Sunday, July 03, 2011

From a foreign tourist to the people of Claveria...

From the hatchery we continued up the beach road to Claveria’s lagoon. After the amazing underwater views we witnessed the day before, we were stoked to continue our exploration under the waves.

Every time we went out through the lagoon channel we always saw things new and interesting; and just knowing that no one else scuba dives the area made it all the more exciting. I'll bet that we are probably the first white men to ever lay eyes on the undersea stuff, and I say that for the privilege that it is.

The attendant told us that we couldn’t have pavilion 9, the one we rented the day before, because a seminar on tourism was being held in pavilion 10. So, we wouldn’t be able to use the karaoke they said. We argued for pavilion 9, telling them we were HAPPY to let them TAKE the blasted karaoke machine from 9 to one of the far pavilions that “needed” one. (To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield: Take my karaoke, PLEASE!)

All the pavilions are set up with those horrible things, each one set at high volume so that EVERYONE within a quarter mile can “enjoy.” We were thankful for the presence of the seminar because it shut down all the karaoke machines within two pavilions of it. Ahhhh. Blessed relief as far as we were concerned. With that in mind, we practically insisted that they put us in pavilion 9, right next to the seminar, the closer to it the better. Our final pleading point of argument: we promised that we’d be quiet as church mice.

Its stuff like full volume karaoke in the most unlikely places (like the natural setting of the Claveria lagoon park), not to mention inappropriate (profane) hip-hop “music” playing over loudspeakers (emphasis on LOUD) in malls and theaters all over the country, that has put me in the habit of carrying around two sets of earplugs. For not only is the karaoke singing here universally BAD, but the music at the malls and department stores is more often than not raunchy and overtly sexual. The nasty mall music makes no sense to me because these people are not like that. I mean they do not denigrate themselves by making and embracing personal obscenities like so many Americans do these days.

Don pulls the car up close to our pavilion and we immediately unload our gear and begin to put it together for our first dive. I look up startled when the girls call our attention to some folks who want to speak to us. Four very solemn people stand just outside our hut almost glowering at us. I recognize just one of them—a woman—the boss of the lagoon park attendants. I wondered why suddenly she doesn’t look so happy with us. After all, she’d been very pleasant the day before and even just a few minutes before when we had signed in. What had happened to make her look so serious all of a sudden?

One young fellow did all of the talking. He introduced himself as being from the Claveria tourist office, he was attending the seminar of course. He wanted to know why we were scuba diving there, and that we should have received permission from his office first. He went on to say that this area, gesturing generally out at the waters of the lagoon, was a sanctuary.

My impulse was to question his claims that we were supposed to check in with any office before going into the water anywhere.

I practically screamed in my head: ‘Since when is a stop in any tourism office required anywhere?’ ‘And THIS is a sanctuary? Dude, there are about 40 fishing boats right HERE on the beach! And we’ve been watching locals go out into the lagoon and “harvest” little tropical fish half the length of my hand for the cooking pot. Sanctuary! What is your definition of sanctuary? Isn’t a sanctuary a place where wildlife is supposed to be allowed to live in a safe haven, free of harassment and harm? And I don’t understand why you would harass us, foreign tourists, who just want to come to your town to enjoy the sights and spend money in your hotels, restaurants, shops, markets, and right here in this beautiful park?”

Fortunately I said NONE of that. Instead, I bit my tongue and let Don do all the talking. I say that because for me to speak in confrontative situations like that is like giving me a loaded gun and expecting me not to shoot myself in the foot with it, multiple times; and if I’m lucky it’s NOT the foot planted firmly in my mouth.

In a conciliatory tone Don simply answered, “Oh, okay, well, we didn’t know. Sorry about that.”

But the tourist office guy wasn’t done yet. “. . . And we have no facilities for scuba diving here.”

Don was all over that: “Yes, but that’s no problem for us. We have everything we need to dive. We brought all of our own equipment. But hey, just to allay any concerns you might have about us, let me tell you what we are doing. My dive partner and I are both advanced certified divers. We drive all over the country sampling the diving and the surroundings. Then Phil here, he writes about our experiences in an online travelogue. And just to let you know, his site has a pretty good following, like 70 to 100 hits a day; so we could actually help you BRING tourists in here. We would be HAPPY to work with you to do exactly that.”

Don’s spiel completely defused the earlier tension. The local tourism administrator had duly asserted his authority; Don had showed the proper deference, and then had provided exactly the right tone so that we could be seen as partners in their obvious mission of trying to lure tourists to their fine city and environs.

In fact, by the end of the two day Department of Tourism seminar, Don had made friends with the big tourism boss for that province, a very nice lady from the capital of Tuguegarao. Indeed, she seemed very happy to have us there, as they all were once they got to know us. Or I should say, once they got an earful of “nice-nice” from Don the politician, maker of all things right. Thank God. Of course, I give myself a lot of credit as well, for keeping my idiot mouth shut.

Coincidentally, while I was doing some online research for this post I came across this article in the Ilocos Times:

So, HERE are some excerpts that I find particularly cogent to this post. My comments, observations and suggestions, mostly directed respectfully to the mayor of Claveria and his constituents, are in parentheses in blue:

"Ilocos Norte, Cagayan join forces to boost North Luzon tourism"
by Dominic B. dela Cruz

Claveria, Cagayan—Armed with the same vision, the neighboring provinces of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan are set to put up consolidated efforts to promote Northern Luzon’s eco-tourism destinations as safe vacation places for foreign and domestic tourists. (This is an outstanding idea for the town of Claveria and its beautiful vicinity! And now that I have been there, may I add a few comments and suggestions below?)

Ilocos Norte officials pledge to advance the development of tourism in the Cagayan Valley, particularly this town, which is very close to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, as an ideal extension of excursion activities when tourists are visiting Ilocos Norte.

Claveria, known as the town of palm and coastal paradise in Region II, has been made famous by its boating tours dubbed “Lakay-lakay”, “Baket-baket” and “Ubing-ubing”. These tours take visitors to the natural and breathtaking scenic spots of the Claveria.

Claveria’s famous scenic spots are the Claveria Beach, a lagoon and the Mabnang Falls. (We were fortunate enough to see all three of these places, and yes, they are indeed scenic. I have a couple of suggestions on how you can make each of them a more desirable place, particularly for foreign tourists like me:

Claveria Beach: This miles long curving stretch of shoreline is great. There are already a series of covered concrete picnic style shelters, some usable, some not; but what’s missing are porta potty facilities. Many foreigners prefer not to relieve themselves in the open.

Mabnang Falls: It is indeed a gorgeous place. The falls provide a wonderful backdrop of sound and scene. My ONLY problem with the place was with one of the picnic kiosks populated by a small group of young people. They were playing a boom box on full “boom.” And to make it worse, they played the worst kind of hip-hop loaded with the foulest vulgarities. Not even the reverberating sound of the falls was enough to drown out the acoustic pollution being spewed upon us by those kids. And even if it had been Sinatra they were playing, why should everyone else be made to listen to THEIR music? Why not add (and enforce) a rule that all personal tunes be kept just loud enough to be heard only within THAT hut?

The lagoon:

It combines a park for recreation with a place for fishermen and boatmen to beach their boats. The lagoon is not a place that foreigners would tend to use for snorkeling as the water by the beach is too shallow, murky and rocky for most casual swimmers to put up with. To get to any decent snorkeling areas one needs to either swim or be boated out to the seaward edge of the lagoon, which is quite some distance from the beach, too far for most casual swimmers.

The karaoke machines, as they tend to be throughout the Philippines, are all set on the highest volume. Why not turn them down so that they are only heard within the confines of each pavilion? Filipinos don’t seem to mind listening to multiple karaoke “singers” at once, all singing different songs, but many foreign tourists will not be as enamored.

I save the best for last —the scuba diving (potentially speaking). From our experience, the diving possibilities out of the lagoon are mindboggling. This includes the far side of the lagoon area, just outside of the lagoon inlet, up and down the coasts from the lagoon, and perhaps all the way out to the far reef.

The underwater terrain features are incredible, worth coming to see from just about anywhere IN THE WORLD; BUT, what’s missing is any abundance of sealife. Oh, it IS there, but it’s sparse, obviously greatly stressed by the constant harvesting and harassment by fishermen using nets from their boats, and divers breathing through hoses from air pumps using spear guns. Mayor Bolante, if you can truly make these areas around the lagoon actual PROTECTED sealife sanctuaries, and ENFORCE that protection, as they do in world-renowned scuba diving sites around Palawan, Mindoro and Batangas, I can guarantee you that Claveria would ALSO become a PREMIERE “must dive” site in the Philippines.

I doubt you know what you have there sir. Even as is, the underwater geologic terrain features alone provides an absolutely stunning dive experience. My partner and I were privileged to make 7 dives out of Claveria’s lagoon and we would LOVE to make 70 more!

To foster Claveria scuba diving I would encourage either the city or one of the nearby resort hotels to start a dive shack staffed by a trained dive master. It would need a compressor for tank filling and of course all the required dive equipment to rent to dive tourists. Also, a small dive boat, along with a trained dive boat man, (any large outrigger bangka would do) fitted out with proper seating and a diver retrieval ladder. Start out small and inexpensively; I suggest buying used (refurbished) equipment from places like Puerto Gallera, where there are plenty of dive resorts always looking to unload replaced gear.

And Sir, please let the sealife recover from the current methods of indiscriminate and apparently unmanaged “harvesting.” It would be better if ALL fishing of ALL kinds was banned in that relatively small mile square area, but in the long, and perhaps short run, it WOULD be worth it.

Mayor, believe me, do the above, and divers WILL come. Guaranteed! In truth, divers from not only around the Philippines, but the world OVER, love to go to new places for new scuba experiences; it’s what we do.)

The abundance of seafood in the area is also a major attraction for tourists as they can enjoy lobsters, “kusimay”, various species of tuna among others while vacationing. (I’m sorry. Please forgive me, but after what I’ve witnessed by way of the overfishing in this country, I personally do not eat any seafood. The only fish I eat is tilapia because it comes from fish farms.)

With the Laoag International Airport (LIA) as the gateway to the north, Gonzales said Claverianos should also take advantage of this opportunity and join hands with Ilocos Norte tourism officials to promote both provinces as an ideal vacation spots for tourists. (LIA would be the natural air entry way for divers to use to get to Claveria. Currently, as far as I know, the only diving available on the north coast is out of the Terra Rika Resort in Pagudpud; but from our discussions with the dive master there, the diving they offer does not compare at all to what’s available in the Claveria Lagoon vicinity.)

Meanwhile, Claveria Mayor Pablo N. Bolante Jr. said he is amenable to this proposition as it would help his program of government wherein he has instituted policy reforms to enhance the growth of Claveriano’s main livelihoods which include tourism, fishing, diversified farming, furniture manufacturing and metal works. (Mayor Bolante, again, by all means, start or encourage a local scuba diving enterprise at the Lagoon. Dive tourists, by the very nature of their sport, DO spend money. They love to dive in the day and party in the evening. We LOVE to have fun, all kinds, and lots of it.)

Bolante, who had been named an outstanding mayor of the Philippines, also mentioned that he has included in his administration’s agenda the improvement of this town’s foreshore areas, coastal resources and an environmental management project that would rehabilitate and conserve coastal and forest resources, the proper zoning and implementation of the land use plan and the enactment of the revenue code to generate more income for the local government unit that would later be translated as services to the community.

(Okay, people of Claveria, I’ve said my piece. I hope you’re not offended by some of the things I’ve related. In my blog in general I seek only to describe events as I remember them, and how I feel about "things" from my perspective as a foreigner living in the Philippines. And, when and if I get it “wrong,” I always encourage corrective and instructive comments. Also, I made the various recommendations above only because I am excited by the wonderful things I discovered in your fair town. I'm not trying to be "directive" at all. And finally, Claveria is great now and I'm sure it's on the way to being even greater!)

And please, check out these photos loaded into my Claveria Dive Trip Flickr set if you would like to see a few of the wonderful things we saw in the waters of your beautiful lagoon. My gift to you!


Tim Stockdale said...

Hello Phil, great article and great pictures, that place is awesome!!!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Heya Tim! Glad you like. I'm in the middle of writing a series on the Claveria expedition. Awesome place. Have you read any of the earlier posts?