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Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Ideal Off-the-Grid Destination: Cuatros Islas in Inopacan, Leyte

Under a bright blue, cloudy sky, at the receiving end of the beautiful radiance of the sun, we set sail toward our destination: the dotted islands off the coast of Inopacan, which the locals appropriately refer to as Cuatros Islas. Our short boat journey started off with nothing out of the ordinary, looking ahead I fervently wished we could magically cut the distance: Boat rides bore the wits out of me, even if I love hopping from one island to another in this archipelagic country of ours.



A few minutes after the motor engine of the fishing boat revved to its full speed, I started to feel the wind caressing my face, lulling me to sleep. All of a sudden I see our boatman suddenly become excited. Following his line of direction, we gaze to the sea and witness a group of dolphins darting in and out of the waters. The loveable sea creatures repeated their movements, much like dragon boat rowers, as if they ­were swimming to a pounding beat of the drums. They remained visible for a few seconds, holding us in sheer fantastic awe.



Wide awake now, I savor the boat ride while imagining the kind of underwater wealth inhabiting below; of coral reefs and marine life that mirror the vast nature’s wonders that the waters surrounding the Philippines comprises of.



I look ahead of the boat to see the four islands; Digyo, Mahaba, Apid, and Himokilan appearing luminous as its white sands meet the pointed rays of the sun from afar. Slowly as our boat sails by, I see Himokilan Island being dwarfed from my left peripheral vision, while the long white stretch of Mahaba Island quickly reveals itself as the boat smoothly approaches it. Slowly docking at the edge of the sandbar, we jump into the waist deep waters and wade near the tree-line to drop our stuff. Wasting no time I jumped into the water and was instantly delighted by  the crystal clear waters.



Apart from us and a few dogs, the only people I saw on the eastern side of the island were five foreign tourists who have been camping on the island for the last few days. In contrast with other popular islands in the country, Mahaba Island provides the ideal setting to get lost and truly enjoy the beautiful natural environment, teeming with lush vegetation and trees as you go further inland. One of our companions, Leyte Tourism officer Patrick Buena informs us about a rare species of red shrimps inhabiting the waters of the lagoon found at the center of the island.



For about an hour and a half we savor our surroundings with short walks and a swim back to the waters. I envision the island enduring its bareness for a long time, the more it retains its nakedness, the more beautiful it appears. At the back of my head though, I fear that our false sense of tourism development might come back to bite us, if we allow unregulated and misplaced progress to be done in islands such as Cuatros Islands.



Conservation should become our first and foremost agenda so we could promote these islands without risking destroying what makes it attractive in the first place, to avoid it to be overrun with unnecessary infrastructure that most of the time, only stuck out like a sore thumb in a bare island such as Mahaba Island. Fortunately, Patrick agrees with me.



Since we spent most of the afternoon at Mahaba Island, we were left with barely enough time to hop into Digyo Island. This island is nothing unlike Mahaba Island, it has a few houses and small nipa huts dotting the beach front. The smallest island among the four, it is also a perfect place to pitch a tent and enjoy island living for a few days, while staying off the grid—to exist without the grasp of social media.



Just like the rest of the province of Leyte, Cuatros Islas was also hit hard by Haiyan. There were still a few severed and bended coconut trees standing as a grim reminder of the force of nature that battered the region two years ago. But as we all sat idly watching the miniscule swell of the sea, I directed my sight further. I feel a sense of calmness; something begging me to remain the night, for a few days, maybe more. If I had come prepared with a backpack filled with bread, and camping gear, then I might probably have stayed. Before boarding our boat to take us back to the Leyte mainland, like General MacArthur, I promised to return. Next time though, I won’t be just a mere passerby to this beautiful province slowly stepping out of the shadow of Yolanda, as I want to fully explore the province of Leyte and experience all the wonderful things it is known for, and should be known for, such as these four isles of isolated splendor. 




* This article was published in the Lifestyle pages of the November 15, 2015 issue of Manila Bulletin *

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