WELCOME HOME: BAHAY-BAKASYUNAN SA CAMIGUIN

Manila, June 26, 2003 By Maria Amanda Huibonhoa Sandoval (STAR) "… Small, delicious, yellow fruit which tastes like half lychee, half lemon…" – From 100 Resorts With a Heart

Such is the foreign description of our well-loved local fruit, the lanzones. And while most Filipinos may disagree with it – possibly even be offended by it – I’m not. In fact, I think it’s rather amusing. The lychee comparison is particularly precious. And the only refinement I might add is this: it is softer than the lychee and far less sour than the lemon. It is a delectable bubble of sweetness with a deliciously sour bite. An oblong of delicate lips that water up in your mouth. A messy affair of slimy seeds, golden peel, sticky fingers, cake-y gums but a very happy tongue. Filipinos love the fruit. Many crave for it. And on the volcanic island of Camiguin, locals downright revere it. So much so that a Lanzones Festival is held every October. And it is during this time that nary a vacant corner is untaken at Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin.

Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin (or Vacation House in Camiguin) is a 1.2-hectare resort right along the northern shores of the Mindanao Sea. Situated in Mambajao, the capital of Camiguin, the resort is conveniently close to the island’s most scenic spots. Bahay – as resort staff and guests fondly refer to it – was originally built precisely as a bahay-bakasyunan for visiting family members of the proprietor. However, in 1994, the simple bahay was transformed into one of the most charming resorts in Camiguin – with 12 rooms, a delightful pool area facing the sea, an extremely well-trimmed lawn dotted with coconut trees, delicious food and the same welcoming and relaxed atmosphere that it undoubtedly had as a family resthouse.

My recent stay at Bahay was not a lanzones seed short of the word bakasyon. Four days, three nights – one of the most memorable holidays of my life. I arrived on a Friday. Exhausted by a grueling trip of roughly five hours (one-hour plane ride from Manila to Cagayan de Oro; two-hour drive to Bilangoan, Misamis Oriental; one-hour ferry ride to Camiguin Island; 30-minute drive to the resort), my stomach was empty and my bladder, brimming. But it was worth it. The resort was spacious, simple, very clean and very true. I embraced it all – the perpetual novelty of fresh air to the metropolitan captive, the authentic green grass, the bright blue sky unclouded by pollution, the warm honeyed winks from the sun and the timeless whispers of the sea. Bahay had it all in that blessed spot.

I ran to my room, kicked off my shoes and dashed to the bathroom to put my poor bladder out of its misery. As I did so, I was delighted to find everything so clean. Clean without being overly sterile, neat without being manicured and unnatural. And with a sigh of relief, I thought to myself, "Thank goodness, I won’t need to wear my slippers in the shower this weekend."

My first day was spent napping, walking up and down the lawn of coconut trees fronting the native-type bungalow rooms, swimming and eating. The pools were a great favorite of mine. Positioned right across the seashore, they were like an extension of the infinite water that led right up to the horizon. Now, I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in swimming pools. You swim for hours without getting anywhere. It’s like the Myth of Sisyphus. But during this holiday, I swam endlessly in the main pool of Bahay. It felt almost as good as swimming in the sea. And as there was no beachfront, this was certainly the next best thing. (A close third was braving the rocky shore across the pool to actually swim in the sea. But the absence of sea booties made the effort very painful. And I retreated back to the chlorinated pool after a little wading.)

My meals that day and throughout my entire stay resembled episodes of mad but healthful gluttony. (I ate enough kangkong to keep me alive for a good hundred years.) The food was really very good! Uncomplicated, but delicious. I’m no gastronomic connoisseur, so I really shouldn’t talk. But I liked what I tasted. The simplest dishes were absolutely malinamnam to me. And the other guests of Bahay seemed to think so, as well. My regular orders: adobong kangkong, grilled pusit, grilled sugpo, grilled tangigue, sinigang na sugpo and ensaladang talong.

My second day, Saturday, was spent touring Camiguin Island according to the itinerary set by Bahay. I rose early and eager to go exploring! The day was packed: Katibawasan Falls, the Phivolcs Observatory, Mambajao Church, Cross Marker and Sunken Cemetery, old church ruins, Sto. Niño Cold Springs and Ardent Hot Springs.

Only a few minutes away from Bahay, Katibawasan Falls is a 250-foot high waterfall nestled on steep cliffs of lush greenery and wild orchids. The water swooshes through a narrow chasm in the rocks above to form a single column of diamond spray before dropping into the icy pool below. It was the first time I had ever seen a waterfall up close. And although it was a thin curtain compared to the wide walls I had seen in pictures and pictured in my mind, still it was real. I could hear its splattering roar and feel its cool spray on my skin. I had to get in. I stared at the raging faucet from heaven in wonderment before racing forward, flailing my arms wildly. I jumped into the water, and it was freezing! It was icy and biting and shocking. But it was also a truly exhilarating swim. Breaking through that cold surface was like waking from a hazy dream into a wonderful aliveness. I splashed around the beating water like a perfect fool, and I felt deliriously grateful to be alive.

Our next stop was the Phivolcs Observatory, a government facility tasked to monitor volcanic activity around the area, with an excellent view of Mt. Hibok Hibok, one of the many volcanoes of Camiguin. Then came Mambajao Church. Then, the Cross Marker, which marks the spot where the community cemetery that sank during the terrible volcanic eruption of 1871 once stood. A few years back, gravestones were still visible during low tide. But today, only the Cross remains. The old church ruins of Catarman was next – an enclosed grassy plot of land by the coast, housing the lonely remains of strong adobe walls, a belfry and a convent, which stood proud and tall during the days of Spanish rule.

For lunch, we stopped at Sto. Niño Cold Springs. And once again, I was first in the water, lugging my giant lifesaver and squinting in the sun. True to its cold spring source, the two-meter deep pool was very, very, very cold. It felt blasts colder than the pool at Katibawasan Falls, and I was relieved to have the sun beating down on us. Unlike the quiet pool beneath the waterfall, shaded by lofty cliffs and bowing trees, the pool at Sto. Niño Cold Springs was open and bright and full of the chatter of families and the happy shrieks of children. Everywhere I looked, people were having a grand time. And it was wonderful! It is always a treat to be among people who enjoy themselves in the simplest and most banal of ways simply because it is enjoyable.

Our last stop before heading home was the Ardent Hot Springs, famous for its 104-degree Fahrenheit spring water, which flows through a long natural pool of gradated levels. After a full day of monkey dances to keep myself warm in the much colder pools, it was quite curious having to keep perfectly still to allow my toes, then heels, then shins (and so forth) become accustomed to the heat. But the end result was a healthy glow and a deliciously light head. It was a pleasant, not to mention sleepy, cap to the day.

The next day, Sunday, was fairly and satisfactorily uneventful. (Bakasyon signifies rest, too.) But before sundown, a group of us took a one-hour boat ride from Bahay to White Island, a natural sandbar out at sea, which changes shape and size depending on the tide and wind conditions. As the elements were quite cooperative that particular afternoon, we had a smooth ride, except for a few not unpleasant jolts and swoops on the way home. The island was completely bare but for thatched coverings here and there. If not for the pear-shaped island of Camiguin sprawled out before us, it would have felt quite literally like the middle of nowhere. There was something heedlessly raw and pure about the place. The sun’s heat was close to excruciating despite the late hour of the day, the sand was coarse against the skin, and the saltwater was painfully stinging to the eyes. But the stark and untouched beauty of everything was eerily moving. You could look up and see all the sky uninterrupted, gliding on and on and on. You could swim far out in the water and become strangled by the wild forests of seaweed. And you could peer out at the lush and unspoiled beauty of Camiguin – green, strong and full of the breath of God. On our way home, we looked back and caught the sunset. Huge, bold, defiant.

That evening, I sat down by the seashore and listened to the breaking of the waves for the last time. The rattle of the water against the corals and rocks as it withdrew back to sea reminded me of the kettledrum. I had enjoyed a wonderful holiday at Bahay. I had enjoyed a true bakasyon. And the next day, I came home, ready to face my metropolitan prison – armed with a lifetime supply of kangkong in my system and the awesome memory of freedom.

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For more information on Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin, contact the resort at (06388) 387-1057, 387-0131 or 387-0279. You may also call the booking office in Cagayan de Oro at (06388) 857-4244 or (0638822) 72-61-45.

Camiguin Fiesta-Holidays is a joint project of 7107 Islands Travelers’ Club, Cebu Pacific Air and Philstar.com as a domestic tourism awareness campaign to help promote Philippine destinations at very affordable rates.

The official partners of Camiguin Fiesta-Holidays are Philstar.com (media partner), Cebu Pacific Air (airline partner) and Bahay-Bakasyunan sa Camiguin (resort partner). Cebu Pacific Air flies to Cagayan de Oro thrice daily.

For future Bohol and Boracay tours at very low rates, e-mail hazel_ancheta@yahoo.com.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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