I was quite disappointed the first time I came to Rizal Beach in Gubat, Sorsogon, during the 1990s. It was regarded as a family beach where one can enjoy the white sands and the clear blue waters of the Pacific. It was where the people of Bicol would spend their weekends. When I arrived at Rizal Beach as a side-trip to my Sorsogon adventure, I found the beach littered with trash left by picnickers. I vowed never to come back again. That was over 25 years ago.
I recently came back to Rizal Beach upon invitation of a friend to witness the growing surfing community there. With a bit of hesitation, I decided to go. What I saw when I arrived was Gubat springing back to its place as one of Bicol’s best beach destinations and some more. It should be; being one of the few accessible beaches on this side of the Pacific, it should give visitors some of the best adventures on this side of the archipelago.
The town’s location on this side of the Pacific was the very reason why the early inhabitants of Albayanons, Visayans and Tagalogs came to this place. They travelled on foot to hunt for wild animals. The richness of its land and sea also brought in Muslim pirates, who would come from the southern seas to raid the settlement. These frequent raids were referred to as “guinobat” which was shortened to ”Gubat” to refer to the place.
There’s an interesting story about the image of Saint Anthony de Padua during one of the raids. The priest and the townspeople put up the statue of the saint to ward off the attack and praying for miracles. According to one account, the image of the child Jesus in the arms of Saint Anthony drove out the pirates. Since then, Saint Anthony de Padua became the town’s patron saint.
The church in honor of Saint Anthony also has an interesting story. In 1768, when the people decided to build a church, each man was required to contribute coral stones. It took 10 years of preparation before the church construction finally started.
Despite the many renovations, the church foundation still maintained the original one built in 1778. Even the adjoining rectory is considered as one of the oldest in Bicol Region.
How to get there
Gubat, Sorsogon is 558 kilomoters from Manila, or about 10 to 12 hours of driving along the Pan-Philippine Highway.
Drive south from Manila by entering South Luzon Expressway and exit from Santo Tomas, Batangas. From there, continue drive to Alaminos, and then San Pablo, Laguna (where there are 24-hour Jollibee and Chow King outlets), before finally entering the province of Quezon via Tiaong.
Quezon is a long drive, taking at least three hours. The road continues to Candelaria, Sariaya, Lucena, Alaminos, Gumaca, Lopez and Calauag (there’s a Caltex station with a 7-11 store), before turning right to Andaya Highway via Tagkawayan. Drive the long stretch of highway that exits to Sipocot (there’s another 7-11 store there and many clean rest rooms at gas stations) in Camarines Sur. And the road continues to the towns and cities of Camarines Sur and Albay before finally entering Sorsogon via the town of Castilla. From there, pass by the provincial capital of Sorsogon. After the capital, turn left to Gubat. To reach the beaches of Gubat, drive south to the road going to Barcelona.
What to see, what to do
Rizal Beach still attracts local tourists. The old family getaway in Sorsogon has slowly regained its place as the most accessible and most affordable beach in the province. People now take special care to keep it clean and beautiful.
But the other beach north of Rizal is now gaining popularity. Buenavista Beach with its fine cream sand and beautiful swell are attracting surfers and beach lovers. From September to May, the sand bottom beach breaks of Buenavista produce two- to five-feet waves. The local Gubat Bay Surfers offer affordable surfing lessons to visitors.
At the town center, the church of Saint Anthony de Padua that was built in 1778 still stands. Its façade may appear recently remodelled but the old coral stone structure can still be seen on its foundation.
Another interesting attraction is the old building being occupied by the Bicol University Gubat Campus. This used to be the old municipal building but since a new municipal building was built, the old one was renovated to become the main building of the Gubat Campus. On the right of the old municipal hall are the ruins of the old municipal jail.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lola Sayong’s Eco-Surf Camp in Buenavista is the best place to stay in Gubat. Their accommodations are basic and unpretentious. Visitors get to sleep in bahay kubo (nipa hut houses) or in tents. They do not allow smoking, drinking or playing loud music. They want their guests to enjoy the natural “high” of nature.
Lola Sayong’s has a restaurant called Kana Kaon Tabi. It serves seafood sisig and tinapa meals aside from other Bicol delicacies. During summer, it serves refreshing fruit shakes.
Those looking for souvenir items can buy them at Rizal Beach. These are mostly home decors made from shells. At the public market, there are a couple of souvenir shops selling handicraft items made from abaca, bamboo, buri and other native materials. They also sell sugar-coated pili nuts.
The local market is also the place to get that Bicolano signature dish called pinangat. This dish made from laing leaves and dry fish, and boiled in coconut milk. However, if you come to Gubat market on a Sunday morning, you can get their version of the pinangat that is thicker, creamier and spicier that the rest offered in the region.
And that’s another secret Gubat is proud to share.