On the stretch of coastal highway between Lavezares and San Jose, when motoring from the busy port to Allen to the provincial capital Catarman, the only hint of the existence of this quiet little town are the glow-in-the-dark road signs announcing “Rosario”.
These hardly provide a clue to the colossal masterpiece of nature at the ocean edge of the town, in the coastal barangay of Ligaya on Gilbert Island, tucked away between a wide expanse of water and a labyrinth of mangrove forests, huge rock, and tidal seawater.
A handsome prize awaits the daring eco-adventure at this rocky mountain lair at the edge of mainland Samar, similarly close to Biri if coming from Gilbert Island. It is being in total communion with nature, embraced by the cool ocean breeze and fresh mountain air, and eyewitness to a grand orchestra of rhythmic sea waves.
The original settlers in the area that is now the municipality of Rosario were families from Sorsogon who had crossed San Bernardino Strait in the mid 1800s to avoid being forcibly enlisted by Spanish authorities for military duty or for the construction of churches, fortresses and ships for Spain.
They first built their homes on a peninsula-shaped point north of the present town center, but later moved to the present site, naming their settlement Mamban, after a native plant with rattan-like stems that are used for sewing together nipa thatches. As its population increased with the influx of more families from nearby areas and from across the strait, Mamban became a barrio of Bobon, one of the old original towns of the province.
Mamban was later renamed in honor of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, whose image was brought from Sorsogon by one Francisca de Vera and later donated to the church for veneration of the community in the late 1800s. The barrio folk then attributed the abundance of harvests from the land and sea to its arrival, thus the people of the barrio decided to call their community Rosario.
In 1949, when Carangian, another barrio of Bobon, was elevated into a municipality and renamed San Jose, Rosario came under its territorial jurisdiction. It remained a barrio of San Jose for 20 years, until it was granted municipality status by virtue of Republic Act 5867 on June 21, 1969.
Like most towns of Northern Samar, Rosario is largely agricultural, its croplands mainly devoted to coconut and rice. As a coastal municipality, fishing and aquaculture in the form of fishpond and fish cages contribute significantly to the livelihood of its people.
It takes special pride in its delectable mud crabs observes an annual festival to celebrate their economic contribution to the town through the Kinis (Crab) Festival. The celebration is highlighted by competitions (such as crab racers and fattest crab contests) and street dancing, where school children garbed in colorful costumes showcase their terpsichorean skills by imitating the movement and natural behaviors of crabs. The crustaceans are available in great quantities in Brgys. 1 & 2, Bantolinao, Salhag, Jamoog, Aguada, Ligaya, and Buenavista.
Medicina from a hot spring
A hot spring popularly called Medicina by local folks is one of the most popular tourist spots in Rosario. The place is called Sitio Medicina in Brgy. I Commonwealth where water drawn from a particular well is strangely warm and believed to have medicinal properties. The site is frequented not just by the locals or passing visitors, but also by repeat visitors who come to the hot spring as a matter of saad, or annual ritual of thanksgiving.
The naturally warm water emanates from a traditional hand dug well of about 200 feet. It is extracted not by pumping, but by hand bailing. The process is low-tech by any stretch of imagination, where a pail is lowered using a rope to fetch water from the aquifer or groundwater.
Groundwater is still an important source of potable water in many parts of Northern Samar, although there are now more manual water pumps to be found in common areas of many Barangays in the province. The groundwater well in Rosario may never be replaced by any form of machine to extract water from nature. Its traditional design has produced many figurative references, including the story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman at Jacob’s well.
This is probably why the hot spring owner reportedly refused a P10 million offer from the LGU to develop it into a resort, but allowed a religious group to build the divine mercy chapel beside the hot spring. The hot spring continues to attract devotees and plain observers, prompting many of the townsfolk to believe that it is their biggest tourist draw and recommending it to friends and tourists looking for interesting places to visit in their town.
While the Medicina or hot spring – used alternately by townsfolk to refer to the site – is indeed the town’s finest source of pride at the moment, tourists looking for more scenic spots may be in for a disappointment to find a rather ordinary well with natural warm water.
Falls and rock formations
Apart from Medicina, Rosario also has other natural attractions. Waterfalls like Busay and Guindaulan are off the highway, beyond rice paddies and coconut plantations, and deep into mountain trails. Caves like Binuga and unique beaches like Aswang Beach are to be found down mangrove-lined rivers or on rock-ringed islands.
Busay is the local dialect’s translation for waterfalls. Which would make Busay Falls seem redundant, except when one realizes that Busay 1 is only the first of a series of seven waterfalls, successively grander in cascade and volume as the trek gets deeper into the forest and higher up Mount Binalabag. The first cascade, located within private property, has lost some of its volume and force due to the diversion of the water to a nearby reservoir for irrigation, but the locals assure those prepared for a rigorous trek that there’s more water as the forest deepens and the slopes gets steeper.
Binuga Cave is located in Brgy. Ligaya on Gilbert Island, just below a rocky mountain facing the sea. The attraction is not just the cave but the massive rocks that surround the natural cavern.
It is accessible from the poblacion via an hour or so motor boat ride that passes through a river network. The scenic drive also features a number of palanas or natural rock pavements on the river banks, a welcome clearing after several kilometers of riverside mangrove clusters. Some of these palanas banks are popular picnic and swimming areas among the locals, including a spot intriguingly called Aswang Beach, just across what appears to be a delta, known as Ulalahipan, the local term for centipede.
The giant rocks leading to Binuga Cave are a treat by themselves, with lots of climbing to keep one’s adrenalin going, natural pools for swimming, marvelous seascapes to enjoy and quiet moments to recharge body and mind. The cave and rock formations are hidden from the rest of the world by large tracts of coconut plantations and shallow coastal seawaters that block fishermen from seeking refuge in the rocky fringes of Brgy. Ligaya. It’s still largely uninhabited with its shallow, turbid, turbulent, and obviously unfriendly coastal seawaters shooing away would-be settlers.
But with the LGU’s plan to build a port and an access road leading to the rocks, this remote and uninhabited coastal bliss is poised to become Rosario’s main tourist draw.