In March 2016, I visited Samar island for the seventh time in a row. Evelyn Castillo, the Bayanihan Foundation Liaison, was taking me around Samar and to the town of Basey on the southern end of the island. I realized how beautiful the island is. In November 2014, I visited Samar for the first time, just two weeks after super typhoon Haiyan hit the island. It probably was the worst time to see the island after it was devastated by the strongest typhoon recorded in history to ever hit landfall. Since then, I have gone back and forth for various philanthropic projects for Bayanihan Foundation. All that time I was taking for granted the beautiful scenery around me. However, that day in Basey was different. As I passed by Sohoton River, I was struck how captivating the island really was. I said to myself, “Wow, I never realized the different shades of green around me.”
The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands and Samar is never considered a top tourist destination. I looked up Samar in my Lonely Planet guidebook and the travel book barely wrote half a page description. It described the island in one word – rugged. I think it’s fairly accurate.
Samar indeed has its rugged charm; it has a gorgeous coastline, beautiful rocky beaches and lush green scenery everywhere you look.
There’s always plenty of fish and seafood dishes and a variety of tropical fruits abound.
And of course, my personal favorite, “Tinitim,” a local dessert made with cassava (a popular root crop rich in starch, calcium and vitamin C) and brown sugar.
But what really is memorable every time I travel to Samar is the wonderful hospitality of the people I met. During my last trip, Evelyn’s neighbor, Aida invited me and Bob Newlon of Rotary Oregon, Illinois for lunch with her neighbors and friends, celebrating her late father’s death anniversary. I had the best home-made food at her home but most of all, they made me feel that Samar is home.
The highlight of my trip every time I travel to Samar is the warmth and hospitality of the nieces of Evelyn Castillo. They always welcome me with open arms. They take care of all my meals and all my accommodations every time I visit. They essentially roll out the red carpet every time I arrive. In 2015, the young Filipino Americans that traveled with the Bayanihan Foundation’s NEXTGEN Project appropriately call them “The Angels.”
Samar will never make it to the top 10 island destinations of the Philippines. There will always be other islands with whiter sand beaches and with more spectacular activities. But Samar will always be my top destination because of the warmth and hospitality of the people there. Evelyn, her nieces “The Angels,” her neighbors and even the Vice Mayor of the town always make feel like that Samar is home. The feeling of belonging makes Samar the most beautiful island in my list.