Friday, April 14, 2017

Life is a beach - My unforgettable travels to Sibale Island

Sibale island - Boats bqI went there with my siblings to take care of family business. Instead of taking care of business, the trip ended up as a wonderful beach holiday and an amazing time reconnecting with family.

Probably one of my favorite islands, I hope to be back to Sibale one day.

Have you ever been on a trip where you get this instant connection with the place even though you've never been there? It is as if I had walked through its streets before and the sights and smell seemed all too familiar. I don't know why but I was struck with that kind of feeling as soon as I got on the port in Poblacion in Sibale island. I felt an overwhelming emotion - a sense of joy that I finally made it to my dad's hometown, at the same time, a tinge of sadness that it was kind of too late to have enjoyed it in the company of my dad. One thing I knew right off the bat, I had a feeling I was going to love it there.

Aside from the relaxing unspoiled beaches and an unadulterated island experience, I would later learn in the trip that it was going to be all about reconnecting with family, remembering my dad, and bonding with my siblings.

Sibale island - Poblacion boat

To give you a background, Sibale Island is located south of Manila and is officially part of the Romblon group of islands. It is also known by other names - Maestro de Campo island and Municipality of Concepcion, Romblon.  It is also a part of an administrative region called MIMAROPA which consists of the islands of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan. Sibale is the closest to Mindoro among the Romblon islands. A variation of Visayan is spoken in the island. Tagalog is also spoken there. The locals are called Sibalenhons. 

My siblings and I have been planning this trip for years. Special thanks to my cousin Harvey, the trip was made possible through his help. During our research, he patiently answered our countless questions about transport, accommodation, local attractions, supplies, and the best time to go there. He even took time off from work to be with us! 

Sibale island - Map

To get to Sibale island, we had to take a 2 hour bus ride from Manila all the way to the Batangas Pier. From the pier's Terminal 3, we took a fast boat for an hour going to the port of Calapan in the island of Mindoro. From there, we took a van going to another port in Pinamalayan in the eastern side of Mindoro. The van ride is around 2 hours. If you think the mode of transport and the multiple transfers are complicated enough, you also have to have impeccable timing because there is only one boat that leaves from the port in Pinamalayan going to Poblacion in Sibale. The boat leaves between 10am and 11am. If you do the math, you have to be on the boat going to Calapan very early in the morning to make it to the Sibale bound boat. The boat trip takes around 2 hours from Pinamalayan to Sibale's Poblacion town.

Sibale island -  0450 boat ride Sibale island - Calapan to Pinamalayan

So we finally made it to our last leg of the trip - to Pinamalayan port to catch another boat going to Sibale island. We got there ahead of schedule. Remember, timing is crucial here. If we missed the boat, we would need an accommodation around Pinamalayan and wait until the next day to catch the boat.  While waiting for the boat to Sibale, we got stared at a lot and got interrogated (at least that's how I felt like) at one point. Probably because the crowd knew we are not locals. We learned some more about Sibale during our chats with the other Sibale bound passengers. We also met a distant cousin who knows my dad and my oldest brother Rein. After our chats with him, I realized that I'd be needing a chart, at least, a list, I can use as a handy reference to make myself well versed in the family tree.

I could see a faint silhouette of an island from a distance. "There you are, Sibale!", I said to myself. I couldn't help but think about my dad. He must have felt the same excitement waiting for the boat as I do whenever I wait for my flight going back to Manila from San Francisco.
  Sibale island - Around Pinamalayan boats
Sibale island - Around Pinamalayan town Sibale island - Around Pinamalayan 
Sibale island - Around Pinamalayan cottage Sibale island - Around Pinamalayan sea wall 

People and supplies go into the same boat. There were times I thought the boat felt a little over loaded so I kept the safety floating device accessible just in case I need it during emergency. There are two boats going to the island. One going to Sampong on the west side. We took the one going to Poblacion or the island's municipal town on the southern part of the island. After an hour into our boat ride, I could see Sibale much clearer.
Sibale island - Leaving Pinamalayan Sibale island - 1 hour to go
The port of Poblacion greeted us with a colorful rainbow landmark which was a tell tale sign of our enjoyable time in the island. My dad's sister, Auntie Luz, is the only relative we know who lives in the island. She was the one who fed us delicious home cooked meals and kept us entertained through her countless engaging family stories throughout our stay there.
  Sibale island - Approach 

My cousin Harvey was not going to arrive until the next day. His  childhood friend, Miah, met us at the port instead. Miah also happens to be a distant cousin of ours. We decided to pay my aunt a visit before we settled in to our modest island accommodation which is also in town. We ended up staying at my aunt's for several hours we didn't get to our cottage until late in the afternoon for a quick shower. 
  Sibale island - Disembark 

Here's the lunch my aunt Luz prepared for us. Sibale style adobo with a local root crop called umag. It was super delicious and super fresh using all local ingredients. Umag is probably taro root or arrowroot?
Sibale island - Dinner at Auntie's adobo

My aunt insisted two of us should stay with her. So my sister Ren and oldest brother Rein decided they'll stay at my aunt's house while my older brother Randy and I stayed at the cottage that Harvey had arranged for us. Going to the cottage, we decided to take the scenic route via the town's picturesque sea wall.
  Sibale island - Poblacion sea wall north 

I could smell the salt of the sea in the air. The water is so clear and calm. I could hear laughter and giggling nearby. Small kids, probably already off from school, were enjoying the mild summer weather diving, floating and swimming in the water.
  Sibale island - Poblacion sea wall south 

Our accommodation has basic amenities - a bed, a mosquito net, two chairs, a table and a private bathroom. No hot water. No showers but there is a pail and a bucket inside. Honestly, there is something refreshing and therapeutic about taking cool baths using buckets full of water.

Electricity is cut off starting at 1am so it is pitch black after that. There was one time it was so dark that I couldn't tell if my eyes were shut or wide open. I have been told that this is actually a step up from the power situation years ago.  The weather cools off at night and surprisingly no mosquitoes. The island is so quiet at night I could hear nature coming alive after dark. I must have woken up five times on the first night. Thanks to the scary stories I heard from my relatives when I was a kid, my imagination was running wild every time I woke up the first night. The cottage has a balcony conducive for hanging out. My cousins and I had our drinking sessions there a couple of times.
Sibale island - Poblacion accommodation

The next morning, Randy and I picked up my Aunt, Ren and Rein and we all walked from my aunt's house to the sea wall. The island scenery is absolutely relaxing - the fresh air, calm waters, the lush hills, the towering coconut trees covering the island and the small boats going in and out of the bay. I could smell a hint of burnt wood in the air.
  Sibale island - Boats 

  The houses in the island are modest by city standards but they are cute and conveniently close to each other. The roads are narrow. I noticed that bougainvillea is a popular flowering plant in town. 
  Sibale island - Poblacion scenes 

I learned that the farther away the neighborhood is from the municipal town the narrower the road gets. There are no four wheeled vehicle in the island. In most cases, only a motorcycle can pass through roads. This is probably the reason why the air is so clean in the island.
  Sibale island - Poblacion walks 

  We saw these sea urchins by the sea wall. Fresh uni, anyone? 
  Sibale island - Sea urchin 

We also walked around the nearby center of the island. The municipal town is where the municipal building is located. The Immaculate Concepcion Parish church, the health center, the plaza and the port are all located in the town's center. You can get a great vantage point to take pictures on top of the rainbow landmark.
Sibale island - Poblacion Municipal building 
Sibale island - Poblacion port rainbow structure Sibale island - Poblacion plaza port Sibale island - Poblacion plaza

We met more relatives on our way back to my aunt's house after our walk. Auntie Maring, Auntie Pearly, cousin Padjo, cousin Pido, and my brother Rein's former nanny Ate Ivan. We also went through old black and white photographs at my Aunt's place. Some of the pictures include my dad and mom and auntie Norma. I also saw several baby pictures of my brother Rein. A sumptuous lunch was served again by my aunt and with the help of a local cooking expert auntie Del.
Sibale island - Lunch at Auntie's Sibale island - Lunch at Auntie's papaya

My cousin Harvey finally arrived and had planned for us a busy day of site seeing. After lunch, we headed west to the next town called San Vicente. It is about half a mile from the town proper and we went there on foot. San Vicente is also locally known as Biduos (pronounced as Bido-os).
Sibale island - San Vicente map

By coincidence, the town of San Vicente was also having a fiesta that week. They call it Balik San Vicente, or homecoming of the sons and daughters of the San Vicente town.
Sibale island - San Vicente

On our way to San Vicente, we chanced upon this great bird's eyeview of the bay and the Poblacion town. This view can be seen from Commonwealth.
Sibale island - Poblacion view from Commonwealth 

We finally reached the town of San Vicente. This town is peppered with relatives. My siblings and I met auntie Hildie, uncle Syd and auntie Terrie and her family. Uncle Nil and auntie Zarie were scheduled to arrive the next day. (We ended up meeting up with them in Pinamalayan on our way back to Manila.) 

I noticed several big houses are uninhabited. I was told that some have become mere vacation homes of locals who moved to the big cities in search of better opportunities. If it not had been for us kids and my mom, I wonder if my dad ever wanted to go back to the island to live when he retired?
  Sibale island - Poblacion to San Vicente 

We also passed by a local private high school called the Sibale Academy of the Immaculate Concepcion or more locally known as Sibale Academy. I used to hear this school's name a lot from my dad's stories. I was also told that most kids leave the island after high school to attend colleges and universities. They usually end up in Metro Manila and they only go back to the island to visit but not to live. It would be interesting to find out who are these sons and daughters of Sibale and where are they now? How often do they go back to the island? Do they give back to their hometown?
  Sibale island - San Vicente Sibale Academy 

Coconut is the number one export of Sibale island.
Sibale island - San Vicente coconut shells

My aunt had arranged a tour of a lush coconut plantation owned by a prominent family in the area. We met with that plantation's caretakers and they took us where we can take good photos of the area.   Due to the recent typhoon that hit Sibale, a noticeable number of coconut trees have been destroyed or have been severely damaged. I don't know anything about coconut farming but I hope the community's recovery from the effects of the typhoon had been quick.
Sibale island - San Vicente coconuts

From the plantation, the view is spectacular. I could see a beach down below. A simple tiny house with a roof top deck would be perfect right here. I promise I won't get tired looking at this scenery if I lived here several weeks in a year.
  Sibale island - San Vicente sea view 

The town also has its own Catholic chapel and next door is its local elementary school.
  Sibale island - San Vicente chapel 

  Sibale island - San Vicente school

I love that a lot of things in the island are done in a sustainable manner and are very practical like this device. Here, my cousin Harvey was showing me how to catch a crab using this contraption. I saw a lot of these devices scattered in the area. The more I hung out with my cousins, the more I realized that I don't have a lot of practical survival skills.
Sibale island - San Vicente crab trap 

It started raining by the time we got to the Luistro beach. However, rain was not going to deter us from enjoying the beach. We swam and soaked anyway. The Luistro beach is quiet and it has fine white sand with corals and shells on some parts of the beach. The beach was practically empty even though it is only steps away from the town of San Vicente. The next time I visit, I will bring a beach chair, a bottle of pinot noir, sunscreen, a hat and a good book. I could sit back and relax in this beach for an entire day. We lingered here for a bit until our skin turned wrinkly and the day turned into evening.
Sibale island - Luistro beach snorkelling 
Sibale island - Luistro beach east Sibale island - Luistro beach west 

We freshened up and went back to my aunt's house for another sumptuous dinner. My cousin Harvey brought the fish from Pinamalayan (thanks cousin Harvey!). My aunt makes her own vinegar from coconut water and it was a very well balanced vinegar. The vinegar with soy sauce and spices went so well with the fish. It was also the first time I tried a sinigang in calamansi. Delicious!
Sibale island - Dinner at Auntie's fish

More family stories afterward. Our auntie Luz is a retired school teacher and she told us the family history like a fun and engaging teacher she is. She made use of maps of Mindoro and Romblon islands as visual aids and a long wooden stick for referencing on the map. Her family stories were very engaging that I imagined them in glorious colors. I also had been taking notes, and by this time, my family tree was taking shape. 

I learned that our clan is a proud one and hearing more about my cousins gave me a deep feeling of satisfaction and at the same time it felt humbling. There are a lot of doctors, nurses, teachers and accountants in the family. There are also a lot of seafarers, engineers, lawyers and those that became local politicians. That's quite a feat! I wonder if we have an artist in the family? How about a clergy or a priest? How about someone in the clan who had gone to show business? I wouldn't be surprised because I have a lot of good looking cousins based on Facebook pictures I've seen.  

We also hosted a round of drinks with my cousins. My brother Rein had warned me earlier that we may be expected to host my cousins to a round or two of drinks. I was volunteered to host. More family stories were shared some bordering on scandalous by island standards. I was secretly glad to hear about these juicier stories and to discover that I am not 'the' bad apple of the family. That title had already been claimed a long time ago. Maybe I'm just a 'sort of bad apple' of my generation? In any case, I was thinking to myself, do they already know about Mijo and how am I going to explain him to Sibale?

Kidding aside, I thought about my dad in an instant. There were moments in my life when I wished my dad was there - during my big successes and triumphs, when the entire family go on a trip locally or abroad, and at that very moment while drinking with my cousins in his hometown. I just realized that I never had a drink with my dad. I drank my last gulp that night imagining he was there with us.
Sibale island - Drinking with the locals

The next morning, the same routine.  My siblings and I walked with my aunt to the sea wall and then walked some more around town where we met more relatives. I learned that the vice mayor was also a relative.

Before the trip, my fear was that my siblings and I were going to be too bored in the island. In fact, the exact opposite happened. We were engaged all the time and we felt relaxed. I also found it easy to get into the island rhythm.

Sibale island - Poblacion accomodation cottage

We were supposed to take a boat around the island to beach hop. On Google map I counted there are at least eleven beaches around the island. That is a lot! Unfortunately, the water was choppy that day and it was not safe to go boating. We decided to go to Gui-Ob beach on the back of a motorcycle. The motorcycle ride to Gui-Ob was a little less than an hour and we went through narrow winding roads that go up and down. 
Sibale island - Motorcycle ride

There were picturesque coastal views on our way to the beach but I was afraid to ask for a pit stop to take photos. However, there was one view I couldn't resist. 

This is that view. A one in a million view!
Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach view 

Yet another quiet and deserted beach. I love it this way. It kind of reminded me of my favorite beach in Hawaii called Kailua beach. Gui-ob beach is in the town of Sampong. The waves also provided us a way to body surf. This is probably the point in the trip where I decided Sibale is one of my favorite islands. Relaxing and unspoiled. I hope the locals keep it this way for a long time.
  Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach walk

We lingered here for a while going in and out of the water. I imagine this beach is great for picnics and family events. I wonder if my mom and dad had been to this beach? How about my aunts and uncles? I wonder which beach in Sibale is their favorite?
Sibale island - Sampong beach surf 
Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach scene Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach body surf Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach east 
Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach north Sibale island - Sampong Gui-ob beach waves 

Back at my aunt's house, she and auntie Del prepared a local shell fish called Liswe, a local vegetable called Taw-an cooked in coconut milk. More adobo and fish soup. Delicious!
Sibale island - Lunch at Auntie's liswe tawan

After lunch, my siblings decided to nap while my cousin Harvey took me to the Immaculate Concepcion church. There was no service that afternoon but the church door was open. The patron saints of each  town in the island are displayed high up on the church walls. I imagined this church is packed with parishioners during the Sunday mass. I forgot to ask my cousin if the mass is held in Visayan or Tagalog?
Sibale island - Poblacion Immaculate Concepcion 
Sibale island - Poblacion Immaculate Concepcion door Sibale island - Poblacion Immaculate Concepcion inside 
Sibale island - Poblacion Immaculate Concepcion patron saint Sibale island - Poblacion Immaculate Concepcion saint

We were planning to go back to Luistro beach for a night swimming, barbecue dinner and a bonfire but the weather turned rainy again. We decided to stay put. Harvey, Miah and another distant cousin Lloyd decided to grill some chicken and pork in the Sibale fashion. Auntie Del made the vinegar dip the way my dad used to make it. This brought back a lot of good memories. After the dinner, another round of drinks with the cousins. We managed to end our round of drinks minutes before lights off at 1am.
Sibale island - Dinner at Auntie's bbq
I couldn't sleep on our last night in the island. I saw a couple of fire flies inside my cottage. Suddenly, I was reminded how emotionally charged the last three days had been. My siblings and I were able to retrace some my dad's steps in his hometown and saw, some for the very first time, the loved ones who touched his life. 

On the fourth day, we were scheduled to leave the island early in the morning but the coast guard was not letting anyone go because of dangerously choppy waters. We waited for another hour and finally got a green light from the coast guard. The only catch was that the only boat leaving the island that day departs from the town of Sampong. We would need to hop on the motorcycle to Sampong and catch the boat from there. 
  Sibale island - Poblacion port early departure 

We said our farewells to our relatives especially to our auntie Luz.   I waved my last goodbye as the motorcycle sped away. It felt like the trip ended abruptly. "So, it ends here", I said to myself. There was a hint of trembling in my deep sigh. I tried very hard not to be overcome by emotion as the cool wind brushed my face.

I loved and enjoyed our short stay in Sibale. 
I wanted to do and see more of the island but we couldn't because of time constraints. I hope to be back someday and get to know my dad's hometown and loved ones some more.
Sibale island - Sampong boat 
Sibale island - Sampong beach south Sibale island - Sampong beach north

Maramong salamat, thank you so much auntie Luz, cousin Harvey and cousins Del, Miah and Lloyd for helping us and for making our stay a memorable one.


More Sibale stuff...

Before we left the island, my cousins had arranged for us to buy locally made sweets made from coconuts. Here are the goodies from Sibale island - carmelitos, bucayo, and pastillas made with camote or yam. 
Sibale island - Sibale goodies 

Because my cousin Harvey is such a savvy local, on our way back to Manila, he took me to this place in Pinamalayan where they make the best Banana Chips. The place is called John-nette Banana Chips. Sarap, delicious!
  Sibale island - Jonh-nette Banana Chips sign Sibale island - John-nette Banana Chips chips


Renelee Luistro said...

Awwww...mixed emotions reading this a bit teary eyed reading the first few paragraphs then my lips starts to curve into a smile reading on until the end. ��☺ missing sibale already..

Harvey Luistro said...

What a sojourn! Happy to be part of your detailed Sibale experience. Looking forward for our future island adventures. #fpm hahah!

Roland L. said...

Lil sis and Harvey, thanks for dropping by.
Sibale 2018? :)