By Chrisley Ann Hinayas (The Freeman)
CEBU, Philippines – My mother asked where Biliran was – whether in Samar or Leyte – as I was packing my things on a Wednesday night. I tried to answer each of her endless queries on my intended destination. As she learned that I was traveling backpacking on my own, she blurted out with concerned disapproval, especially when I told her that it would take three types of boats to reach Sambawan Island.
I explained that I wanted to make a memorable trip, to a place where I could be alone. I overflowed with excitement while telling my mother. She was scared, as any caring mother would be, and wanted to stop me with scary stories about female backpackers who were raped or harassed in other countries. “Que sera, sera,” I said, smiling. The only way to know what awaited me there was to go there. I bid my parents goodbye and went out quickly.
The boat ride to Biliran took 12 hours to reach Naval, the mainland and trade center of the province. The skies were bright blue when I arrived. The small boats docked at the port were drawing early passengers for Masbate and other neighboring islands.
As I headed towards the terminal to get a ticket, a porter offered to tour me around the town for 500 pesos. I did not take the offer, telling him I was on my way to Sambawan. Nearby were two big pumpboats bound for Maripipi Island, MV Lourdes and MV Brian and Claire, were waiting.
The boat I boarded on was old and rusty. As the engine started, some passengers began to snooze, using their lifejackets as pillows. The others, including myself, filled the two-hour ride to Maripipi Island with friendly conversations.
Along the way, we passed by several beautiful islets, mostly with lush vegetation. Up above, the clouds seemed to flirt with the mountain tops. What refreshing sight!
Upon reaching the laid-back Maripipi Island, I started looking for the residence of Kuya Joel Caingcoy. I had known beforehand that they accept transient backpackers there. A woman with a small kid happened to be passing by as I was asking around. She was Kuya Joel’s wife.
The Caingcoy house was well-painted. It was almost midday when I got there. The other lodgers, a team of community workers, were having lunch and invited me to share their pansit and rice.
They asked me about my trip, and were surprised to know that I came alone. I also told them about my ultimate destination – Sambawan. Some of them got excited. They had been at Maripipi for four months already but had not gone to the neighboring Sambawan. They wanted to come with me.
In the little spare time there was, Carlito, one of the lodgers at the Caingcoy residence, took me on his motorbike to Tinago falls in nearby Caibiran. We also visited the vivid green rice terraces of the mainland.
Next, we were on our way to barangay Ol-og, the jump-off point to Sambawan Island. Halfway through our sailing, big waves started to shake our small wooden boat. I panicked when seawater started to splash in. I just closed my eyes and whispered a little prayer.
After 20 minutes of what seemed to be the end of me, a small island emerged – a sight that was definitely worth the trip. Setting foot on the patch of paradise, I noticed I was the only visitor there.
From the peak of a small hill, the island looked like an inverted “S” all covered with cogon grass. Towards the southern side was a long stretch of white sand beach. In the sea between Sambawan and Maripipi was a spatter of a number of islets.
The cold breeze whistled. The turquoise water and the pearly beach beckoned. I took photos, and we headed down to the other side of the island. I just had to dip my feet in the powdery sand.
My boatman and guide, Kuya Kokoy, mentioned the many potentials of Sambawan in the tourism industry. He shared that there are many diving sites around the island, such as what visiting divers call “Black Forest” and “Sunken City.” It was also here where a bull shark was first sighted in the country. The simple fishing island had since drawn the curiosity of a number of tourists.
At 5 p.m., as the sunlight began to dim, we decided to go back to barangay Ol-og. It was the same mix of trill and scare on the way – only that the splash from the waves was colder now. Then, I was back at the Caingcoy house.
I woke up very early the following day, in order to catch the boat to Naval. It was still very dark – the island has no electricity from 12 midnight until 12 noon – quite eerie for anyone coming from a big city like me. Good thing the port was just beside the Caingcoy house.
On my way back home, my mind was filled with thoughts of gratitude for all of them who helped make my trip to Sambawan Island a reality. It was by far the best one I’ve had of all my trips around the country. And my faith in the innate goodness of people had been rekindled.