Seclusion

I THOUGHT OF going out of town. The mere idea of hurriedly packing my bags, buying a random ticket for a bus trip that would take me somewhere far, quiet, and peaceful excited me. Chances were that I wouldn't be able to do any of these, anyway, with my packed and unpredictable schedule. So when I heard that I had a couple of days off, I asked my brother if he had plans for the extended weekend. I told him I wanted to see white sand; I hadn't been to the beach yet since the year had started. And the sand had to be white, or else it wouldn't look too good in the photos. 'We can arrange that,' he said. I felt giddy.

With barely two hours of sleep for the past 24 hours, I headed straight to Manong's apartment. We managed to drag two of our close friends along -- Kuya Arbie Magno, who also happens to be our distant relative, and Mike Tan, who's like a kid brother to us. The plan was to take a bus to Lucena, Quezon; get off at Lucena Grand Terminal; ride a jeep to the nearby Pagbilao town; take another Barangay Pulo jeep; and hop off at the end of the route. From there, we had another set of instructions too complicated to write in detail here, but which involved calling a tricycle driver our friend had met in the past, taking a quick boat ride, and hiking a rugged trail for 20 minutes. I didn't even know the name of the place where we were headed, but that didn't matter. I felt like Jack Kerouac, sans the drugs and booze, taking a road-trip from one end of the US to another, getting off to where my feet would take me.

The road to the beach was itself an adventure. Oh, how gracious the Lord was in answering even the most petty of requests -- a quiet, secluded weekend getaway!

The sun was about to set when we had arrived. A boy, probably 10 years old, helped us settle in the little boat that took us to the other side of the island.

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We had to hurry because it was gradually getting dark, and we didn't have flashlights with us. The trail was rocky and muddy, without any human in sight. Thankfully obscure signs were put up. The place we were headed to was called Kuwebang Lampas. That was nice to know.

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We passed through an almost dried-up mangrove site, which, if anything, was a sign that we were probably close to our destination.

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My heart skipped when I saw the horizon -- the sky washed with streaks of orange, the salty wind caressing my face -- and I was thankful.

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The beach looked like it was scene cut out from the movie Castaway.

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This tree, anchored to the edge of a limestone rock, would later become of our favorite spots.

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The waters were calm. I didn't know the weather forecast, but I was praying to see the sun while we were there.

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At this point in our trip we had to find the island's caretaker. The problem was that there were no houses around, not even huts or sheds or indications of human dwelling, but we kept on walking, until we found a narrow trail that led to an equally narrow, dilapidated, rusty gate, and there she, the caretaker, greeted us. We finally had a place to rest our heads.

It was getting darker and darker every minute. We asked where we could buy candles as we were settling in our rented hut. There was no electricity in Kuwebang Lampas, which made us realize we got what we wished for -- a temporary divorce from our fast-paced lives in Manila. Kuya Arbie set his tent up nearby, while I rolled my blue towel and turned it into a make-shift pillow. I must've slept for 15 minutes, until I heard my friends preparing what little food they brought. For dinner, we had sumptuous Jollibee take-out meals. We talked and talked, and the conversation must have spanned our childhood to our plans in the future. When we finally decided to take a dip, we realized we had only been there for a little more than 30 minutes. What a crazy time-warp!

I swam that night. The water was surprisingly cold, but that didn't prevent me from floating in the water, my face looking straight at the sky, already dotted with blinking stars. My thoughts turned to Psalm 8:4, 'What is man that You are mindful of him?' because all the things that have happened to me these past months -- the good and the bad and the depressing -- were so designed by the Lord for my good and ultimately, His glory.

I slept peacefully that night. I couldn't remember my dreams, but I recall waking up at 2 am, with the bright moonlight streaming through the nipa hut's imperfect corrugations.

In the morning,  I frolicked along the beach.

Hot, white sand under my feet

I explored the place.

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The waters were clear; I could see the rock formations beneath.

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I came close to the rocks, as well, but I was careful not to sustain a traumatic injury of any form, especially of stepping onto sea urchins.

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I saw these creatures clinging to the rocks. They looked edible.

Fresh pick

There was a coral, probably long dead, shaped like a brain.

Brain coral long dead

We entered the Kuweba, and during our brief spelunking adventure, I discovered Mike's irrational fear of bats. He constantly egged me to walk faster. At the other side of the cave was yet another strip of white sand beach, otherwise covered by the sea during the high tide.

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The morning sky was perfect.

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We went farther on, and this was the sight we beheld.

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My brother carried on with his reading.

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Meanwhile I spent yet another couple of hours catching up on my sleep. Words couldn't quite explain how comfortable I had felt during those moments.

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And it was time to head home.

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It felt like we had been away for three days!

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