I love traveling. It was a fact I didn’t want to recognize until I was in third year college partly because it seemed to contradict my preference for staying at home watching a good TV program instead of mingling with people, partly because it is a rather costly hobby to have, and partly because I’m almost always too lazy to even create reservations to resorts within the 30 kilometer radius. But one night while feeling miserable watching a favorite (or hated?) local travel show, I stared blankly at the screen and basically told myself, “F*ck it! I would love to be there too!”

So last January I got a message from a good friend inviting me to join her and her friends in some sort of camping trip in the south. Prior to that I already encouraged her to send me an invite for every trip she would plan. That’s how things work for me; someone has to drag me to the door, pack my things, and throw it out the window. Else I would stay in the room indulging myself to movies and books or doing arts and crafts.

It was for a trip to Calaguas Island on the date of the Chinese New Year, the 31st of January. I quickly said “yes”; I didn’t mind tagging along. At the worst, it will be her company’s problem anyway. But I would like to believe that non-mingling creeps like me seldom cause trouble so it was really okay. Also, in the end my girlfriend came along and the trip was moved to the middle of February due to a tropical storm which happened to be the Valentine’s season, her birthday, and our 56th month of officially being a mess in each other’s heads.

The Long Trip

The Philippines can only accommodate so much airports. It’s not that it’s impossible to have a lot but the country is so small that having an airport for every province will be ridiculous. And someone is yet to come up with a good plan to go around the archipelago by water (which is a bit ironic) so for now we travel long distances by land. Call it inefficient but it has become a part of the Philippine travel experience. Also, I personally think one should realize the distance he traveled before he can really consider a place a getaway.

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Waiting for the van. Photo by Eunice Labay.

Our van got stuck in traffic and we waited for an hour and a half longer than expected in front of a convenience store before we finally got to leave. If we stayed there a bit longer, wings would’ve sprouted out of my back and I would’ve flown home. But everything went well afterwards. Or maybe we were just too tired to bother reacting to minor inconveniences. After several stops, quick snacks, and untidy comfort rooms, by 6:00 the following day, we were already having breakfast in Daet.

The Boat Ride

The island is a three hour boat ride away from the dock. If my mom was with us, she would have ridden the van back to Manila. But unlike her, I was excited to board the boat as it was my first time to travel that far across the sea. I was right. Other than the unplanned sun bathing, everything was enjoyable.

The Island

We had a little trouble getting off the boat. It couldn’t get close enough to the shore for everyone to be able to get off without getting totally submerged in the water. Yes the water was inviting but we were not in our swimming attires yet. Nope we were not advised prior to boarding the boat. It was a good thing that I felt like wearing a light pair shorts.

Getting to the shore.

Everything in the island is generator powered. Aside from the nipa huts that function as shower rooms and a number of equally crude cabanas, there is also very little shelter. That would have been fine as we were there to set up tents anyway but it was scorching hot. More than anything else, I guess I did not prepare myself for the heat. The sight of the water was comforting. The temperature was the complete opposite. Or maybe we were extra cranky because of sleeplessness.

A shelter. I can settle with that.
So this kind of beach do exist outside the silver screen.
Setting up camp.
Of course it has this.

The shore was most enjoyable in the afternoon. I never thought it could get any more beautiful than what it already was in the morning. Also, it looked friendly even for someone like me who never learned how to swim. But above all, there was only a handful of people in sight. It gives you the feeling that you have the place all to yourself. The quiet broken by the lapping waves, the warm sun, and the gentle breeze was more than enough to convince anybody that the long travel was totally worth it.

Sand castles are too mainstream. They decided to create an ant hill.
Somebody left their sunglasses. This island do make people forget things.

Camping Proper

Food was part of the package. We didn’t have to bring our own (though we did bring some snacks). The best thing about it was that it was not at all fancy; just plain rice (fried rice in the morning), a serving of meat and vegetables, and bananas for dessert. And it was perfect as we were craving for some Filipino dish. It made us feel at home.

The sari-sari store was situated near where we set camp. It sells various food items from soft drinks to crackers, chips, and instant coffee. They are a bit costly as expected. After all, one has to travel three hours across the sea to buy them. We wondered where they store the food though. The locals just seem to emerge from the bushes carrying them. We got a feeling that in the island, everything grows from the bushes.

Water was rather difficult. One has to pay 10 pesos for a bucket. A local would carry it from the bushes to the shower rooms. A flashlight is a necessity unless one prefers to bathe himself in total darkness. Yes the shower rooms don’t have lighting installations. Strangely, I’m just okay with that. I wonder why one has to do his business in a corner though when each shower room is about the size of a bedroom.

Sleeping in the tent would have been more comfortable if we set it on level ground. I spent a good part of the night repositioning myself as I kept on sliding towards the door. After several attempts, I let it go. It also rained. But since we were canopied by a group of short trees and put an extra layer of cover over the tent, we didn’t have any trouble.

Bagasbas Surf Spot Side Trip

I particularly like how the shore reflected the clouds.

At past nine in the morning after taking our breakfast, we headed back to Daet. The boat ride wasn’t as enjoying as the day before. The waves were higher and the water seemed darker as it was a bit cloudy. I remember mentioning that the idea of the boat getting overturned by the waves was more frightening than being asked to jump into the water. I prepared myself to jump at anybody’s signal. I was wearing a life vest. It was a good thing I didn’t have to.

I’m 90% convinced I’ve gone to Waterworld.

From the dock we rode the van to Bagasbas, a popular surf spot. One doesn’t have to be a surfer to say that it is indeed a good spot to practice surfing. Waves continuously roll towards the shore. Beginners can stay close to the shoreline while seasoned ones can go further into the sea. We had our lunch and took some pictures while my friend was having surfing lessons.

The surf shop.
The preparations.
Into the water.

At around 15:00, we left for Manila.

The sand hurt our eyes. That’s how strong the wind was.
They have this cool street along the shore.

A Conclusion

The first quarter of the whole event was undeniably not very pleasing. A tip, try to steal as much sleep as you can along the way. Things are a lot more pleasant when your eyes don’t feel heavy. Half of it was fun. The rest was nothing special.

Calaguas is a beautiful island. It sure can use some amenities for convenience but not too much. Otherwise it will lose the desert island feel that thrill seekers enjoy. The camping experience would have been more enjoyable than it already was for us if we weren’t too tired to attend the mini welcome party during the night. Not that it is an activity that appeals very much to me but I love seeing people enjoying themselves, especially friends. Also, I love bonfires.

The road isn’t any less thrilling as well if we take “thrilling” as “somewhat dangerous”. Our van opted to take the “Old Zigzag Road” also known as “Bitukang Manok (Chicken Entrails)“; a roadway developed on the side of a mountain with countless hairpin turns in steep inclines. Had I been as worrisome and as vocally expressive as my mom, I could have exclaimed several variations of each cussword I know. It is that scary. For that I should give credit to the locals staying up to the wee hours to provide light signals to the motorists. A tip, get a driver who really knows the way. Even if you choose the alternative route, there are still countless hairpin turns in narrow roads to pass before getting to Daet.

It was still an enjoyable experience for me. I actually wish we have stayed longer. The place could be one’s very definition of a getaway and a means for him to truly enjoy nature and relax. It’s a true paradise in the making. For this I would like to promote our host for free. Please check their website at calaguaslocal.com.
That and happy trip everyone! -aB

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