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South Sea Nomads

by becca on March 2, 2010

There’s not a whole lot going on in the town of Padre Burgos. Hugging the tip of Sogod Bay, the town is home to about 8,000 people, loads of children who say “HI!” repeatedly as westerns walk by, the slowest internet connection still in existence today, and four dive shops. Over the past four months though, the town has become home to 11 twenty-somethings from Britain, Finland, and Australia. They’re here building a boat to sail to Malaysia and open a backpacker liveaboard. They are the South Sea Nomads, and they, along with the beautiful waters, rich reefs, and cheap beer, turned our three-day visit into a two-week stay that was hard to leave.

It all started a few years ago when Richard Sills was volunteering with Coral Cay Conservation in Padre Burgos, surveying the reefs of Sogod Bay and working in the community. The conservation project has since moved to the eastern side of the bay and the Nomad group has turned the discarded building into their living quarters. I’m not exactly sure how the boat building got underway, but it’s the brainchild of Richard plus the get-er-done attitude (and bank account) of his sister Katie that jump started the whole thing.

Nearly every night at least of few of the group can be found sitting near the pier at Dave’s Pub, the only one in town. Over innumerable bottles of pilsen, glasses of homemade Bailey’s, and Tanduay (Filipino rum) and 7up, the expats in town have come to love this unlikely crew of young westerners and I’m not sure how they’ll get along when the boat heads out. There’s great chemistry among the crew, but everyone involved is a quite a character in their own. The majority hail from Cambridge and became friends working together in the summers punting boats of tourists down the river; the rest Richard met while doing his DMT in Malaysia. Most have university degrees, nearly all of them have extensive experience traveling and working abroad, and if they didn’t dive before Burgos, they do now.

In this small town, it would be an understatement to say that they stick out. Half the crew are blond and two of the girls are supermodel-tall. They drive around in an old American military jeep that barely runs: it’s not uncommon to see the driver pull the stick shift completely off the car and look at it curiously before jamming it back in; there’s no gas gage (actually no dashboard at all) so running out of fuel is standard; the wind shield will probably come off if pushed too hard; there is no top what-so-ever and only two seats, which is actually pretty handy for fitting as many people as possible in the back. All of this said, I rode in the damn thing every chance I got.

Their accommodation, often referred to as a hippie commune, squat, dorm or just plain house, sits near the beach at the end of a dirt track that winds through the jungle and is inaccessible by most vehicles. They’ve converted two large concrete rooms into a kitchen and a bedroom. The walls of the kitchen are painted with fish and maps of the area and childrens’ drawings, relics of the project’s past work. BCDs, fins, and air tanks waiting to be filled are piled next to empty Tanduay and San Migel pilsen bottles. Homemade beds line the walls of the bedroom, with colorful mossy nets draped from the ceiling and clothes lines running across corners. Everyone sleeps in one room and a few nights drinking around a bonfire on their isolated beach lead to us joining the gang and bunk in an empty bed. Those nights around the fire were always entertaining, from fire spinning and blowing to searching for crabs with local kids to skinning dipping at high tide under a full moon, the energy is palpable and the company first class.

The boat they’re having built is in progress a few kilometers down the beach, worked on daily by local builders. The completed craft will be a 60 ft. bangka with a V10 engine and bunks for 12 people. They plan to sail over Cebu, down the east coast of Palawan, then the west coast of Malaysian Borneo before finally arriving at Malaysia’s Perenthian Islands. It’s here that South Sea Nomads will be based, hosting groups of up to 20 backpackers on two-night, three-day boating/camping/diving/snorkeling trips. Nights will be spent on various islands camping and diving is an option — non-divers and snorkelers will be catered to as well. We’re hoping to meet up with them to experience the maiden voyage of the backpacking package before heading back to the states.

Cheers to the crew: Richard, Katie, Liz, Mikey, Caz, Elliot, Mel, Tiia, Mattheas, Brian, and Kit.

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