Not far from the already reveling atmosphere of Kalibo, where the drums of the Ati-Atihan festival is starting to produce a louder thud, lies a very tranquil and peaceful place covered by a lush mangrove forest. It is called the "Bakhawan Eco-Park", it is a result of the admirable efforts by various NGO's, LGU's and other Government Agencies with the supervision and management of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this almost 106 hectare natural paradise is now considered to be the biggest and most successful mangrove reforestation project in Asia.
It was a Saturday and the first thing me and my friend Chi did was to visit this place located at Brgy New Buswang, not far from where the center of the Ati-Atihan festival in Kalibo is being held. It is located near the open sea and visitors will have to pay only 20.00 pesos to get lost in a seemingly different world inside.
We walked over the 800 meter steps made of bamboo and delighted at the scenery that surrounds us, it was a clear day and the bright skies complimented the greens all around us. The stillness of the place creates a soothing environment with only the chirping sounds of rare bird species can be heard, and the occasional whispers of the wind.
Near the entrance there was a map of the mangroves with the words "love comes along with the rain". It may look poetic but it's not hard to connect it t the places, as it really evokes the kind of love man has to offer to mother Earth. What other way than to revel in a place with an abundance of nurturing, which transformed this place into a lush forested mangrove, from what used to be a dead-end swamp.
Looking up I saw the edge of the trees, its leaves almost clapping, while staring down I saw the vein-like stems of the mangroves, life-like almost breathing but not moving - rather planted solidly on the muddy earth. It was almost there, happening before me is an imaginary choreography between everything that is around me. We walked gently along the long and narrow steps when a strong wind brushes through our face and as the bouncy bamboo steps moves up and down, a feeling of flying is felt for a moment, making the whole scene a dream-like undertaking.
In what seems like an eternity you wouldn't mind enduring, my eyes feasted on an uncanny sight near the end of the 800 meter bamboo trail. Thick trees and plants bowing down on both sides while at the horizon I started to see the open sea, it was like a gateway opened up and as we step into broad daylight coming from the embrace of the forest we saw birds flying on every direction - diving and then flapping back their wings, there is a sort of new found freedom that the place instilled on us. Something defying, undying and full of energy.
I took pictures at every direction, seems like everywhere you turn your head there's a postcard material imagery. I sat at the edge of the bamboo trail and wandered my eyes towards the direction of the sea, whose current that time flows quietly like it does not want to be noticed.
For a short moment the sky darkened, I thought it would rain but soon the sun shone bright again and the wind rubs my face gently and the thought of taking a nap ensued. I fought it off because I do not want to miss a single moment with my eyes closed and wandering into a dream, when I am already in a place that conjures a beautiful one. I would not miss this for a few moments of the unconsciousness.
In a contrasting setting from the Ati-Atihan festival, I was glad to have spent a quiet morning in this place. My friend Chi was also beaming with nothing but praise for the place, I am thankful too, for having able to share that experience with her and at the same time my mind was flashing with names of friends whom I wish were also there to live that moment under such a spell of the Bakhawan Eco-Park.
The place is well maintained and projects for further conservation and reforestation of more areas are still ongoing and I have nothing but high regard to the people who were involved in this project. It surely represent how a community should care for its environment and for others to follow suit and look at this as an example of a successful eco-tourism.
Sadly, we cannot stay there forever and as we took one last look of the surrounding we bade the place goodbye, and walking back to the forest and within a stone throw from the open sea, the bamboo starts to make sounds as I stepped over it again. A long walk back but something I would never mind doing in the near future when opportunity takes me back to Kalibo again.