At about this time of the year, ranchers from all over the archipelago would be trooping to Masbate for the Rodeo Festival to recreate the American Old West town festivity in this island province. The biggest event of its kind, farmhands would show off their bravado in subduing the cattle, and their ranch skills that have earned them the badge of being a cowboy … and cowgirl.
For the second year, the place won’t be witnessing a Wild, Wild West makeover or get to hear cowboy music due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But despite being stripped of the usual the pomp and pageantry, it will remain the country’s “Rodeo Capital” because of its vast cattle ranches and raw roadside panorama.
An under-the-radar destination, it is interesting to note that Masbate is among the few low-risk areas due to its detachment from Luzon’s landmass, its low population density, and the abundance of open and green spaces. And unlike the dry deserts of the West, this archipelagic province teems with shimmering biodiversity-rich sea all around.
Pit Stop 1: Masbate City
Cowboy-wannabes can fly this provincial capital, commercial center, tourism service hub, and transport gateway in exploring this tourism frontier. You can charter a passenger van or motorcycle to drive around the well-paved roads hugging the scenic coasts.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can bike or ride the traditional mode of mobility of the olden days—the horse.
Visit Villa Bayot, a circa-1880s ancestral home which serves as a de facto museum which houses the family’s heirloom pieces. Drive around the neoclassical provincial capitol, as well as the landscaped public plaza and Rodeo Arena where cowboys are immortalized in monuments.
Swing by Buntod Sandbar, a 251-hectare reef marine sanctuary of white sand and mangrove forest where you can snorkel, or paddle a kayak. Just 15 minutes away by boat, it is an awardee of the prestigious Marine Science Network’s “Para El Mar Best Marine Sanctuary”.
Pit Stop 2: Milagros
An intriguing must-see in this quiet town is Fazenda de Esperanza, literally “farms of hope”, a farm-themed retreat where victims of substance abuse are rehabilitated for reintegration into mainstream society. Refresh yourself with flavored cow’s milk or take away farm produce to help support the Spanish-run halfway house.
On the way back, alight at the Mananggi Zigzag Road View Deck and can make a brief hike trek at a hilltop for a soothing vantage point of the mountain range and the long and winding road.
Pit Stop 3: Mandaon
Make your cowboy dreams a reality at the Sese Brahmans Ranch which boasts of perhaps the best breed of cattle in the province. Set amidst a sprawling terrain, you can arrange a session where you can learn the ropes of rancher 101 skills, ride a horse, and sink your teeth on fresh farm food.
Pit Stop 4: Balud
Located on Masbate’s southern end facing Capiz and Romblon, this coastal town has emerged in recent years as a beach haven. A frequented spot is Palani Beach, a powdery cove reminiscent of Boracay’s raw splendor decades ago dotted by quaint resorts and restaurants where you can laze and gaze at the vast horizon.
Just a few minutes across the town’s southern tip is Jintotolo Island where a 19th-century lighthouse which has guided merchant ships since the Spanish period still stands.
Pit Stop 5: Ticao Island
From Masbate City port, board a one-hour pumpboat ride to this subprovince which is a treasure trove of natural wonders. Settle at a beach resort in San Jacinto, and from there hop around the Instagrammable spots—the tall Catandayagan Falls which directly drops into the sea, the bookshelf-looking Burubangcaso Islet, and the secluded Haleya Nature Park.
Scuba divers can plunge into San Miguel Island’s underwater world which has some of the best-kept coral gardens and profusion of aquatic life. The more intrepid ones can foray into the Manta Bowl in Ticao Pass where manta rays hang around and get cleaned up by smaller fishes. If it’s your lucky day, you can also spot a butanding or whale shark, the world’s biggest fish, which feed on planktons in nearby Donsol Bay in Sorsogon.
Pit Stop 6: Burias Island
For an overload of white beach and crystalline sea, one can sail to this subprovince north of Ticao and Masbate mainland. This idyllic crude island is home to the iconic islets of Animasola, known for its huge monolithic rocks and the hat-shaped Sombrero which is also a top go-to spot.
If you reach this point, you have done an epic journey of air, land and sea and earned your inimitable bragging right as an extreme traveler. From Claveria port in Burias, you can head back to Luzon mainland by boat via Pio Duran in Albay, and head back to Manila.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.