Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calaguas: What Makes a Perfect Beach

Beach Snob. That is something I inevitably slip into whenever the topic of tropical beaches and islands dominate a conversation between fellow travelers. I can't really help it. I am from a country that has 7,107 tropical islands. And I have been to some of best of them. I guess it's only natural that I then define what makes for a perfect beach. Thankfully, I have just the most fitting example. Here are reasons why Calaguas in Camarines Norte, Philippines, in particular, the wide stretch of beach locals call Mahabang Buhangin (Long Sand), is my definition of a perfect beach.

1. It takes at least two hours to reach.

The Calaguas Islands are a group of tiny islands off the coast of Camarines Norte, a province southwest of Manila. It takes two hours to reach the island from the nearest port town of Paracale. That is on a good day. When weather is rough, as it usually is in the typhoon alley of Bicol, a region facing the Philippine Sea and the Pacific, a boat ride can take up to three to four hours, something I experienced the first time I went there. By the way, there aren't any tourist boats in these parts. You hire small fishing boats to take you there. But really, that's alright, when the reward is something as beautiful.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

2. Water is a brilliant bright turquoise and the sand fine and white.

These are non-negotiables. Waters by the perfect beach need to have that unmistakable turquoise water color. It needs to be pristine, so much so that you can clearly see your feet even when water is already neck-deep. Of course, the sand needs to be white and fine, too. So white that it does not absorb heat enabling you to walk around even in the hot midday sun, and fine that the water turns milky when it hits the shore. Calaguas passes with high marks in this category.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

3. It feels like you have your own infinity pool.

Who wouldn't want one of those luxurious infinity pools lying around the house? I know I would. But I know that with my kind of lifestyle, one in which all capital is directed to travel, that is nearly impossible to have in the next ten to twenty years. And that's alright. In the meantime, I will settle for nature's infinity pools. Not bad, right?

Calaguas, Camarines Norte, Philippines

4. You often find yourself alone and not a single soul in sight.

While sharing is indeed caring, when the beach is as beautiful as Mahabang Buhangin in Calaguas, you sometimes wish you can have it all to yourself (or yourselves, if you're with significant others and good friends). That's okay. Selfishness is a human quality that is difficult to shake off. Thankfully, Calaguas does not guilt you into feeling that way. There is almost always no person in sight. Yes, you often have the beach all to yourself.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

5. No electricity, no phone lines, no cellular service, no WiFi, no nothing.

I will not pretend that I do not need electricity or the Internet or any other communication technology out there. Heck, I will not be able to write on this blog without them. But I learned so many times in my six-month trip that tuning out from the rest of the world has its value. A perfect beach needs to have this disconnection. Enjoy the beach. Enjoy it right now. You can tweet about it later.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

6. Remote. Signs of civilization zero to none.

As a follow-up to number 5, a perfect beach does not need any infrastructure. No roads, no establishments, and definitely no loud party bars. Night life consists of a bon fire and roasting marshmallows, with everybody huddled around belting out camp songs karaoke ballads. Sadly, Calaguas is starting to fail this category. But if you're determined enough, there are still some areas in the wide stretch of Mahabang Buhangin beach where you can isolate yourself from the rest of the people camped in for the night.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

7. You bring the night's accommodations.

No establishments means no hotels and no hotels means you bring your own accommodations in the same small fishing boats that took you to the island. You sleep in tents or, if you are up for it, right on the beach under the clearest night sky, so clear that you wonder when was the last time you saw so many bright stars above you. Thankfully, Calaguas still grants you that experience.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

8. You cook your own food.

There is nothing better than eating food with good friends, food that you all prepared yourselves. No, wait. There is something better. It's eating that same food on a beautiful island like Calaguas. You start a fire, you season the meats, and you plop them over the grill. An hour later, they're done. And somehow, you've never tasted fish as good as this.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

9. Beach faces west so when clock strikes six, you have a beautiful sunset.

Finally, to cap off the day of setting up camp, preparing food, swimming, beaching, etc., you are rewarded with a sunset because the beach directly faces west, casting soft golden light on everything around you until it all turns to beautiful darkness lit up by thousands upon thousands of stars. Congratulations. You have just spent a perfect day on a perfect beach.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

I really do hope Calaguas remains to be my definition of a perfect beach. Unfortunately, development (sustainable or otherwise) is inevitably coming. So I feel blessed and lucky that I got to visit it twice. A year or two later, it may no longer be recognizable. And I might just have to find another perfect beach among the 7,107 islands of my country.

*More photos from Calaguas in my Flickr set: Camarines Norte: Calaguas Redux.

Do you agree with my categories of a perfect beach? How do you define a perfect beach?

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