soul-searching in cagbalete island

“Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It’s about going to extremes and expressing the bright hope that life offers us, a hope that makes us brave and expels darkness with light. That’s what I want my life to be all about --- full of abandon, whimsy, and in love. I want to be engaged to life and with life.”
– Bob Goff, Love Does
(Schedule, expenses, and other notes below. :))

Exactly nine days before this trip, I had drapetomania – the overwhelming urge to run away. The city was shooting me from all sides, and it was getting claustrophobic. I knew if I continued pushing myself, I’d end up going mental. So I searched the web for inspiration, picked randomly and hit Cagbalete. There wasn’t much planning. I told my friends that I was doing it, filed my extra offs, and just didn’t think too much about it.

On the day, I woke up at 3:30AM and stared in the dark. “Am I going? Am I really doing it?” Followed by, “Who am I kidding? Of course I’m going!” I filled my backpack with my comfiest clothes, grabbed my camera, and went. You just have to trust in your own madness, Clive Barker once said. And I did, willingly did.

I took the 5AM bus and slept like a baby. The sun peeked harsh through the windows, and I did wrestle for the curtain a bit. After four hours, I was in Lucena City and took the bus to Mauban where the port to the island is. It was an hour of slow, countryside viewing and I just wished my life could somehow be that slow. I was left by the two passenger boats when I arrived just 5 minutes late, so I took the chance to let go of money and hired a private boat.

Kuya Allan and I journeyed for about an hour to the island. I was swept away. I missed the view, the sound of the boat engine, and the water hitting against the boat. I filled my eyes with the enchantment of the mountains from afar and the tropical feel of summer hanging in my skin. I can’t help but grin to myself. This is what crossing over, attraversiamo, to the unknown is about – finding a different you. And it’s only just beginning.

After settling in my beloved tent, I took a nap and went to visit the Yang-I (based only on how the locals say it) which is a stretch of fine, white sand that ripples when low tide. It was high tide when we went there so instead of sand stretch, it was a very wide beach of clear, shallow water. It was bliss. I played with the kids on the raft. Then we went to Bonsai Island (not really an island, just a big rock with Bonsai trees). It’s high tide as well so I just saw a big white bird perched on the treetops.

We went back at around 4:30PM and I took the free time to soak in the sparkling, inviting water. The beach stretched with some parts untouched and because it’s a weekday, the place felt like it’s just mine. People took their own spots and I swam in my secret one. The water was warm and shallow, but I felt it cool down in some areas.

I took it – the whole of it. The endless horizon, my eyes just above the water, the sun in my back, the blueness of the sky and ocean married, and my fingers getting rumpled. I broke down. I cried in the water for some unknown reason or maybe reasons just too many to define. I let the ocean take me to somehow wash me of all the stress and mixed feelings the city fed me. I let go. I swam with my back against the water, arms apart, facing the depthless blue sky, and just let it all out. The ocean though, didn’t judge me. It let me fall apart and cradle me there. And I knew... I knew it was Jesus displaying his audacious love for me. I don’t doubt it.

When I lay down on the shore, I let the water push sand in my hair, and with my eyes closed, I let the water warm me all over. After, I felt understood, collected. I knew I was cared for. I knew and was secure that I am loved.

I met my tent neighbors, John, Jerome and his brother Robert and their Korean friend. We greeted each other and they asked if I went alone. It wasn’t my first time to be asked though. From the Tourism counter, to the resort reception, to the boatmen, and porters, I was asked this question. My answer is all the same: I just wanted to try a different thing, spice life up, and challenge myself. I said it was my first time to travel alone. (Although I think not technically cos I traveled to and from Hong Kong alone on my first trip abroad ever when I was 18.) Every time I said this, they all looked amazed, and I wondered if I must’ve done something good. I met Kuya Francis and Randy who were there on their second night during dinnertime. We talked about their jobs abroad, their families and kids, and some green jokes while I was charging my phones. The island only has electricity from 6PM-6AM so Kuya Francis sang a Martin Nievera song while the videoke could still be plugged in. I retreated to my tent afterwards and put on my earphones to the sound of ocean waves, camp fire, and crickets because the other tent neighbors were celebrating the night with booze, acoustic music, and some terribly croaky voices. It was fun to listen to for a while though and gave me the chuckles.

I woke to my alarm at 4:30AM and waited for sunrise. I came out of my cave and crisp air greeted me good morning. I sat on the sand, camera on hand, and waited. The dark blue of the night, turned a muted shade of purple and pink for a bit in the horizon, and then parted in waves of red, orange, and finally the happy shade of yellow. Nature had its cue and the birds started their morning songs. I didn’t wait for the sun to pop out from the horizon; I met it like that many times. I just wanted to meet the sun when it hasn’t fully woken up, the in-between of dreams and reality, and that day I got the chance. Satisfied, I retreated to my tent and returned to sleep.

The incredible view of ocean blue, mountains from afar, and low tide surprised me a good one when I opened my tent. I felt so lucky to be enjoying such; it doesn't occur every time. My favorite meal of the day was served and I took time to eat it slowly. I chatted with the staff about things, and I really felt cared for. There was genuine concern for the girl who traveled alone. I immersed myself into Bob Goff’s Love Does just beside my tent, under the trees, with the incredible view just in front of me. I thought, I could do this every day!

Hours passed until I said my goodbyes. Of course I’m coming back. So glad I followed my crazy. If not, I wouldn't have seen this incredible place. If not, I could've missed meeting a part of myself that longed to be taken care of. If not, I wouldn't have a hope renewed -- the fuel to the stretch of days ahead.


5AM, JAC Liner Fare from Buendia to Lucena Grand Terminal – Php 210
9AM, mini bus fare from Lucena Grand to Mauban – Php 54
10:05AM, Tourism environmental fee – Php 50
10:45AM, boat fare to Cagbalete Island with island hopping – Php 2000 (you could forgo this, travel a bit earlier, and pay Php 50/way)
11:40AM, tent + entrance fee at Dona Choleng Camping Resort – Php 550
Packaged meals (lunch, PM snacks, dinner, breakfast, AM snacks, and free lunch for me! – I found this worth it cos I didn’t have to worry about food) – Php 800
3PM the next day, boat from Cagbalete to Mauban – Php included already
3:50PM, trike from port to van terminal – Php 20
4PM, van from Mauban to Lucena Grand Terminal – Php 60
5PM, JAC Liner Fare from Lucena Grand Terminal to Buendia – Php 210

  • The passenger boat schedule from Mauban to Cagbalete is at 10AM and 2PM (leaves at 4PM). From Cagbalete to Mauban, it's at 7AM and 12NN OR 1PM only.
  • Stayed at Dona Choleng Camping Resort. Rented a tent with public bathrooms available. It was bearable. The staff though are really very, very warm! Kudos to Kuya Ting (operations manager), Ate Ofel (restaurant), and Darren (convenience store). Contact number: 0922-8072952. If you want a more exclusive area, you could try the MVT Sto. Nino. I checked the place out from the outside and it looks quite nice.
  • Electricity is from 6PM-6AM only so bring power banks.
  • You could do this trip with a budget of Php 3,000/person with pasalubong already.
  • You can travel solo here! The people are really caring. Accept the kindness of strangers (a first for me) but still be alert.
  • Better book on weekdays if you want to be relaxed especially this summer season because company groups are coming in on the weekends.
  • PS. I wish they offer fishing lessons cos I really want to catch a foot-long fish that I saw jumping in the sea many times. And oh, I saw a flying fish up close!! So cool!!

All photos are taken with iPod -- a first!