Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rest and renewal on Cagbalite Island

[Update: Published as Captivating Cagbalite in the Sunday Inquirer, April 19, 2009]

Cagbalite or Cagbalete? I'm not sure. The folks at Pansacola Beach Resort where we stayed spelled it with an I. Lots of online sites also spell it that way. Google, however, prompts you with the E version. And even our photographer-friend Ian--a native of Mauban, Quezon, the nearest jump-off point to the island--prefers the E in his photo tributes to the place.

Whatever the right spelling, Cagbalite Island (I'll go for the I) might need to get its name right soon, because I have a feeling it's about to go big in a few years. Right now it's still a relatively unspoiled, serene and rustic place. But watch as the hordes of city folk tire of the now congested, utterly commercialized Puerto Galera and look for the next virgin strip of beach to descend on. I hope the people of Cagbalite will take a tougher stand when it comes to preserving their piece of paradise. Not every beach needs to have a disco bar or a Nestea celebrity volleyball circus.

The island's lure, aside from its clear waters and pristine state, is its accessibility. Mauban is only about 4 hours' drive from Manila. From the Mauban pier, it takes 45 minutes to reach Cagbalite by boat. The one we rode in didn't inspire much confidence: small and cramped, it was also packed with about 50 passengers plus provisions for the island--crates of softdrinks and beer, sacks of rice, huge blocks of ice. The ride, though, was smooth--the waves come only in late afternoon.

Cagbalite's back-to-basics approach begins with the disembarkation from the boat. A large swath of the island's coastline is shallow; the boat can't make it all the way to the shore, so at one point, passengers are divided into small groups and transferred to a flat boat that would bring them closer to the beach. But still not all the way. If it's low tide, like the time we arrived (around 10:30 a.m.), visitors would have to walk on ankle-deep water and exposed sand for about 5-10 more minutes before reaching the resort. We didn't mind, even if it was scorching hot. The rough beginnings were only a prelude to a different island experience.

The accommodations, too, are nowhere near the modern conveniences of mainstream beaches. At Pansacola, we stayed in a nipa hut with open windows and a non-existent door. The rub was that at least one of us always had to stay behind to guard our stuff. The good part was, we slept (on the bamboo floor, on cushions) enveloped by the sea breeze. Heavenly. Because there was electricity only from 6 p.m. onwards, we had to ditch city paraphernalia like laptops and/or music speakers, allowing us greater time to bond over rowdy banter and great food. SmartBro works in Cagbalite, but if you're in a place like this, why bother with Facebook and blogging?

(We did make a podcast, while sundry salagubang and the occasional bat whizzed by us and made jittery me jump up in fright every time. Watch out for it.)

The food was a surprise. For our package of P700 a day for 3 meals and 2 merienda, what we were served was extraordinary. Our first lunch consisted of two servings of crispy pata, two plates of fern salad and a huge inihaw na isda--very fresh--that we weren't able to finish. The rest of the meals were just as good, if a bit slow in arriving. Beer was P30, a large bottle of Coke Zero P65. Some other visitors brought tents and cooked their own food.

Cagbalite isn't for deep-sea swimmers or snorkelers. Perhaps some other part of the island is, but where we stayed, the sea that stretched before you was flat and shallow; at low tide, you could walk afar on glistening, newly-exposed sand. But when the tide returns, the waters creep to about a stone's throw away from the cottages, bringing with them the cool breeze and the gentle sound of thin waves breaking on sand. No big surfing waves here, and no jet-skis or banana boats, either. So far. I hope it stays that way--quiet, relaxed, simple.

The seven of us stayed for 3 days and two nights. The cono-looking group at a nearby hut got drunk and noisy on the second night, arguing over pop-culture trivia until about 2 a.m. That was the only irritant--a negligible one--in an otherwise extremely enjoyable and reinvigorating break.

Going home served up a last surprise. The boat that took passengers back to Mauban was on the other side of the island. We had to walk through a trail, then past a large village of concrete houses, basketball courts and sari-sari stores that you wouldn't know existed unless you got out of the secluded resort. The name of the town's congressman adorned every basketball court. After the unsullied, dream-like days offered by Cagbalite, that cheap sight brought one crashing back to earth.

There is always the island, though--the sand, the sea and all memory of them. They're more than good enough to hold on to the sublime.

PLUS: AJ's best shot, in our unanimous opinion. Agree?

Maps and more awesome photos here, here, here and here. Thanks, Ian, for the big help, AJ for the photos and the company!

[Photo 1 by Ian Felix Alquiros. All others by AJ Matela. More here.]

[Update: Published as Captivating Cagbalite in the Sunday Inquirer, April 19, 2009]


joelmcvie said...

Aba! The salagubang gets mentioned, but complete silence on the brothers Dennis and Danreb? =)

gibbs cadiz said...

pwede akin na lang sila? mineminemine! wahaha! :)

AJ said...

DENNIS is MINE! that's all.

r-yo said...

ei! seemed like you were talking about our island in Samar, he he. Nag-plugging ba. Uy! mukhang masaya yung lakwatsa ah. at me brothers ka pa! i'll get the details from mcvie he he.

the donG said...

beautiful! we too were there last month. it is becoming popular and im sure more and more people will be going there in the coming days.

blogger r-yo referred me to your blog thinking that we might have crossed-path in cagbalete.

Anonymous said...

Sana naman mapreserve ito. di tulad ng galera, na pinutakti na ng mga balahurang pumupunta doon. tulad ng mga vakla

jasperjugan said...

ganda! how did you go there!

r-yo said...

aba, at hindi pinost ang comment ko! teka nga.. :-)

gibbs cadiz said...

AJ! una ko siyang nakita! lol. :)

DonG, you were also there from holy thursday to black saturday?! :)

ANONYMOUS, sweeping statement??? :)

JASPER, take the bus to mauban, quezon, then have a tryke bring you to the pier. 10am and 4pm ata ang boat rides to cagbalite. enjoy! :)

R-YO, err, which comment was this? eto lang ang nakita ko e, and i published it pronto. kaw pa. :)

Rudy said...

Been wanting to go there ever since I learned of its existence, yun lang, wala akong oras, huhuhu. :-D

Anonymous said...

Sir.. I totally agree that Cagbalete is an awesome place..

I think the group that you are talking about are just having fun...

Ron said...

den and dan...those two have been around the island since they were barely walking. would be hard to imagine cagbalete without those two, so i'll have to ask you to not take them home with you, as sweet as they are ;-)

i feel you with the mild irritant of the rowdy group, do try cagbalete on a full moon in november for the complete magically-private effect!

Allan said...

Hi Gibbs, I'm a native of Mauban and I practically grew up there. The correct spelling is Cagbalete, however, it is pronounced as "kag-ba-li-ti"

Anonymous said...

I was there during the holy week break fact i saw myself in one of the photos :) i love love love cagbalete. i'm sure that a lot of people will go there after reading your article. i just hope it won't turn into another bora/galera party place. agree on your comments regarding the noisy group too! they seem to have forgotten that there were other people at pansacola too. but nevertheless, cagbalete was wonderful. we can't wait to go back.

gibbs cadiz said...

RUDY, gogogo! it's worth taking a leave for. :)

ANONYMOUS, yep, wala na 'yon, i understand they were just having fun, like us. :)

RON, haha, sige, incentive na lang for us to visit the island again! :) them, and the fireflies, which i failed to mention in my piece. sana di mawala ang alitaptap! :)

hey ALLAN, hope you don't mind, i published your e-mail--see above. better for everyone to hear from a proud local. :)

ANONYMOUS! hey, you were there, too!? hmmm, next time you're going back, buzz us here, we'd like to join! :)

Anonymous said...

is there a decent restroom in the island? Is globe signal ok? Who should i contact to book boat and accomodation? thanks!

gibbs cadiz said...

ANONYMOUS--decent restrooms, yes, though communal. globe signal, yes. contact details: Pansacola Beach Resort, Cagbalete Island, Mauban, Quezon--09285058633. maps and more info here:

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