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Journey to Balabac: 10 Hours in the Road+Sea

Balabac Palawan

When 2017 came, I'm still undecided where to go after landing in Puerto Princesa Palawan. I bought this ticket last year and initially planned to go back to El Nido. But then, this post came up about an unknown paradise to many. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this picture, but getting my eyes on the actual is the next step. I then researched for Onok Island (Onuk Island; Roughton).

The privacy and getting a permit may be a challenge, but I'm lucky to have met Kuya Johnny, owner of Sing and Swing Lodge where I booked a stay. He recommended me to Sir Totoh (SB) to get permission and to hopefully, get discount. I was about to discard the idea of going to Onok and just island hop to the neighboring islands when the owner approved my request.

Note: Please get permission from the owner. It's better if you take their package, but getting tour packages from a 'partner' boatman is okay. We can get into more details on a separate post.
It's just a few months of preparation. I checked upon few of the available blog posts regarding Onok. Not so many people have been there, which is actually exciting. The thought of having the chance to own an island for a few moments is possible, but not too fast. I need to conquer the 10 hours travel first.

Balabac Palawan
Brooke's Point going to Bataraza
The 10 hours travel actually starts from San Jose Terminal where the van going to Rio Tuba is situated. Excluding the grueling hours from our home in Cavite, the path to Onok is definitely a butt numbing, brain cracking and stomach aching experience! Imagine me rushing from the airport to the terminal without having dinner just to catch the last trip. Plus I’ll definitely not forget the tricycle driver who although made me be at the location on time, has also put me in near-accident situation. We almost hit another ‘car’ many times. He’s not a young or middle aged driver and we’re on a tricycle.

Balabac Palawan
On the way to the port
Cooling down, I sat on the front seat of the van so I don’t need to squeeze with other passengers in the back. I took the chance of eating cup noodles in the little time left, that’s basically my second meal for the day. 

At first I really can’t sleep because the speed of our van is keeping me awake. We were driving for 120 kmph and the winding road makes it scary. The driver though, is as calm as the sunset. 

One night south of Palawan with me driving an MT van
at a speed of 60-80 kmph. Hahaha IKR A good way to
kick-start my journey!
We stopped-over after 2 hours for dinner. I didn’t find any food of my liking so I just stretched out my legs. Looking out into the sky, it was padded with stars! Lots of them and without obstruction in the view. It’s sad that I don’t know how to capture them with my camera.

The next leg of van travel is a fast one. Passengers started taking off before we reached Brooke’s Point. By the time we left Brooke’s Point, I’m nervous to be the only passenger left together with the driver and dispatcher, both males. I don’t want to be snobby so I answered their questions until a great idea came out from the dispatcher, Kuya Jun. He suggested I drive the van to get the experience behind the wheels of a manual car. Though hesitant, I grabbed it. We exchanged seats and the moment I released the clutch, I knew it was a great experience! 

I drove from Brooke’s Point up to Rio Tuba. It was about an hour and a half of driving on a car-less winding road. The ‘original’ driver is the one telling me when to change gears. I find my short legs a disadvantage when stepping up to the end of the clutch. Amidst the challenge, I was able to reach our destination by midnight. However, the next question kicked in, where will I stay?

White Heaveln Lodge's PHP250 room
I was supposed to go straight to the port so the first and only trip to Balabac is a sure catch. However, at that early I will only be a feast to mosquitos so I stayed in White Heaven Lodge beside the van terminal - closest to the drop off. 

It was a short stay, like 4 hours and very cheap Php 250. It gave me 4 hours of sleep, better than not having any to continue my journey.

When I woke up I didn’t have time to check out the neighborhood. I left the keys, brought water and hailed a tricycle. I didn't know I rushed just to catch a late boat. I was there by 630AM, but the boat left at 11AM. In any case, I had my name listed first before I make use of the waiting time, having your name listed is necessary and the tricycle driver was so kind to escort me to the boat. 

Balabac PalawanBalabac Palawan
Finally! Rice!

Honestly, I didn't expect the port to look like that. It is not meant to be used as public terminal and on the slums, the view outside on the other hand, is pretty interesting. A long row of trees lined up the island in front. It looks so near yet so far. Hahaha And I had a good view when I went by the house of the store owner where I had my breakfast.

Balabac Palawan

Rio Tuba, Balabac, Palawan
On the way to the port. That's my tricycle driver

The store where I ate my first rice meal since yesterday had a very chatty owners. It's like an interview and they gave me tips for my next trip. It turns out the people in Rio Tuba and Balabac are friends. They knew Kuya Johnny and Kuya Totoh, and it's given they recommend each other to tourists. Kuya Hajijah (the store owner) is also kind to give me a number of an Intelligence whom I can report to in case of problems which I don't know either.

Rio Tuba, Balabac, Palawan
Me on Kuya Hajija's own landing area
The conversation with Kuya Hajija finally came to an end when his friends stopped by. I took the chance to board on the boat and read a book while waiting. Unfortunately, it only left when the seats were all occupied. 

Rio Tuba, Palawan, Balabac

As much as I wanted to sleep that time, people were boarding one by one and I might always be asked to move from my position, just like one woman who only asked me about the departing time but then suddenly stole my corner seat. "Dito ako" said the woman as she pointed to the little space beside me. I positioned right there so I can get a good shot of the sea. I was slightly irritated but I don’t want to lose my cool just for a single seat, so I gave it. It turns out the ride was rough and so that seat catches all the splashing and sun rays. Haha I'm still lucky.

Rio Tuba, Palawan, Balabac
One beautiful morning from Brgy. Rio Tuba
Moving on with the four hours ride, it was the most painful in the a** moment of my life. Really, I did sit on top of the life vest over the wooden chair but it did not help. My stomach is also growling for a proper meal. All I could do to divert my attention is to sleep, read a book or listen to music. Looking back now I was ashamed to remember my head falling down in all directions. Hahahaha But not to the direction of the foreigner to my right. He was oozing with bad aroma that I just can't handle it. He was one seat away but the wind unforgivably blew from his direction making us all smell the unwanted.

Rio Tuba, Palawan, Balabac
On the public boat
Amidst the uncomfortable situation, I can't help but get amazed with the view in front of my eyes. It is Palawan! Super long stretch of island and you could not be mistaken. It is indeed Palawan. When there's no more piece of land in the horizon then it means we have passed the whole of Palawan. But not yet, it also includes the islands on the southern-most part and that's where I'm going.

We passed by the Bancalaan port now, the only stopover in the trip. Bancalaan is a beautiful port, white beach line, turquoise water and coconut trees. Ugh! Beautiful! I never thought that would be a better sight than Balabac's port. This is maybe one of the reasons why tourists choose this port as jump off than Rio Tuba's.

Bancalaan Port
My failed attempt to capture Bancalaan Port. I didn't notice the camera's lenses were set to manual.
After exactly four hours, welcoming you in Balabac - BCI Port is a low cliff swarmed by tricycle drivers. They have another port (primary) which is used when the water is relatively calm. Alighting from the boat is another challenge as you would walk into this wooden plank tilted by 90 degrees to the cliff trail. My 10kg+ backpack is a risk so I handed it over to a boat assistant - "perks of being a woman". Hehehe 

Stepping over that cliff is a touch down. I'm now in Balabac! More than 10 hours from home and I've come to where I'll start my adventure. This is a tiring accomplishment, needless to say, hungry and without shower. The paradise is slowly coming into reality and I can't help but get excited! Let's continue this story on the next post shall we? It's getting ' L O N G ' in here.

Until then!
Bye bye



Glens is a full time Systems Developer and part time wanderer. On weekends she's mostly at home watching series, anime or anything of her interest. Sometimes, she can be seen backpacking or hiking. But she can ditch that over comfort food and bed weather.

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