For years, my sister and I spent the Holy Week in Mambajao, Camiguin with cousins. We would ride the ferry (“lantsa”) to Camiguin very early on Palm Sunday. I don’t remember exactly when it started becoming a regular thing, I just remember that we were already doing it back in the late 70s, when I was still in grade school. It was a Holy Week tradition that lasted for years, all the way through the mid-80s. Today, I seldom go to Camiguin during the Holy Week break. Mama Chata (my maternal grandmother) has been gone for years and she was the one who gathered us together every summer. When she died, it was like she took a part of our lives with her; the part that had Camiguin in it. That’s not the only reason why our old Holy Week tradition has stopped, though. Nowadays, throngs of people cross to Camiguin on Palm Sunday, or on any day of the Holy Week, for that matter. Many of these people go to the island to participate in the Panaad, a Holy Week tradition where you walk around the island as a sign of penitence. We were able to join this 64km back in the 80s, when it was not yet as popular as it is now. (Well, we did not really walk around the island. We just walked up the Old Vulcan and completed the Stations of the Cross there.)
Another reason why we stopped the Camiguin Holy Week tradition was the fact that we moved to Metro Manila in 1986 and traveling to my mom’s birthplace became quite difficult financially. I was in college at that time and I often dreamt of spending the whole day in White Island during the hot summers days. We went to beaches in Batangas and Zambales, but nothing came close to Camiguin. In the early 90s, I remember spending summer on the island only once – after my college graduation. That was in 1991. The next time I got the chance to go to Camiguin was in 1998, before I moved back here to CDO, and it was for a family reunion.
Even if I don’t do it that often, and I’ve only spent Holy Week in Camiguin once since 1991, I’m still happy that I can cross to the island whenever I want to. I still miss the Semana Santa traditions, though; the ones we grew up with.
Holy Monday to Maundy Thursday
For three days (four, if you count Palm Sunday), we would spend the whole day swimming. If we weren’t at the ancestral beach house in Cabua-an (Mambajao), we’d be at White Island, Ardent Spring, Sto. Niño Cold Spring, or Katibawasan Falls. I also remember going around the island riding a rented jeepney and swimming the whole day.
On Maundy Thursday, we stayed home. Sometimes, we visited different churches for Visita Iglesia, but most of the time, we were told to stay home and be good boys and girls. Our cousins would often visit and we’d share stories or play.
Good Friday was a day of silence. We were forbidden to make loud noises. It was also a busy day at the house because the kitchen would be abuzz with activity as the cooks prepared food for dinner. Late in the afternoon, the Good Friday procession would start. I remember joining several times and praying the Holy Rosary together with the other participants. Our clan had two Santos in the procession, the Santo Entierro and Sta. Maria Salome (if I remember it right).
After the procession, the people (and I mean ALL of them!) would go to our house for dinner. At the foot of the stairs, the Santo Entierro would be displayed so everyone could kiss Jesus’ feet. I remember my sister and I taking turns wiping the feet with alcohol-dipped cotton.
The rest of the evening would be spent eating with and serving people we did not know (save for some relatives, of course). No meat was served the whole day.
On Black Saturday, were sometimes allowed to go for a swim, but I don’t really remember doing so. What I remember is staying home and playing mahjong with my cousins. We’d build towers or houses using the tiles. Sometimes, I’d spend the whole day reading a book.
If I remember it right, we ate mostly fish on Black Saturday. It wasn’t a problem, though, as someone would regularly deliver fresh seafood to the house every morning.
I also remember playing patintero with my cousins out on the streets. I even remember one Black Saturday where we went all the way to the old airport just to play the traditional game barefoot! We went home shortly before midnight and got a scolding from Mama Chata!
Sometimes, we’d walk with cousins to the Parola (the old pier/pantalan) and spend the night talking while eating chichiria (chips) and drinking Coke.
Easter Sunday in Camiguin (particularly in Mambajao) usually started at 3am with the Tabo (Salubong/Welcome), which commemorates Jesus’ rise from the dead. Then we would all go to Cabua-an for an all-day celebration. There would be a lot of meat and sometimes, even three lechons! Of course, all these happened after we heard early morning Mass (usually in Binisaya).
It was a simple celebration where we spent the whole day swimming and eating. No Easter Egg hunts or coloring activities. Just the beach and unlimited food. But it was fun because we were with relatives.
When we went home in the early evening, everyone would be so tired and red (because of sunburn). But we all had smiles on our faces because Easter Sunday was well spent.
We would normally go back to CDO on Easter Monday, but sometimes, we’d extend our stay for one more week. Because that’s how Camiguin makes you feel – you’d want to just stay there, relax, and have fun. There were even times when we’d spend one month in the island and we’d come home to CDO at the end of April!
The magic of Camiguin is in its unspoiled beauty. Sure, it has its share of tourists and regular visitors, but it’s not too commercialized. There’s still a lot of old charm and rustic beauty all over the island. The beaches, falls, and mini-islands remain majestic and breathtaking. And the people are as warm and welcoming as ever!
There are no malls or cinemas in Camiguin, but this won’t matter. There are no fast food chains, too, but world-class restaurants are spread throughout the island. The nightlife is not as vibrant as it is here in CDO, but there are a lot of other ways to enjoy your evenings in Camiguin. Trust me.
Best of all, Camiguin, whether you go there for the Holy Week or on any other day, will help you reconnect with yourself and with the special people in your life. It’s the best place to go to if you want to unplug from the daily stresses of your regular routine. Isn’t that one of the things you’re supposed to do during the Holy Week?
Places to Check Out
If you’re planning to go to Camiguin anytime soon, don’t forget to visit these places:
- White Island
- Mantigue Island
- Ardent Hot Spring
- Katibawasan Falls
- Sunken Cemetery
- Guiob Church Ruins
- Sto. Niño Cold Springs
- Giant Clams Sanctuary
- Mt. Hibok-Hibok (go on a climb!)
- The Old Vulcan (Walkway/Stations of the Cross)
- Tuasan Falls
- Soda Water Swimming Pool
Entrance fees to these destinations are below Php100. Motorized banca/boat to White Island is more or less Php450 for six persons. If you want to cross to Mantigue Island (I suggest you do!), prepare around Php500 (more or less) for six persons. You can also go to the giant white cross of the Sunken Cemetery for only Php50/person (approximately).
Scuba divers will find a lot of beautiful dive sites in Camiguin. Check out Camiguin Action Geckos for more information.
For accommodations, here are some popular options:
- Balai sa Baibai
- Bahay Bakasyunan
- Casa Roca
- Paras Beach Resort
- Somewhere Else Boutique Resort
- Guerrera Rice Paddy Villas
- Paradiso Hillside Resort
- Camiguin Highland Resort
- Ba’ay (by Vjandep)
- Kurma Freedive Yoga Sanctuary
- Camiguin Action Geckos
If food is your thing, you won’t go hungry in Camiguin. Whether you like simple dining or the more adventurous food choices, you’ll find a lot of world-class restaurants in the island. Two of my favorites are Guerrera and Luna. You can check out the list of the top dining places in Camiguin on Trip Advisor.
I miss Holy Week in Camiguin. But it’s comforting to know that I can just ride a bus and hop on a barge if I want to experience the serene beauty of the Island Born of Fire…anytime I want to. I don’t really have to wait for Holy Week or summer. The best time to go to Camiguin is any time of the year.
Have a meaningful Semana Santa!