Thursday, December 6, 2012

Back to Guimaras Part 1: Return to Nagarao, the Island of the Tree Spirits

Guimaras Nagarao Southern Coast Curiosity
The beautiful, rocky shore of Nagarao in the early morning
It’s always changing, the sea and the view of the islands that lie beyond the waters. This is what Emma sees from the window of the main hall of the resort in Nagarao, one of the small islands off the Guimaras mainland. After 16 years spent on this 10-hectare Eden and seeing her children grow up, she has yet to outgrow her fondness for looking at the sea and the scenery that frames it – the stretch of fair, fine sand on the northern coast, the rocky shores to the south that reveal the rugged textures underneath at low tide, the silhouette of the forest trees on the western end. 

Isn’t living on a small island unnerving or lonely, I ask her. She confesses to being discomfited by the silence at first but in time, “you get accustomed to the peace and quiet.” Whenever she goes back to her hometown in Iloilo, she finds the place noisy and can’t wait to go back to Nagarao she says with a hearty laugh. 
Guimaras Nagarao Emma Portrait of a Lady
Island lass Emma
I know exactly what she meant for I have found peace on this island twice over. I’ve sort of stumbled upon Nagarao four years ago on a backpacking trip with friends. I remembered coming here for the first time braving mechanical woes (a faltering motor) and going away on a tempestuous sea. It was also raining when I first visited making me conclude that either I like making trips during the monsoon season or I unwittingly bring rainy weather with me. 

I also rediscovered the things that made the first visit memorable. After an overcast afternoon that saw us scampering for cover during sudden squalls while going over the rocky shores to the south, we spent dinner in the dining hall, hearing the relaxing patter of rain on the grass roof. Our team repaired early to our cottage and I was snoozing under the mosquitero (mosquito net) well before the power goes off at 11pm., lulled by the sounds of the incessant wind and the lolling of the waves on the shore just about a hundred steps from where I lay. 
Guimaras Nagarao Lunch by the Beach
Lunch by the shore
By luck, we woke up to a somewhat sunny morning. Andy, the son of owner Helen Stumner, was feeling under the weather and so was absent for the duration of our stay save for short exchange of pleasantries at dinner time. His amiable dog, Booboo, however, kept us company most of the time we were out shooting, nimbly negotiating the exposed rocky shores, even to the mangrove areas on the eastern side. 

It takes just 15-20 minutes to go around the island but then again, why hurry? Going inland and hiking through the forest can be both mystifying and invigorating. The former owing to stumbling upon the ruins of a stone house obscured by encroaching vegetation, the old abode of a German couple who were among the island’s erstwhile permanent residents but has since repatriated back to Germany. The latter since you can hear the wind move through the trees and so many birds trilling in song, the sound of the sea muffled by the cocoon of green that wraps this part of the island as if in a warm, humid embrace.
Guimaras Nagarao Booboo
Friendly Booboo kept us company throughout our short stay
Nagarao may seem to be a backpacker destination alright but it has its share of creature comforts. The cottages may have basic beds but the toilet and bath is spacious with a shower and flush that actually work. Electricity comes on at around 5:30pm and shuts off at 11pm. Between those hours, you can enjoy dinner (usually seafood) and afterwards play billiards in the inner hall. But sharing stories over homemade oatmeal cookies is so much better, nevermind if the java that’s served is instant coffee. After all, I came here for a slice of the island life, not a swig of gourmet coffee. Visiting in the off-season has its perks even if the weather is fickle at best. The absence of other guests only heightened the feeling of having the island to ourselves even for just a day. 

Right now, the island is in a period of lull and repairs are in order. The bridges to the jetties have been damaged during past typhoons and some of the vegetation along the coasts may need a bit of taming but I personally like the ruggedness, the rawness of the island and the feeling of desolation they bring. The afternoon of our departure, Emma saw us off, wearing a frilly abaca hat and a warm smile. Perhaps, she knows I hope to be back a third time. She waves at us as we sail northeast towards the silhouette of a giant crocodile – Inampulugan Island. 

This article appeared in edited form in the December 2012-January 2013 issue of Inflight Magazine.

Info:  Nagarao Island Resort is located southwest of the eastern coast of the Guimaras mainland, around 10-15 minutes by small boat from San Isidro or Sabang • Rate: P2,100 per person per day (full board package includes three set meals but exclusive of drinks) • There are 10 cottages available, all with private bathroom • Tel. (0063) (33) 3290078; Mobile: +63918 9080730; Email:

Next: Paradise to paradise: From Nagarao to Inampulugan


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