Rediscovering Awe in Pagbilao

July 25, 2018

In this visually saturated world, there's a word that often gets washed away at the redundant sight of must-sees and must-visits that buffet our Instagram and Facebook: awe.

Curiosity whittles down because every destination is only a click of a mouse. There is constant exposure to visual awesomeness. Yet for all that daily desensitization, I remember clearly how awestruck I was one quiet afternoon in Pagbilao.

After recording voice-over for a Biyaheroes Mother's Day ad, along with a pack of eight awesome people, we were ferried away from the modest port of Pagbilao to its tropical secrets. As guests, we didn't know we were headed exactly. We left it all up to Biyaheroes to do the surprising. 

At first, the port's mucky waters did not seem too inviting. But once the mangroves became fewer and the water gave way to bluer seas, doubt turned to promise. The boat navigated its way through islets and woods jutting out of the cyan sea. On the distant summer horizon, Pagbilao's coal plant commanded adventure. And we answered, "Aye!".

The boatman treaded lightly as we approached a chalky strip in the middle of the sea. "Bilaran Sandbar," Biyaheroes cofounder Mirra said. As the boat buoyed nearer, the glassy water sparkled against the sun, forming tiny constellations. We rushed down the boat as it halted, all giddy like children.

I combed my fingers against the soft sand, watching the ebb flow to the coal plant from afar. With crystal clear waters and disappearing beach strip, the islet is the epitome of tropical paradise. If this was our destination, I would have been beyond grateful, but as it turns out, this was only a pleasant stop. With high spirits, we boarded the vessel and our way to what they call "Puting Buhangin".

We stepped foot on the beach 20 minutes after. On weekends, locals say the horizon here looks like a sea of tents and tourists. On that weekday, free from the usual crowds, we saw it for what it was: a secluded hideaway for geckos and tourists seeking shade from the blistering sun. It was so peaceful that the rustling of trees at times beat human conversations.

I shut my eyes and listened. My heart was full: with peace, with wonder. With gratitude.

There is no other way to explain it, except that on that day, I rediscovered awe in that little isle and it stayed well until the days that followed.

When you travel for work, things can get ordinary pretty fast. It takes more to satisfy you. Soon, a beach is just a beach, and a waterfall is just another cascade you've already seen before. Rarely does an image of a "must-see" destination excite anymore.

But I guess, awe is something you don't see on your usual web surfing. It's not the things we see in brochures or a image-heavy listicle of "10 Reasons Why You Should Visit This or That". Sometimes, real magic comes in the form of surprises; those in-betweens that happen before you check a bucket list item." Awe lives in the unknown, in the unannounced - like the ones we saw in Pagbilao.

*Photos and article from a 2015 trip 

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