Stuck in a fast-paced city and surrounded by the monotonous routines brought about by work, I strongly yearned for an urban escape; everyone deserves a break from the hustle and bustle. October 2015, I was satiating my thirst for a getaway, and my eyes glared at the pear-shaped island that is Camiguin upon the plane’s landing. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t just about to partake a three-day campus journalism competition or a week-long vacation. I was in for an awakening.
Weeks before the trip, I browsed through several travel blogs regarding the destination in Southern Philippines, this becoming the first time I traveled outside Luzon. But when we arrived, oh, no words I have read online could compare to the pristine setting. It may be but a small speck that comprises the archipelago, its vastness does not define what it offers since it is home to various wonders of nature, the lanzones capital of the country, and it serves us the most peaceful of places.
It was refreshing to have a halt from traffic and its deafening racket, and comforting to have been given the pleasure of walking even in the middle of the street since there are few passing vehicles in the island’s commercial and political capital, Mambajao, where we stayed.
And how fortunate it felt that Mambajao is also the port to the gem of Camiguin, the famous White Island. Jetlag was overlooked and we had ventured on to the pier, where a cluster of souvenir stalls are aligned catering to local and foreign tourists. Registered motorboats await at the rocky dock. Five to ten minutes of raging waves, but even being splashed by the waters was a thrill. Looking afar is the stunning view of blue hues, of the cloudless sky and of the sparkling sea, divided by a small strip of white. I became speechless and in awe of the charm as we stepped on its shores, letting my toes tickle the warm, pure white sands that make it deserving of its title. The unspoiled White Island may be small but it isn’t less of a paradise. A 360 degree panorama picture of the views where I stood could make a stunning postcard. Especially one view that had lured me into the depths of astonishment—the sight of the famed Hibok-Hibok Volcano, with Mt. Vulcan on its side. A Zen moment it was just to dip my feet on the edge of the sandbar. The palette of the sea was evident and fascinating; the clear waters blend with the azure lagoon, and finished with the aquamarine sea of Bohol. And because it is booming with tourists at any time of the year, merchants set up kiosks of snacks on this tiny haven, as well as rentals for umbrellas, tables, and snorkeling equipment. Fishermen also sell freshly caught sea urchins to the islet’s visitors. As adventure has no room for hesitation, we bought a bundle and to my delight, the yellow roe, which is what is being eaten, was like edible gold from the ocean. My only regret during the entire trip was not bringing extra cash to snorkel or even a change of clothes when we went to the White Island (I was wrong to have thought of the competition which was an hour later after our island escapade, when I should have taken the chance of coral-watching and finding Nemo, or any type of adorable fish).
Returning to the mainland, where we felt our sun-kissed skins, it came to our knowledge that the event we attended included a tour to various recognized tourists spots in Camiguin, where the first destination was the Sunken Cemetery, a manifestation of significance of the island’s history. The marvelous huge cross is not a mere cross mounted on the sea for show. A long period of massive volcanic eruptions by Mt. Vulcan caused the submerging of the municipality of Catarman, including its cemetery. In 1982, a large cross was built on the solidified lava to memorialize the island’s rested locals. Even from a distance, I could feel the goosebumps by observing the mystifying cross imbuing the volcanic holocaust of the past. An honor it was to engage in a locality that respects and commemorates the tragedy of the entombed, of those 20 feet under the cross of the Sunken Cemetery.
The sun was shy as it was setting that day. En route to the next destination, there are daydreams of the content of countryside living, and the flight from the tremors of the metro. “I could get used to this,” I could see in everyone else’s faces that we were all imagining the same thing.
For the already-residents of the island province, however, I cannot say if they view being in the presence of seven volcanoes all throughout their lives is something to fear for a probable eruption again, or is something to consider as perks. Such perks would be the number of hot and cold springs renowned in the whole country, in which the most popular in Camiguin would be the Ardent Hibok-Hibok Spring Resort. Powered by volcanic activities underneath, there are several pools that customers may choose from, the favorite being the warmest reaching 40 degrees Celsius. Since we were on a tour, freely moving across was next to impossible. Still, with an abundance of trees and beautiful landscape at every angle, with concrete stairs and paths drawn, even a leisurely walk is sure to refresh the mind.
We head back for the venue. It’s dark, and there are few streetlights. Modern music translated to their native tongue is heard. A nearby two-storey commercial building houses convenience stores on the ground floor, and unexpectedly two restaurants on the second with no division. The building, called Checkpoint Plaza, is somewhat an all-in-one food station, with Rocky’s Resto and Isla Filete Restaurant at your service. Aside from the appetizing dinner we had, and meeting Rocky the Australian owner himself, we were surprised that lanzones were served in bowls for free in restaurants everywhere in Camiguin. Much to our chagrin, we were given three heaping bowls of the well-loved fruit, and this resolved to us buying at least five kilos each to take home. Unbelievably, a kilo of lanzones in Camiguin costs 10 to 15 pesos, which is a tempting opportunity. Along with the box of lanzones to take home is the world-famous Pastel de Camiguin, a sweet-filled bun originating only in the island province.
Of calm spirit but a burning desire deep within, a volcano awakens. It has been called the “Island Born of Fire” due to most parts of the province being formed through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has ignited my wanderlust with a fire as well. I feel enthused as I remain hypnotized by the marvels of the small nirvana of Camiguin, while crossing off one of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines that I have yet to see.