When I looked at the island on the horizon, there wasn’t anything pretty to look at. After all, it was very small, like a child had stuck a small group of leafy branches into the middle of a puddle. It didn’t dress to impress. It didn’t impress me. I’ve been to many places like this; white sand beaches and waterfalls. I saw it all. And I was prepared to see it all again. But I wasn’t prepared to be proved wrong.
“Here we are.” Dad said simply, driving the car off the ferry boat. “You can be at this stretch of beach only in the morning.” Confused, I sat there, wondering what small adventure would emerge.
The “stretch of beach” was actually a large sand bar. Stepping off the rickety boat and onto the soft white sand, I felt a small smile find its way onto my face. The soothing water-lapping, the gentle breeze, a secret beauty that-
Someone tapped my shoulder, and pointed behind me. I turned and-suddenly entranced- I was awakened to a sense of curiosity. My mouth gaped open, and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Hawaii. I was looking at my paradise island of the Philippines. One question rattled my mind. What else could this small group of leafy branches be hiding underneath its twigs?
And then, I saw it. I hit gold. “Sunken Cemetery?” I said with raised eyebrows. Descending down the beach, I stared out at the ocean. Small waves lapped at my feet. A few minutes later, our guide brought us up to the white cross landing. Rushing around the white cross, I looked out into the sea. Then, I saw it. I held my breath. My surroundings unlocked my mind, my eyes went wide, and curiosity flew out. The water was as clear as day. Colorful coral was so close to the surface, I could make them out from ten feet away. There wasn’t much to see from the outside, but underwater? Everything underwater was bright. Colorful fish were everywhere I looked, fighting or swimming. What type of fish would I see? What type of coral was that? I pulled at my sister’s sleeve and pointed at a butterfly fish. I pulled at her sleeve again and again. It seemed as though I was a child again at the nearest aquarium, but this time, the real thing was at my fingertips. This time, it felt like I was inside an aquarium. Days would have passed, and I would never grow tired of snorkeling at the fish sanctuary.
Setting off in the car again, I finally took the time to read the map of the island. Each spot didn’t cease to amaze me. My feet must have had the time of its life! Hot water. Cold water. Bubbly water. Pounding water. Hot springs that soothed the aches away. Cold springs that shocked me awake. Soda water springs that tickled at your hands and feet. A towering waterfall, pounding and massaging my feet with water fresh enough to drink. I wasn’t prepared to see it all, and, more amazingly, not all in one place.
When we finally re-settled into the boat, heading back home, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. There was so much more to gaze over, to touch, and to feel! I looked back at the tiny island. The tiny island I had misjudged. Although it was small in size, it was big in wonder and beauty. And that was the biggest secret of all. The biggest secret hidden from the world.
(Essay written by C. Lee, July 2016)