Saturday, April 14, 2007

Savoring Samal Island’s Soothing Solace (Part 1)

When boredom starts to get the better of me, I usually head straight to one place that offers me soothing solace: Samal Island. Truly, this tadpole-shaped slice of paradise off the east coast of Davao City in southern Philippines has it all. 

Crystal clear waters. Scenic views of Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak. Fresh, delectable tuna and other delights from the sea. Scuba-diving, swimming and other aqua sports. Trekking, exploring and spelunking. Island hopping. And a leisurely life by the sea. All these soothing sensations anyone can easily savor whenever they step into the island’s inviting shores. 

And Samal, according to its drumbeaters, is not only an island, it’s a garden and a city, too.  Right smack in the heart of Davao Gulf, Samal, whose full name locals and tourists shorten to IGaCoS (or Island Garden City of Samal), has long been one of Davao Region’s premier tourist come-ons. 

When I was younger, I mistook the island to be part of our city because of its proximity. Over the years, Samal, which happens to be one of the Philippines’ newly created cities, has come into its own as a thriving urban center with world-class ecotourism potentials. Currently under the political jurisdiction of Davao del Norte, Samal has 46 villages, including three which are found in nearby Talikud, a smaller island off its southwest coast. 

Anyone can get to Samal through various routes but the most accessible one involves crossing it from Davao City either at the old port in Sta. Ana or the wharf at Sasa where ferry boats take passengers there. There are also a number of ro-ro vessels that can accommodate people, buses and cars going to and from Samal. Getting around the island doesn’t pose any problem as several jeepneys and motorbikes called habal-habal can be hired to get anyone to his preferred destination.

Samal’s pristine beaches and numerous natural attractions, coupled with the warmth and hospitality of its inhabitants, have made it a buzzword among locals and foreigners looking for weekend hideaways with unspoiled natural settings as well as those hankering for amazing adventures and death-defying challenges with nature. Over 20 beach resorts—and still counting—dot  the island’s various stretches, including the world-famous Pearl Farm, Bali-Bali, Blue Waters, Camp Holiday, Bluejaz, Chemas, Costa Marina, Hof Gorei, Island Buenavista, Maxima Aquafun, Paradise Island, Punta del Sol, to name a few.  

But there’s more to Samal than these excellent treats, something a little off the beaten track that’s still largely unknown to those who flock to its beaches. Near the heart of the island lies a fairly secluded hideaway oozing with pure rustic charms: Hagimit Falls, a low-dropping cascade with natural swimming pools, huge rock formations gushing forth water and mammoth boulders that seemed to have existed for eons.  

Located about two kilometers away from the thriving village of Peñaplata, the landlocked refuge is a haven for picnickers, swimmers and nature trippers yearning for the simple, inexpensive pleasures in life. What draws the crowds to the falls, especially during weekends, is the guiltless, natural high they get from plunging into the cool waters of the kaliguanan sa lasang (pool in the woods). And this is where I often seek solace from the madness of city life, taking a dip in its cool, refreshing waters to renew my mind, body and soul. 

Hagimit may be out of the way, but anyone who goes there will eventually find his way. To reach the place, I usually take the bus from Davao City, which usually drops me at Peñaplata. From there, I hire a habal-habal and instruct the driver to take me to the resort. I know I’m near the place when I see that huge billboard on the left side of the road, welcoming me to the cascade.

To gain access, I usually pay a small token at the resort’s gate, which the city government uses for the resort’s upkeep. As I amble towards the falls, I always feel like being caught in a time warp, transported into some old growth rainforest as towering trees, lush shrubs, vines and flowering plants come into view. The clean and green ambiance on the way to the falls never fails to dazzle me, lulling me into a hypnotic trance. The faint rush of water gushing from the falls, however, rouses me from my brief reverie, beckoning me to follow the trail to the cascade. Heeding the call, I move on and explore the unplumbed grandeur of the bucolic getaway.

Lest you expect too much from the resort, it has none of the creature comforts found in more developed pleasure grounds. Still largely unspoiled by “progress”, it has no pay phones, no restobars, no souvenir shops, and no fancy cottages where you can spend the night. Whenever I stay there for longer hours, I usually pitch my own tent and bring along my food and drinks. Despite its simplicity, the resort’s au naturel charms pluck at my heartstrings and makes me want to savor for hours the reclusive, no-frills simplicity of its cool waters and verdant foliage.

As dusk settles all over the place, I leave Samal and its soothing solace, thanking God for making this piece of heaven on earth within my reach. And for all it’s worth, I wish — no matter how foolish it may seem — that this island, garden and city, all rolled into one, would survive unscathed the swelling tide of modernization that’s bashing and changing its landscape.