Off the Grid. In the heart. Traveling to Babuyan Islands.

June 21, 2018 Voluntourism

Pristine beaches. Crystal clear waters. Rugged Coastlines. These are just some of the images that come to mind when thinking of Babuyan Islands. Just a few of my favorite things.

The Babuyan Islands, or the Babuyan Group of Islands, is an archipelago that lies to the north of Luzon. The little group consists of five major islands - Babuyan, Calayan, Dalupiri, Fuga, and Camiguin. I visited Fuga Island in 2015 and, up to now, I continually gush about how amazing and mesmerizing the blue waters surrounding it are. The other four islands have been on my bucket list since.

So, when an opportunity to visit Camiguin Island came up, I immediately signed up.  

Mon Corpuz, of the Black Pencil Project, which is currently celebrating its tenth year, invited me to visit his outreach activities, which he runs in partnership with the Dominican Missions Philippines. 

I have known Mon for years now, in fact for so long that I cannot remember exactly how we met. He has been helping my group, Trails to Empower Kids (TREK), by donating pencils and volunteering whenever he has time. We have similar advocacies, and it is their turn to celebrate a milestone.  

So, it was like hitting two birds with one stone - celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Black Pencil Project, and discovering Camiguin Island.  Of course, we had a mission, which was to deliver and distribute supplies to the students of several schools on Camiguin island.  

We were 13 in the group, including friends from TREK, the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Mon Corpuz, and Fr. Joemar Sibug, who represented Dominican Missions Philippines.

Though, I had just returned from another trip, I was well prepared for the journey. I made sure my things were waterproof for the long sea crossing from Sta. Ana, Cagayan to Camiguin Island and the various boat rides; I read the itinerary several times; and I packed a few emergency provisions that were not limited to just coffee and alcohol. I was prepared for the worst.

But as soon as we boarded our bus from Manila to Tuguegarao, it was one blessing following another blessing.  

We were overfed. My fellow volunteers joked that what had really happened was the institution of feeding programs, with us as the beneficiaries. From breakfast and snacks served in Lyceum, Aparri, to the fresh catches given to us by the parents, to the sumptuous meals, including delicacies, prepared by Dr. Raul Ting of Sta. Ana, Cagayan, where we also freshened up before going back to Manila.

We were also pampered on the island by Manang Awit and her staff. Manang Awit operates one of the home stays in the island, which is one of the reasons Camiguin Island is very memorable for me. Imagine a bed with an unobstructed view of the beach. The nights were humid, but I was comfy under my mosquito net and was lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of the sea. I can’t remember the last time I slept under a mosquito net!  

view from our room
(BTW, Manang Awit waived her fees for our time in her homestay.)  

We were also blessed with good weather. The boat rides were relatively smooth. They tended to be long, but we got to appreciate the island’s diverse, rugged coastline, most of it, insanely beautiful. We saw unbelievable rock formations, intriguing caves, and really long stretches of white sand beaches. We even saw some sulfur vents.

I guess we were protected by prayer. It only rained when we had already settled in Dr. Ting’s resort, the Moonlite Paradise Resort, which is already part of the main island of Luzon. There was a lot to be thankful for, especially as most of our time was spent at sea.  

The rest of our four-day stay was spent distributing school supplies to different schools.

I joined the team that went to Morol Elementary School, the remotest of all the schools on Camiguin Island. By boat, it was more than three hours each way, and we got to circumnavigate the island because our boat men, led by Harvey, chose different routes to and from. From the boat, we trekked for 45 minutes to get to the school.  

While it was very, very hot, especially so as tree shade was sparse, it was very scenic. Morol is like a village where time has stood still. We spotted wooden carriages made without metal, and homes with earthen jars for water storage in their backyards.

What is so amazing about the school is that behind it lies a mesmerizing, secluded, long stretch of white sand beach with a view of Didicas, a small volcanic island. 

The other school I visited with the volunteers was Minabel Elementary School. It was nearer, just about an hour by boat, plus a 15 minute trek.  

We distributed backpacks that had been donated by Partido ng Bayan ang Bida party list, school packs from the National Book Store, sports equipment from various donors, and, of course, lots of pencils.

Morol Elementary School
Minabel Elementary School
Fr. Joemar and Mon have been conducting these outreach activities since 2009.  They started when Mon visited the island to participate in a whale watching activity. From then on, they have been making sure students get fresh sets of school supplies annually. These are otherwise difficult for the students to acquire because they are so isolated by the sea. 
With friends from Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, TRails to Empower Kids, Fr. Joemar, and Mon 
In between boat rides and school visits, we were also able to bond with fellow volunteers.

What I really appreciated in our itinerary were the quiet times spent just enjoying Manang Awit’s homestay and each other’s company, of course, over a beer or two. At night, when the lights in the islands were shut off, we stargazed. 

We also had a chance to visit a nearby island, Pamuktan, which was a real treat. Did I mention we had lobsters in Pamuktan?

There is really a lot to experience out there on the islands. We just need to venture out. Never mind that travel to Babuyan takes at least 12 hours by bus, another two hours by van, and four hours in a boat). It is worth it!

I went to Camiguin Island just to see. Yes, I was expecting to be awed, to be enthralled, to be enchanted by its beauty. But, I gained more than just exceptional views – I found a surge of inspiration, a new perspective, and lots of new friends.

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