ONUK ISLAND

by - 4:42 PM


A Japanese national onboard a yacht went fishing. He fell asleep and after a few hours was awakened to marvel on a tropical island paradise.  When accompanied to the Philippine coast guard, it was later on discovered that he went fishing at Sabah, Malaysia before the yacht was swept away by the waves to Onuk Island of Balabac, Palawan.

This was one of the conversations with the Onuk boys in an evening under the constellation with bottles of beer in tow.  Onok Island was our home in this southern Palawan quest – home to endemic sea turtles, dolphins, giant clams and the richest marine biodiversity as well. 

With a good weather condition and clear skies, Mount Kinabalu of Malaysia can be seen from our vantage, which makes one question: “Can we swim, bring our passports and enter another country?” Technically impossible but that is synonymously how the Japanese national entered the Philippines.

The people of Balabac are accommodating and friendly folks.  With the consent of Mayor Shuaib Astami, currently in Puerto Princesa at that time, Ma’am Lorna, assisted us in this sojourn.  We had a short chit-chat with other local residents as well, including Ma’am Fedelyn Villajos and the Parish Priest, Fr. Willie Escalante, to whom we shared our excitement to stay in the island of Onuk.  They ran out of words to describe the island and just simply exclaimed we will definitely find the adventure we are looking for.  They are indeed fortunate to experience nature in its raw and purest form. 

Electricity in the main town of Balabac is turned off at midnight.  And so we slept early and prepared ourselves for the great adventure.  Morning came and we bought some supplies at a nearby sari-sari store, sufficient for our stay at the island.

first sight of the island
Benjie was our boatman for this island adventure.  The sea was calm, the view was scenic and we were literally caught by surprise as the island came into view.  After almost an hour of travel by a small outrigger motorized canoe, a resort on stilts over a fine white sand bar that stretches from the main island became visible.  Even from a distance, the corals underneath was exposed amidst the turquoise waters that surround and the pawikan (sea turtle) freely swimming.

pawikans here really swim so fast - this is the closest picture I got

greetings from Onuk Island
It was such a grand welcome for us. I have never seen a pawikan moving in its natural habitat.  Later on, we have learned that Onuk Island serves as the pawikans sanctuary/breeding place and that to prevent the young ones from being caught by predators they are mandatorily caged in the island akin to a training center and set free when the caretakers deem it the “right time”.


learning to walk?


swim anyone?

groupies
There is no electricity in the island, but a generator set runs overnight for the relative convenience of visitors.  In our case, being isolated from the outside world was just perfect even though mobile phone signals were nearly nil.  The best place to meditate.





On all my travels with no electricity, majority has been associated with pitched tents, but this island experience is totally different.  We were assigned to one of the rooms equipped with the basics and comfortable at that.  All meals were served by the caretakers of the island and freshly-caught fish takes the center table most of the times.  To say that the stay was relaxing was an understatement, as we almost forgot we have time constraints and we can’t overstay (for a month?), since we have work commitments to attend to as well.

chill on the hammock with this view



George Tapan’s winning photo in the 2011 National Geographic contest in the places category besting almost 20,000 entries from 130 countries was taken at Onuk Island.  The photo featured two human subjects – a girl wearing pink and a man on boat in a wide panorama under a rainbow that stands between the clear green waters and the blue skies. And we have learned that the man on the boat was the town Mayor, Shuaib Astami as shared by the caretakers and the model himself.  Fishing is his hobby and so everything in the picture comes naturally.




As we sat down the mat that Carla brought and positioned ourselves near the stilts, commenced our drinking spree and sunset photography sessions, we were at the vantage point where George Tapan set up his camera (almost).  But the rainbow did not appear full, only half of it.  It was understandable nevertheless as it was cloudy then. But with such a panoramic view even on a rainy season, what more can we expect during summer?


Recognizing the stilts (quite high elevation), we asked if there’s the possibility of being submerged in water if we stay until the wee hours of the morning. And yes there is, nearing midnight I see planktons invading the sand bar, and we decided to call it a night. 


Early morning, I was awakened by the sound of a thunder, I checked on the vicinity and peeped on the window and it was the best breaking of the dawn scene I have witnessed.  The whole sand bar where our hut stands was submerged in water.  It was truly scenic albeit lightning and thunder’s presence.

the blue hour
Around noon the sun went up, it’s now time to explore the whole island we so declare.

Onuk Island’s charm is even more enhanced by the raw state of its flaura and fauna – untouched and far from civilization. An ocular of the island was made on our second day where we noticed that even twigs and branches displaced, dilapidated boats and anchors provides character to the island.  It would be best to maintain its current state. 

And even finding nemo is not that hard.  As we beach bum, snorkel and swim near the edge of the sand bar, coral reefs thrive like a mini-island formed underneath. 


the edge of the sand bar
Egrets? I reckon having second thoughts of accepting if they are really egrets. But they are and Onok Island is their home as well.  On another note, are herons and egrets the same?   


egret ka ba?









Before we packed our bags and bid farewell to the island and the caretakers, Benjie, our boatman, invited us to get on the boat as we shall visit another uninhabited sandbar/shoal.  It only took seconds to get there and the view was just perfect.  We were in the middle of the ocean surrounded by the Onuk Island, the mountains of Balabac and that of Sabah Malaysia.  It was a 360-degree scenic view indeed.



Crabs, giant clams, colorful coral reefs with inhabitants and the sea turtles were such a common sight.  It would definitely be best to visit the island during summer.







Since day one, we have been expecting dolphins to greet us en route to the island.  Local residents say the Balabac Strait is their playground, but none appeared on our way.  We were about to accept such fate when on our way back to the Balabac mainland, our boatman pointed to a certain direction.  I could not hear clearly what he is talking about as the engine’s sound was prominent.

And as we get near, there they are – dolphins in the wild.

dolphins!!!


Carla and I cannot contain our excitement, she even wanted to swim with the dolphins.  I can’t take a decent picture back then as I was really amazed and we shouted like it was the realization of a life-long dream. (ang OOA lang! hahaha!)  Special thanks to our boatman, Benjie, for this surreal experience.



The sun was about to set in the horizon as we get near the mainland of Balabac.  The dolphins may not have greeted us on the way to the island but as the cliché statement goes, save the best for the last.  The dolphins were the best send-off committee we had in this Onuk Island sojourn.

Does paradise really exist?  Yes.  And Onuk Island of Balabac, South Palawan exemplifies such.

We shall return definitely.




LGU-BALABAC PALAWAN
Contact Person:  Lorna A. Gapilangco
Mobile:  +639175532845

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9 comments

  1. Halaaaaa! I never thought na maupay dida han Balabac/ Onuk Island. Well... maupay is an understatement! :D

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  2. What an experience! Ang ganda ng lugar.

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  3. Hi do you have breakdown of expenses planning to go here thanks!

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  4. how much did u guys spend?
    budget? thanks !!

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  5. wow..how much did it cost u guys? ganda e!

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  6. Hello! Kumusta kuya! Gusto ko sana mag ask kung sino kong puede kong ma email or contact para mag book nang stay sa Onuk Island? Maraming salamat!

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    1. hello mam try to contact this number po 09187861322 thank you

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