The previous night, we crashed in this small resort in the town of Sablayan. We were exhausted, grimy and, for a few of us, bruised and injured from our torturous Mt. Iglit climb. Needless to say, we were glad to have been able to wash up, have dinner, and lie down on real cushioned beds to rest our overworked backs and legs. Some of us were still able to have a few drinks to cap the night. I would have loved to join them, but I was just too dead tired, and it was already getting late.
OFF TO APO REEF
We had barely a night’s rest before we were once again preparing to leave for our next destination, which is Apo Reef. (Not to be confused with Apo Island, located in Negros Oriental.) Apo Reef is reportedly the second largest contiguous coral reef system in the world and the largest in the Philippines. It is located about 34 kilometers off the coast of Sablayan.
So from the hiking attire that we’ve worn for the past 2 days, we switched to more comfortable beachwear (flip-flops, board shorts and light tops) as we packed our stuff. We once again brought our tents with us because we would be spending the night in the island. Everything else we didn’t need, we left behind under the custodianship of the resort. With much lighter loads being lugged around, we proceeded to the port area to find our boat.
It took a while before we were actually able to board because our group of 20 took 4 different tricycles going to the port and some unbelievably got lost. (Apparently, there was more than one loading area for boats in Sablayan.) The delay was also due to our group leaders refusing another group of excursionists who attempted to join us in our boat. We spent the extra time buying additional supplies – most notably drinking water and insect repellant – and had second breakfast, for those who found the earlier breakfast in the resort not filling enough.
Eventually, everyone arrived, all possibly needed supplies were purchased, and the transport arrangement was finalized, so it was finally time to board the large pumpboat. All 20 of us were each able to find a comfortable spot to spend the next hour or two in. We settled down and looked forward to beach bumming once we arrive at the island.
UNEXPECTED CETACEAN ENCOUNTER
Due to the fact that the sea was unusually calm that morning (the water surface was almost glass-like) it was unavoidable that most of us would feel a bit sleepy during the smooth ride. Barely 15 minutes after the boat began to set sail, the sluggish mood was abruptly interrupted when we spotted some activity in the water a short distance away.
What looked like a school of fish hopping across the surface of water at high speed turned out to be a pod of dolphins. (Which of course was very exciting for us because we were never informed that dolphins could be sighted here.) Seeing our excitement, the pilot of the boat gamely altered course and went straight to where the dolphins were.
Unfortunately for me, both my DSLR and my BlackBerry were packed inside my backpack and waterproofed as I prepared for the worst. As a result, I had absolutely no photo documentation of this encounter with dolphins. But fortunately, others weren’t as fussy about their cameras and phone cameras so they were able to take photos of the magnificent creatures.
They weren’t as friendly as I was led to believe in the documentaries I’ve watched in Discovery, Nat Geo, Animal Planet, etc. For one, we seemingly had a hard time getting their attention. Every time the boat would get near them, the pod would simply go underwater and resurface 20 feet away. The most likely explanation was that we were probably disturbing them while they were hunting for food. After about 5 minutes of trying to get a closer look, we gave up and continued on our way to Apo Reef.
(Unexpected Human Encounter: A little while after the encounter with the dolphins, when everyone was getting sleepy again, we caught sight of another pump boat the same size as ours approaching us. As it got nearer, it was apparent that the boat was filled with tourists like us who have just left Apo Reef. Both boats slowed down as the gap in between became smaller because the pilots and crew had a short chat. When the 2 boats were already almost side by side, we were able to clearly see the occupants of the other boat. I was quite surprised to see Aisa, my travel buddy in Biri Island, in there looking out to us. Yan and Madz were also able to see some other friendly faces too.)
No other way to describe it. As the morning turned to midday, we landed at the island at Apo Reef under scorching conditions. It was around 20 meters from the point of disembarkation to the nearest shade, and it was almost unbearable to trudge towards the latter while carrying our bags and stuff. I was wearing my hat and wearing my transition glasses so I was protected from the neck up, but my arms were fully exposed to all those harmful UV rays from the cloudless summer sky.
Ideally, our first task upon arriving was supposedly to set up our tents. The midday heat however discouraged us from doing any sort of extra effort that would require us to do anything at all under the sun. So we stuck to the shade while waiting for lunch time. Some of us set up their tents inside the common roofed area. As for me, I resolved to just set up my tent in cooler conditions later.
The walking tour of the island was to start later in the afternoon at around 4pm, so we were essentially free to do anything we wanted until that time. Some of us played table tennis, and some played basketball. Since I didn’t play both sports, I contented myself with just walking around the shaded area and taking photos whenever I can. It was mostly idle time for me, really.
THE HIGH-SODIUM LUNCH
One thing that I didn’t miss about the island is the fact that there was no source of freshwater. The island was too small to have an ecology that would support freshwater storage, so we had to use and consume wisely the freshwater that we brought with us from Sablayan. There was a deep well near the common area, but it spouted out only salty water, so it was only useful for basic rinses and never for consumption.
Speaking of this deep well, this would be the cause of a blunder later on. What happened was that the person who was tasked to cook the rice rinsed it using the water from the deep well. So even though freshwater was later on used in cooking it, the residual saltwater left from the rinsing was enough to make the resulting cooked rice very salty.
Needless to say, the otherwise excellent Tinola that was served for lunch was overpowered by the piercing saltiness of the rice. I could not get myself to finish all of the rice that I got and was forced to throw the leftover lumps away because it has gotten to a point where it was simply inedible already.
Oh well, a learning experience.
Once the heat in the afternoon had lessened to a bearable level, our guide informed us that the tour would promptly begin. We were first taken to a path that cut through a lightly forested area…
…that then led through an elevated walkway made of bamboo. This took us through the mangroves leading to the center of the island.
Actually, the center of the island is one sizable lagoon that had no visible outlet to the sea (probably due to the profusion of mangroves surrounding it.) Our guide told us that it’s a spawning ground for rays during a certain season in the year. Unfortunately, we could not see through the murky water, and this also prevented us from visually assessing how deep the lagoon is.
In the course of the tour, we also had a sighting of the very rare Mindoro Giant Tarsier (chonggus darius mindorensis). You can see a photo by clicking here.
We got a bit apprehensive when we learned that we were to cross the lagoon via a small makeshift boat made from a combination of bamboo, wood, styrofoam and nylon rope. Only 5 or 6 of us could ride the boat at a time, and the weight had to be evenly distributed lest the boat flipped over. Not a very nice thought considering how murky the water is. In the distance, rising through the mangroves, was a view of the Apo Reef Lighthouse.
Instead of using a paddle, the boat moved by means of pulling on a rope that has been tied from one end of the lagoon to the other. This was a slow but steady process that added stability to the boat. At some point near the center of the lagoon, another length of rope appeared that ran perpendicular to the one our guide/boatman was pulling. He then switched ropes, turned the boat to the right, and started pulling again. This took us to another end of the lagoon that is approximately located 1/4 of its circumference from where we started.
It took a total of 3 trips to transport all of us in the group to the other end. From there, we once again walked through an elevated bamboo walkway, leading us away from the mangroves and towards the lighthouse.
The Apo Reef Lighthouse is a modern, immaculately white, 110-foot-tall structure that serves to warn passing ships of the shallow waters in that part of the Mindoro Strait.
First, a bit of history: This modern lighthouse stands on the exact site of the old Apo Reef Light, which was built during the early years of the American occupation of the Philippines. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Spanish actually embarked on a large-scale effort to light up Philippine coastal seas. This was abruptly stopped as a consequence of their defeat during the Spanish-American War, wherein the Philippines was turned over to the United States. As a result, they were never able to build a lighthouse in Apo Reef.
Once American rule stabilized, unfinished projects left by the Spanish were turned over to the new colonial administration. Plans for the construction of a lighthouse in Apo Reef then emerged, and during a storage inventory, it was discovered that supplies and parts for the construction of the lighthouse were complete and in excellent condition. After some modifications on the lighthouse design, construction promptly started. Whether it deteriorated, was destroyed or simply dismantled, it is not clear what exactly happened to the old lighthouse.
The new lighthouse was built on the same spot with official Japanese development assistance to modernize the the country’s lighthouse network. It bears no resemblance to the old lighthouse, but I must say the minimalist appearance is quite an improvement. Ruins of old structures surround the lighthouse site. Some might even be as old as the first lighthouse. I never really had a chance to take a closer look so I cant say for sure.
We spent most of the time climbing up the lighthouse and taking photos of ourselves and the surrounding view. Unfortunately, at that time, it was not allowed to climb to the highest point where the lighting apparatus is located, but the view deck at the midpoint was good enough. It was still more than an hour away from sunset when we were there so I had to tweak the settings of my camera to produce a fax-sunset shot.
From there, we exited to the beach and began to walk back towards the common area where our tents were located.
WHAT HAPPENED AT NIGHT
With daylight fading fast and with very minimal light sources on the island, we found our way to our camp. I had to “uproot” my tent from a secluded spot and transfer it to the beachfront where all the other tents were. The original well-shaded spot I chose seemed to be a good idea when the sun was still up and blazing. But at night, it seemed to be a liability since it was too far away from the group. So I opted to transfer. The beachfront was no longer warm as the evening drew near, and was in fact quite cool as it benefited from sea breezes.
Before long, dinner was served and we all dug in. We must have been quite hungry because none of us bothered to take pictures. (Seriously, I’ve searched the Apo Reef albums of everyone in our group just to look for pictures of when we were having dinner and I found nothing. Not even one.) But anyway, the good news was that the rice wasn’t salty as before, and having dinner was quite comfortable given the cool temperature.
The time after dinner was designated as “socials night” wherein everyone gets to know everybody else in the group. Due to our peculiar circumstances the previous 2 nights, we were not able to do this meet and greet then. As such, we were in that funny situation wherein we’ve made friends with others in the group whom we haven’t been formally introduced to yet. (And in some cases, talking to people for 2 days without remembering what their name is.)
Anyway, socials night. The boys actually got to a headstart here by gathering around the cooking area and started drinking GSM Blue via the tagay system. We were all having a fine time drinking and having a free-wheeling discussion that was on its way to becoming usapang lasing, until the girls felt left out and Madz restored order by having the rest of the group join the circle. Basically, each one was required to introduce him/herself to all the others and answer a specific set of questions.
So one by one, each of us had his/her say in a clockwise pattern, …which was also the pattern of how the tagay glass got distributed. Obviously, the glass traveled faster than each person’s turn to answer questions. Compounded by the fact that not everyone drank that night, soon after, the group quickly became a mixed lot of sober, tipsy, drunk and very drunk individuals. Fortunately, everyone was able to answer the set of questions (including giving post-climb inputs) before everything got a little out of hand.
And “a little out of hand” involved the following:
1. Someone falling asleep dead drunk on the ground, lying on his belly with his face flat on the sand.
2. Someone noisily and drunkenly taking a dip in the sea to the consternation of everyone who are still awake and trying to sleep.
3. #1 and #2 making friends with another drunken guy from another group and introducing him to everyone … and later on drinking even more alcohol.
4. Someone bawling over missing someone and had to leave the socials earlier than most.
5. Someone shutting down due to being pissed at how the evening turned out …mostly due to the ruckus that #2 was carrying out long after everyone has turned in for the night.
Anyway, what’s done was done, and everyone learned a thing or two after that experience. I’d like to think everything was forgiven after that, and that everyone’s still friends.
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This entry is part of the Holy Week 2012 series dated April 5-8, 2012:
1. Preview: The Trail to Mt. Iglit
2. Holy Week 2012: Prologue
3. Holy Week 2012: Sitio Tamisan Outreach
4. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (unang yugto)
5. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (ikalawang yugto)
6. Holy Week 2012: Penitencia sa Mt. Iglit (huling yugto)
7. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 1)
8. Holy Week 2012: Apo Reef (Day 2) and Pandan Island