Its name comes from a Cebuano word meaning a place where there are birds. It must have been a former avian sanctuary. Either that or the fact that, when viewed from the air, Kalanggaman Island is an elongated islet with two long, snaking sandbars at both ends giving it the appearance of a gull in flight.
Long a secret with the fisher folks at Palompon, Leyte, Kalanggaman broke into the tourism radar two years ago when the passing cruise ship MV Europa II dropped off a few hundred passengers to tour the island. Even the assault of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) on Kalanggaman failed to deter incoming visitors. We’ve known about this island about 4 years ago but its increasing popularity finally moved us to visit the place last month while it is still relatively pristine.
While there are hundreds, even thousands of white sand islands in the Philippines, what sets Kalanggaman apart from most are its sandbars. Ever since we visited the Manlawi sandbar in Caramoan, Camarines Sur a few years ago, we have always been drawn by the allure of these topographic features. Slithering like a long, writhing white python into the turquoise expanse of the Camotes Sea, Kalanggaman’s prominent sandbar is definitely one of the most beautiful we have ever laid our eyes upon.
Locals like to tell us that the shape of sandbars like Kalanggaman are never permanent, formed as they are by passing waves and currents. The tides also give Kalanggaman’s sandbar a different look, swallowing up a good portion of the ridge of creamy white sand one moment, then later retreating to reveal a good portion of the same. The sandbar was so enchanting we immediately headed out to explore its extremities once we got off our docked outrigger and settled our stuff at one of the huts on the island. The waters around the sandbar are crystal-clear; it was quite easy therefore to observe a sudden drop-off several meters beyond the waterline. A sign on the sandbar warned swimmers not to go too far.
This end of the island is where most of the huts and other facilities are located and where most of the tourists gravitate. The side of Kalanggaman where our boat docked was a long unbroken stretch of white sand beach perfect for swimming and beach bumming. Coconut palms lined this side, providing a shade under the hot noonday sun. Our sense of adventure, however, prompted us to explore the opposite side of the island.
Here, the topography is markedly different. Rocks of considerable size pockmark the area giving it a ruggedly beautiful appearance. White sand peeked behind gaps in the cluster of rocks on the sea floor, the whole underwater scenery easily visible through crystal-clear waters. We were lured into snorkeling in this area – so clear were the waters – but the bulk of the colorful marine life were to be found in the corals lying a few hundred meters beyond the beach.
The very accommodating people at the Palompon Eco-Tourism office informed us that one of Palompon’s two sandbars was washed away by the strong waves generated by Typhoon Yolanda. (Not to worry however; scientists are saying that wave and current action will sooner or later build up this sandbar to its former state.) That sandbar used to be on the other end of the island and the curious souls in us prompted a visit to this area.
The devastating effects of Yolanda are still evident here. The remnants of the blown-down chapel stand defiantly in this area as well as those of a few huts and even a grilling station. True enough there is no sandbar to be found here but there is still enough beauty to go around with lively green clusters of coconut palms, fine creamy white sand and crystal-clear aquamarine waters. After loitering around the place, imagining how it could have looked like before Yolanda’s fury descended on the island, we hiked back to our little hut on the other end of the island.
After a short rest and more exploring, it was time to go. Storm clouds hanging over the horizon hurried us back into our boat and towards the mainland of Leyte. Before hustling to our boat, however, we couldn’t help but stop and take time to be awed at the beauty of those gray clouds looming in the background behind Kalanggaman’s surviving sand bar. It seems that even in bad weather this island never loses its beauty.