the island unfolded horizontally, resembling a sick boomerang, or a disfigured croissant, or perhaps more appropriately, the open claws of a crab: its blunt ends pointing either to the west or the east, bending a little in the middle, which was so narrow that either coasts, one facing the south china sea and the other mainland luzon, was separated by beach, grass, and rock, no more than 100 meters at its widest. the crossing to capones from barangay pundaquit was brief, although the waters stirred the boat gently. we were dropped off at one end of the northern beach where the reefs were less shallow, and walked to our campsite not too far away, but which for me felt like an ordeal, burdened as i was with an extra helping of camping gear. with each step i took, my feet sank into the beach: a mishmash of crushed corals, debris, jetsam, and flotsam. i immediately surveyed the island. at its ends, it rose to the sky with some modest hills, mostly sheer cliffs capped with a layer of soil on which grew grass. i had been here before, although this time around it seemed both unfamiliar and strange, like it had just recently emerged from underneath the sea.
the geology of the island is itself quite unique. the cliffs bear the lines of tectonic movements that took place thousands, or maybe millions of years ago, when the island oozed from the crater of an undersea volcano, or were torn from the mainland by the movement of the continental shelves. it all sounds beautiful and even mysterious, but the enchantment ends there. the island seems to be a magnet for trash, filtering the sea before it reaches luzon, attracting floating garbage from as far away as china and japan, judging by the text i found on things that have washed ashore. quite oddly, there are an infinite number of footwear on the island, that one could spend the whole day just trying to locate the other missing pair. there are also a lot of toys, that given the right age and a little imagination, one would have collected a whole army of soldiers, animals, mythical figures, and superheroes.
but inspecting slippers and rekindling a lost childhood were not part of my business in this particular visit to capones. i was there to photograph landscapes. not primarily, as i will later reveal. besides, the results of my foray into territories not completely charted have been average, at best.
i had a nagging suspicion that jay's invitation to join him and his landscape photographer friends for a shoot on the island of capones was somehow veiled with a few ulterior motives: that i was one, to bring in a lot of camping gear, and two, that i'd be cooking. noting that just being around jay somehow gave me a few more perspectives on landscape photography -- an area which i have yet to fully embrace, being more of a documentor of travel and adventure -- i very quickly accepted despite my reservations. on the friday before we left, jay asked if i had done my groceries, and then said he was excited. about the trip, or about the food? he had requested that i cook another batch of the aligue pasta i prepared when we were in baler, and my response was that my skills as an outdoor chef was far less limiting. i would have whipped up a pasta noir if squid ink hadn't been so damn expensive. so i dropped by the grocery one last time, and proceeded to pack two deuter bags: one with my gear and another one full of ingredients.
saturday morning, i found jay and his friends at the corner of EDSA and kamias. we sped off for zambales and i somehow influenced gideon, our designated driver, to take the SCTex. i wanted to experience how utterly smooth and world-class the highway was. and although the combined toll fees are good for at least 4 big macs, the smooth, obsidian tongue which rolled out ahead of us, cutting through mountains, farms, and the combined backyards of hundreds of landowners, was an immensely satisfying experience. running at just a little over 100kph, we reached tipo road of subic from the clark tollgate in just 33 minutes. i was reminded of that chinese proverb: the man who moves a mountain starts by taking away one stone. nothing is impossible. the road is a delight to drivers and passengers, and the views, free of distracting billboards, were fantastic. worrisome though was the peculiar absence of illumination at night.
after a brief stop for breakfast, we sped off for pundaquit in san antonio. once we arrived, i immediately ran to the river's mouth. it was nearly still, and i could not imagine how my friend tads could have been flushed out into the sea and travel north for over 100kms. the opening isn't even 4m wide, and was bent to the side by the onrush of waves.
at the island, we lingered for a moment, waiting for something dramatic to take place. the weather forecast was gloomy. the sky was filled with dark, brooding clouds, and curiously, no shadows were cast on the ground. rain came, and we stood under the spotty cover of a tree. then immediately afterwards, a little sun. there were windows of clear sky every now and then, during which we managed to set-up camp. we finally managed to pitch my marmot bise 2P, which we didn't get to do at baler. paolo and gid shared a TNF rock 22. at one point, a terribly strong gust of wind came and threatened to send our tents tumbling into the sea while i was inside. we fortified our tents with guylines tied to rocks. other than the tent, i also hauled into my deuter my MSR XGK XP, my one-of-a-kind primus camp lamp, my GSI cookset, and my MSR kitchen utensils. would the trip have been possible without me? perhaps.
and because my secondary purpose on this trip was to put my outdoor culinary skills to good use, i immediately worked the kitchen shortly before lunch. i experimented with a pasta aglio et olio, which i spruced with anchovies, sliced pitted olives, capers, shitake mushrooms, and baby clams. i hadn't prepared anything like it before, although i imagined the swirl of flavors in my head. i once told jay that i consult recipes, but what's more important is understanding how ingredients interact, and result in the desired flavor. for dinner, i fried my mom's shredded bangus spring rolls, and asked paolo to slice the schublig. the following day, breakfast was foccacia bread dipped in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and thyme, while early lunch was minced pork adobo (also cooked by my mom), and toasted pita pockets. my talents in the kitchen aren't limited to actual cooking, but thinking of ideas for a special and satisfying meal. just because you're outdoors doesn't mean meals should be any less stellar than when you're surrounded by the comforts of a well-equipped kitchen. i really should put together these outdoor cooking ideas and maybe write a book on the subject.
jay, paolo, and gid were very generous though about their comments on my cooking, and i kept saying that it was my honor to be around people who make me feel inferior as a photographer. i will not crow about my limited talents as a documenter of light and shadows, particularly because ever since i turned digital, the quality of my captures has somehow plateaued, or worse, has gone on a downward spiral. jay of course is already an accomplished landscape photographer, and i've added a few more admirers to his long list of swooning fans by simply forwarding his multiply to my friends. he still has his luna: a two-year old canon 30D aching for retirement. rust has collected on its screws from too much exposure to the elements, and its pop-up flash has also expired. jay's benro tripod is also in such a sorry state, i began to wonder whether the price for those prized images is sacrificing gear. gid and paolo also profess to be fans of jay, although they are themselves not lacking in terms of talent. although gid started on photography only about a year ago, and he took only about 50 shots during the entire trip, at least had a few decent captures on his nikon D300. paolo on the other hand brought a medium-format mamiya (which i've actually been thinking about) and a classic, antique-looking rangefinder. so between the four of us, all belonging to the same generation that grew up on days spent out in the street playing tagu-taguan and patintero, learning english with sesame street and burning hours viewing saturday fun machine, i was reduced to a mediocre shutterbug.
i say this because while capones during that weekend was rich with opportunities for great shots, i burned my chances with my lack of concentration and focus. i went there thinking i'd take better photos just by being around other photographers superior to me. but improving on one's craft isn't like second-hand smoke. it involves, more than just breathing the same air, a lot of hard work and study. gid lent me a graduated ND filter. but alas, i knew not how to use it. i was envious, to say the least, that we were on one island, but it seemed as if they were elsewhere. or it may be because i didn't have an ND400 and an ultra-wide angle lens. yes, that could be it.
at the end of the trip, i had made 2 more contacts who, like me, found pregnant silences awkward, and filled the air with tall tales about conquests and impersonations of comedians. it was also a quasi-workshop for me, and i quizzed jay relentlessly about his principles when he takes pictures, and why he sees things differently. it must have something to do with his impaired vision, and the fact that he's color blind. so i learned a little about design, about the foreground dominating the scene, about leading the eye to travel across the frame, about having a middle ground, etc. i really should corner jay and insist on a longer, more substantial lecture. i am less gifted as a photographer, but i have taught a lot more things to friends who've all of a sudden picked up a DSLR. so it's a good thing jay has a high regard for my skills as a weaver of tales and as a magician in the kitchen, not to mention that he also needs my gear. at least, i can rest in the knowledge that there will be another invitation to shoot, if not sooner, then later.