Since Jomalig, Quezon was featured in a Filipino TV travel show called “I Juander”, there’s been no end to the streams of selfie stick-wielding backpackers braving the 5 hour boat ride in the open ocean to spend a weekend away from the frenzy of Manila and enjoy a little bit of the laid-back island lifestyle. Other than swimming and snorkelling or off-road biking, there is very little to do in Jomalig. I guess that is its charm.
To get to Jomalig, the fastest way is to take a 5-hour bus ride from Manila to Real, Quezon. The roads are beautiful and well maintained and the views are breath-taking but the roads are often carved out of the edge of the mountains. The roads twist and turn and down below are deep ravines. From the port in Real, Quezon you have to take one of the passenger boats that go to Jomalig roughly 5 times a week. You’ll spend another 4 – 5 hours sitting on a wooden boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Most of the time, the ocean is flat. During the monsoon season, those 5 hours seem more like 5 lifetimes on a rollercoaster to hell.
I lived in Jomalig, Quezon for five years. I went to school there from 1st grade to 5th grade before moving back to continue my studies in Manila. A large part of my extended family still lives on the island. I used to spend every summer there when I was in high school. Over fifteen years ago during a school break, I made the mistake of going to the island in late October during the monsoon season when the water was rough. I never went back after that, until May 2016.
A lot of things have changed on the island. It has electricity now. Sure, it is only available from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. but it is a huge improvement. Water is still scarce during the dry summer months but most homes in Talisoy, the biggest town in Jomalig, have electric water pumps and indoor plumbing now. The traditional bamboo houses with wooden floors and nipa roofs are slowly but surely getting replaced by concrete middle class houses with tile floors and galvanized iron roofs. Most homes use solar power and generator. There is cellular service, satellite cable television and wireless internet for those who can afford them. Perhaps the most biggest improvement is the emphasis on education. Most people my age have a university degree or have completed some form or post secondary education.They have a fully functioning health clinic with a doctor, nurse and mid-wife on staff. The teachers, police officers, technicians and other civil servants are now locals.
As a child, I was well-aware that life in Jomalig was at the mercy of the ocean and the arrival of the rain. My father needed two jobs to raise a family with four children. He was a fisherman and a farmer. My mother ran a small business and tended a large vegetable garden. We’re lucky we had land to farm. Many families relied solely on the ocean. I’m almost certain that things haven’t really changed much for most people there. Life on the island was off-grid living at its truest form.
I’m not sure what to make of the arrival of the tourists in Jomalig. I’d been around a bit. I’ve seen the benefits of tourism and what it can do to help raise the quality of life of an entire community. I’ve also seen the ugly face of tourism where it had destroyed what was beautiful about the place. Jomalig is my hometown. Maybe I’m just a bit possessive of it. My pragmatic adult brain understands that the tourists will bring much needed revenue source for the cash-starved local economy but there’s a little part of me that wants time to stop and keep my little island in a time warp.
While many enterprising locals are now starting to build cottages and offer home-stay, tourist infrastructure is still very primitive. Bring a tent, water and enough food. I’ve read a lot of blog posts that are a tad exaggerated but my advice is to expect very little, in fact don’t expect anything at all and you won’t be disappointed.
Where to stay:
Jomaligaya Beach Resort
South Pacific Island Resort
Telephone #063-916-280-0158 or 063-0907-828-5161
Tejada’s Beach Resort
Telephone #063-907-537-5234 or 063-939-902-7532 or 063-917-500-7303
Boats from Real, Quezon to Jomalig:
Telephone #063-909-557-7012 or 063-999-547-1564
Disclaimer: As these places were being built during my visit, I’ve actually never stayed in any of them. I’m not getting any compensation for listing them here.