Journey Through the Philippines Photo Diary Part 1
A year ago, I embarked on an island hopping adventure through the Philippines with my favourite expedition travel company, Zegrahm Expeditions. A menu of 7,641 islands all ripe for exploration can present even the most seasoned traveller with a headache, so following months of diligent scouting Zegrahm Expeditions came up with an itinerary of the creme de la creme of Philippines. Our journey, starting in Sandakan, Malaysia and finishing in Manila, included 17 carefully handpicked islands, mostly off-the-beaten track but still culturally rich and extraordinarily scenic.
What was to follow were the two weeks of visits to many traditional villages and remote island communities, all of which welcomed us with legendary Filipino hospitality. Almost every day we snorkelled and dove in pristine waters in search of a variety of dazzling marine life – several types of sharks, graceful manta rays, adorable turtles, colourful nudibranchs and lots of other exciting creatures!
Owing to its mixed heritage Philippines is a unique country in South East Asia. The country was named in honour of King Philip II of Spain (1527 – 1598). Due to the Spanish colonial rule that lasted for around 350 years, the Philippines has developed a culture drastically different to its neighbours. The last vestiges of Spanish colonial rule, which ended in 1898, include the overwhelming predominance of Catholicism and gorgeous centuries-old churches – this is the only majority Christian nation in Asia – as well as the unique Spanish-Filipino colonial architecture and exuberant town fiestas.
On the other hand, large shoppings malls – 3 out of 10 largest shopping malls in the world are here in the Philippines – and officially recognised and widespread spoken English, as well as fast food chains are the lasting influence of Spain’s colonial successor, the Americans. Finally, following World War II, Philippines was the first country in South East Asia to gain independence in 1946.
The Philippines has a population of more than 100 million people, which currently makes it the 12th most populous country in the world. Its (slightly worrying) annual growth rate of around 2% makes it one of the fastest growing countries in the world. On every island we set foot, there were countless children abound : yes they are adorable (for now), but it makes you wonder where will all these little people will end up! Attempts to introduce a reproductive health law to bring down population growth rate – each family has on average at least half a dozen children – has been consistently opposed by various religious groups, most prominently by the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, women are supposed to be in charge of contraception, and more often than not they are too shy to pay a visit to a family planning clinic. With 12 million Filipinos living abroad, this country has one of the largest diasporas in the world.
The Philippines is the world’s largest exporter of coconuts and several tropical fruits, such as papaya and mangosteen.
The Philippines has some of the world’s greatest biodiversity.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Sandakan, Malaysia
On the first day, before embarking on the ship, we spent the whole day admiring the fauna and flora of Sandakan, Malaysia. My favourite stop was the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, a private reserve for this distinct-looking primate known for its oversized nose. This long nosed animal was recently voted one of the 5 ugliest animals in the world in a public vote organised by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society. This public vote overall won by the deep-sea-dwelling blobfish was part of a campaign designed to highlight the conservation plight of aesthetically challenged creatures!
Puerto Princessa, Palawan, Philippines
Our first landing in the Philippines was on the long and narrow island of Palawan. Earlier this year, it was rated as the Most Beautiful Island in the World by Conde Nast Traveler Readers.
Skipping Porta Pricessa, we made our way to visit an indigenous nomadic tribe, Pala’wan. We observed a marriage ceremony( the young bride in question is in the photo above), a baby taking its first steps on land – according to their tradition a child is not allowed to touch the ground until one year old – as well as sharing sticky rice cooked in bamboo . Afterwards we watched a weaving demonstration at Binuatan Creations in Porta Princessa, where I also tried my hand at this seemingly simple yet complex in nature handicraft.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
We spent a whole day diving in the turquoise waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a marine and bird sanctuary covering over 370 square miles in the middle of Sulu Sea. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is an excellent example of a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-m perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands. Due to its high density of marine species and important breeding grounds for seabirds this atoll reef was recognised as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Due to its remote location – it takes over a day’s journey by boat from Palawan island – Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is one of the last bastions of pristine marine life in Asia.
Coron IslandOn the next day, we were welcomed by the majestic beauty of Coron Island, a forest of limestone cliffs surrounded by the clear aquamarine seas.
In the morning, we climbed and descended steep steps along the vertical cliffs to reach the scenic Kayangan Lake (in the two pictures above), spending a couple of pleasantly relaxing hours in the morning swimming in the lake’s crystal clear waters, their greenish – turquoise tint soothing to the eye.
In the afternoon, we visit the Banuang Daan village, home of the Tagbanue tribe. There are several local dance performances, and an adorable children’s choir sings us a few songs, whilst the elders perform the war and marriage dances.
The village chief and I (Looking my best in humid 35+ degree heat). Don’t you just love his marijuana head scarf?! Apo Reef Natural Park
Along with Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Apo Reef Natural park is another best diving spot in the Philippines.
Apo Reef is the second largest contiguous coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef and also home to one of the richest biodiversities. Another day of fantastic diving: as soon as we submerged ourselves in crystal clear waters, our eyes were dazzled by a kaleidoscope of pastel-coloured corals, and we were surrounded sharks, turtles, tunas, barracudas and many many more as well as by thousands of wondrous small creatures !
Sibuyan IslandSibuyan Island, with its verdant landscapes of sprawling rice paddies and lush green mountains was one of the most beautiful islands on the trip. It was also one of the most fun: we rode Jeepneys, planted rice, swam by the waterfalls, bought local produce and delicacies at a market, as well as dance, play games, feast and chat with the local community!
We were welcomed ashore by dozens of people participating in a traditional performance.We strolled through the Sunday market where locals were selling fish all varieties, vegetables, fruits, woven handicraft goods. Then we boarded Jeepneys—the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines and the ubiquitous, colourful symbol of the local culture—for a scenic drive around the island towards the waterfalls. I chose to ride on the top of a Jeepney because it offered beautiful views of surrounding rice fields, farms, and mountains. On the way we stopped to learn about the process of harvesting and milling rice, using the traditional bayo method.After the demonstration, we were invited to roll up our sleeves and lend a hand planting the rice seedlings in muddy paddies. By the time were were finished, the scorching sun was burning our skin so we made our way to the waterfalls to swim and cool off a little.
Then a large Filipino fewest, the star of which was a succulent lechon, a roast sucking pig!Journey to be continued, stay tuned!!!