text | Carla Ocampo
photography | Carla Ocampo and Lester Valle
There’s a place called Sanchez Mira, and its long stretch of rock-less, reef-less gray sand beaches are unbelievably empty, when they’ve got consistently big, barreling waves during Surfing Season! What gives? Well, Sanchez Mira (or Sanchez for short) is 12 hours by bus from Manila. Or, three hours on a van from the Laoag or Tuguegarao Domestic Airports. Not exactly the shortest trip to surfing paradise, BUT…
As we’ve said, nothing will stop a real wanderer to get to the best places of these islands, not even uneasy 12-hour trips on a bus! Tara, take up those boards and head to this ENTIRELY UNADULTERATED coastal town; Team KT will now bring you what else to expect, with and beyond the waves.
We’ve mentioned in our Claveria Travel Guide that Sanchez Mira harbors the only ATM units around the vicinity; residents of Claveria and Pamplona would troop to its town center to withdraw money, from Landbank, or the Philippine National Bank (PNB).
To get there from Manila, RCJ Bus Lines and Florida Bus Lines deploy regular trips to Junction Luna, or Sanchez Mira itself (PhP700-PhP750). You can choose whether to go via Laoag or via Tuguegarao; either way, the land trip will last 12 hours, so you may want to choose Florida’s buses that are fitted with cubicles for relieving yourselves. RCJ and Florida have their designated stations within Sanchez Mira’s Centro Uno, very near their public market and the municipal hall.
The nearest airports are in Laoag, and Tuguegarao, 3 hours away by van.
Within Sanchez Mira, it is more practical to let tricycles take you around town; jeepneys pass by only at set times, because they usually wait for the seats to be filled to capacity. These jeepneys ply the route to and from Claveria, or Junction Luna.
Internet shops are concentrated within Centro Uno, and in front of the Cagayan State University campus, with rates still pegged at PhP10 per hour; surf away in kagalang-galang speeds.
Where ten years ago, there was nothing to do but stare at the empty National Highway that cuts through Sanchez Mira… now, late nights could mean watching your favorite Nat Geo Adventure shows on TV, with a beer bottle at hand. With agriculture and fishing as primary industries, the local economy has improved by leaps and bounds in the last decade, changing the lifestyle of its old riche citizens; yet for the most part, Sanchez is still your typical “hick town”, in the best sense of the phrase. Everyone, and we mean everyone out here has a trusting, ready smile. You just gotta smile back.
Sanchez Mira —- given that its first settlers actually came from Paoay, Ilocos Norte —- is more Ilocano than Cagayano, so although we could find some pancit batil patong being served in some eateries, expect typical Ilocano fare to grace your tables, such as their version of the patupat, and the ubiquitous pakbet.
But, the big bang that your palate is longing for can be found within the Sanchez Mira Fire Station. No, the firemen are not toque-wearing chefs. Right in front of the station are stalls serving empanadas that taste and look like those served in Batac, Ilocos Norte, and likewise solidly packed with mung beans, large eggs, and a fistful of longganisa meat.
Ah, and we begin to talk about Sanchez Mira’s longganisa! It follows the age-old Ilocano recipe that would remind you of Vigan longganisa, only slightly juicier. Garlicky, peppery, seamlessly salted and best eaten boiled-in-water-then-toasted-in-deep-oil, this local sausage is the best thing that could ever happen to your rural breakfast. Ay, we drool just thinking about it.
What’s great about eating out here is that you don’t have to squeeze your way through crowds just to find your own space. Sanchez Mira is so far up north, you could still imagine yourself eating with just your barkada and no one else but, say, the smiling Manang Naty of the empanada stalls.
SURFBOARD, SKIMBOARD, AND THE BEACH-SIDE INNS
Two phrases you must memorize to instruct your tricycle driver: “Sa Masisit, sa Masko-op,” and “Sa Carrillo, sa baybay.” If you know the Ilocano equivalent of these, well and good, but Tagalog will suffice.
The first phrase will take you to the beach of Masisit, where the waves are perfect for surfing. The sand dunes present all over the coast of Masisit are powerful proof of the very strong winds that scrape the seascape; and with the shoreface going down with nothing but sand and seagrass, it produces the kind of break that a neophyte surfer would love to try, and that an average surfer wouldn’t mind conquering again and again.
And we can not say this enough: the best thing about this is that the place is entirely unadulterated. You’d have the whole, wide, wide stretch of beach and waters all to yourself. Even 50 surfers doing their thing simultaneously wouldn’t end up preying at the same wave.
The second phrase, as stated above, will take you to the village of Carrillo, where the river calmly melds with the sea. Its uniqueness lies on the geography: think, sandy beach-river-sandy beach again-sea. Weird but true. And the water depth by the sandy banks are ideal for skimboarding, until you get your gliding fix.
On the Carrillo beach is an abandoned Scout Jamboree campsite, where the ruins of a concrete platform makes for a photogenic frame-within-a-frame.
Actually, “Masko-op” is MASCOOP, or the Masisit Cooperative. They run the best beach-side inn in Sanchez Mira. They have lines and lines of double-deckers with very comfy mattresses and linens, with the per-head-per-night rate ranging from PhP200-PhP250. A few cabins made of light materials (bamboo, palma brava, galvanized iron) can also be rented at PhP2000 per night. The thing going for MASCOOP’s inn: it is a sprint away from the Masisit surfing area, and some 30 minutes of walking south from there will get you to Carrillo. Talk about location, location, location!
Aaaand, our itchy feet sprung to action. Ano, tara? Tara!
(Just remember, responsible tourism goes a long, long way. Leave no trace, respect the locals, and have a rad, fine time!)
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