A huge cross marks the location of an old cemetery sunk by a volcanic eruption in Camiguin Island in 1871
“May 13, 1871, 6:00 p.m. Cotta Bato, the capital of Camiguin Island, was a quiet and attractive town, verdant in its natural wonders. Its peaceful shores provided strolling grounds for its inhabitants as they basked under the gracious moonlight. Suddenly…. tranquility came to a halt as a subterranean rumbling sowed indescribable terror. Hundreds of houses and the churches crumbled into pieces, the land rolled and broke into deep crevices, a horrifying earthquake served only as a prelude to the destructive climax: a cataclysm never witnessed before. Mt. Vulcan gave out its fiercest and most violent outbreak. At 6:20 p.m. Cotta Bato was but a dreadful pile of ruins. The single volcanic eruption buried a beautiful town into obscurity… (excerpt from an epitaph near a church ruin in Camiguin)”.
The white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of Camiguin
The Katibawasan Falls
That was more than a century ago. Today, Camiguin Island in the Philippines is back in its old glory as a tropical island paradise. The volcanoes still stood like sentinels silently watching over the island, the tropical rainforests have covered most traces of the historic eruption, thick moss have greened whatever was left of the Hispanic era churches along the slopes, elegant colonial era ancestral homes dot the coastal areas near pristine beaches, the remains of an ancient cemetery lay underwater marked by a modern white cross. The friendly locals share peaceful neighborhoods with a handful of expatriates who decided to make Camiguin their home. Tourists are aplenty but the island has retained its rustic ambiance and the slow and leisurely pace of provincial life.
After two long weeks of difficult work in Papua New Guinea in August, I thought that a long weekend in Camiguin was in order and driving to the island from Davao City would add to the adventure.
It was a long 8-hour drive from Davao City through the mountainous province of Bukidnon, then through Cagayan de Oro, and finally to the small town of Balingoan where ferry boats service the island. We did not catch the last ferry to the island so we spent the night at a seaside resort. This marvelous view of the island was what greeted us the next day.
The ferry to the island took both cars and people. Once our car was properly parked inside the main hull, the upper decks provided a perfect view of the surrounding islands.
The day was sunny though partly cloudy. As we got closer, the mountainous island seemed to rise up from the blue horizon as it was being greeted by the morning sun.
Once on the island, we checked in at a resort called Secret Cove then immediately started exploring the island, hopping from one tourist spot to another.
The White Island, a sandbar that slowly vanished as the tide rose, was a personal favorite.
We hired an outrigger to get to the sandbar early in the morning. Obviously, we were not the only ones with that plan. Several groups came to sunbath, snorkel or swim in crystal clear water. White Island gave a perfect panoramic view of Camiguin.
Once back at the main island, we explored the sleepy coastal towns.
Ancestral homes dating back to American and Spanish colonial era are a common sight in Camiguin’s 5 small towns. This one dates back to 1924.
Fishing boats are also a common sight along the coastal roads.
A fisherman’s hut always has the most scenic view.
A small church now stood amidst the grounds of an old Spanish church in Catarman. The church and the Spanish settlement were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vulcan in 1871.
The Catholic faith, a legacy of the Spanish era, is still very strong. Visitors to the church ruins make sure they light candles in the small church before they leave.
Just 5 kilometers further inland in the town of Mambajao is the Katibawasan Falls falling 250 down to a pool of cold water, perfect for a swim especially on hot summer days.
The sunken cemetery is a good place to catch the sunset and hunt some souvenirs.
Boating in these small “bancas” (outrigger canoes) can always be arranged
Being a fish lover on an island, I searched for the best place to get the best fish and I found it here around a lagoon near the Benoni port where our ferry docked. We had a huge lunch of sea foods on huts built over fish pens where seawater fish, including mature tuna and trevally, swam beneath our feet as we dined.
We barely had enough of Camiguin when it was time to leave but the island paradise has become permanently etched in our memories. Its gentle waves seemed to beckon us to come back soon.