A road trip down the national highway that traverses the length of San Isidro, from Victoria to Calbayog City, leaves unchallenged the town’s claim to being the “waterfalls capital of Northern Samar”.
For Maharlika Highway in this part of Samar Island moves along nine bridges, each spanning a rushing rolling river or a lively little brook.
The bridges alone hint of the number of waterways in this town and the cascades of water that feed into the river systems. The most popular of them is Veriato Falls, literally just a stone’s throw away from the national highway, the crystal clear curtains fall in a sparkling mist into bubbly pool that entices even the most harried traveler.
When the locals say Veriato is a convenient stop, but not the most spectacular of the waterfalls of San Isidro, it is a teasing, tantalizing thought of what other stunning sights are in there, deep in the forested mountains.
Along with the adjacent town of Victoria, San Isidro used to be known as Calagundian, a flourishing barrio of Allen, whose residents were mostly immigrants from neighboring towns in Samar and descendants of the early settlers from Bicol, Bohol, Leyte and Cebu.
Its name was derived from the lagundi plant, a shrub traditionally used to treat coughs, colds, and other respiratory diseases. For centuries the village was referred to in the context of this shrub, which grew in abundance near the swamps and was a popular curative herb among local healers.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the bario became better known as the Rancheria Calagundian of La Granja (Allen’s old name) – literally a farm and pastureland where herds of cattle and other livestock were brought to graze. When La Granja was established as a town separate from its mother municipality of Capul in 1863, it had four visitas – Mauo, Sucjan, Pinonayan and Barobaybay.
Calagundian was not amongthe first visitas of La Granja; it was established as one 24 years later, on September 29, 1887. Immediately after, the Calagundian community built their first church, a structure made of local materials-sulirap made of coconut leaves for its walls and a nipa roof – and on its altar, the image of Señor San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farmers.
It was not until 67 years later, and into the next century, that Calagundian was elevated into a municipality, by virtue of Republic Act 1187, authored by then Congressman Agripino Escareal of Samar and signed into law by former President Ramon Magsaysay on June 20, 1954. With its establishment, the municipality was renamed San Isidro in honor of the saint whose patronage the people had already sought and known for decades.
San Isidro is not much different from the other towns of Northern Samar, except for the numerous and intricate waterways and gushing falls found deep in its interiors. The people live on subsistence farming and fishing, harvesting from the resources of land and sea. Food is not hard to come by, but cash to build homes, buy medicines, and send children to school is difficult to obtain.
A coastal town with a network of river systems flowing from nearby mount Soomong, San Isidro has its fair share of marine resources, both from its inland waters, and a bountiful sea accessible from a 21.8 kilometer shoreline along 12 coastal Barangays. But these resources are largely untapped, with the local fishermen catching just enough for their families and a few extra to be sold in the market for fund to purchase rice and fuel for their next fishing expedition.
The municipality, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, has identified a number of areas for possible mariculture production, but their recommendations have mostly gone unheeded due to a lack of technical knowledge and capacity, and capital.
The town takes pride in being one of only two “gateway” towns to and from Luzon, through port terminals that process passengers and cargo from Matnog to the Maharlika Highway in Northern Samar. San Isidro has had relinquish this title, however, due to the closure of the local port, as most ferries prefer to use the terminals in Allen because of their proximity to Matnog.
Isles, beaches and falls
While San Isidro has not entirely given up the quest to reclaim its title as “gateway” to Samar Island and Mindanao, it is also fixing its gaze on new opportunities to be tapped from its caves, waterfalls, islets, and beaches.
Two of its best beaches are in Canauayon Island and in Brgy. San Juan on the mainland. Canauayon, only a few hundred meters from the ferry terminal in Brgy. Salvacion, is nine-hectare private island surrounded by more than 13 hectares of natural coral cover, fish sanctuary and a strip of white beach sand at the northern end. It is fast gaining a reputation for the town among diving enthusiasts.
Dancalan Beach in Brgy. San Juan is just across Canauayon, and many visitors or tourists who know of these two attractions are known to start their day in Dancalan and cross over to the islet on a rowboat to catch the last glow sundown.
Bangon Falls, sometimes also referred to as Veriato Falls because the cascades are found in Brgy. Veriatom has long been a favored picnic site among locals. Although the falls are narrow, they are strikingly memorable to most travelers along the Maharlika Highway because after only a short distance from a bend in the road, they chance upon a natural pool of cool sparkling waters poured out from the mountains.
For those with more time and energy to spare, the grander Kanpongkol Falls is about 7.5 kilometers off the national highway. The multi-layer falls, the meeting point of three major rivers including the majestic Mawo, and several more creeks, can be reached via motorized vehicle from Brgy. Happy Valley, passing through three other Barangays, and half a kilometer of hiking through forest trails.
Egot Falls offers another view of Eden, but the 150-foot water cascade is more arduous to reach, requiring a four-hour walk through an old logging road. It is not for the faint of heart and the irresolute spirit, but it should provide the ultimate satisfaction for extreme adventurers and true nature lovers.
With no winding rivers to cross and steep mountains to climb to reach many of its potential tourist attractions, the town of San Isidro does not need to cut its trees, mine its mountains, and risk it river labyrinth to mining pollution to generate instant gratification from the wealth of its natural beauty.
By simply building access roads – and later accommodation – for tourists and travelers seeking to discover its pristine beaches, caves, and falls, this town should generate much more in pesos and dollars, without the risk of pollution, floods, and other disasters wrought by a logged and mined forest environment.