How do you end a 7-week backpacking adventure that has changed you, humbled you, and left you in mute awe far too many times than you thought you deserve?
I had no ready answer to that question. Just a little over 24 hours before my flight from Roxas, Capiz, back to Manila, I felt I had nothing more to ask for – the past several weeks already filled me with much gratitude. And yet a small part of me longed for one last adventure.
So I decided to go with the flow – as doing so had served me well during my solo adventure – and see where it would take me this time. Which was how I found myself that clear blue morning on a white pumpboat with a kind family – many of them Capiznons – bound for Olotayan Island, a 53-hectare island which I was told was perfect for snorkeling diving, or simply lying on the beach.
Olotayan Island is an island of legend. The name is a combination of olo (“head”) and “tyan” (stomach), as a Capiz legend tells of a cruel giant whose body the anitos (gods) struck with lightning, scattering his body parts all over the sea. Nearer to Roxas’ shore is Mantalinga Island – reportedly the giant’s “mata” (eyes) and “talinga” (ears).
Peter Magpayo, the boat owner and tour operator of one of Roxas’ Panay River tours, told me en route to the island that we were lucky – usually the trip to Olotayan can take more than an hour if the waves were strong, but that morning, the sea was almost as still as a lake. The anitos, if they indeed exist, seemed to favor us.
As we came closer to the island’s white shores and jewel green foliage, I could not help noticing the absence of houses. Had I not been told in advance that Olotayan has people – albeit less than 1000 – living on it, I would have sworn the island was deserted.
Finding a place to dock
When our boat docked, the island was quiet, peaceful, seemingly untouched by civilization. Not a tiny breeze ruffled the leaves of the talisay trees or disrupted the calm blue of the sea. The only manmade structures in sight were a few nipa cottages, where we later had our lunch. I took my first barefoot step on the sand and reveled on the grainy feel of the cascaho, the tiny shells that make up Olotayan’s beach.
The family I was with and I met Erlan, an Olotayan-born Capiznon, who replenished our short supply of rice during lunch. Later, seeing my curiosity about their island – and after being peppered with questions like “What do you do here everyday?” and “What do you do for fun?”, he offered to take me to their community.
I gamely said yes, expecting a long walk around the island. To my surprise, he led me to a path that cut across the other side of the island.
Erlan, a local, leading me to the other side of Olotayan
Emerging on the other side of the island, I found fishing boats, fishing cages – and of course, houses. Here was the life and activity of the island, though still subdued.
A cage Olotayan locals use for catching crabs
Despite the subdued air in the community, though, the locals did not fail to give me a warm welcome. Had they had a red carpet, I suspect they would have even rolled it out for me. Erlan’s friend climbed a coconut palm to pick and chop a fresh coconut open for me. Meanwhile, Ate Net “Luningning” regaled me with island stories, while making sure I was comfortable where I sat.
One of the locals climbing up to give me a fresh coconut
Erlan and his friends who are no strangers to fishing proudly showed me one of their fresh catch that morning – a giant squid (or at least it looked that way to me).
Before dawn, each Olotayan fisherman sails at least one hour to the deep sea to catch squids like this one. These are what they sell to the mainland of Roxas, where they also get fresh water for drinking and bathing. There is no running water in the island, though Roxas’ water district fills up the island’s few tanks when they can.
Also, the island only has electricity from 6 pm to 10 pm, which certainly guarantees a starry, starry sky once the lights are out, just like my experience in Higatangan Island.
Olotayan Island’s beauty and people certainly reminded me of the charm of Higatangan Island, though the earlier looked far more quiet and deserted.
Ate Net, Erlan and two of their friends sat with me, gamely telling me more about life in the island. Aside from watching TV, playing cards and singing in the neighborhood videoke are some of the things they do for fun here.
And, out of the blue, Ate Net confessed to me her secret desire: “I wish Jessica Soho would come interview us here in this island.” She said it in the manner of a child wishing something from Santa this Christmas. The other locals nodded their assent.
The way she said it made me wish that her wish would come true, too. I mentioned this conversation later to a representative from Capiz Tourism.
With new friends from Olotayan Island
Sitting there, laughing with these friendly locals and sipping the freshest coconut water, I again felt that feeling of euphoria, peace, and utter contentment so common during my 7-week adventure. It was that curious mix of feeling right at home and yet experiencing the thrill of adventure.
Much later, I learned in my research that 80% of the island’s population live in the poverty threshold. And yet I did not feel they were poor – neither do they, I guess. Instead, they are very rich – rich in what is essential.
Indeed, going to Olotayan was a fitting finale to my 7-week adventure – not a climax in the manner of fireworks, but a quiet affirmation of what I was blessed to experience all along these past several weeks.
Ate Net, Erlan, and other new friends told me I was always welcome in Olotayan. I believed them.
And, in classic Olotayan hospitality and caring, Erlan walked me back to the boat and even gave coconuts to the family I traveled with. I was just in time.
I was no longer able to snorkel because of our limited time in the island, and so I contented myself watching the colorful coral reefs as our boat sliced through clear emerald waters.
View from the moving boat
Some travel destinations, though not strikingly beautiful, become exceptional because of their beautiful people; some otherwise beautiful places considerably lose their appeal, also because of their people. Olotayan Island, with its white shell beaches, abundant greenery and marine life, and warm people, is doubly – undoubtedly – beautiful.
Olotayan Island’s shore in shades of white and grey
To book a boat trip to Olotayan Island and/or to other islands in Capiz, contact “Panay River Tour” at +63917-4974422. You can also get in touch with Capiz Tourism at +63921-3860210 and firstname.lastname@example.org.