A scary ocean crossing indeed, followed by unexpected hospitality (Coron, Palawan, Philippines)

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October 5th 2009
Published: October 9th 2009
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(Day 549 on the road)Leaving El Nido was a lot more difficult than anticipated. Ongoing typhoon warnings caused all ferries and flights from El Nido to be cancelled for days on end. I had already booked a flight from the island of Coron, about eight hours north by boat, for the day after tomorrow, and when I found out that the overnight ferry I had been hoping to take was cancelled I was starting to get a bit nervous.

Forced to spend another night in El Nido, I was up at seven o'clock the next morning, exploring all the possible options. But, as always really, things worked out just fine. My saviour came in the form of a local boatman who couldn't care less about any coast guard clearance to leave the harbour, and he was about to set off for Coron as I was walking along the beach.

His boat however was not able to instill any sense of security in my mind for the upcoming crossing: It was the tiniest boat possible, more a nutshell than a ship, and I seriously doubted its ability to make it across the open sea for eight hours with the ongoing weather conditions. On top of that, he had loaded it with six massive bags of bananas, each weighing at least 20 kilogrammes. The result was that the front of the boat was just 30 centimetres out of the water.

I balanced my need to get to Coron and catch my flight with my love of life for a long time, making my potential captain, who was eager to get going, pretty edgy. In the end, I decided against my gut feeling (something I don't normally do) and went along. More out of fun than anything I asked if he had a life jacket on board. You can probably guess the answer. I insisted on one and he got one from his friends on the beach, and without much further ado we set off.

The crossing was the scariest experience I have had in a long time. With the tiny boat so low in the water and waves of up to a metre and a half constantly hitting our boat, my captain had to use all his skills to manoeuvre our ship (and his muscles to constantly pump the incoming water out of the boat). He had to make sure at all times that none of the big waves would hit us from the side, which would have surely been the end of it all. Even so, each wave showered the boat and us and soon I was soaked to the bone, so when it started raining a few hours later that made very little difference. Phhhh....

In the end, all was well however. We arrived in Coron Town well after dark and after more than ten hours out in the open sea. I expected to find a hotel for the night, but instead he took me to his, well, house. He lived in a huge water village completely built on stilts, with each of the ramshackle wooden houses connected by wooden planks. It was more a shanty town really - my boatman, his ten children and two wives (he was Muslim) lived in a two-room shack. The toilet and the rubbish bin were the ocean below - I should have taken a picture of all the rubbish floating underneath all the houses. Even so it takes little to imagine the living conditions.

As nobody in the family spoke any English save for a few very basis words (very unusual for the Philippines) it took me an hour of sitting around pretty awkwardly amongst the lovely and lively family to realise that they wanted me to spend the night with them. After a while, the women had cooked my captain and me dinner, and our left-overs were later eaten by the rest of the family. When the fish we had was finished, the rest of the family ate plain rice for dinner. Again, I felt more than uncomfortable. Soon after dinner, they cleared one of their two rooms for me, and the family all settled down to sleep on the plain wooden floor in the other room. It is really hard to describe in what conditions this lovely family (and all the other people in this village) have to live in, yet what hospitality and generosity they have shown me.

The next morning, after a long and very funny photo session with the great hyper-active children, I said my farewell (and paid for the boat ride and the hospitality). My boatman walked me into the main part of the town, and soon I was on my own again, looking for a boat to take me island
Spot the Filipino that can swimSpot the Filipino that can swimSpot the Filipino that can swim

In a nation comprised of over 7000 islands, it never fails to amuse me that the vast majority of Filipinos cannot swim, forcing them to wear those bulky vests whenever they want to go snorkeling or swimming. A sight to behold!
hopping for what would be my last day in Palawan.

I walked into a travel agency and the woman there was over-the-top friendly, which made me instantly suspicious. She offered me a tour with four others on a boat at a price of 1500 pesos per person (plus some entrance fees which I didn't pay any attention to, more on that later). Being in the region for two weeks by now I happened to know that you can hire a whole boat for an entire day for between 1000 and 1500 pesos (so about 200 to 300 pesos per person with five people sharing), and was simply stunned by her ridiculous offer. "Call me Jessy, and come back for any information you need" she shouted after me when I left her office shaking my head in disbelief. Sure Jessy, and good luck with ripping off tourists.

After dropping my bag in the cheapest hotel I could find I soon stumbled across a boat for 1500 pesos sharing with an old Taiwanese guy and his young Filipino wife (true love I am sure), and we soon set off to explore Coron Island. We were all pretty disgusted when we found out that all of the spots we were visiting that day charged an entrance fee of between 100 and 200 pesos, pushing the cost of the whole trip to 1100 per person instead of 500 pesos. If you choose to stay on the boat there was no charge, but that kind of defeats the point, when you are going to a beautiful bay for snorkeling but are staying on the boat. In the end I resorted to the long-standing backpacker tactic of attempting to pay with the highest bank note I had on me (1000 pesos), and as expected nobody had any change for that, so I enjoyed all of the sights except one for free. Suckers, serves you right for being so greedy! Then again, if you have maybe 30 tourists a day paying 100 pesos each, why on earth wouldn't you have change for 1000 pesos? Beats me, I guess they have not thought their little rip-offs through too well.

To finish this rather long entry off: Though no doubt very pretty, the beauty of Coron Island is clearly second place to that of the the Bacuit Archipelago around El Nido (see my previous entry). The omni-present entrance fees have spoilt the whole experience for me, and catching my flight back to Manila the next day I was not too unhappy to leave this place. In short: If you are pressed for time and have to make a decision where to go, choose El Nido and give Coron a miss.

Next stop: Taal Volcano (Talisay, Luzon, Philippines).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


9th October 2009

bet it's one hell of a boatride
its a boat trip risky enough even during off-typhoon season. such a crazy decision!xD you should thank EU for introducing users' fee in the area. they used to have a protected area devt proj in the Calamianes, and one of the strategies was to get tourists' fees to support conservation. just dont know how much of it actually go into nature conservation (you did mention the garbage beneath the floating community). the "stunning bay" photo reminded me of the cliff that divides the sea and kayangan lake. i believe i have the same shot, though it was taken 9yrs ago (w/ an analog cam). thanks for sharing this adventure! once again, a wonderful post!
9th October 2009

your blog and photos bring back many happy memories of my time in this beautiful country and many scary ones of awful boat crossings like the one you experienced! cheers

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