January 25, 2004
By Violeta Hughes-Davis; Photos by Collis H. Davis
Those who remember the 1951 eruption of Mt. Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin may still feel a twinge of fear at the memory of grey bodies buried in volcanic ash. For younger Filipinos who grew up in the era when the Department of Tourism started aggressively promoting domestic tourism, the name Camiguin evokes images of the annual Lanzones Festival in October where visitors savor the sweetest lanzones anywhere in the country. Between these two extremes, my husband and I found that Camiguin offers a lot more from within, especially as our visit was arranged by the Ecodevelopment Tour Program of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). We decided to spend our 2003 Christmas vacation there because we had long been intrigued by Camiguin, having heard rave reviews about it. In November we made arrangements with the PRRM Camiguin office and also made plane reservations to Cagayan de Oro City. From there, we drove to Balingoan, from where we would take the 90-minute ferry ride to Camiguin. During our 7-day stay, we got to know not only its tourist attractions; we also met many Kamiguingnons.
As it turned out, December, with its generous dose of low pressure weather, was not the best time to visit Camiguin. It was raining when we arrived and we learned that it had been raining for a week. It was only on the second day that the rain abated but even then, the sun never fully came out. Stalked by nimbus clouds throughout the week, we felt like Eeyore with his gloomy cloud. What we did not know was that in 1991, several days of non-stop rain caused a disastrous landslide that buried 200 lowlanders. We were too focused on making the most of our stay to worry about any lurking danger.
Two goals inform the policy of PRRM's tours: to show off the area's natural attractions while making sure that the activities do the least damage to the environment and the local culture, and to help alleviate poverty by promoting local sustainable development. In spite of the weather, our excellent guide, Jack Prima and our skilled driver Ron Cabel, made sure that we hewed to these goals without sacrificing our pleasure, taking us to as many tourist spots around the island as the weather permitted, and giving us time to interact with the locals through the homestay program. Thus, we experienced living in Nay Asiang's 109-year old house (see photo above) in barangay Mainit. We visited the observatory of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology at the foot of Mt. Hibok-Hibok where the computers and two giant sensors donated by the Japanese government sense both earth and volcanic tremors. We walked around the ruins of Guiob church, its convent and belfry, which were all buried by the 1871 eruption of Vulcan Daan. From here, we saw the site of the Spanish cemetery, sank into the sea by the same eruption. Towards the end of the week when the weather improved, we soaked in the hot springs after we returned from snorkeling around White Island, a pure white sand bar in the middle of Bohol Sea. We skipped the cold spring as it was too cold even for a quick dip but opted for a short trek to gaze up at the 6-meter Katibawasan Falls in Mambajao. I even made it to the first station of the Cross on Mt. Vulcan where the fourteen stations of the Cross are commemorated higher and higher up the mountain steps.
We marveled at all these natural phenomena, but were more impressed with the people we met. Most of them were either farmers or fishermen, and all were articulate (in English), self-confident, full of dignity, and proud of their manual skills in producing handicrafts. From them, we learned how eels are caught by hand, how fishermen catch fish by the seine method with a group of fishermen pulling in from the sea a 500-meter long fish net, tuba-extraction, tablea-making from cacao beans, the cultivation of giant clams, the production and packaging of banana chips, the process of extracting oil from coconut, the intricate art of weaving nito strips into sturdy baskets and trays, and the day-to-day operation of a coop sari-sari store.
We learned much about Camiguin, a 292 sq. km of land lying off the coast of Oriental Misamis, where about 70,000 residents live, many of whom are fishermen and farmers. An excellent 64-km highway girds the island, and affords dramatic views of the sea at various points. To travel from one point to another, residents use the "motorela", a fancier and slightly bigger tricycle. A sprinkling of Westerners married to local women live here and run some of the inns and diving resorts. Four of the 5 families with whom we stayed count 2 or 3 family members working as OFWs. Proofs of "katas ng Saudi ", usually the latest model of flat-screened TV sets and elaborate sound systems occupy a conspicuous space in their salas.
Kamiguingnons are proud of their multi-layered culture and history, and have now started to acknowledge the pre-Hispanic part of their culture. Thus, homes built during the Spanish era adorned with Okkil art are now referred to as "antellian" instead of "Spanish", to give equal credit to the architectural influence of Moslem Mindanao. Enigmata, a bed-and-breakfast facility (www.enigmata.tk ) managed by an artist for artists, advocates for this multi-layered view of Camiguin art, music and architecture.
Food on the island is simple but no less delicious. In the Camiguin port of Benoni, we lunched at a restaurant in a lagoon that was the crater of an extinct volcano. We enjoyed the stuffed lapu-lapu, the crabs and a different-tasting kilawen. The juice of the tabon-tabon fruit, found only on Camiguin, distinguishes its kilawen from all others. On another occasion, in a restaurant by the roadside called Sara's Hideaway, we savored the most delicious grilled blue marlin I have ever had. Crisp on the outside and tender like butter on the inside, it could merit the unpretentious resto a 4-star rating.
For dinner, our host families served mostly fish with rice, but it was almost always newly harvested rice. We were introduced to a delicious strain of rice called Valencia from Bukidnon and to ginamos, the local fish-based bagoong, and discovered how new rice and ginamos can make for a most satisfying meal. We came too late in the year to certify that Camiguin lanzones are indeed the sweetest, but we hope to do so during the 2004 Lanzones Festival. Unfortunately, politics has encroached on the island's eatery business, as Coke and Pepsi have become unwitting political symbols. You can tell with whom a business establishment is politically allied by the soft drink it serves: the party in power has a Coke franchise, so for their supporters, Coke is it. The opposition serves only Pepsi.
PRRM organizes similar tours for El Nido, Marinduque, and the Ifugao Rice Terraces through the national office in Quezon City (63-02-372-3931).
Its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and its website is (www.prrm.org). The telephone number of the Camiguin office is (63-088-387-1102).
NOTE: For the record, some changes in the photos appearing in this article are at variance with those used in the original published article, namely the addition of the Nito Craftsman, the eruption image of Hibok-Hibok of 1951, the homestay family and White Island. The giant clam close-up photo was changed from the original wide-shot of the giant clams. The two maps above were also additions to this web version of the article.
The Hibok-Hibok eruption photo courtesy of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismotology.
The Okkil art photo courtesy of Rosalie Abeto Zerrudo, The Enigmata Bed & Breakfast
Source of maps: E-Z Maps Philippines Travel Atlas, Department of Tourism