A world away in an island paradise


City dwellers seek “Instagram worthy” destinations like mountains and white sand beaches; and with Boracay Island’s closure, netizens are seeking alternative destinations. Here’s one of them where time seems to stop

By Thaddeus C. Hinunangan, MD

A toddler walking barefoot carrying two small pails filled with water from a deep well, a group of ladies gaily chatting on a terrace, and an old woman selling duck’s egg passed by hurriedly… I was drinking in the sights and sounds of life in the province, at a seaside homestay in Tingloy, Batangas.

Though Mabini, Batangas is dotted with resorts with hefty price tags such as Php 5,000 for a villa for a day, for example, the top destination is the quaint Tingloy island for its very popular Masasa beach. Previously a haven for pawikans, the beach offers turquoise waters, corals, and an occasional sea turtle swimming about. Alarmingly, droves of tourists, some locals claim to have reached 15,000 during the Holy Week, have started to spoil the place with noise and garbage.

One of the unnamed beaches in Tingloy Island

Masasa beach, now dotted with newly-built homestays for 300 pesos per head, offered all-day and allnight karaoke parties and this encouraged rowdy behavior among tourists. It was a far cry from the Tingloy island I had come to love. When a botched reservation left me in search of a place to stay, I was referred to a homestay in Makawayan, three kilometers or so from Masasa beach.

The deep blue waters of Anilao, Batangas

As the small banca I rode coasted along the shoreline, farther and farther from the people screeching “My way” on the microphone, it turned to abrupt silence with only the hum of the engine breaking the sound of waves lapping on the shores. The small boat passed the lagoon, a couple of teenagers were jumping from the limestone formations into the waters, then after ten minutes or so, the boat docked at a small beach.

A pleasant faced tanned woman greeted me. “Good morning po, ako po si Tita Becca.” I greeted her back and introduced myself. She led me to a two storey concrete home. The walls were decorated by family photos. All her children had married off and starting their own families elsewhere. Only the old couple had stayed in their family home in Tingloy. The home was airy and clean, with two restrooms, enough to comfortably accommodate up to a group of 20. I settled in my room before the island hopping activities.

Rustic charms

My home owner was a Barangay official, and was also a former Barangay health worker who was delighted to have a physician as her guest. During my subsequent visits, we would have a cup of coffee while sitting in her terrace, lazily watching people walk by. Their road was more of a two-meter cemented path for motorcycles, which was the main mode of transport in the rugged terrain.

The women of Tingloy worked, and pure physical labor was not something they would avoid. There were few to none obese women, I observed. Most of them were lithe, lean, and almost muscular. I’ve seen the women peddle bread, seafood, or duck eggs, balancing a basket or two on their heads. Even the older women still worked. My landlady once fetched a bucket of water for me from the deep well, which I offered to do myself. When I fetched the second bucket, the pails used to fetch water turned out to be surprisingly heavy, the rope digging into my fingers. I thought, she must be really strong, and in her early sixties, she probably was. She reminded me of my own grandmother who was a strong woman as well, who at the age of 85 years old finally succumbed to breast cancer.

The men earned their living from the sea. Their lives were largely governed by nature- the tides, the strength of the waves, the weather. If the moon was too bright they won’t catch squid at night, if the sea was too rough, they would postpone finishing for another night. With the recent windfall of tourists, they now earn easy money from facilitating island hopping and snorkeling for guests on the same motorized boats they used for fishing.

The children had lovely sun-browned skin, playful and friendly with visitors. They had this certain charm, a confidence that can only be gained from playing outdoors and exploring their environment. “This is my island” their steps said. They had never touched a cellphone or tablet in their lives, and maybe that is how it should be. I myself only touched a cellphone when I was in college. They were meant to learn both from play and from school.

The perilous road to Makawayan

My stay almost every weekend revealed Tingloy in layers. I loved the people, the islands were beautiful on their own, no doubt, but they were also impulsive and treacherous. Numerous times I went home bleeding from a gash from corals or a scratch or wound from a rock. The sea does not apologize.

I found not a tourist spot, but a second home, reminiscent of Leyte, of the sleepy coastal town I was born in. With people as warm as the sun, as mysterious as the depths.

How to get there

Manila dwellers on budget will be happy to know the paradise is also within their reach, with hopes of course that they will be responsible in preserving the beauty and cleanliness of Tingloy. A couple of bus liners of Taft Ave. corner Buendia namely DLTB bus company or Goldstar just adjacent to the terminal, have trips as early as 3:00 am. The fare is Php 157 for LRT Buendia to Batangas Grand Terminal. Make sure to ride the bus that says CALABARZON because that bus traverses the freeway, instead of passing through towns which lengthens the trip.

About an hour or two (depending on traffic) , you will reach the grand terminal. Find the jeepney which travels to Anilao port in Mabini, Batangas. The fare is Php 40, and the trip takes 40 minutes (also depending on traffic). Upon arrival at the Anilao port, one must pay the Environmental fee amounting to Php 30 per person. Here they also give the queue for the passenger boats which will take the tourists to Tingloy island.

The reefs are alive in the Isla Verde passage

There are two major routes, one is to Tingloy port, which means that another tricycle ride to Masasa beach is needed. The other route goes directly to Masasa beach. Occasionally, there are trips straight to Makawayan. The fare is Php 80 per head. The tricycle flat rate from Tingloy port to Masasa beach is Php 60.

Homestay rates are also regulated at Php 300 per head for an overnight stay. Usually guests are allowed to bring and cook food and use the rest rooms. For those going on daytrips, they only spend close to Php 600, no wonder so many tourists choose Tingloy. The last trip for boats returning to Anilao is at 2:30 pm though, and if you miss the boat and really need to cross the waters, the next best thing is to charter a boat to Anilao which costs up to PhP 3,500!

Recently, I brought a group of doctors to Tingloy and we stayed at Tita Becca’s home. “It’s as if time almost stops.” One of the doctors said. I had to agree. Staying in Tingloy for a day, every minute drags on, and when our Manila lives finally catch up with us, I realized I had only been gone for a day. It felt like a week. Maybe my nostalgia for the simple life, like that in Leyte, was what attracted me to Tingloy in the first place, or maybe, just like everybody else, it just felt really good to be away from the hustle of city life.

“Staying in Tingloy for a day, every minute drags on, and when our Manila lives finally catch up with us, I realized I had only been gone for a day. It felt like a week.”

Aug 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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