It was on our third day in Balabac that we started exploring the islands, our boat captain cum guide was no less than the well versed and knowledgeable Kap Andong of Barangay Poblacion 4 in mainland Balabac. I bet no other person in town knows Balabac more than Kap, he knows the history, the hidden spots, the best beaches and even the little known secrets of the town and its people.
The water was totally calm that morning, the sky was blue, the horizon was clear and the tide was slowly getting higher, a good day to hop from island to island. By nine in the morning, Louie, Sir Rene and I boarded the boat with Kap Andong and Bagdong, we sailed southwards to the direction of Pulau Batu, in an area that locals call Nasubata. I took the spot on front of the boat and fixed my eyes on the beautiful hues of the water.
Halfway to Pulau Batu, Kap spotted some dolphins, so he and Bagdong turned the boat around and maneuvered it to where the dolphins were heading. In a few minutes, the dolphins were already at the nose of our boat and racing with us, occasionally jumping to the surface as if showing their might. Wow! We were all stunned in amazement!
The dolphins would swim out of our path but Kap would turn the boat around to their direction and the dolphins would race with our boat again. He turned the boat around four times to chase the dolphins and we were the happiest passengers ever! Woohooo!
We continued our journey to Nasubata and an hour-and-a-half passed, the water became shallow and its color turned into a beautiful hues of turquoise. The sea was unbelievably calm and clear that we could see the seabed, the corals and the fishes beneath. Slowly, our boat circled around Pulau Batu before heading to the nearby Onuk Island.
Onuk is the island popularized by the winning photo of George Tapan. No doubt, the place looks stunning in photo specially during low tide when the island looks like a wide stretch of white sand beach. At high tide, the wide stretch of white sand submerges leaving only a small sandbar and rocky island on the surface.
Surprises kept coming as we spotted three sea turtles and one stingray on the clear water between Pulau Batu and Onuk Island. Fifteen minutes passed, we reached the former, supposedly our second stop for the day, but we were barred from getting into the island without prior arrangement from the owner. The staff advised us to leave, so we left.
There was a sigh of regret as we left the island but we had no choice but to continue our journey. Our next stop was forty five minutes away from Onuk, a privately owned island named Comiran that also boasts of its fine sand beach. But unlike the other beaches in Balabac, Comiran Island is not white. It’s quite pink!
As soon as the boat landed in Comiran, we all immediately went down and walked on its shore. Except for Kap, we were all equal as first timers in the island. I walked barefooted to feel the sand, it was fine and cold even at midday!
Comiran is just a small island surrounded by pinkish sand, one can circle the island in no more than 10 minutes. At first, its beach reminded me of the island in Apo Reef but as I walked along the shore I realized that it resembles the pink sand off the coast of Zamboanga City. So I searched for the culprit – the red colored corals that make the sand look pink. True enough, chunks of red corals are scattered on the beach. 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!
I wanted to stay longer but the midday sun was already taking its toll on me so I returned to boat and admired the island once more from my viewpoint. When everyone was back, we continued our journey. Next destination was Melville!
Comiran Island and Melville are approximately one hour and thirty minutes apart on a calm day, enough time to have our lunch onboard. That was how the cowboys on us used the idle time and it guaranteed us of more time to explore and experience the attractions.
Our boat sailed westward towards the mainland… to the southernmost tip of Balabac Island marked by the old Spanish Lighthouse. I tried to hide my excitement because Melville Lighthouse was the very reason that convinced me to join the trip in the first place. I just watched as the island became bigger and closer. Then we found ourselves in a calm bay with yatch and outrigger boats quietly floating around. Obviously, the yacht wasn’t from the Philippines, it was most probably from the neighboring Malaysia and just temporarily anchoring in our water. There was another yacht going away towards Kudat, a Malaysian island. Kap said that Kudat is just three to four hours away.
The area is known to locals as Larindon or Binaatan, an enclosed natural bay covered with mangroves. These mangroves hide a secret… a secret carefully protected by time.
Kap Andong and Bagdong maneuvered the boat through a small opening, to an area which looks like a ruined structure. There were bricks of different sizes and traces of old walls and stairs which were all leveled and submerged to the water.
We were amazed as we stepped on the bricks and walked around the ruins. We know for a fact that those bricks tell a lot of stories which our history books failed to keep. Was it an old Spanish quarter, or a garrison, or a prison, or a brick manufacturing site? No one really knows today, even my research yielded no concrete answer. But history tells us that aside from the lighthouse, the Spaniards also built other structures in Melville in preparation for their planned invasion of Borneo. When we left Larindon Bay, the thought of digging deeper on the history of Balabac when I get back to Manila was playing on my head.
Our boat stayed near the coast as it traversed and circled the southernmost tip of the island, it slightly turned to its right to the western coast in the general direction of Melville Beach. We could see the lighthouse from the boat and the community of Molbog along the beach who stopped and looked on us as we wade on the water and approached them. At their village, we uttered our “good mornings” while Kap, as if a local celebrity, did the usual round of polite “how are you.”
From the beach, the trek to the lighthouse takes at least half-an-hour on a clear and gradually ascending trail, passing along an area planted with coconuts and some rice fields. Built in late 1800’s, the century-old lighthouse of Melville is one of the few remaining Spanish-era lighthouses in the Philippines. It was first lit in 1892 to guide ships traversing the waters of Southern Balabac particularly those crossing the sea that separates Borneo and Palawan. Although the lighthouse is already decommissioned and replaced with a newer structure, its imposing presence still reminds us of its once glorious past.
Some say that with its remoteness, Melville Lighthouse is one of, if not, the hardest to reach Spanish colonial lighthouse in the country. Others hail it as the most beautiful, the grand dame of all the lonely sentinels of the Philippines seas. For me, it’s a dream come true! Only few have seen it up close and I am privileged to be among them. No doubt, it is beautiful. It is beautiful!
I fixed my eyes to the lighthouse as our boat distant itself. I still couldn’t believe that a long time dream has just been realized. Slowly, the lighthouse vanished from my sight. As slow as the changing hues of the sky.
It was a long day that started and ended in the water. As soft as the daybreak, my body started feeling the weight of our activities. The captivating sunset, the stillness of the water and the murmurs of the sea all connived to set the mood for the day’s end. It was already dark when we reached the main town.