Sunday, April 26, 2015

Calmed by Camiguin (Part 2)

Billed as the “Island Born of Fire”, Camiguin, which I’ve re-visited recently along with my friends, is said to have been formed through centuries of volcanic activity and tectonic movements. Volcanoes—a total of seven compared to only five towns!—are its most distinct geological features. Of the seven, however, only one is considered active, Mt. Hibok-Hibok, which last erupted in 1951.

Island of Volcanoes

Call me ambitious but the thought of scaling the volcano crossed my mind, if only to experience a different level of calm and confidence that comes from conquering an active volcano. I’m no mountaineer but I’ve scaled a few peaks before with Mt. Apo, the country’s tallest, as my first climb and Mt. Musuan as my latest conquest. Both are found in South Central Mindanao. 

Mt. Hibok-Hibok as seen from Mambajao

Rising 1,332 m (4,370 ft) above sea level, Camiguin’s only active volcano dominates the entire island’s rugged landscape. I’ve heard from friends that it only takes a day to ascend and descend Hibok-Hibok, whose treacherous trail is a challenge to mountaineers. Some of my colleagues in Team Camiguin also considered the adrenaline-pumping activity but had to scrap it for lack of time. 

Hibok-Hibok as seen from White Island
While climbing it elicited so much excitement, the idea struck a twinge of fear in my heart, too. Geez, what if this sleeping dragon suddenly awakens from its slumber while we’re scaling it? What if Hibok-Hibok suddenly goes mad while we’re in the island? It felt creepy thinking about the horror and destruction it caused when it last erupted more than half a century ago.

I’m no volcanologist or a doomsayer but volcanoes are capricious geographical peculiarities that seem to lose their temper when people least expect them. They’re like time bombs just lurking in our midst, waiting for the time to explode and wreak irreparable damage and destruction. Thank God, Hibok-Hibok acted on its best behavior while we were there!

Remnant of Mt. Vulcan (Old Volcano) as seen from White Island 

Probably it’s the Camiguingnons faith that must have done wonders to keep the active stratovolcano from going berserk these past 60 years. In such a tiny island where volcanoes outnumber the towns, you’d certainly need a great deal of faith and devotion for you to keep on living there without fear. 

The locals’ devotion to a power far mightier than any volcano is best displayed in the island’s main attractions–the Walkway to the Old Volcano, the Sunken Cemetery and the Gui-ob Church Ruins–all vestiges of Mt. Vulcan’s violent eruption that wiped out the old town of Catarman in 1871. 

Ironic but these grim reminders of Camiguin’s tragic past have been successfully turned by its people into some of the island’s tourist magnets! Altogether, these vestiges of Vulcan’s wrath provide visitors a picture-perfect peek into the catastrophic chapter of the island’s history.

They say a good way to begin a day tour of the island’s socio-religious attractions is to scale the 300-step Walkway to the Old Volcano (Mt. Vulcan). I saw the said walkway for the first time way back in 2009 when my colleagues and I stopped over a row of souvenir shops on our way back to Mambajao.   

Strangely, the once cruel volcano has now become the island’s Calvary-like shrine, attracting pilgrims from different parts of the country and even abroad. From what I’ve gathered, the walkway crawls with devotees during the annual Panaad Festival, a walk of penance participated in by both local pilgrims as well as those from other places during the Holy Week.

Site of the Sunken Cemetery

Devotees take part by treading Camiguin’s 64-km circumferential road while offering prayers—all the way to the peak of Mt. Vulcan. Along the pathway, the participants also make occasional stops to say their prayers in each of the 14 Stations of the Cross dotting the trail to the old volcano’s summit, each featuring life-size statues depicting the passion of Christ.

Team Camiguin didn’t climb the peak. Pressed for time, we only pulled over for the obligatory groupfie and bought lanzones, the island’s famous sweet tropical fruit, before heading for the Sunken Cemetery.

Eerie yet enthralling—that’s how the Sunken Cemetery struck most of us, a grim reminder of Vulcan’s fury when it erupted nearly 150 years ago. Yet throngs of tourists flock to the historical must-see in the town of Catarman, which I first laid eyes on many summers ago. Together with my travel companions then, I rode one of the boats that ferry tourists to the white cross. 

Boats taking visitors to the memorial cross of the Sunken Cemetery 

The old cemetery is not visible to the naked eye; what visitors see is a large white cross floating on top of a stone platform, which the local government had erected in memory of the sunken graves of the islanders’ ancestors. The submerged tombstones themselves are said to be conspicuous when the tide is low. Some scenes from a local Pinoy movie were partly shot there. 

Only a few of members of Team Camiguin took the boat to get to the white cross.

Sadly, Mt. Vulcan’s eruption not only claimed lives and sunk a cemetery —it also destroyed an old church in Catarman. Now known as the ruins of Gui-ob Church, these are found several kilometers away from the center of the present-day coastal town, the last among the historic sites we visited that day.

Remnants of old Gui-ob Church

Only the church's moss-covered thick walls and remnants of its belfry and convent have remained to remind today’s generation about the horror that Vulcan wrought to Camiguin in 1871. Even if it’s laying in ruins, I still found the church, or what has remained of it, awe-inspiring as I revisited its hallowed grounds. 

If I can recall it right, there was once a chapel where people used to pray right inside the ruins but it’s already gone. So far, the local government has managed to preserve the place partly through donations coming from benevolent patrons.

Cool pool at Paras Beach Resort


At the end of the long but fulfilling day, there’s no better way to calm yourself than to hang out with friends while sipping your favorite drink or nibbling a late afternoon snack. That’s exactly how we wrapped up the second day of our stay in the island.

Catching Camiguin's famous sunset

For the team, the best venue for worshiping the sun as it goes down the horizon is none other than in one of the island’s sought-after destinations, Paras Beach Resort, where Team Camiguin was treated to one of nature’s best gifts to the tiny island—Camiguin’s famed sunset. Whew, what a spectacular view! 

If only to catch a glimpse of that sunset once again on top of Mt. Hibok-Hibok or along the shores of Mantigue Island, I’m looking forward to a third coming to Camiguin in the near future. Here’s wishing the team would consider that option in our must-return list. :-D

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