There’s something about first visits. Especially if the trip is to a place one hasn’t heard of before.

One steps into unfamiliar ground with unclouded eyes, sans the weight of judgment.

So it was with excitement that we welcomed the invitation to visit Sulat, this tranquil coastal municipality in Eastern Samar, of which not much has been written about.

Named after its majestic river, Sulat greeted the month of May — dubbed the Month of the Ocean by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 57, issued in 1998 — by spearheading a series of coastal cleanup activities involving residents of Eastern Samar and some celebrity-guests.

In his message to welcome participants and guests, Sulat Mayor Javier Zacate said the cleanup dive was just the start of many initiatives to be undertaken jointly by the local government and the constituents to make sure that the efforts to clean the seas and protect the marine resources are sustained.

Mayor Zacate couldn’t emphasize enough the urgent need to take care of the environment, reminding those present of the unspeakable damage to lives and properties Eastern Samar and the rest of the Visayas experienced when super typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury in 2013.

From May 9 to 11, 2023, divers from different local government units (LGUs) including Sulat, Can-avid, Dolores, San Julian and Taft, as well as those from Borongan, Catbalogan and Samar State University, fished out pieces of trash from the dive sites on the island of Macate and the islands of Anda, Divinubo and Monbon in Borongan City.

Among their remarkable “finds” was a 200-meter fishing net that had taken up residence among the corals, inflicting irreparable damage.

They collected a total of 311 kilos of garbage during the three-day activity, according to Sulat Municipal Councilor Sofia Zacate, who is also a professional diver and surfer.

The cleanup dive, the first of its kind to be held in Eastern Visayas, was met by an outpouring of support from the heads of the LGUs led by Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone and its warm and accommodating people.

Acknowledging the need to encourage more residents to do their part in taking care of the environment, especially Sulat’s marine life, the local government invited several beauty titlists and celebrity divers to grace the different activities of the campaign.

Present were the newly crowned queens of the Miss Philippines Earth 2023 pageant: Miss Philippines Earth 2023 Yllana Marie Aduana, Miss Philippines Air 2023 Kerri Reilly, Miss Philippines Water 2023 Jemimah Joy Zabala, Miss Philippines Fire 2023 Sha’uri Livori and Miss Philippines Ecotourism 2023 Athena Auxillo.

Also in attendance were Miss Universe Philippines 2019 Gazini Ganados and Mister Universe Tourism Philippines 2023 Erik Lennart Visser.

Adding more starpower to the event were professional diver and seasoned actress Elizabeth Oropesa and master diver Johnny Buencamino.

At the welcome dinner for the guests who were staying at the Ohana Resort in Macate Island, singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon performed some popular tunes, including his signature hit song “Kanlungan.”

Proving that they do practice what they preach, Miss Scuba Philippines (MSP) 2023 Sheikha Manglicmot and MSP national director Cindy Madduma, professional divers both, joined the other divers in the underwater cleanup activities.

Meanwhile, the Miss Earth beauties, together with Visser, visited different towns, interacted with residents and talked to them about the importance of caring for Mother Earth.

They also graced the beach cleanup activities and led the release of turtle hatchlings in Macate Island.

Plans are underway for the cleanup dive to be replicated in other parts of Eastern Samar.

As for Sulat in particular, tourism consultant Boboi Costas intimated that the Sulat River is poised to be a major tourist draw once a river cruise and floating accommodations are set in place, part of a long-term plan to boost tourism in the municipality and in Eastern Samar as a whole.

“Mabaysay!” Our seatmate on the plane exclaimed upon seeing the visiting beauty queens.

She might as well be describing Sulat too, with its unspoiled beaches, rich marine resources and the lush foliage along its riverbanks.

Our hope is that it stays that way long enough for the future generations to enjoy and look after.

We left Sulat with satiated appetites, loads of photos and videos on our phones, and a promise to return.