BY RICKY MONTECILLO
February 5, 2019
My wife and travel partner Tina has been egging me to go see Kalanggaman Island in Leyte for quite some time. I was skeptical, thinking how great can a sand bar be in the middle of the ocean. The Philippines has a lot of that in Palawan, Siquijor, Boracay and Romblon. How can Kalanggaman be any better? Despite my doubts, of course she prevailed.
We had a chance this Chinese New Year weekend February 2-4.
We booked the early morning PAL Express flight to Tacloban but it was delayed by 3 1/2 hours. So we arrived around noon time already. It was drizzling when we got there.
Edcel, the driver, picked us up and brought us to the UV Express terminal.
Going to the terminal, Edcel, told us how he almost perished during the Yolanda typhoon in 2013. He described to us how the area we were passing was submerged by sea water caused by the storm surge. Yolanda was the strongest typhoon in recorded world history and it claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Edcel said he let his wife and kids evacuated to safer grounds and that he and his father- in -law stayed behind to watch over their house and livestock. He’s seen his share of typhoons, of strong winds and rains but he never imagined a storm surge and flooding that would literally turn Tacloban into a sea of death.
As the floods rose that morning in November 2013, he and his father-in-law climbed up to the roof of their house amidst the howling winds and rain. Then all of a sudden he heard a big bang and then they were thrown out into the raging flood waters! Debris and people were swept, and even if he knew how to swim, he felt helpless. He was swept to about a kilometer from their home until he was able to hang on the roof of a house.
He hung on to dear life and was very tired. He surrenderred his fate to God as he watched many others being swept by the flood waters, shouting for help. He could not help because he was already at the brink of collapse, too. His father-in-law never made it alive.
He described to us the hundreds of dead bodies scattered all over Tacloban after the floods subsided.
Edcel brought us to the Bus and Van terminal. The van trip to Palompon is about 3 hours and cost only 150 pesos per person. But we also paid 150 for our bags, which occupied the seat beside us. When we reached the Tourist Center in Palompon, Leyte, we had a quick meal and Raymond, tour coordinator from Hinablayan tours, greeted us and booked us for the 1-hour boat ride to Kalanggaman Island.
The boat ride wasn’t so bad and it was refreshing to be in the sea with the fresh air and the ocean breeze. And as the boat neared the Island, it was simply marvelous! The Island is just small and the white sand bar streched like a natural bridge to the ocean, creating a beach area where people can walk and swim. No wonder, people are raving about this wonder of nature in Leyte.
We were briefed before the boat sailed that in the island there is no electricity, no fresh water, and we were not allowed to use soap or shampoo, as environmental rules. We were also going to sleep in a small tent like a tipi.
Dante was our guide and butler. He took very good care of us during our overnight stay. He brought and cooked our food, he brought the container of fresh water for bathing, 5 gallons of mineral water our snorkling gear and even life jackets. We were going to rough it up and camp, but we had Dante to take care of all our needs!
As we docked on the shore, Tina and I were so delighted and excited.
The Palompon local government regulates the influx of visitors to the Island. It can accommodate only 525 persons at any one time. So there were many visiors, tourists and local campers but he small Island was not crowded.
Most of Kalanggaman island is operated by the Palompon Municipality. However, the west end of the island is occupied and operated by Jeters Resort, which is private. From the public area, we walked to Jeters on a sand walkway lined by huge mangroves and lighted by solar powered lamps.
Jeters has several tipis and ours was no. 7. We had neighbors who were mostly young people.
After setting up camp, we walked to the east side to the main sand bar. There was a cool, almost chilly, February breeze and we took a stroll holding hands and drinking beers. Tina was right in convincing me to go to Kalanggaman Isand. Everyone should experince this heavenly spot on earth.
Dante prepared an awesome sugba dinner for us. Shrimps, Liempo, Tanigue, Chicken, all barbecued and also rice and fruits! It was so sumptuous and perfect beach food. We couldn’t eat them all and shared the food with Dante and the boat crew.
After dinner, Tina and I had drinks, of course. Tanduday Rum with coke.
The whole night, the wind was continuosly blowing and we could hear the rustles of the coconut leaves and the sound of the waves.
The following day, we took an early morning stroll and had great breakfast made of adobong pusit, sugbang liempo plus fresh watermelon and sweet pineapples. After that we braved the giant clams farm to snorkel even if the water was a bit cold.
Lucky for us too, there was Sunday mass. Apparently every Sunday, a priest from Palompon goes there to celebrate mass for the visitors.
And as all good things come to pass, we had to ride the boat back to Palompon by noon to take the UV express van back to Tacloban. For those who want to go to Kalanggaman, I suggest a 2 night stay.
We arrived in Tacloban City before dark and we were tired from the trip. We couldn’t wait too to get a hot shower (with soap and shampoo!). The XYZ Hotel is located in the heart of the downtown. The hotel is new and although small, it is very nice. The rooms are new and the staff are friendly and efficient.
After a nap, we met up with Tito Butch Madayag, the uncle of Tina who is visiting from the US and who met with his friend in faraway Catbalogan, Samar. We had dinner at the Ocho Seafood and Grill. It’s the best restaurant in Tacloban, where they serve fresh seafood. You get to choose the fresh fishes, clams and squid at the counter and they will cook them for you.
We had tinolang isda, their version of our sinigang. The soup has some lemon grass, ginger and vegetables. It tasted so fresh and clean. We also had some clams, and sugba fish. Surprisingly, even with the generous servings, the price tag was like half of what we are used to pay in Manila.
The following day, we were lucky to be toured around Tacloban City by Tina’s colleague from work, Froilan. He hails from Cebu but already migrated to Leyte due to his work assignment.
He was at home in Tacloban City with his wife when Yolanda hit. He never imagined that flood waters would reach up to 12 feet and enter their home. He said it was around 7 in the morning when they started to feel the brunt of Yolanda, like a howling monster invading the City. Even at that early hour, the clouds covered the skies and the heavy rains made it dark with zero visibility.
As the hours passed, the typhoon dumped huge amounts of water and the the winds were so powerful that the glass of their windows were shattered into bits and pieces. The floods suddenly started to rise fast, entering their home bringing water and mud. They decided to evacuate fast as Froilan feared they might drown. His wife was terrified as she doesn’t know how to swim.
By sheer instinct, he decided to climb the concrete fence to reach the water tank tower. When they started to climb the fence, he pushed his wife up but she fell to the other side! Luckily, the floods had already started to rise and this saved her from the fall.
They went up to hold on to the water tank tower, which was 15 feet high while the flood waters raged from underneath just a few feet below. It was the scariest time for them. They held on as the storm blasted for four long hours. The winds were around 300 kph bringing with it tons of rain water. The storm surges pratically carried the surrounding sea waters and dumped them onto the entire Tacloban City. Froilan said it felt like the end of the world. “Natawag ko na lahat ng Santo, pati na si Jimmy Santos and Vilma Santos!” he joked.
Froilan drove us around Tacloban to see the famous San Juanico bridge which connects Tacloban to Samar.
We also went to the Macarthur Memorial Park where we saw the historic statue of Gen. Douglas Macarthur flanked by some other officials inculding our very own Carlos P. Romulo. The memorial marks the landing of thousands of American troops during the World War II, to liberate the Philippines from the Imperial Japanese army, fulling his “I shall return” promise 3 years earlier.
Froilan aslo brought us to the Sto. Niño Shrine which is really the Imelda Marcos Mansion. Oh my God you cannot believe the opulence and extraganz of the mansion. It felt like touring an emperor’s palace! Narra wood flooring, Expensive antiques from all over the world, Malang paintings, Hand made narra Chandeliers, Spanish era Sto. Niño in boots! It has 13 guest rooms downstairs themed by the Philippine regions like Ilocos, Bicol, Palawan..
Bongbong Marcos’ room has Gucci leather walls! The gracious lady guide also explained that it was like the Malacañang Palace of the south. There was also a huge narra carving of Malakas and Maganda! This structure in all its splendor and excess was built in the 70s and 80s while our country wallowed in poverty and turmoil.
It is now owned by the Philippine government after it was confiscated after the 1986 Philippine Revolution.
We then took the evening PAL Express flight back home. We had an awesome adventure in Leyte.We finally ticked off Kalanggaman island from Tina’s bucket list and we were able to experience the sights and hear the stories of Tacloban, 5 years after typhoon Yolanda.
I hope and pray that Tacloban never experiences another deadly typhoon ever. I cannot help but admire the resilience of the people of Tacloban, of not losing hope and rising up from the ruins.
We enjoyed this trip so much because of the beautiful beaches of Kalannggaman and the simple humble people of the Leyte province.
Leyte province offers much more I’m sure and time permitting we “shall return” too.