The Happiest People and the Starriest Skies at Higatangan Island

 Note: This is the second of 2 entries about Higatangan Island. Read the first entry here.

Higatangan Island in Biliran appears like a paradise with its white, shifting sandbar and its stretches of white beaches and rock formations, but it is scarce in drinking water and electricity. Electricity for homes is powered solely by generators and is expensive – thus, the generators are only turned on from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm daily. Only two wells in this island of two barangays and one sitio of five families have potable drinking water, so much of Higatangan’s drinking water is transported from the mainland.

But amid these difficulties, though, I could not help noticing the light and easy energy among Higatangan Island’s people. They carry big water containers to their homes as though these were nothing. They patiently prepare coconuts for copra and firewood. And, the Higatangons I observed sitting on the sandbar and talking and laughing had the energy of contentment with no worries weighing them down. I also saw fishermen get up early for the first catch, which I happily watched as I waited for sunrise in the sandbar.

Higatangons having fun at the sandbar

Fishing at first light

Mid-morning fishing

And while there are no hospitals in the island, help for transport to the mainland is easy to come by. I was happy to find out that the humble resort I stayed at, Higatangan Island Resort, offered their boats free of charge during previous emergencies.

Also, though Higatangan lacks electricity and drinking water, it is blessed with the abundance of the seas and the beauty of starry skies. Fishermen can provide nourishment fresh from the sea to their families. And, the skies at night are the darkest and starriest I have seen so far. It helps that Higatangan is an island around 45 minutes from the mainland and its lights are off at night. I have been part of a student astronomy organization in college and I would say that the skies in Higatangan are an amateur astronomers’ dream for stargazing. I saw more than ten shooting stars that night, and I was not even always looking up at the sky!

I was blessed to spend my one starry night in Higatangan with a friendly and generous local as well as cool world travelers from Europe and one from the Philippines who were also staying at Higatangan Island Resort. Tour guide and musician Ray Santillan warmly welcomed us into his home, where he entertained us with a few sets of upbeat music with his friends. I was inspired by the stories of the world travelers – most of them have been on the road for more than three months already. Their stories gave me a glimpse of what I wanted to do in the future.

The cool world travelers I met

Higatangan local Ray Santillan entertaining us with his great music

After gamely listening and later dancing to Ray and his friends’ music, we all walked to the nearby Emponet Barton Beach Resort where we had a bonfire and a few drinks. The owner, a nice and down-to-earth woman named Emily, joined us around the bonfire. We all would have talked until the sun came up if our boat the next morning was not scheduled so early.

I could not ask for more anyhow. That warm fire, sand on my feet, starry sky, and great company made my one night in Higatangan memorable. And, while the sandbar Higatangan is known for is always changing, I found its people’s warmth and kindness enduring.

Bonfire from dried coconut husks

Relaxing and chatting around the fire

 How to get to Biliran:

Take the van to Naval from Tacloban central terminal in Leyte. If you are coming from Ormoc, Leyte there is also transportation going to Naval from there. Just ask the locals.

How to get to Higatangan Island:

Take the boat which leaves at 11:30 am or 12 nn at Naval port in Biliran province. Fare is Php 50. Be there by 11 am or earlier to secure a seat. You can also rent a pumpboat to take you to the island. The boat trip from the island back to Naval leaves at 7:30 or 8 am the next day, so the best option is to stay overnight at the island to make the most of the experience.

Where to stay at Higatangan Island:

You can stay at Higatangan Island Resort, which is 5 minutes away from the sandbar. Their room rates start at Php 600, though you can pitch a tent there to save on expenses.

There is also the soon-to-open Emponet Barton Beach Resort, which is a little farther walk to the sandbar but has a nice shoreline. Contact its owner Emily Poyos Pragas at +639213413377 and at e-mail addresses emyemponet@yahoo.com and ipoyosa@yahoo.co.uk.

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