Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting Here

How does one get there? Where is it exactly? I have been recently getting a few e-mails and blog comments asking these two questions about Lianga. Perhaps it is time to make the effort to answer them.

Ordinarily, when I want to know where a specific place is in this country or anywhere else in the world, I would grab the nearest world atlas or, better still, go online and try to look the place up through such online services as Wikipedia or Google Earth. But for more specific information. nothing beats the details provided by someone who has been to that particular location or is already staying there.

For starters, Lianga is a 4th class municipality in the province of Surigao del Sur. It is located on the eastern or Pacific coast of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and, according to the latest demographic data, has a population of some 26,000 people. Surigao del Sur together with the surrounding provinces of Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Dinagat Island comprise Region XIII or the Caraga administrative region which is one of 17 such regions all over the country.

Travelling to Lianga from anywhere in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world starts with a trip either by land, sea or air to two cities in Mindanao which are nearest to it. One is Butuan City which is the capital of Agusan del Sur province and the regional center for the Caraga region. It has a domestic airport with regular passenger plane links to Cebu City in the Visayas and to Manila, the national capital in Luzon. It also has a seaport in Nasipit which services inter-island passenger and cargo ships from all over the country.

Butuan is only two and a half to three hours by land from Lianga and, in the absence of a private car or vehicle, one can hitch a ride on the commuter buses that regularly ply the Butuan-Lianga route. If one is at the bus terminal already early in the day, there are buses that pass by Lianga on their way to Tandag, the capital of Surigao del Sur. If one cannot catch any of the Tandag trips, a short hop on the Butuan to Davao buses can get you to the town of San Francisco in Agusan del Sur where you can board any of the passenger jeepneys or smaller buses that go Lianga's way.

Davao City in southeastern Mindanao is another point of entry for the Lianga traveller. Davao is the major urban center in the island and boasts of an international airport and harbor. The downside is that it is more than two hundred kilometers and approximately four hours away by land from Lianga. But many Lianga visitors, especially balikbayans and foreigners, choose the Davao route because it is easier from there to make their flight connections to and from outside the country.

Regular and air conditioned buses regularly leave Davao for Butuan City and the Lianga visitor can just get off at San Francisco in Agusan del Sur and from there get another ride to Lianga which is just an hour or so away.

In the past, hotel and lodging facilities for out of town guests in Lianga used to be a problem. In the past decade, the growth in the local ecotourism industry has largely addressed this inadequacy. Guest accomodations can now be had at the several beach resorts and lodging houses located all over town.

First time visitors to the Lianga area (regular visitors there know this already for a fact) need not worry too much about their personal safety while staying there. As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, the chances of them becoming the unfortunate victim of a criminal assault or violent attack while visiting the town are basically lower than being in such urban centers as Metro Manila. News reports to the contrary, the peace and order situation in Lianga is generally much better than in many other parts of the country.

What is also true is that they can prepare to be blown away by the town's fantastic beaches, lush, tropical mountain panoramas and exotic coastal scenery. They can also sample the area's wide variety of wriggling fresh sea food or just stroll around and enjoy the unique sights, sounds, smells and ambiance of one of the oldest towns in this part of the country.

A lot of my friends who have visited Lianga over the years tell me that everything is different here. The sea air is clean, fresh and invigorating, the sedate and relaxed lifestyle is a soothing balm to spirits frayed and stressed by the demands of city life, the scenery is fantastic and right out of a tourist postcard and the sea food and local culinary delicacies especially delectable.

Yet they usually have one common complaint. "It just takes so long and so much traveling to get there,," they always grumble. Yet they always keep returning and those who could not, dream of the day they can finally make plans to come back. "Your town kind of gets under the skin somehow," one told me sheepishly just recently. "I just can't wait to get back."

I told him to come on down. Paradise is never too far away for those willing enough to journey and get all the way there.

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