Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

(Albert Einstein)

People of the “higher world” had not imagined the cruelty of isolation that had befallen them in these seemingly persisting months of quarantine from the so-called “invisible enemy”. Yet, people of the “lower world” have always been scraping the dirt and mud of their everyday existence—susceptible to diseases, hungry for the day’s meal, defenseless against crime, abuse, violence and police authority, and desperate for daily survival. The risk of an actual imprisonment feeds on them like waking up to another ordinary day. Perhaps, it has been the higher world’s luxurious desires (fine dining, high-end shopping, exotic travels, fitness club routines, physical vanity, and accumulation of both monetary and tangible assets) more than what daily essential needs require that has prompted defiance, fury, greed and disrespect to emerge from many streets worldwide. Distorted virtues have perforated many restless minds that could not let go of such precious ingredients that fill up their comfort zone. Indeed, the Coronavirus epidemic has taken away hundreds of thousands of lives in less than four months, yet to the citizens of the lower world, death simply lurks in their shadows, day by day, with or without the virus.

Hence, while the definition of a crisis paints completely different saturation levels between the privileged and less privileged classes of socio-economic strata, there is only one common denominator that carves our mode of thought and action, and that is the power of imagination to adapt to a novel way of life. Through patience, endurance, and careful defeat of the unknown, we also assume responsibility for the choices we make to transform such imagination into reality. When succumbed by negative forces, such as those brought by this pandemic plight, our inexplicable questions drown us into doubt, and drive us to perceive imagined solutions that may feel distant from certainty and accuracy. They challenge our creative tools in maximizing the quarantine time, as well as test our vulnerability in defining critical decisions. Regardless of economic disposition, our human instincts can only offer us the luster of hope, silent wishes and an optimistic imagination of the “hereafter,” which becomes our nightly pill to rise to another morning.

When all fear and anxiety are overcome, one imaginary wish may be a retreat to a remote paradise island where by then, the parameters for seclusion, downgrading of material essentials, and even social distancing that we have already mastered would no longer feel alien.

On the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, lies a cluster of virgin islets that would surely consume one’s vision of the “other world” after Coronavirus. Named Islas de Gigantes or Gigantes Islands, owing to the islands’ appearance of a giant’s footsteps, this utopic destination takes about an hour air travel from Manila to Roxas City, Iloilo, plus three to four hours by boat from the coastal town of Carles. The entire journey may be quite a feat, but the peaceful and scenic panorama on board the “banca” boat is absolutely worth the long stretch.

Unlike the country’s over-flocked Boracay, Cebu, or El Nido resorts, the Gigantes Islands are not (yet) as commercially exploited. The innate exquisiteness of the seascapes, white sand beaches, and the peaceful and simple life of the rural villagers perfectly caress the mind, body and soul. Whether departing from Estancia Port or Bancal Port in Carles, the passenger boat lands at Gigantes Norte (North Gigantes) Island where accommodations can be found. The pristine island is home to many fishing villages and families selling fruits or commodities. Everyone moves around from town to town on tricycles, no matter how sardined they may be. You may hear the motorbikes drive by, see the rider fetch a crate of eggs and tie it on the backseat to deliver it to the market. On the way to the Bakwitan Cave, you may witness men laying scallop shells on the entire lot of their homes, and sweet smiling children fetching water with their buckets from the common “barrio” (small town) faucet. Brightly grinning children in their well-ironed school uniforms and finely combed hair walk on the dirt roads to school in the early morning around 6:00. There are also children as young as eight or nine years old, selling souvenirs by the historical lighthouse dating from the Spanish era. It stands proudly on a hill next to a small ancient museum. From this point, the humble scenes of an ordinary life reflect through the panoramic sunrise above the vast blue sea, filtering an utterly indescribable serenity. . Crossing the sea to the Gigantes Sur (South Gigantes) Island ushers you to spectacular beaches and sandbars. The Cabugao Gamay Island strip consists of a pile of rocks on one end to escort you up to a picturesque view of the ivory sands and palm trees below. The Bantigue Sandbar Island is a long stretch of glittery, white sands bordered by the luminous blue-green waters. Fresh scallops are sold here for less than 5 US cents. The Tangke Lagoon is probably the most mouth-watery vision in the Gigantes Islands, surrounded by massive and high limestone cliffs. Paradise never feels closer than this. There are other numerous small islets off the coast—Antonia Island, Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea), Lango Beach, and more that each offer white powdery shores, cool breeze of palm and coconut trees, and the tingling smell of fresh fish, steamed crab, squid and scallop dishes.

There is not much to do on a solitary island, you may say, except to lie all day on the soft sands or a bamboo bench, stare at the azure blue sea and tranquil clouds, and listen to music while feeling revived, touching, nurturing, and embracing the universe as it unfolds itself without avarice. Perhaps, after months of involuntary quarantine, the need to break into a crowd may deem imminent. However, the immensity of the wilderness also beckons to be noticed again. As you swing on the hammock facing the changing colors of the ocean that transcends from high tide to low tide, you wait for the pink sunset to peek as patiently as you did within the walls of your abode during reclusion. Then, thoughts of what had just surpassed reveal their candor meaning for remolding the days ahead, as though the purpose of life’s existence has never been as crystal clear as before. Life in the “old normal” and the “new normal” should always teach us the most important merits of honest and simple living, and in islands such as here, the emotion of gratefulness frees us in the most peculiar and innocent way. This is what Paradise should do to us.