Magalawa Island, Zambales: Peace and Fortitude In Solo Traveling

February 26, 2014

Contrary to some who travel to escape a boring routine, my spur of the moment journey to Zambales' Magalawa Island was one that was spawned from a longing for peace. That week, my stepdad’s ghost showed up in every corner along with other personal tribulations. My spirit was simply blending in with the noise, verging on stray.

I left my mother's Manila home before noon, carrying a humongous six-kilo backpack that contained my clothes and my daughter’s. On my shoulder dangled a beat tote bag that carried personals, food and mother’s homemade goodies, her thinking I was heading straight home. No one knew I was boarding a bus to Palauig, Zambales.

With an extra 23-kilo weight (15-kilo toddler included), I muscled my way through the hectic Victory Liner Monumento terminal for the 6 ½ -hour trip.

Long trips are always a challenge when I travel solo with the tot. There’s the horror of tantrums, food flying mid-air, extra weight to carry.  But there in our little nook in the bus, we found more peace than horror. 

Spectacular sunset along the San Narciso road

Misty-eyed, we watched the westerly spectacle of the sun sinking down an infinite stretch of sea and lahar. On the opposite side were mountains - endless, monstrous, intimidating and beautiful.

By 6:30 pm though, I began to worry. We were still in San Narciso, three towns away from the port in Luan where we were supposed to take the five-minute boat ride to the island. All the way to Botolan, the road was pitch black.

An hour later, we were dropped off at a dim, deserted highway. There’s an unmanned shed on either side, each illuminated by a gas lamp. I carried Lia, now asleep in my arms, to the street across where a lady approached me to say that Kuya Mulo, the resort caretaker, is waiting for us at the port.

Such beautiful creatures abound on the island.

My heart pounded as the tricycle trudged down the alternate chunks of asphalt and rocks. I was expecting a beast to charge at us from behind the chest-high grass. Thirty minutes of this grim. Jesus. Why did I ever miss the 11 am bus? I have never traveled this far alone and with a child to boot.

Yet oddly, it comforted me to be alone somewhere foreign however mortifying. Because that’s the thing about travel. It is risky and sometimes totally irrational. It displaces you from your safe place and your little luxuries to test. It is those tests that inspire change and insight.

We tilted our heads back to the swarm of stars overhead. Cassiopeia, Pleaides, Little Dipper. Their sharp, tiny rays the only light that led the way apart from the headlights. Oh how small one is in a world where the niceties of modern civilization are stripped off.

The thrill dissipated by the time we reached shore. There was nothing to appreciate except for the cute couple – the island’s sole visitors - outside a tent by the sea. Lia and I were bone-tired.

A glimpse of Magalawa from Luan port

But in the middle of sleep, anticipation haunted me again and I woke up groggily every hour since 2 am, wary of missing first light. By 6 am, she finally showed herself: shades of tangerine and periwinkle, with neighboring San Salvador and Matalvis Islands in view, greens sewn in whites and blues.

Magalawa Sunrise.
We took that day breathing in the rural life. Outside our hut on a bamboo cot, Lia and I ate canned tuna barehanded, the only remnant of a dog invasion from the resort next door. It was a disastrous start, but we had the sun, starfishes and talc-like sands, gently sloping to  still waters, to revel in. We were impervious to anything else.

In the heat of mid-morning, we walked a good two, three kilometers to the western end of the island, toward a beautiful mangrove forest where flocks of egrets flipped and flapped and mothers gathered tree branches in their boats for cooking. 

Never once did my Dora-crazed tot crave for Dora. She was content. We both were.

The wind hummed as I shut my eyes in the water. My heart was aglow and my soul, soldered. Cornball, I know, but that’s what travel does to me. It lends lasting serenity and happiness like no other. It allows me to transcend misery and see things in a renewed light.

I could've opted for a comfy hotel in Subic or Bataan. But for the love of God, I just had to choose this remote island near the controversial Pajo de Masinloc. I specifically chose Magalawa Island knowing it didn't have air conditioning, a nice pool, massive LED TVs and other RC-operated distractions (or even electricity from 7am to 6pm!). 

I chose it to debug my life of complications. Magalawa, after all, is the emblem of life at its simplestHungry? Make fire. Need to pee? Walk and take the common toilet. Bored? Take a hike or read a book. Magalawa is bad ass like that, in an undertow travel sort of way.

Kuya Mulo was surprised we left so early. "Work’s waiting,” I said. I wanted so bad to stay but the hours were fetching us home. My solo trip, though short-lived, served its purpose.

Sparkly and still. Matalvis Island in foreground.

People travel for many reasons. Some travel for business, some to experience a piece of the world a first time. Some book flights because tickets are on sale, others to escape routine. And yet some, travel in search of their souls. As the great Rumi said, "Travel brings power and love back in your life". In Magalawa Island, I have found both and my place back into the world. 

Going to Magalawa? Check out my comprehensive Magalawa guide here.

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