Onok Island: Nature’s gift to man

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If you are the techie-savvy, GPS-toting traveler, you won’t find “Onok” on the map; instead, you’ll find “Roughton Island”.

That is because Roughton Island is the “official name” of Onok, the latter being a local nickname for this wonderful piece of real estate right in the middle of nowhere.

Fronting the main beach of Onok island is a massive reef, rife with a variety of soft and colorful corals that extend towards a sheer drop of about 80 feet, where large pelagic fish swim about — on occasion, you’ll be lucky to encounter a school of yellow fins! The surroundings of this small island is also home to “taklobos” or giant sea clams, and of course, sea turtles! Never have I seen sea turtles — oblivious to our presence — in such quantity!

If I were to go back to Balabac, this is where I would stay longer.

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P.S.

Thank you SB Toto for the hospitality and these mouth-watering dishes!

Notes:
  • The best time to visit Onok and the other islands in the municipality of Balabac is during the summer months of March, April and May, as the waters in and around the islands can be treacherous and rough.
  • Prior arrangements should be made before visiting some islands, particularly Punta Sibaring in Bugsuk Island and Onok Island.
  • Balabac is accessible via 4-hour motorized boat ride from Rio Tuba. There are commuter vans and buses plying the Puerto Prinsesa-Rio Tuba route, which is a 5-hour travel time.
  • A PhP5,000 fee is now collected from each visitor to Onok. This covers the entrance fee, boat transfers from and to  Balabac proper, and meals while on the island. NOTE: There are many boat operators offering Onok trips; however, only a select few are allowed to bring in guests. You may contact SB Toto Astami, Onok administrator, for access to the island and/or to verify if the boatman you hired has permission to enter Onok.
  • IMPORTANT: Waterproof your bags.
  • For a hassle-free Balabac experience, contact +63998 944 7242.

Ciao 2015! It has been a wonderful ride.

When asked, most people would say that the principal value of traveling is that it breaks the monotony of life and work.

Y’see, life, for many of us, is a mad rush. A dash from home to the office–from one place to the next. A sprint from one client meeting to a waiting company presentation–from one money-making deal to the next career-breaking move. Day-in, day-out we try to accomplish as many stuff as possible. Thus, traveling becomes a form of escape for the likes of us–a time to relax, reflect and ponder. Traveling gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our regular life and, for a fleeting moment, not think of any problems or issues for a few days (or weeks). Being away on a weekend can also afford us the much-needed time to help us figure things out that we would not have understood without the distance traveling can give. We all have crazy schedules, work, and a family to take care of and going away alone or with some friends gives us that break we rightfully deserve.

Very few find a great deal of informative value in traveling. More often than not, our focus centers on the promise of a fun-filled R&R, of selfies and jump shots. This is where I realized that a lot of people don’t seem to share some of my views about traveling. For me, it is very important to see and experience the places I visit from a local resident’s perspective. Traveling is an avenue for me to open my heart and mind to new things and explore different cultures and traditions; thus, experiencing life in new and exciting ways–widening my perspective about life, especially the life I have in relation to how other people live. If viewed with an open mind, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones…

Before I totally bid adieu to 2015, indulge me as I look back at the highlights of my adventures and travels:

Got on a road trip from Iloilo City to Cebu City, passing through Bacolod City, Sipalay, Dumaguete City and Badian.

“Traversed” North and South Mindanao, bringing me to Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental, Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls in South Cotabato, Asik-asik Falls in North Cotabato; as well as allowed me to revisit the majestic cascades of Maria Cristina, Mimbalot and Tinago in Iligan, and Tinuy-an in Bislig.

Scratched off a few more things from my To-Do list

Brought home these wonderful ‘loot’

 

Had some of my travelogues published

The year 2015 has indeed been one helluva ride!

Hmmmm…. now, where am I in the Lakbayan map:

My Lakbayan grade is A+!

The ABC of Summer 2015

After weekend-upon-weekend of hopping from one island to the next, discovering heavens on earth and overdosing on #VitaminSea — satiating the #AQUAholic in me — I finally have a weekend off!

As #Summer2015 begins to wind down, I sit back and take a moment to relive the fun and adventure that I embarked on — each journey made with different groups of people, most of them became dear friends.

I know, I know… we have yet a week to go before #Summer2015 officially ends. Hmmmm…. Do I hear an #endlesssummer cheer from out there? Well, might as well be, as we have 7,107 reasons to want an all-year-round summer extravaganza!

My #Summer2015 was spent exploring, discovering, and revisiting destinations that you seldom hear about… as well as, going back to the basics of travelling and adventurism, where hotel reservations are shunned. Have backpack? Will travel.

Doing so, I uncovered the wonders of ABC: Alibijaban, Balabac and Burias, and Culebra.

Paradise, Lost?
Alibijaban Island, San Andres, Quezon

Paradise, Found.
Balabac, Palawan

Paradise, Regained.
Burias, Masbate

Paradise, Revisited
Culebra Island, Dasol, Pangasinan

Rombo Balabac: Cape Melville and Lighthouse

Cape Melville

The Lighthouse

Declared as a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine National Historical Commission, the Cape Melville Lighthouse is one of few light towers in the country that retains its original first-order lens and mechanisms. Constructed in 1892 by the Spaniards, the Faro de Primer Orden de Cabo Melville soars about 90 feet above sea level and illuminates Balabac Strait up to almost 300 feet. The tower still retains its original clockwork but it is inoperative.

Cape Melville Lighthouse is no longer in service today, replaced  with a white aluminum prefabricated structure with solar-powered light erected by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Voices from the past….

———————-
Notes on my Rombo Balabac Island Safari:
  • The best time to visit Balabac group of islands is during the summer months of March, April and May, as the waters in and around the islands can be treacherous and rough.
  • Prior arrangements should be made before visiting some islands, particularly Punta Sibaring in Bugsuk Island and Onok Island.
  • Balabac is accessible via 3-hour motorized boat ride from Rio Tuba or Buliluyan Port. There are commuter vans and buses plying the Puerto Prinsesa-Rio Tuba route, which is a 5-hour travel time. Buliluyan Port is about 45 minutes away from Rio Tuba proper.
  • For a hassle-free Balabac experience, contact +63 998 944 7242

Rombo Balabac: Onok and Comiaran Islands

Onok Island

Managed by Balabac Mayor Shuaib Astami and family, Onok Island is an epitome of bliss… and perhaps the more popular destination in the Balabac group of islands — well, apart from Punta Sibaring. We owe much of Onok’s “discovery” to famed photographer George Tapan, who captured the essence of this island paradise, earning him the 2011 National Geographic Photo Contest (Category: Places) plume.

Fronting the main beach of Onok island is a massive reef, rife with a variety of soft and colorful corals that extend towards a sheer drop of about 80 feet, where large pelagic fish swim about — on occasion, you’ll be lucky to encounter a school of yellow fins! The surroundings of this small island is also home to “taklobos” or giant sea clams, and of course, sea turtles! Never have I seen sea turtles — oblivious to our presence — in such quantity! Although a family-owned property, no fees are collected when you visit Onok. If I were to go back to Balabac, this is where I would camp.

Comiaran Island

On our way to Cape Melville, the designated campsite for the fourth leg of our Rombo Balabac Island Safari, we made a quick stop in Comiaran Island. The lush vegetation on the island was no match to the scorching heat of the April sun, giving us the impression that we were on a desert island! Well, no sun nor heat could stop us from exploring though, as the pinkish sands of Comiaran was so inviting.

 Next: Cape Melville and Lighthouse >>>

Rombo Balabac: Candaraman Island via Mansalangan Sandbar and Patawan Islet

It was a loooong four-and-a-half hour — but fortunately, very scenic — trip from Puerto Prinsesa City (PPC) to the sleepy mining town of Rio Tuba, the jumpoff point to our Balabac exploration.

The port in Rio Tuba is like a scene in Bongao, Tawi-tawi.

The port in Rio Tuba is like a scene in Bongao, Tawi-tawi.

Rio Tuba is not what I expected: boisterous, busy, urbanized — an expectation bolstered by the thought that since it is a mining town, commerce must’ve been teeming. On the contrary, I found a quiet, slow-paced, rustic village very similar to the other towns I have visited outside PPC, like Narra, Quezon and San Vicente, with one very noticeable exception: wide, dusty roads — to accommodate huge mining trucks, perhaps.

From the port of Rio Tuba, it was another three-or-so hours of sea travel just to reach Punta Sibaring, our campsite for Day One.

Little house on the pra--, er, on the beach. -- Photo by: Nelo Manzo

Little house on the pra–, er, on the beach.
— Photo by: Nelo Manzo

Needless to say, we were so beat from the arduous voyage the day before that many of us were contemplating on just staying at the magnificent Punta Sibaring. Now that I think about it, it isn’t a bad idea if we opted to stay another day there. Oh well…. hindsight, they say, is 20/20.

By dawn’s early light of Day Two, I can already smell the inviting aroma of dried flying fish frying in Kap Andong’s pan. Handing me a cup of 3-in-1 coffee (spiked with my favorite poison… Sssshhhhh!) — I would’ve opted for freshly brewed Buscalan coffee if I had it my way — our Captain, dear Captain gave me a rundown of the other islands we NEEDed to explore — again, NEEDed.  Kap Andong’s enthusiasm was indeed contagious!

So, after breakfast…. off we went.

Mansalangan Sandbar

Mansalangan sandbar is part of a 12km or so stretch of beautiful land mass that glimmers from a distance.

The tide was still high when we got there, so much of the sandbar was still underwater; but, this didn’t stop us from having the time of our life!

Bilog ang mundo!

Photo by: Nelo Manzo

Sun-kissed and drenched, we boarded our boat to our next stop…

Patawan Island

Our next stop on our way to Day Two campsite is Patawan Island… more like an islet. What is unique about this piece of real estate is that from afar, it looks cottony white; but up close, the sand was pink-ish, very similar to what you’ll find in Tikling Island off the coast of Matnog, Sorsogon.

… and the water’s crystal clear!

After a quick lunch and some snorkeling, we  were on our way to the next pit stop…

Candaraman Island

Candaraman is a privately owned island and has its own airstrip. We were told that someday soon, small planes will again be taking off and landing from here.

Candaraman Island Sandbar (Starfish Alley)

The island comprising Balabac is full of sandbars. Here, just off the main island of Candaraman, we were fortunate to share the waters with a couple of marine turtles!

Most of the sandbars in Balabac are yet to be named, so I volunteered to christen this mesmerizing seascape: Starfish Alley… for a very obvious reason: the seabed is littered with starfish in all sizes and colors! I hope Kap Andong catches on to the name….

Next: Onok and Comiaran Islands >>>

Rombo Balabac: Punta Sibaring

Prior to my Balabac trip, I knew nothing about the place, except for a blog I’ve read, which stoked my interest all the more… and after seeing some photos, I knew right there and then that I have to visit Balabac come hell or high waters!

And so, it came to pass (so they say)…

Bugsuk Island: Punta Sibaring

Bugsuk Island is one of the largest island baranggays in Balabac; and a large portion of it is owned — according to our boat captain — by the Cojuangcos (which ones, he did not elaborate). Approaching the island from Rio Tuba, you will be amazed by the vastness of the pearl farm owned by Jewelmer.

Day 1 of our five-day safari in Balabac brought us to Punta Sibaring, owned by the family of Rene Principe. Although based now in Manila, Sir Rene coordinated our trip and entrusted us in the capable hands of Kap Andong Noe.

We reached the Punta Sibaring campsite late afternoon, just in time to bathe ourselves in magnificent sunset.

Punta Sibaring is a very idyllic place. Too bad, we had to leave our camp site very early for our journey to another island.

 

Next: Mansalangan Sandbar, Patawan and Candaraman Islands >>>
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