No one can deny that the devastation brought about by Supertyphoon Yolanda was almost beyond contemplation. Just imagine: a Turkish rescue worker remarked that the damage is more than that of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Another foreign aid worker also said that the damage is “unnatural.” And we could all confirm that devastation as images of the massive destruction are broadcasted in our TV screens or shown in the Web. We heard of heartbreaking stories of victims, rescuers, and ordinary people. Supertyphoon Yolanda even broke the government’s disaster-preparedness-and-response backbone and exposed its ineptness in dealing with natural disasters.
But Supertyphoon Yolanda’s wrath quickly met its match in the form of outpouring, endless support from both national and international aid. Foreign governments, humanitarian organizations, multinational corporations, and other entities all joined hand in hand to achieve a common goal: to save lives.
A significant part of this massive relief operation was done by groups of ordinary citizens. And we are proud to say that we are part of such groups. The Enthusiast of Cebu Outdoors, Visayan Trekkers Forum, freelance outdoorspeople, and volunteers wrote their own chapter in this momentous event. Giving it all we have, the team organized a relief operation and medical mission dubbed as Tabang Para sa Isla in Malapascua Island at the northernmost part of the Cebu province last November 23 and 24. Although no casualty was reported, the communities in Malapascua Island sustained severe damage. And because Malapascua is separated from mainland Cebu, relief operations came in trickles.
Thus, the team decided to go where help is needed most. And indeed, in each of our own small ways, we were able to save lives.
The team spent several nights repacking the donated goods.
(Photo by Chad Cordova Bacolod)
We were supposed to depart Cebu with the team at 4 AM. But since Sweetie goes home from work at 10 AM, we went to Malapascua on our own. On the way to North Cebu, we spotted a faraway raincloud. For us, it signaled a new beginning, a new life. Although scars will probably remain for a long time, the rain washes away the wounds of Typhoon Yolanda.
Here’s a picturesque crag up north. It may not be as high as the cliffs of Cantabaco, but it sure is a candidate for bouldering. The nice thing about this cliff is that it’s near the highway.
A Trail of Devastation
As we proceeded to Maya, the town where we’ll take a boat to Malapascua Island, we witnessed firsthand the destruction brought about by Typhoon Yolanda. And indeed it was terrible! Entire communities such as the one depicted in the photo below are virtually flattened.
In rural areas in the Philippines, many houses are made of light materials. Understandably, they weren’t able to weather the fury of the ferocious winds. Many are severely damaged or are totally flattened.
Sometimes, we see these eerie and grim images of what used to be living spaces inside damaged residences. We saw remnants of living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and dens, once covered with walls.
Mother Nature is not choosy when it comes to who are going to be the victims of her wrath. Even well-built, contemporary homes made of steel and concrete suffered considerable or, sometimes, irreparable damage.
Public facilities were not spared and were heavily damaged. For example, in the photo below, the gym at Ilihan was stripped off its roof. We also saw a church that was completely gutted. The Bogo bus terminal was in ruins although it remained operational. And we also saw schools and universities being damaged. Obviously, it would require lots of money, time, and effort to repair these structures.
Mother Nature went haywire on November 8, 2013. We guess Mayor Duterte of Davao City was right when he said, “God must have been somewhere else. He must have forgotten that there is a planet called Earth.” Mother Nature even stripped and peeled the leafy canopies of her own life-giving trees. It was a pretty ghostly sight—bald trees with skeletal branches still standing up.
Coconut trees, which are naturally resilient against strong winds, snapped off like toothpicks. And according to some residents we’ve talked to, the storm was so ferocious that the wind simply plucked off the crowns of palms.
Bamboo stalks, which are supposed to simply bend in strong winds, were simply snapped off. The lowly but strong and flexible bamboo is an inspiration to the design of the world-famous Taipei 101 in Taipei, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Taipei 101 is designed to withstand strong typhoons and violent earthquake tremors, common natural events in the Asia Pacific region.
Supertyphoon Yolanda shaved the light forest cover of this mountain in Northern Cebu. See that brown mountain? The brown color is actually the remains of trees whose leafy canopies were blown off.
Thankfully, not everything was flattened out. The sugarcane fields of Northern Cebu were spared from the typhoon’s wrath. Furthermore, the winds did not topple down the main power towers, which means power in the region could be back soon.
Standing Back Up
Despite the horrific devastation, massive losses, financial ruins, and psychological trauma that Supertyphoon Yolanda left in its wake, reassuring signs of shrugging the dirt off one’s shoulders and moving on with life are apparent. Indeed, Cebuanos are strong and super resilient people.
We saw young guys enjoying a game of basketball; it’s definitely more fun in the Philippines, even in the face of a tragedy. We saw men starting to rebuild their homes. And those whose homes have been completely destroyed have erected makeshift tents while waiting for the opportunity and cash for rebuilding.
These hardworking linemen from CEBECO are battling against time, oppressive heat, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion to restore electrical power to affected areas. Good job and huge salute to these guys! In fact, en route to Cebu on Sunday, power has been restored to many communities in Northern Cebu.
After a few hours, we reached the port of Maya where we took a large banca to Malapascua. Riding a banca and boarding a resort-owned boat are two ways to reach the tiny resort island at the northernmost part of Cebu.
Malapascua is isolated from mainland Cebu. Thus, Malapascua residents or businessmen often make trips to the mainland to purchase bulk supplies. The fact that supplies are starting to move denotes that one of Cebu’s best resort islands that boasts of some of the world’s best dive sites is becoming to recover. And take note of the photo below; these are not just essential food, water, or canned goods. These are simple luxuries such as soft drinks and junk food.
The vibrant tourism industry is still up, well, and alive in Northern Cebu. We witnessed these foreigners disembarking from a boat that obviously came from Malapascua. We also saw Japanese tourists boarding a boat to visit Malapascua. Yes, life goes on here.
Earlier, the team started to unload the all-important goods from the truck to the boat that will transport them to the Exotic Island Dive Resort in Malapascua Island.
(Photo by Chad Cordova Bacolod)
A Journey in the Sunset
The boat’s engine sputtered to life after it was crammed with supplies. Goodbye, Maya port. We’ll see each other again on Sunday.
That peninsula is the northernmost tip of Cebu. Extremely exposed to natural elements, its tree cover was completely wiped out during Supertyphoon Yolanda’s onslaught. All that was left are skeletons of trees and bare rock.
But don’t worry, Mother Nature has her own way of healing herself. In a year or two, the cover would probably be regenerated.
That’s Chocolate Island between Malapascua and mainland Cebu. It was not spared by the wrath of the typhoon; strong winds ripped off the trees that covered it.
Travel time to Malapascua from Maya port is around an hour. Along the way, you can see spectacular vistas of the sea.
After witnessing scenes of horrible devastation, we felt a soothing balm as the sun said goodbye to the world, bathing the Visayas Sea with its gentle, orange rays.
Fire from the sea! This is one of the most spectacular sunset photos that we’ve ever taken. It also meant that despite the terrible tragedy, the Philippines still has lots of magnificent wonders that can leave you enthralled and breathless.
There was still some light when we reached Malapascua. Supertyphoon Yolanda swept through the island like a scythe. No house, establishment, or structure was spared from damage.
(Photo by Sien Atnafla)
But storm or no storm, it was business as usual for this madame as well as other entrepreneurs in this island. You have to admire these folks’ determination to stand up amidst such a huge catastrophe.
(Photo by Sien Atnafla)
Members of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, headed by Sir Chad, were able to secure some rooms a few hundred yards across the Exotic Island Dive Resort, one of the sponsors for this relief operation. While some members of the team went around the island to distribute coupons (for better control in the distribution of relief goods, the team decided to give out coupons to families), the rest of us pitched tents, ate dinner, and prepared for the night.
Several members of the group went to the communities around the island to distribute coupons for tomorrow’s relief operation.
(Photo by Erin Elarcosa)
Sir Sien and the others prepared a sumptuous dinner for the other trekkers.
A New Day, A Lovely Sunrise, A New Hope
Sweetie and I woke up very early, around 4:30 AM, to witness the famed Malapascua sunrise. Indeed, except for a couple of 24-hour guards, we woke up even earlier than the staff in the resort!
We suddenly understood why Malapascua’s sunrises are so magical. As the sun rose higher, the colors changed. One minute we were staring at a gentle glow; the next, we were looking at a fiery sky. Simply spectacular!
“The rain does not always fall
Fingers of gray clouds unclasp after sometime
A mother weeps for her dead child
A man curses for his ruined dwelling
But every day, the sun rises, an unstoppable event
Showering the land with golden light
So does life; its brilliance will always come
A new hope, a new morning, a new life”
Early risers! As the sun rose higher, we saw these little kids frolicking in the water with their parents watching over them while enjoying the sunrise.
Life goes on, and business as usual in this part of Malapascua. A staff member of Exotic Island Dive Resort went about his chores amidst the rising sun.
Staff members started to clean the beachfront in anticipation for guests.
While many of the verdant palms were stripped off their crowns, Exotic Island Dive Resort suffered relatively minimal damage. Most of the structures are still standing and bore signs of wind damage. But these “mishaps” don’t stop local and foreign tourists to visit the resort and book their adventure dives there.
One by one, our teammates started to exit their tents to watch the beautiful sunrise and to welcome the day.
After rinsing ourselves from a refreshing early morning swim, we went back to our tent. The photo below clearly shows the extent of damage that Yolanda brought to the resorts, businesses, and homes here.
We cooked a big breakfast. We know we were going to have a long, exhausting day, so we needed all the energy we can get.
After an hour, breakfast was done. Everybody, dig in! Yes, you too, doggie. Oh, speaking of the resident dog, the fellow insisted that he’d take his place right beside us. Most stray dogs would usually scamper away when shooed away. This little guy simply moved his butt slightly to give way so I can have my breakfast space!
Back on Their Feet and Getting Ready for Tourists
What we really like about Visayans, particularly Cebuanos, is that they don’t wait for assistance to get back on their feet. Make no mistake; we appreciate a helping hand. However, if no help arrives, Visayans simply exclaim, “To hell with it!” then start to begin their lives anew. That principle in life was shown evidently in Malapascua.
After breakfast, Sweetie and I had time to go around the beachfront before the relief-goods distribution starts. We found resort employees clearing the beachfront of tendrils of dead roots of coconut trees. Those roots were exposed as strong typhoon winds blew away the sand. Sweetie lent a hand in pulling out the roots.
The adjacent resort, Evolution, sustained heavy damage. Roofs of the cabins were ripped off, and there’s even a structure that completely collapsed. The original bar was wiped out, but resourceful employees got a piece of canvas tarp and set up an open-air bar that faces the sea.
We admire these people’s resilience and initiative to do something about the situation rather than sit and wait for something to happen. Resort employees started applying anti-rust primer to brand-new GI sheets while others helped in constructing a carpenter’s shed.
The exceptionally strong winds of Supertyphoon Yolanda also generated massive waves and underwater currents that damaged Malapascua’s delicate and prized reefs that attract divers all over the world. To repair the damage, they install artificial reefs in the seabed.
This type of artificial reef comprises of bamboo and dried palm stalks. When finished, this will be taken to the deep sea where it will be sunk. In time, corals will grow on the frame. Also, its design allows the natural sea current to flow through the reef.
When we got to the relief station, there were already many locals lining up. At 9 AM, the sun was already burning the beach, but the locals persisted. What great strength!
The team prepared the relief goods, materials for the distribution, and medicines for the medical mission. Last-minute briefings were conducted.
Sir Chad gave last-minute instructions to the security personnel of Exotic Island Dive Resort to ensure a smooth, peaceful operation.
Of course, we couldn’t forget thanking the sponsors that made this event very successful.
At 9:15 AM, the distribution of relief goods started. Families got several kilos of rice, canned goods, matches, candles, and water. Check out the smile on that madame’s face. It’s a great feeling knowing that you have made someone happy.
The team’s objective was to provide relief packs for the 1,200 families that reside in Malapascua Island.
Some families who were severely affected by the typhoon (i.e. lost everything) were given priority coupons. Those who got the priority coupons received tarps and used clothes in addition to the donated foodstuff.
Bags of rice, canned goods, and other household items will be enough to sustain a family for a couple of days.
Sweetie prepared bottles of water while the other ladies did their own assigned tasks for efficient distribution.
Some of the ladies segregated and bundled used clothes so they can be properly distributed. Some of us quipped that we had enough used clothes to start an ukay-ukay business. Hehehe!
Children were not forgotten. They were given loot bags containing candies, lollipops, biscuits, and other goodies.
The little ones were definitely happy. Candies and biscuits may offer little or no physical nourishment. But they provide mental and spiritual sustenance through the thought that someone cares for them.
Wow! It looked like there’s a town fiesta in Exotic Island Dive Resort. It looked like the entire populace of Malapascua was here!
Look at that really long line! It extended to around three beaches away! It was very hot, but people persevered against the oppressive sun to get the much-needed relief goods. It actually turned out that we had more relief goods than needed.
Sir Barry and a few of our guys stationed at regular intervals ensured a smooth flow and an orderly line of people. They maintained the line and made sure that no one cuts through.
Sir Chad and security personnel of the resort ensured the safety of the operation.
Locals who received their packs couldn’t resist showing their happiness and relief. The feeling of knowing that you’ve helped someone is indescribably wonderful.
There was a separate line of people who needed medical attention. Among them were children, pregnant women, elderly people and men who incurred injuries.
Dr. Guenter Braun, a German physician, went straight from Germany to the Philippines to participate in a medical mission. Through his contact in our team, he joined us and offered his services and medicines free of charge.
Together with his assistants, they treated infants and children who were sick or who incurred wounds.
Dr. Braun tirelessly treated senior citizens who complained discomfort and pain. He gave the patients practical recommendations and appropriate medication. To facilitate better communication between the doctor and his patient, two lady assistants acted as his interpreters.
This lady complained of headaches and body pain. Upon diagnosis, it turned out that this lady was suffering from high blood pressure. She couldn’t suppress a giggle when Dr. Braun recommended that she should do some light exercises. Her idea of exercise was something to the lines of aerobics, and there’s no aerobics class being held in this secluded island. The lady was a jokester too; she remarked that Dr. Braun is handsome, and she’d like to have a date with him. Hehehe!
This young man needed to have his wound cleaned and to have an anti-tetanus shot. He got injured when he stepped on a rusty nail.
Pregnant women also came to Dr. Braun for consultation to ensure good health for both mothers and the little treasures in their womb.
This guy was in a whole lot of pain. Dr. Braun checked him out and recommended that he get an X-ray as soon as possible.
The guy also had a few sores and infected wounds on his legs. Dr. Braun treated and dressed his wounds.
A Job Well Done, A Fresh Start for Malapascua
The relief operation and medical mission ended at around 2 PM. It was time for a bit of well-deserved relaxation. Some members of the team went to the beach to enjoy the clear, cool waters before packing up and heading home.
As a gesture of goodwill and appreciation, the resort provided us a free boat ride back to Maya port.
Look at that crystal clear water! After the first few days of the storm, the water was murky due to the sand and silt that was violently stirred up by the strong wind and current. When we went there, the sand and silt have already subsided; Mother Nature’s healing process has begun.
This is the sun-kissed, spectacular beauty of Malapascua that irrevocably draws divers and vacationers from all over the world. A few weeks after the supertyphoon, the island has started to recover from the disaster. Even in the face of terrible devastation, Malapascua exhibits resilience and grandeur, both reflected in the strength of its citizens and in the splendor of its natural surroundings.
Goodbye, Malapascua. You and your people are truly magnificent. You surely deserve to be named as one of the best dive sites and vacation spots in the world. When you recover from this ordeal in a few months, we will surely come back to discover your coral reefs, thresher sharks, and other wonders.
Congratulations to the members of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, Visayan Trekkers Forum, as well as the volunteers who unselfishly devoted their time, money, and effort in making this endeavor of love and caring successful!