Snorkelling off Ticao Island, Philippines

30 days in the Philippines — Ticao Island and making Bicol express

Days 9-12: After the flickering fireflies of the night before, we were on the move again. We ate a delightful breakfast of fresh bread at Hotel Siama organised by our Travel the Unknown tour operator and then drove a few hours to Bulusan Port for the boat to Ticao Island, where we would learn how to make the signature Bicol Express dish. 

As we drifted to the shore of Ticao Island we were greeted by the sight of bamboo and straw cabins. Vicky, the manager of Ticao Island Resort greeted us onshore and told us of the activities on offer. Kayaking or canoeing, horse riding and massages were all on the menu. We had a short period of time to take out a kayak, so we jumped at the opportunity and paddled away, looking down through the slight turquoise water to find any fish that may be idling along. In the distance we saw what looked like a manta-ray jumping out of the water. As we passed the humble village on the edge of the bay, we found their huts to be more ramshackle and hotchpotch than ours, but that made them all the more charming. As we floated by we noticed hens; dogs lazing about, tongues lolling out; and children waving and splashing around in the water. We planned to go and visit them on solid ground later on in our stay.

Learning how to make Bicol express

Having had a peaceful time making peaceful ripples in the bay, we drifted back to shore to make our dinner appointment with Vicky and learn how to make the famous Bicol Express, the signature dish of the Bicol region. 

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We started off the Bicol express by grating the dried white coconut flesh. Sitting on a long natural slither of wood, we grated the coconut white against metal teeth in an arc motion — a traditional method used in the region. The lemon grass, grated coconut and milk and vegetables were then fried together in a pan before adding the pork and the all-important chilies. 

Vicky demonstrating the way to cook Bicol Express
Vicky demonstrating the way to cook Bicol Express

Post dinner we had drinks and got to know our companions better and also had a brief interaction with a crab on the beach.

A bright and early start the next day saw us travelling full throttle on to our first snorkel site. Once the bungka had anchored, we jumped in. This spot seemed a little sparse however— apart from the deep blue starfish that lay on the sea bed— but it was a good chance to test out our snorkelling attire and our new Gopro underwater. We jetted off to the next reef spot which proved to be much more fruitful. Nemo fish peeped out from narrow coral alcoves, our eyes widened at golden baroque style coral formations and we gazed with bemusement at the peculiar dogfish appearance.

We spent some time here to appreciate the fascinating underwater world and then we were off to the next and final area for the day. This unbelievably was better than the previous. Different types of fish swam around every nook and cranny, Long fish, fish with colour streaks and mean looking fish which scared schools of fish away, were all to be seen here.

Just then my mind to a while to process what I had just seen. A flash of grey and white had passed in front of my eyes, but only for half a second. There it was again and this time I recognised the form of the shark, it’s beady eyes and it’s grimacing face. It dashed frantically across my field of view more quickly than the retina is used to. Somewhat comforted by it’s eagerness to get away from me so quickly, I carried on snorkelling until I saw another and another shark. They were around three quarters of my height and our guide assured us that these were not man-eating. Satisfied that we had seen an amazing amount of hues and varieties of sea life in just one outing, we heading back to the boat. Here, the crew had been cooking our lunch of, yes fish and also pork. We pondered upon the irony of eating fish after looking at the beauty below sea level, but ravenous we ate it anyway.

Snorkelling bangka
Snorkelling bangka

Back at the resort, what had started with a migraine in the morning had developed into a cocktail of stomach and fever issues, so there would be no activity time for me. The next day I missed out on the Legazpi market tour through illness, but felt a lot better sitting on the veranda listening to the gently sounds of the waves and palm leaves swaying in the breeze. There could be worse places to get sick. Later on that day we ambled over to the local village, where we were accosted by some young girls wanting to show us around. We went by their wooden shack homes one by one meeting more locals. As we said our fairwells and starting walking back to the resort, we could see the girls following us in a small paddle boat. 

Local children and rainbow, Ticao Island, Philippines
Local children and rainbow, Ticao Island, Philippines

Coming ashore to our luxury resort and interacting with foreigners, may have felt like a day trip to them for their school break. We watched them play hopscotched and taught them naughts and crosses and ended up drawing pictures in the sand. A good conclusion to our stay on Ticao island and one not to be forgotten.

Blocks of ice, port, Philippines
Blocks of ice, port, Philippines

The morning after, nipping across the water back to Legazpi Island, we did a short re-tour of the places we’d visited while the typhoon was upsetting the weather. What a difference the blue skies made to the ruins. RuinsAfter this it was time to leave the tour. We said our farewells and were back on our own again for now. We found a reasonably priced hotel with incredible views of the Mayón volcano — hence the name Vistas al Mayón and caught up with the digital world— something we had missed on Ticao Island.

If you’d like to find out more about what we get up to in the Philippines, check back here for updates on our ‘30 Days in the Philippines‘ tag.    

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