This is part 6 of British backpacker Will Hatton’s travel diary documenting his first trip to the Philippines. Follow along with his Philippine adventure right here on Rappler.
The boat skimmed across the water like an insect, bouncing and jiving, dancing and whirling. We passed jumping schools of fish, glistening silver in the early morning sun. The familiar sight of Port Barton, a paradise only now appearing on the backpacker radar, slipped away from us as we headed further out to sea, further into the unknown.
I had met Gaga, our boatman, a few days ago (Gaga is a nickname, he’s a huge fan of the singer). He was unbelievably muscular with bulging forearms and washboard abs. He was the tough kind of man who looked like, instead of blood, saltwater may flow through his veins.
He smiled often but kept his eyes locked on the horizon, focusing on some point only he could see. We navigated shallow reefs and perilous sand-bars as he took us through a maze of underground obstacles he knew like the back of his hand.
“Please take us to isolated beaches, Gaga, I want to sleep somewhere nobody else goes,” I had said when we first met
“It will be difficult, sir” he had replied, smiling shyly. “But, yes, I can do this for you.”
Such is the way of the Philippines, ask and thou shalt receive.
We passed several brightly coloured catamarans, outboard motors chugging in the heat, crammed from stem to stern with tourists. We had our boat, and our boatman, all to ourselves. There was just the 3 of us and his helper, a shy boy in a scraggly tank top with too many holes and a faded pattern. He spent much of the day standing on the thick pieces of bamboo running along the outside of the boat, moving with great dexterity and speed to push us away from any obstacles we might encounter.
We reached our first stop. A pair of other vessels were already here but the water was crystal clear, cool, inviting and, well, massive. There was space for everyone. I popped on a snorkel mask, forgoing the tube (I prefer to swim without it) and dived over the side of the boat and into the depths below. Brightly coloured fish, the kind of thing I have only seen in cartoons, darted away from me. A small jellyfish, almost cute, drifted by. I spotted some kind of snake a few meters away and gave it a wide berth, I was here to see the turtles.
Glistening corals rose up to meet me as I swam deeper, my GoPro bravely capturing every moment, in search of turtles. There were none to be found, a tad disappointing since Gaga told me that just a few days ago, he had spotted the biggest one he had ever seen.
“Do not worry Sir Will, it is lunch time now,” he said to me, smiling broadly.
Lunch turned out to be a banquet of chicken, salad, a whole fish just for me, a fizzy orange drink of unknown origin and, well, yes, rice. Refreshed and relaxed, I sat in a hammock watching the sun dance across the ocean.
The day tumbled on, I swam, snorkeled and feasted; all the while getting farther from Port Barton.
Finally, with just an hour’s daylight left, Gaga took us to a cove, beautiful, isolated, a little bit mysterious. It seemed likely that people must come here from time to time but certainly, nobody was here now and I doubted people slept here… This was a textbook example of a paradise island. Swaying palm-trees, soft gold sand, crystal clear waters…
“I leave you here now, Sir,” said Gaga “But first, we get firewood”
He disappeared, crashing around and hurling wood back towards the beach whilst we set up the tent.
An hour later and we were watching the sun paint the sky a patchwork quilt of oranges, reds and golds. The clouds raced across the sky, urgent to get somewhere before the day ended. Our fire began to crackle merrily in the background – Gaga, desperate to make sure we would be safe, insisted on preparing almost all of our dinner (fresh-caught fish and rice). He joined us for a moment, the fire projecting whirling shapes around us, and sat with me upon a fallen tree.
I wordlessly passed him my bottle of rum, he accepted, and we sat chatting… I drank more and more rum and before I knew it had made a solemn pact with Gaga – he would help me build a boat, I would sail it around The Philippines, I would find truly deserted beaches, I would fly a pirate flag from my vessel, The Lady GaGa, and together me and my newfound friend would journey where few adventurers had been before.
In the end, Gaga stayed on the island, keen to keep us company, drink some rum and make sure we had the best time possible.
The island was good, a truly great experience but the highlight of the trip – meeting with GaGa, for I had made a new friend and one I hoped to see again. – Rappler.com
Some photos by Crystal Egan. Visit her site here
Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at thebrokebackpacker.com about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if you’re really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.