The picturesque municipality of San Vicente, located off the western coast of Northern Samar, close to Bulan in Sorsogon and Dimasalang in Masbate, is literally the province’s farthest town from anywhere in mainland Samar.
San Vicentehanons describe the cluster that makes up their town as “nine emerald-like islands and islets.” An apt description for Pacific land nuggets blessed with a jade carpet of rolling hills, pockets of dazzling white and pink beaches, and a treasure trove of vibrant marine life that includes playful dolphins and frightful whale sharks.
The last and least among all the municipalities in the province – in land area, population and income class – San Vicente is in truth, however, the wealthiest in beauty and bounty that numbers alone cannot define.
San Vicente is one of only two towns in Northern Samar that are largely Cebuano-speaking, although most residents can speak Ninorte Samarnon as well. The Cebuano dialect was introduced by its first settlers, who arrived from the island of Cebu on board a paraw, a single mast wind-powered boat.
According to folklore, during the early Spanish period, two families – the Monares and Garpesas – left their hometown in search of the proverbial greener pastures. They sailed from Cebu until they reached the island known as Destacado, settling in the western section of the island where a natural cove provided a perfect shelter from sea waves and storm surges.
When the families learned of the happy fate of the pioneers, more migrants flocked to Descatado and the smaller islands close to it.
These islands were under the jurisdiction of Capul unil 1966, when the cluster was recognized as a full-fledged municipality through Republic Act 4760. The town was named in honor of its patron saint, San Vicente Ferrer. A small mission chapel had been built close to the municipio, but a bigger one is rising on a more picturesque hill to accommodate the growing number of faithful.
The municipality of San Vicente includes seven major islands that are collectively called the Naranjo Islands. The poblacion remains in Descatado, the largest of the islands and located further south than the rest – Tarnate, Sila, Sangputan, Panganoron, Maragat, and Mahaba – which form a circular cluster. Three of the seven barangays are in Descatado, while the four are island barangays in Tarnate, Sila Sangputan and Maragat.
The islands, about two and a half hours by diesel-powered motor seacraft from Allen or San Isidro on the mainland, are virtually isolated from the larger land masses by the turbulent sea waters of the old Tagbaloran (stormy) Strait, how known as San Bernardino Strait, from September to February.
With climate change, the upsurge of storms, habagat and amihan are closely monitored by village elders and experienced fishermen for signs of impending danger from the sea. So far, the summer months of March, April, and May are the most inviting time of the year for tourists to visit the town’s finest gem – the Pink Beach.
The Pink Beach literally describes its powdery pinkish sand, a result of red corals crushed and washed ashore through the ages. Located on the uninhabited side of the Sila Island visitors to this unique stretch of coastline come not only from the poblacion in Destacado but on hired bancas in package tours from the resorts in San Antonio or Allen.
Constant exposure to sea travel over towering or choppy waves can be quite unsettling for most city dwellers accustomed to leisurely bay cruises. Not so far the locals of this town. They have learned to cast their lot in the hands of experienced boatmen who can tell from cloud formations and the movement of waves when not to defy the temper of the seas.
After more than two hours at sea, travelers from mainland Northern Samar make their first stop at Descatado Island. The concrete seaport is elongated and serves both as passenger and fish landing site.
Hundreds of small fishing boats drop anchor at the pier to unload their catch for local consumption and for distribution to other towns outside of Samar Island, usually in the coastal municipality of Bulan in Sorsogon. Local fishermen and traders claim their catch fetches better prices and most of the commodities they purchased are relatively lower prices compared to Northern Samar.
The island, originally called Mongolbongol, is blessed with abundant resource of clean drinking water and rich marine life that attract an innumerable number of fishing season, which is usually year-round except during heavy storms and habagat.
Mongolbongol is presently the name of one three barangays that comprise the poblacion, where the seats of local government and religion are located. It is also the most scenic among all the barangays, with spectacular mountain and ocean views from the top of the island. During low tides, the sandbar and coral reef known as Pasil is clearly visible, and can easily be counted as a pretty little island. Sunsets are spectacular when Pasil is etched on the horizon at twilight.
A head-like rock formation called Ulo by the locals is located at the end of the island, and alongside this, the pebble-beach called Marasbaras, which is part of the childhood experience of practically every Vicentehanon.
The Naranjo group of island can be accessed from mainland Northern Samar, Bulan in Sorsogon, or Dimasalang in Masbate, although most passenger boats from these ports proceed only to the poblacion or Destacado Island.
Trips from mainland Northern Samar are schedule only once daily from the ports of Allen and Sand Isirdo. Special trips can be arranged at the behest of a paying passenger willing to bear the cost of fuel and wider luggage area and more passenger seats.
The poblacion is must-top for most passengers coming from Allen or San Isidro. Tricycles for hire are used for cargoes unloaded from arriving passenger boats at Mongolbongol. Only after the cargoes are delivered can passengers hire them, although most places of places of interest in the town center, including the municipio and church, are within walking distance from the pier.
Before arranging for a boat trip from the poblacion to the Pink Beach at Sila Island, it is a good idea to trek around and view some equally interesting sites. The new church, for example, is perched atop a hill overlooking the scenic San Vicente cove below, which also gives a good view of Ulo.
From Destacado, Pink Beach-bound passengers have to arrange for a trip to Sila Island, 30 minutes to an hour away from the poblacion depending on the size of boat to hire and the condition of sea waves. Be warned thought that the seawater from cove, usually still and calm near the shoreline, does not represent the true condition of the waves beyond it. Most of the boats in San Vicente are bigger and sturdier than most other sea vessels in other municipalities in Northern Samar precisely because of the town’s normally turbulent sea waters/
The boat ride from Destacado to Sila alone is exhilarating, with the added attraction of schools of “flying fish,” locally known as toray, skipping over the waves. The biggest seawater show, however, is provided by playful but shy-to-human-contact dolphins leaping in arcs above the sea. There is no guarantee that they will show during a trip, but it is a good idea to have a pair of binoculars or camera with zoom function handily just in case.