Iloilo: We Didn’t Die! Or, Surviving Las Islas de Gigantes

We headed out to Las Islas de Gigantes, an island chain located in Carles, Iloilo.

We left the resort at 6am and got to our first island around 9, after reaching the pier, finding our boat, paying the Department of Tourism fee, and about two hours of sea travel.

The weather was beautiful. The sun was out, though we were warned that the waves were rough around some of the islands so we could only visit three. This is the first one we landed on, a sandbar called, well, Sand Bar. Just in time for breakfast.

Gigantes Sandbar
A sandbar called Sandbar.

Our guide said that Sandbar is famous for its scallops, and that we should try some. The scallops cost one peso each! We placed our order and watched as the fisherman grabbed a couple of handfuls from a net full of the creatures that rested in the shallows near his boat and put them in a cooking pot.

The scallops, alive just minutes before, were boiled briskly and served in a plastic tray, to be eaten by hand as is, or dipped in a mix of soy sauce and vinegar. The scallops were sweet, delicious by themselves without the aid of dressing.

Gigantes Island Scallops
This fisherman was selling freshly caught scallops. We bought a bunch for breakfast.

The third and last island we visited is called Antonia. We would have lunch here, we decided. We would read and nap and sunbathe and leave our cares behind. But we were to find that Mother Nature can be fickle, especially during monsoon season.

It started drizzling just before lunchtime. A few minutes later, the drizzle turned into a downpour. We ate lunch–grilled fish and squid cooked in its own ink–under the thatched roof of the cook’s hut, waiting for the rain to stop.

Once the sky cleared, our guide insisted that we leave at once, as we would have to ride into the storm that brewed on the horizon. Rain began to fall again just as we left Antonia island. I fell asleep (it’s not the worst storm at sea I’ve been in), woken when my friend handed me a plastic sheet, like the kind used to wrap books, that the boatmen had lent us to help keep us dry. It wasn’t the water that was the problem, it was the wind–strong and chilly, it made the trip extra unbearable.

We hid ourselves under the sheet, peeking out every so often to note that visibility was almost zero, to see how rough the waves were (pretty rough; after a particularly big one, which we sailed into, A said, “This is better than Log Jam!”), or to glance warily at the sky and sea after the occasional flash of lightning and its accompanying rumble of thunder. We didn’t talk about it until we were safely on land, but each of us wondered about the possibilities of getting electrocuted while on a wooden boat.

Gigantes Storm
Zero visibility! Watching the rain after safely getting back to port.

There was beauty, even in the middle of a storm. At one point, the rain slowed to a drizzle, and the waves calmed into soft ripples, undulating slowly like blue sand dunes; docile, as if the sea wasn’t trying to tear us apart before. It was one of the most beautiful things that we had ever seen.

The rain started up again, but we were fairly near the pier, and it was only a matter of minutes before we were able to plant our feet on solid ground. Cold and shaking, with nothing dry to warm us, we sought shelter at the tourism office, and then in a nearby restaurant. My fingers were numb for so long, I wondered if they would ever regain feeling. “It’s impossible to get frostbite in the tropics, right?” I asked my friend. She assured me that yes, it was.

Gigantes Milk
A cup of hot milk to help keep warm while waiting out the storm.

We sought refuge in a nearby restaurant. It was about an hour before the rain finally stopped, enough time to get a cup of coffee and a cup of warm milk. Bear Brand instant milk powder tastes really good, especially when mixed with hot water and cradled in between your hands as you sit under a dry roof and stare out into the still-raging storm you’ve just come in from.

We took the first shuttle home, checked into one of the swankiest hotels in the area because we wanted to treat ourselves for not dying. We had dinner at a Southeast Asian restaurant at the nearby mall. We scarfed down our food, not caring if we overate because we were just happy to be alive.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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