Of nature, stars and fireflies: Camotes interludes

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FRIDAY morning broke out into an ethereal blaze of blue outside the glass door of our room. The infinity pool met the sea and sky. The fireflies were no longer visible above.

Breakfast was charming at the bamboo restaurant. Somebody turned 21. Only a few of us knew.

We were to hit two destinations in San Francisco that day. A third class municipality of 15 barangays, San Francisco is the biggest town in Camotes in terms of land area, population and income.


On the way to our first stop, tour guide Rona told stories of origins and legends. She said San Francisco is an ornamental plant of different varieties that pops up everywhere in the borough. She also shared the split of Isyong and Isyang.

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of a certain Princess Soli in northern Camotes, there lived a couple, who were constantly squabbling. Eventually, her highness got tired of the whole drama, and as punishment, separated both by water for all eternity. The two interior islands of Pacijan Island (where Lake Danao is) are the ill-fated couple.

Eventually, wild grass started growing along the sides of the lake. It was called soli-soli, which the town festival is also called. Celebrated every March, it is named in honor of the princess.

The narration was a lullaby until the bus ceased bumping. We had reached Lake Danao Park, the bank of the largest natural lake in Cebu located in the village of Union, San Francisco.

I was lost in the fiesta fever. The banderitas, the Soli-Soli Festival dance, the traditional palo-sebo which I was aching to try, the catch-the-pig game (how I pitied the squealing creature) and of course, the banquet. May, after all, is fiesta season.

Considered by officials as a sign of livelihood recovery from the typhoon last year was a pop stall of souvenirs, delicacies and vegetables in the area. Remember Jimmy?

He bought my newfound friends and me bukarilyo and another delicacy wrapped in orange packaging. I forgot the name. Such generosity from a random stranger! A good man with a good bunch of relatives with him, all the way from California.

We didn’t miss kayaking, although I was wondering if the rumors were true, about the crocodiles lurking below the lake bed. Turned out, the writer from another paper, who was onboard with me, was not much into paddling, either. We were shifting strokes for what seemed like forever before finally giving up. At least we didn’t flip and drown.

Afterwards, she rode with the others on a Sakanaw (Sakayan sa Danao) cruise around Isyang while I hopped on a horse’s back like a real rodeo rider. Another first! Heeya!

If I heard right, the caretaker said the animal was about 15 years old or older.

Next on the itinerary was Santiago Bay, where one can find the longest strip of white sand beach in Camotes, open to the public. Seafood overload! Imbao, kinhason, saang, lukot, sunlot, name it. Obviously, fishing is a strong means of livelihood in San Francisco. The tide was low when we arrived; the islands at the opposite side of the bay were already peeping out from under the water.

The restrooms were some distance away, so I sneaked into the bus with the writer from another paper instead, to change for a quick swim. I had been wanting to take a dip in Santiago beach since April, and there I was. Another item ticked off from my summer bucket list.

Suroy Suroy Camotes 2014 concluded with dinner and live band entertainment in a dreamy set up at Mangodlong Rock Resort. To cap the night was an announcement, a surprise–--to fly sky lanterns and make a wish. I whispered three.

There they went—our lanterns, our wishes, our Camotes escapade, buoyed by the late summer air. Some touched down on the water; some were caught in trees. I was standing there stupefied. The flying oranges were actually morphing into fireflies and finally, into stars.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 29, 2014.


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