Paddling Palawan - Part 2
The mouth of Malampaya Sound is chock full of rocks and we needed to run the gauntlet between them and a perilous point. As I pondered how best to do this, I watched the local bancas (central dugout-style hulls with two outriggers) run the narrow channel and set course—splitting the crazy currents and the wild waves left little margin for error.
“Follow me and don’t stop paddling,” I said to my travel companion Ian Taylor as we got ready to navigate through the inlet into the South China Sea on the northwestern coast of Palawan Island in the southern Philippines.
The waters became frenzied for a few adrenaline-filled kilometres. The rocks broke the waves, making them unpredictable and swells that made it past rebounded from the nearby point sending hulking waves back from every direction, creating a soup bowl.
Though challenged, we made it safely through and settled into paddling with the massive rollers running southward—an interesting experience as one minute, Ian was beside me, the next he was six metres above or below and often completely out of sight.
Continuing on, energized by the rush of surviving the chaotic channel, we rounded a rocky point to find a protected lagoon. Making camp in a palm plantation, we relished a relaxing swim in the mouth of a freshwater river.
A strong headwind set in early the next morning as we targeted the lee of a distant point. With Ian saying he would paddle close by, I trolled a fishing line.
After missing a fish, I looked around only to discover Ian had vanished. I circled, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Blowing my safety whistle generated no response and I began to worry.
An expanding box-pattern search yielded nothing, so I headed for a distant village to seek help. Convincing the head man to provide a banca to continue the search, we spent a second unsuccessful hour looking. If Ian had been washed out to sea, Vietnam, the next stop, lay thousands of kilometres away.
And then that saviour of the modern adventurer, the cell phone, vibrated in my pocket and an incoming message asked where I was.
Ian had decided to separate and paddle directly to the tip of the point without telling me as I fished.
Running dangerously low on water, he had continued to the village of Binga, our target for the night. Water supply is critical. An opportunity passed to add water is an opportunity wasted.
Happy that he was safe, though concerned that he had paddled off without notice, I set off to rejoin him.
Meanwhile, Ian had befriended a local who offered to tow me with his banca. Meeting me as I rounded the point, the boat’s skipper hauled me across the bay to Binga.
A family near the beach let us hang our hammocks in their yard and use the fresh water piped down from Mount Capoas. It rises 1,131 metres up from the ocean, making it the highest mountain in northern Palawan.
Filipinos are friendly and most speak English and our new friend John was young and educated. He arranged for a few beers and a fresh barbequed tuna dinner.
The next morning, half the village watched us load up, climb into our kayaks, which we had transported (we actually flew in for Thailand) by air for the trip, and break through the surf. I am not sure who got more entertainment—them or us!
For the final couple of days of our journey we continued south to Port Barton. Running close to the coast, we enjoyed light winds, paddling past an endless number of pristine, though deserted, white-sand beaches framed by the mountains.
Alimanguan and San Vicente are the only two towns of any size on this part of the coast and we paddled into both to have a look and grab supplies.
Every time we met people, the smiles were wide and welcome warm.
A dozen kilometres north of Port Barton, a town on the west coast of Palawan island, a beach beckoned and we paddled in to look. With land just metres ahead a young man emerged and welcomed us ashore.
As fate would have it, we had stumbled on a Canadian who happened to own this section of secluded beach north of the town. He and his family rented tents, cooked meals and served what he promised was the coldest beer in Palawan.
We discovered that Toby Clarke was from Banff and he was proud to have “no roosters, no dogs and no noise” in his stretch of paradise. As virtually everyone we met had all three, the prospect of quiet night and cold beer was outstanding.
Over Christmas and New Years, he and Ian even discovered common friends in Banff.
It was the perfect place to relax and wrap up an excellent adventure.