Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another Day in Culion: Mesmerized by the Mangroves in Kabulihan and the Sunset in Lele

Culion - Lele Beach Boy
Lele Sunset Boy
The unseasonal rains fell in the early afternoon just when we were set to go southwest to Kabulihan, some 17 kilometers away from Culion town.  Coming from Coron, our original plan was to go to Balanga to see the mangroves and the waterfalls.   While you can see mangroves practically all over the country, Palawan is one particular place teeming with it as the entire province was declared as Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserves as per Presidential Proclamation Number 2152.  According to the Palawan Council on Sustainable Development, 58,400 hectares of the province's total land area of 1.485 million hectares is covered by mangroves which makes it the country's biggest.

Tourism guide, Hermie Villanueva, however, was honest enough to admit that Balanga is now a shadow of its old self as seen in pictures a few years old, its lushness supplanted by varied personal interests.  The falls, owing to the summer season, is now dry.  Sure appreciate the honesty as some guides are wont to take you places regardless of the current conditions just to earn their fees.  Besides, we only have the rest of the day to go around so we'd like to make the most of it not by cramming the hours with destination after destination but to head only to one or two and savor the moment.  On Hermie's recommendation, we opted to go to the mangrove forest of Kabulihan instead.

Culion - Kabulihan Mangroves I
Sailing through the three-kilometer stretch of mangroves in Kabulihan
The rains fell in separate episodes, forcing us to make several stopovers to find shelter as we were riding piggyback on Hermie's trusty motorcycle.  For most of the way, the roads are bumpy, the motorcycle's shocks barely taming the roughness.  The farther south we went, the farther we escaped from the rains, the vegetation noticeably dry and in need of watering.

Reaching the mouth of the river in Kabulihan, we chanced upon a family waiting for a vehicle to transport their nipa roofing.  Since we didn't have arranged banca transport and while there were several bancas lying around with their owners nowhere in sight, we took a chance and asked if they would be so kind as to give us a quick tour of the mangrove forest.  Owing to the kindness of the Culion locals, we weren't surprised they readily agreed, only requesting for fuel in return.

There was little wind to break the mirror-like quality of the river as we meandered through a three kilometer stretch of varying degrees of lushness.  On the narrower portions of the river, I got the impression of being pleasantly walled-in by mangroves, some reaching upwards of probably 30-35 feet.  If we came during the sunset hour, the forest would likely be filled with birdsong but for now, we sailed in the quiet afternoon, the peace only broken by the engine's steady throbbing and the occasional trilling of a bird high up some hidden branch.  We can only see very few visible signs of settlements along the banks.
Culion - Mangroves IV
Kabulihan Lushness
The narrow waterway opens up to a sizable lake-like, brackish body of water approaching the point where the river empties to the sea.  Here's where we met up with a fisherman who earns a living from catching mud crabs.  While we weren't able to sample his catch, we were able to catch him in action -- his incredible balance and agility in riding a shallow dugout canoe and using all limbs to paddle while catching crabs or spearing fish reminding me of the fishermen in Inle Lake in Myanmar.  

Sailing back to the starting point, I cannot help but remember a similar experience, paddling by myself on a banca from Iwahig to Honda Bay then back, in Puerto Princesa a few years ago on a photo assignment for a magazine.  This waterway would be a great place to do the same or better yet use a kayak, I told Hermie, though that remains a dream for now (kayaks are expensive, tourists' numbers are still small).  At night, this becomes a destination for a firefly tour, same as in Iwahig where the trees are lit by thousands of fireflies like a forest of Christmas trees.  Now, that's something worth coming back for.
Culion - Lulo Beach Placid at Sunset
Beautiful desolation in Lele
As the rains already delayed our start, the sun was already low on the horizon when we headed west to Barangay Binudac to catch the sunset.   The beach was deserted save for kids playing under the waning sun.   Oh but there were distractions -- skittish squirrels in the trees, inquisitive kids, a friendly fellow visitor not accustomed to seeing guests, and curious dogs.  We weren't able to savor our time here as it was getting dark fast, the barangays we passed through already without electricity for two weeks now.  It was interesting to note that the small talk in our stops centered around the arrival of the larger generator from Coron but the absence of a technician to run it. 

Traveling in the darkness on a moonless night, the silhouettes of the terrain are barely visible.  But the stars shine bright, a glimpse of the cosmos draping over the province like a kilometric planetarium free of charge for all to see, a truly heavenly sight maybe only a few really appreciate nowadays.

Attribution: Facts and figures culled from the Palawan Council on Sustainable Development website. To read more, click this link.

Info:  Tourism guide Pastor Hermie Villanueva conducts walking tours of Culion town as well as trips elsewhere on the island; contact him at mobile: 0921-3947106

Culion - Museum Wall Close UpRead my other Culion chronicles here by clicking these links:  A Morning at the Museum, Reframing the Past and Putting Into Words Things Largely Unspoken


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