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There’s more to CamNorte than the country’s first Rizal monument built in Daet town

By Juan Escandor, Jr.

DAET, Camarines Norte --- While it is known for having built the first monument dedicated in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal in 1899, fine and surfing beaches accessible within a two-day stay are making waves in this province. This capital town of Camarines Norte is only seven hours away from Metro Manila by buses. A visitor can stay anywhere at more the than 40 accommodation facilities, that include simple inns meant for backpackers and the more comfortable hotels with air-conditioned rooms within the town center. Around town, the most accessible transportation is a tricycle. The fare for a solo ride must not be less than the worth of fare for three passengers, its maximum capacity. At the Bagasbas Beach, a strip of restaurants-cum-inns and a resort-hotel are available for occupancy. The night life can be spent for some drinks in any restaurant along the boulevard or watching live bands at the resort-hotel at the edge of the strip. In the morning, catch the sunrise at Bagasbas Beach. In fact, the unobstructed sunrise is the reason Bagasbas Beach has been singled-out as the official site of the Department of Science and Technology to observe, record and monitor the Venus transit in 2012. With sustained wind bellowing to the west towards the long coastline from Daet to two more towns along the eastern seaboard of the province, the rolling waves are perfect for surfing. The wide brownish-white sand beach that stretches for about a dozen kilometers to the north also makes Bagasbas Beach an ideal place for paragliding. When the sun starts to sear, at about 10 a.m. it will be better to head to the town which is about 5 km from Bagasbas Beach. A quick visit to the first-ever monument dedicated to Dr. Jose Rizal, located near the provincial Capitol compound would lend some understanding of the historical significance of this town, coupled with a look inside the provincial museum at the Capitol building. Don’t look for that iconic statue of Dr. Jose Rizal standing on a pedestal with a book and a quill in his hands. The obelisk-like structure which the National Historical Commission (NHC) recognizes as the first monument of the national hero was built through the united efforts of the people of Camarines Norte in 1899, or three years after he was executed in Luneta on Dec. 30, 1896. Abel C. Icatlo, provincial museum curator who conducted research in 2006 about the monument, revealed the structure sans any image reproduction of the national hero was Masonic-inspired because the prime movers of its construction were actually members of the local Freemasonry. “The Bantayog (the name tag of the Rizal monument) is made of coral stones which were taken from the old Spanish prison where many Katipuneros were tortured and executed after a bloody uprising on April 14-18, 1898 that saw many local rebels killed. Those coral stones were soaked and stained with the blood of Bicolano martyrs, so to speak,” Icatlo narrates some trivia about the first Rizal monument. He found the link between Rizal, a member of Freemasonry, and the revolutionaries in Bicol in his research paper “World’s First Rizal Monument: A Bikolano’s Pride and Heritage.” He said the revolutionary movement was established through the network of Freemasonry, which flourished here in the 1890s, under the leadership of Vicente Lukban who spread liberal thinking and egalitarian ideals through an organized farmer’s cooperative that clandestinely channeled funds to the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio in Manila. Near the Capitol compound is a restaurant named Pratesi that serves authentic Bicol dishes from spicy laing softened by enough coconut milk to adobo in salt, peppercorns and garlic to blue marlin steak with a twist, may satisfy anyone’s palate for lunch. After lunch, rent a tricycle in route to the town of San Lorenzo Ruiz, about 15 km from Daet town, for P150-200 to visit and try the longest zipline in Bicol that hovers about 150 meters from the ground across an 800-meter distance from one hill to the another hill, looking down a river where the villagers take a bath and wash their clothes. If there is still time and energy, a one-hour walk from the zipline area will take you to a waterfall surrounded by green vegetation that brings a sense of nature engulfing one’s being. Before sundown, the visit to San Lorenzo Ruiz wraps up and it is time to go back to Daet to buy Camarines Norte’s souvenir products like pandicillos, a bread stuffed with grated pili kernels or pili tarts uniquely filled in with pili kernel on coagulated butter and condensed milk. Or try the province’s “Pilipinya” pie, a unique mix of pineapple and pili kernel. Other souvenir products worth buying are pineapple fiber products like bags, wallets and novelty items. Retire early for an early rise to catch the 6 a.m. trip to Vinzons town where boats dock and bring visitors to the powdery white sand beach and clear blue waters of Calaguas Islands. With a round-trip fare of P500 and two-hour boat ride to Calaguas Islands from the docking area in Vinzons town, the adventure and exploration of the islands begin at past 8:00 a.m. if the boat leaves at 6:00 a.m. It can also be reached through a boat from Paracale town. There is one resort in the island that offers open cabanas accommodation good for four to six persons with clean toilet and bathroom and serves fresh seafoods and Bicol dishes. If not, a visitor must bring along food and tent for overnight stay. Exploring the hills of Calaguas provides a panoramic view of the island and its glistening while beach below against varying hues of blue that gets darker as it gets deeper. The best time to savor the clear waters is at early morning or at sundown when the heat of the sun has waned. Aside from this sample set of places to visit for two days, the provincial tourism office offers overnight guided tour to the seven islands of Mercedes town or a visit to old churches around the provinces especially in the town of Vinzons where Spanish period houses still exist today.

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