Salvacion, Malilipot, Albay: The vast golden white sands that appear and disappear with the tide day in, day out in Lagonoy Gulf is fast becoming a local tourist attraction this summer.
This little city in the middle of the sea, known locally as Wara-Wara sandbar, juts into the rich tuna fishing grounds in Lagonoy Gulf.
Wara-Wara sandbar faces the Pacific Ocean and could be found between the islands of Cagraray, the famous white and pristine beaches in Bacacay, Albay and Hacienda San Miguel, Tabaco City.
From a tiny spot of white sand under the sea off Salvacion village in Malilipot town, the biggest sandbar was formed over time by the ocean, or over three decades.
Others, specifically travel agents, call it “Vanishing Island,” to divert tourists away from the original name of the place, which spread among locals by word of mouth.
Though Salvacion village is around the famous Cagraray Island, which includes the two nearby villages of Santicon and Sulong, because of political subdivision, the three coastal areas formerly attached to Cagraray fell under the jurisdiction of Malilipot town.
“Wara-Wara sandbar is home to sea grasses, as well as various seashells such as sarad and kubkub, among others,” said Louie Bonaobra, 38, a resident of Salvacion.
“Wara-Wara sandbar is originally home to different seashells and sea grasses or ‘bariwbariw.’ Over time the sea grasses were seemingly reclaimed by the ocean as big waves pummelled here from the Pacific Ocean that created the expanding sandbar,” he said.
Norie Borilla, 47, of Sitio Mananoy, Barangay Malictay, Hacienda San Miguel, said through the course of three decades, the place expanded to almost three hectares.
She affirmed the statement of Bonaobra that the place was originally covered with sea grasses locally called goto-goto or bariwbariw, and had bountiful seashells.
“Sometime in 1985 when I was just 15 years old, white sands formed like a coconut shells underneath the sea and became visible during low tide. Suddenly the place expanded with golden white sands associated with pieces of broken corals pushed by the sea current in Lagonoy Gulf,” Borilla added.
Discovered in the mid-1980s
She said local fishermen discovered the sandbar during low tide at night time in the mid-1980s, while fishing between Sabangan or Cantil, the bluest and deepest part of the sea, where big foreign vessels pass in the event of bad weather, to take shelter in Sula Channel.
“They were amazed because within the Sabangan or Cantil area of the sea, there was protruding shallow white sand where they could rest and make a bonfire for picnic while fishing. From then on, fishermen told us about the place through word of mouth but we’ve taken it for granted. We considered it as ordinary until such time that Governor Joey Salceda posted it on his Facebook [account]in 2015. That’s the time that Wara-Wara became popular with the sudden influx of tourists coming here,” Borilla said.
She also narrated that a male visitor brought home sand from Wara Wara and fell sick, but regained his health after returning the sand from the area following the advice of the arbularyo (faith healer).
Notably, the headless body of Nuestra Señora Dolorosa was fished out by Ernesto Bibon, a local fisherman from Salvacion village, where the famous sandbar formed.
On the other hand, Bienvenido Coprada, a fisherman of Barangay Vinisitahan, Cagraray Island, an upper village next to Salvacion, found a wooden box where Dolorosa’s dresses are kept, while fishing in Barangay Uson.
Based on local accounts, the image was brought by a priest and a nun from Catanduanes bound for Masbate, but the vessel carrying the image and the passengers burned and capsized in the 1980s here.
Currently, the image of Nuestra Señora Dolorosa is kept at the ermita (chapel) of Barangay Salvacion under the care of hermano mayor brother Serafin Bueno, 76. Villagers in this area consider the Wara-Wara sandbar to have cultural and religious historical significance.
The body of Dolorosa was made of hollow wood found in the waters of Salvacion, where the biggest sandbar was formed three decades ago. During high tide, the area is the busiest route for motorized boats plying from Batan Island to Tabaco, as well as from Cagraray Island bound for Tabaco City and Bacacay in the mainland for trading.
Today, Wara-Wara sandbar is one of the favorite destinations in Albay, and the big influx of tourists creates income for locals as fishermen have built floating cottages catering to tourists.
Ball games, kite-flying and surfing could be done at the wide stretch of the sandbar. For children, the place is completely magical with the presence of starfish and tiny pelagic fish.
Wara-Wara sandbar can be reached following a 25-minute boat ride from Bacacay seaport. It is still pristine and with a backdrop of Mayon Volcano when the skies are clear.