Of nature, stars and fireflies: Camotes interludes

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Martha, do you remember in Manila when you couldn’t see stars at night? Come here. Look up!”

There was an urgency in the mother’s invitation that won over her daughter’s reluctance for a twilight dip. The streak of pastel above the skyline faded into the balmy landscape below, cordoned by a stellar canopy. The silhouettes waded into the artificial blue that stretched into the endless dark.

I was at the opposite corner of the pool, counting flying objects in silence, the way a child counts sheep at bedtime. Amused.


I remembered the childish wish of an elderly balikbayan from California on the bus ride earlier. At 66, Jimmy still longed to see fireflies. I wanted to tell him that stars are the painted version of the luminous creatures. I cowered in my seat, groggy, and perhaps, excited. It must have been the grunge punk playlist.

It was the first of May, a beautiful morning, and in a few, I would be at the Camotes Islands for the first time. Suroy Suroy Camotes. Three days, two nights. Sounded swell. My head was all fogged up with thoughts of sand, sunsets, stars and fireflies.

It was a swift drive from the Cebu Provincial Capitol to Danao Wharf in Danao city, where we boarded a ferry bound for the isles.

The sun was scorching when we docked at Consuelo Wharf. A stranger put a lei on my neck. I was a tourist. The animated “Soli-Soli Festival” dance that greeted us ushered in summer, Camotes-style. The blue green waters hinted at another round of sunburn.

Camotes Islands is nestled in northeast Cebu, composed of three major islands, Poro, Pacijan and Ponson; and a minor islet, Tulang.

First stop was Busay Falls. Located in Tudela town on Poro island, it is a new find, based on the accounts of Tudela mayor Erwin Yu. A part of barangay General, the two-kilometer transport from Tudela proper didn’t matter much, as a mint green spring pool below a cave-like formation greeted us for lunch. A thick branch attached to an old trunk served as a landmark, I guess. I moved back to get a bigger picture. Enchanting.

I could imagine fireflies-turned-fairies bathing in the waters at night under a full moon. I thought the episode had already unfolded in a previous dream.

Busay is actually an adventure zone. Unfortunately (because if Yolanda wasn’t unfortunate, I don’t know what it is), it lost its zipline to the catastrophe last November. I may not have been there before, but to me, the area didn’t seem like it had been disturbed at all by any means of natural agitation. It must have been the trees. They actually played a vital role in my hometown, Palompon, Leyte, during the typhoon. It must have been the same case here in Camotes.

The food was ready. We had to immerse our feet in water, as the buffet was set at the foot of the spring. A girl, part Asian, one among the 112 international travelers, was strolling in bare feet around the table, oblivious of the suffocating crowd. She looked happy, like the colorful paint on her toenails.

All the rural feast goodness was spread right in front me, causing gastronomic confusion. Puso lechon baboy, shellfish, grilled fish, sweet—gulping two bottles of soda was necessary to digest everything.

When the bloat settled, I had to ask our trusty photographer to “shoot” me with my phone camera with the falls as backdrop. I was “shot” several times. I couldn’t get enough of the sight. The people there should know how blessed they are.

We then departed for Bukilat Cave in barangay McArthur.

“The underground cave, which is six kilometers away from the town proper, was said to be named after the person who first inhabited the area, believed to have come from Bohol. It used to be the hiding place of the inhabitants during the Battle of the Japanese Armada and the American navy between Camotes and Leyte Sea…”

I was reading history when people started to flock to the entrance of the gate enclosing the cave. A woman, seemingly senile and fragile, was doing something with a chicken egg. She was trying to make it stand on a plate. After a series of murmurs under her breath, the egg, indeed, stood upright on its own. Some smirked at the “entertainment”. But who wouldn’t be curious, what was it all about? Officials said granny was performing a ritual, asking permission from the deities for humans to enter the cave for a visit. No stand-alone egg, no entry. Now that was interesting. And that was how we were granted entry into the cave. Cool.

The natural stalactites and stalagmites inside lent an ancient feel. The natural windows (there were seven), that allowed light to seep through, made the experience more surreal. I was lolling my head in awe. The fact that the ice-cold water of Bukilat Cave seemed to stream out of nowhere made me want to pursue spelunking. How amazing nature works!

I withdrew from the scene thinking how superb stars would look from down there. If only we came at night, it could have been awesome.

Prior to our last destination for the day, we dropped by Tudela Church beside Poro Town Hall. There’s something about old cathedrals. They listen. They heal, I guess.

I’m not a hardcore church fan, but every time I step into these “holy” fields, for some supernatural reason, I always end up feeling fine. It must be the structure or The Cross.

Songs sung

Back at the coaster, our bubbly tour guide, Kakay, was rendering her version of Let It Go. I knew I never wanted to be a tour guide.

It was almost late afternoon when we reached Buho Rock in barangay West Poblacion, where we were welcomed by a staging of the “Tagbo Festival”, a fluvial reenactment of the town’s discovery.

A trek down 56 steps will lead you to the charming coral ship-shaped rock docked at a port below the cliff. Buho Rock is actually an abandoned resort saved by the local government. I was standing on this diving slash viewing deck which protrudes from the rock. I could not even look down.

I focused on the marriage of the sea and sky spread before my eyes instead. For a moment there, all the mid-life crisis angst diffused into tiny specks of existence.

Back to the revelry above the rock, a band was playing. This lanky man in blue jeans was singing Frank’s My Way, which was kinda off. The party had just started. Nevertheless, it was a suave presentation.

We were fed with the bounty of the mountains and the ocean. Lechon baboy (this time, served in pieces), biko, banana cue, puto, fresh fruit and takla—shrimp with tails similar to that of a lobster’s claw, only smaller. Natives related that the creature was named takla because it is heard chuckling under the waters. Takla was the sound they produced. Weird, but well, that explained it.

Poro mayor Boy Rama was spotted and a quick chitchat on the preparations took place, lesser budget, more fun and all. As the program progressed, we retreated to the sides where a burst of orange, yellow and lilac was so moving, it made me want to cry. There I had my photo opportunity with the vice governor. Man, she smiles like a sunflower.

Day one came to a close and I found solace in the coolness of the waters of Mangodlong Paradise Beach Resort, where we stayed. I was playing mermaid. My newfound friends were sipping (what looked to me like) margaritas at the bar. Honest laughter rose to the heavens like a collective chant.

Martha and her mother, who were later joined by the rest of the family, were connecting constellations above. While the bossa nova in the air was inviting for a romantic night, I swam away, premeditating a prequel visit under a painting of fireflies. ((first of two parts)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 22, 2014.


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