The Simple Life at Alibijaban Island

(updated June 2020 with travel guide)

It didn't take much effort getting there. Us having to endure a six-hour bus ride is nothing compared to the bare living conditions on the island. As seen from my outsider's point of view, the scarcity of everything I couldn't live without, flashes right in front of my eyes. It was an initial impression that proved to be inaccurate  a mere hour into our stay there. We were greeted by a middle-aged woman whom everyone simply calls as "Kapitana", while to some, who have strict odes about current politics prefer to call her "Ex-kapitana". It doesn't matter whether she won or lost in the last barangay elections, what stuck out to us then was her hospitality and eagerness to cut the rope of unfamiliarity between her and the two visitors who came to Alibijaban island. 

the white sand beach of Alibijaban Island

A Warm Alibijaban Island Welcome

It was like she was expecting myself and Gretch to arrive that morning. Coffee was instantly served and small talk ensued. Like a  tourist officer, she briefed us about the island and explained the simplicity of their life — that has no electricity and fresh water — almost apologetically. She then told us about her three children. The youngest is a criminology student based in Manila, the older daughter is now based in the Mountain Province and an OFW son currently based in Bahrain. I imagine her telling the stories of her children to every visitor of the island. It is a tale everybody needed to hear to break down the notion that people raised in far-flung regions of the country are eluded by modernity, and that will never get the chance to  chase their dreams elsewhere. 

Alibijaban Island

I saw hints of pride covering her face while she speaks of her children, as if telling us we are not different from them. There's nothing to feel sorry and guilty about. It's the kind of life they chosewonderful in a lot of ways. Unostentatious, yet they persevere to give the next generation the freedom to seek greener pasture away from the island. 

Gretch Gram in Alibijaban Island

The small community rests in front of the shore fronting the mainland of San Andres in Quezon Province. Fences made from coconut wood separates the houses and divided by three rows running parallel to the sea.  The small streets were just flattened white sands and a little further back, a copra plantation occupies the rest of Alibijaban island.

The island's industry is fueled by fishing and copra farming. Kapitana says it is becoming more difficult for them to earn since copra prices have been driven down to a paltry 10 peso per kilo. It was the day before the election. You would expect them to be fed up with the failed promises of candidates as evidenced by the almost bare state of Alibijaban island. It was the polar opposite. The excitement of going to the polls the next day - which undeniably something I would not give a flying f*ck about missing out, was the talk of the town.

In a 20/20 hindsight, they showed me how, even times of hopelessness, the call for change and the importance to have a voice still rings true in a true democratic country like ours. They will never give up that right to vote, even though politicians always break campaign promises, throw soaps on the floor while waiting for their constituents to bend over so they could screw them again and again.

Candle-lit Dinner

As we were wandering around Alibijaban island until sunset, unknown to us that time, Kapitana was busy waiting for the fishermen to come home so she could order some to cook for us that night. Even though the island is a fishing community, most nights they would just cook a simple meal of kamote, kangkong and tuyo for dinner. Not this night though. Kapitana wanted to make sure to serve her guests a special meal for the night.

It was one of the best dinner I've ever had in a long time. Under a candle-lit table we shared plates of crispy fried fish (pardon me for forgetting what type of fish it was). Since then, every time I would dig my hands on a plate of rice with fried fish, I always remember our dinner setting at Alibijaban island. I could imagine Kapitana staring us with her worried look, hoping we're enjoying the food she served. She had no idea what a feast it was for me and Gretch.

mangroves at Alibijaban Island
The next morning as the town was busy preparing to vote at the island's lone tiny school, we walked towards the part of the island where the mangrove forest are. I almost stepped into a live snake, if not for Gretch reacting with a surprised shriek, there's no way of telling if I would end up with a snake bite. 

The local community at Alibijaban have endured all sorts of figurative snake bites, the primitive way of living may present an image of a hard-bearing life to outsiders like us. For them, it wasn't the case. They may live a modest life than we can imagine, but for all of them, all that matters most is for the sense of community to remain intact. Kapitana told us how happy she is to see visitors arriving, but at the same time fear the moment when a rich man would buy the whole island and transform it into a fancy beach resort.

Right now they are hearing murmurs of a rich political family planning to buy the island. I asked her what would they do when that happens. For the first time I saw her face show a hint of sadness and spoke in a low voice "We have no choice but to fall back inland, we could always farm there" - still full of hope and fighting spirit, but deep inside we both know, it would be better if nobody shakes up their small and simple community.

How to Go to Alibijaban Island

- Take a Lucena bound bus from Cubao-EDSA, Buendia-Taft or Alabang (Preferably JAC Liner)

- Get off at Lucena Main Bus Terminal

- From there, take a jeepney, a bus or a van to San Andres, Quezon

- Go to the tourism office located at San Andres Port to arrange for a boat. (boat ride takes 30 minutes)

Where to Stay in Alibijaban Island

Following our visit there in 2013, Alibijaban Island has since become a favorite destination of backpackers and joiners group. A few of the island's residents has transformed their humble houses to homestays where you can stay for as low as 500 pesos.