“You’ve seen one white sand beach, you’ve seen them all,” I muttered half-jokingly when a few of my carpooled friends expressed excitement to finally get out of a five-hour car trip en route to Guiuan.
Ours was a very procedural group. At 5 a.m., we left Ormoc, stop for a quick brunch at eight, go to a 7-Eleven in Palo to buy last-minute essentials for our beach and cave crawl, and endured another three hours in the car to reach Calicoan Island, southeast of the Guiuan municipality. Weeks of planning and preparation were put into this fateful day but you never really cross the bridge until you’re on the rickety planks clinging to the ledges for dear life. And clung we did.
On top of almost forgetting our prized marinated pork belly, the mounds of rice that we brought in a rice cooker container decided to leap out and rest on the pickup truck bed while we were careening left and right on the way to Tacloban. Google Maps also rerouted our convoy and took us to a diversion to Palo, with the noble intention of saving us time only to arrive at a roadblock about six kilometers after the fact.
Our food was compromised and our fuel wasted. The alcohol was safely tucked, thank heavens. We endured. Pulling down our car window when we neared the island, we were greeted with an unusual multi-hued sea that ebbed and flowed playfully against the white shoreline.
We made it, Eastern Samar’s little hidden surf spot! The island is the easternmost strip of land in the Visayas, right beside the Philippine Sea. Local surfers are surfing the Pacific Ocean (by extension).
Calicoan island is the kind of beauty that isn’t mired in infrastructure for its own sake, unlike its white-sand-surf-spot counterparts. Hotels and lodging stations are there but they provide the bare necessities: a bed to sleep on, a grill area to cook in and a view deck to watch the sun rise while nursing a hangover. It’s perfect.
Our intent to visit Guiuan was three-pronged: try surfing for the first time, visit the ominous Linao cave and take dozens of photos. After all, if we went to a relatively uncharted surf spot in Western Visayas and didn’t take photos, did we really go?
On a clear Saturday afternoon, we quickly unloaded our things from the cars and settled them into three adjacent huts in the villa that would be our quarters for the night. A good number of guests also came from Guiuan’s neighboring cities but the general air was quaint and quiet. We had less than 24 hours to enjoy what the island had to offer so we made it a point to take in any and all experience we could get in a short amount of time. We met up with Kuya Jayson who served as our tour guide for Linao Cave—conveniently only half a kilometer away from our retreat.
From the compound getting to the cave, it takes some 200 meters on foot to reach its opening. Trees that surround the area shielded us from the heat but they also resulted in an overcast that made us feel like we were in a slasher flick waiting to happen.
We had a pair in the group who took the initiative to buy flashlights. When we were inside the dark cave and, true to Murphy’s law, we conveniently forgot to bring them during the trek.
With full faith in Kuya Jayson that we were not about to be lured into anything other than a beautiful cave pool at the end of the tunnel, we descended. Entering the cave entails a bit of wading through cold, clear water and curling your toes in an effort to not slip on the rock formations inside.
Locals claim that no one was ever able to measure the cave pool’s depth and so I, along with my other friends, decided to waddle along the edges. We were told that there was a shallow spot a few meters past the deep waters and I instantly took that as a challenge. After mustering enough courage, I swam through an ostensibly unknown depth of water and was able to reach the shallow spot.
I looked over at my friends on the other side with a superior glare. That experience led to subsequent swimming sessions in the local pool when we got back in Ormoc.
We finally exited the cave at around 4 p.m. When the sun began to fade and the sky’s harsh yellow flare waned to an orange glow, we basked in the beach. The tide was low when we arrived which allowed us to stroll a good 500 meters past the shoreline. I’m not sure if it’s from being stuck at home for over a year but in less than a couple of hours, with the sunset’s warmth caressing my back and the cool water brushing past my toes, I knew Guiuan was something else.