Riding a plane en route to somewhere far-away was my way of temporarily bidding adieu to a place, in this case, the metropolis, that blows an air of despondency and so I did, we did. I always knew that the ocean is a place of solace and healing, well, at least, for me and my friends.
Arriving in Tacloban, a city that was once devastated 3 years ago by super typhoon Yolanda, we were dumbfounded at how the locals here are now all-smiles and highly accommodating. We shied away from even asking how life has been since the typhoon, but eyes spoke well of the struggle and of how the battle to strive forward is being fought well.
I cry inside, with tears of loss juxtaposed with hope, for struggles won and struggles, still, worth fighting for. They say, if you seek to find strength, you look straight into the eye of a survivor; of diseases, of cancer, of catastrophe, in this case, of Yolanda. And I did, on that day, in the eyes of the people I passed by around the city.
After what felt like forever, we finally laid eyes on the province of Biliran in the town of Naval. It was a place that interweaves urban and rural. Commercial areas are interspersed with what looks like the simple Filipino life. In effect, the place exudes an ambiguous vibe but we didn’t mind since we could easily get our fill from well-known bakeries and food chains.
After a quick bite of what should be considered lunch, we hailed a pump boat to reach the islands of Higatangan, Maripipi and Sambawan. These islands that lie along Samar Sea would take 30 minutes to an hour to reach.
The sun was at its highest as we sail through Samar Sea. Waves were pummelling against the tiny pump boat we were on. I looked back and saw how frustrated the boatmen were, all the while my friends and I were throwing off-beat jokes and bursting out in laughter. I dissolved into tears as it dawned on me how this teeny-tiny moment encapsulates life in general. Circumstances are irrelevant as long as we’re with the people who matters most. And as I got deeper into thought, I noticed how shallow waters beneath unclothed shades of turquoise.
Higatangan Island is no cast-away land. A number of people are already occupying the place and since we didn’t have much time to explore, we rather stay at its elusive sand-bar.
The sand was loose that whenever one foot is set on it, it sinks by an inch. Interestingly, it was filled with what looked like washed-away dead corals. It didn’t feel good to walk on it, but we made sure we had fun, as always.
We are not much of a beach bummer ourselves, most of the island we passed by, we didn’t remember by name but by its marine life.
This one I remember as the island with a pebbled ocean floor with rock formations allowing some sort of a maze underwater.
How could this island not leave an indelible impression on anyone who gets to set foot on it?
Pristine blue waters, impeccable fine white-sand, and a quick hike to a hilltop vista of the whole island, inevitably elicit open-mouthed adoration.
Sometimes I wonder if there is one island out of the 7,107 islands (they say it’s 7,110 now) that is yet to be discovered. If there is one out of the thousands that tops our paradise after paradise of discoveries.
For now it seems that the more I explore, the more she (Philippines) topples my expectations saying “you underestimate me, darling.”
She remains mysterious yet purposely leaves some doors ajar, allowing some space for our imagination. So we never stop exploring, one island at a time. Although I should get used to being unfailingly proven wrong by her. For my imagination falls short of her beauty, every single time.
So I fly back to Manila with nothing but thoughts of paradise, that is my home. If only I simultaneously zoom out and look closely.