The sea is calm, the sun not so hot at 9:30 in the morning while we crossed the sea to get to the group of islands know as Islas de Gigantes. Wispy white clouds hovered above hiding the blue of the sky of Carles. Inday Nancy bobbed rhythmically as the waves slapped a lullaby on the sides of the outrigger. I managed to nap for a while during the hour-long boat ride from Bancal port at the mainland to Islas.
It seemed that travelling for miles was all I did for this supposedly idyllic and relaxing journey. I felt like a 6-year-old brat piping in annoyingly with a shrill, “Are we there yet?” when I took the ferry boat from Bacolod to Iloilo, rode a taxicab from the Lapuz pier to the Tagbak bus terminal and tackled the 3-hour-and-a-half bus ride to the municipality of Carles. The boat ride fueled my impatience as we cruised over the placid blue waters. My 6-year-old was jumping wildly up and down demanding : I wanna see Tanke Lagoon, the Bantigue Sand Bar, Gigantes Sur, Gigantes Norte! And the lighthouse! Eat a lot of scallops! My 52-year-old self just quietly enjoyed the clear azure sea though my crotchety 75-year-old self wanted to grab Six Years Old and dump her in the water, “There! Swim ahead!” Six Years Old would have jumped into the sea willingly anyway.
The islands are beautiful and breathtakingly so. There doesn’t seem to be a bad angle anywhere you look. Sands are white with varying shades of whiteness depending on which island, and even which part of the island. There is this narrow island with broken corals and shells carpeting it. Some shores are stony; another has flat slabs littering it. And a wall of limestone dropping onto a short strip nicknamed Mini-Boracay with the white sand and the clearest waters. It would be a sin to not strip down to your swimsuit and dive in, unacceptable BMI notwithstanding.
Tanke Lagoon which is cradled by steep limestone looked lovely…in pictures. It is still rehabilitating itself after the Big Storm Yolanda badly hit Carles resulting to many a roofless house. Now that it is back in business, the lagoon is attracting quite a lot of visitors. In fact, too many visitors. And graffiti on the rocks. Our guide said that these are old writings and this bad habit is no longer tolerated. Around Gigantes Sur where Tanke is located, this huge limestone island is perfect for people with a fertile imagination. There are secret nooks, mysterious chambers, and grottoes carved out by the constant lapping of the waves around it. I saw kingfishers, swiftlets and crows amidst the greenery. It is commendable that a person is assigned to fish out trash from the water by the lagoon’s entrance. Now, if I can only say the same thing about Pulupandan where in ten minutes, I managed to gather a sizable amount of assorted plastic trash. That was a lot of trash for such a small island.
While we’re still on the subject of trash, let me bring up the lesson the enormous Bakwitan Cave can give us. This cave can be reached by a thirty-minute trek through a narrow rocky trail that is made slippery by ipil-ipil leaves. The journey may be arduous but entering the cave is easy. Its chambers are huge and ceilings are high and part of the roof had gone giving the cave a flood of natural light to dispel the eerie, dank atmosphere so common in caves. There are bats and birds and snakes somewhere, as the guide explained, yet, I didn’t see them. But what was very evident was the graffiti crowding the cave walls, and the garbage inside the cave and along the trail. Writing that you were there had long been prohibited, so, hopefully, would the thoughtless disposal of garbage. Conversely, the trash can be cleared but the writings on the wall remain.
Islas has not only natural charms but a piece of Hispanic heritage in the partially restored 1895 Farola building. Built with coralstones, brick, and wood, the one-storey edifice is a romantic, quiet, and lonely witness to the passing of the years. Gone is the original lighthouse (after Typhoon Frank) and in its stead is this gleaming white modern solar-powered 38-foot tower donated by Japan. It seems incongruous by the weather-beaten look of the old structure, yet, gives a sense of continuity, and not abandonment, to the facilities as old and new are juxtaposed. Playing among the ruins of brick-and-coralstone rooms were some shy island children who might sell guests gewgaws they made from shells. Please buy. I regret not buying even just to encourage the girls’ entrepreneurial spirit. These youngsters are the island’s future, and may they love it enough to protect it.
Islas is the kind of getaway that takes you far from urbanity. It really helps one let down one’s hair and enjoy nature to the fullest; my phone had no signal the whole time I was there (and I didn’t mind.) It was with regret that we had to leave so soon. On the boat ride back to the mainland, the breeze happily tagged along like a frisky puppy. And in a whisper, Carles said, “Come back soon.”