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Banana Island

by nate on March 23, 2010

It began as a single night camping trip to an uninhabited private island, but in the end was a 5-day/4-night stay on Banana Island, a small island populated by the Philippino family who owns it, with a couple of huts and a rustic pavillion for day trippers.

We paired up with Santiago and Paula, a couple from Argentina who, like us, have been traveling for months. We had approached them originally about joining us on the aforementioned camping trip when they came back with the suggestion to spend a little more time away from Coron Town on this island. We would share the cost of the boat, stay in “rustic accommodation” and would need to bring our own food and water. Our interest was piqued. Two days later, we took a 1.5 hour bangka ride out to the island where we spent the next five days just enjoying ourselves: kayaking to nearby islands, swimming in the bright aqua water, basking in the sun on the white sandy beach, eating our own homecooked meals, and snorkeling a protected reef in which fish are truly flourishing. The island was small (I walked the entire perimeter in about an hour), which made for an intimate and friendly few days. The family had a little kitchen in the middle we could use for cooking, which was also a great place to chat with the modest family about the rich lifestyle of owning an island.

The huts were simple but charming. There was no running water, but something about walking off the beach into your hut soaking wet from the ocean and rinsing off with a bucket of fresh water actually feels like a proper shower. With the windows open at night we fell asleep to the sound of the waves lapping on the sand and were kept cool by the salty air twisting through our room.

Our boatman showed up after dark, soaking wet on the evening we expected to leave and announced that we should stay the night because of the strong winds. The family let us sleep in our huts for free on the final night (such great, friendly service) and we headed back to Coron Town at 6:30am the following day. When we woke up bright and early the wind hadn’t exactly subsided, but at least it was light outside. Two to three meter swells thoroughly soaked us and rocked the little bangka hard. It took us twice as long to return as it had to arrive. We’ll call it an adventure.

If anyone reading this is interested in staying on Banana Island, contact the owner, Violeta at 09214741602. The huts are basic (no running water, electricity only at night) and cost P700 per person per night. For the boat, you can contact Jhong at 09084499523. It’s P4500 for the return trip.

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Coron Bay Island Hopping

by becca on March 18, 2010

Coron Bay is famous for wreck diving and tourism in this area seems to be thriving because of it. And though the diving was the initial draw, visitors are now flocking here for the top notch island hopping.

We’ve spent two days on rented bangkas island hopping, and two days kayaking to the best snorkeling spot we’ve found in the area. The first day in Coron Town we shared a hired bangka (P1500 or $30 for the day) with two Slovenian girls and did (most of) what they call the Coron Island Loop. The island is about a 20 minute ride from Coron Town and is managed and protected by its indigenous people, the Tagbanua. Here we took a short hike to Lake Kayangan whose crystal clear waters sit in a bowl created by the island’s mountainous interior, swam through an underwater cave to Twin Lakes where we could see and feel a thermocline, snorkeled and ate lunch at the aptly named Seven Islands Marine Sanctuary, and finished the day at the site of a sunken fishing boat called Skeleton Wreck.

We were so impressed with the wealth of fish and coral at Seven Islands (not to mention the stunning scenery above the water), that we’ve twice rented a kayak and paddled to the spot. There’s a resident school of batfish there that are not shy and have a reputation for following people around. You can see in the photos how close they’ll get, taking a quick nip at your snorkel if dangled in front of them. On our second trip we met Mars, a student of Marine Biology who’s studying the fish in the area and brought us to his research center: a hut on a floating platform surrounded by nets attached to a wooden structure to form cages, which he has full of different fish brought to him by as bycatch from local fishermen. We got to swim in these “cages” which included a shovel head shark, a black tip shark, eels, “gatorfish”, and many others. When his research is complete, he’ll release the fishies through a program run out of Manila.

Yesterday we were craving the water yet again so we hired a bangka to take us to a couple of relaxing spots to snorkel and have lunch. The pier in Coron is reached by walking through the public market, so both days on the boat we bought fruits, veggies, rice and fish (less than $1.50 for a kilo of tuna – not bad!) and the boatmen cooked lunch for us. The first spot was an island surrounded by coral (better in some parts than others) and lined with two small beaches, large rocks and a mangrove. We swam around the entire island in about 1.5 hours and returned to the boat for lunch. The second spot was a bit deeper, providing walls and pinnacles to be explored.

I feel like we haven’t scratched the surface of exploring the islands in the area – as every island we visit, we pass a few others. Our next adventure is taking a boat about two hours from Coron Town to a private island and sticking around in one of the rustic huts for a few nights. Stay tuned.

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Coron Wreckdiving

March 15, 2010

The landscape around Busuanga Island is exquisite but the history of Coron Bay is what has put the island on the map, especially for wreck diving. The historical chapter relevant for divers began September 24, 1944, when a US Navy force of fighters and dive bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 [...]

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Island Walking

March 12, 2010

Another day trip we took from Borongan was to Divinubo, a nearby island that we could actually walk to during low tide. This little journey took us through a post-apocalyptic landscape or a “sunken” moonscape as we began to say. The ground was an interesting combination of volcanic rock and dead reef, equally hard, sharp, [...]

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Upstream from Borongan

March 9, 2010

One of the day trips we ventured on while staying in Borongan involved hiring a fishing boat to take us out on the Suribao River to explore a quiet village and a seemingly untouched waterfall.
A 15-minute tricycle ride brought us to a small pier where we hired an older man to take us in [...]

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Pirate’s Cove

March 8, 2010

Nine hours overland from Padre Burgos (3 hours of which were impossibly bumpy), we finally arrived in Borongan, a little visited town on the Pacific coast in Eastern Samar. We were welcomed to Pirate’s Cove Beach and Surf Resort by the owner, Pete, an American surfer who’s been there for over 20 years. Lonely Planet [...]

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Spider Fight!

March 3, 2010

One night around a bonfire on the beach in Padre Burgos, some local guys held a spider fight that we placed bets on. The idea is this: two spiders fight on a stick until the death. The guys keep their players in match boxes and as one proud owner pulled out his big spider, he [...]

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South Sea Nomads

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 [...]

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Padre Burgos Pier

March 1, 2010

From the surface, the Padre Burgos pier doesn’t look like much: a cement roadway jutting out into the bay only a few feet above the water at high tide supported by cement pillars. But underneath, especially at night, there is an ecosystem that we had the pleasure of exploring. Entering the water at night was [...]

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Whale Sharking

February 19, 2010

What brought us to Padre Burgos in the first place was the promise of whale sharks in Sogod Bay this time of year. From February through April whale sharks follow their food — plankton — into the warm waters of the bay and the dive shops around here make a killing charging upwards of $70 [...]

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