Catanduanes Province

Catanduanes IslandCatanduanes, an island paradise of howling winds and strange calm, lies east of the Bicol mainland, separated from the mainland Bicol by the Maqueda Channel and the Lagonoy Gulf. It is the first landmass of the Philippine archipelago to kiss the Pacific Ocean, making it directly open to the path of tropical cyclones, thus the moniker, “The Land of the Howling Winds”. With Virac as its capital, Catanduanes is subdivided into 11 municipalities, 315 barangays and one congressional district.

The population of the province as of May 1, 2000 was 215,356 reflecting a population density of 142.5 persons per square kilometer. The province has an average annual growth rate of 1.33 percent from 1995 to 2000. Due to its exposed location, Catanduanes is directly open to typhoons which had frequently visited it in the past immobilizing its economy and its people. March to August promises drier weather, but the surf, swell, and howling winds of October and the rainier wet months attract more extreme adventure-seekers.

The province is rich in natural resources, forests, waterfalls, rivers, mineral deposits and productive soil made fertile by volcanic ashes of distant Mayon Volcano. Rattancraft, fishing, buri hat and mat making and abaca craft are its most important industries. Catanduanes tops other provinces in the production of the finest grade of abaca hemp. Major crops are rice, corn, coconut, abaca and rootcrops. Fishing ranks second to farming as the main source of livelihood. The province has no major industry except cottage industries which are abaca- and forestry-based.

Catanduanes is a kidney-shaped island at the easternmost seaboard of the Philippines. It is the first land mass of the Philippine archipelago to kiss the Pacific Ocean at 13.5o to 14o north latitude and 124o to 125.5o east longitude. A part of the Bicol Region, Catanduanes is the 12th largest island of the Philippines and is separated from the Bicol Peninsula by the Maqueda Bay and Lagonoy Gulf. Catanduanes is famous for its unspoiled beaches, pre-historic caves, exotic places, quaint stone chapels and massive churches. Despite the typhoons, safe anchorage are provided by its many bays and coves notably Kalapalan, Gigmoto, Soboc and Cabugao. Its Pacific coastlines are havens for surfers.

The province, formerly known as “Catanduan”, “Catandongan”, and finally Catanduanes, derived its name from the “tando” trese which then abound in the island. Catanduanes gets hit by more than it’s fair share of typhoons, it also has the highest annual rainfall in the Philippines. “Isla de Cobos” was the Catanduanes‘ first adopted name. It was earned as such during the early part of 1573 when Spanish conquistadores came upon several tribes living in the thatched huts called cobos. Catanduanes, is a hispanized term derived from the word tandu, a native beetle and the samdong tree, which were both found in abundance throughout the island. A common reference to “katanduan” or “kasamdongan”, meaning a place where the tandu or the samdong tree thrives in abundance, led to the coining of the word Catanduanes.

Bicol is the common language used with different nuances and variations in tones especially when one gets to the northern towns. English and Tagalog are commonly spoken and understood.

The beauty of Catanduanes has been talked about since 1987, when photographers and surfers from Surfer magazine visited Puraran Beach and hailed the island as a wave-rider’s dream. Drawn by stories of the waves’ perfect barrels, surfers from all over have been converging in Catanduanes. Especially during the peak months of August to September.

From the coast, you can sit for hours watching the waves cascading endlessly. But besides the well-known waves and palm-strewn beachfront, the rest of this island province is mostly untouched. Rural village life is simple and unhurried. There is no rush to keep up with the modern world. It’s a total escape, with no big-city bustle, no towering buildings, and nearly no noise.

Catanduanes is home to many folk festivals which are celebrated as part of the local religious rituals. The Kalbaryo or Calvary, which is commonly staged during Holy Week, is a re-enactment of Christ’s way of the cross. The Kagharong is a native depiction of the nativity scene and is held every year during the yuletide season. Pantomina is purely a dance interpretation of a rooster courting a hen and is mostly practice in rural areas. The Padadyao sa Tinampo is a native cultural presentation of street dancing held every 24th of October to commemorate the province’s founding anniversary. The recent addition to Catanduanes’ festivals is the Sugbo Festival. It is celebrated by 7 barangays of Hitoma in Caramoan that produces sugbo or tiger grass – a bamboo like perennial grass used to make brooms.

There are no taxis in the island. Getting around Catanduanes, one may take a bus, jeepney, van, tricycle or a motorbike. In the capital town of Virac, tricycles are the common public transport. Some accommodation establishments have their own transport vehicle for visitors checked in at their hotels. The capital is accessible by boat from Tabaco in Albay Province. Domestic flights to its capital from Manila are also available.

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