Begin your own journey of discovery

My love affair with “exploratory” travelling began when I got bored of the same old “summer travel destinations” routine. I craved to experience the Philippines that you don’t usually see in travel brochures. However, with the travel boom we are experiencing in all corners of the country — ushered in, for the most part, by social media — we are now left with fewer options of unexplored territory.

travelokaLucky for most of us, many of our country’s “hidden gems” are still waiting to be rediscovered and appreciated anew. Traveloka‘s Top 37 Hidden Tourist Spots in the Philippines Travel Pros Rave About is a good place to start if you’re seeking for less-traveled roads.

Channel your inner Ed Stafford or Jessica Watson and satisfy your hunger for adventure. Begin your own journey of discovery and exploration. Blaze newer trails, chart rediscovered destinations, learn new things and re-experience varied cultures and local traditions.

 

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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….

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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 >>>
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