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Philippines – The North, Palawan & Busuanga Archipelago

January – March 2013

In January I first went with a colleague to the mountainous north of the Philippines, because a low pressure area had established itself in the south. Two years ago I was already in the land of the world-famous rice terraces and headhunters. I therefore refer to my Philippines Report 2011 for additional information and photos.


Children in a minibus in Banaue

A house where the spirits of the ancestors are worshipped.

Next to buffalo skulls hang skulls of Japanese who died in the area during the Second World War.


On the way to Hapao, another village with rice terraces worth seeing. Here the rice is being planted.

The young rice seedlings first grow together very closely and are then distributed over the entire rice fields.


The most spectacular rice terraces can be found around the village of Batad.


In Sagada we explored with a guide a cave system which I had not visited before. The so-called cave traversing takes several hours. The cave entrance is also used as a cemetery, which is why we first passed coffins.

It quickly got dark and only the carbide lamp of the leader brought light into the cave labyrinth. Sometimes you had to squeeze your body through narrow holes, then you pulled yourself up on ropes to the next passage. We were amazed how dangerous this tour was and how much fitness it demanded. In the case of an accident, a rescue would have taken several hours. My colleague had trouble, because he is not completely free of vertigo. Without a guide we would never have found our way out of this labyrinth again.

A rock formation showing a lion’s mouth

… and a pregnant woman

Having fun

Important people are buried in hanging coffins.

In the report two years ago, I wrote that young people were finding more and more alternatives to working in the rice terraces. Some rice terraces are therefore no longer maintained, which is problematic, as the lower plots depend on the intact irrigation system further up. After even some terraces around Batad, which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage, were no longer maintained, the provincial government reacted and provided the equivalent of about 650’000 US Dollars to repair the terraces in one project during one year. In January 2013 the money was used up, although some terraces had not yet been repaired. A normal Philippine project has found its usual conclusion.

On the bus back to Manila we met a Swedish-Philippine couple who worked together on a casino ship operating from Macao. They told us a lot of stories, but one of them was particularly distressing. About every month someone jumps overboard out of desperation because he or she had taken out a loan from a loan shark hoping to win money and gambled away the money in the casino.


Next I traveled to Boracay, the Philippine island with the best developed tourist infrastructure. The beach is one of the most beautiful in the Philippines. The sunsets, good food, nightlife and an international atmosphere make Boracay unique. For more information about this island, please refer to the other Philippine travel reports.

View from Nami Resort


Together with another colleague I traveled through Palawan, a group of islands in the west of the Philippines that stretches over 450 km.

Coconut Island Resort

Our first destination was the resort of a Swiss on an island 15 km away from the main island Palawan. 21 years ago he had bought a beach, which at that time consisted only of sand and palm trees. For the first six months he lived in a tent before the basic infrastructure was in place. Meanwhile, a small paradise has emerged. The boat picked us up on time, which was a welcome change from the notorious Philippine delays. The food was really good. Later we learned that the owner used to be a cook on cruise ships. Unfortunately, the sand flies also liked it there.

We could even observe freshly hatched turtles on their first way into the sea!

Modessa Resort

A German couple has informed us about another resort they were enthusiastic about. We were inspired by this enthusiasm and booked three nights at short notice. We have not regretted it. The resort was on an island that you could walk around in 30 minutes and had one of the best reefs right in front of our bungalow. The resort had been built by a Belgian. After his 25 year lease expired, the Philippine landowners took over the resort. Our travel book praised the cuisine under Belgian management. Under the new Philippine management the food was then only a necessary calorie intake.


Two Golden Rabbitfishes

The next stop was the village of El Nido, famous for its spectacular limestone cliffs that rise steeply from the sea as islands. Here, too, a Swiss woman, Judith, and her husband, a local artist, have built the best restaurant in town, the Art Cafe, from the simplest of beginnings. At that time, the small restaurant was also the couple’s living room and bedroom in the evening after closing. Meanwhile they have built a stately new restaurant, which is always well attended thanks to the great food.

Walk from Corong Corong Beach to Ipil 2 Beach

The walk from Corong Corong Beach to Ipil 2 Beach is especially worthwhile.

This man is on his way to a cockfight.

Sunset at Corong Corong Beach

Boat trip from El Nido to Coron in the Busuanga Archipelago

We reached our next destination Coron in the Busuanga archipelago with a local boat. In the morning at 8 o’clock we should start, but the engine of the boat was broken. Before the eyes of the travelers the engine room was opened and heavy tools were used. As the engine was not repaired after three hours, we changed to a smaller boat that finally left El Nido 4 hours late. The weather was ideal with little wind and hardly high waves, so that the crossing ran without incidents. Later we learned that other crossings were much more troublesome. Often the travelers were soaked because of high waves. Twice the ships were in distress. Fortunately, no people died. In one case the travelers had to spend the night at the beach of a lonely island without food and drink. Partly the luggage was lost or soaked. When the travelers could receive their luggage again, the valuables were no longer in their luggage.

Busuanga Archipelago


Arriving in the capital Coron, I noticed the new hotels and restaurants that have been built here in the last two years. This further improved the culinary level, because a hotel of the higher price class – the owner is a Frenchman – convinced with its restaurant. My Swiss colleague Dani also inspired me with his pork steak with a blue cheese sauce. The power cuts are still frequent. So the privatization of the power station has not brought any improvement apart from higher prices and hidden payments to certain politicians (see my Philippines travel report from 2011 for more details).

Sunset seen from the restaurant of the Sea Dive Hotel

It is definitely worth discovering the Busuanga archipelago by boat. Our 2-day trip took us to countless islands with lonely beaches and great coral reefs. We spent the night in a tent on the beach.

Pass Island

The Busuanga archipelago is full of wrecks. The Japanese hid some ships between the islands in the archipelago in 1944. However, the Americans discovered the ships and destroyed them by air raids on 24 September 1944.

The Lusong Cannon Boat

This sunken cannon boat is located only a few meters below the water surface near the island of Lusong.

Sailing from Coron to El Nido

Actually, I wanted to leave Coron by plane for Manila. In Coron I became aware of an American, Todd, who offered a five-day sailing trip from Coron to El Nido. I knew from my crossings on this route that there are many remote and beautiful islands that are hardly visited by tourists because they are too far away to return to Coron or El Nido in a day or two. Todd, who has been living with his pregnant wife in Coron for two months, offered these tours for the first time. He doesn’t know the area very well yet and we set ourselves the task to discover the islands between the Busuanga archipelago and the Palawan main island. Since I had time, I accepted this offer. An Englishman joined our group. With the local boatman, who cooked and supported Todd, there were four of us on the boat.

We started in perfect weather. Soon we could hoist the sails and headed for the first islands and snorkeled in the coral reefs. It soon turned out that the boat was safe, but was in a barely sufficient condition. Most of the facilities on the boat were already defective once and were repaired more or less makeshift. That was then also part of the adventure.

The sailboat was old and in need of repair.

Every evening we were rewarded with fantastic sunsets.

We slept on the deck and as I woke up sometimes, I could observe the movement of the moon and the stars during the night.

The second passenger, a Briton

Already before sunrise we were on our feet again and enjoyed the unique atmosphere in the middle of this island world. Our skipper discussed with us the route and the islands we visited that day. On the one hand we wanted to discover lonely islands, great coral reefs and caves, but also fishing villages away from the tourist streams were worthwhile destinations. In one village we could shower with fresh spring water. After a few days on the sea we enjoyed it.

A paradisiacal untouched beach

We stopped on this island inhabited by fishermen.

In the western world the boys play with small cars, here with small boats.

On one island, we even saw cows on the beach.

This young man on the island of Linapacan could be a worldwide sought-after model.

Most of these villages are poor and have no electricity, but one could afford a generator so that we could buy cold beer there.

We were lucky because the village fiesta had already started.

The evening atmosphere before the village fiesta

The villagers played cards for money. There was also a kind of roulette.

Playing cards

Young and old enjoyed themselves deliciously. Some of the beer we had bought and one of the fish had miraculously disappeared. After our insistence everything reappeared bit by bit. But it was clear that we also let the local population participate in our things, because they can’t afford beer every day, at least not in these quantities ;-).

Who won the gamble? Our skipper Todd!

This man opened the beer with his teeth.

We also found a karaoke machine and tried to sing. But of course the Pinoys sing much better. They love karaoke.

Later the fiesta continued on the dance floor. Long after midnight we rowed back to our sailboat, which was anchored outside, in the moonlit night.

On the last day of our trip we wanted to discover the islands of the Baguit archipelago off El Nido, but soon the engine failed and the wind showed itself from the calm side. Todd and his boatman had soon removed half the interior to get the necessary tools.

At the engine repair

It turned out that an important rubber part for the cooling water circuit had a crack. After several hours of sweaty work in the hot engine room it was finally possible to repair the engine temporarily, so that we reached El Nido before nightfall. As the photos show, the sailing trip was worth it, as we passed by beautiful islands that are hardly visited by tourists.

Our crew after the arrival at the Art Cafe in El Nido

However, I do not believe that Todd’s boat is in good enough condition for regular sailing trips. This would render obsolete a planned source of income on which he depends, also with regard to his pregnant wife. He probably realized that, otherwise he would not have spent his last money in El Nido at Judith’s place for alcohol and cigars.

After midnight he ended up drunk asleep on the floor of the toilet in Judith’s restaurant and resisted as his boatman tried to row him back onto the boat. His wife had to transfer money to El Nido the next day so that he could make ends meet until the spare part arrived in El Nido. The next day we saw him drinking in Judith’s restaurant again …

I am sending this newsletter from Hong Kong, where I will stay for the next days. The view from my hotel room to the harbor is spectacular!

Next I will travel to South Africa.


This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by