Friday, November 7, 2008

Manila to Butuan

Isle watching

Islands are the most distinctive features about the Philippines, and our isles make an interesting study with more than 7,000 of them.

A domestic air flight - assuming you're on the window seat - provides an aerial glimpse of various sizes, the geographical characteristics and attractive qualities of the archipelago.

But it's through sea voyage where one gets to appreciate more the islands' beauty, which I experienced out early this year during ship journey to Davao City that allowed me to view up-close the mountain ranges that shield some of Mindanao's coastal areas.

I took a Manila-Butuan route on my second trip to Mindanao. It was exciting as the first voyage as the SuperFerry traveled through the Visayas, which is made up of a cluster of isles. Majority of our islands are in this region, and as I found out, I was looking for more upon my arrival in Agusan del Norte.

Tuesday morning was a sight to see with a couple of twin peaks that greeted me less than 500 meters away from the ship. I thought that I was looking at Romblon until someone from the crew told me the ferry was in Sibuyan Sea facing one side of Sibuyan Island. The not-so-distant isle at the back of the ship could be Romblon.

Not far from Sibuyan was a tiny isle with about one-fourth of its coast in sand, while the rest was rocky. It looked uninhabited.

My father grew up in Iloilo and he once told me that Boracay and Sicogon are the two well-known beach resorts in the area.

What happened to Boracay is history, while Sicogon's fame turned into virtual obscurity. However, there's more to it: Sicogon is in the northeastern side of Panay and it is one of a bunch of islands in that area.

My father said one island named Gigantes (Giants) has a beach that would rival Boracay's but it can't be developed as it is a bit far away from Panay.

It was nearing lunch time when the SuperFerry navigated the Jintotolo Channel, which was less than 400 meters away from an isle with small mountains and lagoons.

I asked one of the ship's crew if we were passing by Gigantes island as there were numerous isles near the one closest to the ship. He nodded but he corrected me that it's pronounced "Higantes", not "Gihantes".

The sun was oppressive as passengers opted to wait outside for lunch. I picked a shaded area outside to marvel at the scenery.

Admittedly, it was hard to tell if there were fascinating beaches in Gigantes from where I was positioned. An intent searching for nearly an hour of any white feature yielded nothing. A closer look or a top view would saitsy my curiosity but it was the surrounding that kept me interested.

To the distand right of Gigantes and closer to Panay was an isle with no uneven features but it was surrounded by white sand. It may not be shiny white as the one I spotted in Sarangani Strait last January but it might be Sicogon Island.

Closest to Gigantes was an islet that looked like a tip of a submerged mountain. The entire side was rocky and it was hard to imagine any animal dwelling there from the quantity of vegetation atop. Maybe some birds use it as their nest.

It was after lunch when the SuperFerry was at the northern part of Cebu. Just like in Mindanao, much of the land was lush but even, which made it not so attractive.

The Cebu landscape became more interesting to look at when the ship was close to Mactan Island. This is where passengers would notice numerous hills that resemble the Chocolate Hills in Bohol. The sight keeps getting better as the ferry gradually encircled the Mactan Island en route to Cebu City.

Bing Bernabe, whom I shared the cabin room with her family, talked a bit about Mactan. She pointed to me an abandoned hotel and a nearby building where a resort was not far away from it.
She added there are nice beaches on the opposite side of the island. One could seee on the other side of the ship the mountainous side of southwestern leyte in the far distance and the flat outline of Bohol a few kilometers ahead.

Numerous islets are spotted near Mactan. There is a small number that have a rocky side similar to the one besides Gigantes while at the southern end of Mactan is an atoll with greenish dots scattered around.

The area reminded me of Agusan Marsh and the fishermen in that may have set them up but it looked like a miniature version of the Pacific isles.

At the background is Cebu City, where the afternoon sun gave it a glorious look. Numerous buildings standing in the nearby mountain reminded me of Baguio City and a bridge connecting Cebu and Mactan can be seen as the ferry slowly approached the port.

The best about a three-hour stopover in Cebu City is the chance to visit SM City Cebu, which is about 300 meters away from the port.

It was early evening when the ferry left Cebu. Many passengers woke up at 5 AM the next day as the crew conducted a fire drill.

I was still sleepy but excited in looking at the Surigao landscape that looked ethereal when the morning rays of the sun slowly cast a light on the misty mountains and the idyllic place.

We were at the provincial capital of Surigao del Norte but it looked like a small town to me, a comforting thought to someone who wanted to escape the metropolis from time to time.

The ship departed for Agusan del Norte shortly after sunrise. It didn't turn out to be a sunny morning, as dark clouds gradually hovered over some of the islands off the Surigao coast.

The conditions made Dinagat island a surreal sight. I was excited looking at the other isles and the surrounding water, thinking that the Pacific Ocean wasn't far away.

There was a drizzle as I saw the last of the clustered isles.

Just like the western and southern region, the northeastern side of Mindanao is mountainous but the rain and the clouds covering the top of the range made the coast looked imposing than majestic.

Mr. Bernabe caught our attention to the sight of a flying fish less than 50 meters away from the ship. Then we saw a small group of dolphins (lumba-lumba in local term).

She told me Lake Mainit is on the other side of the mountain range we were passing by. It's a sign that we were between Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte.

The drizzle stopped when she told me to go the other side of the ship to view Hibok-Hibok volcano in the far distance, a sign that we were about to enter Butuan Bay.

I didn't expect anything new upon arrival since this was my second time to set foot in Mindanao.
But as we came closer to the light green mountains in Nasipit, I was surprised to find out that the ferry wasn't docking in Butuan City and I don't see any familiar faces to fetch me.

I have some apprehension on commuting from Nasipit to Butuan City to Agusan del Sur for the first time, but Miss Bernabe doused my fears as she insisted I join their family jeepney where they took me to the Butuan bus terminal.

I learned something upon boarding an air-conditioned bus to San Francisco, Agusan del Sur: every travel offers an array of discoveries.

It made me wondered what our other isles looked like before my attention shifted to the mountains ahead of the national highway.

(First published on Business World Weekender on November 8-9, 2002)

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