Camiguin: Tiny Hot Spot of Wonder
Text and photos by Jojie Alcantara
The smallest island province in Northern Mindanao is shaped like a pear with its land area measuring only 29,187 hectares. An estimated population of only 75,000 locals ranks it the second smallest province in the Philippines. But this small wonder is filled with a rich historical past, and a territory replete with a pristine ecosystem, shaped from the natural course of volcanic movements.
This top tourist destination is home to seven volcanoes, and is basically volcanic in origin, making it a veritable hot spot of a location (locals refer to it as the “Island Born of Fire”. Volcanoes that shaped both land and culture of the people are Mount Vulcan, Mount Guinsiliban, Mount Timpoong, Mount Uhay, Mount Tres Marias, Mount Mambajao, and the most active, Mount Hibok-Hibok. A challenging trek to its peak will afford a panoramic view of Mindanao, Siquijor and Bohol.
To us, it didn’t matter whether or not seismic activity would happen as we neared the island. We were determined to explore soon as our eyes caught sight of it from the ferry we boarded on.
In 2007, we booked our stay in advance at the Paras Beach Resort (www.parasbeachresort.com) as it was Lenten season, and the island was filled with tourists out to have some quiet R&R with friends and family. The resort was an ideal location because it was only a short trip from Mambajao, its capital town, and just a 3-minute ride by boat across the sea to the famous White Island.
This striking powdery white sand bar is usually first on the list to explore. Shaped like a parenthesis, it is entirely uninhabited, save for vendors with their makeshift roofs and umbrellas who offer to catch fresh seafood and cook your meals for you.
In its backdrop rises Mount Hibok-Hibok and Mount Vulcan. Boats float on standby for rides, while parasailing is a frequent adventure for the more daring ones. The place is best for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing, but you better lather the best sun protection you can find all over your body. It gets hotter as the sun rises midday.
At noon when the tide rises, though, most of the white isle is submerged by a couple of feet, so some tourists leave by that time. It didn’t bother us, as we ate on grilled tuna and barbecue with the knee deep waters around us. Low tide came back later in the afternoon, as we waited for a glorious sunset to cloak the island in a muted, reddish glow.
The island tour is an educational experience as well as a feast for the photographer’s eye. Rent a jeepney or van and you can round up Camiguin’s best sites in a day.
The Cross Marker and Sunken Cemetery located in Bonbon, Catarman was once a community cemetery devastated and sunk by the 1871 volcanic catastrophe (Vulcan Daan) and is now marked and guarded by a large cross. What makes it an interesting dive site is the sunken gravestones you find underneath.
Built in 1623, the old Catarman or Gui-ob church (Cotta Bato) in Bonbon once stood proudly before it was devastated by the 1871 Vulcan Daan earthquake, wiping out a Spanish settlement dating back to 1697. What remained are the moss and vine-covered stone walls, belfry and convent as a lasting memorial to its Spanish era.
The water is icy cold where it touches the rock pool surrounded with lush giant ferns, plants and shiny boulders from granite mountain walls. People come in for picnics and a cool, invigorating swim after a humid day. One has to descend into a stairway of more than 60 steps to reach the falls.
Other highlights of the Camiguin experience are the 14 Station of the Cross (lifesize cement statues depicting the passion, death and resurrection of Christ are scattered across the old volcano slope), the Sto. Nino Cold Springs, Ardent Hot Springs, and other falls that dot the island. Every October, the Lanzones Festival is observed with pride to celebrate the abundance of harvest of this sweet fruit.
For dive enthusiasts, a visit across the 6-hectare mushroom-shaped Mantigue Island is a must. Merely a 30-minute boat ride away, the isle is endowed with a thick forest bordered by white sands and blue waters. A spectacular drop off showcases an underwater aquarium that will delight divers.
Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Cagayan de Oro daily for an hour and 20 minutes. A cab from the airport will take you to the bus terminal in the Agora Market. Ride a bus bound for Balingoan town, and a ferry boat travels for an hour to Camiguin. The Benoni Wharf and Guinsiliban are two points of entry to the island. Ferry boats are on hourly schedule, and some visitors opt to take their vehicles across the sea for convenience (but more expensive).
Don’t leave Camiguin without buying a souvenir item from its long stalls of inexpensive stuff sold and created by the locals themselves. There are trinkets, bracelets and necklaces that are unique and ethnic-inspired perfect for pasalubongs and for personal use. As one sign board puts it, “COME AGAIN SOUVENIRS.” —a brief but exact description for an enchanting island you would like to revisit soon.
(Visit http://www.camiguin.gov.ph for more information)