Three kids, rowing and playing with a seemingly too narrow bamboo raft paused in front of me. Take our pictures please! They playfully hollered at me. Above their heads, a feather of a cloud was lighting up with fire. A few inches above their ankles, the warm sea was lazily pushing waves, lapping the white sandy shore of Quezon Beach.
It was another fulfilling day of taking portraits in Patikul, a town in the island province of Sulu. With a few hours of daylight left, the group decided to chill a bit and visit one of the beaches in the island. Quezon Beach is located less than half a kilometer away from the MBLT-6 camp where we were bunking in, but still, we went there with full military escorts; safety being the primary concern of our hosts.
One of Sulu’s sultans lives right in front of the beach, Mohammad Muejuddin Jainal Abirin Bahjin. He gracefully chatted with us and even gave us some coconut drinks before we stripped off and ran to the waters.
Patikul’s Quezon Beach was a total surprise.
It has a very fine sand that’s on the creamy shade of white. The water was remarkable; it was so clear you can see the undisturbed sand ridges created by the waves below the water. The beach stretches for about a kilometer and besides a few kids playing with a raft, we have it all to ourselves.
Excitedly, we donned our snorkels and masks and dove down. The water was warm to our skin. The tension we felt through the day started to dissipate as we pushed ourselves deeper, surfacing to take another breath, before diving down once again.
Quezon Beach’s seabed is pure sand. This is the kind of beach where you don’t have to wear slippers or reef shoes; you can go barefoot without fear of stepping on corals, sea grass or sharp rocks.
While, I prefer rocky beaches since they usually offer livelier underwater sceneries, sometimes a sandy bottom is also fun.
Normally, I wouldn’t be expecting to see much marine life below such beaches, but this one in Patikul got me wrong. Besides some strange-looking crabs, we saw schools of white fishes, about a foot long, swimming right before our eyes. They blend quite well with the color of the sand and were quite shy, dispersing quickly before we can reach them.
Hours flew by and we did nothing but savor the waters of Quezon Beach.
We swam. We dove. And we swam some more.
It was one of the few hours outside the military camp we’re staying in that we actually felt relaxed.
Alas, it was short-lived.
As the sun began to dip and kiss the horizon, tensions rose up once more. The marines, who were guarding us the whole time, quickly told everyone to go back to shore. Apparently, even with military escorts, it still wasn’t safe to be out by nightfall. We all needed to get back to the safety of the camp.
It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed; yet there I was, camera on hand, sneaking a few photos as quickly as I can, rushing back to shore while doing so. As we rumbled back to the camp, I was ruminating about the situation in Sulu. How it has prevented me capturing the full glory of Patikul’s Quezon Beach, how it has kept it from being seen and experienced by the rest of the country.