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We’re Happy to Brave a Storm at Sea for a Bucket of Scallops, Thanks

We’re Happy to Brave a Storm at Sea for a Bucket of Scallops, Thanks

Scallops on Sand Bar

Two friends and I traveled to Iloilo, a Philippine province whose northeastern-most town, Carles, is one of two jump-off points to Las Islas de Gigantes, a remote island chain gaining popularity as a tourist destination. Our plan was to eat, sunbathe, and swim on every island our motorized banca (outrigger canoe) could reach.

We left the resort for the port at 5 am, and an hour later, were on our way. We reached the first island—a sandbar called, well, Sand Bar—two hours later, just in time for breakfast.

We headed to the lone structure on the island where our boatman said we could find scallops, Sand Bar’s specialty. The guy manning the shack directed us to one of the boats on the shore. Beside it, resting in the water, was a net full of scallops; the catch of the day.

“How much?” my friend asked. Scallops weren’t cheap in Manila, where we come from, costing hundreds of pesos for a few pieces in a restaurant.

“One peso per piece.”

That’s about 20 cents each. My friend ordered a hundred pesos (about two dollars) worth. The guy grabbed fistfuls of the tiny shells and dumped them into a pot. We were pretty sure there were more than a hundred pieces in there. He took them back to the shack to boil while we waited in the eating area, a bunch of tables and chairs covered by a lean-to made from leaves and branches to keep out the sun and wind.

The man returned a few minutes later with the cooked scallops in a green plastic basket. We picked at them excitedly, eating them straight from the still warm shells. The tiny pieces of flesh were sweet and slightly briny, tasting of the sea.

At the side of the lean-to were a few liquor bottles that contained condiments—soy sauce, fish sauce, and a couple of types of vinegar—ready for the mixing. We mixed some soy sauce and vinegar—the Filipino go-to sauce—in a saucer to dip the scallops in but really, they tasted better unadorned. We weren’t sure at first how three women could finish a basket of shellfish but by the end of the meal, we realized that we shouldn’t have worried; in the middle of the table stood a mountain of empty scallop shells.

We docked on two more islands before the weather caught up with us and our guide told us, with some alarm in his voice, that we had to leave for the mainland right then because there was a storm brewing, and we would have to sail into it.

The boatmen had lowered the sails of our banca so that we could travel faster, which meant that we were soaked through. They loaned us a sheet of plastic, flimsy cover against the elements, though it did a fair enough job of keeping away the wind and cold. It was another two hours of sailing back to shore. The rain let up temporarily about halfway through our journey. A friend said to look out at the water. What we saw were calm waves undulating softly. They looked like sand, and, strangely, like the strips of cloth actors wave across a stage when they want to simulate a body of water.

“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” she said.

Everyone agreed.

And then, finally and not soon enough, we were ashore, drenched and shivering, the rain still falling in sheets. We waited another 30 minutes until the rain stopped before heading back to Iloilo City where, we agreed, that our next breakfast should be at the hotel buffet.

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