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Published: February 6th 2011
Even if one is born with an uncanny ability to twist the head around, checking on the back of the head is nearly impossible to do without using external help from, let's say, a mirror. Despite its nearness, the eyes often miss out on a number of simple yet obscure pleasures that can enhance appreciation of one's self -- like how the hair glows with each golden ray of sunshine, or how a ribbon dances with every sway of hair strands, or how that haircut perfectly hides unflattering balding spots.
A lot of people set their sights too far in search for something new, fascinating, exciting, or spectacular that they fail to see what nearby areas have to offer. Such is the fate of the Polilio Group of Islands
, which is known among biologists and conservationists as a bird sanctuary. This area is actually just near Manila if one looks at the map but not many people know about it -- a fate both tragic and fortunate. Reaching the islands can be difficult particularly during the rainy season. Monstrous waves coming from the Philippine Sea (Pacific Ocean side) are notorious for capsizing vessels that dare face their wrath. The insufficiency
Colorful welcoming arch beckoning visitors to Polilio to take a look at what they can offer. The roads to the other municipalities on the other side of the island are very rough and unpaved unlike this one.
of regular means of transportation within the island and very poor roads add to the difficulty of living in the area.
Its esoteric appeal allows it to escape the misfortunes unwittingly brought about by mass tourism. However, this same thing has kept its people living in poverty -- a huge injustice given the beauty and richness of their lands and seas. Consisting of very poor municipalities, its inhabitants primarily depend on agriculture, fishing, and selling of copra
(dried coconut meat used to make oil) for livelihood.
And she delivered
I got introduced to the islands of Polilio as a young Biology student a decade ago. Since then, I have always longed to reach its shores. While I deliberately steered clear of beaches frequented by tourists, Polilio kept eluding me, which only heightened my interest to get there. As what James Redfield said, there really are no chances in life; just the ability to recognize the people and events that can help one reach any goal. In a workshop one day, I met people from the islands and what I learned from them finally compelled me to act on my desire.
The threatening low pressure area did
So where is Polillo?
Map of Luzon showing location of Polillo group of islands (encircled).
not prevent me and a few friends from going. Sea travel to Polilio is still pleasurable because the waters are still calm, as opposed to other areas in the Philippines where travel by sea during the month of August is not an enticing idea due to large waves. Similar to other rural areas in the country, life within Polilio is slow. Time just seems to stand still. Electricity runs only from early afternoon to a little over the break of light.
The 8-hour travel by bus, boat, and jeepney felt worth it once we started exploring the islands. From its sheer calmness, the water appeared like a dark blue green mirror glistening under the sun. Exhaustion from travel is easily relieved by just staring into the open sea, with the hum of the boat's engine in the background and the wind teasing the skin. The mangroves give way to karst islets and a number of islets with the finest sand that can surely beat the more famous beaches of Boracay. The water is crystal clear blue. Most importantly, we owned the islets. Being undeveloped lends them a certain charm. Tranquility is very palpable as you mingle with the waves,
at the break of dawn
by the Port of Real as we waited for the boat to sail
sand, and occasional hermit crabs. The islets best for swimming (Anilon, Anawan, Buguitay) are far from the mainland. Mighty waves seemingly fit for surfing can also be seen frolicking in some of the islets along the way.
Brightly colored fishes can be seen in shallow waters. Coral reefs in the area are also said to be majestic but we did not have the chance to snorkel. They say sharks and whale sharks can also be found underwater. But what is Polilio without its famous birds, right? Various birds can be heard in the islets though it is really hard to see them on plain sight. Delight replaced my frustration from failing to reach the Minasawa island bird sanctuary after seeing a number of colorful birds on treetops while on the viewing deck of a house in one of the privately-owned islands.
It is a pity that only a number of locals are familiar with what the islands can offer. Even our landlady have yet to see them. I am actually torn between telling others about Polilio versus just keeping silent about it. Sure, improving the tourism around the area can boost the livelihood of the people but I
am afraid that they are not yet ready for that kind of action. Such will surely spell trouble and may cause the rich and relatively untapped island resources to spiral down uncontrollably.
The traveling salesmen
At first I thought they were a group composed of a teacher and his students from a nearby province, staying in the island for a project. Soon we learned that they had been there for two weeks already -- selling butterfly massager beneficial to health, or so they claimed. No, I do not have the slightest clue of how it looks like.
I was a bit impressed at the tenacity of those individuals. They must really be getting large profits from their merchandise for them to travel that far to make a sale.
However, I somehow felt that it was a hard sell. In a rather financially-challenged area, the people may be persuaded to spend money for something that they do not actually need, rather than use them for other matters than can actually contribute to maintaining their health. Well, who am I to tell them what they can or cannot buy with their money, right? I am just saying.
Port of Real Rain poured down on us as we left Polilio, like the island was sad that we were leaving. As we crossed the island's unforgiving roads in a 2-hour tricycle ride, I knew deep within that despite the travel inconveniences, Polilio did not disappoint.
where boats to Polilio can be found
Other useful facts about Polillo:
- The Polillo group of islands is composed of 27 islands and islets. It has 5 municipalities/towns that can be found in its 3 large islands: (1) the main Polilio island, which holds the municipalities of Panukulan, Burdeos, and Polillo; and the two island municipalities of (2) Patnanungan and (3) Jomalig. There are also a number of small, privately-owned islands in the area, like Puting Bato and Ikulong. Ikulong island is serving as a pearl-farm, where pearls are regularly harvested every 3 years.
- Electricity on the island only runs from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
* How to get to Polillo Group of Islands:
Take bus (Raymond bus line) at Sta. Teresita St., Legarda, Manila (very near Nagtahan Bridge) to Port of Real, Quezon (Ungos). Ordinary bus leaves at 12am (168.30); Air-conditioned bus leaves at 1:30am (P198.00). One may
also take a van (P200.00), terminal for which (just a house with a garage) is just a few meters from the bus station but the operators wait for the van to get full before leaving. Travel time: 3-4 hours.
At Port of Real, take the boat going to Port of Polillo (P130). Leaves at around 6-6:30 am. Travel time: 3 hours.
If going to Burdeos municipality that is at the other side of the main island (jump-off point for island hopping), take the jeep (P120; only one per day). It also functions as a home delivery service, so just tell the driver where you want to get off. Travel time: 1 hour. One may also rent a tricycle (2 hours; P200) or van but it's definitely more expensive.
Boat travel from Burdeos to the other islands can range from 15 minutes to 1-2 hours (e.g.,
Anilon). Travel time to Minasawa Island (bird sanctuary) is 2 hours. If pressed for time, visit only Anilon Island and Cave, Anawan, Buguitay, and Minasawa.
* Where to stay:
There is only 1 guest house in Burdeos: Kuya Bonn's Lodge (P100.00). They offer very basic amenities, with mosquito net. No flowing
I'm not sure if it was hunger but I'm pretty sure this reminded me of something.
water in the bathroom but they have stored water. Owner is a pleasant lady (Edith Salazar) who manages the lodge together with her son (Bonn).
* What to eat:
One may buy cooked food at the lodge. The owner also allows guests to cook.
* What to do:
Trail biking, trail running, island hopping, camping, swimming, snorkeling, game fishing, whale shark watching (but one should know how to spot one), surfing (probably during rainy season). Rate for boat rental varies so try to negotiate (between P700-1,000, depending on distance and number of islands to visit). One can have this arranged by the lodge owner. Don't expect any life vests on the boat. If camping, bring drinking water; there are no other people in the islands. These areas are remote and undeveloped.
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