Victoria, a languid little town between Allen and San Isidro, just across the island of Luzon, is one of the least known towns in Northern Samar. As Lavezares is better known as the gateway to Biri, the town of Victoria is the traveler’s access to, at least for now, its more popular island-neighbor San Antonio.
Life is slow and easy in this seaside town named after the daughter of former Philippine President Elpidio Quirino. Victoria’s landmark is not a mall, monument or majestic landmass but a huge steel bridge in barangay Mawo, the nucleus of the town and its original name when it was just a barrio of Calagundian (San Isidro) and La Granja (Allen).
The bridge spans the breadth of Mawo River, one of the major waterways of the province. Like most other rivers and streams of Northern Samar, the grand Mawo teems with marine resources. Not all of them are living creatures, though, for oldtimers recall a time when the natives could pan for gold dust along the river.
Victoria is caught between Northern Samar’s most aggressive towns in terms of economy pursuits and activity – San Isidro and Allen, considered the two gateways to Samar Island, Leyte, and Mindanao, from the Luzon and approach.
The town was originally called Mawo or Ma-o, loosely translated as “that right”, when it was but a barrio of Allen, along with San Isidro. Today, Mawo refers to just the barangay around the Mawo River, one of 16 that comprise the municipality created on April 27, 1968.
But Ma-o is also said to have meant, to the early settlers, “God’s acre.” And it was a fitting name for this area in which they had made their home, because it was blessed with lush verdant fields, deep virgin forests nurturing a thriving and active wildlife and rivers and streams yielding abundant harvests of fish and marine life. In the best of the olden times, it was said too, copper, silver, and gold dust could be gathered from along the riverbanks of the Mawo River.
Mawo was within its jurisdiction as a coastal barrio. Almost a century later, in 1954, the area that then was known as Calagundian, at the southern side of Allen, was declared a new municipality to be known as San Isidro. Again Mawo was part of this town.
It was not still three years after the creation of the Province of Northern Samar that the Municipality of Victoria came into its own as an independent town, through Republic Act No. 5193, filed by then Congressman Eladio Balite, and signed into law on April 27, 1968.
Thus do Victorianons today fondly refer to their town as apo sa tuhod or great grandchild of the old historic town of Capul. And so also, like the other towns in the Balicuatro district, does Victoria claim a historic past is enshrined in the annals of the pre-Hispanic Abak kingdom, Capul’s original name.
Though all that Mawo refers to these days is a barangay in Victoria, the appellation will never quite be lost to Victorianons because the river around which their forefathers clustered their homes has kept its name. And all the more so today, the huge steel bridge that spans it, the 280-meter Mawo Bridge, remains the most visible landmark of Victoria.
Before and after this bridge are stretches of intriguing shores and alluring beaches. The white beach located along the Maharlika Highway at Brgy. Buenos Aires, close to the poblacion of Victoria and the seaport of Allen, is quite easy to find and visit.
The entry to the beach, whether through a trail that is open to the public or a private resort, is a few steps away from the jeepney or pedicab stop along the highway. It may not be as expansive as the better known white beaches around the country, but the sand is just creamy and the water crystal clear.
The beach is called by many names, including “spice of life” – actually the old name of a resort in town – but more local folk known it by its original name, Borobodiongan, which is the old name Brgy. Buenos Aires where the white beach is located.
Food kiosk selling hotdogs and pork barbecue cooked in open charcoal embers are available on the side of the beach far from the blue waters and close to the street for quick inexpensive picnic meals. It is incredible to find a fun place at the center town, accessible from three of the most popular towns and cityin Samar Island – Allen, Catarman, and Calbayog.
Blessed with a gem of a beach resort, the locals seem to have overlooked their other scenic natural resources upland or upriver.
The townsfolk speak freely and fondly of the wild rivers, caves, and waterfalls located deep in the mountain fastness of Victoria, but many of them have only heard of their other natural treasures and have not actually gone to and experienced them. These places have been largely unexplored and untouched, hidden deep in the rugged hills of the town’s interior Barangays.
There is actually more to Victoria that the Borobodiongan Beach. The town is generally known as a transit point for travelers going to the resort island-town of San Antonio. Going north, it is only about 15 minutes or less away from the port town Allen, where bancas going to the historic town of Capul are available. The opposite direction leads to San Isidro, which serves as embarkation point for travelers going to the resort town of San Vicente, for its famous pink beach.
The Candominga Cave had been earlier cleared for a number of visiting mayors from others towns to see and explore, but the rocky cavern has been lost again to overgrown cogon grass and other wild plants that cover the path going to the mouth of the cave. This is a boon for extreme trekkers, but not quite for ordinary tourists out for a simple change of environment.
Extreme adventures will also find pleasure should they venture into Budoy and San Abner Falls, located deep in the interior Barangays of this town.
It takes habal-habal or motorized banca ride to get to these destinations, with unavoidable stretches of trekking, wading, climbing, and sometimes crawling, due to Victoria’s uneven terrains. They are moderately sloping to outright steep and hilly, with pathways that are soft and muddy during the rainy season.
For some, this is part of the adventure. For others, it is not. The habal-habal rides could take too much time and trekking could be too cumbersome for those with old legs, or those with little or no sense of adventure. But the thing with Northern Samar, especially Victoria, is that most of its tourist gems are hidden in the remotest hills and mountains and are not easy to find.
Those who care to find Victoria’s secrets should know that searching for them should not be their single most important fulfillment, but rather discovering more of them along the way.
There is a not-so-hidden secret close to the poblacion, a mere 10-minute drive from the town proper. It is interestingly called Overflow Bridge – an embankment of sorts that enables small cars and tricycles to get across a rampaging upland river leading to other Barangays on the opposite bank.
The water from the river literally overflows during heavy rains, thus cutting of motorists and pedestrians, the intensity of rampaging current below the embankment causes water to cascades from a small elevation, triggering furious sights and sounds of while white bubble water gushing and splashing over and across solid rocks and pebbles.
On an ordinary day, water continues to cascade from the elevated ramp, gently flowing as it crashes to form bubbling foam and filling the air with cold white mist. It is this spectacle and sensation that draws people to unpretentious native huts located close by, built by an enterprising couple serving only snacks topped with fresh air, open skies, picturesque surroundings, and primal sounds of the river. Some women tirelessly yet serenely was clothes on the riverbank, their load lightened by nature’s nurturing presence and company.
Victoria’s secrets are no longer a veiled mystery to many people, but it is better to discover them up close and personal.