Seven volcanoes stood on the island beckoning across the Bohol Sea. Yet again they call to me like silent sentinels in search of human bonds. What manner of enchantment does this island hold over me? What is it that keeps bringing me back?
The Island Born of Fire reforged sweet memories of every pilgrimage I’ve taken to its lovely shores in the last few years. Vivid images danced through the mind’s eye as I try to remember and latch on to every memory of its pure shores, lush volcanoes, and aquamarine waters.
I always believe that the journey is the destination so I don’t mind going on a 3-hour road trip across Misamis Oriental and an hour’s ferry ride to get to this pearl-shaped island just off the northern coast of Mindanao. Yes, I’m talking about charming Camiguin Island, my dear reader and I can almost feel its waters on my toes.
For each trip I make, I almost automatically get to experience a place even more through its roads and people. Though familiarity becomes established, there’s always a new experience for every trip to the same destination and having already taken the longer route, going through a different one is always worth the time. For instance, instead of travelling from Cagayan de Oro City all the way to Balingoan to catch hourly ferry rides to the island you can take the 8:00am Paras Seacat ferry from CDO’s Macabalan Port which only takes 2 hours of sea travel with fare rates ranging from Php 550 – 750 per person. No matter what route you take, just breathe it all in because its how you get there and how you enjoyed it that really counts into the experience.
Benoni in Camiguin is one of the friendliest ports I’ve set my foot on. People are beaming both with pride and modesty of their lush island province and you never get any shortage of accommodating jeepney and tricycle drivers who are very happy enough to take you anywhere in the island. Making lasting friendships with the local people makes each visit like a journey home. So from Benoni, my next stop is always my favorite “home” in all of Camiguin, Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge and Art Camp. Yeah, I find comfort in the trees and I’m quite the hippie in my past life. Enigmata means “to open your eyes” and “enter the journey inwards the creative circles of the mind”. Well put I should say because nature is an artwork all by itself and how man shaped it to tell stories did open my eyes to this paradise which allowed my heart and mind to see and experience a rustic yet splendid form of island living.
Built around a century-old acacia tree, this three-storey treehouse is a cultural bank, an art camp, and a backpacker’s lodge. The paintings, sculptures, installation and functional art works are always a feast for the eyes. Everywhere is an open space and you get to breathe the island air through bamboo floors, and artfully crafted wooden walls. Engaging with members of the Enigmata Creative Circle particularly Ros Zerrudo, artist, co-founder, and an old friend of mine, allows me to feel the “life” of the place, how it breathes through art and resonates its messages in poetry. Art and nature are definitely best buddies and as such, I always find a home in their abundance in Enigmata.
There’s so much you can do in Camiguin even in just a span of 3 days. In one stop, the island is a melting pot of majestic volcanoes, waterfalls, springs, and beaches. My favorite after-siesta jaunt includes a relaxing dip at Katibawasan Falls southeast of Mambajao where the water cascades more than 70m down to a pool surrounded by lush orchids and ferns.
From here I normally take a roadtrip to the Gui-ob Church Ruins and Sunken Cemetery in Catarman for an experience of the island’s violent volcanic past.
I would then end the day with a beautiful sunset at White Island, a sandbar just off the northern shore where I would gaze long into the magnificent contrast of white sand and aquamarine waters against the vibrant green silhouettes of mighty volcanoes. It’s always the best way to end the day.
From across White Island, Mt. Hibok-Hibok beckons the next day’s adventures. The entire 2nd day in the island is often reserved for mountain climbing. So far, I’ve taken two different dayhike traverse routes up Mt. Hibok-Hibok or some would fondly call it “H2”. If you’re up for a challenge, the Itum Trail is the steeper one that gets you through thicker jungle and serene rock gardens. The more rolling terrain is through the Yumbing Trail which is the route to take if you plan to hit the old crater and the lake before reaching the summit. Standing at 1,332 metres (4,370 ft) above mean sea level (asl) the H2 summit is the highest point in the island. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the mountains green slopes and the encroaching coastlines, the striking C-shape of White Island and the blue expanse of the Bohol Sea. I think that description introduces a take-my-breath-away kind of feeling. Sceneries seen and captured by the heart dissolves physical exhaustion until you feel ready to come down and the best way down is through the Ardent Trail. It takes 3-4 hours until you exit to the sulfur springs, a nice treat for sore legs and muscles and also a nice spot to contemplate on the day’s adventure and the next day’s promise.
Getting around Camiguin is easier said AND done. You can rent a motorcycle for P500 for the whole day or a multi-cab for about P1,700. You can take any direction on the national road because it encircles the entire island and don’t be afraid to get lost, people are friendly and they’ll point you in the right direction. And oh, you have to be lost in order to find the most beautiful of places.
I prefer starting off the road from Mambajao following it northwest to Catarman passing Mt. Vulcan, Sunken Cemetery, and Gui-ob Church Ruins. If it’s a hot start, there’s a side road that leads to Sto. Niño Cold Springs whenever you feel the need for a cool dip and you can then just follow the road back to the highway and continue making your way south to Guinsiliban and take a sidetrip to the old Moro Watchtower and play a Spanish settler looking out for Moro pirates from mainland Mindanao if you feel like it.
By mid-morning, Cantaan would be the next great stop for a guided snorkeling tour of the Giant Clams Sanctuary plus some short relaxation by the shores of Kebila Beach.
After half a day spent on the road, lunch is served best at J&A Fishpens. A hearty lunch of fresh seafood beside the Taguines lagoon always gives me enough energy to pursue the rest of the day.
I’m almost three quarters into Camiguin’s road circuit and it’s just half the day. After lunch, I make my way to Mahinog because by routine, I cannot miss out on Mantigue Island just 15-20 minutes off the coast. This is where I would spend the rest of the day walking among the trees in the island forest, skin-diving in the Fish Sanctuary, basking in the afternoon sun, and gazing across the crystal waters not wanting to go back to the old city life and the madness that is called Manila.
This is where I would usually end my 3 day sojourn in Camiguin. I’ve seen numerous sunsets before but why do I prefer it here? Why do I keep coming back? Why do I tell this story of my own experience? The simple truth is enchantment. I cannot even begin to describe the island’s inherent charms. Besides its numerous beautiful spots, perhaps it’s the synergy between its environment and its people. A symbiotic relationship wherein one benefits the other; where people chose to commit to simple forms and joys of living in such a way it allowed nature to continue its blossom and had so much more to give in return. Or perhaps it opened my eyes to life’s simplicity, that there is so much to be thankful for like the earth and the sea and that it doesn’t take too much effort in making every moment in life worthwhile. I guess that’s all to it.
I’m going back again this year. Would you like to join me?