Boat docking at marker of Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin

The Sunken Cemetery of Camiguin

Let’s have the usual game we play here at VisitPinas: what first comes to mind when you hear “Camiguin“? Sweet lanzones, correct. Next? Volcanoes, yes. Next? It won’t certainly be the White Island (it’s ok, we also didn’t know anything about White Island until we went to visit Camiguin). You’re probably thinking of the Sunken Cemetery.

Volcanoes and Cemeteries

Before 1871, the Sunken Cemetery looked like any other cemetery. It was located above ground, not underwater as it is situated today.

At the entrance of the church ruins in the what was known as Cotta Bato, the old capital of Camiguin island, stands a marker that speaks of a tragic story about the eruption of Mt. Volcan, also known in other circles as Mt. Vulcan, way back on 13 May 1871. Lava flowed down the slopes, depositing materials that eventually turned into black rocks. Hundreds of people lost their lives. Structures, including the church where the ruins now stand, were destroyed.

Some land areas rose higher, while other areas, including the public cemetery, were reclaimed by the sea.

The cemetery was not permanently submerged after the 1871 volcanic eruption — tombstones were visible during low tide. This completely changed in the 1950s when Mt. Hibok-Hibok again erupted. The area got deeper by 20 feet and, since then, the cemetery remained underwater, whether low tide or high tide. The giant cross was erected in 1982 to serve as a marker of the Sunken Cemetery‘s location.

To this very day, Mt. Hibok-Hibok silently watches over the Sunken Cemetery, like an overlord trying to decide what to do with this parcel of land that has become a landmark, and a tourist attraction, of Camiguin island.

How to Get Here

Directions to the Sunken Cemetery is easy to find. Simply get to the island of Camiguin (see also Itinerary for Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Camiguin) and ask, from anywhere on the island, where the Sunken Cemetery is. Camiguin is a small island, the second smallest province in the Philippines both in size and population. Going around the entire island-province doesn’t take an hour. The Sunken Cemetery is conveniently located between the Katibawasan Falls and the White Island — two must-visit places in Camiguin — so it can easily be incorporated in the entire Camiguin trip.

At one curve of the road along Bonbon, a component barangay of Catarman town, a giant cross quietly protrudes from the sea, around 30 meters from the shore. With all the boat rides to and from the White Island and the Magsaysay Island, figuring out how to get to the giant cross marker takes less than a second. How to get to the marker? Ride a boat. With all the paddling required by the intense water current of this area, P20 per head for a banca ride is a bargain.

This amount can go up as guests, seeing the skill by which the guides found above the rail-less staircase to the sea (seriously, they should install a rail of the steps going down the shore from the observation deck) compose “trick shots”, voluntarily add tips in recognition of the photo skill and happy disposition displayed by the “guide”.

Vacation and Reflections

Visitors coming from the cities, loud and fast-paced habitations of humanity, would immediately notice the conspicuous drop of noise and mental clutter upon stepping on Camiguin island. At the resort, despite the merry chatter of guests over fresh seafood and the constant pounding of powerful waves on the shore, there’s a pronounced degree of tranquility. The tranquility continues on the road, a network of smooth concrete roads that hug the edges of the island, overlooking the sea.

A vacation, for many, is understandably no time to think and talk about death, although it’s not at all improper to think, or talk, about life in general. The moment we do that, however, there’s no escaping death, really, for there’s nothing more certain in life than tax. And death. We can never talk about life divorced of death. It’s amazing how the acceptance of our finite stay here on earth can lead us to live better lives.

There should be no escaping the topic of death with each visit to the Sunken Cemetery. A cemetery, after all, is a resting place for the dead. Maybe it’s a matter of “out of sight, out of the mind.” It’s normal to easily forget something we don’t see. At the Sunken Cemetery, the tombs, and obviously the loved ones enclosed in these really old stone tombs, are safely tucked underwater.

It’s normal to forget that this is still a cemetery, a sacred resting place of our dead. While trick shots (like giants leaning over the volcano or giants scooping the giant cross) look really cool, it’s surprising that the active instigators of these trick shots are the local guides. Fun is perfectly alright. Fun coupled with respect is difficult.

The huge cross in the middle of a Camiguin shore, as a marker of the Sunken Cemetery, is more than just a tourist attraction. It is a show of respect to the dead. Perhaps the residents of Camiguin can show tourists how to treat the Sunken Cemetery with a certain degree of respect. A society that doesn’t respect its dead doesn’t respect the living. Then again, in the words of the great Joker, Heath Ledger, “why so serious?” It’s a vacation for crying out loud.

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