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This blog is an amateur photographer's attempt to show how beautiful the world really is. He is drawn to the colors of nature like a moth to a candle light. What are showcased here are nature's grand display of colors at sunrise and sunset, beautiful beaches and off-the-beaten track locations in his beloved Philippines, waterfalls and some of nature's great sculptures, architectural gems, and other views from around SE Asia that he was fortunate to see at one point.

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August 14, 2014

islas de gigantes: island life at the scallops capital of the philippines

Rain approaches

Unlike the popular mainstream tourist destinations, Islas de Gigantes is uncomplicated. It is one of those places where you on vacation but does not really feel like you are "on vacation" -  it feels more like home than some unfeeling place. There are no layers to peel off to see the real place. What you see is what you get.

Asluman kids

This cluster of small islands, some with fine white sand beaches, towering karst, caves, and emerald lagoons  have managed to stay relatively off the radar and the beaten path. Its popularity is probably confined to a small group, with the number of visitors spiking only during the summer months. There are two main islands: Gigante Norte and Gigante Sur, with most of the tourist accommodations confined in Gigante Norte.

The beauty of the place is equally complemented by the friendliness and warmth of its people. They'd invite you to what they are doing or ask you to take their photos, and there was never an outstretched hand asking for payment.  I fondly remember an afternoon while walking back to the resort when we got stopped every few meters by kids asking us to take their photos.  And when we thought we are done, they'd run back to their house and call their siblings out for more photos.

Island life: Afternoon chores
quaint afternoon in Gigante Norte

Scallops shores

Scallops shore

The moment you set foot on the shore of Gigante Norte you'll notice something unusual.  The sand is buried under thick carpet of scallops shells of different sizes and colors, crackling as you step on them. Suddenly it dawned on me what my friend really meant when she casually mentioned: "Gigantes is popular for its scallops".  From afar, the mounds mountains of discarded scallops shells seemed to provide the exclamation mark for that statement.

Beauty among the scallops shells

Sand as fine as Boracay's

The beach was not always like that, said Mang Nelson as he works on his crab nets. I chanced upon him one afternoon busily working while listening to his transistor radio.  He did not seem to mind my intrusion.

Making new crab nets
working on crab nets

He fondly remembers the time as kid when the shores, just a few meters from where he is working, has sand as fine as Boracay's.  If tourists have discovered the island before the scallops were discovered, there was a big chance the shores would have been "preserved".

Blue crabs,"kasag" in the local dialect,  is in steady supply, with daily hauls steamed in the aftenoon, packed in stryo boxes, and ready for shipment the next day. The scallops on the otherhand are harvested on a 5-year cycle with 5-year rest period to allow the stocks grow.  But when its the harvest season ... well you know what they say: "when it rains, it pours". Its scallops all day, all week, all month, all year.

Scallops capital of the Philippines

Scallops processing

Some of the shells end up as decorative items but there is just too many of it that most of it end up in mounds and covers the whole stretch of beach.

Family that works together...
family working on a batch

The folks here are mighty proud of their scallops. Its these little brightly colored, fan-shaped shells that have enabled them to buy boats, build houses, and send their kids to school. It is the main source of livelihood in the island.

Scallops "processing"

Every afternoon big heavy net baskets full of shells are hauled to the shore.  I can barely lift one off the ground.

Scallops "processing"

The shells gets processed in stages and everyone gets a piece of the pie. Some of the kids help their folks right after school.

The divers get paid 15 pesos per kilo. Another group pry these bivalve mollusks open and extract the meat. They get another 15 pesos per kilo of extracted scallops. The meat is trimmed, leaving only that white and meaty part. The trimmers get 10-15 pesos per kilo. Wholesale buyers pay about 110 per kilo for the processed meat . The one who financed the harvest (usually the one who owns the boat) end up with about 40% of that after expenses. On a good week they can harvest a ton easy.

Trimming the scallops
trimming the meat

The locals know they need to have a healthy batch for the next harvest season.  If they over harvest, they'll compromise the next batch. They also make sure they harvest only the mature ones. If the meat is too small, buyers would reject it.

Out to dry

Drying fish

It rained most of the time we were in the island but as soon as folks see the chance of the sun coming out, out comes the fishes for drying as well.

Drying fish

The summer days are obviously the peak season for doing this and just like the scallops, dried fish making is a family enterprise, with kids helping out as part of their chores on weekends.

Life goes on in Bantigue island

"Most of our houses are pretty much destroyed", he said while pointing to several crumbling shanties to his left while inspecting his blue crab and squid traps . Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) was one the strongest super typhoons ever recorded and the devastation it left was unimaginable. But the important thing he said was that they survived.

Bantigue Island Sandbar

The larger islands have their scallops, some of the smaller privately owned ones have fine white sand beaches and they can charge entrance fees. Here in Bantigue, they have the sandbar that gets accessible only during the lowtide - just several hours per day.  They can't charge entrance fees because Bantigue is a public island. Subsistence fishing and trapping blue crabs which they can sell helps them get by.

Kids of Bantigue Island

They will rebuild their homes, in due time, but for now the kids' education comes first. And its not a simply matter of walking to a school nearby. The kids go to school in another island and stay there for the whole school week, living in a small rented hut. One of the parents usually accompany the younger ones so that there is an adult who can cook for them.

Its a tough island life, but kids, no matter what condition they are in,  are usually in a happier disposition most of us.

Kids of Bantigue Island

Check this quick travel guide to these enchanting islands.

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Claire | Traveling Light said...

I have seen nice photos and write-ups of Islas de Gigantes, but your refreshing narrative on island life is what now makes me want to go there. Seeing and getting in touch with the beauty of local life completes my experience of beauty in a place.

Lantaw said...

Thank you Claire. You have to go there! I sure you will fall in love with the place

Unknown said...

Hi! Your photos and stories are wonderful! May I ask what cameras do you use? It's so amazing!

Lantaw said...

Thank you Joshua. I'm using a Nikon D7000

Auraphil said...

Thanks for sharing. I hope to reach this place someday. God bles!!

Ian | GoingRoamingWandering said...

nice share of Gigantes Island life... It surely open not just my eyes but every readers eyes about this undiscovered gem if Iloilo.

Unknown said...

Hi thanks for posting. My husband and I been wanting to go there. Do they have American style accomodation ? Thanks in advance.

Lantaw said...

@Jamilla, please define "American style accommodation" ;)

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