The waters of San Bernardino Strait, capricious and temperamental as 21st century weather, are soothing and tantalizingly tranquil from March to August, the best time for a travel blog-perfect visit to the resort island town of San Antonio.
The municipality spans all of Dalupiri Island and the tiny islets close to it, visible only at ebb tide off the western coast of mainland Samar Island and at the southern end of the strait.
The province premier summer getaway and flag-bearer of its determined march to get on the tourist map, San Antonio offers one of the best leisure swimming and diving sites in the country. For beach buffs, the island has stretches of powdery white sand sloping into clear blue waters. Further a sea where the coral reefs abound, the waters are ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling, marine life observation, and even sailing, yachting and jet skiing.
The municipal territory covers Dalupiri Island, believed to have been a no man’s land until waves of new settlers arrived in the 1800s to escape religious and political persecution from Spanish authorities from the mainland and other surrounding islands in the Visayas, including Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Masbate.
Archaeological excavations In a burial ground located between Brgy. San Nicolas and Brgy. Dalupirit indicate, however, that the island may have already been inhabited by hunters and fishermen of Malay origin long before the Spaniards arrived. The presence of Chinese earthenware among the artifacts also suggests Chinese influence.
The original settlers on the island may have been wiped out by a great plague, according to a municipal historical profile, or swept away by a catastrophic storm. The present residents are descendants of families mostly from mainland Samar, Leyte,, Cebu, and Bohol. This explains why inhabitants from one part of the island speak Ninorte Samarnon and another part communicate in Cebuano.
Dalupiri Island was known by many names before it was established as a visita by Franciscan missionaries from the nearby Capul Island around the latter half of the 19th century. The friars installed Saint Anthony of Padua as the community’s patron saint and thereafter called the settlement of San Antonio. A fiesta celebration has been observed in honor of St. Anthony since 1901.
The town’s original name was Manoglaya, short for mano nga paraglaya, which literally means a fisherman using a laya or net.
Another wave of settlers arrived and called the island Sugod-sugod, derived from the Cebuano word sugod or beginning. It is also known that the town was once called Matabia, believed to refer to the knife-shape of the island.
In 1904, the island finally shed off its old names when it became a full-fledged municipality and was officially given the name San Antonio, in honor of its patron saint.
Pride in the island-town
There is apparent collective pride of place and sense of ownership in the faces of the inhabitants of Dalupiri Island or San Antonio refers to the municipality, although most residents consider both as one and the same.
The San Antonio town proper is most accessible, less than 30 minutes away by motorized banca, from the port in Victoria town just across the island from the east. Some of the more popular resorts are located close to the center and within walking distance from the pier.
Besides this main port, there are three others on the island. The ports in Brgy. Vinisitahan at the northern end and Brgy. Dinalupirit on the western coast are the destinations of pump boats from the Allen seaport, while from San Isidro town, the entry is through the southern gateway in Brgy. Burabod.
Shy but welcoming faces meet visitors who disembark from the motorized bancas that regularly ply the routes between Victoria or San Isidro and San Antonio for as long as there are commuters. Like most other towns of Northern Samar, the island is defined by gently rolling hills covered with lush coconut plantations. The terrain is mostly flat, with a maximum elevation of 35 meters above sea level.
Transportation is generally by tricycle, with organized drivers patiently waiting their turn near the pier. The watching area is clean and amply shaded by tall and leafy coconut trees standing motionless close to the sea. A tricycle can ferry a visitor around the island at a price less than a pack of cigarettes and would gladly serve s guide for a similarly friendly fee. Tricycle drivers are hospitable and are conscious of their role in promoting their town as a tourism destination.
The waters surrounding the island are kept clear of pollutants with regular maintenance from the local government. The mangroves are staunchly protected to allow marine life to grow and flourish.
The locals are fully aware of the benefits they derive from caring for their marine reserves, in preserving their culture, or whatever is left of it, and natural heritage. It is not just the white beaches, but their lakes and caves as well that help provide them employment and livelihood opportunities as transport workers, tourist guides, resort staff, and producers and sellers of souvenir products.
Aside from being a full service resort town, San Antonio also serves as a jump-off point to other equally exotic destinations that are close by, including the centuries-old island municipality of Capul and the equally famous Naranjo islands that compose San Vicente town.
Beauty from the seaside
There are only 10 barangays on Dalupirit Island, but most of these have their particularly unique attractions. Rock formations along the coast form a scenic backdrop in visitors’ views of Brgy. San Nicolas. Brgy. Rizal hosts a solar spring and a cave, and a fishy sanctuary is the treasured resource of Brgy. Pilar located at the southern end of the island.
The beautiful Lagbangan Lake is perfect for sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking, or for simply beholding the island’s crystal clear sea water and unspoiled beauty from a native hammock or rocking chair on the shore.
The operation of beach resorts on the island town was started by an Italian businessman who opened the Flying Dog Beach Resort sometime in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the owner died in a bizarre dynamite blasting accident in one of the town’s dive sites, putting on hold the town’s initial venture into eco-tourism for some years.
The wait did not take long though. A local beachfront property owner opened a similar resort, starting out with a small makeshift cottage and “video singko”. Since no one else was operating a resort in the area, many local tourists were drawn to it not necessarily for the videoke, but to enjoy the beach. A few, of course, took pleasure in both.
The unexpected influx of tourists inspired one of the owners – a civil engineer by profession – to build more open-air cottages. As more cottages were built, more customers were drawn in, charmed by bith the town’s famous sun and sand, and enticed by the resort’s clean and comfortable amenities, including air conditioned rooms, videoke facilities, private cottages, boardroom for conferences, billiard halls, and other features.
This success story encouraged other beachfront owners to open their own resorts. Aside from Haven of Fun, there are now a number of beach resorts operating in the island, including Seashore Spring, Crystal Sand, and Puro Beach.
The local government is in no particular hurry to approve every application to build a resort that comes its way though. Each application undergoes rigid scrutiny and is assessed according to criteria anchored on environmental protection and sustainability.
After all, San Antonio envisions to be an Eden for tourists not just for the here and now, but for the here, there are beyond; to be an island that satiates man’s anthropologic desire to be close to nature, to be lost in time in lush forests and rugged mountains, to savor the fragrant breezes from the ocean, and to listen to the music of the sea.