It was seventeen years ago when I first visited this charming little island in the northernmost part of Cebu, Philippines. I remember I was enchanted right away. Its sugary white sand, countless coconut trees and ingenious wooden houses provided the island a name amongst travelers craving for picturesque destinations.
However, Malapascua found an indelible way in my memory, not only because of its natural beauty, but because I’ve experienced something in the island that made me believe there are spirits living amongst us.
Back then, and now
With our back against the sand and our eyes awe-strucked by a sky full of stars, it seemed perspicuous to stay there forever, there amongst the white sand glimmering under a dark night decked with bright stars.
Electricity in Malapascua was through a generator when I visited it in 2000, and automatically at 9 PM, all lights were off. There were around 7 of us in the shore. “Let’s sleep the night here,” suggested one, and we all hollered “yes” in agreement, all jovial and ecstatic for the whole experience. With our back against the sand and our eyes awe-strucked by a sky full of stars, it seemed perspicuous to stay there forever, there amongst the white sand glimmering under a dark night decked with bright stars.
“Wow, it’s so beautiful here,” my parents echoed when we were in Malapascua two months ago. The island had changed quite a bit from the last time I was there. Obviously because that was more than a decade ago, and Malapascua, although still somewhat behind the advancement of bigger islands like Bantayan and Camotes, has carved a named for itself. Divers from all around the world called Malapascua their favorite diving destination, what with clear water and a marine life that houses Thresher Sharks. In fact, with ample time (around 2 weeks or more), one can get a diving license for around 18,000 to 20,000 pesos or cheaper.
Motorbikes or in Cebuano, habal-habal, is the only transportation available in this island of 2.5 by 1 kilometer. I asked my habal-habal driver about the population of the island and he said, flat-out, that he had no idea. I asked the same question to the manager of the resort where we stayed – Thresher Cove – and neither does he know.
With its smallness, we were able to tour the island by boat for only 4 hours, including several swim stops along the way. Our boat driver told stories of the biggest natural disaster that befell the island in October, 2013 – that of Typhoon Yolanda. “No wooden house stood still,” he said in strong Visayan accent. Most resorts opened as evacuation centers to those who had lost homes and properties. As the island had been like a second home to many divers from around the globe, a financial help from a group of international divers reached the locals a few weeks after the typhoon. “How kind of them,” I said, “It was a truly an appreciated help,” replied our boat driver.
Even from an increase of the number of resorts, souvenir shops, and houses; the locals are still the friendliest and most hospitable people that I recognized from 17 years ago.
And the mystery of the island remains.
Call of nature
I thought it all went well, until the next day, when my mother told me of what my father had experienced the night before.
On our last night in Malapascua two months ago, we treated ourselves to dinner on the other side of the island, and walked our way back to our resort. It took almost 30 minutes, a slow and dark walk that passed by resorts, houses, the town chapel, grass fields, and some sturdy trees along the path.
I thought it all went well, until the next day, when my mother told me of what my father had experienced the night before. I remembered that my father, at some point during the walk, was behind us for around a few steps. He had to pee, and found a place where he can. On his way back to keep up with us, he felt someone touched his ear. A very gentle touch that sent his hair standing to its end, so to speak. So as not to scare the rest of us, he never said anything about it until the next day when we had to leave the island.
My father’s experience reminded me of my own, 17 years back. I was a 19 year old city girl who had always been skeptic of people saying they see things that are hard to believe – white lady, ghosts, flying things. I used to laugh about them until that one dark night in Malapascua.
It was almost 11:00 when some of my companions abandoned the idea of sleeping in the seashore. It got pretty chilly and dogs in the island started to howl incessantly. We all got tired and jokes were not so funny anymore. No matter how I try not to think about it, the howling of dogs, sounding as if there were hordes of them, made me question what was there, in the darkness. What did the dogs see?
We finally rushed back to our cottage, some ahead of the others. My companion going back was Rose, we walked like we were tiptoeing, trying not to wake the other dogs in the island that were sleeping (at this point, I thought all of them were awake and howling).
We needed to pee and the toilet was far off. Our cottage at that time, did not have a toilet so we need to walk around 200 meters to the toilet from our accommodation. The dogs continued howling, and darkness was all around us, so I told Rose that I’m going to find a corner to pee and then she can take her turn after me.
His disappearance was swift, but his presence was definitely felt.
At Rose’s turn, while I was standing at the corner waiting for her, an image appeared. It was a man in white shirt. He looked tall and thin, his back facing me. I tried to figure out who it was by his body features and I could not tell who, none of my companion has the same body type as him.
I blinked, hoping to get a clearer image of him amidst the darkness. And this was when I started to get scared. He moved, smoothly, like his feet were made of air. He moved, and stooped. My eyes were carefully following his every move, and I was still figuring out who this man is.
All of a sudden, he disappeared. I couldn’t believe my eyes. His disappearance was swift, but his presence was definitely felt. There were plants from where he stood but not a single leaf moved where he bent and disappeared.
I wanted to shout but no words came out of my mouth.My knees got weak that I literally dragged myself to our cottage while praying the Lord’s Prayer. Shaking.
Turned out that it weren’t only me and Rose who saw an apparition. The next day, some of our companions narrated how they heard of footsteps and saw shadows roaming about.
Malapascua, with its mystery and beauty, truly knows how to make itself unforgettable. And funny enough that both experience involved answering “the call of nature.” And what’s more funny was, I’d love to come there again. No kidding.
Written: 27 October 2017
Photography: Cathy Perez