it is with much sadness that i sit on my desk, writing about my trip to the island of potipot in zambales. i didn't do much research on our destination, and regretfully, didn't have the luxury of time to speed off for UP diliman to attend the pre-activity meeting at the UPM's old tambayan at the UP main library. i just wanted to be surprised by the experience. indeed, i was surprised, and not in a good way.
there were nearly 30 of us who took part in this island getaway: an opportunity for UPM to share its advocacy for the environment and also to recruit members. since people in my club are currently preoccupied with things that do not involve things which i would identify with the great outdoors, i jumped on an open invitation of vince: an old collegian colleague of mine. besides, i had heard of potipot before, from photographers mostly, and i haven't been there. besides, i still cannot get over the fact that inclement weather forced me to call off our trip to calaguas island, so this was a necessary pill. i volunteered to do most of the meal plan for our group, which at the last minute included genie and karlo, and supposedly 5 others, which later on was whittled down to 2. i was pretty excited when i went off for jollibee in philcoa, a place which still brings back memories of my years as a student.
so we crammed ourselves into a yellow coaster, and left for uacon at close to midnight. before sunrise, and apparently, after getting nearly lost at least twice, we were getting off at the edge of the beach, watching as the rising sun painted the horizon in the west a mix of mauve and salmon. the island of potipot was right before us, and if i were better geared, i would probably have taken up kerwin's challenge to swim to the island: it wasn't even a kilometer. but i hadn't slept well inside the coaster, and so the minute i arrived, and after munching on the raisin bread i purchased at cinnabon, i put up my hammock and slept. under closed eyes, i could hear the unending roar of boat engines coming and leaving the island. when finally i decided to get up and prepare for lunch, the island was already teeming with over a hundred people: families on day trips, and barkadas on camping escapades, with their coolers and beer bellies, their board shorts and their kitschy sunglasses. i was aghast. was i the last person to have heard about potipot island? i hate crowds with a passion, and one of the reasons i escape the city on weekends is because i long to be lost in the wilderness of my imaginations, be deafened by the sound of leaves scratching against the branches. but potipot island, which has a huge sign with the words "private property" in bold, red letters painted on it, was already equipped with tables, bungalows, a tree house under construction, two reciprocating hand pumps, a store, and even someone who collects P100 per visitor and persons to rake in dead leaves and collect trash to throw them into a garbage pit at its western end which gets burned during the weekday when there are less tourists.
the sight of people took out much interest in me to explore and photograph the island, particularly because a camera club was even there to snap shots of potipot while under the infernal heat of the sun. instead, i stayed close to our area, swam a bit, and even dared to go into the deeper parts of the sea until the demarcation rope and its yellow buoys. it was only upon kerwin's invitation that i did a walk of the island, and it didn't even take us more than 20 minutes. on the other side, where the sand is finer, there are even more people. facing the west are rocks which border the edge, it looked as if they'd been arranged. the trunk of an enormous fallen tree rests on its side here. i returned to our area and prepared dinner, and paused only to try to get some good shots of an unimpressive sunset. that night, karlo helped me prepare my aligue pasta dish with tuna, capers, and black olives. afterwards, some of the UPM people did some fire poi dancing, and then kerwin and ria (whom i met in bagasbas last year) taught us how to make smores from graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate, and a stove. i did a cooking show out of it. i was also a bit surprised to find out that the UPM folks sleep pretty early: ria, kerwin and i were the last men and woman standing. for a change, i didn't have to crawl to my tent, and i woke up, surprisingly without a cleaving headache.
that morning, more visitors were dropped on the island, it seemed like any beach in batangas. i suppose, with something this accessible, word gets around pretty quick, and people are always drawn to places that are supposedly new and different. but my disappointment with potipot rests not in the fact that it isn't beautiful. it has its charms, surely, but because it was not how i imagined it to be: i desired a feeling of being marooned, of being out of reach, a castaway, if you will (jijit of survivor philippines was there with us). but i had none of that. potipot is not pristine, far from virgin, and definitely not undiscovered. we were the last to hear about it.
my inclinations tend to draw me far away from the city, to places disconnected from the rest of the world, and isolated from everthing that is urban and its decaying attributes. and i have been to many such places, but i hunger for more. but what i find troublesome is that many more people are getting the same ideas: pursue adventure and experience the outdoors, but are unwilling to come without the bad habits they've developed while prowling and hunting in their concrete jungles. on potipot, it seems clear the there are many desiring to be with nature, but do not care whether nature can endure them. by the time we had left the island the water in the showers had been spent, trash sprouted at the base of trees, empty plastic bags tumbled in the wind, and the kingfishers have departed for places with more trees. for anyone like me who would like to see potipot island before it booms, i would say: it is too late. the next time i find a new place that satisfies my cravings for departure, i will think many times over about publicly sharing details about how to get there. the world is getting smaller, and even for my archipelago, it seems there aren't that many islands anymore.