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I visited Coron, Palawan in 2017. Prior to the trip, I was particularly looking forward to finally visiting Kayangan Lake, which had been touted by many as a spectacle unlike any other.
I had been captivated by Kayangan Lake for so long that I had even written a poem inspired by it, years before I had actually seen it up close.
The two days we spent on a boat flying over Coron’s clear waters from one island to another were among the most magical experiences I’ve ever had. The breathtaking rock formations, the majestic lagoons, the overwhelming World War II wreck diving locations, the lush tortoise expanse that practically blended with the sky and became one with it at times — it was impossible not to get teary-eyed at times.
The tiny island called Pass was my favorite place we visited. We arrived there just as the twilight glow was about to close in. However, the sun did not show up to set at that time. Instead, a beautiful rainbow appeared over the horizon. I was blown away by the flurry of grandeur surrounding me at that moment, and I remember mumbling, “One day I will marry the love of my life here,” or something to that effect.
When our boat drew close to the shore, I was thrilled — if not a little terrified — because the water level was almost at the same level as Pass’s fine, white sands. The islet looked to be on the verge of being engulfed by the beach.
I stayed outside the cabin as we spent the night at this charming spot. Come sleep time, I was lulled to dreamland by the sound of the ocean waves, my eyes twinkling from the stardust of the night sky.
I felt as though I had already been engulfed. And it felt just fine.
Without a camera in Coron
Our island-to-island voyage had just begun when a particular incident threatened to ruin my whole trip: my phone had gotten submerged in the water. We had just reached our first stop when I foolishly assumed that when I jumped off the boat, my water-resistant bag would be able to repel the water. It took me only a little while to realize that my bag had suddenly become heavier; water had crept inside, and my phone was overheating from getting soaked. Imagine the shriek that sprang from my chest and echoed over the island.
A kuya aboard the boat with us assisted in attempting to revive the phone by opening its back case and placing it on the roof of our boat to dry out in the sun.
However, the phone would never turn on again.
Imagine being in Coron Bay without a camera. Imagine being in the Twin Lagoon without a camera. Imagine walking along the dreamy aisle-like sand bar on Banana Island without a camera. IMAGINE BEING IN KAYANGAN LAKE WITHOUT A CAMERA. Imagine being in Pass without a camera, especially at the time when a divine rainbow comes into view.
Imagine being in one of the most picturesque places in the world and not having a camera with you.
It was agonizing enough to lose important data from my phone. What I wasn’t expecting was the dread that came with being unable to chronicle Coron in photographs. I had the time of my life island-hopping, even (occasionally) forgetting about my phone’s demise. But when the fun was over, the thought of having no documentation of my good life on the islands loomed large over my folly for drowning the gadget.
No photos, but it still happened
It is said that if there are no pictures, it did not happen. If it isn’t posted on social media, it didn’t happen. I was crushed at the time since I couldn’t take images of the scenery and post them. I felt like my trip was diminished since I couldn’t post it on social media.
Today, the only regret I have about losing that phone is that I don’t have any photos for personal safekeeping and curating.
My interest in capturing images as a traveler has only grown, but unlike before, I now do it for my own consumption. Unlike in the past, I now photograph scenes and moments for the sheer delight of the process. And, unlike in the past, I now use photography for personal narration.
I still post some of my photos online. I publish photos ranging from the mundane to touristy in nature whenever the whim strikes. But I no longer feel compelled to document my travels or my daily activities to death in order to prove to the internet that “it happened” and that I have a life.
The best kind of memory
Despite what the internet says, life is not any less meaningful if it is not shared on social media. Looking back, the clearest recollections I have of past events are the ones that were captured in a few, if any, photographs.
I can still feel it in my bones from that time when I was on the Banana Island sandbar, taking in the thrilling awe of walking toward the limitless sea in front of me. I can still taste the sweet-salty waters of that moment on my lips today.
I could only ascribe that sequence of clarity and joy to the fact that I wasn’t preoccupied with holding my phone and pointing the camera in every direction. Without technology, I was simply strolling, collecting shells and pebbles like a child and putting them in my pocket. My eyes were dazzled by the brilliance of the cool afternoon. I was simply engulfed with gratitude for being alone that time and in complete peace without worrying about how I would portray the experience to others.
How thankful I am that my phone died that day.
The best moments in our lives are nearly always the ones that are not caught on camera, even though we might not realize this. These are the times when our lives are not tempered by the contrived persuasions of social media.
Go ahead and shoot as many shots as you like for Facebook when you find yourself at an ideal location or moment. However, unless you truly lose yourself in the experience, such that you can treasure your memories even when you are left on your own with no visual aids, pictures will be nothing more than distant mementos that you will scarcely remember as anything you lived through.
Yes, I don’t have any pictures of the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. However, I will return. This time, I might just leave my phone behind when I’m back in the islands. Not because of the fear that the phone might go on another underwater adventure, but rather because the other type of memory — one not found in a phone — is the one eager to do the job of capturing now. – Rappler.com
Michelle Lado is a writer and an activist based in the Philippines.