Star-Filled Sky Over Burot Beach

Wednesday, July 03, 2013Ryan Mach

With arms and legs flapping against the sand, an act reminiscent of that peculiar scene in Stephen Chbosky's film adaptation of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" which involved Charlie getting high while helplessly lying on the ground covered with snow, M blurted out a quintessential question I've been meaning to ask - "Have you ever dreamed about doing this everyday? This, spending all day and night on the beach, practically doing nothing but getting paid?"
M wasn't high. A bit delirious maybe, but definitely not drugged. He's a quirky human being, a modern day Alexander Supertramp whose spontaneity can knock the wind out of you. "Let's go to Batangas," he said over a text message on a Sunday morning. "I've no phone. Let's meet at Metro Point in Rotonda."

On a Sunday morning with an overcast sky, our Calatagan adventure began. 

Yeah, I dream about doing nothing like lounging on the beach but getting paid. I told M. Please let me do this everyday, I said to a falling star, which streaked across a cloudless sky. The sky over Burot was blanketed by millions of stars - flickering and glimmering - perpetual canvass of wonder. They stayed with us the whole night. Them stars - important reminders of life's simple pleasures, having a quiet time like this, among other things. On a beach like Burot.

Noah and the Whale's "Shape of my Heart" was playing on M's tablet carelessly placed over a Bruno Mars' hat. The waves gently lapped on the shore, the sea breeze kissing our skin. A random idea crossed my mind - I'd like to save on music man guitar

"At some point, all this traveling can get pointless so you tend to stop and focus on more important things - like building a house or something," M said a few hours back when we were busy building a bonfire at some rocky beach, which was still part of Burot but hidden by a small cove. Our campfire was composed poorly of random woods and dry thorny vines we had gathered from a thin thicket of shrubs nearby. I almost had my eyes poked by those thorny, pesky plants.
Yeah, maybe. But I don't want to stop. Not yet. 

Spending the night on Burot wasn't originally part of the plan but M was a fan of unplanned trips and spontaneity. "You brought a towel with you?" he asked en route to Calatagan aboard a commuter van.

No, but I have a sarong. I bought the sarong at a shop in Puerto Princesa and I use it on weekdays at work as a shield against the artificial cold blasting off from the A/C. That night, I used it as a blanket.  For a change.
I splayed the sarong albeit carefully next to his towel already spread on the pebbly ground. "The beach isn't spectacular," M warned me beforehand. "It's nice though, and there aren't a lot of tourists. I spent the night alone there once. Very wet night, but it was fun," he said.

That afternoon, the sky barely showed any hint of rain - a total contrast from his last experience on the same beach. The typhoon had finally left, it seemed.
Aren't we renting a tent? I asked M as he went about cleaning the space we occupied, kicking twigs and cans that littered the beach. "No," he said, determined. "Sleeping under the stars is more fun."

Here? I asked again, the incredulity (or was it shock) in my voice was hard to miss. There was no shade there. We were too close to the sea.

"I used to fear the sea when I was young," M said the morning after. "I felt as if the sea was going to swallow me."

The world seemed big when we were young, I said the night before. 
We were talking about past lives and deja vu. He shared stories about his friends. I talked about the universe. We talked about everything under the stars while downing a bottle of Red Horse. My mind was muddled with ideas as countless as those stars overhead.

They're dead, you know, those stars, I said, matter-of-factly, as if he never knew it. M knows a lot of things. He hides some of the things he knows, sometimes he tells them as a fiction, sometimes he doesn't share them at all.
Do we have salt? We had one tilapia, two pieces of small squid and a couple of shrimps we bought from the market on the way to Burot, but we didn't have salt. We didn't think we'd be needing them. But then again, we didn't think we'd be spending the night on Burot either.
"You don't need salt when you have the sea," replied he, snatching the plastic bag that contained our dinner and washed them  with seawater.  "My goodness, how will you ever survive in the wilderness?" he joked while chopping an onion he found earlier on the beach. "So, this is how you chop an onion," he glanced at a camera that didn't exist, suppressing a grin. He pretended to be Erwan Huessef having his own cooking show. On a beach, with the setting sun in the background.

I laughed beside myself then joined in his charade. You should grill it under a low fire to achieve that tenderness.
When the people supervising Pulo Island (a mangrove conservation area in Calatagan) told us they're charging P1000 pesos for visiting the mangroves, we almost laughed hard.

"We only need to take a couple of shots," M argued, sounding all too polite. Doing a side-trip at Pulo before heading to Burot was his idea. 
"Even so," the woman told us, showing us a piece of paper that had their rates. 250 for kayaking. Another 250 for snorkeling. It's too much to take. We had no money.

"We're just students doing a thesis," M lied, hoping they'd give us huge discount.
We will not snorkel or rent kayaks. We just want to see the place, I helped M get that discount but I didn't lie.

"We can't afford it, we have no money. We're just students," M emphasized.

"Doing thesis is really expensive," the woman's colleague said. "I should know, because my son is also doing his thesis in La Salle."

I fiddled with my camera and stifled a snort. I felt bad for lying but M was determined to play the 'we-are-students-and-poor' card which eventually got us that huge discount. From a whooping one thousand pesos, they lowered their price to P150 each. Still a bit expensive but way better than the original rate.

"Even if I had enough money, I wouldn't pay P1000 to see their mangroves." Long after we left "Pulo," we still talked about the ridiculous charge. "It's not even spectacular to begin with." 

And it doesn't come with lunch, I agreed. And parking fee was at P50. Their rates were screaming desperation.

Even our driver, a kind local named Kuya Dada, was surprised to know that we were charged that much. He said he'd bring it up to his wife who worked at the municipal office. Kuya Dada didn't charge very much. He only asked P200, which was cheap considering the condition of the rutted road to Burot.

The tables with benches in Burot were priced P250.00. But since we're trying to be cheapskates, we walked past them, ignoring the barking dogs. A group of people, possibly friends or relatives of the caretaker, regarded us with curious stare. There wasn't any visitor on the beach that day.

Their only visitors that night were two boys, pretending to be college students, listening to Noah and the Whale, courageous enough to camp without tent at the far end of the beach but ended up buying a torch and transferred to the main beach front at around 9 in the evening.

The dogs, lots of them, barked at us as we made our way to the small store to buy a gasera and a large bottle of Red Horse (Php80). At three in the morning, two of those dogs were already friends with us. They lounged on the sand close to the bamboo raft lying under the big Talisay tree, where I and M tried to sleep. Moments after the break of dawn, we baptized them with new names. The white one with dark spots we called Pulgas and the black one, Egoy. They were subsequently joined by a new recruit we called Tagpi.

"There's no use pretending to be asleep," M announced after getting up. He snatched his camera in whisk and tried for the nth time shooting the star-filled sky. The waning moon had just appeared.  I covered my ears with my hands but those pesky mosquitoes were rather persistent in keeping us awake. We were guardians of the beach. Guardians don't sleep.
With all efforts in trying to sleep gone to waste, we decided to get up at five in the morning and ventured the eastern part of the beach. Pulgas and Egoy guiding our way, leading us to an abandoned ship, down to a fishing village where boats had just moored after a night's catch.  It was a beautiful morning.

We went back to the beach and aimed our lenses at some random things.
And it was time to leave. "Not after a swim," M said, determined as usual. Carrying our camera and a few buns we bought from the store, we trailed back to the beach where we initially camped. The sorry-looking bonfire was still there, unlit.
After having breakfast near the rocks, M jumped right into the sea, only to be running back a few moments later.  "There's snake in the sea!" he screamed. He also complained about the same snake yesterday but since I had no personal encounter with the creature, I had a hard time believing its existence until it finally appeared at the main beach (M saw it again for the third time).
"I told you so!" M screamed, triumphant but scared all the same. The snake was white with black stripes around its body. Could be poisonous. I'm glad M has a knack for spotting snakes.
I've often dreamed about spending all day on a beach, doing nothing but getting paid. But it's just a dream and just like most dreams, this one is hard to come true. Spending a night on Burot was as close as I could get in achieving that dream.

*M is Maynard who blogs at www.peacefultheworldlaysmedown.com

Burot Beach is found in Calatagan, Batangas - a 4-hour drive from Manila. There are public vans near MetroPoint in Pasay. 
Entrance fee at Burot is P130.00 per person. Tents are at 300.00. You can bring your own tent.
You can contact Kuya Dada at 09303991595 for trike services.
A sidetrip at Pulo can be done. Entrance fee = 150.00. Pretend you're a student.

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