Shrine of Our Lady of Peace
Island hopping was the order of the day. C and I got up at about 5am. We wanted to climb up the mountain where the shrine was, and it would take about half an hour to get there and maybe another half hour to traverse all 500 steps. Homahlord!! We showered, had breakfast and dashed off for Gota Beach again. Our tricycle driver was kind enough to offer to pick us up later that day, saying that we might have some difficulty later on given that there aren't many tourists at this time. We agreed on P300 for the rountrip fare.
When that was sorted, we jumped on a boat (P1,500/day) and headed for the shrine. It was the perfect day for what we had in mind. The sky, blue and scattered with white feathery clouds, was clear and reassuring.
The seas were were calm, much unlike its behavior the day before, making our ride an enjoyable one. And the scenery! Mountains lush and thriving with vegetation everywhere. It was all too stunning.
We arrived on the island and immediately made our way a few meters up through a slopey hill and towards the steps to the shrine. Sweet Jesus, there really were 500! It seemed a very daunting task for such a skinny, unathletic smoker with a fear of heights like me, but C taught me a very useful technique in conquering the summit -- know how many steps there are, count as you go, and stop every 50 steps (or whatever you're comfortable with). That way, you'll know how far you've gone and how much further you need to go, which will in turn seem a lot shorter.
I took his advice and discovered that this really eased the mind, as opposed to mindlessly putting one foot in front of the other, unknowing how much ground you've covered and impatiently wondering how much further to go. Don't get me wrong, it made the trek up seem an easier challenge, yes, but it's still tiring as hell. Less than halfway through, I was almost completely out of breath like a cat choking on a hairball.
I counted the 500th step, and much to my chagrin, were 36 more (yes, I counted)! What kind of tricky deviousness was this? And to think we were going up to visit a shrine of all things! So fine, 36 more steps. And there she was, standing on top of a...hill. After climbing what was supposed to be 500 steps, we had to trek another hill, puny as it was? Again, fine, up kitty up I go.
Once there, I said a short prayer, something along the lines of "Please God, don't whack your divine hands on my back on my way down for being such a pain in the crack..."
I then turned around to see what I had just scaled. Only then did I realize what dizzying heights I reached and how breathtaking the view was down below and how worthwhile the effort of coming all this way was! There was the fishing village at the foot of the mountain, the open seas, islands all around and more mountains on the other side. How could anyone not want to come up here? I'd do it again!
After resting our legs and a few smokes, we headed back down for the boat. Out boatman, Mang Bunong, wanted to take us first to the island of Sabitang Laya
- an incredible stretch of fine sand and clear waters.
C and I went to explore the island (Mang Bunong suggested not to swim here, there was an even better place where we could have our lunch and stay a few hours). Behind one of the limestone crags on the side was another beach! It went all the way as far as the eye could see and the water on this side was even bluer. And it was at this moment when I truly started to like the beach. Wait, Mang Bunong said he wanted to take us to a better one? Let's gooooo!
So off we went to Matukad Island
. Although it was much smaller, the sand was whiter and even finer. And like Sabitang Laya, it, too, had 2 beaches! Hea.Ven. It was almost noon, so we took out our packed lunched from the inn and took shelter under one of the limestone crags.
Mang Bunong joined us for lunch but left for a few hours to go home and so we could have the island all to ourselves. Imagine that? A beautiful island like this and no one else around? Now THIS was PARADISE. We spent the time swimming, snorkeling (but only for a while as there wasn't much to see underwater), sunbathing, napping, and just horsing around. There was a lagoon hidden behind the crags, but the trail hadn't been cleared too well and we didn't have the right footwear. We still had fun nonetheless, we didn't want to leave.
The hours rolled on and by the time we knew it, our boatman was back, this time to take us to Lahos Island
right across. The sand wasn't nearly as fine but like the other 2 islands previously visited, Lahos, too, had 2 beaches.
And again, we were alone! We got to play with crabs and some hermits, had a snack and moved on. It was getting late and Mang Bunong wanted to show us more of the islands.
We went to Tayak Island
next. It's nowhere as amazing as the ones we'd seen earlier, but this place, to me, had its own charm. For one, it had a monumental limestone crag on the side, much like that on Gota Beach. There's a trail on the beach which leads to a hidden lagoon behind. The water wasn't ideal for swimming, it was in fact green. But since the tourism was starting to pick up, it became another project of the governor to get it cleaned up. Not sure what state it's in now.
View of Lahos Island from Matukad
Since Tayak is further out and a lot more difficult to monitor, some rogue fishermen decided it was a good idea to dynamite its waters into oblivion. All the corals are dead, dried and washed up on the shore. It's a sorry sight, but beguiling nonetheless.
Our last stop was a snorkeling site beside Gota Beach, on the other side of the crag. C went in only to be disappointed. Because of the typhoon the day before, the visibility was really poor. All you could see were the schools of poor, dead jellyfish floating around.
It was getting dark and a chill started to invade the air. With not much time to explore much else, C and I decided to call it a day. We made our way back to Gota where our tricycle driver would be waiting to take us back to the inn.