Ever wonder what paradise is like? We think we've found it.
So far on this trip we have been to the local touristy beach of Langkawi; the atmospheric Perhentian island and the lovely island of Malapasca with its bustling local village life and a handful of dive resorts. Now however is time for something more secluded.
The island we spent the next 4 days on can be found on the map of the Philippines but there is not a mention of staying here in any of the guide books we have. We only heard of this place from word of mouth (Dennis who we first met in Banaue) and it came highly recommended. This place was truly undiscovered.
We asked around about how to get here and found out that the best day to travel here was on a Wednesday as many of the islanders come to the market in Tagbilaran. As it was Saturday that option was out the question. Instead we looked up accommodation; enquired to see if they had any rooms and whether they could pick us up and for a price of 1000 pesos they agreed to pick us up from
a small port 15 minutes away from the main town/port in Tagbilaran.
After a 15 minute tricycle journey to the port, we were greeted by the owners uncle and the boat ride over took about an hour. When we arrived we knew we were going to like this place. Greeted by a beautiful curved white beach with lots of little paddle boats, a dozen thatched huts and some local children playing in the sand, we had a good feeling about this place.
We even managed to get a beachfront Nipa hut that came equipped with a double bed, mosquito net and bathroom - well toilet and bucket of water (for showering). And for the price of 750 pesos each it also came with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Electricity was limited and only provided between the hours of 6pm and midnight which is perfectly manageble.
What was there not to like.
We arrived at 2pm and got served lunch straight away. A tuna and vegetable mix with rice, a green bean concoction, a banana on the side and a bottle of coca cola. The portion for the 2 of us was substantial and
could have served 3.
We also got talking to some travellers staying at the same place and were delighted to find Dennis (the person recommending this place) who wanted to spend his last few nights here before going back home to Germany.
With about 9 people staying here (6 of whom were leaving on that day) everyone said we should go on a early morning trip to see the dolphins. This could be sorted out with the owner Wing Wing and we were told we would not be disappointed. Sorted; we were going, the 2 of us and Dennis.
We therefore woke up in the early hours the following morning in search of some wild dophins and an opportunity to swim with them. Not in captivity but in the wild ocean.
The boat sailed for 20 minutes or so until we saw our first dolphin. We were completely in awe and thought life could get no better, until we saw more. Maybe 2 or 3. The boat slowed its engine so not to scare the dolphins away and then they got closer, sometimes popping up at the side of the boat. If
that wasn't enough as we slowly moved forward over 2 dozen more dolphins emerged from the water, some jumping in and out others doing flips. Words cannot describe the feeling we had. P was emotional and we all were wowed over and over again. This was Chris's first time seeing a dolphin and he got it all.
Previously we vowed never to see a dolphin in captivity and hated the idea of dolphin shows with opportunities for people to swim with them, holding onto their fins while the dolphin performs for food. Therefore we never even dreamed we would have this opportunity. Ropes were attached from the front to either sides of the boat allowing the boat to slowly move forward while we held onto the ropes, fully in the water with our masks on and faces down ready to spot them in the sea.
Dolphins swam in various directions in front of us, some swam deeper underneath us. Again words cannot adequately describe the feelings we had; exhilaration, joy, giddiness, and contentment. We were mesmerised and held onto this experience recalling it to each other and others we had recommended it to, days and weeks
after up until today!
Okay we are not bragging, but along with seeing dolphins we also went out with the owner and his boat and saw whales. A Brutus whale and some whale sharks (both on separate days however) and were both blown away. We did not swim with them but we didn't have to. The sight of the back and tale alone had us all mesmerised and feeling if we went back home tomorrow we would be 100% satisfied by our experiences. Not that we were however.
The opportunity to see these whales came about randomly on a market day after the owner came back to the island telling everyone he had spotted a brutus whale. With Dennis off home we were now a group of 4 (us and a polish couple; Ela & Kamil). We quickly accepted the offer to go back out on the boat along with some locals and children. When we saw the Brutus whale the who!e boat all began cheering, both tourists and locals, especially when we had our first sighting. This moment was really special and will stay with us for a long time.
We went out
each evening thereafter to see what we would find hoping for a whale shark. The second afternoon we got a quick glimpse. The third afternoon however was an experience.
We waited a few hours and saw nothing. As dark began to creep in we spotted not one but two. Attempting to go closer the boat attempted to restart it's engine but failed and cut out completely.
Oh no. 20 minutes passed the boat could not start, the sun had just gone down and it was completely dark. Sweating and stressed the boat driver and the guide asked the 2 guys to help pull the leaver to start the engine again; Chris and Kamil. P and Ela sat at the front and talked nervously as the boat thrashed against the high waves (without the engine on) keeping them on edge. Ela shouted "Look!" and behind P were 2 whale sharks which had began to circle the boat. P flew off the bench and clung to the middle pole, she didn't want to get that close. Especially as it was dark and we were kind of stuck here.
Whale sharks circling, a broken engine, rough waves
and it was pitch black. This was getting us nervous.
An hour passed by and the 2 man boat crew were beginning to get stressed and you could tell they were struggling to think of a way out. We knew we were in a tricky situation. With the long bamboo stick unable to reach the sea bed they resorted to using big pieces of wood to try and row our way closer to the island. This was not going to work, the boat wasn't even moving. We wanted to so something but all helpless we started to get nervous. The only person who knew we were out was the owner of the place where we were staying. Hopefully he would come and find us.
In an attempt to alert the island, the 4 of us on the tour attempted to get help. Stupidly like the guide and driver, we had not brought our phones. Instead we turned on the flashes on our cameras and took picture after picture in the hope that someone from the island would see the flashing lights from our camera and would know we were out here (SOS in morse code would
have been good to know right now unfortunately we were clueless). Our batteries were however dying, how much longer did we have?? P wanted a life jacket and Chris tried to remain hopeful. Never getting why P clung onto the side so tightly.
In what felt like a lifetime but was properly another hour or so the guide tried the bamboo stick, and guess what? It touched the ground. Now we only have to push our way back. Another half an hour, some gruelling physical work from the guide and captain and we had made it. Wing Wing on the beach with his flashlight ready to come and find us, was a little worried, but we made it back. WE MADE IT BACK! On dry land and safe again we all shared thoughts we had at what could have happened. Thank goodness none however materialised.
Dinner was served later that evening just after sunset on a candle lit table on the beach. This allowed the 2 of us and the lovely Polish couple we spent many of the following nights with, to socialise some more. The food was spectacular as always, the stars in the sky
were unlike any we had ever seen before, and the sound of the ocean along with its's steady refreshing breeze was more than we could ask for. We all chatted away, whilst enjoying the food and topped it off with a bottle of rum and coke to share along with some card games.
The rest of our island days here were spent snorkelling on the beach, with Chris taking to his snorkel gear in the sea like a fish in the ocean. Often swimming out to the bouys in search of some turtles. P on the other hand, practiced hard but never quiet got the hang of emptying her snorkel, making swimming and her breathing far more strenuous than it had to be. We both did swim out together a few times and were amazed by the colourful coral which stretched far and wide, with many a fish in the calm transparent turquoise waters. This was paradise.
We did however spot many sea urchins, a few tiny jellyfish and had heard there were the poisonous sea snakes all of which we stayed well clear of. Luckily though we did not spot any sea snakes ourselves.
Other times we just swung in the hammock, read a book or just relaxed after snorkelling. One day we went to explore the island further and walked a couple of miles down some inhabited beach, pointing out the many beautiful shells washed a-shore that we wanted to keep. The island was stunning and completely untouched by tourism.
One evening the 4 of us sat down after dinner and Wing Wing gave us a run down of the islands history. We were told it was named after its fishing methods; hunting Whale Sharks. In which the locals did very well until it was banned in 1995. The owner was only a boy at that time and had gone out to hunt with his father on his first and only occasion. Immediately afterwards he spent the night in jail as the ban was from this point, strictly enforced.
His father however was one of the divers whose job it was to jump in after the whale, something that was very dangerous. After this ban, the island experienced somewhat of a crisis as after the hunting ceased many people were left with no occupation.
island has forged a new purposeful and meaningful identity that hopes to preserve both island and marine life together. It relies on fishing now and the little tourism it receives. They have community meetings here taking place once a month with all islanders to agree and discuss certain issues. There are no police but island laws are agreed such as the rule that no man may punch another and if they do so they have to pay 5000 pesos or carry out many hours of community service. Therefore there is very little island violence.
In one of these community meetings it was agreed that the islanders would seek island ownership (something that is possible if the island is 150 hectares long or more). With the island being 148 hectors long, they applied a few times and were initially refused but were finally successful and granted ownership in the last few years. Most people here are related within the few families that exist on the island and each family owns a bit of land. They bought this land to prevent the government building big resorts, tainting its beauty and leaving the locals with nothing. Instead a few of them
slowly build Nipa huts on their land which they can then rent out to tourists.
The name of the huts we stayed in is not on many travel websites, although it is on Trip Advisor but the owner said that he did not want the island to be overrun with tourism. He spoke about that happening in other places such as nearby Panglao and the effect it has had on both coral and marine life.
This is something we have heard about far too often like in the town of Oslob and Donsol where you can swim with whale sharks. Something that interested us but we refused to engage in because we did not want to support this industry. This tourism industry feeds the whales to ensure sightings which causes so many issues. For example by feeding the whales for tourists, they sometimes injure them and dolphins alike (with many tourists witnessing the scars) from the many tourists boats and their propellers. Further to this such tours disorientate the whale sharks and destroy their migration behaviour which takes away the whales ability to survive. Apparently it is unlikely they will be there in 10 years time.
Along with this, the feeding of the whales causes the whales to come up during daylight which is bad for their skin and also kills the coral as the plankton used to feed the whales is like poison to the coral after it dies and erodes away.
We heard these tours are offered each day to masses of tourists with one girl recounting going to see the whales in Oslob at 8:30am and was given her number 150 in the queue. At 8:30am! A complete travesty and all in the name of this money making industry for tourists who want to guarentee a sighting of the whales and dolphins and in doing so contribute to their destruction. All backed by the government too. What a shame.
We were lucky to see as many whales and dolphins while we here but that was because the islanders here understand the behaviour and migration patterns and not because they feed them or interrupt their behaviour. Sometimes you see them sometimes you don't. They cannot guarantee it unless they feed them which they chose not to.
Plus there were barely any boats with us. We both
initially agreed that if not supporting the tourist industry above meant not seeing whales or dolphins, then we will have to live without. Luckily for us we were involved in something more sustainable and had a wonderful experience.
Everything about this island was impressive and it was truly untouched by tourism. For this reason and under the owners wishes I will not name the island. But for those really wanting to visit will figure out which one we are talking about. If you cant, just message us.
This is a place we will certainly come back out to in a couple of years or so, as like I said for us this was paradise.
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