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Friday, May 3, 2013

Biri Island’s School of Rock


The waves we encountered coming to Biri from the port of Lavezares was a bit unkind. The youngest of my co-passengers, an infant boy slept through it all. His young parents cowered him up perfectly from the splashes of sea water. I covered my camera and counted the minutes, knowing each one that passes by means half a kilometer less swim to safety. That is, If I could swim to save my life in case the boat capsizes. We passed by a stretch of the northern part of Biri, but the boat headed further until the water calmed down and the clouds above us disappeared and opened up a bright sky. The boat starts to navigate smoothly and  the threat of rain since we sailed from the get-go has disappeared. The infant boy lets out a short cry and awoke. He stretches both his arms and feet, while I patted my legs to relieve it of impending cramps. 

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It took me two flights to land at Catarman. The first one was in January, when the plane I was riding wasn't able to land at the airport because of thick fog enveloping the airstrip. The pilot circled for 20 minutes and when the sky condition didn't changed, the plane was rerouted back to Manila. I wasn't much frustrated because at that time, I wasn't too sold in coming to Biri Island. There was no excitement or maybe, I was just temporary losing my travel mojo. I did rescheduled the trip to the middle part of February though.

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On my second shot at Biri, the plane landed at Catarman airport under clear skies. I remember just going through the motion. I'm not used to solo travel and I feel a kind of loneliness with no one to share whatever experiences coming my way. I didn't waste any time and went straight to Lavezares port, where I waited for a small passenger boat to gather at least 5 passengers. (each pays roughly 150 pesos). 

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A few hours later, after settling down at my 500 pesos-fan room at Villa Amor, I found myself riding at the back of my tour guide Orlando's habal-habal. My full travel mojo came back to me at the exact moment I saw the sweeping landscape of the sea, highlighted by the towering rock formations which I counted to at least five. Each is positioned a short distance from each other, like watch towers standing guard over a kingdom, where ancient soldiers stands and look further out in the sea surveying for attacking pirate ships.

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There it is. The big-ass boulders known as Macadlao, Magasang, Magsapad, Bil-at and Karanas. Orlando told me we're going to Magasang first, and warned me to watch my steps as we will be stepping over some moss-covered rocks along the way, navigating on shallow waters with uneasy rocks. I slipped on my very first step and landed squarely on my butt. I dismissed it as one of the many slip-ups. At that moment, I could only care of were I point my line of sight, as the circuits inside my brain are busy processing the fine out-of-this-world scenery I'm surrounded at that time.

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We tried going around Magasang towards the route facing the sea, but the waves were stronger than usual, so we ditched the route and went back towards the back going to its next-door rock formation called Magsapad. We negotiated a steep and slippery slope of porous volcanic rock. At the top we were greeted by strong winds and knee-high swaying grass AND a few observant cows which, as if on cue, stopped chewing the grasses on their mouth and stared at us. Orlando told me, those cows belongs to the caretaker of the place.

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We sat there for a couple of hours. Unmindful of the bright afternoon sun, I felt relaxed just stretching both my feet and staring at the Philippine sea and the waves as it crashes and kisses violently, the breaking walls from below. I got a couple of Pinoy movie trivia from Orlando when he told me that Magasang and Magsapad served as a location for a few scenes in the Richard Gomez - Dawn Zulueta - Maricel Laxa movie "Iisa Pa Lamang". Pointing towards Magasang and drawing an imaginary diameter he tells me "yung lugar na yon hanggang dito, puno yan ng tao. Mga taga Catarman, Lavezares pati Tacloban pumunta dito para manuod ng shooting". The other movie which was also shot in the same place was "Spirit Warriors" which he told me "ah yun konti lng nanuod, Streetboys bida dun wala namang Dawn Zulueta na naka swimsuit" (Almost no one came to see the shoot of Spirit Warriors, it stars the fucking Streetboys, you won't see any Dawn Zulueta in a sexy bikini, not even a Maricel Laxa)

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We called it a day when the sun was about to set. I got tired easily that we ditched taking photographs of the sunset. Orlando is an avid learner of photography, brought about by guiding photographers to the place. He's even taken up some techniques that I didn't even know. I see that he takes pride in showing to visitors what his island has to offer and in doing so, he has came to understand how photographers fell in love with the place. "Yung ibang photographers na ni g-guide ko dito, grabe isang bato, isang araw sa kanila ang abutin" ("When I guide photographers, we spend one day in one rock formation only, just taking pictures throughout the different parts of the day, sunrise, morning, mid-afternoon and sunset")

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It was nice having a tour guide like Orlando who understands the art of photography. I've had tour guides before who looks at me in a weird way, whenever I stop and try to angle for a shot. During dinner back at Villa Amor we shared a beer with a middle-age Australian named Lou, who showed us pictures of his motorcycle collection, roadtrips in OZ and his current and past Filipina girlfriends. It was awkward though, while he was scrolling his photo albums and the thumbnails were set to largest, we get to see photographs of his girlfriend and exes in various sexy poses. He tells us in a hard to understand accent "My girlfriend now, is from here (Biri), she's a keeper mate. She do not ask me for money, her father always tells her never ask the white man for money. So unlike my previous girlfriends, the first one always asking for money, the second one, she just want to have my baby. A white baby can you believe that? She doesn't even want to get married, but this one's a keeper I tell you that".

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He currently lives at Bantayan Island, renting a house there for six months then going back to Australia. "I come home and I look for something to sell, my bikes are now down to three from six. I sell things and I go back here, I love the life here in the Philippines".

The next day, we went to the other three rock formations; Macadlao, Bil-at and Karanas. I had lunch with Orlando's family at the foot of Bil-at and stayed the whole afternoon at Macadlao which provided me with an amazing scenery, I had a hard time leaving. 

Like going into a therapy session, I finally got my travel mood back. After the prolonged holiday break which stretched towards January and unto February. I am back to my old self once again. I've Biri Island to thank for it. Summing up Lou's exclamation of love of the life here in the Philippines. I say, its hard at times, but once one learns to embrace the simple life and appreciate small things like these set of huge rock boulders with wicked rock formations, I say life can definitely turn out good. It's just a matter of perspective.

For tour guide services: Contact Orlando Bulosan (0920-5246773)


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AirPhil Express flies to Catarman City daily. "Follow" their twitter page and "Like" their Facebook page to receive updates on flight info, latest routes, seat sale and other promos.




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