The Incandescent Britania Islands

Inquirer Libre - Davao - - PANGUNAHING PAHINA - By Romel M. Oribe

SAN Agustin, Surigao del Sur—The panoramic view of 24 islets dotting the horizon like halfsubmerged domes gives one the impression that Britania is where Poseidon once held court. And the god of the sea must have made sure to position these floating charmers such that they kiss, hug, and part as one sails past them.

Britania is famous for its group of islands. But fact is, it’s an assemblage of islets, sandbars, and promontories in varying degrees of land mass and protrusions. All these are uninhabited with minimal or no vegetation, surrounded by water of the clearest glass, and carpeted with sand the color and texture of Goldilocks polvoron.

Long before Britania became a magnet for tourists that it is now, it was called Alepanto. And to this day old folks differ on who gave this rich fishing village its original name. Some say it was a band of nomads looking for a place to stay and earn a living during the Spanish period; others say it was Gregorio Lamela (a.k.a. Kapitan Golong), then a highly respected local.

Alepanto was later renamed Bretania by Eufemio Darunday, ex-mayor of San Agustin, who likened its distinct island-beaches to that of Great Britain’s. It was only recently that the spelling was changed to “Britania.”

A visit to Britania must include hopping to its premier quartet of islets: Buslon, Naked, Hagonoy, and Hiyor-hiyoran. Organized boat operators offer aquatic tours with standard rates for unlimited time: P1,500 for 15 passengers or less; and P2,000 for 20, with extra passenger going for P100 each.

If one can visit a single islet only, then Buslon it should be. It’s the nearest but still, like the rest, it’s a natural studio for taking pictures that would make a good cover photo for Facebook and guaranteed to make his friends weep from envy. It also has two subsidiary islets that one can access on foot if brave enough to wade in waist-deep waters.

These twin rock promontories both named Panlangagan hold a secret cave and a pocket forest.

Hiyor-hiyoran is the islet with the most vegetation. And if one is lucky to meet fishermen there with a catch to spare, he gets to sample shellfish cooked in saltwater or try his hand at gutting fish and collecting roe from sea urchins.

The rocky portion of Hagonoy provides a textural contrast to its incandescent sand. And with huge slabs of stone strewn everywhere, it’s easy to visualize the Little Mermaid doing a “selfie” in her iconic pose.

Naked Island is actually a sandbar that stretches and shrinks with the tide but never vanishes. Because it resembles a fallen cloud that God never bothered to pick-up, this ridge of sand is the closest one gets to walking in the clouds. That said, it should be made the highpoint of one’s Britania experience.

One doesn’t capture Britania; one savors it. And it’s a pity that most tourists go there just to earn bragging rights in Facebook instead of living the moment of the hard-to-beat experience. These people don’t realize that no matter how many times they click their cameras, they couldn’t upload the sea-scented breeze that caresses like a cold spirit of a forgotten loved one; or the splitting of the glassy water by the boat’s hull; or the sensation of fine sand stroking the feet in ways much gentler than the softest rug could ever do; or the heady feeling one gets from braving the current as he goes islet-hopping on foot.

To get there, one takes a bus to Tandag but alights at Salva- cion junction where there’s a tourist assistance center. Because Britania is still 2.8 kilometers away, one has to ride a motorcycle and pay a minimal environmental fee. Just a few caveats: Food and beverage are not sold in all four islets, and so one should bring his own provision. However there are hotels and restaurants in the mainland, the most famous of which is La Entrada because of its above-average facilities and amenities. Nobody is allowed to stay overnight in any of the islets.

If one intends to go islandhopping, he can hire a boat until 2 p.m. The usual route is Naked-Hagonoy-HiyorhiyoranBuslon. But if he wants to visit Buslon only, which is good enough, he should do it before 4 p.m..

The best time to hit Britania is early morning, when available boats are still plenty and one can choose which to hire. This way, too, he has a longer time to enjoy the islets and take all the “selfies” he wants.

OLAN EMBOSCADO

A VISIT to Britania must include hopping to its premier quartet of islets: Buslon, Naked, Hagonoy, and Hiyor-hiyoran. Organized boat operators offer aquatic tours.

OLAN EMBOSCADO

LONG before Britania became a magnet for tourists that it is now, it was called Alepanto. And to this day old folks differ on who gave this rich fishing village its original name.

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