Stretching almost half the length of the entire Burias Island, San Pascual—more popularly known as Isla Rancho—is enchantingly endowed with breathtaking islands, white sand beaches, pristine sandbars, clear sea waters, and 1,287 hectares of mangrove plantations. It is also home to 15 cattle ranches, thus making a journey to its vast hilly pastures an experience all on its own.
Island of ranches
Masbate is known as the cattle capital of the Philippines. It is comprised of three islands: Masbate, Ticao and Burias, where the town of San Pascual, nicknamed Isla Rancho, can be found. (See related story)
According to the newly-published book Isla Rancho Festival, written by Carlito Peralta and Jerome Morales, “San Pascual is not known for its bountiful fish or squid catch nor the abundant marine products, neither the enchanting beauty of the beaches, startling islets within the island nor the promising agricultural produce but first and foremost with its vast and well-known cattle ranches that sustainably bring into being in the island.”
Indeed, of the town’s total 24,631.81-hectare land area, more than one-third of is devoted to cattle raising and ranching. With this, the local government created the Isla Rancho Festival in 2014 to open up San Pascual as a tourism destination with its diverse natural and socio-cultural attractions.
‘Kugi San Pascual’
With its battle cry “Kugi San Pascual!” (“Work hard San Pascual!”), the San Pascualeños of Masbate are determined to attract more tourists to their beautiful part of the Philippines.
“The San Pascual Isla Rancho Festival is the pride of every San Pascualeño, and we hope that this festival can slowly create awareness that San Pascual is the next tourist destination to visit in the country,” expressed Mayor Zarina Lazaro in an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine during the town fiesta in May.
Lazaro, however, pointed out that her town is still in its “infancy stage in terms of tourism infrastructure and has so much to improve on.” She vowed, “We are not in a hurry to do all these things because we want to do it slowly but surely. What we can promise is our determination to make every Pascualeño proud of San Pascual.”
Now on its second year with the theme cattle-ranching in the local setting, the eight-day Isla Rancho Festival took place from May 10 to 17 with much fanfare and an exciting program of activities.
The “Cowboys and Farmers’ Day” kicked off the festival with a daylong rodeo and agricultural trade fair, which culminated in the evening with the “Search for Isla Rancho’s Cowboy and Cowgirl” competition amid a lively country gathering and a feast of lechon baka or roasted cattle for everyone to enjoy.
The next day was dubbed “Youth and Fisher Folks Day” highlighted by a Bankarera or Sibidan Race, where bancas propelled by bemuscled boatmen and their trusty paddles set off early in the morning. Isla Rancho’s flavors were again the focus by mid-afternoon with the “San Pascual Original Recipe” cooking contest, whose delicious results were laid out for a lively youth gathering in the evening.
On the third day, a civic parade shone the spotlight on the local government unit and the various organizations rallying behind the booming town, followed by the “Mutya ng San Pascual 2015” pageant and a grand ball to fete Isla Rancho’s new queen.
Another highlight of the weeklong festival was a colorful and creative “Street Dance and Showdown Competition” where a participating team representing each barangay in San Pascual is dressed up in the most flamboyant and dazzling of colors as they performed exotic and tribal dances unique to the province. This year’s champion, the Pundok Pindako Group, comprised of Barangays Pinamasingan, Dancalan and Cueva, brought home P100,000.
Finally, religious San Pascualeños always see to it that the last day of the town fiesta is dedicated to thanksgiving, thus ending the jam-packed week with a Concelebrated Mass and a solemn fluvial procession.
As The Sunday Times Magazine discovered during its four-day visit to Masbate, initiated by the Department of Tourism (DOT), there is so much more to San Pascual than the colorful Isla Rancho Festival.
Regional Director Nini Ravanilla of the DOT-Region V office in Legazpi City put it best when she said, “In this age of modern tourism and its recent trends from mass leisure to niche marketing, San Pascual town on Burias Island is literally a travel to the unknown. You have to visit Burias and have an adventurous and meaningful travel experience.”
Founded 184 years ago, historical accounts point to San Pascual as a hideaway of the Spanish settlement in Burias Island. It became a safe haven because geographically, it is protected by the island of Busing with two narrow entry and exit points to the north and the northwest.
It is therefore common to see several Spanish-inspired ancestral houses from the 1930s in the area made of Hamorawon, Dungon and Kansayud, which are types of solid and native wood, with beautiful Capiz shell windows.
The centuries-old municipal hall built in 1911 is also a historical must-see landmark, while the San Pascual Church is considered one of the oldest churches in the country.
A truly enchanting place to visit in San Pascual is the house of Mr. and Mrs. Eduardo Espares that is also a home to 80,000 balinsasayaw birds or swiflets.
“In 1991, while constructing our ground floor, a couple of balinsasayaw started building their nest on our supposed to be basement. Months later, their number began to increase. According to one of our friends who visited our place, the balinsasayaw like the cave-like temperature of our basement, and he advised me to take care of them. So we gave up the basement and put a hole in some walls of our home so they can freely go in and out of the basement and of our master’s bedroom,” narrated Espares.
Despite the smell left by the birds, the family considers the balinsasayaw a blessing to them. They use their feathered housemates’ excrement as fertilizer for their farm, while the swiflets’ nests actually provide the rarest and most expensive ingredient in making nido soup. It is also believed that these nests, made from the bird’s saliva, have healing properties and can even increase libido.
After a day tour in the town proper, island hopping to three of San Pascual’s breathtaking islands is a must.
The first stop is usually Animosala Island with its unique rock formations and clear blue waters. The site is picture perfect with pristine waters fit for swimming or frolicking.
The famous Sombrero Island, known as the “Boracay of San Pascual” is up next. Owned by 12 siblings, the island offers cottages or huts for visitors who want to stay for a few days and relax on the beach.
Finally, Tinalisayan Island is a sight to behold with the best views for sunrise and sunset in the whole of San Pascual.
San Pascual’s mangrove plantation has a total land area of 1,286 hectares spread across 20 identified barangays. This number is still increasing.
“We plan to enhance this mangrove plantation so we can offer it as a tourist destination in the future,” Mayor Lazaro said.
“Next year, the plan is to develop the mangrove plantation as an eco-tourism site with an installed catwalk and shed house constructed at the center. The area is ideal for birds and other wildlife watching,” she further explained.
“Visiting tourist can also experience planting mangrove species in the designated area indicating their names on the name tag to be provided by the caretaker with a minimal amount to be agreed upon by the tourism council,” added Jerome Morales, San Pascual’s Environment and Natural Resources officer.
While traveling to San Pascual from Manila is not the easiest—one begins with an hour flight to Naga, followed by an hour-and-a half drive to Pasacao Terminal, and finally a two-hour sea travel via motorized banca—its people promise a worthwhile journey their beautiful island.
Its quaint yet alluring, hilly coastal town, amazing flora and fauna, pristine, white sand beaches, and exotic cattle ranches offer a paradise like no other.
Indeed, Isla Rancho is the next big destination both local and foreign tourists can look forward to in the Philippines.