Sitting at the edge of the sandbar, I looked across the sea towards Mt. Hibok-Hibok. White puffy clouds adorned its apex, like a crown. “She’s the queen.” I turned to Mike. “She’s the only active volcano out of the seven here in Camiguin.” The sighs of the sea breeze drowned my voice. Like a shattered glass, the water glimmered under the sun, mirroring the clear blue skies.
“Dali!! Give me your camera!” Mike blurted, his eyes fixed on the flock of sea gulls perched on the other end of the blindingly white sandbar. “There are plenty of those here in White Island.” A man carrying a basket of sea urchins chuckled at our vain efforts to photograph the birds, which dissipated as an outrigger neared the shore. “This island is so beautiful.” I said as I sampled the sea urchins. “I just can’t stay here all day.” The morning sun began to hammer its heat towards the bright bald island. “You can rent a beach umbrella. Php 150 lang buong araw. Gusto nyo?” Elmer, the vendor, offered. “One fifty? No thanks, I’m on a budget.” I laughed.
I closed my eyes as I floated on my back. The cool sparkling water suckling on my ears engulfed the laughter of the children nearby. “Ahhhh..This is my happy place…”
We left the pristine waters of White Island at around 10. “Where do we go next?” I asked Frank, our multi-cab driver. “Katibawasan Falls, sir! Punta tayo dun bago mag-lunch.” He eagerly replied, stepping on his cigarette butt.
“Would you look at that? Wow!” I fumbled for the camera in my bag. The majestic falls was conspicuous amid the lush greens a few steps away from the entrance. Its water crashed into a rock pool, breaking up into a large spray, drowning the boisterous laughter of the tourists carelessly doing jump shots. “That is the highest waterfall in the island, around 75 meters.” The attendant at the gate boasted. “Tara, ligo tayo dun.” I nudged Mike, his eyes squinting as we neared the falls. I struggled to keep upright on the slippery rocks. “Oh God! The water is so cold!” I froze when the water was knee-deep. A foreign couple swam across in their little swimsuits, unmindful of the punishing cold.
Frank brought us to 4R’s Foodhaus for lunch. “One twenty five pesos lang for a lunch buffet? Not bad.” Famished, Mike loaded his plate with rice, pork adobo, squid adobo and fried chicken. “No rice for me, just veggies.” I scooped chopsuey and sautéed bittergourd into my plate. While Mike was getting us water, I secretly nibbled on the pork adobo on his plate. Its sauce was sweet and salty. “Ang saraaap…” My second plate brimmed with warm fluffy rice, topped with the flavorful adobo.
Surfeited, we traversed the national highway towards the Walkway to the Old Volcano, where the 14 Stations of the Cross are located. “During Holy Week since the 1980’s, many devotees come here for penitence.” Frank said as he pulled over. “Akyat kayo, Sir! Maganda yung view sa taas!” “Of course, I need to burn those calories!” I winked.
The smell of burnt dried leaves wafted through the air. The trees and shrubs, which nestled some chirping birds, rustled faintly as I walked up the trail alone. The sun pounded its heat on my head. Sweat was dripping from the sides of my face when I reached the 10th Station, which offered a magnificent view of the Tangub Bay. I raised my camera bag, covering my face in vain, as I headed down.
“Hay salamat! Fresh buko juice on a sweltering afternoon is just perfect.“ I walked towards the buko stall near the entrance of the Sunken Cemetery as I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead. Mike fumbled in his pocket for a few coins. I glanced at a huge concrete cross not far from the shore. “When did this cemetery submerge?” I asked Jason, the vendor. “May 13, 1871 sir. When Mt. Vulcan erupted, the Spanish cemetery disappeared into the sea.” He answered in Filipino, his voice vibrant. “In fairness, alam mo ha.” I smiled as I scraped the thin white flesh off the coconut shell. “You can hire our banca to go there if you want. 100 pesos lang.” He offered. “We’ll join you guys so we can split the fee.” Another tourist, Dan, chimed in. The lucent waters surrounding the large cross exposed a few gravestones beneath. Across the monument was a breathtaking view of Mt. Vulcan and Mt. Hibok-Hibok.
“Are these corals?” I ran my fingers on the remains of the stalwart bell tower. Mike nodded, showing me his macro shots of the corals cemented on the walls. Across us were the ruins of the 16th Century Spanish Church known as the Old Catarman Church, which crumbled during the 1871 eruption. Most of its walls were covered with moss. “Did you know that egg shells and egg whites were used to build those walls?” Edna, the caretaker, eagerly shared. “I see, parang yung mga baroque churches sa Bohol.” I said.
“That one is a hundred years old.” Edna pointed at the enormous tree nearby. Its branches swayed in the breeze, shrugging off a few dead leaves. A modern white lighthouse soldiered at the back, facing the sea.
In the foothills of Mt. Hibok-Hibok is the Bura Soda Water Park. “Tikman niyo ang tubig dun, sir. Therapeutic daw.” Frank suggested as we alighted from the multi-cab. “That’s natural soda water sprouting from the ground.” He pointed at the two large pools surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. According to the signage near the entrance, drinking soda water reduces chances of osteoporosis, lowers blood pressure and decreases cardiovascular disease risk. “Frank may be right.” Mike smiled. We headed towards the sink where visitors can taste the soda water. “It’s almost four and we still have two springs to check out.” I said, switching off my camera. “That’s right, let’s just take a dip at the cold spring.” Mike agreed. A man was singing out loud at the videoke bar across the gate when we left.
“I like the ambiance here better, and there are no annoying videoke bars nearby.” I said, tossing my shirt on a bench. “Christ! The water is so cold!” Mike called out right after he plunged into a large pool of clear water that mirrored the lush shades of green around the Sto. Nino Cold Spring. I cautiously trod on the sandy bottom of the pool, my eyes glued on several tiny white fish swimming around the ferns. ”It’s like swimming in an aquarium.” I said. “Those fish were placed there to avoid mosquitoes from laying eggs.” A lady smiled as she laid our fresh buko on the table at the cottage.
“Can we go to the Sunken Cemetery again, please? Saglit lang.” I asked Frank en route to the Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring. I groped for the camera in my bag. The huge cross on the sea strikingly silhouetted against the orange skies. By the time we reached the placid Tangub Bay, the sun was halfway below the horizon.
“This feels good.” I said as I leaned on the rocky walls of the Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring. The warm water from a small elevated pool crashed gently on my shoulders, like a massage. “The heat of the water here is more comfortable than the one in Coron.” I turned to Wendy, another friendly tourist. “Actually, there are six pools here with different temperatures. The hottest can go up to 39 degrees Celsius.” She replied. I closed my eyes, lulled by the sound of the water cascading from one pool to another. Tall luxuriant trees stared down at us, oftentimes rustling their leaves. Children giggled from the cottages above. “This is the best way to end a perfect day.” I took a deep breath and plunged into the deeper part of the mineral pool.
The birds whistled among the Mukabak and Ipil–ipil trees thriving around Mantigue Island, as if enticing the sea gulls sitting on the pristine white sand to join them. “Look, they’ve been there since yesterday.” I stared at the cottony clouds hovering around Mt. Hibok-Hibok. “Oo nga no? It looks dramatic.” Mike, sitting on the wavy shade cast by the Talisay tree, raised the camera to his eye. The sea sparkled under the sun, like a bed of crystals. Its frothy ends nibbled on my feet as I continued to walk the length of the shore. Burdened with tanks strapped on their back, a group of divers dropped into the deep blue water nearby. Their small motorboat bobbed quietly on the surface, as if relieved.
Later on, my eyes were glued on a timid clown fish tucked among the graceful stalks of a sea anemone. I swam further, past the luxuriant sea grass. Brightly colored fishes frolicked around the spiny protrusions of branching corals, bumping into each other. “This is amazing.” I thought, mesmerized by the colorful underwater life.
“Ang ganda sa ilalim. And I’m amazed to find a forest here.” I called out to Mang Kiko, one of the caretakers in the island. I glanced across our table towards the trail leading to the deeper part of the forest. A young lady was sweeping dead leaves under the Pandan tree. “Of course, Mantigue has 7 hectares of marine protected area, that’s why the government prohibits anyone from residing here.” He boasted, pointing at the island’s map under the Itum-itum tree. “Why don’t you guys check out the forest after you eat?” “Definitely.” I said. The smell of grilled pork wafted through the air. Soon, our lunch of grilled pork and fresh seaweeds with vinaigrette, chopped onions and tomatoes were laid on the table. “Thank God you serve lunch and beer here.” Mike smiled at the waitress.
We left at noon, when the sun stung the skin on my back.
“Can we have some of those grilled?” Mike asked Donna, the attendant, after she lectured us about clams at the Kibila Giant Clam Sanctuary. “Of course you can’t.” I interrupted.
“They are endangered. We haven’t harvested for decades.” She smiled, and then pointed at a huge clam inside a nursery. “That one is fourteen years old.”
“I’m older by a few years.” Mike replied. We laughed.
“This facility is a community-based project. Right now, we are protecting over 2000 giant clams at the sea. You may rent snorkels so you can look at them.” Donna continued. She sounded lively.
“No I’m fine.” Still exhausted from swimming with the vibrant creatures at the Mantigue Island earlier, I sat under the Talisay tree, facing the sea. Warm streaks of sunlight filtered through the leaves as they rustled. Nearby, an American couple basked in the sun. Their pale skin, sprayed with sunblock, glistened. A few tagbis chirped from the palm trees up the hill. Crested with froth, the waves crashed gently on the pebbly white shore. I fell into deep slumber.
“I haven’t seen an ostrich yet.” I said excitedly as our multi-cab headed to the next destination, the Provincial Breeding Centre and Ostrich Farm.
Mike fumbled with the camera settings as I posed next to a fence soldiered by an eight-foot ostrich. “Faster, it’s going to eat me.” I laughed anxiously. Its long thin neck bent forward, outside the fence, as if about to peck a hole in my head. Its large glassy eyes stared at me warily.
“Can they fly?” I asked the attendant, feigning ignorance, just to jumpstart a conversation. My eyes ran from the thick black feathers on its body down to its large muscular legs and two-toed feet. “No they can’t. But they can run really fast and kick hard when provoked.” He answered.
Aside from the ostrich, the facility also breeds goats, chicken, hogs, ducks, turkeys and cattle.
“Let’s just skip the zipline. My cravings for Vjandep’s pastel can’t wait.” Mike told Frank, our driver. I agreed.
We alighted in front of an old dinky bakery near the public market. “This is it?” I asked, expecting a big store with glossy walls and glass doors. “Yes, we’re here.” Frank pointed at the boxes of the famous pastel on display.
“Oh God, this is so good.” I blurted after sinking my teeth into a soft bun filled with yema. “How much is a box of this again?” Mike asked the lady behind the counter. “160 for a box of 12.” She replied. “Wow, this costs around 300 in SM in Manila.” Mike said.
“Everyone at home is going to love these.” I clutched a large paper bag containing a few boxes of the goodies, with a big smile on my face.
How To Go To Camiguin:
Fastest way is by plane. Cebu Pacific flies to Camiguin via Cebu. Regular rates can go as low as 588, excluding taxes.
When in Camiguin:
1.) Don’t waste time getting lost and wondering where to go next. Call Ted Pabualan at 09175219391/09392440521. Let him arrange the tour for you at a reasonable price. For details, visit his site www.camiguintransport.blogspot.com
2.) DON’T EVER miss my favorite spots in the island: White Beach, Mantigue Island and Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring.
3.) Take home Vjandep’s Pastel as pasalubong to your loved ones.
Where to stay:
Pabualan Cottage (09392440521)
Rates: Php 850/night (3 persons maximum capacity)
Php 1000/night (6 persons maximum capacity
Below are MY 2D/2N expenses, just to give you an idea.
Tip: Tours and accommodation are cheaper when you are with a big group. Invite your happy friends to explore “The Island Born Of Fire”.
Airfare: Php 2100 via Cebu Pacific
Tours: (2-day multi-cab rental, fuel, driver/tour guide, airport transfers, environmental fees, entrance fees, boat rental) Php 2425
Food, Drinks: Php 1000
Pasalubong: Php 500
Accommodation: Php 850
TOTAL: Php 6875