It was the beaming flashes of lights in the dark of the night that made me seek out for Capul.
The hot and humid air kept me awake all night long during our camping out in Subic Island in Matnog, Sorsogon. To pass time, I just watched the white flashes of lights every five seconds from this remote island in the south. The next day, our boatman confirmed that the lights that I saw were coming from Capul Island. To get there we need to cross the treacherous San Bernandino Strait, he added. I told the boatman, maybe not this time as we still have to explore the rest of Sorsogon province. I just made a mental note of going to Capul in the future possibly by flying to Catarman and then taking the boat via Allen.
So, when the long holiday weekend was announced few months later, the first thing that came to mind was to head to Capul Island. It was not difficult finding willing victims to join me in my expedition. They must have “googled” for information about Capul, and what they saw finally convinced them to go with me to this remote paradise.
On the day of the trip, we calculated that we could reach Matnog in the very early in the morning to catch the 8 a.m. boat to Capul if we leave Manila the night before. My GPS says 588 kilometers to reach our destination (Matnog port), and we estimated our arrival time of 7 a.m. and still have an hour to take breakfast before our boat leaves.
When we arrived at Magnog market (which is next to the roll-on, roll-off port) the next day, we asked around where we could find the boat to Capul Island. We were told that it docks right in front of the market and we’ll see it when we arrived.
The boat from Capul finally arrived two hours late. It still had to pick up a lot up supplies from Matnog that included everything from cases of softdrinks, boxes of canned goods, trays of eggs, several pieces of ply boards and even monobloc tables. We were told that the boat would leave at 12 noon, so we were advised to wait at the nearby sari-sari store.
By 12 noon, when the boat was half-filled with about two dozens more passengers, we finally sailed out of Matnog. The sun was shining brightly and we were moving calmly very close to the beautiful white-sand islands of Matnog. As soon as we entered the open sea, our boat started navigating the harsh waters of San Bernardino Strait. Our boat captain must have done this over hundred of times that he knows how to maneuver the boat by riding the waves instead of hitting them directly.
After 90 minutes, we finally reached Capul Island. I felt very excited. I was finally setting foot on this remote island that only few travelers dared to go.
Originally called Abak after the name of the chieftain of a group of people that migrated from Sulu Sea, this island under the jurisdiction of Northern Samar province played an important role during the famous Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. Many boats would drop anchor at the island waiting for the current to flow outward to Pacific Ocean before they start their long voyage to Acapulco. The name Capul is actually derived from the name Acapulco.
It was from this historical significance that Capul was fortified by the Spaniards to protect it from Moro and pirate attacks. The stone church with an 11-meter belfry and the stonewall fortress with twin watchtowers were constructed in 1781 by Spanish architect-priest Father Mariano Valero.
The people of Capul also have a unique dialect called Inabaknon. It is said to originate from the Badjaos of Sulu. With only less than 10,000 people speaking this dialect, Inabaknon is now considered one of the rarest and most endangered dialects in the Philippines.
How to get there
The quickest way to get to Capul Island is to fly from Manila to Catarman in Northern Samar, and from Catarman, take a bus or a van to Allen. From Allen, there are daily boats to Capul, taking about an hour to get there.
Another option is to drive from Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon, and then take a boat to Capul, taking about an hour and a half to get there.
What to see, what to do
A habal-habal can be rented to take visitors on a tour around the island.
Head north to visit the Faro de Punta Capul. It was built in 1898 on an elevated area overlooking the San Bernardino Strait. On a clear day, one can see Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon and the Naranjos Islands of Masbate.
Go to the town center where the old fortress still stands after many centuries, together with the church of the Saint Ignatius de Loyola. It recently received a marker from the National Historical Institute recognizing it as “a good example of the fortress church built during the Spanish era.” Go around the fortress, climb around its sentinel, and imagine yourself as the guardia civil who watches out for the coming of the Moro invaders.
As the last stop, visit the jagged rock formation called Timon-Timon located on the southern tip of the island. Take a dip at the clear waters of the nearby Abak Beach that hardly gets any visitors and enjoy its white sands.
Where to stay
Be prepared for spartan accommodations in Capul as lodging arrangements are all quite basic. At the town center, there’s the Antique House, Bascon Lodging House and Adriano Homestay. It is also possible to camp at the beach near the lighthouse. For dining, it is best to bring your own as there are no restaurants offering cooked meals around Capul.
Capul is not for those seeking for luxury and comfort. As they say: life begins at the end of our comfort zone.