Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Life Born Under Camiguin's Sunken Cemetery

Old Catarman is the first major Spanish settlement established in the island province of Camiguin dating back to 1697. It remained to be a flourishing village until one day in 1871, villagers started to feel earthquakes in the area brought about by a volcanic fissure. Living in an island with several volcanoes, locals were aware of the threats and dangers of an erupting volcano and most moved as far as they could from the Old Catarman area (now called Brgy. Bonbon in Catarman Town). While they were away, the volcanic fissure formed another volcano, Mt. Vulcan which continued erupting destroying the village with the the flowing lava, burying everything of the Old Catarman. The only structure left above the ground reminiscent to the old settlement is a part of the bell tower and ruins of Gui-ob Church. A part of the area is even submerged in sea water, including the old village's cemetery.

After over a century after the wrath of Mt. Vulcan, the place where villagers of Old Catarman relocated is now the center of Catarman town. The place where the Old Catarman once prosperously stood is now called Bonbon - a barangay of Catarman town. In Brgy. Bonbon still stood the Ruins of the Gui-ob Church (also called the Old Catarman Ruins), Stations of the Cross statues were erected in Old Vulcan and the cemetery once submerged in sea water had continually sunk and it now lies deeper into the sea. A cross was built in 1982, a few meters away from the shore  to mark the site that was submerged in water.

Visiting the Sunken Cemetery, I didn't have any real idea on what will transpire. Prior to our trip, a plan was formulated on my mind. I so wanted to see what's underneath the sea. The only way to do that is to snorkel or dive. I'm not sure though on how it works or if it's even allowed so that plan was originally scrapped until the last day of our stay in Camiguin. My travel companions and I decided to press our luck and go there through commute. We only had one and a half hour to spare before leaving for CDO to catch our flight back home so we hurriedly left the resort. On our way there, I even had second thoughts of doing it. Thinking of the graves underneath the water gave me creeps and I could almost feel a spew of cold wind in my nape. The ride from Mambajao town took about 40 minutes and we realized it wouldn't be easy to go back from there to the town. Jeepneys are passing in an hour interval. Even though we're kind of worried not to make it to CDO in time, we still continued with only 30 minutes to snorkel.

The locals informed us that there's a boat fee of Php20 per person to help us cross from the shore to the cross marker. We agreed but upon learning there's a Php100 snorkel fee at the back of the cross (which is a sanctuary) we had second thoughts. Considering the limited time we have, paying Php120 seemed not to make any sense. We were then informed that we will also see a sunken tomb just in front of the cross marker (which is free) but it wouldn't be as beautiful as what's on the deeper part. Hearing that, I lost all my reservations, instead of riding the boat, I started swimming towards the cross. It was a good 5 minute swim. :)

From the hip high water from the shore going to cross marker, I already saw several species of fishes I didn't even see from snorkeling in Mantigue Island the previous day. There's numerous blue starfish that are large, one has even 6 rays. There were scattered corals everywhere. With a very short time left, I didn't bother capturing several photos. My mind is preoccupied with reaching the tomb in front of the cross. So when I saw the tomb, it was a totally different feeling. It wasn't eerie as I was expecting, rather it was a wonderful feeling of amazement. I can't believe I'm staring at a tomb, sunk in this sea 140 years ago and it's actually appears beautiful. Different small corals started to grow from the rock of the tomb. Small yellow fishes are circling one type of coral and it felt surreal that a cemetery submerged in water has this kind of life underneath. It was really priceless. I suddenly felt regret that I will only see that part. Should I had more time, I am willing to pay in triple just to witness how enchanting it would be if I'm already seeing tombs side by side each other. The fact that it is also a sanctuary is a guarantee that Php100 will be totally worth it, I'm certain it's worth even more.

In what seemed to be just a very short time of snorkeling and few pictures, our companion who didn't snorkel with us clapped her hands, an indication it was time to leave. With a heavy heart, I looked at the tomb for the last time and started swimming towards the shore. I know I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg but still, it is definitely the most unique and unforgettable of all my snorkeling experiences. I'm hoping that soon enough, I'll have a chance to travel back to Camiguin to complete discovering the whole of the iceberg. I'd definitely suggest this activity to be included in your itinerary if you're planning on going to Camiguin.

It is a sad thought thinking how the forces of nature covered a beautiful village in lava deposits in 1871 but witnessing the result of this catastrophe, I can't help but wonder in awe how nature has the ability to replace something that died with another magnificent beauty. Nature like life is truly a mystery. The death of something will always mean a birth of another... and it never fails to create it's masterpiece as time goes on.

***This is my entry to commemorate this year's All Soul's Day. Let's all pray for our departed beloved. Happy Halloween!***  


  1. one of the things i regret big time. kala ko kasi bawal magsnorkel jan, well bawal naman talaga, right?

    pero kung ano yung bawal, dun may surprise! im so inggit! good job!

  2. Chyng, I think it's allowed. The guy manning the area informed us that their "munisipyo" allows snorkeling. There's just Php100 fee when you snorkel at the back part of the cross which is also a sanctuary. I saw a post there about the municipal ordinance that strictly prohibits fishing in that area. Pwede pa yan ulit gawin pagbalik mo ng Camiguin. Ako nga bitin na bitin eh. :)

  3. seems like the places you visited are my fave spots too.
    astig mag-snorkle dito noh?
    freaky but heavenly

  4. I couldn't agree more. Medyo mystical yet super thrilling ang experience. Saw nga your photo here, at the top of the cross. :) Lupet ng pagkakaakyat mo non. I was thinking kung pano mo nareach yong top.


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