This is an excerpt from one of my feature articles during my stint as a co-chief editor of The Augustinian (tabloid) and the Augustinian Mirror (magazine), the official student publications of the University of San Agustin, which landed as Best Feature Page during the 2000 College Press Conference, held at the Sarabia Manor Hotel in Iloilo City.
Where in the world can you find mountains of seashells? Only in the Philippines? Absolutely yes. Iloilo has this place, the well-known and legendary Islas de Gigantes in the Municipality of Carles, 146 kilometers north of Iloilo City. This is a place Ilonggos could be proud of.
It was during the semester break when my friend Jungie planned to visit his grandmother in Islas de Gigantes. At first, I was undecided whether to go with him or just stay at the Father’s Residence, where I was an in-house working student, since I’ll be going home to Mindanao for Christmas break. I wanted to make my short vacation fruitful and I hate doing nothing, waiting for the enrollment of the second semester. And so I made the decision to go with him. Good thing I was permitted and, in fact, we were both given allowances for fare and other needs.
A few days before leaving, I prepared my backpack which included clothes and a camera and I also included my rosary, scapular and my cross. I wrapped garlic in a piece of cloth because I’ve also heard many mysteries about this place.
Friday, at 1 in the afternoon, we boarded the Trigan Transit bus going to Carles. It was a five-hour travel instead of the usual three since the bus traveled slowly. Nonetheless, I was thankful we arrived safe and sound. At least, I could take a rest from the earsplitting hustle and bustle of city life.
The place was so serene. My friend’s house is just a few meters away from the shore. Though exhausted, I insisted on going night swimming for it will be my first time. I excitedly ran towards the shallow waters of Barosbos, Carles. The moon was overcast by clouds creating a tranquil mood. Yet we never lasted long in the water. It was freezing and hard to walk, and after a short but refreshing dip I had to get my towel to warm myself. I then took a bath and we called it a day.
We went to Estancia the next morning for a regular trip to the island of Gigante Norte. This was where Jungie’s grandmother lived. We waited for at least half an hour before the boat started to move. The trip was overwhelming. I can’t help but marvel at the wonderful coastline. There were also islands and islets. My most vivid memory was clicking the SLR’s shutter button nonstop.
We reached Gigante Norte after an hour and a half. Arriving at the shore, my eyes were welcomed by millions of shells scattered all around. There were literally mountains of seashells everywhere! My intention was purely for vacation, but as a student journalist, this prompted me to do research instead.
A few meters more and we arrived at Jungie’s grandmother’s house, which is also just right by the shore. We rested for a while and waded in the knee-deep waters, collecting starfishes for pictures.
As a guest, I obliged myself to join the night’s drinking session just like in any other rural gathering in order to build camaraderie with the locals. Manong George narrated to me some of his unnatural experiences on the island.
He recounted on one occasion that there was once a manugbulong (a local shaman) who attempted to get the chandelier of the fairies at the ceiling of a cave. This manugbulong, aside from seeing those things which ordinary men can’t see, can also climb walls like a lizard. He was climbing the wall of the cave when his trick failed. He fell on the rocky ground and died. The relatives and neighbors tried to take the body out of the cave but the attempt was a failure. Eventually, they tied the body and tried to pull it out but it was still too heavy even with all the men from the village helping in pulling the rope. It was near the mouth of the cave when the rope snapped. From then on, the corpse remained inside the cave. They also said that the body they attempted to take out of the cave was no longer the real one but it was a huge slab of stone instead. He further narrated that this man’s body is now in the possession of the fairies as a slave.
Manang Vilma, Manong George’s wife, added that Islas de Gigantes is the capital city of the fairies and a business center of sorts in particular. This is the reason why there are so many unexplained things happening in the Island.
I woke up early the next day to witness the sunrise. I was frustrated at first since it was cloudy. My patience finally paid off as the sun started to appear, giving me hope to capture my first ever sunrise picture. Lola Lolita, my friend’s grandmother, suggested a visit to Gigantuna for swimming that day. I thought I would miss that place! It was almost 11am when we left for Gigantuna because we had to wait for the boat to arrive from the day’s fishing.
It took us less than 10 minutes to reach the islet. The water was crystal clear and swimming was superb. There is a cottage and a concrete foundation beside the islet where you could take a dive. Without further hesitation, I took a plunge into the sea, savoring the coolness of the water. Unfortunately, I bruised myself when I went up the rocky part of the islet to take a picture but it was all good and worth it. We went home before dusk.
Islas de Gigantes is filled with myths. Stories have it that there was once a giant named Tay-og who lived in Carles. He fell in love with a beautiful maiden who had settled in the town. As Tay-og was preparing for the wedding by going to the mountain summit to pick some fruits and vegetables, a group of pirates came into the town and abducted the beautiful dame. Tay-og returned to town and confronted the pirates but he was too late. The princess was struck with a knife on her breast and died. In rampage, Tay-og tossed the pirates’ ship in the sea and everyone onboard perished. He then carried the princess and walked to the mountain. His anger made him throw the pirates’ shoes to the sea that then formed the islands of Sapatos Duitay (Small Shoe) and Sapatos Daku (Big Shoe). He then threw cogon and rattan further forming the Sicogon Island. Still in anger, he tossed a large kettle into the sea and the nigo (winnowing basket) making the Talunan-an, Isla de Kalabasa and Manigonigo islands. With nothing else to throw into the sea, he kissed the princess for the last time and then with his bolo sliced his body in two. Dropping into the sea, the two halves formed the islands of Gigante Norte and Gigante Sur.
Places and People
The northern part of Islas de Gigantes is 23 kilometers from Poblacion Carles and can be reached 30 minutes faster from there than taking the Estancia route. However, there is no regular trip from the poblacion going to the island. Two pump boats travel regularly to and from Estancia, transporting businessmen, students and whatnot around the barangay of the islands.
There are two barangays on the island, Barangay Asluman in the eastern part and Barangay Granada in the western part. Legend has it that in the early times, Barangay Asluman has sour seawater as opposed to being salty. This is where it got its name, from the word “aslum,” which means sour in Hiligaynon. Barangay Granada, on the other had, was once a field of guava-like fruit that resembled a hand grenade.
People in the island are very friendly and peace-loving. You can stroll along the shore at any time of the day or night and you will feel perfectly safe. It is a typical Philippine setting where neighbors can freely enter one another’s house to spend time with good company or have a drink or two.
Typically, the locals rely mostly on the bounties of the sea, and thus fishing is the main source of the island’s income. Fishermen explore the vastness of the sea at night. It is amazing that the rest of the families create a sort of simple night life while waiting for their men at the shore. Although electricity lights the two barangays from 6 to 11 in the evening only, people take advantage of this by watching movies together and singing karaoke.
Islas de Gigantes is in itself a place of Interest. This is a setting where nature tripping is excellent – fresh air, fresh seafood, spectacular sunrise, beautiful sunset and hospitable people. Aside from Gigantuna, the islands of Balbagon and Sicogon have white sand beaches too. There are no modern amenities, it’s all back to basics. Be sure to have a friend who owns a pump board or know someone who does when you go here. If none, you can always haggle to rent one.
The legendary Islas de Gingantes is in a way a real wonderland, just like Alice talking to flowers, trees and animals of different kinds. The island is a jewel of creation manifested by its magnificent beauty. Man, being the caretaker of His creation, should realize that there is no other habitat for man to survive in. We are entrusted to preserve. Progress is needed but should also be balanced to protect Mother Nature. The place may be behind in terms of technology and other advancements, but in other aspects the place is more blessed. It is nice to live in, simple, peaceful and orderly.
I hope to visit this wonderful place again soon.
ReferencesPhilippine Panorama, May 21, 2000 Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator (MPDC) Office, Carles, Iloilo
InterviewsMr. Romeo Derio, Barangay Captain, Asluman, Gigante Norte Mr. Ferdinand Sy, Principal, Granada National High School Mr. Roberto Lachica Mr. George Longlo Mrs. Lolita Longlo Mr. Jungie Jalipa