A vast field of mangroves filled more than half my vision as I start my way down a two story rocky stairway. Somewhere beyond this 1,400 hectares of mangrove at Cogtong Bay, Anda, Bohol is Lamanoc Island, a small limestone island enveloped in an eerie veil of tales of a banished witch and a place where shamans congregate. Why would I visit such a spooky island? Because within its shallow caverns and lush tangled vegetation are remnants of a fascinating culture dating far beyond the pre-colonial era.
From Mangroves to the Island
The 310-meter boardwalk cutting through the mangrove forest looks fragile and creaks on with every step but remains sturdy as I walked along with my young guide. It helps to slow down and admire the 33 species of mangrove that are said to be in this area alone. At the end of the boardwalk, there’s a bamboo and wood jetty where paddleboats await to take visitors to Lamanoc Island. The ride is a short 10 minutes paddle on shallow water. At low tide, visitors can even opt to wade and just walk towards the island.
[pullquote]As soon as I step on the island, there’s a different feeling in the air, a thickness I can’t describe that’s pressing against my skin making it tingly all over.[/pullquote]
Lamanoc Island is surrounded by rocky shores and mangroves. As soon as I step on the island, there’s a different feeling in the air, a thickness I can’t describe that’s pressing against my skin making it tingly all over. I shrugged it off as our main guide, Mang Fortunato, a man in his 60s who has been touring visitors here called my attention to start the tour. It was getting late in the afternoon and I was the last lone guest that day.
Fortunato led me up on a trail to the side of a limestone wall leading to a rock shelter with an open view of the sea. Before I got lost on the scenery, he pointed me to a few boat coffins on one side of the cave. The wooden dugout boat coffins made from tugos (molave) are called lungon. This burial method, widely practiced from the 8th to 15th century in Southeast Asia, is evident in Lamanoc Island with remnants of human skeletal remains and a few pieces of lungon in the rock shelter.
“One of my clairvoyant guests saw a dwarf sitting there” Fortunato told me while pointing to a rock ledge near the trail. I didn’t see any creature but broken potsherds littering the area which were evidence of earthenware jars also used for burials. Many of the burial jars here were damaged by looters who found human remains instead of treasures they were seeking. The National Museum conducted archaeological digs in the area and were able to find some good pieces and items like ceramics, beads, bracelets and iron blades that were believed to adorn the deceased in the belief that they would take them to the next life. Now the scattered human bones are respectfully gathered in a makeshift stone container encased by a clear glass.
We backtracked and went to a different trail leading to another rock shelter. A large wooden cross stands on this cave which I remember seeing earlier as we approached the boat. But the highlight of this cave is the crimson smeared walls on what study reveals to be hematite (red iron oxide) paintings. These ancient drawings are believed to belong to the Stone Age. Wear and tear, however, have made most of the paintings almost indistinguishable.
Mysterious caves and essential info on the next page…
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.