It seemed out-wordly this piece of landscape. It rises up like a giant sphinx cutting through the deep blue sky with all its whiteness. Truly an extraordinary site first time seeing up close at the rugged coast of Burgos, Ilocos Norte. They call it Kapurpurawan, which also means “Kaputian” or whiteness in the local Ilocano dialect. It’s fast becoming a favorite spot in Ilocos Norte in addition to its grand churches, delectable cuisines and wonderful beaches. It was our next stop from Pasuquin during out Lakbay Norte 2 tour.
Having been to Ilocos Norte several times, it’s a wonder how I missed this place since it’s fairly easy to find. A signage from the highway in burgos leads to a dust road with a 3.5km length to the jump-off. A large billboard is there to greet people and visitors are now required to register and pay a minimal conservation fee. I think this is a good move as I’ve heard from friends that the sight is getting some abuse from allowing a huge crowd to trample on Kapurpurawan’s precious chalk-white surface.
From the jump-off it’s a very short hike, down a stairs, through vegetation then a very interesting bonsai forest. People in charge of conservation are now also protecting this area as these bonsai plants were also being stolen and sold for a good price.
Kapurpurawan itself is like setting foot on a large piece of chalk with smooth undulating patterns akin to the the waves of the sea. This unique limestone formation was formed through both sedimentation and erosion by the surrounding forces of land, wind and sea. Locals claim that the upper beak part that looks like a Sphinx or head of a sleeping dragon changes every year through natural conditions.
But since it’s gaining popularity, the unnatural presence of a large group stomping on the surface or even the blatant graffiti by other tourist could speed up the erosion process before it forms. So I suggested to the guide to moderate the numbers of people visiting this place and always have a guard to keep watch.
Way past the rock formation, I saw a group of people busy on the edge of the sharp coral rock formations of the shore. I approached them out of curiosity to see what they were doing. They were gathering Gamet, a rare seaweed that usually grows on this coast from September to February. I’ve read about the Gamet and their gatherers on a brochure years before but haven’t really seen them up close so took the liberty of asking around.
One gamet gatherer told me they start early morning when the waves have settled low and exposed these gamets on the corals. They usually wear gloves to probe with their forefingers thumbs and pull them out from the sharp fissures. They gather until noon or until it satisfy them. It seems looking or hearing about it but it’s also a risky work. The conditions are treacherous with the sharp and slippery rocks and the waves can unexpectedly just slam on them while picking. There are already few reported deaths from gathering gamet.
I looked into their singapong (fish net) where they collect the gamet. She said the gamet’s price when sold is dependent on the quality, the darker ones, the much higher it’s priced. Once she’s satisfied with the amount she collected she washes them off with salt water to reveal its natural sheen. They then spread them out on a woven bamboo mat for drying for a few days. They then roll them off for selling. Each dangkal or dangan (from the tip of the thumb and forefinger) the cost would be from P500 to P800. Fairly priced since it takes a lot of work and risk to gather them that’s why they also call these gamets, the Black Gold of Burgos.
These gamets aside from abundantly being exported to countries like Japan (which they call nori and are heavily used on their sushis), they are also popularly used on their dishes like soups or are mixed with their omelets. I’ve even tasted a gamet soup at INHCC buffet which was really flavorful. I took a pinch with my fingers and decided to try it raw – it was jelly and salty.
How interesting it is that a stark contrast of elements can be some of the attractions of Burgos. From the massive white limestone jutting out from the shore, to the miniscule dark gamet that is akin to gold.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.