The shoreline of Allen – etched starkly in moss-tipped slopes of gray against a luminous ruby sunrise, the warm purple hues of dusk or the searing golden brilliance of midday – is the first sight of the Visayas that meets the eye of the traveler approaching from the north. The end of a land trip down the island of Luzon connects the journey to the central islands of the archipelago, and even all the way down south to Mindanao, via a two-hour voyage through the fickle waters of San Bernardino Strait and into this little gateway town of Northern Samar.
The municipality of Allen, located at the northwestern side of Northern Samar and of the entire Samar Island, was originally only a sitio of Capul, an old island town off the mainland, which traces its history to pre-Spanish times and had thriving settlements even beyond this island.
The pioneer inhabitants of the sitio are believed to have been migrants from Capul and San Antonio islands west of the mainland because based on a Spanish census taken around 1775, a Juan (or Mariano) Cabacang and Cosmiana (or Cosmenia) Cajandab – two individuals with distinctly Capuleño surnames – were among its first residents. They were among the families who dared ventured across the tempestuous San Bernandino Strait to the shores of a land they simply called Manipa-a, a term descriptive of a nipa palms that flourished in the area.
Through the end of the 1700s and early into the next century, more families joined the migration stream from the offshore islands into Manipa-a. And to the growing numbers from Capul and San Antonio were further added the families who also came by watercraft from the Bicol Region, particularly the province of Sorsogon at the edge of Luzon Island.
With more families coming into Manipa-a, it was not long before the residents petitioned for autonomy from Capul, and the sitio was elevated onto a separate pueblo in 1867.
The newly-established municipality was given the name La Granja. The term literally means ranch or farmland, which undoubtedly was what the Newfoundland represented to the migrant families from the outlying island and from Luzon. A number of historical accounts thought cite an interpretation of La Granja in reference not the bounty of the land but the pulchritude of its people, freely translating it as “home of beautiful maidens (dalagas).” It is entirely possible that La Granja is an abbreviated from of what the town was called upon its established under Spanish rule.
A change of colonial rulers barely four decades later led to another name-change. By the turn of the century, Americans had taken over control of the Philippines Island, and in 1903 they began to call the pueblo “Allen” in honor of General Henry T. Allen, the American general then serving as military governor in Leyte Samar, a post he held from 1901 to 1904.
The town served as an important military camp for the Americans during the period, and it was from this place that reinforcements were sent to the embattled American soldiers of the 43rd Infantry Regiment during the bloody siege in Catubig from April 15 to 19, 1900.
To This day, cannon relics are found along the hillside of the public elementary school compound, at the foreground of the ruins of the historic Gabaldon school buildings at the town center, guarding the approach to Allen from the old port. They serve as grim reminders of a dark chapter in the history of Samar Island.
Gateway from the sea
There are two major points of entry from Luzon to the island of Samar – Allen and San Isidro. But most inter-island vessels prefer to dock at Allen primarily because it is a shorter distance from Matnog Port in Sorsogon.
Two private port terminals – Balwharteco (Looc) and Arcipilago
Philippine Ferries Corporation (Dapdap) – serve passengers and cargo seacraft, and the “ro-ro” (roll-on, roll-of) ships plying Matnog and Allen which serve as mobile bridges along the country’s nautical highway system.
Leaving Allen by ship at noon will get the traveler to Metro Manila before daybreak and just in time to start a new day. On a reverse course, leaving the metropolis early evening and traversing the length of Luzon through the night will get the motorist or commuter to Allen, the first landfall in the Visayas, at daybreak.
The clear waters that greet disembarking passengers from Luzon hold a lot promise for Allen’s eco-tourism industry. But most are in transit and have little time to linger long enough to get to know and appreciate the town better by trekking to yet unexplored caves, bathing under waterfalls, basking in pristine beaches and enjoying the bounty of generous seas.
Those with time, or who make the time, to explore Allen will discover that there is more to this beach town than just the pili delicacies, bottled clams and dried fish and squid peddled by young boys and elderly women at the pier.
To Samar Island and beyond
Like most of the 24 towns in Northern Samar, Allen thrives on coconut production, farming, livestock-raising, and fishing. Its more competitive edge lies in its being the transit point of motorist traversing the Philippine archipelago from Luzon to various destinations in Samar and beyond.
It is also the center of trade, commerce, and education for the nearby Balicuatro municipalities of Capul, San Antonio, San Vicente, San Isidro, Victoria and Lavezares, making it a natural magnet for business and industry.
Already one of the premier towns of Northern Samar, after the capital town of Catarman and the old port town of Laoang, Allen still aspires to get ahead of the two in eco-tourism and agribusiness, aiming to become the Province’s investment capital within the decade.
The municipality’s limited land area, however, is a major drawback. A hefty chunk of Allen has been separated by legislation to become the municipalities of Victoria and San Isidro. With only about 4,760 hectares left to comprise the entire town, it is considerably smaller in land area than its two daughters towns.
In town and out-of-town island hopping
Frequently a transit rather than destination town, Allen’s natural attraction has often been overlooked or bypassed by tourists or visitors coming into Northern Samar. Yet one need not even go too far off from the port or poblacion from some of the best sights in town.
Within the town center. A number of must-see only-in-Allen spots are at the central elementary school compound, spread on a hillside with a perfect view of the sea. Along the slope are ruins of fort ramparts and mounted cannons that reflect a violent past but which grade school children growing up in peace now only use as benches or props for their ground games. Also strewn around the wide schoolyard are huge boulders around which many legends and tales have been spun. Old-timers speak of a time when these rocks were spewed in a volcanic rage of Mount Bulusan and thrown across the Strait all the way Sorsogon.
One of the more popular rocks in town is known simply as the “Growing Rock,” jutting out into the main road not far from the school. Older Allenians remember the rock being just aligned with the sidewalk pavement, tucked in among the commercial stalls.
With more time to spare, visitors or travelers have a selection of resorts to choose from in Allen, lodging houses with naturally air-cooled nipa cottages or resort hotels with cozy-air conditioned rooms. Most are along the shoreline overlooking San Bernardino Strait and, on a clear day, with a view of the southern tip of Luzon Island from just across a tropical hut. From there, one can map out plans to explore some of Northern Samar’s more exquisite places to visit.
Allen has its fair share of the caves and waterfalls for which Northern Samar is steadily gaining fame and distinction. But the rewards of the more heart-stopping, breath-catching sights to behold – such as in the Kinaguitman, Libtong and Nilumusan Falls and the Cabacungan Cave – are won only after intense trekking and caving.
For out of town, the closest sights to explore are in the towns of Victoria and San Isidro., both of which are no more than one hour or so way. There are regular pump boats that take locals and visitors from Allen to San Vicente, known for its pink beach and crystal clear waters.
Since Allen takes pride in being the gateway to other towns in Northern Samar and many other destinations in the Visayas and Mindanao, the municipality is determined to make life more comfortable and pleasant for all tourist and visitors. For a place to rest and indulge in amenities not so readily available in unexplored caves, unchartered waterfalls, and virgin beaches, Allen is the perfect warm-up zone or well-deserved R-&-R before and after an exciting adventure beyond its inviting blue waters and refreshingly green mountain views.