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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Calayan Island | When Coming Back Beckons a Sweet Hereafter Feels



Not missing the blustery 7-hour lampitaw ride of my first journey here, I stepped out of the plane—moments after it made a historic first landing on the island—buoyed by a feeling akin to rekindling a tryst with a former lover. Calayan Island has that effect on me. It could be because last time, the place served as a background to my memorable hilltop and beachside frolics with my then girlfriend.


While this second time was for a writing assignment witnessing a historic first: the maiden flight to Calayan. I cannot dismiss the fact that a sense of fondness is being revived. Being summoned to once again explore the island’s stunning landscape, is like being given a second chance to create new set of memories in a place that always remind me of splendid memory reels from four years ago.

Postcard-Image Cove

After a brief ceremony inaugurating the small airport of Calayan, we hit the explore button immediately and boarded a speedboat. Sailing over cerulean-colored waters had me jolting back into a spell of enthrallment. For the second time, I found myself embracing the island’s grand scheme of charms.

Photo courtesy of Sir Noel Amata
It didn’t took long before I gazed at the direction of a drawn-out cove known as Cibang. The same place where four years ago I was almost swept away to the sea by its mighty waves. Beyond that near brush with drowning, it was also the same place I told myself as the most beautiful length of oceanfront I’ve ever seen in my entire life.


Knowing full well that memories have a way of exaggerating, I stared at Cibang Cove’s white sandy shoreline as it sparkles like jewelries, against the gleam of the sun. Mesmerizing still. I directed my gaze at the forest that fills the surrounded serrated peaks before turning my attention to the lunar-like rock formations jutting out to the volatile ocean. “Yep, this is the Cibang Cove I remember”. Raw, desolate and tempestuously absorbing.


As our speedboat capers to the motions of the heavy rollicking of the waves, we each struggled transferring to a small buoyant device that took us to the shore. Finally out of the boat and with my feet planted at the soft fine sands of Cibang Cove, I took off my shoes and walk barefooted.

Because our boat can't come close to the shore, we have to ride this. Photo courtesy of Sir Noel Amata
Sinking my feet and feeling the scorching sands at every step, I tuned in at the sounds of the battering waves as it collides with the coastline. The blending of the colors all around me: white sands below me, indigo waters behind me, emerald forest covered crests on my other side and the blue skies above me, all constitutes a sense that I was inside a postcard image. The lure of taking a dip at the crystal-clear waters was strong. But my craving for big lobsters and curacha crabs was mightier. So I headed straight to other end of Cibang Cove and into a waiting feast.

Fascination Redux

After our late lunch shared boodle-fight style, we rested a bit before proceeding to Nagudungan Hill. The short and breezy hike atop this rolling mound overlooking sequences of beguiling scenery of deep ravines, the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean on both sides and Cibang Cove below, brings back the same captivation Calayan Island left on me during my first trip here.

Lobsters and curcacha crabs are a common food on the island
This time around as I separated myself from our group, I lumbered to the different highpoints of Nagudungan’s and immersed myself at the exceptional set of bounteous beautiful nature around me.

That's me jumping for joy at the beautiful scenery atop Nagudungan Hill
While listening to myself think, I saw one of the ladies from the Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines wandering on her own nearby. I first noticed her during our plane ride to Calayan and figured her to be a snob. Here on top of Nagudungan Hill though, she was all jovial and doing all gamely poses. “Sir Marky, it’s so beautiful here” as Genesis initiates a small talk. Not long after we were indulged in a conversation centering on the beauty of the island and how rejuvenating to leave all worldly worries behind.

View of Cibang Cove from Nagudungan Hill
Later as the sun starts to set, we joined the others seated over a patch of grass sharing a bottle of a locally made wild berry wine. Together we watched the sunset slowly sinks into the horizon. 

Genesis is game 24/7 for some editorial type photo
As the sky became an image of a scattered Roman candle explosion, I laid on the grass for a few minutes more. Delighted at experiencing the untouched splendor of the island once again, I turn the pages of my first Calayan Island experience into a new chapter: Fascination Redux. And “this is only day one” I told myself.


Unending Quests

The next day I awoke to a morning sky equal parts blue and a medley of streaks of red and blooming yellows. The rising sun partly hidden by the sun and the waves of the sea kissing the pebble-filled beach with abandon. I took a short walk along the beachfront eager to continue our exploration of the island. A couple of dogs snooped at the sands as they followed me. The icy daybreak wind then hushed me to sit on a rock and just stare at the endless swirling of the ocean’s whitecaps.


After breakfast we divided ourselves into three groups and boarded a smaller boat and cruised over the seas on a maritime convoy. Our first stop was Lusok Cave ('Lusok' is an Ilocano word for 'hole'), where a natural pool is hidden behind a twin-passageways beneath a mammoth craggy-rock wall.

Inside, we took turns diving into the refreshing indigo waters—a mixture of the sea and the fresh water dripping from the walls of the cave. Afterwards, we headed back to the island and visited the waterfalls of Bataraw and Caanawan—but not after enjoying another boodle fight feast consisting of fresh seafood and lechon by the roadside near Bataraw falls.


Caanawan falls is located a few kilometers upland and necessitates riding a powerful habal-habal (motorycyle) to get into the jump-off point. From there, another 10 minute hike takes you to the waterfalls.


It was almost nighttime when we got back to Apollo Resort in Dadao Beach—where we’re billeted. Weary from back-to-back days of exploration and still high from the euphoric inauguration of Calayan Airport, we spent the night further bonding together. All wholeheartedly supportive of the TPB and the Calayan LGU’s plan to maintain the rawness of the island—despite the new developments, we all feel the excitement at the prospering of sustainable and responsible tourism practices in the island in the coming months. My return trip to Calayan was more than the 'second time is a charm' cliche, it is also an eye-opener to the importance of preserving the island against wrong forms of development. As Mayor Al Llopis told us "We won't let investors use Calayan as their playground", I am assured that the island is in good hands for now. 

Photo courtesy of Sir Noel Amata



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