Biri Island is where the gods go to wage war. This is where the San Bernardino Strait combats the mighty Pacific as the latter pushes its tides into the Visayan domain. The elements, who bear witness to the ferocious duel, are caught trapped in the battlefield. The winds sometimes cheer, sometimes howl as they watch from above. The waves, in their desperate attempt to flee, lap up the edges of the shore. And the land, Biri Island, referees the constant clash but not without finding a silver lining, getting a hold of it, and never letting go. As it takes the beating from the seas, who just pound its hard face with one blow after another, it allows the gods’ skilled hands to shape its cliffs. Every punching wave is a stroke of art and every gusty storm is a painful dash of necessary sacrifice — the torture in art, the beauty in chaos. The result, staggering rock formations that intimidate not just with their immensity but, more importantly, their splendor.
The hum of the wind was beginning to weave a joyful melody in my head as it drowned the words that I was shouting to my friend Ces at the base of the cliff. I was at the summit of the Bel-at rock formation in the middle of the rocky shores of Barangay Progress in Biri, Northern Samar.
“THIS IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE THAT I HAVE BEEN TO!” I screamed my lungs out, hoping that she would hear me even when I was at the highest point of a giant rock and she at the very bottom of it.
“SAME HERE!” she yelled back.
I sat on a bench at the perimeter of the plaza and watched three boys play their version of Chinese garter. Their Chinese garter was not really a garter but a long bamboo stick. It’s “luksong tinik” quite literally. None of them, nevertheless, minded it.
The bubbliest of the three was Ben (not his real name). He was a determined, persistent fellow. He missed jumping over the hurdle successfully on his first try but tried and tried again but failed each time. Still, he asked his two friends to hold the stick on the shoulder level and made another attempt to bounce over it without touching the marker. He failed yet again. But I was not the only one watching someone that day. They were also returning the favor, even noticing the camera hanging from my neck.
“Kuya, kuya, picture!” shouted Ben.
I had never wanted to become an ornithologist until my visit to the fish ponds of the University of Eastern Philippines in Laoang Island.
I know; it sounds utterly odd to want to become a bird expert while standing in the middle of fish ponds. But we were not there to catch fish. At least, that was not the intention. We were just there to admire the view. Funny because it was the birds that caught our attention as soon as we arrived and before we knew it, we were birdwatching.
There was a duck in our bedroom window.
We were staying as a guest at a house of Architect Michael, a local who oh-so-graciously hosted us during our visit in Laoang, Northern Samar. The house is a concrete piece of beauty in the middle of the vast greenery, a five-minute trek away from the highway in Barangay Magsaysay. One has to cross a low wooden bridge, running over the crops. The beach is not visible from here. Taking the place of the waves are rows of rice whose leaves are being tousled by the sweeping cold wind.
When our habal-habal (motorcycle) hit the dirt road, we knew we were in for a treat. All major roads in Laoang, the island, in Laoang, the municipality in the northeastern tip of Samar, have been paved with concrete but it is still the dirt roads that serve as the only gateways, albeit difficult, to the outlying nooks of the island countryside. And these outlying nooks cradle some of the country’s most underrated yet wigsnatching beaches. Laoang Island is home to three of these isolated coves — Onay Beach, Magsaysay Beach, and Calomotan Beach.
A dozen teenage boys littered the shore with their excited yells and hurrahs as they mustered all their strength to grip on the little niches on the rock cliff. They climbed all the way to a tree on top of it. Their branches extended over the giant waves that splash the side of the massive rock. One by one, they jumped into the deep and disappeared beneath the bubbly waves only to resurface later. I sat on a table rock next to the cliff and watched them climb, jump, swim, and do it all over again— an exhilarating cycle that is powered by testosterone.
Although their pubescent cheers are signs of the good time that awaits here, it is said that the name of this place came from a sad, dark legend about a brokenhearted girl who lived a long, long time ago. We’ll get to that later.