I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life.

That is, until I found myself on the island of Malapascua.

How did I get there? It was a four-hour drive from Cebu City to get to the new Maya Port. We got on our chartered boat and made our way by sea for half an hour through the seven mile stretch that separates Maya from Malapascua. We got dropped off at the shore of our resort which was quite amusing—the phrase “delivered to your doorstep” takes on a new meaning here.

The first time my bare feet touched the sand of the North Beach, I was enchanted. There were only a few people around, a mix of locals and foreigners, and I was thankful we chose to stay on that side of the island because the “probinsya” vibe was what we city dwellers yearned for the most.

Malapascua became famous for being the only place in the world where thresher sharks can be spotted all year-round; soon, divers from all over the world came trooping to this slice of paradise. The pandemic hit a hard blow on tourism here—just like everywhere else and as expected, there were still a few resorts that remain unopened or have permanently closed.

We signed on for an island tour the next day. As opposed to island hopping, where they offer to bring you to Carnaza or Kalanggaman Island, the island tour takes you around this small island which is approximately 2.5 by one kilometer in size. We passed by the lighthouse, the new port, and our first stop was the Tapilon Wreck where remnants of a Japanese carrier that was torpedoed during the war is still visible. Then we went to the very private Bantigue Beach where we had the whole place all to ourselves. Our boatman said there used to be a resort in this area but all that was left were ruins. Here we went swimming, then went up a hill to enjoy the cliffside view of the North Beach below. This was also our lunch stop since we had pre-ordered our food and had it loaded onto the boat when we departed. A friend of mine suggested it was better to do it this way so we would be able to enjoy and take our time without having to worry where to get lunch. The last stop of this tour was the Coral Garden area which was so worthy of its name.

Despite not being a diver or a really good swimmer, I could not resist taking a peek at what lay beneath and I immediately understood why divers get hooked. I cannot even find the perfect word to describe what I had seen so I will settle on magnificent. Until now, I am on the fence as to whether it is too late for me to learn how to dive because of what I have seen.

By mid-afternoon, we were dropped off yet again at the shore of D’Avila Resort for even more swimming until it was time to be picked up for sunset viewing.

Now the fun part begins. We are called to the reception area and are informed that the motorcycle drivers “ordered” for us have arrived. Unless you intend to walk to every place on this island, the motorcycle—aka “habal-habal”—is the only way to maneuver through the narrow, bumpy, grassy roads in the island’s interiors. One person per driver at the cost of P50 per way. I have to admit, I was very nervous at first that my driver, Makmak, told me I was holding on to his shoulders too tightly—he could barely move. After some time, I actually began to enjoy whizzing through, going up and down and I alighted at the port feeling like I had actually ticked one item off my life’s bucket list.

The sunset that awaited us at the Malapascua Port was as beautiful as one can expect but I was more enamored by the whole area that “framed” the sunset view. In the golden hour, the colorful houses mirrored by the ocean, boats by the dockside rocking softly with the waves, conversations by locals in our dialect and the sound of the last boat leaving for the Maya Port seemed to blend seamlessly together, bidding the day goodbye.

As I was standing there, I just felt so peaceful, blissful even, that places like these still exist. We had dinner prepared at a private home and made our way back quite late into the night and what an experience it was being astride a motorcycle again, with some parts of the route totally unlighted, passing huge trees that had me mumbling “Tabi Buyag” which prompted my driver to share more stories of the spirits and otherworldly creatures that I breathed a sigh of relief once we turned the corner and arrived at our resort.

When it was time to go home and we were deciding on the pick-up time, our boatman informed us that we were at the mercy of the tides. If it was too low, they could not go near so we would have to go to the main port. After a pleasurable wait which I spent talking to locals by the shore going about their daily business, it was time to head back. On the boat ride back to Maya Port, we were treated to sporadic glimpses of schools of flying fish. Back on the road, we stopped in Borussia in Sogod for lunch and the lady owner really went out of her way to make us feel welcome.

When told we just came from Malapascua, she asked me how things were over there, if the tourists were back as she used to have five resorts there ordering bread regularly from her.

Here lies the irony of it all. As much as I realize the value the influx of tourists brings to all sectors of our economy, I could not help but feel that I would not want to go back there and find it crowded. I think I would be sad, despite that being a sign that we have crawled out of the rut the pandemic has brought upon us. S