Today is a holiday due to the start of holy week, so we get a chance to explore Tablas island as well as the surrounding area. We have decided to go to Calatrava after seeing some pictures from one of our local friends. Our host mom, Ate Mareli has never been there before either so it is the perfect opportunity to discover something new together. As mothers do, she has prepared a large feast to take with us and made all of the arrangements. In the morning, a private jeepney arrives to take all of us there.
As we travel our three hour journey, we stop along the way to pick up unexpected passengers, people along the road who need a ride. We have plenty of room and we’re going in that direction anyways; sure why not? In America, the chance of a privately hired vehicle picking up others is pretty slim, but for Filipinos, this is the norm. We stop in Odiongan, the biggest town on the island, dropping off a small family and picking up more fruits and water for our trip. The scenery to Calatrava is breathtaking; we go up mountains, travel dirt roads, pass through barangays (small towns or neighborhoods) with glimpses of the coast from the road.
We finally arrive in Calatrava and load our food, belongings and at least 13 people, my family for today, pile onto a boat about 2 arm lengths wide. We sail across the ocean; the song from Moana as my mental theme song. She was pretty brave to be going across the ocean on a raft and a sail; I think that this small motor boat seems a little too risky to be out in the sea. The Philippines is made of 7,107 islands and we pass a few of them along the way. Whose job it was to count all of those islands?
Some of them are inhabited by people. I wonder how often they leave the island to get supplies or medical care. My rotation is called remote island medicine. But at least we live in a town with stores and restaurants. Where they live: THAT is true remote island medicine!
We arrive at our eating site, a resort called turtle cove. It’s beautiful! White sandy beaches, clear teal water within a wall of mountains.
We set up the food: rice (it’s with every meal, even breakfast) chicken adobo, pancit bihon, salted egg salad, puto, Filipino spaghetti, fresh fish, jicama, Asian mangos, watermelon and melon. I will never starve in the Philippines, we eat constantly! I eat a plate and go back into the water.
Later we travel to another part of the island, going over a mountain and discover our own private beach. There is a small swing and high cliff where the boys jump off. I get brave and jump also, landing on my butt in the shallow water. We play in the sand and the water, and I’m glad I brought my goggles; you can see all the coral and plants under the water. I find a small black and yellow stripped fish and follow him until he disappears into the sea. Years ago, my husband’s wedding ring was lost in the Atlantic ocean near the Bahamas. Today we find a gopro camera under the water. I guess it’s an even exchange.
I find a large rock in the middle of the sea and claim it as island 7, 108 of the Philippines. We leave the beach after many selfies, sun and burying each other in the sand. When we get back, we eat again, not even two hours later. I try to make a small plate, but Ate Mareli keeps bringing me more food. I tell her that I want the small piece and point to it, but suddenly she doesn’t understand English and scoops me a big piece anyways.
We pack up and get back on the boat to go island hopping. We see more beaches and dock at a mountainous island. There is no room at the makeshift port so we dock onto another family’s boat and climb through, crashing their party. When we get out, there are so many rocks and a hike to the ledge. I pray again that I make it home to see my family again as I battle the terrain to get a view from the top.
We sail back to Calatrava and ride a different route home, making a complete circle on the island. I enjoyed hanging with my Filipino family today and making lifelong friends and memories.