Text and photos by Erwin Mascarinas · Tuesday, August 14, 2012 · 5:30 pm
Fishermen help pull their catch together in the midst of Union beach’s tranquil setting. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.
Madrid is a small town in Surigao del Sur, known as one of the biggest producers of rice grains in the province and not really for its beaches. For several years now, little has been written about the town’s hidden paradise—a kilometer long coastline secluded by stories of death and catastrophic events—a beach known as Union.
The urban legends are based from several stories that suggest of a big catastrophic event that wiped out an entire community several decades back. Adding to the mystery are tales about people who drowned and the curse placed on anyone who would dare take the plunge into its waters.
These intrigued me to explore the beach and personally investigate if the stories are all true. A few kilometers from the town center, I reached the beach by habal-habal, the locally known mode of traveling through a motorcycle ride.
The tranquility of a cove in Union Beach is sure to calm any tired traveler. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.
Instead of a creepy, desolate island, I saw a beautiful and serene coastline with nothing on it except for the sand and the splash of the ocean’s waves. The experience felt like being in a movie, where I’ve been marooned in an inhabited island with only myself embracing the amazing scenery.
It’s odd how a beach as beautiful as Union has been swept out of most of the people’s memory. Most of the people from the neighboring towns whom I’ve talked to don’t know where Madrid is. Those who did, however, refrained from recommending a visit to the beach.
Alone, I walked on Union beach’s soft powdery brown sand while I listened to the sound of water hitting the coastline. A moment of blissful trance. The barren beach stretched for several kilometers and bridged Madrid to the town of Cantilan.
A long stretch of open unspoiled coastline on Union Beach in Madrid, Surigao del Sur. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.
After several minutes of walking, I came upon a group of people helping each other bring the huge fishnet slowly back to the coastline near the Cantilan-Madrid border. It was a very familiar scene of “bayanihan,” the community spirit in action as each person hoped to have his own share of the ocean’s bounty in a system known to locals as “pamaling.”
The fishermen expressed their opinions about the urban legend going around. It’s all false, they agree, as they further convinced me by pointing out that they’re the best folks who can personally attest to the safety of the coastline’s waters.
Nerita Urbiztondo Duero, a 69 year-old retired school teacher, shared her insights on the urban legend that brought the beach almost into oblivion. “I’ve lived my entire life on this beach and all the stories that you hear about it is totally not true at all. There have been drowning accidents in the past but the beach was not at fault for the incident since the person was drunk,” said Duero.
The retired teacher also said the legend behind the rumored tsunami that wiped out an entire village is false and that what really happened was a succession of huge waves caused by the phenomenon called “habagat.”
Sotero Plaza, 50 years old council member of Barangay Union, said that several years back a lot of people started to hang out on the beach. As the years went by, the number has gradually declined.
I often hear elders talk of superstitious beliefs; believing would not really create harm. But in this case, it created more harm than good; it almost sealed the beauty of the wonderful beach into oblivion.
But I guess it is not too late to rediscover a place once feared and turn it once again into an adored destination.
A fisherman tries to hold on to his “bangka” as waves hits the coastline of Union Beach in Madrid, Surigao del Sur. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.