The long island of Palawan runs in a 45˚angle from the rest of the Philippine islands (there are said to be 7,107 of them). It reaches out deep into the south China sea. If one looks at the map of the Philippines, one might mistake it to be silhouette of a person with Palawan as the outstretched arm.
Since the Philippine islands are laid out like a string of pearls, we had to focus. Even for this occasion in long island of Palawan. This long and narrow island is 450km in length with a width of just 50km in most places. This region itself is said to be dotted with 1780 islands!
Ok, we were strictly NOT on Palawan but near the northern tip.
Flying in from Manila took about 35 minutes (not including the harrowing time to get to the right airport in Manila) for this trip as we headed to Busuanga island, located off the northern tip of Palawan. Aside from an old hangar by the airstrip, Busuanga is largely undeveloped. We were told that this was because the entire island is national reserve. Hope nothing’s changed…
An old jeepney waited for us. We weren’t its only passengers. Everyone was quiet, except for the cackle from us and our friends as we chatted. And as we trundled through the dirt roads, small plantations and farms came into sight.
Where are headed, we would need to take a speed boat, passing by local villages built by the sea. Most people continue life on a subsistence level, as there is no industrial development here nor major investments save that of holiday resorts that provide some employment to some of the locals. Passing by homes built on stilts over water, we could still see tiny boats filled with nature’s bounty being hauled to build local structures such as roofing.
A whole new world!
From the inlets we were headed out to the open sea. We were finally leaving behind the main island of Busanga with the towering hills in the distant. Forty minutes later, we reach a totally different setting.
The turquoise blue sea greeted us as we disembarked to an ensemble of singing staff of the resort. Club Paradise resort comprises of 20 cottages by the sea and a further 8 family sized chalets on a hill. There is also hotel-room type accommodation.
Curiously, there is no television in the accommodation and limited internet connection. This is truly about being “disconnected” from the outside world. Actually our friends warned us about this. It’s about not having technology work for you except for the camera. Today it probably would have changed, but back in the day it was a perfect getaway and get off the grid. At least for a few days.
Ensemble of singing traditional lore ended, we were checked in awaiting to be shown to our little cottages. Since we had time before the rooms were ready, we took a walk along the resort, ending up in front of the Dugong bar. It is a really nice strip of the island, sitting by the bar and taking snapshots of the sea. Resident fruit bats hang from trees just behind the bar and swifts dart about.
What a stark contrast it is compared to the “main” island of Busuanga. But that was not all for soon the,
Snorkeling fun begins
After a siesta, we headed out to the house reef with the local marine expert. It was time to find out what activities we can partake in.
One of the key attractions of this island resort is its house reef, located just a 5 minutes’ boat ride away. The depth of the reefs is about 3m and an abundance of marine life can be found here. The water here incredibly clear, so much that our water camera was able to take wonderful pictures of the inhabitants that thrive in these waters. Yes. For the first time in our lives we have decided that the underwater camera should be used in the water…
If you dived into the waters and get up close to the corals, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the resident clown fishes (say hello to Nemo, we sure did!). In slight deeper waters just outside of the house reef, we saw sea turtles combing the sea floor for sea grass.
The rules of the “game” are simple – do not to touch or pickup any local inhabitants for a souvenir… But if you accidentally do, be careful to return them to their original locations. The reefs are delicate and the slightest of damage will destroy growth that took many years.
Yet not all the snorkeling fun is to be had near the island. We took an excursion out to Tanoban island, a 40-minute ride that is northwest from our resort. This outlying island (of the archipelago) offers a slightly different flavor to the snorkeling experience though the inhabitants of the reefs would be the same.
Dugongs are related to the sea cows in the Caribbean (they are a distant relatives). It is said that sailors in the days of the great voyages might have mistaken them to be mermaids of ode. You know what many months being out at sea can do to you right?
We cruised along the coast of the island hoping to catch a glimpse of them. They normally visit coasts rich in sea grass and Tanoban is amply supplied with them. Our patience paid off when our boatman spotted a pair in the distant. While some companions swam off in pursuit, we were unable to catch up.
And you know what? Just when you chase them, it could be illusionary because you simply can’t out swim them. For us who were left behind near the boat, one just as it swam in front and around us! It was such a sight, and unfortunately Mel was not quick enough on the finger to take another picture… well, memories can also be stored in the grey matter right?
Relax, you’re on vacation
To recover from all these activities, the island resort is indeed an oasis. Although the amenities were not luxurious, it is indeed the simplicity that is the special draw of the resort. One thing that visitors have to sample would be the local mango fruit. The Philippines have some of the best Mangoes in the world and they are serve with the breakfast spread every morning (when they are in season we think). The variety here is sweet and not fibrous at the time of the year we were there (April it was).
While not spent in the water, one can do a little trek up the island. This is Dimakya island and was a 20-minute walk up the hill on the northern side. Some parts of the trek snake up vertically, though there are wood railings to aid the tired. Along the way we came across a hidden beach and a tree house probably for tired trekkers. At the top (Eagle’s point), we got to see the panorama of the island and the surrounding open sea. We could also see the sister resort in the distant. Could not find any other wild life at this time. Perhaps it is too hot?
Like the Maldives, some island resorts have conservation programs. And at Club Paradise, while there was no concrete program, we found the resident dive master incubating a group of baby green turtles. They had been discovered hatching on the beach near cottage 15 and the staff had brought them to safety at the dive center.
These sea turtles will be kept for four weeks to allow their shell to harden and to grow larger. They would then be released to the sea when they are sufficiently ready. You cannot imagine Suan’s delight and relish seeing and holding them.
Palawan is indeed a great place to visit for your snorkeling trip. We were told that the entire island is protected. Thus, tourism is one of the few revenue generators to support the continued protection of the pristine condition. One can also dive here, which would be a wonderful experience, except we weren’t keen. Each dive costs 2000 pesos per person (at that time), coming with gear and guidance of a dive master.
The Philippines offer some of the best beaches and reefs in the world and you would be doing your part to help contribute to the continued protection of this environment (one of the last in the world untouched by wild scale development). So who says its only Cebu or Borocay that offers you beautiful beaches and pristine waters to swim in? Remember there are 7,107 island in the Philippines to choose from.
This journey took place in April 2009