Friday, May 15, 2009

White Island: Camiguin’s Spectacular Sandbar

If there’s something that could be considered as the crowning glory of my recent trip to Camiguin, that would be White Island, an immaculate sandbar off the coast of Mambajao. White Island enthralled me the moment my beach-hungry feet touched its powdery sands. It was absolutely chada, or beautiful in the vernacular!

pic nameFrom what I've heard, Camiguin’s renowned tourist attraction transforms itself into various shapes and sizes depending on the tides. Disappearing at high tide and then reappearing at low tide, the treeless, uninhabited sandbar can be reached via a 10-minute pump boat ride coming from either the shores of Yumbing or Agohay. Motorized boats can be hired from any of the beachfront resorts facing White Island. 

pic namepic nameTogether with some coworkers, I went to the sandbar before the break of dawn. Why so early? The best time to go there is actually between 5 to 8 o’ clock in the morning since the current isn’t too strong, the sun isn’t so hot and the place isn’t very crowded.

pic namepic nameArriving at the spot after a quick trip, I was surprised to see quite a number of tourists roaming around White Island at that hour. And believe it or not, business was also brisk in that teeny-weeny piece of land at that hour. There were several itinerant vendors peddling foodstuff as well as beads, trinkets and other souvenirs made of shells. We hadn't eaten anything before leaving the mainland so we readily helped ourselves with hefty servings of coffee, boiled eggs, rice cakes, bread and sweet potato during our breakfast by the beach.

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pic nameFor a few hours, we had great fun  swimming, taking pictures, laughing and talking in White Island. Then, our guide reminded us to get ready for we’d be leaving in a few minutes. Much as we wanted linger, we had to leave before the sun got too hot for us to handle. Besides, we forgot to bring sunblock so we couldn’t stay much longer lest we’d got home with sunburn.

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I spent our remaining time strolling along White Island’s immaculate expanse. For a moment, I wondered why it took me so long to go to that slice of heaven on earth. Not wanting to lose to oblivion my memories of our moments there, I snapped all over the place to capture the best angles I could take of the spectacular shoal, which, on that day, took the shape of the letter C, as in Camiguin! :D

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Camiguin: Killing Time at Katibawasan Falls

Deep in the lush forests of Camiguin, five kilometers southeast of its capital town, nestles an enchanting hideaway for those who want to be pampered by nature's comforting embrace. 

Right smack at the foot of Mt. Timpoong, Katibawasan Falls is one of the island province’s prime attractions that draw in hordes of tourists who either want to gaze at the spectacular cascade, take snaps of its natural allure or plunge into the refreshing waters of its pool.

Before coming to Camiguin, my colleagues and I included the falls in our itinerary of must-sees in the island. To our delight, it was on top of the list of sights that our tour organizers had arranged for us. Right after lunch, we immediately prepared ourselves for the afternoon frolic to the falls as well as the other scenic attractions of the island.

Along with other tourists gathered at Villa Paraiso Hotel, we hopped into one of the vans that shuttled us to the cascade. After a few minutes of winding through Camiguin's well-paved highway and entering its verdant woodlands, we reached the narrow dirt road that leads to the falls. At the entrance, we heard the thunderous rush of falling water, which whetted my desire to see the gushing spectacle that’s only a few meters away from where we parked.

Together with other people, I hiked into a clearing teeming with hawker stalls selling various souvenir items. Some of my colleagues got hooked with the colorful merchandise on display so they lingered there. I moved on and met the tourist spot's hairy receptionist—a little monkey tied to a tree who behaved for a snap.

Walking further, I found myself dwarfed by towering trees, lush shrubs, vines and flowering plants and then finally caught a glimpse of what we came for.

Seen from where I stood, Katibawasan Falls looked so surreal; it was such a sight to behold. I was instantly awed by its more than 70-meter slim drop that headed straight into a lagoon where several people were having a great time swimming in the ice-cold turquoise waters. To get a closer view, I followed a group of youngsters who went down through a concrete staircase that led to a viewing deck, which the local government had built to make the descent more convenient for visitors.

Staring at the falls from the viewing deck, I felt caught in a time warp; it seemed as if the minutes moved in slow motion as we kept snapping at ourselves with the cascade as backdrop. Katibawasan Falls was so spellbinding you could hardly notice the passage of time. We’ve been there for almost an hour but it felt as if it’s only seconds. What a way to kill time! :D

Camiguin: Island Born of Fire

(pic courtesy of A. Cabamungan)
For years, I've been fascinated by Camiguin, the tiny pear-shaped island off the coast of Northern Mindanao, because of the many interesting stories I’ve heard from people who’ve seen its lush, virginal beauty. It was only recently, however, that I, along with some coworkers—Aris, Rosie, Miles and Heidy—finally got to step into its inviting shores.

Said to be the country’s second smallest province, the island is populated by about 81,000 people who occupy its 238 sq. km sprawl. Camiguin’s so small that you can practically go around it in less than a day’s time, thanks to a well-paved highway connecting its five towns—Catarman, Mahinog, Guinsiliban, Sagay and Mambajao, the capital town. 
Getting around the island is a breeze given the presence of Camiguin's version of the tricycle, the motorela (or rela for short), which is a portmanteau for motorcycle and caritela.  There are also several multicabs and motorcycles  for hire (locally known as habal-habal) that shuttle people to their destinations.

Formed through centuries of volcanic activity and tectonic movements, Camiguin, whose most prominent geological feature are its volcanoes, is often dubbed as the "island born of fire." Pocked by about seven peaks, it’s probably the only island in the country that has more volcanoes than towns! Of the seven, however, it’s only Hibok-Hibok, which last erupted in 1951, that remains active. When it blew its top that time, the volcano caused so much irreparable damage to life, land and livelihood.

Call it bizarre but seeing the island's volcanoes, especially Hibok-Hibok, fired up my desire to go there. I even entertained the thought of scaling the peak. But it's also the same geographical peculiarity which ignited a spark of fear in me during my brief stay in the island. For a while, it gave me the creeps imagining the horror that struck the islanders when that capricious mountain went berserk.

What if touchy Hibok-Hibok had thrown a fit while we were there? Not that I was praying for a violent outburst but it’s been more than half a century since the volcano last spewed out molten rocks and wrought havoc in Camiguin. So, an eruption seemed highly possible, I supposed.

Well, I guess we have to thank the Camiguingnons for the pleasurable week we had in the island. For it must have been their unwavering faith that's kept the sleeping dragon from unleashing its fury. As the cliché goes, faith can move mountains, perhaps even calm down that most hyperactive of Camiguin's volcanoes.

More pics:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Camiguin’s Gui-ob Church: Vestige of Old Vulcan’s Wrath

Nestled in one of Camiguin's oldest towns is another ghastly vestige of the fury that one of its now dormant volcanoes, Vulcan Daan (Old Volcano), had unleashed when it went berserk more than a hundred years ago.

Aside from claiming lives and sinking a cemetery, the volcano is known for burying an old church. Known as the ruins of Gui-ob Church, the interesting site is located in the village of Bonbon, several kilometers away from the center of present-day Catarman, which we were able to visit during our tour of Camiguin's different tourist spots.

Only the church's crumbling, moss-covered thick walls, belfry and convent have lived to tell today’s generation about the havoc that the old volcano wrought in 1871. But even in its decrepit state, the church, or what remains of it, can still evoke awe among those who step into its hallowed grounds, which have been covered by grass, ferns and other wild flora interspersed with towering dipterocarps and coconut trees.

Inside the ruins, we found a chapel where some people were praying in silence. That somehow reminded us to keep our voices down to avoid distracting them. So far, the local government has managed to preserve the place partly through donations coming from benevolent patrons.

From a ruthless scourge over a century ago, the cruel old volcano, on the other hand, has now become the island’s Calvary-like shrine, where people from all walks of life brave the steep trek to its peak as their way of making panaad, a religious vow of penitence and sacrifice during Lent.

I saw the walkway leading to Vulcan Daan’s summit when we stopped by a row of souvenir shops on our way back to Mambajao. Every year, it teems with throngs of pilgrims who take on the punishing but rewarding journey to the top that somehow reminds them of Christ's sufferings to save humanity from sin.

Along the pathway, the penitents, according to one of the shop vendors I talked to, take occasional stops to offer prayers in each station, which features life-size, whitewashed cement statues depicting certain scenes of Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering), the path that Jesus trod on the way to his crucifixion.

Now that's one spectacle I want to see come Holy Week next year.