Calaguas*, in recent years, has been the ‘it’ beach for people wanting to get away from it all. Indeed, it is an ideal location where you’ll be disconnected from the outside world. Yep, no mobile phone signal and no electricity (save for a generator that runs for a few hours at night). Just you and Mother Nature. That’s why it’s a no-brainer to add it on my list of beaches to visit.
However, I had reservations as soon as I saw pictures of its ‘crowded’ shores. It also didn’t help that I read blogs of people who’ve been there recently stating it’s slowly turning into the next Boracay.
Long story short, me and my friends still pushed through with the trip even with this not so enticing image in our minds.
After about an 8-hour long bus ride from Philtranco’s Pasay terminal, we got off at Talobatib Junction and took a tricycle to the market to buy our supplies. We then met with our boatman at Paracale port – a port brimming with small-scale gold mining operations.
Our boatman, Mang Boy Camano**, merged our group with a smaller group to save on gasoline so we got a bigger boat than what I expected, which is actually a good thing.
We were fortunate to have a nice weather that day so we had a smooth boat ride. The view along the way was an added bonus, too. We saw green rolling hills with strips of white sand and some interesting rock formations.
After two hours, or maybe less, we finally saw Mahabang Buhangin.
As our boat approached the island, I understood why it has been dubbed as a city-dweller’s paradise. Blindingly white powdery sand coupled with cerulean blue waters make the ideal beach destination…but I wasn’t exactly wowed – especially after seeing a banana boat, kayak and someone wakeboarding.
Yes, there were lots of people but there was enough space for everyone. You could still swim without worrying about another person’s foot hitting your head. Yes, there are cottages but most of it are just makeshift. At the time, I still find the ‘development’ tolerable.
There was really nothing much to do after pitching our tent and having eaten brunch that it was probably the highest definition of beach bumming.
At high noon, we tried to catch some Zs, but the heat was unforgiving. It was so hot we could probably make popcorns inside our tent. Despite the heat, some kids and locals managed to frolic on the beach.
As soon as the heat became bearable, we decided it was finally time to take a dip. We were only in the water for about an hour or so when the sun unexpectedly decided to set early that day. WTF! Seriously, sun? We didn’t have a choice but to head back to camp and shower.
Don’t expect decent toilet/bath facilities because this island was really meant for camping. There was only one T&B each for men and women in our area, and a makeshift one at the back which, clearly, isn’t enough to accommodate everyone. You also had to pay Php10.00 per bucket of water from the sole water pump in the area.
It was already dark and we don’t want to wait turns just to take a shower, so we showered right at the water pump area as like what the others did – with our clothes on, of course!
It was another first for me; bathing with the fields and the mountain as our backdrop and the full moon as our light. Sure it’s not convenient, but it was fun!
With everyone already freshened up, we had our dinner in one of the cottages that they let us use for free. We skipped on the socials — I think we’ve had enough that morning anyway. :p
It didn’t look like it was going to rain, so some of us laid on a blanket and decided to sleep on the beach. We were starting to fall asleep when some idiots, a few meters in front of us, decided to light up firecrackers. WTF! I think they were with the group of inebriated men at the cottage behind us so we didn’t even think of starting an argument.
Since our sleep was already interrupted, we decided to check the other end of the beach we coined as ‘Station 1’. Yes, we were aware that beach parties were being held there, but that still didn’t prepare us for what we were about to see.
There were at least 3 mobile bars, with blaring music and some flairtending exhibitions, offering unlimited drinks from 8:00 pm ’til midnight. There was a fire dancer and a pop-up souvenir store. My estimate is that there were at least 20 persons per tour group.
And as we made our way back to camp, we saw sky lanterns floating very near the hills. Whether they land on the hills or the sea didn’t matter. Surely, they will land somewhere they don’t belong.
I was floored.
What I cannot wrap my head around is why the hell would people travel for a total of 10 hours just to party in an isolated island? Is it not enough that we have Boracay and Puerto Galera for these activities? Personally, I’d rather go to those two where creature comforts are available.
Just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Calaguas has a split personality. From a paradise in the morning, it transforms to every beach camper’s worst nightmare at night.
Yes, change and development is inevitable, and in some ways, it’s good especially if it helps the livelihood of the locals but I don’t think that’s the case here.
I was able to speak to a local who runs a sari-sari store. I asked her if the influx of tourists was good for business, but she says it’s just the same. I think her shanty can attest to that. I also learned she needs to pay a fee to the Baranggay for running her business and that she wasn’t able to pay this month.
She also added that the Php20.00 ‘environmental fee’ being collected is not regulated (read: no receipt). Whomever’s pocket it goes to, no one knows. Some of my friends also learned from a Baranggay Kagawad that they do not know of these parties, and that however much is being collected from visitors, only Php20.00 per person goes to the Baranggay.
Sure, Calaguas is pretty. But based from what I saw, it’s not my kind of beach and I wouldn’t be too keen on going back any time soon.
I didn’t write this to stop you from going to Calaguas. All I ask is that A) should you decide to go there DIY, please practice the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle, and B) shall you decide to join a tour group, please do your due diligence and do not patronize tour groups conducting unnecessary island parties.
*Calaguas is actually a group of islands, but the name is often used loosely to refer to Mahabang Buhangin frequented by tourists.
**Will do a separate post on DIY Calaguas Guide