Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Suroy Suroy Sugbo: Camotes By Marlinda Angbetic Tan


The Suroy Suroy program was started in 2005 as a major project of the tourism committee of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce during the Cebu Business Month. It was a series of countryside tours through the northern and southern towns of the province. Last year, the provincial government took over the lead of these interesting tours, together with the help of the Department of Tourism. I joined the Southern Heritage Trail, Northern Escapade and Camotes Island Discovery tours in 2006.

Last year’s theme was “Rediscover Camotes” and we were charmed to find out that these islands’ inhabitants of about 76,707 are so education-conscious, attested by numerous  schools, day care centers and even a college. May 20 – 21, 2006 was the height of summer and the ideal time to cross to Camotes. “Discover Enchanting Camotes” was this year’s theme, taking place last September 29 – 30, 2007. Habagat winds had been blowing intermittently, so the trip to Camotes was not smooth, especially on the way back, when tailwinds of a depression in Luzon reached northern Cebu.


There are four islands in the Camotes cluster:  Poro (where Poro & Tudela towns are located), Pacijan (where San Francisco – the biggest town – is located), Ponson (where Pilar town is located) and the smallest island called Tulang. After having been annexed to Tacloban, Leyte, the Camotes Islands were reverted to Cebu Province through Philippine Commission Act #952 on October 22, 1902.


Poro, a melting pot of Warays, Ilonggos and Boholanos, is the gateway to Camotes. Its name is derived from “polo,” the Cebuano term for island.  Due to Poro’s proximity to Leyte, the name took on the Waray term for island, which is “poro.” Poro town was designated capital of Camotes per Phil. Commission Act #952.

Poro has 17 barangays on 62,000. sq. km. and a population of about 20,000.  It is just 4 hours by pumpboat to Danao City (there are thrice daily early morning & afternoon ferry schedules), a pumpboat ride from the Ouano Wharf in Mandaue City, or 1 hour & 30 minutes from the Cebu pier via fastcraft (morning & afternoon schedules on weekends).

Porohanons are mostly farmers and fisherfolk.  Due to Poro’s wharf facility, the town supplies fish to Danao City in Cebu and Ormoc City in Leyte.

The ancient name of Poro is Maktang.  Based on a survey made by Capitan General Gomez in the 1500s, Maktang had 287 tribes with about 148 members per tribe. The historically acknowledged death of Ferdinand Magellan, discoverer of the Philippines for the Spanish Crown, in the hands of Lapulapu was supposed to have taken place in Maktang, not Mactan Island.  This claim is based on the descriptions of Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, of the place of battle and its distance from Cebu – which can only be Maktang of the Camotes Islands.

Maktang was recognized as a town on December 16, 1780.  It has been said that most of the artifacts found in Fort San Pedro came from ancient Maktang. A re-enactment of Poro’s elevation to township in the 18th century is annually celebrated through its Tagbo Festival.

Buho Rock Resort, just 2 km from the wharf, is a major attraction. Our first day lunch was there, with various shellfish species like sa-ang and imbao, among a grilled fresh seafood spread that one can mostly just imagine. Add to that two huge lechon.

Other attractions include Altavista Quarry Park with its magnificent sunset.  It is a mountain top destination, with unhindered vistas. Lusay Mangrove Park offers views of the neighboring islands from cottages atop the mangrove trees.  Mount Three Peaks is the highest point in Camotes.  It can be reached only by hiking.

Poro’s Sto. Nino Church, established in 1849, is the oldest in Camotes and a major tourist attraction. The sinulog has been performed in these islands as long as that of mainland Cebu. Its young and tourism-driven Mayor Edgar Rama makes sure that Poro will be on the Central Visayas tourism map.

Native Porohanon Leah Rama’s P8 million mansion has become My Little Island Hotel – the biggest luxury hotel in Camotes — amidst the verdant hills of Barangay Esperanza.  Hence, accommodations in Poro can range from a home stay at any of the old houses in town, to pension-style rooming near the wharf, to hotel-style comfort in a forested upland area.


Tudela used to be called Tag-anito (on the research by former District Supervisor Conrado Solante, a native of Tudela ) since ancient inhabitants held anitos, spirits of trees and waters, in great respect, especially in sitio Mag-agay-ay which is known to be enchanted.  Natives retell stories of elves and fairies (anitos) often seen there, cavorting among trees and fields. The township of Tag-anito was established on May 20, 1892.  On September 27 of that year, the Spanish friar assigned to the place, Ramon Alegria, renamed it Tudela – in honor of his hometown in Spain.

This town of 11 barangays with a population of over 12,000, boasts of 7 public elementary schools, 1 public high school, another private high school and 14 day care centers.  The Cassava Festival on May 20 commemorates Tudela’s elevation to township in the 17th century.  We attended the 5th Cassava Festival last year, watching  the street contingents depict the whole cassava process  – from planting to harvesting to cutting, until the final preparations of the various cassava products. Notable items are accessories made of cassava twigs and the cruchy-licious healthy cassava cookies.

This year, we had morning snacks at one of Tudela’s tourist attractions:  the charming Bukilat Cave in Barangay Mc Arhur.  This cave, with a natural skylight and clear pools, takes its name after the founder. It served as shelter during the terrible years of the Japanese occupation in World War II. However, that morning, Bukilat cave was enchantingly beautiful! Elementary school children dressed as elves and fairies with wings and wands welcomed us from where they were waving on boulders and tree limbs near the cave entrance. Town elders performed a palina just before we entered the cave. This ritual involved going through the cleansing smoke from herbs, while asking the permission of the cave spirits for us to gain entrance.

Mayor Roger Baquerfo Sr. spread out heavy snacks for the suroyan— linidgid (a budbud delicacy made of sweet potato), ampao, cassava cakes, even kinilaw nga isda, kinilaw nga balat ( sea cucumber), kagang (sweet fresh water crabs) and takla (hard shelled shrimp). I learned the technique, as a veteran of the 2006 suroy, of eating a little of only special local delicacies.  Then, I was able to enjoy the feast of a lunch at Buho Resort in Poro.

San Francisco

San Francisco is the biggest town in terms of income, land area and population. It also offers the most number of comfortable accommodations.  Among the best known is Mangodlong Rock Beach Resort in the fishing village of Heminsulan. Guests are treated early each morning with the fresh catch of the day. Resort owner Joel Pulvera is hands-on in the preparations of such fish as labayan, mol-mol, bangaw, gislang, pakol, pugapo, swahan and timbongan, intosteaming tinola soup, then grilled, kilaw or fried, according to preference. Pulvera also owns the pioneering Santiago Bay Garden & Resort, a 2.5-hectare, 19-room property in a landscaped enclave overlooking a long white sand beach.

For 2006 and 2007 Camotes Suroy, we had the culmination dinner at Santiago Bay beach area.  This year, Sr. Santiago Church served as the background as pretty local maidens sashayed on the sandy “catwalk” sporting clothes, bags and accessories made of soli-soli. Soli-soli is the wild grass growing on the banks of Lake Danao and used by locals in the making of various native handicrafts.

Tilapia fishing in Lake Danao costs P100.00/kilo of tilapia caught. One can have one’s catch grilled on the spot.  The local government school of fisheries, on the other hand, is encouraging the students to come up with ways to prepare tilapia, through an annual contest. The tilapia crunchy nuggets and the delicious empanada – winners both – are worth bringing home as pasalubong. Judges for this year’s contest were Provicial Board Members Agnes Magpale and Wenceslao “Weng” Gakit who were with the suroy.

Lake Danao is a major tourist attraction, being the largest and only natural lake in Cebu Province with an island at the middle, which used to be Daanglungsod (old town). Old folks remember lots of crocodiles that were hunted to extinction byMuslim seafarers. Legend also tells of a couple named Isyong and Isyang, living in the kingdom of Pricesa Soli and quarreling incessantly. One day, the gods punished the bickering couple by separating them forever by water.  Only the island that resembles them remains and the wild grass that proliferates along the lake shores which the locals call soli-soli in honor of the princess. Today, Soli-soli Festival takes place every March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of San Francisco.

Dynamic Mayor Alfredo Arquillano Jr. is a driving force that enabled the Soli-soli contingent to participate in the Sinulog Festival.  Mayor Al’s family owns Monte Alegre Resort, a relaxing place overlooking Lake Danao.   


This 5th class municipality joined the Camotes Suroy for the first time this year.  With a population of about 11, 300 in 13 barangays, it has youthful bachelor public officials in Mayor Jesus A. Fernandez Jr. and Vice Mayor Rommel Tajo. Youth and idealism in its leadership may yet push this out-of-the-way island municipality within treacherous waters into the mainstream of things. 

Just a 10-minute boat ride from Tudela (there is a regular daily boat schedule) and  an hour away from Ormoc, Leyte, Pilar nonetheless remains somehow isolated because of the unpredictable waters around it. It is about 40 minutes by fast craft from the Poro wharf. The best time to visit is during the summer months.

They celebrate Pamugsay Festival where the nine kinds of habagat are depicted.  Due to its topography, fishing is the main means of livelihood among the locals.  They are developing tourist attractions like their Heritage Walk among the ancestral houses of Pilar, Naukban Lagoon – a blue lagoon in San Isidro, as well as the white beach of Cawit which the local government is promoting as camping grounds.

The Pilar locals are proud of their bright and airy parish church of St. Francis Xavier where we attended Sunday Mass. Lunch followed at the gym next door where we feasted on more lechon, shellfish and lots of delicious delicacies that we brought home since they thoughtfully provided plastic bags for the purpose. 

When I asked Bruce Cunningham, the expatriate manager of My Little Island Resort, why he opted to settle down in the island, he readily replied:  “It is the most innocent place on earth!”  Indeed, huge tracts of “wilderness” where one can hardly see a soul for miles, undulating emerald hills, uncluttered shores; lakes, caves and tales of wonder abound….in pristine form still.

I would not want to miss the next invitation to these enchanting islands…

Thanks to the valuable inputs of Michael  Alfon—DOT tour guide.

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