My curious gaze fell upon a group of people wandering the beach even before the first light of the day came. I was shooting the sunrise but I was wondering what they were doing by the low tide beach. Searching for shells? No. They seemed to be digging through the sand. “Nagsimula na silang maghanap ng wak-wak. (They’re starting to hunt for wak-wak)” I heard from Arvin, a native of Sibaltan and the current tourism officer of El Nido as he called my attention. Wak-wak hunting as he fondly called. I head on to investigate.
I have stayed in El Nido for quite a while but it’s just recently that I’ve heard about “Wak-wak”. It’s a Sibaltan local term for sandworms. Yes, sandworms. Just the thought makes one feel icky or squirmy. But in this part of El Nido where wak-wak is found in abundance in its long low tide shores, it has been a part of their local cuisine. Originally used as a bait for fishes, it is now a unique delicacy cooked several ways. From adobo, kinilaw or eaten raw after washed. I never got to stay longer to try the cooked wak-wak but I was told its texture and taste is very similar to a squid.
I joined the group shortly to observe how they try to find these wak-wak along the vast shores of Sibaltan. First, they look for distinctive looking holes on the sand, small ones much like how a little finger would poke through the sand but finer one. If they are sure that a wak-wak is there they put a stick through the hole. The stick isn’t an ordinary stick. It’s not too firm and is slightly bendable. There’s also a sima, a part of a yantok (a species of rattan) tied on the end so the sandworms wouldn’t slip out of the stick once it takes a bite.
They leave the stick in the hole for a short while then they start digging through the area around the hole, sometimes a foot deep or more until they feel the sandworm already. Once they pull the stick, they could see the sandworm hooked at the end. They pull out the sandworm and throw it in the pile. I held on to one of the sandworms just to get a feel of it. The skin really does resemble the texture of a squid though less dense. It’s not as icky as I thought it would.
It was interesting to watch the whole process of wak-wak hunting. I think the learning curve isn’t that high but still, it takes a while to master the hunt. What is interesting is the abundance of food the locals of Sibaltan have. With just a little perseverance they can have food on their table without spending a penny. Even sandworms can be delectably prepared.
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.