Camiguin Norte: In search of a primitive lifestyle
For us at Klub Natur, photo expeditions are a favorite escape. In this time of the year when many ride away the summer to exciting destinations, the ultimate thing for us is to travel to the most remote island sanctuaries, following the hottest season as it moves around the countryside.
Prior to our Babuyan Islands expedition, we celebrated curious moments that made the trip compelling: “Would we find cetaceans? … catch malaria? … survive the ordeals of the sea?” Most of us never knew but we were experiencing the pre-travel jitters we could all relate to.
Camiguin Norte, one of the four islands comprising the Babuyan Group (Calayan, Babuyan Claro, Dalupiri) is separated from the coast of Luzon by the Babuyan Channel. Fact is, there are no regular boat schedules to the islands. To avoid missed-boat woes, we chartered a lampitaw (outrigger boat) from Camiguin.
After traversing the channel where undercurrents met from all directions of the ocean, the sea and the Cagayan river, Camiguin Norte began to take shape; Mount Camiguin stood tall. Having passed the cliffs of Magas-asok Point, we set foot in Naguilian at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Naguilian smelled of summer, old farmhouse and salt air. Citrus trees like dalandan, suha, and caburao had grown with abandon. The hushed open field was disturbed only by the sound of animals.
In the house, neither would you find noisy bedsprings, locked doors nor windows. Outside, the toilet would leave you squatting on the floor. There was no bathroom except the brook.
In the evening, we took turns in charging up our phone and camera batteries from the generator we leased. Fact is, there is no electricity in Camiguin. Kerosene and Coleman lanterns are used.
Eventually, kloobers agreed that more sleep would be better for the next day. The girls slept in the house, the boys in the tent. At midnight, I had my initiation of the primitive lifestyle I was in the hunt for, a nature’s call out in the vast open space.
Boarding the lampitaw, we routed three directions the next day. At Sitio Banwa, the seawater was a clear aquamarine and everything was a quiet charm. In Pamuktan, the lowland forest has a natural freshwater lake where bangus and tilapia are grown. The overpowering smell of sulfur from the shore of Sitio Sisip announced itself, filling fractures and voids under the sea waters. Just as when most kloobers were busy taking pictures, I joined several fishermen cooling out under the thatched-roof dampa. One fisherman talked big about the bannias (monitor lizard) he had caught and tied around the tree. According to him, its protein is a delicacy. Oftentimes, it is dished up with alcohol or liquor. Its bile is believed to cure bodyaches and illnesses.
Southwest is Tangeb, a sea cave sheltering hundreds of balinsasayaw or glossy swiftlet species. In Pinon Island, a cornucopia of lagaylay had grown thickly everywhere, confirming claims that when in season, a kaleidoscope of butterflies is seen fluttering at the shoreline.
Day three, we battled kilometers of legwork and missed bread as we pushed for Sitio Pagitpit. Just as our throats became dry as dust, we grumped over buko juice. Then, we resumed walking, passing by golden rice fields and purring tractors.
In time, Dakkel a Balay, an edifice of stonework, revealed the primitive efforts of its makers. For whatever architectural value it may have, it may have served as an old bastion for the Japanese Imperial forces, until the Battle of Babuyan Islands in 1945.
Sailing to the heart of Camiguin, Balatubat, offered us the opportunity to wolf down on steamed lobster, curacha, and lapu-lapu on day five. Even those who refused lobsters due to health reasons had a mouthful.
The structures of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish and the Dominican Missionary House validate that majority of the people are Catholic. Elementary schools are cut up in the three barangays of Minabel, Naguilian, and Balatubat. The two high schools, National High School (Annex) and Lyceum of Camiguin are in Balatubat. Students have to go to Aparri for their college.
Few meters from the shoreline is the kamposanto. One may wonder whether the loved ones had perished from boat accidents or natural death. Remember, roads are rare and transportation is limited to walking, animal-drawn carts and boats. But, to those who live in the forests and mountains, cases of dog-, mosquito- and snakebites are common causes of deaths too.
After three days of stranding in the island, we boarded the lampitaw Saturday morning. As we traversed the waters, we remembered the Humpback whales which are a main attraction in Camiguin. Sadly, however, we were not lucky to see one. Probably, migration season might be over.
Indeed, Camiguin Norte presented tidy rural flavors for my search of a primitive lifestyle experience. Though time was so fickle that when you need it, there was too little of it, Camiguin gave me many choices about living: that I didn’t have to rub my hands with cream to stay soft … no need to smell expensive or exclusive … no need to care much on how I look. Never did I shave in that amount of time nor cut my nails that had already grown like chicken claws. For days, I never saw myself in the mirror.
Throughout the week, I slept under the stars, by the beach, under the trees, amidst the mist. I even left my poop on wherever corner of the world I chose to. If that would build character, so be it.
I held one reflection though: that while I dreamt to have that primitive lifestyle experience, there were islanders that also hope for the luxuries of civilization. Sadly, primitivism values even a loaf of day-old bread in an island where there’s something for everyone, yet not enough for some.
My choice might actually make a difference.
Klub Natur has slated another adventure trip to Babuyan Islands (Calayan and Camiguin) on 8-17 May. Open to anyone. Limited to 15 participants only. For trip details and to reserve your slot, visit www.klubnatur.org or you may call or text Allen Mayor (expedition team leader) at 0921-7111519 or send e-mail to email@example.com.