Tracing the Creases of Memory at the Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation

How could we have not seen all this texture around us?

It's the third day of May and the end of our Ilocos Norte trip. Today we're at the coast of Burgos in what would be our last stop before we grab supper on our way back to Quezon City. I've made some new friends and memories here—great ones, at that—and now we're all heading toward the millennia-old Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation.

I was 13 years old when I last went to Ilocos Norte. It was a summer trip with my family. We went to Pagudpud and I remember that time with great fondness. My father, mother, brother, and aunts were all with me then. I also remember packing five different hats because I couldn't bring just one.

Unfortunately, we never got to visit Kapurpurawan for that tour because of high tide. My grandmother, Lola Bebe, had also passed away suddenly in the middle of that trip, and we had to accompany my dad back to Ozamiz.

And here I am now walking toward it at the age of 25. The hike to the area takes about 20 minutes, as the stones are roughly three kilometers away from the main highway. You can rent a horse to go there for about P100, which is what one of my fellow writers opts to do, or just walk the cemented path, which is what the rest of us are doing.

On our way there, we come across a bronze-cast statue. It depicts the immortal folk hero Lam-ang battling the Berkakan, the creature that had swallowed him whole. "Biag ni Lam-ang" is best known as the first Filipino folk epic to be documented in writing. Said to be pre-colonial in origin, the Ilocano original, along with Bicol's "Handiong" are the only two epics recorded during the Spanish occupation of the country.


The statue is a precursor. So we go forward with the exploration of the limestone slopes.

The sculpture was made by artist Paul Quiano.


In this mountainous expanse, we see horses, goats, and cattle roaming around the area. We pass a number of raggedy souvenir stores selling hats, local textiles, spoof Pagupud shirts, and bottles of fermented wine or basi in Ilocano. Ilocos Norte's signature windmills spin in the distance. The backdrop of it all is Bangui Bay's blue waters and they are majestic.

Kapurpurawan comes from the Ilocano root word puraw, or white. Once we arrive, we are welcomed by these creamy geological wonders; smooth limestone born out of thousands of years' worth of accumulated particles sculpted by the salty air and even saltier waves. In chemistry, this process is called sedimentation.

Before looking up and entering the deeper part of the coastline, we catch sprawling pools of water tucked between the rocks around us. In anticipation, we move.

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When we finally get there, I am in awe. It's a place for imagination and fantasy. I observe closely the texture of the limestone, coral, and the seas. They mimic something straight out of an artist's dream; soothing yet firm, crisp and striking, the way nature intended for its scenes to be. The first memories that came to mind was a painting of our great modernist Juvenal Sansó, then came visions of Ingmar Bergman's timeless opus, Persona.

Sansó's "The Moon's Domain" resembles Kapurpurawan's spirited interplay of the stone and the seas. 

Photo by Fundacion Sanso Collection.

Shot at a familiar coast, Liv Ullman as Elisabet Vogler in Ingmar Bergman's breakthrough minimalist masterpiece Persona.

Photo by Screenshot/Persona.

A view from the coasts of Kapurpurawan.


What do all these images have in common exactly? They're all surrealist in composition.

Art historians have long held that Sansó's art borders expressionism and the surreal. His shapes and shades move in an anthropomorphic fashion, much like the natural elements at Kapurpurawan. Each detail communicates their own inherent texture yet retain a sense of calm and harmony when looked at holistically.

The story of Persona, on the other hand, follows a young nurse named Alma and her patient, Elisabet, who suddenly stops talking. It's an enigma of a film, challenging its viewers to an endless cycle of self-questioning. 

Bergman's cinema, in general, is that of theater as social art, playing on evocative action set in oftentimes surreal situations. Looking all over the hollow arena of the ivory limestone, I can only think of Liv Ullman's iconic camera still from the film capturing this moment.


Right in the middle of the landscape, conversation ceased. Our group all pause and admire the scenery of Kapurpurawan. It's only fair to internalize and reflect on the nuances of this trip and, to some degree, ourselves. Traveling oftentimes brings about the most interesting questions, after all.

The only sound that fills the silence is that of waves and our footsteps. We take photos of ourselves and of each other for about an hour. This, after all, would be one of the last mental images of our Ilocos Norte tour.

Living in the moment is a sham. The brain cannot comprehend a moment at its exact juncture. It is only with the dynamism of memory that we understand and acknowledge the gravity of such a moment. And from there, they become eternal.

Eventually, the call comes. We are asked to head for the bus, and we comply. On our way back, I feel kind of nervous thinking about how I am going to write about this experience. Throughout our four-day stay in Ilocos Norte, we were on a very tight schedule. Admittedly, I found it difficult to explore the character of each location, but I do know someday I will.

Until then, I know I will remember the Kapurpurawan White Rock Formation most vividly. Oddly enough, you can be nostalgic about a place you have never been to before, so I've come to learn. Kapurpurawan was a dreamscape of epic proportions to me. It felt like the climax of an unfinished childhood trip. I also thought of my dear grandmother, and how my father must've felt the day he heard the terrible news. It was time high time I said goodbye.


Before we hop on the bus, I stop by one of the local stores. I've never bought any souvenirs during this trip, so I get myself a cowboy hat.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the Assistant Section Editor of Esquire Philippines.
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