An underwater version of a metropolitan city can be found in the waters of Mantigue Island. Measuring four hectares in diameter and located three kilometers off Camiguin Island, the island has now been groomed as an eco-tourism destination. Today, the Mantigue Natural Park's lush forests houses different species of trees and plants. A localized tourism management program setup by the local government, makes this island a model for nature preservation. Mantigue is manned by a few families belonging to the island's original settlers, who were trained to oversee the island, the forest, and serves as tour guides. It's a simple case of people-empowerment, while at the same time safeguarding the island from falling into the hands of misguided and greedy questionable island "developers".
|Journeying James swimming with the Hawksbill. Photo Credit: Ferdz Decena of Ironwulf|
Ikoy the great is one of them, our assigned tour guide for the day. He walks with a slight limp brought about by a deformity on his right hand and feet. At first glance you will feel sorry for him, however that thought quickly disappears the moment you listen to his expressive character. The joyful and exuberant nature of Ikoy is rubbed into our group instantly. He showed us the forest trail with the enthusiasm of a Kuya Kim Atienza, he'd take pictures of us and follows it up with an array of adjectives ranging from 'marvelous', 'perfect', 'amazing', 'splendid' and so on, to the point that we'd ask him to take more so we could hear another word proclaimed with gusto from him.
I enjoyed our previous day's snorkeling incursion in the waters surrounding the Sunken Cemetery, that I was looking forward to doing the same at Mantigue Island. I heard a lot about the marine life which teems the under current, that I came prepared mentally as I am not a strong swimmer. Wearing my boardshort which I bought from Billabong Philippines, I was already eager to jump into the water, while still aboard the small boat ferrying us from Barangay San Roque in Mahinog, Camiguin to Mantigue.
After our short forest hike, Ikoy the great directed us to the waters. After I put on my life vest I saw Ikoy along with free-swimmers Lois, James and Ferdz quickly heading out to the water. I chased after them only to see Ikoy swimming like the real-world version of Aquaman. Soon, all of them were ahead of me while I struggle swimming with my life vest on.
Underneath me, I felt my feet walking over a grassy sea bed, until the further I kick into the deep, the more I saw corals and different kinds of fishes. To borrow one of Ikoy's adjectives, I was telling myself how "amazing" the scenery below me. The angle from where I was swimming faces the current which was pushing me towards my left. So as I advanced forward the more I leaned to my left, which proved to a good thing as I ended up where Lois, Enzo, James and Ikoy are huddled.
I heard them cheering aloud and motioning to each other "this big" with both their hands. I swam faster to catch up with them and I looked below me, and there it was - my very first sea turtle in real life. The first time I've seen such sea creature outside the telly and glossy magazine pictures. (author's note: after showing Ferdz' photograph of it online, we found out that it was a Hawksbill Turtle)
Again, I borrowed another adjective from Ikoy and declared "Magnificent" while I swallow sea water in the process. The Hawksbill floated calmly, flipping its feet just enough to glide smoothly for a minute before it disappeared underneath one of the big corals. I wanted to make another pass to catch another glimpse of it, but the strong current has started to push me back. Exhausted and already pleased at seeing my first sea turtle, I just let the flow of the sea carry me back to the shore.
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