Rediscovering, revisiting Palumbanes Island
Palumbanes Island, also known locally as “Parompong,” was once a well kept secret. Located in the northern part of my home province, Catanduanes, it has, for years, remained hidden from the Internet’s omniscient eye, and has retained much of its peace and quiet. (READ: Traveling 80 PH provinces: Ups, downs, discoveries)
This beautiful island is accessible by motorboat and is less than an hour away from the town of Caramoran. The sight of the lighthouse atop the hill, the nipa houses, and colorful motorboats fringed along the shore signal the arrival to Palumbanes.
Living in a small island, most of the villagers venture into fishing as their main source of income. During the monsoon season, when the sea is dangerous to small fishing vessels, the locals resort to backyard farming (planting crops and raising poultry).
Tough island life
Life in Palumbanes is devoid of the usual comforts we can easily afford in the mainland. Basic goods are sold at higher prices since these are transported from the neighboring towns, medical supplies are not readily available, and potable water supply is scarce.
Electricity is distributed for less than five hours a day, just in time to catch the evening newscast and a few hours of telenovelas. Those houses that have television sets are usually packed with visitors at this time of the day, mostly neighbors who do not own one. After 10 pm daily, the island retreats into darkness and silence. (READ: 15 stunning PH sunsets)
But while most of the locals are getting ready to call it a day, I always choose to stay near the sea shore, enjoying the sand beneath my feet and gazing at the millions of stars above me.
My vacations in Palumbanes are never complete without taking a day out to one of my favorite beaches in the country, Bitaog Beach. It can be reached by taking an hour trek from the village and crossing the pastured mountain, or via a 15-minute boatride directly to the beach.
The beach area is undeniably unspoiled as it remains free to the public and still without any commercial establishments around. But during my last visit, the state of the once amazing diving and snorkeling spots near the beach left me totally broken hearted – the site was lifeless, the corals were crashed, and there were only a handful of fish swimming by. It wasn’t how I remembered it years ago.
I was informed that the damage was caused by some illegal fishing activities in the area. Sadly, unless these environmental distractions are stopped, the next generations will be robbed of the opportunity to see the colourful underwater treasures of Palumbanes Island.
According to a teacher I talked to, the growing population and the increasing poverty leave many kids out of school. Those who are able to graduate from elementary level are lucky if their parents could afford to send them to high school in the main town. Many stay in the village.
As there is an apparent need to alleviate the state of literacy, I asked help from some of my friends to share books and school supplies to the children of Palumbanes Island Elementary School.
We were able to distribute school items to the school children who were enrolled last year. We also handed over new books and reading materials to the teachers. As of today, a new functional library is already available to the kids there.
Hopes for the island
I recall, as a child, how I’d always looked forward to summer breaks because it meant spending a couple of weekends in Palumbanes. I loved the slow and simple life there. I enjoyed the daily trip to the beach, and tanning several shades darker after.
Everytime I’m ferried back to the mainland, I watch the view of Palumbanes fade, and thoughts of the beautiful people and the amazing sea and landscape that I’m leaving behind travel with me.
I could only hope that the government’s social services reach to the island’s poorest residents and that its natural beauty will be preserved. In the coming years, I hope it will retain the same features that had drawn me to it since childhood – raw, and real.
How to get to Catanduanes
1. Air. Take a commercial flight from Manila to Virac (55 minutes travel time).
2. Land. Take a 12-hr bus ride from Manila to Tabaco City. From Tabaco City Port, take a ferry boat going to Virac (4 hours travel time) or San Andres (3 hours travel time).
How to get to Palumbanes Island:
1. From Virac, take a bus going to Caramoran, then rent a boat going to Palumbanes Island (5-6 hours travel time).
2. Rent a boat from the town of San Andres to Palumbanes Island (4 hours travel time)
Che Gurrobat is the blogger behind backpackingpilipinas.com. She founded the literacy project, BookSail, and spent the last 5 years traveling 80 (of the 81) provinces of the Philippines. Visit her Facebook here.