Pristine is a word I always try to avoid when I’m writing. One, I live in noxious Metro Manila, and we place a high premium on “purity,” since we live in such a polluted, dank place. Two, how the heck would I know what pristine is? I even have to filter the water I use to clean my crap. It’s that bad. So if I really think about it, I have no other reference for “pristine” other than Boracay back in the early 90’s. Whatever Boracay is now is barely even a shadow of its former self. The famous white sands are no longer white (they’re a hybrid creamy yellow-green).
If you have ever seen Boracay’s white sands back then, it was so powder white it was like being coated by warm snow. If you try and stare at the sand when the sun was high above, you’d seriously see spots for several hours. And how fine was it back then? It was like drifting your hand through a beach made of flour.
Being Boracay pre-1998 as my reference for “pristine,” I then now use that word to describe the emerald green island that is Calaguas (located an hour or so away from Paracale, Camarines Norte, Bicol, Philippines).
At least, up until this year we can still call it pristine.
Calaguas’ waters are so clear that I’d say it was visible up until 20 feet. Only some meters away from the shore and it’s already 12 feet deep, but the waters are so still and clear that you can see your shadow on the ocean bottom. (I finally did something I’ve been wanting to do since I first came to this island in 2008: just take my clothes off and jump in as soon as the boat slowed down enough. And I love my friends and my sister for just smiling at me when I jumped into the water, for throwing the GoPro into the water with an “Ai, catch!” and telling me that they’d meet me on the shore with my stuff.)
This may be the last time in a very long time that I’ll be coming to Calaguas. I’ve been coming here at least once a year since 2008, and it’s already so different from the first time I saw it in Oh-Eight. The island is showing wear and tear from those really smart people who thought that putting up a mobile bar, a loud sound system, and lining up the boats so that they could shine their lights a la Boracay beach was cool. In Calaguas.
How come nobody ever told them that was not the best idea in the world? I’m all for modernity, and I am a big fan of partying… But we need to know our limits. And last night, I could feel Calaguas blurring the lines of those limits between modernity and Boracay-rate destruction. I would appreciate a decent bathroom in that place. But there is such a thing as noise and light pollution.
I couldn’t see the stars anymore from the beach. I remember before that as soon as night falls on Calaguas, the sky would look like a big star-studded black blanket, and if you close your eyes and lie down on the soft, springy sand, all you’ll hear is the sound of your breathing, the ocean, and the stars. Last night, I tried to do that, and it was utter failure. There weren’t any more stars. The lights they set up made the beach look like some amber-colored thing instead of the glowing silver beach it should’ve been if only they let the moon did its job. Instead of the ocean and my breathing, all I could hear was a bad remix of some top 40s, a slightly decent (if unsteady) rendition of some “acoustic” songs, and yelling. In the morning, when I woke up at 6AM for a swim, the beach was already dotted with pedestrians.
Hurrah, Calaguas. You’re only five years away from destroying yourself like Boracay.
Look, if we’re Filipinos, then Calaguas is ours. Do you really want it to go down the way of Boracay? Please, please, I am crying out to anyone who can read this: don’t turn Calaguas into Boracay. If you’re going to develop it, fine. But please let it be a place where I can bring my children to and say “Look, baby. See the stars? Yes, baby, Manila Bay used to look like this! (Back around the time when Intramuros was actually a city, maybe.)”
We’ve been so irresponsible so many times with our islands, let’s not let this one go to waste. One day, we’ll look back and we’ll think, “wow, what have we done?”
It is possible to mix modernity and keep the environment safe from our destructive habits. Let’s figure this out, come on.