Sandbar slowly going underwater at White Island, Camiguin

White Paradise in White Island, Camiguin

The island-province of Camiguin. It’s the second smallest Philippine province both in area and population, second only to Batanes (factor in the favorite pastime of some politicians,  gerrymandering, and we could be wrong). Yet this small island hosts a number of volcanoes; 7 volcanoes if we’re not mistaken. It’s practically a volcano island, come to think of it — dangerous by some standards, surprisingly beautiful by any other. This small island also hosts an even smaller White Island, more properly a sandbar, under the imposing stare of Mt. Hibok-Hibok.

Black, Green  and White

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 tells 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.

A little digging revealed that Mt. Vulcan is a mere lava dome of Hibok-Hibok, which erupted, yet again, in the 1950s.

To this day, the huge black boulders dominating the landscape remind us of the past volcanic eruptions. The same violent and destructive events produced fertile soil from which Camiguin’s famous sweet lanzones sprouted. If volcanoes are black, and the resulting soil served as the base for the deep green foliage of trees, it’s a wonder — a miracle, even — to see an immaculately white sandbar protruding a few hundred meters from the main island. The island is called, and this is a no-brainer, the White Island.

How to Get There

Getting to the White Island is a piece of cake, or more properly, because we’re in Camiguin, a piece of pastel. Just head to Camiguin (see separate post on the Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, Camiguin itinerary), take a ride to Mambajao (the capital of Camiguin), and proceed to barangay Yumbing. It’s a small island-province so travel time doesn’t take very long. It’s less than half an hour to any point of the island.

Tip: people in Camiguin are uber-friendly, so it doesn’t hurt to ask whenever you feel lost.

The primary mode of transportation to the White Island is motorized boat, called “pump boat” by some. We’ve seen jetskis spraying a white water plume by their tails, but jetskis are private. Go with the motorized bancas. The local boat association is pretty much organized. Boats go on a “first to arrive, first to go” basis.  Same with guests. No hassle.

Tip: because the boats go on a “first-come, first-served” basis, it may happen that the boat assigned to your group has no canopy. This should not be a problem because you’re going to bask under the sun on the island. Still, for the picky ones who want some shade during the boat ride, it’s possible to request for a boat with a canopy. They’ll revamp the boat arrangement for you.

For convenience, it’s better to arrange the whole tour through the resort, like what Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin does. We did it this way, which is why we have no idea how much the boat rental is. On the other hand, once you get to White Island, which is bare and smooth as the white tooth enamel, there’s a need to rent a colorful beach umbrella for P200. It’s optional for those who wish to get a beautiful tan. It’s necessary for kids and those who wish to have  a shady place of refuge in this barren white sandbar, 10 minutes into the sea from the mainland.

At the starting point of the boat ride, where a wave breaker made up of boulders sits on one side, is a huddle of makeshift stores selling souvenirs. There’s simple shower room at P5 rental. Good idea to take a quick look at the merchandise before boarding the boat so you can consider which items to buy on the way back, or whether to change clothes after taking a dip at the White Island (changing clothes doesn’t make sense if you’re going to other water-soaking destinations like the Sto. Nino Cold Spring, the Ardent Hot Spring Resort, or the Mantigue Island aka Magsaysay Island, the Katibawasan Falls, or going back to your hotel/resort, like the Bahay Bakasyunan sa Camiguin, a 10-minute ride to and from the White Island).

However, it’s a good idea to buy a few bottles of distilled/mineral water because there are no stores at the White Island, a totally barren white island with only transient people, mobile boats and portable beach umbrellas.

Fresh sea urchins, anyone?

Asking anyone if he likes to eat sea urchins, fresh out of the sea, is hardly appetizing. Perhaps the better way to do it is to ask somebody if he likes Japanese food, particularly uni. For some, it’s a rule not to eat what they can’t understand. For others, it’s an adventure.

It’s not surprising for balut to surpass adobo when it comes to name-recall among non-Filipinos. There’s nothing unusual about eating adobo. Eating balut is another story. Eating fresh sea urchins, stocked in small basket-shaped fish nets and soaked underwater to keep them alive, is an entirely different story.

Ask the boatman to call the man serving fresh sea urchins. They’ll approach you anyway, so there might not be a need to ask your boatman. Three live urchins for P50. They’ll break it open in half — before your eyes. They’ll scoop out the black parts with a small plastic spoon, leaving the yellow edible stuff. They’ll hand you the plastic spoon with the “processed” sea urchin (they “process” it by adding a drop or two of vinegar) and you’re good to go.

Yummy, for some of us. Definitely challenging for many. For everyone, however, the bottled water bought from the mainland would come very handy.

Low Tide or High Tide?

It’s rather confusing to call it a White Island and call it a sandbar at the same time. It’s also confusing to come up with an exact dimension of this strip of white sand. To come up with the dimensions, we’re reminded of the Philippine beauty queen’s answer, back in 1993 during the Miss World pageant in Africa, when asked how many islands are there in the Philippines. She answered, “High tide or low tide?”

Same answer for the White Island: “Low tide or high tide?” When we got there, the seawater was slowly eating away a small outcrop, and slowly filling in the middle of the entire sandbar. Soon there would be three mini-islands. All-white, of course. To be graphic about, it only took us around 5 minutes to walk the entire curved length of the White Island.

With clear waters and some left-over corals, the White Island is perfect for snorkeling. Clear water on white sand creates a tempting sight — we bet our sea urchins that you’ll check how the water tastes. The water is clear as if poured straight from a drinking bottle.

Bright colors would be added by the soothing blue sky and the multi-colored beach umbrellas, with main posts supported by multiple strings deeply anchored on the sand to withstand the quick breeze. The sand is cool and the wind dissipates the heat; you’ll hardly notice that you’ve grown a tan.

Strip and Sandbar

By “strip”, we’re not referring to the act of removing one’s clothes, although this reference could very well be appropriate considering that it’s a perfect place to soak some sun and get a serious tan. By “strip,” we’re referring to a unique feature of this white strip of sand.

The White Island is not entirely made up of sand, like the fine sand you find in Boracay. White Island‘s sand is mixed with remnants of dead corals, with edges that’s not exactly friendly to the soles of visitors not used to walking barefoot. When the soles of the feet get too comfy, protected by shoes and slippers everywhere they go, it grows thinner, less accommodating to little edges of the physical world. City life really makes the body soft.

To protect your feet when taking a leisurely stroll around the entire sandbar, you can wear slippers or those stylish aqua shoes (water shoes). Do realize, however, that when you do that, the universe will most likely have a good laugh at your expense. It really looks ridiculous — walking on immaculately white sand with pristine waters, with something between the soles of your feet and the sand.

If you’re feet can’t take the small edges (not the heat, because the sand is surprisingly cool even with the burning mid-day sun), we suggest looking for strips of pure sand — there are a few strips running the entire sandbar. Follow the white strip and your feet will be fine. Good therapy for the feet. Good sight for the universe to behold.

Life is indeed full of surprises. Anyone who doubts that must have lived under a stone his entire life. There’s really no need to belabor the point with illustrations, but in case one is needed, we can turn our gaze at the small island of Camiguin, black volcanic boulders and all, and it’s  smaller white sandbar, simply called White Island.

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