Lit by the kaleidoscopic glow of sunset, a bright white egret wades along the edges of the ebbing water, occasionally flicking its wings forward over its head as it hunts for its prey. The tide has abandoned the shore, uncovering swathes of velvety white sand that seem to stretch out to infinity. All is quiet except for the spirited chatter of migratory birds among the pine trees.
Nature is raw and alive at the tip of the Philippine’s last frontier. Tucked away in the south-westernmost part of Palawan, the Balabac Group of Islands is composed of 31 unspoiled islands and 20 small villages that thrive on fishing and seaweed farming. It is a peaceful home to the Palaw-an, a Manobo-based linguistic group, and the Molbog, a Muslim ethno-linguistic group that is believed to be its earliest inhabitants. Getting there is a tedious eight-hour journey, and the absence of resort facilities has attracted only hell-bent travelers who don’t mind roughing it just to see the country’s finest beaches and clearest waters.
Here are 5 reasons to pack your camping essentials and go.
1.) Punta Sebaring has the finest and whitest sand among the beaches in the country.
The rich whistling songs of the Orioles and the warm golden-hued rays of sunrise awaken you. You slip out of your tent to enjoy a quiet stroll along the beach while everyone else is still asleep. On one side of you is an evergreen mass of conifer trees, on the other the cerulean of the slothful sea. Under your bare feet is sand, white sand- consistently soft and silky it feels like you are walking on a carpet of baby powder. You are in Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island; you have found the Mecca of white-sand beaches.
In the morning when the tide is low, the rippled shore extends quite far out until it disappears into the sparkling shallows. The entire island is a 119 square kilometer stretch of immaculate white sand where you bask on to a crisp all day.
2.) Its waters are the clearest you’ll ever see.
In the excitement you blurt out profanities when you see the waters surrounding Onuk Island. The panorama unfolding in front of you is heart swelling. You gawk, wanting to completely absorb every single detail of its beauty. The water is incredibly clear you could see the boat’s shadow on the seabed below. Sitting on the outrigger’s bow, you easily spot some hawksbill and green sea turtles gliding away, shunning the attention. The boatman is right; your snorkels are practically useless when you reach the island because the water’s clarity extends as far as the eyes can see. On a lucky day, you are told, one can even see dolphins and whale sharks in the underwater cliff wall nearby.
3.) It is nice to be unplugged from the rest of the world once in a while.
Balabac disconnects you from the rest of the world. Mobile connection is bad and you are forced to put your phone away. Your Instagram followers must be eagerly waiting for your beach yoga photos by now. You don’t even know what day or time it is, but by the funfair of barbecued aromas wafting through the air and the sun’s heat, which bakes you like a potato in an oven, you could tell the day is approaching high noon. You continue floating about in your plastic raft, bobbing up and down in the incoming tide.
You and your fellow campers, who you instantly click with, break the afternoon’s serenity with endless banters and rambunctious laughter. You are laughing so hard you are clutching your sides when somebody in the group pretends to flirt and throw himself at his crush. Sometimes not one in the group knows what exactly is so funny, you all simply laugh. What you know, however, is that it feels great to laugh without constraint and be away from your daily stressors.
4.) Balabac has a rich biodiversity.
It doesn’t take you much tiptoeing and stalking to spot that peculiar-looking bird on the high branch of a Talisay tree. You are in Palawan, a vast reserve of natural beauty and tremendous biodiversity. Here, songs of more than 200 kinds of birds permeate the air. Some ten of those are endemic to Balabac, including the Philippine Cockatoo, Nicobar Pigeon, Grey Imperial Pigeon, Blue-headed Racket Tail and the Palawan Hornbill.
A globally significant number of flora and fauna can be found in Balabac. Among these are the Philippine Mousedeers, scaly anteater, estuarine crocodiles, 30 coral species, 440 reef fish species and more than 60 mangrove species. Migratory species like tuna, sea turtles, whales, sharks and dolphins also dwell within its waters.
5.) Camping in Balabac teaches you a lesson in simplicity and gratitude.
As the sun scorches you to a toast, you wish you had an ice-cold soda and Cheetos in hand. Too bad the nearest sari-sari store is two islands away, (You bet your life they don’t sell Cheetos in there!) so you reach for that sun-warmed bottle of water and Rebisco crackers you have been ignoring for days. The biscuit doesn’t taste bad at all, the briny tang of the sea breeze mingles with it. Or maybe it’s the deprivation talking.
Life in the island is as simple as it can get. A local’s hectic day involves hanging his seaweed harvests on bamboo poles to dry, or scraping dry coconut meat out of the shell. Devoid of electricity, the island’s music comes from the coos and whistles of migratory birds. Nights are best spent on meaningful conversations with your new friends under the starlit skies.
You eventually forget about that ice-cold Coke and find contentment in fresh coconut water. Everything around you makes you realize that the simplest pleasures bring the most joy and relaxation. And when you have to fetch pails of water from a nearby well at midnight because there is none in the toilet (Must be the raw sea urchins you ate. Oh, the things you put in your mouth!), you realize that not having a hot shower isn’t the worst thing in life. Here, whatever you don’t have, find a way to do without. Most importantly, you learn to appreciate and be grateful for the little luxuries you have at home.
1.) Since most of the islands are privately owned, you have to coordinate with the owners prior to the visit. Carlos Renato Principe owns Punta Sibaring in Bugsuk Island. You may contact him at 09291403125.
2.) From Puerto Princesa City, go to San Jose Terminal and ride a van going to Rio Tuba. Travel time is 4-5 hours. Make sure you arrive in Rio Tuba before 10 am. Fare is Php 450.
3.) At the Rio Tuba Port, ride a boat to Balabac mainland. Travel time is 3 hours. The only boat to Balabac leaves at 12 nn, but could be earlier depending on the number of passengers. Fare is Php 250.
6 Days/5 Nights Package(full-board meals, island hopping)-Php 7,500
Airfare from Manila to Puerto Princesa vv– Php 1,200
Van ride from Puerto Princesa to Rio Tuba vv– Php 800
2-night hotel accommodation in Puerto Princesa- Php 700
Meals in Puerto Princesa– Php 500
TOTAL- Php 10,700