Port in Mogpog, Marinduque, was simply amazing. The mountain ranges came closer and closer until they became lush islands that stared you straight in the face. That they had white-sand shores is undeniable. The approach to the pier itself was another sight to behold, with a giant statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary serving as its focal point. Beautiful! In the past, I always arrived in Marinduque during the night, when it was dark, so I had never seen the islands of Marinduque during the day. This time, I did, and I was breathless. How could some people not know where Marinduque was, and how could they have missed the chance to see the beauty within, when the island province was simply so beautiful?

The thing about commuting to the province, though, is that you’d have to be on your toes at all times and be alert and resilient. The moment the sea vessel docks at the pier, you’d have to be downstairs, and when the metal rail is lowered, you’d have to make your way quickly to the UV Express vans waiting in front so you can get a good seat for the long ride to the municipality of your destination. In our case, it was Sta. Cruz, and the passenger’s fee should be exactly P80 per person for the 1-hour ride.

Tininta and Tinigang na Sapsap

The van went around Sta. Cruz and dropped off its passengers one by one right at their doorstep. As for us, we got off right in front of Kuya Junior’s house, after which the van proceeded to drop off Ate Rosie and Kuya Francis at Kuya Floro’s house and Marivic and her family in her in-laws’ place. After an initial exchange of pleasantries, our food trip began with a merienda of Tininta (suman made from violet glutinous rice) with sampililok (a syrupy version of panutsa or coconut sugar cooked in gata or coconut milk). In Marinduque, they also have the regular glutinous rice suman, but the tininta is uniquely its own, and it’s something I missed about Marinduqueño food all the time I’ve been in Manila.

Then it was time to walk over to Kuya Floro’s house, where we all had early dinner in the backyard, al fresco style. I devoured the fresh Tinigang na Sapsap, which were freshly caught small sapsap fishes cooked pinangat style. (Pinangat can be cooked with calamansi juice, tomatoes, vinegar or tamarind; and the dish keeps for a long time.) Paired with hot, steaming rice, I didn’t need anything else.
The day ended early and everyone hit the bed before 10:00 p.m., as we were all tired. It was the first time in months that I had gone to bed that early, and I was pleasantly amused.

The island paradise of Maniwaya in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque… This is right in front of the resort called Residencia de Palo Maria.

DAY 2 – APRIL 29, 2012
The day began early again, as we were off to Maniwaya Island for a fun day at the beach. Majority of the group was staying overnight at the island, in the new resort recently opened by the Pernia couple, but some of us were coming back to the main island after lunch. Raff and I were gonna come back with Kuya Junior after lunch so we could maximize our short stay in Marinduque.

Stopping by the Palad sandbar for some photos. The islet appears during low tide and slowly disappears when high tide comes.

By 6:20 a.m., we all met up at the Buyabod Port (a small port in Sta. Cruz), which was the jumpoff point to Maniwaya by way of boat rides. I had been to Maniwaya before, but there were no resorts yet back then and therefore no facilities like showers, toilets and places to stay if you wanted to stay overnight to catch the beautiful sunrise, but even then it was beautiful in its simplicity and the white-sand beaches already reminded you of Boracay when it was still relatively untouched.

Motorized boats like this take guests from the main island of Sta. Cruz to Maniwaya Island

On the boat, I was wondering – and hoping – that all that noise about Maniwaya over the Internet in recent months wasn’t just all hype. I had grown to love Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, as my own, and I wanted, with all my heart, to see it finally “bloom.” But I had to wait for about an hour more to be amazed by what had become of Maniwaya. First, we were stopping by Palad, a huge sandbar that stood about 1 kilometer Southeast of Maniwaya. Like any other sandbar, this “islet” appears right in the middle of the sea during low tide, and you can really get off the boat and explore its white-sand surface on foot, but when it’s high tide, it disappears. We were aiming to hit the sandbar during low tide so we could have some pictures taken, so we left the pier early. But when we got there, the tide was already coming in, and there the sandbar was – already covered with water. But not quite. The water wasn’t even knee deep yet, so we all rushed down the boat like excited children, felt the sand beneath our feet and posed for pictures while Glenn took pictures of everyone from the edge of the boat. It was my first time to stand tall on a sandbar and, to my surprise, it was Raff’s first time, too! He had known about Palad since he was a child, but they never actually visited it at all!

Residencia de Palo Maria’s swimming pool with fountain spurts

After Palad, I had a pretty cool idea that Maniwaya was going to turn out to be just as awesome, if not more. If the view alone, during the boat trip, would be the gauge, there should be no question about that. Clear blue-green waters that allow you to see the bottom, the cumulus clouds set against a clear blue sky, the islands with their white-sand beaches in front and lush greens behind… It was picture perfect, so perfect it was like a painting unfolding right before my very eyes.

The unique swing of Residencia de Palo Maria

Maniwaya did not disappoint. Long stretches of white-sand beaches welcomed us, and a simple but cozy resort, Residencia de Palo Maria (Maniwaya Hotel and Beach Resort), had made the island look and feel like you’re in Boracay before it was commercialized.

The couple behind Residencia de Palo Maria — Clarence and Esther Pernia

It had a pool with fountain spurts on both sides as the focal point of the resort, and built around it were 16 Nipa Huts, Duplex Rooms and Family Room where guests can check in and stay overnight. The Kubos, or Nipa Huts, which can accommodate a maximum of three persons, cost a reasonable P1,500. The Duplex Rooms, good for five guests, go for P2,000; while the one and only Family Room, which fits seven people, can be reserved for P2,500. For overflow guests who only needed a place to sleep, the resort also offered Tent Rooms, good for two persons, for P200. Day guests who simply want to swim in the pool and use the beach are also welcome for a minimal fee of P100 (pool and beach use) and P50 (beach use only) per head.

Duplex rooms at the resort

Summer being peak season, Residencia de Palo Maria was fully booked when we visited. Since April 30 also happened to be the Grand Alumni Homecoming of Sta. Cruz Institute (SCI), one of the most prominent schools in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, a lot of Marinduqueños had come home, and part of their agenda was a visit to the much publicized resort in Maniwaya. And personally attending to their needs and making sure they felt comfortable were the owners, Clarence and Esther Pernia. Clarence had inherited the Maniwaya property from his parents, and his original plan was just to develop a small resort for private use. He started construction on it last year and was proceeding slowly. But then the publicity about Maniwaya came about, and the Mayor’s Office of Sta. Cruz urged him to open his place to the public. Having the backing of the local government in his undertaking, especially since he served as vice president of the Provincial Tourism Council and of the Sta. Cruz Tourism Office, Clarence finally opened the resort on April 1 this year, and the reception was overwhelming.

Jetski and banana boat in, no, not Boracay, but Residencia de Palo Maria on Maniwaya Island, Sta. Cruz, Marinduque

Despite its size, Residencia de Palo Maria had everything that beach-goers would ever look for, including jetskis, banana boats, kayaks, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), and facilities for wakeboarding and scuba diving. He also invested on a generator to assure 24-hour electrical supply on the island.

Pilipit

One of the things that local Marinduqueño guests like about Residencia de Palo Maria is that the resort allows guests to bring in their own food, while those who want convenience during their stay can also just order from the menu, which consists of mostly grills and seafoods. If you book early and order in advance, you can even order a whole lechon (roasted pig) for your group!

Manaklang Pinatuyo sa Sprite cooked by Glenn Deligero

As for us, we had brought in our own food, mostly put together by Raff’s niece Joy Deligero. We had Manaklang Pinatuyo sa Sprite (*manakla is a small crustacean that’s a cross between a shrimp and a mini lobster, with just one claw – really interesting!), Pata Tim, and a whole lot more, including a really crisp and chewy Pilipit that kind of reminds you of soft pretzels, donuts and, yes, pilipit, too. Before joining us for lunch, Glenn, Joy’s ever supportive husband, went to work first. As a meat inspector and OIC of the Municipal Slaughterhouse of Sta. Cruz, he first inspected the meat in the resort to make sure it’s of good quality and is being handled well. He was satisfied with what he saw.

Meat inspector and OIC of the Municipal Slaughterhouse of Sta. Cruz Glenn Deligero cooked Manaklang Pinatuyo sa Sprite

While majority of the group stayed for the night, some of us, including Kuya Junior, Raff and me, left the island by early afternoon to pursue yet other adventures on the mainland of Sta. Cruz.

DAY 3 – APRIL 30, 2012
Another bright and early morning for Raff and me, as we had planned to visit the market for some fresh ingredients, kakanin and pasalubong for my sisters back in Manila. I love the public market of Sta. Cruz. Every time I visit, a trip to the market would always be part of the itinerary because it’s a treasure trove of what Marinduque has to offer.

Wet market finds, clockwise from top left: manakla, paya, punaw and bigoy.

First stop was the wet market’s fish area. While most of the stalls were selling only galunggong (but they were very fresh!), upon closer scrutiny, we found some vendors selling bigoy (red-eyed small crabs), punaw (big clams with very tender meat), tapalang (bigger clams with, Raff says, tougher meat), paya (local lobsters), dulong (fish that’s smaller than dilis) and also manakla. Last time I was here, the market had giant squid sold in portions on a per kilogram basis. It’s the kind that’s exported, and with the right technique of stripping off the outer skin, it actually has very tender meat, and Raff’s Kuya Floro usually cuts it into strips, coats it with flour, dips it in beaten egg, rolls it in Japanese breadcrumbs, and deep-fries it until golden. But there’s none this time.

We bought some punaw and dulong to take home and cook with Kuya Junior for a food shoot we “coerced” him to do this morning before lunch. We also stopped by the dry goods section, working our way into the stall of Ka Charing for her super good fresh miki noodles. I love the miki of Marinduque and cannot go home to Manila without it. It’s fresh, it smells good, it has good texture and it’s flavorful by itself. All you need to do when you bring it home is to spread the miki noodles out to let them dry, and, if you refrigerate them, they can last you for a good week or so. Kuya Junior says it’s not advisable to dry them under direct sunlight because they turn really brittle. After you’ve tried Marinduqueño miki noodles, I swear you’ll have a difficult time appreciating the fresh noodles you buy in the supermarket, much less the dry canton and miki noodles that you used to buy.

Buchi

Next was a quick stop at the peanut section. Now here’s another Marinduqueño delicacy that you simply must not miss. The peanuts are small but very tasty. They’re sold raw or boiled. We usually buy the boiled ones, which the vendors still measure per ganta and not by weight, and when we get to the house, we spread out the boiled peanuts just like we do the miki noodles and allow them to air-dry. The result is chewy boiled peanuts that’s pure pleasure to munch on. Once you start, it’ll be difficult to stop…

Panganan

Last stop was the kakanin area, where we bought sinaludsod (rice flour pancake) for P10 per pair, buchi (fried, with monggo filling) at P10 per pack of five pieces, panganan (fried uraro fingers) at P40 per pack, and bibingkang kanin at P5 per slice. Raff, a certified kakanin monster, was pretty happy with our haul.

Punaw Soup with Talbos ng Kamote prepared by Kuya Junior Zulueta

So, off we went on a tricycle ride back to Kuya Junior’s place. Not too long after, we started cooking for our mini photo shoot. He made Sinaing na Dulong, Punaw Soup with Talbos ng Kamote, and Stir-fried Pansit Miki, which Raff and I styled and shot for FLAVORS Magazine. (*If you want the recipes, you’ll find them in a future issue of FLAVORS Magazine. Cheers!)

Kuya Junior Zulueta

After our shoot in the backyard, we had lunch and rested for a while. Then we walked over to Kuya Floro’s house for a nice chat with Kuya Floro and Ate Lita, and Ate Rosie and Kuya Francis, while waiting for Glenn to pick us up for yet another shoot – this time with a local chef and Raff’s long-time friend Chef Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Rey, whom he had not seen for a long time. Chef Eddie has an identical twin brother, Edgar, who’s now a pastor in his church. As for Chef Eddie, he’s made it good in the food business. He runs his own private catering company in Sta. Cruz, and is usually called upon by Sta. Cruz Mayor Percival Morales to cater for the municipal government whenever he had important guests over. Chef Eddie, who formerly worked for a restaurant in Tomas Morato-Quezon City and then a destination dining place in Antipolo, Rizal, has thus cooked for such luminaries as Senator Panfilo Lacson and the late General and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Gourmet creations of Chef Eddie Rey, clockwise from top left: Baked Punaw, Manakla, Ginisang Bagomon and Bigoy with Garlic

Glenn drove us to Chef Eddie’s place in Matalaba, which turned out to be a smaller version of a coconut plantation with a cool and hip orange house in the middle. We passed by a quiet river on our way to his place, and the river was so serene and beautiful that we thought it could be developed into a tourist attraction much like what they have in Loboc River in Bohol: dining on a floating restaurant that cruises along the river!

Anyway, going back to our food shoot with Chef Eddie for FLAVORS Magazine, he made seven dishes using local seafood: Baked Punaw (inspired by Baked Tahong and Baked Scallops but using local punaw), Hipong Ilog with Coconut Milk and Pakô Fern, Manakla in Butter and Garlic, Crispy Manakla (inspired by Crispy Shrimps, complete with shell), Ginisang Bagomon (a type of snail), Bigoy with Garlic, and Kuray in Butter and Garlic (*kuray is another type of crab found in the mangroves).

Chef Eddie Rey

Chef Eddie sourced his hipong ilog (river shrimps) from a river up in the mountains and really took time and effort to prepare the dishes for our shoot and entertain us, as well. We met his wife, Mercedita Romasanta Rey, who works in the Office of the Municipal Agriculturist, and their grown-up kids John Cyrille and John Edward. He served Pansit Miki and Bibingkang Kanin for merienda, and accompanied it with fresh buko juice from his own backyard. Marinduqueños call coconut mura, and nothing could be fresher than the tubig ng mura that Chef Eddie served us that afternoon.

He sent us home with plastic bags full of what we shot that afternoon, which we shared with Kuya Junior, Ate Divina and the other members of their household over dinner that evening. While we were at Chef Eddie’s place, Kuya Junior had gone to pick up some binislad na bisugo (dried bisugo fish) which he had a suki specially made for him. He was sending it home with us the next morning, and cooked a few pieces for dinner that evening for us to try and also to make sure that it wasn’t too salty for our taste. Freshly dried, with instructions not to make them too salty, the binislad na bisugo was just perfect! Ah, how can you not love Marinduque? It’s teeming with fresh seafood that I absolutely love.

Fresh uraro

Also that afternoon, Raff’s niece Jinky Ricamata (Joy’s elder sister who’s also based in Manila but came home for a few days’ visit to attend the SCI Grand Alumni Homecoming) personally brought over some fresh uraro(arrowroot) that

Rejano’s Arrowroot Cookies

I requested for. It’s a rootcrop grown in Marinduque that’s processed into uraro flour and made into the province’s famous uraro cookies. I had tasted boiled fresh uraro in one of my previous visits, and it tasted like a whole chunk of corn kernels that I never quite forgot it. Ate Lita had called Mita Rejano Reyes of the famous Rejano’s Arrowroot Cookies to ask if she had fresh uraro that we could buy, and she insisted on sending some over – free of charge. Jinky had also brought over some boxes of Rejano’s Arrowroot Cookies, also courtesy of Ms. Mita. It’s the best arrowroot cookies in Marinduque, and it’s proudly made in Sta. Cruz. I say it’s the best because it tastes really good, especially when it’s freshly baked, and Ms. Mita simply doesn’t stop innovating. Aside from the classic Arrowroot Cookies, she has come up with fortified versions, such as Malunggay and Pinipig flavors, and made sugar-free versions available to those who watch their sugar intake. She has also transformed the old triangular tube shape of the arrowroot cookies into more exciting shapes like heart, star, flower and swirled square, as well as developed more attractive packaging designs for the cookies to make them world-class. Rejano’s Bakery is also just about the only place in town where I found freshly cooked and crispy sugar-free banana chips.

That night, before hitting the bed, Raff and Kuya Junior packed our fresh miki noodles, bunches of suman with sampililok, peanuts, panganan, uraro cookies, fresh uraro and bibingkang kanin into a box, then we packed our own bags and got ready for the long trip back home the following day. We walked over to Kuya Floro’s place, said good-bye and till next time to everyone, and called it a day.

Gourmet delights from Marinduque, clockwise from top left: fresh miki, suman with sampililok, boiled peanuts, and binislad na bisugo in cooked form

DAY 4 – MAY 1, 2012
Raff and I had decided to take the 7:15 a.m. Starhorse ro-ro bound for Lucena at the Buyabod Port in Sta. Cruz instead of the 8:00 a.m. Montenegro ro-ro at the Balanacan Port in Mogpog, since Buyabod was closer to home. It was just a few minutes’ ride from Kuya Junior’s place in Bitik, although the ro-ro trip to Lucena would take four hours, while Balanacan was a good hour’s ride from Bitik, although the ro-ro trip would take a shorter three hours since it was closer to Lucena. In the end, both ro-ros would arrive at Dalahican Port in Lucena just a few minutes’ apart, and Buyabod would be more convenient.

Buyabod Port in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque

Kuya Junior drove us to Buyabod Port, where we arrived with plenty of time to spare. Raff headed straight for the ticketing booth for our tickets (P350 per person) although there was not much of a queue.

Starhorse Lines’ M/V Virgen de Peñafrancia V

After bidding adieu, Raff and I boarded Starhorse Lines’ M/V Virgen de Peñafrancia V and found ourselves a comfortable place in the air-conditioned passengers’ area. There weren’t too many passengers, so we had a whole row of cushioned seats all to ourselves. We waited for the ro-ro to set sail, taking pictures of the port and of fishermen making their way back to shore (or port!), then Raff reclined his seat and settled back to watch the movie playing up front. I took advantage of the opportunity to work again on a few articles on my laptop and then, when the battery was low, shut it down and joined Raff in watching the movie. The third and last movie was House Husband starring Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo, but it was cut short when M/V Virgen de Peñafrancia arrived in Lucena, so we didn’t finish it. Made us wish the DVD operator had played House Husband earlier than the Chinese martial arts movie that came second.

Beautiful scene from aboard M/V Virgen de Peñafrancia V

Immediately upon disembarking, we headed for the JAC Liner bus bound for Kamias and settled back for the 4-hour ride back home. Although it was lunchtime, there was no opportunity to sit down for a leisurely lunch, as the buses were leaving. It did stop over at a local carinderia before entering Sariaya, Quezon, though, but we decided to reserve the real meal for when we got home to Manila. Ambulant vendors went up the bus a few times to sell their wares, and we bought pinagong, which was good and tided us over, until we finally got to Kamias and back home to reality.

We reached home tired but extremely happy and satisfied. Our four-day trip to Marinduque, albeit short, was truly worth it, and I came home dreaming big dreams for the hometown of my husband. I had loved Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, before, but I love it even more now. And I see so much potential for it as a tourism destination this time around. It’s true what they had been saying about the youthful Congressman Allan Velasco of Marinduque whom I had never met. He had certainly done a lot for the province that he represents. He had discovered new places of interest and is now in the process of developing them, including underground rivers, the island of Maniwaya and enchanted caves. Most of all, he inspires the people of Marinduque, breathing new life and hope into them, most of whom are now dreaming their own big dreams for their hometown.

Truly, Marinduque, the heart of the Philippines, is beating, pulsating with life!

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