Sleeping bags not Needed, (sea kayaking in the Philippines)
Sleeping Bags not Needed
(Paddling in the Philippines)
(note for self, some good pictures here)
For some years Vivien and I have been wondering about a sea kayak trip in the Philippines. The only company that we found doing multi-day trips in sea kayaks is Tribal Adventures. This is run by Greg Hutchinson an Australian, he is the retired Reuters correspondent for the Philippines. (If you are interested in his kidnapping and account of being in the middle of the biggest hurricane to ever affect the Philippines follow the links.)
We booked to tour the area of Busuanga, Coron and Culion islands over 6 days with a support boat and guide. The time we chose is at the change of the SW monsoon to NE monsoon and gave some confusing weather. However we had generally light winds, fine mornings and short intense rain storms sometimes with thunder in the afternoons.
We left Coron town and its busy harbour, with the kayaks on the outriggers of the support banca. Half an hour took us to the NW corner of Coron island from there we paddled South along the West coast. Coron island is owned by one of the indigenous tribes of the Philippines, and there are restrictions on where you can land, fish, camp etc. About half way along, after lunch on board the banca, Bobby and I turned West for a 3 hour paddle to Ditaytayan island our first campsite. Meanwhile Vivien enjoyed snorkelling for 20 minutes before rejoining the banca to catch us up an hour later, soon afterwards the weather deteriorated prompting Bobby, to signal the banca to pick us up.
For people who are used to putting up your own tent and doing your own cooking, camping with support of this nature took a bit of getting used to, by the time Vivien and I had carried our bags up to the campsite Bobby was busy putting up our tent. At temperatures of 25C no sleeping bags are needed, a sheet on a sleeping pad is sufficient. Tent up and Bobby appeared with camping showers of hot water, once we were into salt free clothes Omar the cook arrived with our dinner. There was an abandoned rather nice mongrel on the island which took a liking to Vivien and escorted her everywhere including her frequent trips to the toilet when she developed profuse diarrhoea in the night. In the morning breakfast appeared and the tent disappeared as if by magic. We were on the banca by 0800 and snorkel diving for giant clams by 0830.
Back on the banca we made our way to a mangrove swamp. Our past experience of mangrove swamp was simply a tangle of roots and difficult to get through, this one was very different- a narrow tidal passage flowed through it. This was a swamp that had been cut for charcoal in the past and is being replanted. The banca met us on the other side and after lunch Bobbie and I paddled into Culion for fresh fruit, the harbour was so crowded we struggled to find a landing for two kayaks. Culion is a former leper colony and the town was at one time divided in two. After this we went snorkelling around a wrecked Japanese gun boat. In 1944 the USA air force sank 12 Japanese warships in the Coron area. This one lies in about 3 meters of water.
The banca stopped near Lajo island, took on fresh water from a spring, it then went N of Lajo to the campsite at Pass island . Meanwhile Bobbie and I paddled through a very shallow area that was a former seaweed farm, carrageenan was extracted from the seaweed. The Philippines is a major producer of carrageenan and a large proportion of it is used in the USA in MacDonalds burgers.
The next morning we paddled or rode (depending on inclination) in the banca in a NW direction to Maltatayoc Island for lunch on the support boat. At 32C nobody wanted to get on the hot sand of the beach with no shade. After lunch we continued in a generally NW-NWN direction past South and North Cay islands. These are both desert islands with small holiday resorts and look like the pictures in a travel brochure. Then on to Debotonay island, our stopping place for the night.
The next morning we travelled a kilometre in the banca simply to paddle over a very shallow reef that had lots of chocolate chip starfish inhabiting it. We went N between Talampulan Island and Capare island and so to Malajon island, also known as Black island, the beach here being our campsite for night. This island was the last stronghold of the Japanese when USA General MacArthur recaptured the Philippines towards the end of WW2. After a snack Bobbie and I paddled around the island. Whilst Vivien snorkelled. This was the paddling highlight for me. The island is a huge limestone outcrop rising to 200m high and no point being more than 200 metres from the sea. The cliffs are high and steep and the wave action has undercut them by up to 20 metres in places and there are several caves. This day the swells were 1 metre and less so when they bounced off the rocks or returned from the caves things were not too chaotic.
After lunch the banca dropped us at Ocum Ocum beach. We found a break in the coral reef and paddled south to Detobet Point . Paddling in the very calm lagoon area with waves crashing on the coral reef off to sea and beach on the other side was a new experience for us. Back on Black Island we spent 20 mins exploring a couple of caves and watched a couple of monitor lizards before supper and bed.
The next morning an hour in the banca past some more rocky limestone islands took us to Illutuk Bay . Here there were fishermen looking for octopus, they lie on small rafts, made of bamboo and Styrofoam, wearing dive masks to see the response to the lure and if the octopus fails to take the lure they dive with a speargun to get it. Our object was to paddle the Ditapic river. This passes through a mature mangrove swamp, the trees here at 20 to 30 metres high, indeed it was quite shady. There is one crocodile lives there, an escapee from a local wildlife park, we saw no sign of it. The support boat met us at the other side having had to go around the N coast of Calauit Island and took us to Bobbie’s house , a Filipino camp ground, where we learnt a little about coconuts which are harvested at different stages depending on what you want from them and about the various palm leaves use for thatching etc. From here it was an easy paddle to the Tribal Adventures base Palawan Sandcastles. After 4 nights in a hot tent the air conditioned room was very welcome.
We were back on the banca by 0800 to a bay in the North side of Calauit Island to go snorkelling to see dugongs. This is clearly a popular activity and is carefully regulated to preserve the animals and their habitat and make the indigenous guides money. These mammals are salt water relatives of manatees and commonly called sea cows. They graze on sea grasses in shallow warm water. I got no photos or video worth looking at. The rest of the morning was spent snorkelling at Tanohon Island
After lunch the banca dropped us off at a local village where we met Greg and a couple of Tribal Adventures staff and went on a short walk through the jungle to a local swimming hole and waterfall that were far from spectacular. For us this was not a good afternoon the only compensation being that it was something to do on an afternoon when the thunder and lightening would have stopped us paddling.
Our last day of paddling was without a guide or support boat. We left the resort and paddled sort of SW around some rocky islands and across some shallow reef to a nameless rocky beach. While we were eating and cooling off we heard thunder and set off back in a slight hurry sticking close to the shore thinking that we could land if needed. After about 90 mins the thunderstorm stopped chasing us and we waded over a sandbar and back to Palawan Sandcastles. The only point of interest being a fishing boat about 40 feet long and looking like a cross between a Cape Islander and a banca.
Next day, back to Manilla.
Some photos are here as well as below. https://photos.app.goo.gl/XN5RTHhjxA9gAJsA9