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I have been to Palawan on few occassions before. I was able to visit Puerto Princesa, Coron, Culion, Roxas, El Nido, Cuyo and Cagayancillo. Enough to brag that I have covered most of the province... visited it, seen it, experienced it! So I thought.I was wrong.Because there are more in the last frontier that are usually not in the traveler's radar. Places that are equally if not more beautiful than the Palawan we know. That includes Balabac, the southernmost town, the last of the last frontier!Last summer, an opportunity to visit Balabac knocked on my doorstep. An opportunity I grabbed without second thought. So for five days and four nights, we wandered around from island to island. Five days of exploration, discovery and journey to the unknown. Five days in nine islands with countless memories of my new paradise. Without further ado, here are the nine islands we visited during our Balabac sojourn.
Our homebase, Bugsuk Island was the second largest in the group of island after mainland Balabac. It is situated in between mainland Palawan and Balabac, merely two hours by boat from Rio Tuba Port.The island is home to a small community that relies mainly on fishing. It is surrounded by white sand on the east and with patches of mangroves on the western side where crocodiles dwell. Inland is a forested area that is home to numerous mouse deers, monkeys and variety of birds.But the island's most notable attractions is perhaps the fine white sandy beach on its southernmost tip - Punta Sebaring!Let me tease you! They say this beach can fit two soccer fields, I say even three! The sand: white as sugar; fine as powder; soft as cushion! I guess this is the best beach in my list!
Nasubata / Pulau Batu
In between the mainland Balabac and Onuk Island, east of the former, is a small and uninhabited island, more of a rock, that lies on the shallow and clear water of Sulu Sea. Locals call it, Nasubata or Pulau Batu.Unlike other islands in Balabac, Nasubata has no sandy area, so I guess it is safe to assume that it is purely a large rock, perhaps a limestone, infested by wild plants and crops. What makes the island beautiful is its sheer contrast to the clear water that surrounds it. Their synergy is quite surreal!
Made famous by the renowned photographer George Tapan, Onuk Island is where his National Geographic Photo Contest 2011 winning piece "Into the Green Zone" was shot .Onuk Island is a small island east of mainland Balabac. It is surrounded by shallow and clear turquoise water. So clear that you could clearly see the fishes and sea turtles swimming underneath. There is wooden a cottage in the island that can accommodate guests but since it is privately owned, prior arrangement is necessary to guests visiting or spending a night there. Sadly, we never get to land our feet in Onuk Island, controversy and politics meddled on what could have been an amazing moment. But from our boat, I was able to see its beauty... its charm. It was high tide though and the island looks different but it is still beautiful. Onuk Island is best experienced on low tide, when the long sandbar of fine white sand exposes.
South of Onuk Island, approximately 45 minutes by boat, is a small privately owned and uninhabited island surrounded by fine mix of crush red and white corals. Locals call it Comiran Island.At first, it reminded me of the one in Apo Reef, with the sand wall and beautiful emerald water that surrounds it. But as I walked on its fine sand, I realized that it resembles the pink sand beach of Zamboanga. True enough, there were chunks of red corals on the beach that make the sand look pinkish.From then on, we decided to call it Pink Beach... and that's how the island got its new moniker - Comiran Island, the Pink Beach of Balabac!
The biggest in the island group, the mainland Balabac Island is where the seat of local government is located. It is composed of 14 barangay of the municipality of the same name, with six belonging to the Poblacion.Balabac Island is generally forested and mountainous, its inhabitants are mixture of Molbogs and Palaw'an tribes with minority of migrants from Panay Island and other nearby provinces. It is one of the most diverse island in the Philippines, being home to various endemic species such as Philippine Cockatoo, Palawan Hornbill and Philippine Mouse Deer.Balabac is a vital naval station during the Spanish era. It is believed that the Spaniards built a garrison in the island to support its planned invasion of Northern Borneo. The century old lighthouse of Melville, in the southernmost tip of the island, is one of the remaining proofs of the island's importance during the old days.
Northeast of mainland Balabac is Candaraman Island, a 207-hectare privately owned island that boasts of fine white sand and beautiful hues of turquoise water surrounding it. Rumor has it that it is one of the islands bought by Danding Cojuangco, which the local inhabitants could not confirm nor deny.The island is big enough for an airstrip, one of the only two in Balabac Group (the other is in Bugsuk Island). There are also pearl farms off the beach which the few inhabitants of the island guard.
Another beautiful and interesting island is Siksikan, a small uninhabited island surrounded by clear turquoise water and fine white sand. The beach area is a known breeding ground for sea turtles.We walked on its shore searching for turtle eggs but we didn't find any. Only clues and traces of what used to be breeding spots. Perhaps it wasn't a season for breeding.
North of mainland Balabac is Ramos Island, one of the major islands of Balabac Group. The island is also surrounded by white sand and blue waters typical of any islands in this part of the Philippines.History tells us that Ramos Island became the first stop of US Navy warship USS Redfin, on its mission to regain the Philippines from the Japanese Imperial Army. That piece of history is immortalized in the commemorative marker installed by National Historical Commission in the island. Plants and crops already outgrown the marker, but not the role in history of the island.
Our last stop is another uninhabited island located in between the main islands of Balabac and Bugsuk - Canabungan Island.Surrouded by fine white sand and warm turquoise water, Canabungan Island may look like just the other islands in Balabac Group. For me, however, it has different character. Its beach area is dotted with driftwood and dead trees, making the island unique from the others.