Text and photos by Carmen Dulguime
Philippine tourism is reopening as pandemic restrictions slowly ease. It’s time to revive postponed vacation plans, dust off the cameras, unearth the travel bag, and prepare the essentials. For now, I just want to see how much I can remember from some of the previous travels with friends and strangers alike.
This pandemic may have forced me to skip two summers and several holidays, but thanks to Facebook memories, I was reminded of those happier times spent with friends, family and even strangers I just met during my travels across the country. Now that the Department of Tourism has announced the easing of restrictions for travelers, I’m itching to go out again.
Looking at those memories made me realize I must make my next trips more meaningful by taking less photos with the camera and more with the heart and mind. More feelings, as we playfully put it these days. I want it to be more about the actual experience than the instagrammable spots. I want to be able to retell stories about people, places and moments over and over years after the actual trip.
Here are some of the feelings I remember from some of the places I’ve visited (and would love to revisit) so far. Perhaps this will spark some memories of your own vacations and inspire you to brace for new ones.
Isolated and free at Carbin Reef
On the way to this sandbar in Sagay, Negros Occidental, I remember our tour guide saying that we are only allowed to stay until 4PM the latest in Carbin Reef. It’s not because there are no amenities for tourists — no toilet, no café, no electricity, just one small makeshift shelter. It’s because the area is home to sharks and other sea creatures, and who wants to be caught in their midst by sundown and high tide? This was also the place when one of my friends asked us not to post any photo with him in it because his jealous wife didn’t know where he was at that time (good times, my friend!).
Sagay, where Carbine Reef is located, is the Philippines’ largest marine reserve at 32,000 hectares. The Reef itself is 200 hectares and is the first fish sanctuary formed in the 1980s. If you go there early, you can still enjoy swimming and snorkeling and take your mandatory jumpshots in the creamy white sand.
Home and safe in Pandan Hills
If it were up to me, I would have chosen to get quarantined in the Pandan Hills of Bgy. Bay-ang, Batan, Aklan throughout the pandemic. The fact that the place is less known to tourists makes the hills appropriate to find peace and quiet, giving that sense of being safe. It was here where my then 60-year old mother frolicked like a child, happy to be home. We barely talked, just happy to scan the sprawling view of greens and blues. Words were not necessary to describe our joy just being together in that spot on the hill.
In photo, Pandan looks like Racuh A Payaman (Marlboro Country to tourists) in Batanes at first glance. It is not exactly a popular tourist spot as it is known mostly to those who live within the area. As such, the grass is expectedly tall but a narrow beaten path would definitely guide the accidental tourist toward the top for a breathtaking view of the horizon. The grass is more picnic-friendly at the top, and the breeze coming from Sibuyan Sea is comforting enough to cleanse a weary soul.
Sleepless in Nagsasa
We went to Nagsasa Cove in San Antonio, Zambales for an overnight camping trip. The weather was great when we pitched our colorful tents. We had plans for the night, typical of a camping trip: songs, campfire, laughter, teasing and stories. We did laugh and told stories, but inside our respective tents as hard rain poured. Our tents were not made for such harsh weather conditions, so our tent floor got so soaking wet that it was impossible for us to lie down to sleep.
Needless to say, we ended up sleepless that night until the following day. At one point, my head spun so bad from drowsiness that I decided to go outside instead for a walk. Little did I know that I would catch a beautiful sunrise and watch the still waters turn into glass, reflecting the hills and trees around us. In another spot, the low tide revealed a vast expanse of land connecting the hills into one fantastic cove. My friends and I suddenly felt reinvigorated by the scene. Some of the hills have been shaved by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, but traces of new agoho trees and bushes can be seen sprouting to retouch this home of Aetas.
Enchanted by El Nido
Waking up early in El Nido is an experience in itself. By the shore, boats linger on the still waters, as if still sleeping peacefully before raucous tourists come splashing in for the day’s adventure.
I don’t know how to swim, but when my group went to Secret Lagoon, I knew I just had to go with them. It didn’t help that the entrance was a small hole underneath the imposing limestone wall. Beyond that is the “secret”. I couldn’t see the seabed, which means it’s that deep. But it’s either I wait in the boat until my friends come back, or suck it up and dive right in. I did, and it felt like my heart sank before me.
All regrets went bouncing off the surrounding walls when the secret finally revealed itself to me. It felt as if I was tasting oxygen for the first time just being in the middle of those tall, sharp limestone cliffs guarding the lagoon. At some point, while lying on the soft creamy sand, my friend asked me, “If you’re working in this environment, can you imagine what kind of creative ideas would flow out of you?” I told him without thinking, “Work? I wouldn’t work if I live here!”
Falling for Aguinid
Aguinid Falls is just one of the popular ones in Samboan, Cebu, but it was more than enough for me to fall in love with its confident beauty. It takes eight levels to reach its peak, but tour guides would only allow up to level 5 for safety reasons.
Not one to be intimidated by such precautions, our group tackled one level after another. In one of the levels, I remember seeing this corner where the water was traipsing down stone steps to form a pool of crystal blue waters. A dark shadow suddenly moved by the top of the steps, seemingly watching our group in a sinister way. I almost dropped my cameras (I had two) and slipped out of panic. No one saw me as I was falling behind.
As it turned out, it was another tour guide with another group.
In deep with Vayang Rolling Hills
They’re not kidding when they say that Batanes is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. It’s an understatement, actually. I would even go as far as to say the adjective to describe it hasn’t been created yet.
At the top of one of the hills, you will be greeted by the sight of rolling hills mantled by greenery. It’s as if God had his angels roll out a carpet of grass and trees that floated in the air before landing ever so slowly into what it is today. I didn’t notice my friend calling out to me, asking me to take her picture with Vayang Rolling Hills in the background. The scene swallowed me whole, and I went deep in awed reverie.
It’s a good thing my friend has a shrill voice to snap me out of it, or they would have called for a folk healer to disenchant me. Exaggeration intended.
How about you? What memories do you have of your previous trips, and where do you intend to go next?
About the Writer
beingKirei keeps two personal blogsites: beingKirei and Virtual Cubicle. She created these initially for self-expression, but she realized that she can do more with her God-given writing gift. Finding inspiration in Proverbs 31:8 (Speak for those who cannot speak; seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction), she started writing about people she meets and have meaningful conversations with. She found some of their stories need to be told and inspire others. She contributes to NewsFeed 360 on top of working in the editorial department of WSP Inc.. Aside from writing, she tries to learn photography, play the ukulele and guitar, and read until she falls asleep.
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