Cory Islands emerged from the bottom of Lingayen Gulf in 1986, right after the election of former President Corazon Aquino. Like flowers springing their glories in summer, these magnificent natural landscapes served as iconic vanguards at the mouth of Lingayen Gulf.
I never heard of any herald of this beautiful chain of islets until last weekend when I made an unplanned trip to the province of Pangasinan. More often than not, it’s the unplanned trip that materializes, and the roads toward uncertainties often lead to the crossroads of life’s biggest surprises.
I hopped into a van full of strangers on Saturday night after posting “Who’s going somewhere tonight?” on Facebook. For all I know, I am heading to Pangasinan. The 7-hour trip from Metro Manila ended in the island municipality of Anda – home of Tondol White Beach.
Greeting my unexpected arrival was the sprawling white sand coastlines of Tondol. Dotting under the majestic lines of coconut trees are nipa huts and structures that signal the area’s tourism boom.
Off the coast of Tondol is Tanduyong Island, which hovers the slightly disturbed shorelines. A picturesque sandbar connects Tanduyong and Tondol during low tide, with shallow waters extending up to one kilometer from the coastlines.
Floating cottages provide shades to visitors that love to explore the vast aquamarine waters of Tondol. Under the shivering heat of the sun were beach goers coming from neighboring cities and provinces.
Hugging on both ends of its long beach lines are hundreds of hectares of mangrove forest, which protect against threat of storm surges during typhoon season. It also serves as home to hundreds, if not thousands, of marine life.
But Tondol’s crowning glory is Cory Islands, after former President Corazon Aquino. The iconic name is a symbol of resurrected democracy from the two decades military rule under strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Not minding the scorching heat, we went for an island-hopping just before noon. From a distance, Cory islets look like sand bars. But moving closer and closer, they revealed themselves as made up of washed corals.
As if they have lives of their own, the white coral reefs gathered themselves together and slowly surfaced from the bottom of the ocean. Pushed by the colliding coastal and gulf waves, this chain coral patches looks like shining crowns amid glimmering sun. Its crystal-clear waters splashing on the shores are the only sound that breaks the silence of the shimmering heat.
The charm of the pristine waters surrounding Cory Islands is too strong to resist. Dipping into it can enchant one to forget the hands of time. One towering mangrove tree raises itself above others, as if telling visitors “there are lives within these islands.”
There were endless flocks of visitors coming to Cory Islands during our stay. Three decades after the trio surfaced from the bottom of Lingayen Gulf, they continue to welcome visitors from all walks of life.
Although it is not clear who regulates the numbers, it is but right to control the influx of visitors, so everyone will have fair share of experience on these magnificent natural landscapes.
Summer would be the best time to visit Cory Islands when the sea is kind and the sky is blue. The cumulus clouds in the horizons could be the perfect backdrop for the islands that glitter on bright daylight. The islets are surrounded by crystal-clear waters. As if looking on a crystal glass, the sea floor is visible to the naked eyes.
But Tondol, the jump off point to Cory Islands, is not yet a fully develop tourist destination. It’s far from being a 5-star tourist spot. Its facilities are not yet good as those as other premier tourist spots in the country. Although its perfect for DIY or budget travelers.
Finding food could be a challenge. There were handful of fishermen that were peddling their catch to the visitors. Cooking can be more difficult if you are a visitor who come bringing nothing but money. I didn’t spend an evening there. But I suspect that its night life is empty.
But Tondol has one basic element for a booming tourism – its kind and accommodating people. During our island hopping, I spent time sharing lights moments with our boatman Renato Carino Sr. and his son Renato Jr.
Aside from exchanging jokes and stories of their daily grinds along the waters off Lingayen Bay, they helped me buy fresh fish for lunch and offered to cook it for me. It was a brief experience but left a lasting good impression to a visitor like me.
They shared of the stories of how the islands helped them survive at times when the seas refused to give their bounty. In the last three decades since the islets emerged from the ocean floor, Mang Renato said ferrying tourists has become their primary alternate livelihood.
“May mga panahon na matumal talaga ang huli ng isda dito. Pero patuloy parin na nabuhuhay ang aming pamilya kasi nagagamit namin ang aming bangka sa paghahatid ng mga turista na gustong bumisita dito sa Cory Island,” said Mang Renato.
For like the sun rising on summer days, Cory Islands do not only share their grandeur to tourists. But their continued rising serve as symbols of resurrected freedom by which life and hope are securely anchored.
“Ang Cory Island ay regalo sa amin ng kalikasan. Hindi namin akalain na bigla nalang syang tutubo sa gitna ng karagatan. Welcome po kahit sino bibisita dito. Hiling namin na alagaan nating mabuti ang likas na yaman na ito dahil hindi lang ito pasyalan kundi buhay na namin ito,” said Mang Renato.