Lying down in a small tent without a makeshift pillow and with very little cushioning was quite uncomfortable, and I don’t think I would have been able to sleep if I wasn’t tired from the previous days activities. I woke up ahead of all the others with a very painful back, making the act of sitting up excruciatingly painful. I afterwards spent some time just soaking up the pre-dawn silence before the next person awoke.
BREAKFAST AND “BREAK CAMP”
As I didn’t bring my own food for this trip, I had to go out and look for a store that sold pan de sal, or any type of bread, really. This wasn’t as easy a task as it seemed because there were many stray dogs roaming around and most of them were near the stores and bakeries. (And yes, I have a legendary fear of unfamiliar dogs.) Somehow, I managed to buy bread and 3-in-1 coffee sachets and I promptly walked back to the “camp”.
It turned out that the Brions were even better hosts than we originally thought and they prepared for us a breakfast of piping-hot coffee and kakanin. It wasn’t all a waste though as we all proved to have huge appetites that morning. We made short work of the bibingka while consuming our own food. So stories and jokes were exchanged, food was shared, and it was a generally nice morning to have breakfast. Even the rain that was pouring just an hour before dawn stopped and the sun was actually peering through the clouds.
Soon after, it was time to break camp and pack our stuff for our trip to Torrijos. Mutual thanks were exchanged between us and the Brions for a very meaningful visit, and in no time at all, we were then on our way.
POCTOY WHITE BEACH
Poctoy White Beach is the main tourist attraction of the town of Torrijos in eastern Marinduque. I’ve heard it being described as the “second Boracay” and – having been to both places – I can confirm that it’s just an exaggeration. (For one thing, the sand has a golden tinge to it, and far from the white that Boracay is famous for.) Having said that, it is a fact that the quality of sand in Poctoy White Beach is still better than most beaches in the Philippines.
It was still early in the day when we arrived so there weren’t that much people yet. Either that, or the rains the night before discouraged potential beach-goers. In any case, it seemed like more people would eventually arrive because a large section of the beach was reserved.
During my last visit here, it was close to sunset and the Holy Week crowd was far too numerous that it was hard to appreciate the place. Seeing it in broad daylight was a very novel experience and I can definitely say it’s a rather nice-looking beach, all things considered. However, the waves this day were a lot stronger than what I remember and it looked uninviting.
What we didn’t expect was for us to discover a previously unknown primate species endemic to Marinduque. This particular primate inhabits coconut trees. It is so rare that it can only be found in Torrijos, in the vicinity of the Poctoy White Beach. It is the Marinduque Giant Tarsier (scientific name: chonggus darius marinduquensis). And you can see the only known photograph of this newly discovered species here.
We spent a lot of time taking pictures of the surroundings before somebody had the guts to actually take a dip. I initially didn’t want to do so but since everybody was already going to the water one by one, I ultimately decided to apply the sunblock, change into my board shorts and join them in their aquatic merrymaking.
The strong waves had a way of battering us when we least expected it, whether we were actually in waist-deep water or just where the waves and the sand meet – which of course meant there were a lot of funny moments of people getting hit by the waves in the face, losing their balance and falling over, and/or getting a mouthful of saltwater with some sand mixed.
True to “HLGG tradition”, we had lots of photographs here, taken mostly by Erwin and Grace, who were probably the only ones who chose to stay dry. Thanks to Grace, she managed to capture convincing proof that I need to shape up. Take a look:
In addition, I also participated in planking and jump shots – two things I swore I’ll never do. Anyway, it was all in the spirit of fun.
Later on, when everyone got tired of the water, we all went back to the kubo we rented to have lunch. Since I was still full from that morning’s breakfast and I haven’t had a decent shower (with soap) for more than 24 hours, I took that as an opportunity to sneak away and look for a place where I could take one. I knew that once everyone was done eating, there will be one long line to the shower rooms so I wanted to be first.
So I was away for around 30 mins doing some vigorous soaping, scrubbing and rinsing, and when I finally got back to the kubo squeaky clean, they were done eating already cleaning up the lunch table. So yes, I missed lunch, but it was totally worth it because I had a long shower without being rushed by the next occupant.
SANTA CRUZ CHURCH
It was literally a long and winding road going to the town of Santa Cruz in northeastern Marinduque. The road snaked through the mountains and for the most part, we could only see cliffs and forests on both sides, only dotted every now and then by small villages. Our last destination was to be the famous Santa Cruz church before finally exiting the island through its port.
Were it not for the frequent turns of the jeepney we were riding, we would have probably fallen fast asleep during the ride. As it was, we only had very unsatisfying micro-naps before we get nudged awake by a sudden turn or brake by the jeepney. Eventually, we reached the church and immediately looked around.
The Santa Cruz Church was built in 1714, but the parish itself is much older and according to a plaque in one of the walls, it recently celebrated its quadricentennial (400th year anniversary). So far, the location of the church is consistent with what I’ve seen in other Catholic churches in Marinduque such as the one in Boac, and the one in Gasan, wherein the church is not necessarily positioned at the very center of the town, but instead is located at its highest point, overlooking everything. (Although in the case of the Santa Cruz Church, the elevation is not as high as the churches of the 2 aforementioned towns.)
Looking a the topography of Marinduque, it’s easy to see why unlike other Spanish-era towns in the Philippines, the churches were not necessarily built in the center. While Marinduque has extensive plains, it is for the most part mountainous and and hilly. I’m guessing the Spanish did not endeavor to found new towns but worked on the pre-existing towns, which were not necessarily located on the plains. Since the land made it difficult to build churches in the middle of the preexisting town, they did the next best thing and built them on adjacent higher ground so as to give the impression of superiority, since churches were the foremost symbols of Spanish authority in the Philippines.
Anyway, the Santa Cruz Church is reputedly the oldest church in Marinduque and is well known for its interior beauty as well as the uniqueness of the building materials used in its construction. I could not quite tell what architectural style the church had. Old Spanish period churches in the Philippines were usually only one of two styles: Earthquake Baroque or Gothic.
The Santa Cruz Church resembled neither. It had no pointed arches nor spires that resemble the Gothic style, and neither did it have the large buttresses that characterize Earthquake Baroque. Nevertheless, the ambiguous architectural style does not deny the fact that the church is a thing of beauty, both inside and outside.
Adjacent to the church is a century-old convent that that has been converted to a school. The convent was built in the more conventional bahay na bato style, which is popular throughout the archipelago. There is also a bell tower on the other side of the church, as a separate structure – no doubt as an anti-earthquake measure.
It wasn’t tourist season so we had the benefit of having the church for ourselves and we were free to roam around and take photos without some stranger straying into the frame. It seems the town was also sparsely populated as there wasn’t any Sunday crowd at all.
THE NICER PORT
After we had our fill of sightseeing and picture-taking, it was finally time to leave the island by exiting through the Sta. Cruz port. Once again, the road took us through winding mountainside roads shaded by forested areas. I’d remark that the state of the road in this part of Marinduque is superb and it definitely helps cut travel time.
Eventually, we came to a point in the road where the trees cleared and it gave us a view of the sea overlooking the Sta. Cruz Port and surrounding islands and land formations. As far as views go, this makes for very pretty scenery, and once again, it was an opportunity to take photos.
The port was built at a natural bay that had an island in the middle of it. This island acted as a natural rotonda which allowed ships to enter the port on one side, and left for the mainland through the other side.
And since it would be our last chance to have photos taken in Marinduque itself, then some of us figured that wacky shots wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
THE RIDE HOME
While we were posing at the viewpoint, we actually saw the 2:00 pm boat docking at the port. That means we won’t be able to make it to that trip and so we’d have to catch the 4:00 pm trip instead. And since we still had around 2 hours until that trip, there was no rush to make it to the port.
The thing we didn’t expect upon entering the port compound were the hordes of men trying to sell us ferry tickets as well as bus tickets that would enable us to catch a connecting bus ride from Lucena to Metro Manila. They swarmed all over the jeepney even when it was still moving and were quite annoying.
Our first concern was to first look for a place where we could eat. Everyone is hungry by now, and most especially myself, because I haven’t had lunch yet. There was one canteen right beside the port entrance and we promptly filled the place up. After eating there, some of us were still quite hungry enough to go to another carinderia and have another meal there.
All this time, the port compound was slowly filling up with people and before we knew it, there was already a crowd ahead of us waiting for the 4:00 pm ro-ro. We had to rush into the boarding area and jostle for space to be able to get seats once the ship’s main plank was brought down to allow people to enter. As for me, I was quite okay with just standing so I looked for a space at the back that had a view and tried to be comfortable.
So after a considerable delay, the ship finally left the dock and we were on our way to the Luzon mainland. As expected, the 3 hour ride bored the hell out of us. So once one of us discovered there was such a thing as a roof deck at the top of the ro-ro, almost all of us trooped there. You can probably accurately guess what happened next. But here are the photos:
So we kept that up until the sun has completely set and our faces and arms were rendered sticky by the salty sea spray. Soon after, we caught sight of the port lights at the Quezon coast. Upon disembarking, we made one final dash to get to the bus that would take us back to Metro Manila (because we were not assured of getting seats even if we already had tickets.) And once we were seated, we were on our way home.
And thus ends the story of HLGG Season 5, at least from my point of view. Definitely a meaningful and fun-filled weekend. I like this group. I think I’ll stick with them for a while.
(And if any participants have any objections or clarifications on the narrative, you’re free to do so in the comments section. Hope you liked it overall.)