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Young Blood

Not just a tourist spot

/ 05:01 AM June 14, 2012

When I was young my family and I always passed this long stretch of road in going to Sulangan (a famous place among religious devotees) in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. This road was, in every part, bumpy. This road was also very dusty, to the point that one could actually have an asthma attack while traversing it. But this road leads to magnificent features that other roads in the whole of Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), or perhaps the whole Philippines, are not blessed with: awesome waves, crystal-clear waters, fine white sand, half-virgin forests, weird but beautifully shaped shells, and corals by the seashore, to name just a few.

Tourists call it Calicoan Island, the locals call it ABCD, but I call it home. Calicoan is just one of many must-see places in Guiuan, but it is beautifully placed, looking out to the Pacific Ocean on the eastern side and to the Leyte Gulf on the western side. Perfect for not only the ultimate Pacific adventure but also for lazy days spent just watching the waves.

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The island is famous for its big waves and white sand. It is not uncommon to see waves of eight feet or more. On days when the wind is up, it is not unusual to see people of different nationalities—American, British, Australian, Korean, Filipino—male and female, riding the waves and soaking up the sun. At this time, the months between May and October, the island is peopled by more than just locals. In fact, every October the municipality holds a surfing contest known as the Odyssey Waves National Surfing Competition. It is now on its seventh year. Tourists from all over the world flock to the island for the beach, the sun and the waves.

Before Calicoan had resorts, villas and subdivisions to quench the tourists’ thirst for a slice of paradise, the island was covered by a thick, untouched forest with abundant wildlife. One could expect to see monkeys dangling from the tree branches and observing passersby. And if one happened to be in Calicoan at night, one might see a parade of crabs making their way to the other side of the road, especially on a full moon.

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The island also prides itself in fresh seafood like lobster, crab, tuna, blue marlin and Spanish mackerel. Nature lovers will find themselves following the forest’s small trails that lead to caves, rugged cliffs and other unexplored nooks and crannies of nature. Near the end of a 3-kilometer beach is a cliff where one can stand on top and feel the spray of the waves that constantly smash on its jagged parts. And one should not forget to climb to the yoga camp and behold the breathtaking view of the whole island bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf.

Unbeknownst to many, Calicoan played a major role in Philippine history. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, the first man to circumnavigate the world, first landed in the Philippines on Homonhon Island, a neighbor of Calicoan. Apart from that, the island was a major staging area for the American forces during the last stages of World War II. When Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines and landed in Leyte, Guiuan became the largest supply base in the Pacific. Over 100,000 servicemen were stationed in the area and Guiuan instantly became a bustling hive of activity. The Americans also built a 7,000-foot runaway which hosted a stream of fighter planes, jets, and bombers as well as patrol and transport planes. This large airfield remains in good shape and is still used for private flights.

The airfield is not the only living remnant of the war. A concrete rotunda and a flagpole with an inscription “US Naval Forces Supply Depot August 1, 1945” is centered at a crossroad in going to Calicoan. Part of today’s road that runs the length of the island was the original road built by the Americans. Just a few miles off Calicoan is the venue of one of the fiercest sea battles, known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the Japanese forces lost a thousand lives and their hold on the Philippines.

Although very little remains from that historic period, Calicoan will always be a part of the history of Americans, Japanese, Spanish, and most especially Filipinos.

Indeed, Calicoan has lots to offer in terms of history and natural gifts. It can hold its own in the company of truly famous tourist spots in the Philippines, but some people like myself are realizing how much more there is in which the place can take pride. Splendid isolation, for one. Far from the maddening crowd, as they say. An escape from the busy tourist scene. Although it has this adventurous vibe brought about by the surfing crowd, it still has the quiet and serene charm of an untouched paradise. On Sundays, one can see whole families flocking to Calicoan, enjoying a day out or celebrating an important occasion over lunch attended by the sea breeze. Compared to internationally known Boracay Island, Calicoan offers less hustle and more of nature and relaxation. Perfect for those who feel like they are moving way too fast in this busy world.

And since Calicoan has so much to offer, it can be a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it is peace and quiet. It is the feeling one gets on a Sunday morning when there is no work or school to think about. When I am there, I feel like the world belongs to me and I control my own time. It is more than just any other tourist spot; it is home. I was there even when the island was just part of an old road. I was there when resorts started to sprout. I was there when major events started happening. I was there when the island was featured on national television.

I have always been proud to live near Calicoan. I haven’t been home in months, and I haven’t been on this road for a very long time. But someday when I’m all tired out by my almost busy lifestyle in Tacloban City, I know that I’ll find myself driving down the long road again on an early Sunday morning. You know what they say: You’ll always find your way back home.

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Jam Cañezal, 20, is a junior compliance officer and business development staff member at Machica Firm Inc., an auditing and BPO firm.

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TAGS: Calicoan Island, Eastern Samar, Eastern Visayas, Philippine history
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