I was starting to feel some separation anxiety from the paradise of Onuk Island when suddenly we bumped into a school of dolphin playing in the waters, our humble boat headed towards them and they happily showed off their whirling techniques. I wanna jump into the waters but realized that I need to capture this experience, my very first encounter with wild dolphins.
Initially, the town of Balabac in the south-westernmost part of Palawan was not really included in our plans when we were drafting our 10-day trip to Palawan. Honestly, I never heard of this place before but more than this, it’s my confidence in leaving all the planning to Julius. I didn’t quite understand his fascination towards this place but after seeing a couple of photos of Onuk Island, I surrendered. Thank you Julius and an apology letter will be published soon.
|Gorgeous sunset at Balabac|
Going to Balabac, Palawan is quite tough if you’re not up for adventure but being with the right travel buddies will surely keep your thoughts away from the fact that it needs 1 ½ days minimum from Manila – that’s air, land, water and more water travel – to reach the town of Balabac.
Getting in touch with the ‘right’ people also helped in making this trip successful; with the help from the Local Government Unit (thank you so much Fatima Almera and Mayor Shuaib Astami), we explored the paradise of Balabac with the best intentions of spreading out the good news afterwards.
Balabac is a group of island (30 and so island and islets) located at Sulu Sea and is 50 kilometers north of Sabah in Malaysia. The mainland is composed of 14 barangays and the others are situated on different islands. Some rare species of Philippine Cockatoo and Philippine mouse deer (pilandok) can be found in this area. Malaysian products are also widely available due to its close proximity to Sabah.
A thriving mix of Christians and Molbogs, a Muslim ethnolinguistic group, the town is relatively peaceful and some accounts of abductions from the place are quite fictitious and malicious. Besides, we cannot be certain of our safety even when crossing the road or something like that right? Utmost care should be exercised anywhere at all times.
Moving on, our exploration in this town started at the mainland, and then moved on with the islands of Onuk and Punta Sebaring. We checked in at MLK Lodging House at the Poblacion area (near the port and town center) and got a double-bed, non-aircon room for 400 pesos per night. The town has no steady power supply, it breaks at around midnight and resumes early in the morning.
|MLK Lodging House|
|Our 400-Peso room|
After stowing our stuff, we headed to the Culina Watchtower located at Poblacion. With the help of Ma’am Fedelyn Villajos, we trekked a bit and checked out what’s left of what used to be a Spanish watchtower. The view of sunset (and sunrise) there is great.
|The view from Culina Watchtower|
|Some crocodiles appear on that calm water|
The mayor was gracious enough to host almost all of our meals. Everything was yummy but what stood out was the Tirik. It is a Tausug dish of steamed fresh sea urchins (also called Tehe-tehe or Tihi-tihi). The clean sea urchin shell was filled with a stuffing of rice with ginger, turmeric (luyang dilaw) and coconut milk. It was yummy, tasty and filling. Truly remarkable.
|Mayor Shuaib Astami's humble abode|
But what stuck in me during the trip was our encounter with the dolphins. I was shooing away the thoughts of loneliness having to leave Balabac the next day when suddenly our awesome boatman passed by along Balabac Strait and revealed his next surprise (after some back-to-back surprises at Onuk Island).
We’ve heard stories from the locals about some wild dolphins (please feel free to correct me if they’re Spinner Dolphins or Irrawaddy Dolphins) scattered around the waters of Balabac Strait and when we passed by the day before and failed to see one, we just pleased ourselves with the idea that they’re just there wandering somewhere.
We were heading back to mainland Balabac from spending some days exploring some islands around when we passed by the Balabac Strait. And then from nowhere, Kuya Benjie uttered, Ayun na sila! I thought it was a threat of some sort but upon seeing the amazement in his eyes we knew that he spotted some dophins.
They were quite tiny from our viewpoint but when he sped up to finally reach their playground I stood up and went to the bow of the boat and directed Kuya Benjie to follow them. And it was just amazing! That moment when all of them seemed to race with our boat and showing off their whirls and spins. I was shouting and cheering and nearing to passing out. Very OA moment.
We went for another turn and the cycle went on again. We’re like kids hyped up with too much sugar on a chocolate factory, it was so fun chasing them and seeing them wild and happy.
And then another turn. And then we all got tired of chasing them.
|I was that close!|
I couldn’t hide the smile on my face and just lingered everything on my mind. The last time I saw a dolphin was way back when I was on sixth grade when me and my mom went to Ocean Park and saw this dolphin show – that was 18 years ago. And as far as I can remember I didn’t like the feeling of them being ‘imprisoned’ inside a huge pool.
I couldn’t keep the smile on my face when we got back to the mainland. I kept on telling everyone there how we chased the dolphins and how they raced with our boat. I couldn’t thank Kuya Benjie enough for being the most thoughtful boatman ever. He’s too sweet.
Looking back, this trip somewhat regained my energy for exploring new places and adventures. I’m even smiling now as I try to remember that exact same feeling I felt when I first saw Onuk Island and experienced playing with the dolphins in the wild. It’s such a refreshing treat. I like this feeling, this smiling-while-I’m-writing-this feeling. Very positive. Very fresh. Just like how I remembered Balabac.
I am so coming back to Balabac!
*Contact updated February 2017*
Balabac, Palawan, Philippines
Point Person - Ronald Astami
Contact Number: (+63) 935.155.6264