More than to promote, this is to protect.
Let me take you on a few minutes of storytelling of my Mararison tales and why there is a sore need for local leaders to care a little bit more.
Caveat: These personal observations are based on random community small talks and are meant to open space for conscious and slow tourism.
Mararison Island is one of the gems of Antique province, western visayas region, Philippines. Located in the town of Culasi, this 55-hectare island-barangay can be reached via a 10-15 minutes boat ride from the mainland.
There are a ton of options on how to get there and since our take-off point was Iloilo City, we launched into the four-hour van ride from Mohon Terminal.
At present, the local government is pursuing a system of entry fee collection before departure and the Philippine Coast Guard is strictly enforcing the use of “wooden-hulled” passenger boats rather than personal small fishing boats of the locals.
At the height of tourism in vogue and when beautiful Batanes-like features and Boracay-like sand quality flooded online, any type of boat were used to cater to tourists even the smaller ones. At present, the regulation of the government is commendable.
Solar energy is the main source of power supply. However, the downtrend of visitor numbers, just like in all the other destinations affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, dreadfully rammed the communities.
There used to be a systematic give-and-take system as in a community-based island tourism approach; and it seemed to die down as the households at the sandbar area, which is where the boats dock upon arrival on the island, are at the forefront of economic activities.
Thus, instead of co-operation, the competition was observed to be not on the leveled playing field and it left those that are distant from the port more distant from economic opportunities.
In the absence of a high-end accommodation establishment and to engross in the local way of life, homestay is being practiced by the families to provide lodging for guests at a very reasonable price.
At 300 pesos per person, you may share a home with a family or even “own” the entire house in our case. The catch is that “locking doors” is not a norm since almost everyone is almost family so we could leave anything with doors and windows open even at night. Buying goods from the mainland is their main source of products for their respective sari-sari stores.
The rich marine resources ensure food security on the tables of families of less than two hundred, and for kids that roam around in the playgrounds of pebbles.
Just one sad, unforgettable experience was when we saw a dying middle-aged man having difficulty of breathing and looking very sickly, pale. With the neighborhood not fully knowledgeable of what to do, we helped out in checking whether he was having a stroke. Sadly after a few hours, we learned that he was declared dead in the town-level hospital located in the mainland, after being taken on a regular boat ride.
No questions asked with the beauty of this island. But the beauty of a small island is not like wine. It must be protected. While the pristine waters and fine sand serve as primary tourism assets, the hilly parts of the island are one of the most enticing views that will tickle your toes to get off your couch and travel.
The hike is likewise the daily warm-up for the parents as they typically guide the kids up to the school. The usual route though of the elementary school children is up the hills and the major risk for them is when brawling, they could fall. And this hazard becomes another huge risk for tourists especially when our hike guide told us that one almost fell off the cliff after taking a photo on one of the steepest edges.
Another beautiful experience is getting fresh catch such as fish and octopus down the fire with a kilo pricing less than a hundred pesos to a hundred twenty.
As one of its major economic drivers, fishers band in groups to harvest the bounty in designated fishing zones only. I asked one fisherman of the possible reason why they do not go to the no-touch/fishing zones; and my heart was full when he answered: “that’s our only source of food; so, we need to protect it for us to have food for the days and years ahead of us”. Not verbatim but that was the very gist of it. Ironically, while this mindset is present, they are also wary of the sea level rise.
Eight years ago when more than five meters long of the island’s area was still visibly unconcealed during the regular tides, locals enjoy even seeing fish flying near the shore and barracudas chasing the same.
Now, houses are flushed during high tides with some land boundaries located off the seas; and others uninhabited due to coastal erosion and some serve concrete-almost-dilapidating shade for family shore picnics and after fishing Tanduay sessions.
Garbage remains the core problem. There is no effective system of solid waste management in the island-barangay.
I have even seen a PPE on the shore and a bunch of masks and shirts hugging the white sand. Going around, burning a mixed bio and no-bio wastes becomes a norm. Think of basking in the sun and diving in the warm water with the highest peak on Panay Island, Mt. Madja-as, smiling at you in panorama and you turn your back and you see ash blue smoke and smell burnt plastic.
If in case energy is gained, cloud rats, hornbills, spotted deer and rafflesia await up the majestic mountain that they say and see the world through the eyes of the God Bulalakaw.
While some acknowledge the effects of climate change, most do not feel this is a climate crisis.
And, every single decision, no matter how small, matters; and will impact not only your family but the entire community where you are supposed to live not only today but until the endless building for the next generation.
The desire really is to not only show the beauty that lies in it but show the mostly ignored realities in fact so Mararison island gets protected, preserved, not brushed-off again or become the next Boracay.