The moon was still out when we awoke the next day. The resort was practically deserted and I took the chance to snap this quick panorama. There was nothing but stillness and silence as far as the eyes could see and the ears could hear, but there was a thick energy in the air.
It was the day we were to visit the beach on the Great Sta. Cruz Island, and because you have to admit that’s a highlight of summer, we were all extremely excited! But first, a hearty breakfast to prepare us for a full morning of swimming and frolicking on the beach! Fried milkfish and corned beef so thin and cooked to a crisp on fried rice with some scrambled eggs on the side. Now that is what I call breakfast!
The port is located in the Paseo Del Mar, and it took us perhaps less than 30 minutes to get there from La Vista. As you can see, it was an absolute fine day for sailing. The boats taking tourists to the island can sit about 9 people, and if you’re alarmed about riding with an armed military escort, it’s actually perfectly natural. Aside from ensuring safety, since the Great Sta. Cruz Island is close to the smaller Sta. Cruz Island where the military trains, the escorts are there to make sure the tourists don’t accidentally wander off to the military training grounds.
I remember the last time I sailed to an island, the waves were so ridiculously strong it felt like our boat was being thrown of like juggling pins from one hand to another. This was the complete opposite of that. Quite honestly, I could sit in this boat all day and watch the sky disappear into the water, enjoined by an invisible horizon until it is nothing but a gradient of blue. This is the very definition of peace of mind.
I’m certain our boatman loves his job a great deal.
The boat ride takes about 15 to 20 minutes, and soon enough the island was in sight.
Great Sta. Cruz Island is a small protected area, which means visitors are not allowed to take home any corals, seashells, marine life, or even sand. Littering is absolutely not allowed either, and these are some of the reasons why the beach looks absolutely gorgeous and absolutely perfect for another panorama!
Primarily untouched by commercial tourism, there weren’t quite that many people on the beach the day we came. There were cabanas and some huts all over the shore but not all of them were used. No overcrowding, no noise, only perfection. And making it more perfect than it already is is its pink sand, coloured by the corals. I’ve never seen pink sand before, and the sand here is fine and very nice to walk on barefoot.
It was conducive for beach volleyball, which I have been looking forward to since I found out we were going to a beach. I haven’t touched a volleyball in more than two years so I was rusty like hell, but I’ve always loved the sport. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is quitting my volleyball team during my university years so I relish the times I get to play volleyball again if only to ease that regret.
When it had become too hot to bear, the temptation of the cold embrace of the clear glimmering water became too much. We all ran towards the shore, and unfortunately, the seashells and corals buried under the sand were terribly painful to step on. You could wear shoes if you’d like, but the rockiness stops once you’re actually in the water. Just tread as fast as you can! About six feet away from the shore, the water suddenly drops into a depth that is good for a bit of scuba diving, but a peek into my goggles showed me some fish swimming in the shallower area of the beach as well. The drop is not gradual but very very sudden, a sudden shift from 5-feet to 8-feet within the span of a footstep, so don’t wade too far from the shore if you’re not such a good swimmer.
After a good swim, we wandered off to an open area where some ladies were selling souvenirs and jewelries. They had arranged their tables into a half circle, allowing visitors to walk from one table to another easily. Pearls featured highly among the tables and my Mother even bought me a pair of simple pearl earrings for Php 200 (US$ 4.90). I loved that each table featured a different kind of adorable makeshift souvenir boats made using seashells.
Even the colourful drawings and writings inside these tiny souvenir seashell keychains were different from vendor to vendor. I bought one for myself to keep because I thought they were rather cute, and quite cheap, costing only Php 20 (US$ 0.50). The jewelries are made using mother of pearl and corals and have this very distinct island-ethnic look about them.
After a grand time swimming and playing around, everyone had started becoming rather hungry. Although one has the option to eat at the beach (mostly grilled seafood and seaweed salad), our group decided to take our lunch back at La Vista. I felt sad about leaving this little piece of paradise, but my neck was throbbing with the first signs of sunburn. My brothers were all looking rather dark already as well. Luckily we decided to come here early in the morning, when the sun’s rays aren’t at their hottest and most violent, otherwise we’d have been burnt to a crisp! Funny how you never notice these things while you’re in the water though.
A few minutes before noon, our boats arrived to take us directly back to La Vista.
I’m not even sure how long it took to sail back to La Vista, but it must’ve taken more than half an hour. I enjoyed the calmness of the sea so much I fell asleep on my seat! I wasn’t the only one though. The breeze and the silent humming of the motor combined for a lullaby.
Our arrival at the beaches of La Vista seemed like a spark-plug that brought it to life. The normally a near-empty shore suddenly filled with a flurry of activity when five boats docked at the same time carrying a bunch of hungry but still energetic tourists.
We docked right beside the restaurant of La Vista . When the colourful vintas of La Vista came to sight, I realised just how hungry I was, so I was happy La Vista had prepared a feast for us upon our return: fresh fish in soy sauce, bitter gourd salad with vinaigrette, barbecue chicken, pork adobo, and fried eggplants.
I walked around La Vista after lunch and there were a tad bit more people swimming on the beach than I ever saw the duration of my stay here. There was even a man fishing.
We rested for the rest of the afternoon before making our way to the last dinner we were to have in Zamboanga. We decided to have it in Paseo del Mar, the plaza by the sea. It is very similar to what we have here in Manila where restaurants line the reclaimed esplanade by the bay. The biggest difference (and the key difference I think) is that it doesn’t smell at all here at Paseo compared to Manila Bay, and the area is much much cleaner.
The famous restaurants we previously visited like Alavar, as well as Palmeras also set up here so we were able to have a last taste of the famous Knicker Bocker before heading home. It was nice to eat al fresco while looking out at the sea and anticipating the sunset.
Near the port where we rode our boats to the island this morning, there is an area where the Badjao (the water-loving tribe in the Philippines) kids are gathered together in their colourful little bangkas. They shout to the tourists to toss spare change into the water and watch them dive for it for show. They keep trying to catch the attention of the people standing by the dock, pounding on their makeshift drums, asking and asking and asking for coins.
The Badjao coin-hunters are all very young; the eldest of them I wager must be 16 years of age. And would you believe I even saw a child who looks to be about 5 paddling away on his own little bangka stark naked? As strange as it feels for this to be marketed as some unique tourist attraction, this is how they earn a living for their families. This is in fact their way of life. You can see it in the leanness of their body and their agility in the water. Each time a coin was thrown in, all of them would hastily pull on their goggles and showcase their impressive talents for diving.
Each time they would retrieve the coin from the depths of the water, their heads would the surface after a few seconds always with a smile.
I left the Nadjao children to their fun when I saw that the sun had began to set. Apparently a lot of people had the same idea as they all took seats by the sea to watch the dwindling rays of the sun paint the skies and cast gorgeous colours over the water. It was a picture perfect moment, and I couldn’t have asked for a much better sight to keep in my memories for my last evening in a place so full of natural beauty (and man-made beauty as well thanks to the Yakan weavers).
And with that we bade Zamboanga a good night, and an until next time.
Other posts in this series: