BALUT ISLAND, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews / 07 January) — I have high standards in choosing a beach destination in summer or any other day of the year but the lack of amenities notwithstanding, I fell in love once more with this island paradise during my second visit just before Christmas day.
Our group started our journey in Nuro, Upi, Maguindanao. The land trip took us an hour and a half along the long and winding Cotabato to Lebak road. The paved highway has opened more economic activities in the area and expedited the movement of agricultural products unlike in the past when one had to ride the huge wooden boats or lancha of the Biruar Shipping Lines. The ride would take a whole day from Cotabato City to Kalamansig and vice versa, crossing the Moro Gulf.
Our journey from Upi to Kalamansig offered a breathtaking view of the mountain ranges of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, passing by the areas of Timanan in South Upi, Basak and Barorao in Lebak. We headed to the Kalamansig fish port where the motorized boats arranged for us by the owners of Balot Beach waited.
We were advised to be at the port not later than 4 p.m. as the waves are bigger towards the afternoon. We arrived at 3:30 p.m. with enough lead time for us to buy supplies for our overnight stay in the island. We bought some kilos of rice, packs of ice, soft drinks, spices and charcoal, hoping to grill some fish freshly caught from the sea.
The two motorized boats cost P1,000 to ferry six persons. I was happy to see that life vests are provided for passengers. The trip took an hour with the vast view of the Celebes sea and the sun slowly setting down in the west.
As we drew closer to Balut Beach, the corals and beauty of the shallow waters beneath became more visible as the rays of the setting sun shone in the crystal-like waters.
The white sand bar of the village at the tip of Barangay Paril, Kalamansig welcomes every excited tourist. For those who want to stay overnight cottages are available from P600 to P1,200. Beddings are also available for rent for those who want to camp out in their tents near the shore.
Our group chose to rent the small open cottage for the night. But the day cannot end here without taking a dip in the turquoise waters fronting Balut Island’s white sand beach.
At twilight, the sky erupted in dazzling colors, in shades of yellow and crimson. The sea waters and the coastline were painted with its golden rays. The cool waters rushed to the shorelines and as the cold sea breeze started to blow towards the night, the silhouette of the egg-shaped Balut Island appeared in the horizon with the sound of the waves a sweet melody in my ears.
Staying and sleeping overnight in the open cottage is no problem. The locals, who are all Tausugs, guarantee the safety of all tourists. Ali, the village man who serves as our boat driver and overseer, comes to our cottage from time to time to assist us in all our needs.
We rented pillows and comforters (which to our surprise are available), plates, cooking pots and even the firewood we used to cook our food. When the rice was cooked and the fish that we bought at Kalamansig port was roasted and taken off the grill, the boodle fight dinner was served on fresh banana leaves. The hungry beach goers savored the view of the coastline and the simple but heavenly delight of broiled fish, steamed rice, topped with local spices filled our stomach.
As darkness descended, Ali installed a lamp powered by batteries. The tranquil environment — the sound of chirping crickets in the background — the cold wind breez and no biting mosquitoes lurking around, gave us the time to talk about life and plans for the future as we grow older and start to build our own families.
The atmosphere in the island is really different from my fast-paced life in Midsayap, Cotabato, just exactly how things are different now in our lives compared to what it was like during high school.
With no signal for our smartphones, Balut made us reconnect with each other especially now that we only meet seldom since my friends work abroad and in other places in Mindanao. The stillness of the moment made me think that life has a simple way of connecting us back to nature and to our own selves.
At daybreak, I took a walk in the village and was fortunate to see Hadji Kadil Talib, the respected elder who also serves as the overseer of the entire Tausug community and the maintainer of peace and order in the island. According to him, old age has limited his movements but he plans to develop the beach front to attract more tourists to this paradise. He said part of his morning rituals is sweeping the leaves falling from the talisay trees along the coastline.
There may be no modern amenities here but visitors feel comfortable because the community makes sure of that.
(By the way, please do not bring a pork dish in deference to the residents. Liquor and other alcoholic drinks are not for sale in the sari-sari store).
Hadji Kadil also revealed that development in the area was stopped when his wife Hadja Walda passed away due to an illness. But thanks to his daughter and grandchildren, promoting Balut Beach via social media and putting up posters, flaglets and banners to adorn the beach have been made possible.
Among Hadji Kadil’s plans is to develop the the hilly part of the beach to give visitors a vantage view of the beachfront and the sea.
I ended my morning walk my friends by buying fish in the nearby talipapa. Freshly caught balo (needlefish), dalagang bukid (fusilier) pampano (pompano) and kabalyas (short mackerel) were all up for grabs at very cheap price from P70 to P120 a kilo.
Some of the fresh fish we bought were grilled for breakfast and some were stored in the ice chest that we intentionally brought, expecting a good buys of fresh seafoods to bring home.
With the bounty of the sea always within reach, the people of Balut are much healthier and blessed with the richness of the marine resources they enjoy coupled with the responsibility of taking good care of these resources for sustainability.
After breakfast, we did not miss the chance to frolic in the cool, crystal waters for the last time. Plunging, swimming and sun bathing remain to be very tempting in this unspoiled coastline.
Memories to Linger
At 10 a.m. on December 19, we were heading back to Kalamansig, with our ice chest filled with the bounty of the sea and our spirits recharged with the beauty of Balut. This trip made me realize that nature still has very affordable ways of allowing us to appreciate life in all its fullness, away from the superficial relationships built over high- technology and back to the basic connections of friendship and beauty of nature.
The unspoiled beauty of Balut remains a secret to many and while the influx of tourists can largely help in boosting the income of the locals, the responsibility of taking good care of our marine resources and its scenic attractions lies within all of us.
Mindanao is such a mysterious place. With so many islands and tourist attractions to visit, Balut in Barangay Paril, Kalamansig, in many ways should be in all beach lovers’ bucket list.
For reservations in Balot Beach, please contact 0906 736 5521.
(Karl Ballentes, 26, is Local Legislative Officer III of the local government unit of Midsayap.