By John Ronquillo and Nix Ramirez
There will always be a few trivial nuisances backpackers & amateur travel photographers like us may encounter upon choosing a relatively infant travel destination. This is especially true on destinations that are susceptible to unpredictable weather disturbances. Delayed flights happen. Restaurants, transportation, and service staff can be overwhelmed by the sudden & unanticipated surge of tourists encroaching the place. The weather fluctuates too abruptly when you least expect it. Epic golden-hour photography plans may turn into epic-fails within a few minutes.
All these are petty concerns, as a travel destination in its infancy has one big charm: its beautiful terrain that isn’t inundated with the deluge of tourists. Suddenly, your epic failure turns itself inside out to become a great opportunity. But you have to have the right mindset to see its unique allure.
We are referring to the eastern island-province in the Bicol Region.
Welcome to a road less travelled. Most of us have only heard about Catanduanes as the entry point for brewing storms. In a place that was once known as “The Land of the Howling Winds,” where all weather predictions go out the window, one would be forgiven to think this might be the dullest PiPho travel ever.
Of course NOT, on both counts: both on the photographers’ enthusiasm and the backpacker’s sense of exploration for the exotic. All these inopportune moments are a blessing in disguise, my friend!
Truth be told: Catanduanes is a “sleeper” gem! Although travelling within the island is a little prohibitive due to its mountainous terrain, limited public transportation and narrow roads, most of its awe-inspiring, beautiful landscapes are uncharted. It’s only a matter of time before it gets under the radar of modern commercialism. It’s even often compared to Batanes for its backdrop’s grandeur, which we have barely scratched.
Case in point: a halo-halo break in Barangay Balite along the south-western coast of Virac has turned into a brilliant photo opportunity as the hidden beach a few steps away from the halo-halo cart had a view of Mayon Volcano in the distance. Albeit it was too cloudy to take photos of Mayon, the white sand’s texture against the ebb was too good to be overlooked.
So what’s good about the rains? On a photographer’s perspective, its aftermath always brings intense drama to any photograph. An after-storm sunset furnishes the skies with multiple colors, filtered on what were previously storm-clouds, and fierier than any other day’s sunset. The aftermath also delivers the ever-elusive effect of moving clouds.
Opposite the rains is the scorching sun at midday, which most photographers avoid as it’s nefarious for producing bland colors. Yet with PiPho, the show goes on.
PiPho has only been to the southern-most tip of the island, but perhaps what makes this On-The-Spot (OTS) travel special is the place itself. Virac, the capital city, looks like any other Philippine capital city but you’ll notice the subtleties early on. Garbage seem to be picked-up on time, with the whole place squeaky clean before it wakes up in the morning and after it closes down for the night. Sure, there are tricycles but where’s the grid lock? Virac must be one of the cleanest places in the country.
Or perhaps what makes the travel special is meeting its people. Where would you find smiling tambays while asking help to push your vehicle that has just broken down, while we watched annoyingly thinking about how we haven’t gotten any decent photo for the day. Thinking back, we wouldn’t have been to a very pleasant abaca farm (and take photos of it) and met the locals had the vehicle ran smoothly. These locals are the very front-liners of the typhoons entering the country before they even hit our homes.
Perhaps it’s only incidental that this is Pinoy Photography’s 13th year that we got lucky with our shots? Maybe for us amateurs. And only if you’re superstitious. But producing awesome compositions become intrinsic in most old-timers, that each shot is effortlessly good.
Or perhaps the best part of this travel spree was that we went beyond the one-liner jokes we often hear on the Monthly Photo Contest (MPC) meetings: all 14 of us PiPho travelers earned rapport.
After-shoot nights and the seemingly barren times of heavy rains are story-telling and pusoy-dos times. Some shared their own versions of ghost stories. We’ve learned what our peers do for métiers, where they have been in the past, what music they listen (and sing) to, what’s on their Spotify playlist, the movies they like; we met their spouses, knew some of their strengths, and perhaps learned a thing or two about some of their vulnerabilities.
Those who braved the non-stop rains in Sakahon Beach still managed to take photos. Where else would you find dramatic shots of kids boogie-board surfing in the rain? While some still managed to play pusoy-dos despite forgetting to bring cards. And some sang the rains away on a 5-peso karaoke TV, but found the rains getting heavier as we seem to get more confident on the microphone.
Despair not when you miss the epic Virac sunrise. PiPho always finds a way. The team manages to run the show and shoot Virac Sunrise even at midnight:
What it all boils down to is that what started out as a hobby has gained us not only decent portfolio-worthy photos; it has brought us good friends as well.
The one-liner jokes would always be in the MPC meetings, but they may as well have found new heights and new meanings this time around.
And man, do the winds howl big time!
PiPho Catanduanes OTS
April 6-9, 2018
You need not be a professional or a gadget expert to have fun with us! Neither would you need top-of-the-line.gears. All you need is something that captures images. An entry-level camera would.do, with your enthusiasm to learn and explore new things. If you’ve endured reading this far, that means it’s safe to assume you fit both those criteria. Just fill-up the application form on our webpage http://www.pipho.org/pipho-application-form/ to join!