With Matukad being closed our boatman tried for another island but we were shooed away by Survivor security. He exchanged a few words with the boy then started heading towards a cove on the mainland which looked way too populated for our liking. There was even a fucking house there. Our guys didn’t speak much, if any, English beyond telling us the names of the places we visited when we asked, but we managed to explain that we didn’t want to go there, so after a few more words with the boy they seemed to settle on a place and we chugged into another, more sheltered cove on the mainland. There were several bangkas of kids packing up to leave, quite randomly it seemed they’d been shooting some manner of Mountain Dew advert. I’m not even shitting you. There were flags and banners up around the beach and in the water and whilst they did take a lot of rubbish with them they also left a shit tonne of it. Great. Thanks, guys.
This would do, though. This would be a nice home for the night once we’d cleared the section of beach we wanted to camp on. Our boatman explained in very broken English that he would be back tomorrow at 8am. We asked him about a tent, wasn’t Ramil giving him a tent to bring to us? He looked very confused, he clearly didn’t understand a word we were saying, he just reiterated that he’d be back at 8am. Ha. Shit. I’m so glad we brought Tarrant’s shelter, but putting it up in the sand would be… well it’d be a challenge worthy of the Crystal Maze. Fortunately that wouldn’t be my job. My job would be to locate enough firewood to keep us toasty for the night. There was a path leading fuck knows where into some woods so I shuffled along it, dragging out slightly damp deadwood as I went. We were here in the off-season so we knew we wouldn’t get bone dry kindling or anything but Tarrant was confident she could get a fire going, what with her being an outdoor champion and all that.
After a lot of sweating, a bit of swearing and one or two moments of questioning our life choices we finally had it sorted. Home. Tarrant had worked miracles, managing to pitch the basha in the sand using heavy rocks because tent pegs, it turns out, are fucking useless in sand. You might as well be trying to pitch with a jam sandwich. I’d sorted out stuff for a fire and arranged it in a way that was far too pretty to burn, and we even had a washing line going so we could hang our wet swimwear by the fire. We’d nicked one of the massive flags left by the people who’d left to use as a blanket to sit on. It was time for rum and food. I fucking love camping.
I love it even more when there’s a fire (as in, like, a controlled fire for keeping warm and maybe cooking on, not an inferno of doom) but all attempts to get the damp wood lit with the equally damp coconut husks proved futile. Bollocks. We tried and tried and tried, we couldn’t even get it to smoulder a little bit. Then we spotted a Cheetos box on the other side of the beach and just as much as we’d been cursing them for their littering, we praised them for it. It hadn’t been out in the rain that happened literally every night, it was bone dry, it was the perfect kindling and what was left made a decent layer to lay our heads on under the shelter when we went to bed that night.
Obviously no one came back with a tent for us. Fuck you, Ramil. We were lucky we came prepared. Once you’re here you’re here with no phone signal until your boatman comes to fetch you the next day. There were no other humans, we had no idea where that path lead, it could take us to a fucking gingerbread house inhabited by a cannibalistic witch for all we knew, if we hadn’t brought our own shelter we would have gotten very very wet and very very miserable with nowhere to turn for help. Of course it pissed it down, it was the wet season in a Tropical country, it rained torrents. Also, Tarrant got bitten by something in the wood, we had no idea what it was and it did bring home how isolated we were. If something poisonous bit one of us the other would have to swim to the nearest island and wake up the Survivors. Did they even have poisonous stuff in the Philippines? Probably, it’s Asia, there’s loads of poisonous shit in Asia.
After a blissful evening drinking rum by the fire we crawled into bed. Oh, don’t forget your DEET if you’re going to do this. We most definitely did forget it and ended up having to wrap our feet in our swimwear so we’d wake up with at least enough blood left to function. Something was crawling around in the sand underneath the blanket under Tarrant’s ribcage resulting in a night punctuated by shrieks as whatever it was moved around. She wondered if it was a baby turtle. I assured her it wouldn’t be. If this were a turtle beach a lot more would be made of it and we certainly wouldn’t be permitted to camp here. So it must be a scorpion, she rationally decided between yelps.
I told her there weren’t any scorpions in the Philippines. I’ve no fucking idea if there is or not but if you say something with enough authority people do tend to believe you. This works in any situation. Tell a customer a beer is citrusy, they’ll taste the non-existant lemons. Tell them it has a long finish, they’ll nod their heads in vigorous agreement despite no one without a full beard with a waxed moustache really knowing what a long finish is. Tell your girlfriend there are no stinging arachnids living in the sand, she’ll be satisfied by this. She refused to swap places with me, I asked several times because anything for something that passes for sleep. Eventually whatever it was made its escape, and it was a lizard. Just a little lizard.
It wasn’t the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had but it was worth it to wake up in this gorgeous cove on this beautiful beach. For someone who fucking hates sand I do love beaches. I like it better when portions of the beach aren’t on me and sleeping on said beach isn’t generally conducive to this. Still though, it’s all about where you wake up. Actual, quality sleep could happen later. We shovelled the rest of our rice and pork into our chops, packed up and waited for our boatman to rock up. He arrived pretty much on time and brought us back to Paniman where we were meant to have breakfast apparently, but we’d already eaten so we just chilled and waited for our guy to sort his fuel situation out. Ramil was there, we told him about the tent situation, he just laughed and asked, “You were okay?” Well we were, mate, but we might not have been. I was rapidly going off this bloke.
We were going to check out the larger group of islands today and this time as Ramil pushed us off he told us, “Survivor is finished now. All the island are open.” I think my glare could have withered foliage. I hate you, Ramil. Again, this was partially my own fault, if I’d researched it properly we could have arrived a day later and seen everything we wanted to. I mean, it was an awesome afternoon yesterday, we really enjoyed it and we loved our campsite. But still. When I have a plan in my head it takes my little brain a while to adjust to changes. I’m much better now, I won’t throw a complete tantrum and refuse to leave the house anymore, but I’m still not great with it.
We had a big old ride right up to the last island in the big group, Guinahuan Island, where we were led from the bangka to the island through the first water we’d seen that wasn’t beautifully clear. The boy even put his flip flops on. If the boy was putting his flip flops on you know shit’s getting… well I think it was actually shit. There were suspicious looking piles of stuff in the shallows and you had to be really careful not to break an ankle in the random holes dotted around. Humans actually reside on this island too, we were led through a village and up a hill in the melting heat to a lighthouse which in itself was a bit meh, but oh my god those views though! That was worth losing a day’s worth of fluid through my poor, abused pores. We hung around for a while and photographed the scenery from every feasible angle before we were lead back to the boat and were told we’d have to part with money for the entrance fee. It wasn’t much, ₱50 or ₱70 for both of us, I can’t remember, a kid was sent over to us to retrieve it.
The next island was Cotivas which had rows of huts, they call them cottages here, which you could rent for ₱100. Probably only worth it if you’ve brought a picnic and were planning to spend a few hours. From our point of view it wasn’t much. I mean, it was lovely, the water was perfect, you could buy buko (coconut) if you wanted to but here’s the thing; I don’t like coconut unless it’s processed and combined with a liberal helping of sugar, or if it’s in stuff. I like coconut milk in South Indian curries. I like Bounty chocolate bars. But if you chop the top off a coconut and hand it to me I’m going to have to politely decline it. I wish I liked it, I want to like it so badly, I adore the idea of sprawling on a Tropical beach whilst applying coconut water to my facehole, but it just isn’t nice to me.
Afterwards we headed to Manlawi Floating Cottages where, again, they’re only an attraction if you were having lunch or a couple of beers there. There are locals in boats selling booze should you fancy a bottle but we didn’t have a small enough note so we just wandered around aimlessly and felt a bit awkward. Lastly we stopped at Bagieng Island which was explorable but guys, we were islanded out. There’s only so much you can do on an island that consists only of sand and vegetation. We walked up the beach fully intended to have a look around but the heat combined with a shit night’s sleep and a touch of apathy left us flopped in the water taking ugly selfies.
I think if were to do this again, and it’s something I wouldn’t be sad if it happens again, I’d only do the small group. I’d research it properly or speak to a reputable guesthouse that runs tours to find out if and when Survivor were filming. Survivor own the lease on the islands, they just happen to let tourists visit them if they’re not using them. I’d source my own tent, or I’d consider taking an English speaking guide. Renting a cottage at Manlawi or Cotivas is a nice idea but I think I’d rather have lunch on a cute little beach in a cove with rock formations to drool over. Oh, and I would most definitely bring more rum.
Caramoan, Camarines Sur Luzon, Philippines
Stayed at: Caramoan Homestay (or contact Ramil on +63 907 435 1962).