I realize this is too early within the year to be writing about this, but what the heck.
People love the summer months.
It means warm days (well it is always the case here in Manila) where students are out from school, which results in much less traffic for a couple of months. It means crowded malls, crowded theme parks, crowded places of leisure, and crowded everywhere mostly. It also means crowded beaches and vacation spots, which is especially true when we take into account the Holy Week observance.
For my foreign friends, let me delve into this a little bit. While most Filipinos are devout Catholics, and the Holy Week is meant to be a time for reflection for people, that is not exactly the case. Most Filipinos will take the time to get out of their homes and head to various vacation spots, and this being the Philippines, a beach spot is within easy reach of anyone. A lot of people still go to churches, and other places of pilgrimage, but the good lot of them especially younger folks and burned out corporate slaves (myself included) gtfo out of Imperial Manila as soon as they are able to.
With beaches and vacations in mind, I’ll tell you about a place that I have been visiting and calling my “home” during that time of year.
For a week or so, I do not live in the busy city of Mandaluyong. I pack my bags and head to my island abode during the summer season, Polilio Island.
Or as I style it – Polilio Island Extraordinaire!
Truth be told though, I do not live there (not for extended periods anyway) nor does any part of my family come from there. My childhood friend, Rich, lived there for part of his childhood and his family comes home every year to the old family house. Since 2007, most of us guys had been accompanying him, and I am probably one of the few of our friends who’d been there yearly ever since.
Where the hell is this place anyways?
It’s out in the eastern seaboard of Luzon within the Philippine Sea, and is pretty much the last Philippine landmass in the area because the next stop seems to be Guam. To get there, one has to go via land and sea. Normally, my friends and I would take a bus from Manila to either Infanta or Real, depending on what kind of watercraft we’d like to ride on to get to the island. A bus from Manila to either of the two places mentioned normally takes four hours since it goes through twisty mountain roads, passing through Antipolo, Tanay, Siniloan, Famy and on to Real or Infanta. There was a time though that I went ape with my father and raced with Aska through the Marilaque route, which is a fairly desolate and less known route through Cogeo, Tanay and down to Real. I took it in two hours’ time from Mandaluyong,and an hour and a half from Marikina all the way to the port of Real.
For reasons of safety, I will not be doing that again in the foreseeable future. But just to give you an idea, I drove it in two hours from our house in Mandaluyong, to the port of Real, with a fifteen minute stop for smokes atop a cliff face overlooking the sea. My father took it in about four hours.
I leave it to your imagination what kind of driving was done getting there.
From the port of Infanta, the most practical way to get to the island is via the ferry, which is actually an oversized Bangka. It seats about a hundred people, and is fairly well equipped with a trained crew, toilets and enough life jackets for everyone.
After the Coast Guard checks everyone out and the boat leaves, it takes about 2 hours to get to the capital of Polilio, the bayan or town of Polilio, which is pretty much the only place which resembles a modern settlement in the area. From there it is a about an hour or so of a wild trike ride that weaves around the “roads” along the coast to the barangay we stay in which is called “Kalubakis”, or “Agta” as locals know it. It’s on the southern tip of the island, from where it is a four or five hour jaunt to the posh place of Balesin.
But forget Balesin and its pomp-ass exclusivity.
The other sea route is to hire a regular sized Bangka from Real which will land you directly in front of the beach where the house is located. There is no fixed price, and the charge depends mostly on how skilled a haggler you are, or if you seem familiar enough not to be screwed with.
My friends and I often take this route because it takes us directly to the house without jolting our brains out on the trike ride, and for the more amazing experience of being battered by the waves. Depending on the time of day you leave, a trip across can take anywhere between two and a half to three hours. However, I had once gone across in a staggering four hours because of the tides coming in from the Pacific, and boat engine troubles – just one of the many things you have to be prepared for when you to muster the balls to get on the Bangka.
The waves can become pretty menacing, and makes for an exciting trip.
The house we stay in is a very simple house, with lots of hammocks strewn all over the place, wooden beds (papag) and tapiz windows. Electricity only comes on at around 6pm each day, and from 7am onwards, there is none. If you want to charge your gadgets, you gotta bring a big ass socket that accommodates more than one plug, otherwise you’d be doomed. In recent years, the guys had been bringing in solar powered chargers for the gadgets – very handy in a place with loads of sunshine.
There is no wifi, and there was no mobile phone coverage until about two years ago. Of course, there are no land-line telephones. Back then if you want to make a phone call, you better make sure you have a SMART (local telco) sim, then take a walk towards the local school that has a small hill that you have to climb, like seriously climb the sides of it. Only then can you make or take calls, while hanging on for dear life.
There is no cable tv, there is no radio station. Newspapers have to be boated in to the island. Imperial Manila may as well be invaded by aliens and nobody will know about it until the aliens land on the beaches.
There is no public transport apart from the few trikes that serve the area. There are very few four wheeled vehicles. If you want to get around, you’ll have to walk, or if you’re lucky, you can ride a horse.
If you want to eat, you have to wait for the boats with fish to arrive with the day’s catch, unless you want to spend time going back to the town just to go to market. This bodes well for people who want to be on a diet. If you want meat products like pork and beef, you go back into town, or wait for a pig to be slaughtered and cut up.
There is no running water, and if you want something to bathe with, you’ll have to go to the community well which is about a half kilometer jaunt through the jungle. And expect to bring a couple of full pails with you going back since everyone in the house will ask for it. There is a deep well about half the distance to well, but you have to pump manually, and there are more people there because it’s closer.
There are very few people around you, no party place, no bars. If you want alcohol, there is plenty of lambanog. That said though, there is no ice cold beer. Ice is a very precious commodity that is reserved mostly for the fishermen to preserve their catch. If you want ice, you might want to consider going into town, or some store might have it – if you’re lucky.
If you want to smoke, you’ll have to do with local fare like Pentagon, Bowling Gold and other hitherto unknown cigarette brands. The only time there will be Marlboro Blue or Black in the place is when someone from the mainland brings some over – and prepare to run out of it quick because everyone will ask for a stick or two.
The island is the exact opposite of what Boracay, or other fancy beach vacation places are known for. There is not much in the way of people, and by this I mean there are only locals there along with some seasonal migrants, mostly people working from far away visiting their families, and us. There is no night life, there are no modern amenities, so it somehow retains pristine and fairly untouched beaches.
And I simply love it that way!
If you haven’t met me yet in real life, I can be fairly loud at times. I love people, being around people and interacting with them. However, I dislike crowds, and Boracay is crowded during vacation season. This does not mean that I cannot go to places like Divisoria as if I am plagued with agoraphobia, but rather if I can avoid crowds, I will take all steps necessary to do so.
The Polilio Island Group’s remoteness lend very well to me, a weary city dweller looking to escape the stresses and hassles of city life.
For a few days each year, I look forward to not interact with people, be disconnected from modern reality, breathe fresh air, eat fresh food and get healthy amounts of exercise via all the menial stuff we have to do during our stay. I can wake up in the morning, walk towards the sea and relish the fresh sea breeze, shop (sometimes barter) for fish, snorkel all day, and just sit looking out towards the sea.
At night, I can lie down on the rocks at the beach to marvel at the stars, and the secrets of the universe. I can choose to wait for the fishermen to return around midnight, and check for more fish to forage. Sometimes, we’ll hire a boat for a day to visit the surrounding islands. We’d camp out for the day, and go ape with nature be it on land or sea.
When we’re too lazy to do any island hopping (hopping here normally means a trip of about a couple hours down to the next island) we’d venture into the interiors of the jungle, visiting streams and rivers that crisscross the island. We’d spend afternoons picking off fresh fruits and coconuts, and simply lazing around. Twilight would often find us at our favorite rock spot to jump into the sea, and we’d fiddle with whatever sea creatures we can find on the beach on the way home.
If you’re an outdoorsy type of person, you’d never run out of things to do there.
This to me, is paradise, and for a few days each year, I get to go and visit my adopted island home and escape the weariness of existing in the modern world. It breaks my heart each time I have to pack up and leave, but as my small island home slowly disappears from view, with it comes that promise of a renewed existence back in the city, and a strength to carry on with life…
…until the next time I come home.
C’est la vie!~
*All photos in this entry were taken by me on the various years I’d gone to the island. If you’d like to take them and post them on your blog, I’d appreciate if you’d at least mention my blog, or link back to this entry.
Thank you dear reader.