The Island Born of Fire

The Island Born of Fire
View of Camiguin from White Island

With my time in the country winding down, I take a quick trip to the island of Camiguin since it is in the opposite direction of the way I plan to head after departing Panglao.

It takes a little over an hour and a half to drive along Bohol's coast to the town of Jagna, where the daily ferry to Camiguin departs from.

A German man who replied to one of my posts on a local expats' Facebook group kindly offered to let me park my bike at the restaurant he owns in Jagna instead of paying to park at the port.

As I roll into town, a woman pulls up beside me and lays on her horn repeatedly. I've grown immune to honking from my years in Vietnam so I ignore her and keep going but a short time later realize she was trying to let me know my rear tire is going flat.

I don't have a lot of time to spare so I limp to the restaurant and I tell the staff I'll deal with it when I return.

After a quick lunch, I walk to the ferry terminal and climb aboard. There are two levels for passengers so I grab a seat on the top at the back of the ship.

Although the distance appears to be shorter than the two-hour trip I took from Cebu to Tagbilaran on my way to Panglao, it takes nearly four hours to arrive.

After five months in the country, I finally catch a clear sunset over the water.

Surprisingly, the island still requires foreigners to create a QR code that proves they have either been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.

I negotiate a motorbike taxi ride to my hotel for 100 pesos, but the driver apparently decides that it's too far. He dumps me off on the driver of a motorela ("mini jeepney") and asks for 50 pesos.

His excuse is that it's raining ahead and he doesn't have a raincoat. I pay 20 pesos and squeeze into the back with seven other people to go the rest of the way. It never rains.

The room at the "pension house" I booked on Agoda said it would have air conditioning, but they put me in a room with only a fan. I show them the listing but they won't honor it and ask for nearly double the price for a room with an air conditioner. I decline and hope the sea breeze and fan will be enough to keep me cool.

There's a beachfront restaurant with good reviews next door, so I walk over and enjoy a dinner of kinilaw and rice and then return to find a cockroach in my bed. The receptionist is taken aback by the entitled foreigner complaining about having "only" one cockroach in his bed and asks for 300 pesos per night to change rooms. I again decline.

After a sweaty, restless night, I drag myself out of bed early and walk to the terminal for the boat to White Island. The boats have a fixed cost of 550 pesos and can hold four people, so I wait in hopes of finding a few others to share the ride with.

Just a few minutes later, a Filipino couple arrives and agrees to let me join them. Then, a group of five Spanish travelers who were also on the ferry from Jagna the day before shows up and I invite one of them to join our trio so they won't have to rent a second boat for only one person.

The "island" is really just a sandbar with no shelter from the sun, and although it's not yet 7:30 it's already hot. Since we all have to share the same boat back, we agree to stay for about an hour.

The Filipino couple and I are joined on the short boat ride by Ana, who has lived in Glasgow for six years and speaks English with a charming mix of Spanish and Scottish accents.

White Island sparkles in contrast to the volcanic Camiguin black sand and has a stunning view of the main island's peaks.

The rudder has problems on the return trip and we get stranded for a while before being towed back to shore by another boat.

The Spaniards invite me to join them for the day. After discussing their plans a bit, I reluctantly accept. They have already rented three motorbikes, so I don't need to arrange one of my own. Ana isn't an experienced driver, so I take over her bike while she rides behind me.

They are about one week into a three-week trip through the country. The one couple in the group, Jorge and Estefania, are a stereotypical Spanish couple with movie-star good looks. She's a dead ringer for a young Penelope Cruz while he somewhat resembles an early-career Benicio Del Toro but with curly hair.

We head south to the departure area for Mantigue Island. The distance there is a bit farther from the mainland, so the boats are also a bit bigger and conveniently hold six people.

I hadn't planned to visit because it seemed redundant after going to White Island, but Mantigue is a proper island with plenty of trees to provide shade. We spot a sea turtle as we approach.

The bluest water I've ever seen around Mantigue

I realize just after arriving, however, that I had decided against wearing contact lenses that morning because my eyes were already tired from sleeping so little. I hadn't planned to go snorkeling, so I only have glasses, which obviously won't work under the goggles and I wouldn't be able to see anything without them.

While the others hit the water, I walk to the quieter side of the island, climb on some fallen trees at the edge of the water, then go for a swim.

Back on the mainland, we stop for a "late" lunch (or "normal" lunchtime for the Spaniards) at a restaurant that specializes in tuna. We share dishes of tuna sisig (served chopped on a sizzling plate with a runny egg in the middle), grilled tuna belly, kinilaw, mixed vegetables, and of course a platter of rice.

Kinilaw is right in their wheelhouse since it's so similar to ceviche. I also get to introduce them to the joys of mango float for dessert.

The next stop is called "The Walkway to the Old Volcano and Stations of the Cross." We climb stairs that eventually turn to a dirt trail past a series of 14 statues of Christ. Most of us are wearing flip-flops and ill-prepared for such a climb.

At the top, we don't see anything that resembles a volcano and feel like we have been misled but there's at least a decent view of our next and final stop of the day, a sunken cemetery that was caused by the last explosion in 1871 of the phantom volcano we find ourselves standing on.

As we start to leave, I notice that our bike's front tire is low on air. We don't want to miss the sunset so we continue with our plan and make the short drive to the sunken cemetery and hope the tire doesn't get any worse.

Unfortunately, the conditions aren't as ideal as the previous day and the sunset is obstructed by clouds, but we are still treated to some nice colors behind the cemetery's cross.

Sunset behind the sunken cemetery

The tire appears no worse for wear so we slowly find our way to a gas station closer to town. The attendant fills it up and checks the pressure to make sure it isn't leaking, and then the Spaniards drop me off at my room.

We get cleaned up and then meet again for a dinner of lechon manok (rotisserie chicken). Chickens here are small, so we order three whole birds at a price of less than $5 USD each.

They talk me into joining them on a hike to the island's only active volcano the next day. I had only planned to spend two nights on the island, but have an extra day before I need to get back to Panglao.

I do, however, make plans to change hotels.

We first agree to meet at 7:00, but after further discussion, they push that back to 7:15. Everyone seems tired and I'm skeptical that the excursion will happen at all.

I sleep less badly but still insufficiently and in the morning I pack my things. Ana messages to tell me that they are running late. I can't find anyone in the lobby so I just leave the key on the table and start walking to where the Spaniards are staying. I realize it has rained heavily overnight.

Bucolic scene on my morning walk

After they finish getting ready, we drive into town where apparently hikers are required to register and hire a guide.

We are informed that most trekkers start at 5 or 6 AM, and it's now after 8:00. The lady managing the registration isn't sure we'll be able to make it, but she calls a guide and he agrees to take us.

The costs start adding up as we learn that one guide is required for every three people in the group, so we'll need to hire a second. That plus environmental fees push the total to 1,050 pesos per person, which is still under $20.

We stop at a sari-sari (convenience store) to wait for the second guide and pick up some supplies. The guide recommends two liters of water per person, but I err on the safe side and take three. It's a delicate balance between taking enough and unnecessarily loading myself down.

I pick up a can of corned tuna, some cookies, and a pack of pineapple to add to the snacks of peanuts and multigrain chips I already had in my bag.

Finally, we arrive at the Mount Hibok-Hibok trailhead around 9:15. It's supposed to take three hours to reach the crater plus one more hour to the summit.

Just getting started on the trail

One guide leads the way while the other makes up the rear. The first segment only ascends modestly, but we quickly get to the heart of the trail and it becomes a much steeper climb through dense jungle.

I start off strong enough but soon fade into the back half of the group. We have to stop to rest every 10-15 minutes.

At first, I wear convertible pants with the zip-off pants legs on to hopefully protect my legs from leeches, but I'm so hot and sweaty that I have to remove them at our third rest break.

The path becomes less defined and covered by roots. We often have to step over and duck under fallen trees.

Estefania scrapes a leech off her shoe. We all become paranoid and examine ourselves.

We come to a clearing with a supposed view of White Island, but it's mostly obstructed by haze.

Soon after that, it starts raining. The trail becomes muddy and slippery and we have to slow down even more.

Jorge warns me of a leech on a leaf in the middle of the trail, searching for a host.

Sleep-deprived and now soaking wet, I start to regret tagging along. I think about how nice and relaxing it would be to have just kept my original plans of going to a waterfall and then catching the ship back to Jagna.

Our spirits are lifted a bit when the guide announces we're only 30 minutes from the crater. We finally reach a high point and then descend the crater walls, bracing ourselves on tree limbs and trunks wherever possible.

One such trunk turns out to be rotten and as soon as I touch it, it falls over and essentially shatters, throwing a cloud of wood dust over me.

The crater is lusher than I had imagined. We wander through the windswept landscape until we reach the lake. We can't see far beyond the shore due to the fog.

Still soaked from the rain and now exposed to the whipping wind, most of us are shivering. It's hard to believe that two hours ago we thought we would go for a swim here to cool down.

We devour our lunches while those who were wise enough to bring extra clothes get changed. I realize it's the third day in a row that I've eaten tuna and wonder how close that might bring me to mercury poisoning.

Continuing to the summit isn't really an option at this point. It would be extra challenging in the muddy conditions, we wouldn't be able to see anything due to cloud cover anyway, and we would risk not getting back before dark since we got such a late start. No one seems disappointed.

The fog finally clears up enough to get a good look at the lake in its entirety. After snapping some photos, we head back into the jungle.

The descent isn't as exhausting as the climb up but is very taxing on the knees. I lose my footing several times but never totally wipe out and hit the ground. A couple of times while slipping, I instinctively reach out and end up grabbing something spiky.

Just as I get dry from the rain, we drop elevation enough that I start pouring sweat again.

Without needing to stop to catch our breath as often, we make it down in about two and a half hours.

Muddy shoes and legs at the end of the hike

We say goodbye to our guides and head back to where the Spaniards are staying. I grab my bag, say my goodbyes, and catch another 20-peso ride in a motorela to my new hotel in the main part of town.

I can barely walk up the two flights of stairs to my room. It's not fancy but it has air conditioning and the bed is big, soft, and cockroach-free. After getting cleaned up a bit, I hobble back down and head out into the town.

The island oddly has a ton of pizza restaurants and in my famished state nothing sounds better. I've often been disappointed by pizza in Asia, but the proper brick oven is a welcome sight and it gives the crust a nice char. I wolf down a whole pie in no time.

After arranging a motorbike rental for the next morning and stopping for a mango shake, I head back to the room and get in bed before 9 PM.

Early the next morning, a man knocks on my door to let me know the bike is ready. My destination is Katibawasan Falls, which opens at 6 AM, according to Google.

When I arrive, I see a man sweeping up outside a closed gate. He informs me that it doesn't open until 8. I have to be at the port around 9, so I can't afford to wait there. Instead, I have a quick breakfast at a carinderia, go back to the hotel to pack my things and check out, then drive back to the falls just before 8.

Like many things in Southeast Asia, the listed opening time is more of a rough estimate than absolute truth. Finally, a man arrives to unlock the gate around 8:15.

I'm the first one through, but I unfortunately don't have time to go for a swim. I just take a few photos and videos and head for the port.

Katibawasan Falls

The ferry leaves 30 minutes late and is much more crowded going back to Jagna than it was on the way to Camiguin.

Before leaving the boat, an odd announcement warns passengers that the provincial government of Bohol will be inspecting bags for what sounds like "meat." I wonder if I've possibly misheard.

Sure enough, we are asked to put our bags in a single line and step away from them while an announcement in the Bisayan language lists various types of meats that are apparently prohibited. A meat-sniffing dog goes down the line bag by bag. I scan the crowd for signs of anxiety from any potential sausage smugglers until we get the go-ahead from the handler.

I still have to deal with the flat tire. The restaurant staff tell me where the nearest shop can be found. The mechanic tells me he'll have to replace the tire. Since it's a rental that I only have for one more week, I don't care to buy a new tire, but I don't see any other options.

I'm relieved to hear that he can put on a second-hand tire that costs only 200 pesos plus 100 more for the labor. I try to pay with a 1,000-peso bill but he can't make change for it. I only have 200 in small bills plus some change and he ends up accepting a total of 268 pesos.

A couple of hours later and after a quick stop in Tagbilaran, I'm back at my room in Panglao. I leave my mud-caked shoes outside to deal with later.

Despite the misadventures and difficulties, it's still a trip I'll reflect fondly on as a whole. It was good training to get back into the swing of things as my next extended travel period is quickly approaching.