Kapurpurawan and the Gamet Gatherers of Burgos
Kapurpurawan and the Gamet Gatherers of Burgos

It seemed out-wordly this piece of landscape. It rises up like a giant sphinx cutting through the deep blue sky with all its whiteness. Truly an extraordinary site first time seeing up close at the rugged coast of Burgos, Ilocos Norte. They call it Kapurpurawan, which also means “Kaputian” or whiteness in the local Ilocano dialect. It’s fast becoming a favorite spot in Ilocos Norte in addition to its grand churches, delectable cuisines and wonderful beaches. It was our next stop from Pasuquin during out Lakbay Norte 2 tour.

The jump-off point to Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The jump-off point to Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Having been to Ilocos Norte several times, it’s a wonder how I missed this place since it’s fairly easy to find. A signage from the highway in burgos leads to a dust road with a 3.5km length to the jump-off. A large billboard is there to greet people and visitors are now required to register and pay a minimal conservation fee. I think this is a good move as I’ve heard from friends that the sight is getting some abuse from allowing a huge crowd to trample on Kapurpurawan’s precious chalk-white surface.

Bonsai plants
Bonsai plants are abundant in the area and are often stolen

From the jump-off it’s a very short hike, down a stairs, through vegetation then a very interesting bonsai forest. People in charge of conservation are now also protecting this area as these bonsai plants were also being stolen and sold for a good price.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
The out-worldly Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Kapurpurawan itself is like setting foot on a large piece of chalk with smooth undulating patterns akin to the the waves of the sea. This unique limestone formation was formed through both sedimentation and erosion by the surrounding forces of land, wind and sea. Locals claim that the upper beak part that looks like a Sphinx or head of a sleeping dragon changes every year through natural conditions.

People dwarfed by the massive limestone formation
People dwarfed by the massive limestone formation

But since it’s gaining popularity, the unnatural presence of a large group stomping on the surface or even the blatant graffiti by other tourist could speed up the erosion process before it forms. So I suggested to the guide to moderate the numbers of people visiting this place and always have a guard to keep watch.

This landscape is constantly changing
This landscape is constantly changing due to sedimentation and erosion

Way past the rock formation, I saw a group of people busy on the edge of the sharp coral rock formations of the shore. I approached them out of curiosity to see what they were doing. They were gathering Gamet, a rare seaweed that usually grows on this coast from September to February. I’ve read about the Gamet and their gatherers on a brochure years before but haven’t really seen them up close so took the liberty of asking around.

Kapurpurawan at the rugged shores of Burgos
Kapurpurawan at the rugged shores of Burgos

One gamet gatherer told me they start early morning when the waves have settled low and exposed these gamets on the corals. They usually wear gloves to probe with their forefingers thumbs and pull them out from the sharp fissures. They gather until noon or until it satisfy them. It seems looking or hearing about it but it’s also a risky work. The conditions are treacherous with the sharp and slippery rocks and the waves can unexpectedly just slam on them while picking. There are already few reported deaths from gathering gamet.

Gamet gatherers near Kapurpurawan
Gamet gatherers near Kapurpurawan

I looked into their singapong (fish net) where they collect the gamet. She said the gamet’s price when sold is dependent on the quality, the darker ones, the much higher it’s priced. Once she’s satisfied with the amount she collected she washes them off with salt water to reveal its natural sheen. They then spread them out on a woven bamboo mat for drying for a few days. They then roll them off for selling. Each dangkal or dangan (from the tip of the thumb and forefinger) the cost would be from P500 to P800. Fairly priced since it takes a lot of work and risk to gather them that’s why they also call these gamets, the Black Gold of Burgos.

A gamet gatherer
A gamet gatherer also faces environmental risks

These gamets aside from abundantly being exported to countries like Japan (which they call nori and are heavily used on their sushis), they are also popularly used on their dishes like soups or are mixed with their omelets. I’ve even tasted a gamet soup at INHCC buffet which was really flavorful. I took a pinch with my fingers and decided to try it raw – it was jelly and salty.

Singapong, or fish net where they collect the Gamet

How interesting it is that a stark contrast of elements can be some of the attractions of Burgos. From the massive white limestone jutting out from the shore, to the miniscule dark gamet that is akin to gold.

The gamet on the rocks
The Gamet, or the black gold, clinging on the rocks at Burgos
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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

23 Responses to “Ilocos Norte: The White Rock Kapurpurawan and the Black Gold of Burgos”

  1. i’ll never forget Kapurpurawan dahil nilakad ko yan mag-isa na walang katao tao. haha I ddnt know ganun xa kalayo eh ang bigat ng backpack ko. toinks!

    nice, yun pala sabe g trike driver na black gold, gamet pala tawag dun. tama lng na Php500-800 yan kase matrabaho nga naman, tsaka pagbenenta nila yan malamang doble or triple pa benta ng my negosyante jan.

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