If you’d found yourself standing in the blistering heat at 8am in a parking lot outside of Breeze and Waves, you’d notice two bedraggled girls sitting directly in the heat, stirring a pot of steaming beans. You would also notice that neither of these girls had showered since leaving Manila a few days ago, and both probably stank of a unique combination of DEET and sunscreen, permanently glistening on their surprisingly pale skin. One was hacking up a lung. (That’s me.)
It was our second full day in Caramoan, and we were scrambling eggs and cooking beans for another tasty – and cheesy – breakfast. We’d broken open a milk carton and some cheese for the eggs, finally tearing through our warm cooler. (Ice in the Philippines is like a good man – hard to find.)
I would like to point out again how sick I felt. You know when you’ve got a fierce cold, and all you want to do is lie down in a clean bed with air con but instead you’re sweating in the sun? That’s how I felt. I emphasize this for two reasons:
- So you can understand how absolutely incredible these islands were – once on them, my snotty nose seemed to fade into the background.
- So you can appreciate, eventually, the level of euphoria and near-tearful joy I felt when we stayed the night in a “posh” hotel. (More later.)
Today we were traveling to the “far” islands – Bugtong, Sabitang Laya, and Manlaue Sandbar – a 40-60 minute journey from the mainland and priced at 2500 pesos. (Roughly $27 per person for a day in paradise. You can’t even put a price on that.) Our first stop was a literally jaw-dropping village of floating bamboo cottages on Manlaue Sandbar.
I mean it. As our bangka neared the cottages, our jaws literally fell open. When I saw ‘sandbar’ on the itinerary, I thought, “OK, I’ve been to a sandbar. There’s one at low tide on Sandy Hook, right? A stretch of sand. That’s cool.”
Nothing prepared me for this. As I type now, my words fail me. Picture every single island travel guide, pamphlet, tourism poster. Pristine, clear, an entire palette of blues, teals, aquas, white scalloped sand, wispy breezes, water lapping at the bamboo floor of the cottage. Unreal.
Our boat anchored slightly off the sandbar and Sarah and I immediately claimed a cottage for 200 pesos ($4!!). High tide wasn’t until noon, but we were keen to see the cottages really float and, let’s be honest, we had never been anywhere this incredible, so we did not mind a bit spending hours on the sandbar.
We crawled in the low tide water, passed the first 30 minutes snapping myriad photos of everything, and then rolled in the tide. It was glorious.
And I hate to say this, but I’m going to because maybe it will wake some people up. Here in the middle of nowhere, in this blissfully crystal water, there is a crap ton of plastic. It is heartbreaking. Plastic gets into the ocean and the current sweeps it away and these tiny islands and atolls act like a comb: as the current comes through, bits get stuck in the sand. You’re bobbing in the warm tide, miles away from technology and civilization, and there’s a plastic Twinkie wrapper nudging your toe. Think about how much plastic you use. There are better options.
Anyway! Back to the joy of island-hopping! We left the sandbar at higher tide – when we’d arrived, the water was ankle-deep; when we left, it was shin-deep.
The next island also provided bamboo huts for shade, and gloriously clear water to swim in. Here we had lunch and more buko juice – the best I have ever, ever had. Sweet, everlasting. (Seriously. You see the size of these coconuts and you’re like…there’s more in there? Where is it coming from?)
After we finished drinking it, we brought the coconuts back and the man hacked them in two with his machete and returned them – with a ‘spoon’ he’d deftly carved from the shell. We opted for our biodegradable spoons instead – props to SM Aura! – and sweet Jesus. I have never tasted something that good! I’d never eaten coconut meat straight from the coconut, and it was divine. (I also don’t think it’s called meat, but endosperm. Your mouth is watering now, I bet.)
Our boat then took us over a jubilantly rough sea to our final island. We bounced over the electric blue waves and I caught spray in my face – I do love a bit of salt water on a windy day! – and felt pleasantly alive and giddy. Our last island was people-less, but a little grim and buggy. The water was beautiful, but our guide quickly steered us out of it. He dove in himself and emerged with a dark jellyfish whose long tentacles hung limply in the air. Apparently, these are poisonous. No swimming for us, then!
Back on the mainland, we checked out of Breeze and Waves and drove over to Rex, our little slice of verdant paradise, and lugged all of our things down to the room. Was it amazing? No, but there wasn’t a cockroach on the floor.