If Matnog were a dance, it would be a hypnotic yet gentle waltz. Palm fronds that line the shore glide to the breeze. The waves lap the beach gracefully in a cotillion of froths, each minute bubble making love to the powder-like, light caramel sand. The mountains that surround this coastal town in the province of Sorsogon stir a rhythm so enchanting and relaxing. And in between my mind’s meanderings, the waters of Matnog, perhaps in all shades of blue, make me still, make me whole, make me free.
Matnog, in its silence, is mesmerizing. This third-class coastal municipality in Sorsogon is inhabited by about 50,000 people. A brook or little falls here and there dot the interior sitios of Matnog. A small chapel in the middle of the thickets of a coconut grove appears, as if to tell you that your venture into Matnog is winked at by God.
In the barrio of Poropandan, which became our gateway to discovering the richness of the town’s beautiful waters, we were welcomed by the smiles of the elders and the innocence of the children plating by the seashore. Even the astray dogs in the barrio were friendly as they were the first to welcome us with gentle barks, as if heralding our arrival to their barangay.
The barrio of Poropandan is a gateway to discover the beauty of Matnog in Sorsogon.
The name of Matnog, according to some of its inhabitants, came from the word “matonog” or “very loud”, which, they surmise, describes the sound of the waves crashing the shore.
Indeed, the sound of waves in Poropandan creates a symphony. Little children with corn-colored hair play by the shore, taunting the waves when they ebb to the sea and running to higher grounds when the waves start to roll back to the shore.
I was with my sister Michelle Soliven and her husband Benny and Vincent, my best friend Bum Tenorio and our friend Carmen Prieto when we went to discover the melodious beauty of Matnog. We were with Omar Nepomuceno, a butanding and tourism expert of Sorsogon, and his nephew Clark. We were all in Sorsogon to attend the first graduation of the Grade 12 students of the Divine Healer Academy of Sorsogon, a mission school in Cabid-an, Sorsogon City that my family supports. The school was founded by Fr. Gerard Deveza, a gentle and amiable healing priest. My BFF Bum served as the guest speaker at the graduation. (Bum’s speech was so inspirational it made the graduates and their parents and the teachers laugh and cry.)
‘I consider each fish in the sanctuary my child. Every time a fish dies, I cry,’ says Alex Geneblazo, owner of the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary that is located in the middle of the sea in Matnog.
A day before the graduation, Omar and Clark picked us up at the convent of the nuns in El Retiro Compound (very close to the school) where we had a very relaxing stay all throughout our vacation. Next thing we knew, our van was treading the well-paved roads of Sorsogon. Excitement all the more built up when we reached Poropandan where, from a promontory, we witnessed the grandeur of nature.
Matnog is beautiful. What makes it more beautiful is the welcoming nature of its people. The friendly and gentle boatmen led us to an outrigger. The minute we sailed to the calm sea was the moment we knew we would enjoy our excursion in the waters of Matnog.
Island-hopping fare: grilled sweetlips fish, inihaw na pusit, and a local species of scallops calledbaluko friend to perfection.
First stop was the Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary. In the middle of the sea, the sanctuary is a paradise of its own because it teems with marine life that will surely delight the guests who are standing comfortably in a raft that serves as the observation deck. Even if you don’t snorkel, there’s a 100-percent guarantee that you will see the following fish: grouper, trevally, bumphead wrasse, bat fish, rabbit fish, goat fish, box fish, clown fish, giant milkfish, trigger fish, unicorn fish, sweet lips, harlequin sweet lips, cardinal fish, snapper, red emperor, butterfly fish, morms idol, lizard fish, domino, cleaner wrasse. Swimming with these fish in the cage is like swimming in a great aquarium. One can actually touch the fish here.
We hobnobbed with these denizens as we snorkeled our way inside the sanctuary. How fortunate we were that the owner of Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary, Alex Geneblazo, joined us in our excursion. He led us to a reef where giant lobsters hibernated. Oh, those lobsters are so huge I could wrap them in my arms. There were also giant clams and starfish of all colors. It was fascinating, too, to see and touch different species of sea cucumber. One type of sea cucumber wrapped the hands of Michelle and Bum with latex-like liquid. It was the sap that the sea cucumber squirts for its protection from the prey, Alex explained.
We have the whole Subic Beach in Calintaan all to ourselves! (From left) Carmen Prieto, Vincent, Michelle and Benny Soliven, the author Christine Dayrit, Bum Tenorio
Alex put up the sanctuary 10 years ago. “I built it because of my love for the fish. The fish here are not my pets and they are not for sale, not also for consumption. I consider them my ‘children.’ Every fish here is like my child,” Alex explains in Bicolano.
The sanctuary proves of a man’s love for the sea and its creatures. It also shows his efforts to protect and conserve marine life. Alex also explained that recently, he and his friends recovered an injured dolphin that they nursed back to health in the sanctuary, When the dolphin was well enough, they released it to the wild.
“Every time a fish die in the sanctuary, I cry,” Alex said with a smile. So, snorkelers to the sanctuary are prohibited from wearing sunscreen because it affects the life of the creatures in the sanctuary.
Those who do not like to snorkel will not miss the fun of seeing the different species of fish at the sanctuary because they can do pellet-feeding. Just throw some morsels to the waters and the denizens of the deep will come “running.” Truly, the sanctuary is an experience never to be missed in Matnog.
A quick trip to Tikling Island created a lifetime memory for us. Before us was a stretch of pink sand. Its warmth and charm still appears in my mind’s eye to this day.
Lunchtime saw us navigating the waters of Sorsogon on the way to Subic Beach, an island in the barrio of Calintaan. The light-caramel sand of the island glimmered from afar. A couple of dogs, both Aspins, sensed our arrival and ran to the shore to welcome us. When we docked, we spent a few more minutes in the boat to marvel at the beauty of Subic Beach. We had the whole island to ourselves. No tourists! No peddlers! Only the magical beauty of the island.
A brook here and there is found in Matnog. This one is in Sinalmacan(left). A small chapel in the middle of the thickets of a coconut grove appears in a barrio in Sorsogon(right).
The two Aspins couldn’t contain their excitement to see us that they started barking. These canines led us to thatched cottages that were surrounded with wild hibiscus and tall coconut trees. A very clean toilet was at the back, ensconced in a pathway of wild flowers and other plants.
We settled in a cottage — the azure sea before us. We partook of a huge grilled sweetlips fish, inihaw na liempo, grilled squid, fried baluko (scallops), chopsuey and buko. What a scrumptious treat to our rambunctious group! The only thing that could silence us was the crashing sound of the waves. The waves that kissed the shore were just a few meters away from us. It was a scene of nirvana for us. The cool breeze gently whistled, as if telling us to stay awhile in Subic Beach. And we did — for hours!
Some of us slept on the sand, under the shade of the robust talisay trees. Others slept on top of the tables in the cottages. We roughed it up in Calintaan and the waves that lulled us to sleep were the same waves that woke us up. It was already 4 p.m. when we woke up. And what a beautiful sight the island was to wake up to!
The friendly dogs, owned by the caretakers of the islands who hardly made their presence felt, whisked us back to our boat. We sailed away from Subic Beach in Calintaan back to the port in Poropandan. We waved at the dogs until we couldn’t see them anymore.
We vow to return to Matnog and witness anew the waltz created in its seas.
Feeding the fish at Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary.
* * *
If you wish to experience Matnog and the rest of Sorsogon, call Omar Nepomuceno at 0917-5061290. Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary can be reached at 0918-3045437.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.