The Secret called Digyo Island
Southern Leyte Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
( taken from the local magazine Gahum, this article was written by the red dress )
Around Leyte, sun-worshippers, the out-door crowds , weekend warriors, and beach lovers regularly trade stories of not-too-well known destinations that are passed from one mouth to the other. A collection of local favourite destinations has emerged and most of these are off-the-beaten-track known only to locals. Being away from the usual “tourist trail”, it keeps the place from being overrun by hordes of tourists, because ironically people who troop to see a tourist-destination end up contributing to its destruction. So it is a boon for this little local secrets that they are yet to be listed on every travel brochure, or that the only way to get there is to endure long hours of bumpy bus rides, and boat rides, and that there are no amenities at all to provide urban comforts for visitors.
Of these local secrets, a hands-down favourite is the palm fringed coral sand island of Digyo which composes the Cuatro Islas together with the islands of Apid, Mahaba, and Himokilan.
We started our trip to the Cuatro Islas with a 3 hour bus ride from the New Bus Terminal in Abucay . Our group took the local bus lines that ply the Baybay-Tacloban route, instead of the shorter two hour ride on an airconditioned passenger van via Baybay. We opted for the local bus even if it’s an hour longer because my German travel buddies dreaded the idea of being cramped in a van with 15 other passengers and an AC that doesn’t work all the time.
These buses do not run on schedule, they leave when all the seats are taken. But in the bus driver’s book, a full bus is when you have people crowding the aisle and hanging by the metal bars on the door.
After an hour of waiting for passengers, the driver decided we were full enough to go, meaning all of the seats were taken. The driver drove leisurely out of the city area towards the south. Refreshing air constantly blew in from the open window as we enjoyed the view of ricefields, huts, people, and animals from our window. Every now and then passengers got off and on the bus. Cargoes that came with the passengers of various sizes and nature were loaded on and off as well, like jugs of tuba, sacks of rice, cans of cooking oil, boxes of detergent and other items for daily living. One time we rode with a rooster lovingly held by a forty-something “parabulang” between the crook of his arm and his chest. They were going to a cock fight in the next barrio that was celebrating its fiesta. Later on a mother with five kids boarded the bus, the youngest strapped to her chest with a fabric, unmindful of the crowded bus and guzzling at her mother’s mammary with contentment. A young man stood up to offer his seat to the travelling mother.
We passed by a cluster of farm villages with houses built of a few slabs of wood planks and nipa roofs. As our bus drove by, farmers stood from their labours to have a look. Some were young and very fit, the lines of their muscles rippled under threadbare camisa chinos, the older one’s gaunt and withered like an old tree, chewed on bettle nut and lime, and spat reddish saliva to the ground.
Every once in a while we would pass by a big house of concrete. Most were overly decorated and quite garish painted in such flamboyant screaming colors. A few were of sensible and modest designs. These houses stuck out like a sore thumb, beside ricefields and humble nipa huts.
My favourite part of the bus ride was the road from Abuyog to Baybay. This road passes through mountainous areas , portions of which belongs to Javier. It was breathtaking to drive through the roads cut out of the sides of the mountains. One looks down to deep ravines and gullies of primary forests. The temperature dropped by considerable points, and I felt the cold air typical of forested environments. A handful of meager nipa huts clung to a few square meters of flat areas by the mountains.
The jump off points to reach the Cuatro Islas is either Baybay or Inopacan, which is thirty minutes after Baybay. Our group had an overnight stay at Baybay and drove to Inopacan town the next day where chartered a pumpboat or “lantsa” for the whole day. The boat trip from the Inopacan jetty takes forty five minutes to reach Digyo. The boatmen would also take us to the neighboring islands and bring my diver companions to dive spots in the vicinity.
The island of Digyo ( pronounced as Di-jo) measures 3.5 hectares, and one can explore the island from end to end in fifteen minutes. Digyo stands out from the other isles in the Cuatro Islas group because it is a tropical island on its own. Shimmering fine white sand wraps a lovely loop around the islet while clear aquamarine waters lap gently on the shores. Digyo’s sandy shore is a nesting ground for Green and Hawksbill turtle. A few years ago some men came and collected Digyo’s sand to camouflage the shores of a big hotel in Cebu. Even to these days, the shifting sand bars are still collected for whatever purpose.
The island is solace and silence personified in nature. On the island, one feels fragile, naked, and even humbled, facing a vast expanse of cerulean waters. To the sides are the neighbouring Apid, Himokilan, and Mahaba islands dotting the horizon, and a few bent coconut trees stand sentinel on the shores. Digyo paints your personal Robinson Crusoe dreams of being cast-away in some islands far away.
Snorkelling is a marvellous experience, the island’s shallow waters teem with vibrant marine life. The waters around Digyo contains a total of 287 species of reef building corals which comprise 55% percent of the total reef building species in the Philippines. Diving is ideal on the neighbouring islands of Apid and Mahaba. It is best to dive always on the western side of the islands which features abundant coral growth. The eastern sides of the islands faces the usual typhoon patterns resulting to poor coral life.
There are only four nipa huts on the island, home to fishermen and the island’s caretaker. Digyo is privately owned, currently it is listed on the market for a hefty sum of P20 M. On the island is a lone kiosk with a tattered thatch roof, a table, and benches on opposite sides. The caretaker charges visitors ten pesos per head and the kiosk is for a hundred pesos. There is a basic restroom for visitors. There is no source of freshwater on the island, water for drinking and bathing comes from the collected rainwater in the reservoir water tanks installed by the DUCARE Project of the Durham University in U.K.
We spent the whole day swimming, and snorkelling in both Digyo and Himokilan islands. My pale skinned travel buddies roasted themselves in the sun aside from diving The boat ferried us from one island to the other in between runs to bring and our diver friends to dive spots. We packed Jollibee burgers, bananas, and crackers to the islands together with lots of drinking water. It was a total bliss just being in an island to yourselves for a day.
The waters around Digyo and neighbouring islands is an important fishing ground, for years it has been the source of livelihood for the islanders. These waters supports subsistence fishing, and small-scale fishing industry. Because of its proximity to Leyte, bigger fishing boats and trawlers have also fished in these waters, posing an unfair competition for the local fishermen who fish for food and a small living. The competition for more catch on a dwindling resources coupled with hazardous fishing practice destroyed the coral reefs years back.
Since then the local government has passed several laws to protect Digyo as well as the other islands of Cuatro Islas. Digyo is a declared Marine Park and Sanctuary. It is forbidden to fish in the nearby waters of the islands. However this is not always implemented. There has been continuous efforts spearheaded by the local government, the environment office, NGO’s , the academe, and research societies to preserve the area. Institutions like the GTZ, and EURONATURE have implemented livelihood projects to provide alternative sources of income for the residents . DUCARE (Durham University Coral Awareness and Research Expedition ) conducts a series of studies, and monitoring activities on the flora and fauna of the Cuatro Islas. Stakeholders have been actively engaging the locals in “ participatory observation” to make them an active participant in the drive to save the Cuatro Islas from ruins. These numerous efforts on all fronts continue to boost small victories.
Around dusk, our boatmen signalled that it was time for us to leave. We packed our things and trash with us, and climbed into our motorized outrigger boats. As we pulled away from the island out into the sea towards the mainland, we bade our paradise for the day adieu. On the way back, our banca roared and glided over the waters, it roused a pair of sleeping dolphins from their slumber. The two dolphins gracefully jumped out of the water and swam away from us. What a delightful punctuation to end our journey.
These days, it is hard to keep Digyo a secret from the rest of the world. Visitors to the islands blog about their trips , and post pictures for everyone to see. The local tourism office has picked the word on the streets and has started featuring and promoting Digyo in the national tourism circuit. Though, Digyo is still far from being a crowd drawer, there is a steady trickle of travellers who brave the way to the islands. Perhaps in the not too far future, that day will come. Some people wait for that with glee, others with trepidation. If time cant keep Digyo from the world, perhaps the best thing to do is to prepare for it, lest we forget that visitors should only take back memories with them , not the corals and the sand; and that they should leave footprints and not garbage and degradation.
How to get there:
Jump off point Baybay
Take a passenger van from VanVan Terminal ( Burgos St. Tacloban City ) or Duptours ( Avenida Veteranos St, Tacloban City) going to Baybay.
At Baybay Port area negotiate to charter a boat for the day, a fair price would be P3000 and up depending on size of the group.
Jump off point Inopacan.
Take a van from Tacloban to Baybay. From Baybay take a jeepney going to Inopacan, the fare is 10.00 per head. Tell the driver to get you off at the Inopacan jetty where you can get a boat to Cuatro Islas. Negotiate with the boatmen to charter a boat for the day, a good starting price would be 2,500 and a maximum price would be 3,000
( photos courtesy of Wojtek Niezporek, and Ronny Bubble )