Escape to Calaguas Island

This blog was first published on GMA News Online

It was the week before the mid-term elections.

My friends and I had been debating for what seemed like forever when would be the best time to go out of town. But as the clock ticked on, leading to what would be hell week for news people like us, we knew it was time.

“Where do we go?” we asked.

Like in a story conference, pitches were thrown.

They ranged from ambitious Batanes to low-key Tagaytay. Then we found a blog with a photo of Calaguas Island in Camarines Norte. We were sold.

Someone chimed in, “You don’t get signal there.”

“At all?” I asked. “At all,” he replied. Well then, perfect.

Welcome to paradise

 We signed up for a travel package with one of the very few resorts there. All nine of us paid an affordable P3,000 each for a deal that included our very own van to and from Camarines Norte, a boat ride to and from the island, three meal buffet for two days, tent, and unlimited drinks from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Saturday night.

 It took us seven hours to travel from Quezon City to the town of Daet, Camarines Norte’s capital and the jumpoff point to the island.

 I was skeptical about the two-hour boat ride. I felt like I’ve been spending my entire weekend traveling, never reaching the destination and desperately running out of time. But the first few minutes after setting off to sea, I realized I wouldn’t be missing anything in the next two hours.

 The water was still shallow and covered by mangroves. There were ducks in sight. It looked like the entry to a jungle that eventually proved to be, after 30 minutes, paradise.

 The water was the color of a sky on a bright Saturday morning. It was so blue that the sky could barely reflect the sea, except only on those divine moments where the sun would shine so explicitly you could almost see the light bounce.

 Fifteen more minutes and we laid our eyes on the perfectly crafted islands that decorated the ocean. One of them, with each slope having a tree on top, even looked like a woman lying on her side.

A two-hour boat ride from the town of Daet, Camarines Norte's capital, will bring you to this paradise.

A two-hour boat ride from the town of Daet, Camarines Norte’s capital, will bring you to this paradise.

 I took this Calaguas trip for the same reason tired twentysomethings with full-time jobs go out of town: quarter-life crisis. The first 45 minutes of the boat ride had already cleared my head, and I was hoping for a sublime time of self-discovery that would, when I came back to Manila, make me a changed person; browner, yes, and better.

 When we got off the boat, the heat was unforgiving. It was 10 in the morning and it felt like 36 degrees.

Our resort wasn’t technically a resort. It was just a piece of land where dainty huts stood. There was one for the organizers, one for the caretaker (a local) and a few others for guests. The remaining space was for the tents and a very large comfort room.

Unplugged, unwound

 Calaguas Island is the kind of place where you carry your own pail of water to the small bathroom, use a flashlight to take a shower at night, and where low-batt gadgets only regain life in the evening when the generator is running—if you’re lucky to get to any of the four outlets first.

 It’s a place where the internet and cellphone signals don’t exist. But it’s also a place where buko juice is picked fresh off the tree. “Teka, iaakyat ko lang po kayo,” locals would say when you asked for a coconut.

A quest to escape the city and banish quarter life stress.

A quest to escape the city and banish quarter life stress.

 It’s a place where the soft, fine, white sand feels as good as your thick mattress bed. Where refreshments come in the clear, cold water of the sea.

 Before dawn broke, our group decided to visit the rock formation on the other end of the island. They said it was perfect backdrop for vacation photos, but I completely forgot to snap away because taking my eyes off the view felt like wasting precious time. I was appreciating the beauty in front of me.

 Besides, there are things cameras don’t capture: the way I felt when I stared directly at the descending sun, breathing like it was the first time I breathed in three years, since deciding to become an adult.

Calaguas' amazing landscape alone is worth the trip. If you're bringing your gadgets, you'd best bring along extra batteries. Photo courtesy of Sophia Balod

Calaguas’ amazing landscape alone is worth the trip. If you’re bringing your gadgets, you’d best bring along extra batteries. Photo courtesy of Sophia Balod

Don’t Instagram it

 The air was clean and almost fragrant. The air was bathing the dirt of Manila’s traffic and pollution, heartbreak, disappointment, and frustration off of me. It was like being cleansed, almost.

 When it got dark, we saw spots of light in the water: fireflies glowed like small bulbs, illuminating a stony path to the shore. As I stared into the long beach ahead, I wished the fireflies would never leave Calaguas. I wished it would stay pure and silent.

 Local officials have the same sentiment. Marissa Riva, the barangay secretary, said it was just four years ago that the owner opened the island to tourists. While there’s been a steady increase in visitors, the influx of tourists is still manageable. Just enough to break the silence and isolation of the far flung island of Camarines Norte.

 To put it simply: the goal is not to become a Boracay or a Puerto Galera. It must remain a place where internet does not exist, Instagram is vanquished and, instead of tweeting your thoughts, your thoughts remain in your head.

 Why didn’t I take many photos of my Calaguas trip? It’s because I want the experience to be mine, to remain unshared with others. It’s a selfish wish that others don’t find it and take it away from me.

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