Galapagos of Asia

Trip Start Feb 10, 2013
Trip End Sep 18, 2013

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Flag of Philippines  , Visayas,
Friday, March 22, 2013

Known as the Galapagos of Asia....sounds promising, lets go there! Apparently there are hundreds of species of flora and fauna endemic to the island...great, lets definitely go there!!

Early out of Romblon, Romblon, Romblon at 7 am and on to another ferry that cruised us over to the island of Sibuyan, the further most island in the Romblon Province. We were a little unsure what to expect from the description above given in the book as we could have turned up to an island that was literally undeveloped with nowhere to stay. In fact, the guidebook did go on to say that there were no hotels on the island, only home stays which was a little worrying. We had to do a little research which turned up a few places that weren't in the book and this meant we were more comfortable just turning up at the port in Magdiwang on the north coast of the island. We had chosen to find a place local beach "haus" (spelt weird but that's how it's spelt over here!) and off the ferry we wandered over to the tricycle area. Now normally, upon seeing two tourists come off the ferry, the tricycle drivers will clamour over each other to get your business, however here we were stood with no-one even interested in us until a very nice guy invited us on to his tricycle..very strange we thought but hey ho! We told him of the beach 'haus' we wanted to frequent and he said, no problems, we just have to head into town to see the owner to check if they have any rooms. This is not uncommon so onwards we went. The road took us along a coastline of uninspiring beaches, all of which were just a little grubby and mucky rather than white sand. A couple of the beaches had some huts on them and as we passed one, the driver gestured towards it and told us this was the beach 'haus'....Lucy and I both looked at each other and instantly thought the same thing..."like hell we are staying there!" They were native huts that looked like you would be sharing it with the entire nature population of the island so a quick nod from the boss and I asked the driver to head on to a place called Sanctuary Garden Resort. He was happy to do this and geared the bike up a notch and zipped along the coastal road a few kilometres more.

We are so glad we made that decision. Pulling into the courtyard at the resort was like turning in to paradise garden. Impeccably manicured, beautifully architectured and incredibly welcoming. A description which doesn't come close to the visual and emotional beauty of this place. It is set in an enchanting garden on the side of rolling hills, carpeted in flowers and trees. Small cottages rose on stilts above the courtyard and as soon as we were off the tricycle we were welcomed by the owner with a warming smile. He was a friendly, educated and informative gentleman who spoke incredible English. We were instantly relaxed and happy we had chosen to change our minds to here. Shown up to our cottage we were even more overwhelmed by the interior and again by the entirely marble bathroom. The cottage had a small balcony at the front from which we could see the huge mountain which rose out of the centre of the island, covered in a mist that gave it an eerie yet astounding beauty.

I could talk about the resort for a lot longer but this was not the real attraction of Sibuyan. As previously mentioned, the island is know as the Galapagos of Asia. This stems from the natural beauty of the interior of the island. It is the tip of an underwater mountain, rising up out of the sea to it's pinnacle known as Mt Guiting-Guiting. The whole island is a nature reserve as stipulated by the local government, and despite it's rich plethora of marble beneath it surface, mining is banned on the island, leaving the island's richest attraction, its plants and animals, to thrive. The mountain in the middle is a formidable site from anywhere on the island. A huge behemoth of a ridge runs from the second highest point, up to its summit and is known as 'knife ridge' due to it's sharp top edge. The actual summit itself is renowned by climbers for being one of the most difficult to summit in Asia, with very few climbers actually making it. There was an option to give it a go, but with the excursion taking longer than 5 days, we decided against it (this decision obviously coupled with the fact that we would probably die even attempting it!) and put together a plan to visit the rest of Sibuyans magic. Sat at dinner of wonderful fresh and local Philippino food we had a plan..early night and then some real explorer stuff!

Wait, I forgot to introduce two new friends to you. David and J-R. Our arrival at the resort had spurned some interest from two of the resorts permanent residents and as they rattled their cage we couldn't help but go over and see what the commotion was... in a cage where two Philippine Macaques, monkeys found only in this country. Initial thoughts were obviously of sadness that these two were locked up on an island so abundant with natural habitats, however, there was a large sign above the cage, coupled with several photos, that explained the situation. Here is their story:

When they were very young (a few days) a farmer had shot their mother. This sounds sad but the monkeys can cause havoc to crops so farmers have the right to humanely defend their livelihood, not for sport, but to ensure survival of their families. When the farmer went to check out the monkey, he found that she had two babies and brought them to the Sanctuary Garden Resort to be taken care of. One had severe eye and hand injuries and both were incredibly young and vulnerable so the manager at the resort nurtured them and raised them to health. They were given baths, had their teeth cleaned and put in nappies to sleep in, both no bigger than a kitten! Gradually they gained strength and were old enough to be released, however, and as expected, they were incredibly vulnerable in the wild and now rather house trained so the local sanctuary governing body decided that they would be safer and happier under the care of the resorts owner and granted adoption certificates. Now they are two years old, not even fully grown and having a right old time at the resort, meeting new people everyday, loving all the attention and being cared for and looked after in a safe environment. They are still taken out for walks in the local forests but are so fond of their carers that they are let off their leads to have a run around but as soon as the carer starts to walk off they run after him, holding his legs! Apparently they are afraid to be on their own!! They enjoy watching the National Geographic channel, enjoy ice-cream, the occasional sip of red wine and are afraid of snakes! What a lovely feeling to know they are cared for and happy and very easy to chat to and play with, although J-R isn't keen on women!

Anyway, the plan was to hit some of the beauty of Sibuyan and the first thing we found out was that the island has over 40 waterfalls so we really wanted to check these out. The first morning we hired two bikes from the resort and cycled 8kms along the coastal road to get to the most accessible waterfall in the area. The road itself actually rotated from cement to dirt road (by dirt road I mean rocky and dusty pathway) and back to cement quite freely, making the ride actually quite brutal....especially considering the temperature was well into the 30s! Nevertheless we took our time and arrived at a little hut with a local lady sitting in it. Locked up the bikes and went over to say hello and pay the entry fee. For locals it is 20pesos, for native tourists it was 30pesos but for foreign visitors it was 100pesos! Remember I told you about a difference between Philippino and American prices... this never really is an issue though as when in a location such as Sibuyan, all the money goes back into the community to ensure the upkeep and preservation of the island. So donation made and we began a little walk through the jungle to the waterfall, and were treated to a most incredible sight. Nothing like the waterfall in Puerta Galera, this was like a scene out of a shampoo advert. Any alterations had been made to look completely natural and a small pool sat underneath a cascade of water flowing down, surrounded by towering trees and plants with the sun cascading through onto the crystal clear water...did i mention it was totally deserted? We had the entire place to ourselves for hours, it was bliss. The heat had made us tired and sweaty but the air was so cool coming off the water there was only one thing to do...jump was like an ice bath, instantly cooling us down to a relaxed state of bliss. And there we stayed, sitting, swimming and relaxing in paradise. Just look at the pictures, I can't really put it into words!

We eventually decided to get moving as it was quite late afternoon by this point and incredibly relaxed we un chained the bikes, having to fight off some of the biggest ants I've ever seen, and began our short but bumpy ride back to the resort. On our way back we were greeted by every single local we passed (this also happened on the way!) and every woman, girl and old lady smiled and said "hello, what'd your name? Where are you going?" and every man and boy greeting me with the cry, "Hey Joe!". I had read about this in the book but this was the first place I really encountered it to this extent. The term Joe is used or any white foreign male, a term left over from the war when the American soldiers were referred to as Joes. Some have asked if I find this offensive however to me it is like someone saying, "hey visitor!" so not really. The locals were so happy to welcome us even three lads on a motorbike shot past us and we heard cries of, "Hey Joe! Are you having fun?!" Back at the resort we were so relaxed and an added bonus of cable TV meant we could chill out in the cool air and watch a film, excited about our next day.

The following morning we thought we would take advantage of the resorts surroundings and walked up the hill into the flower gardens enveloping the resort. From here you could see the coast in one direction and the other direction a view of G2 (the islands mountain) although it was covered in some cloud but still a wonderful view. A stroll down into the flower gardens found us amongst a collection of wonderful orchids, bamboos and much much more native flora, all planted and raised by the resort and more impressively, all labelled! It was a plethora of colours and shapes of plants and flowers we had never seen before, some only found on the island of Sibuyan. Another magical area that put us in a state of total awe at the natural beauty of this island. A little tired from the previous days cycling we decided that a nice relaxed afternoon with the monkeys and a wander around the local village was in order and as we ambled through peoples back yards, followed by children and yelps of "Hey Joe", Sibuyan began to settle in our hearts as a place of wander and welcome.

Day three proved to be even more exciting, interesting and special as the previous two. Again, we hired some bikes as we had read about another waterfall, not too far from the town which was situated near the resort. We had to build ourselves up for it as the cycle to the town was 5kms and then another 6kms to the start of the hike up to the waterfall... it was going to be a little tough with the heat and dirt roads. A map under our arm and we set on our way..after some of the most bizarre instructions ever heard. The instructions told us to cycle along the road after the town. Then once we found a fork in the road, turn right and continue until you find the house of the one legged man (no joking! Its like something out of a pirate book). Once here we could ask a local child to guide us along the one hour hike to get to the waterfalls. Seems simple, if not a little fantasy land with "the house of the one legged man", but once we found the fork, we went left..oops..and found ourselves going the wrong way and had to ask some locals who were sat in the shade at the side of the road where we went wrong. Obviously the told us we turned the wrong direction at the fork... so a sheepish about turn and we had to walk the bikes back along the unfavorable road we had just walked them along until we got to the fork again and this time, turned the right direction....which was now actually left....basically we went the way we should have gone!

A few more kms on the bike and we could not find this one legged mans house, let alone the one legged man, but we continued on until we came across a group of kids sitting around, one of which stood up and said (as expected) "Hey Joe, you want to go to the waterfalls?" Amazing, yes please! He was maybe 12 or 13 years old and him and his mate walked us a bit further down the road to a house with some old locals playing cards. We locked up the bikes here and we were off. These two kids were scampering along the pathways, through rice fields and across rivers like they were walking on tarmac. We managed to keep up (just) and the hike took us through wide open rice paddies, across flowing rivers, through jungle thick and dense and across expansive grazing fields. As the jungle became thicker and the pathways became steeper we knew we were nearing our destination and eventually after much strenuous walking and hiking, we came out on to a stunning and deserted waterfall. We decided to get right to the top and the two lads shot right up the side of the waterfalls like squirrels up a tree....a little more clambering over rocks and we stood at the very top of the waterfalls looking down over a sight that took our breaths away...the water slalomed down the rocks at high speed into various pools and crevices. Where we were stood was a crystal clear pool of ice cold fresh water, flowing down from the mountain top, glistening and shimmering from the sunlight. There was only one thing for it....JUMP IN!!! Words can't describe how refreshing it was but understand that I instantly became more refreshed than I had ever been in my life! The hike to get here was arduous and tiring, especially after a difficult bike ride but this very moment was worth every drop of sweat and every sore muscle. We swam, sat, shared water with the boys and swam some more until we knew we had to leave this beautiful moment behind and begin the trek back down.

Eventually we arrived back at the house (which I am guessing belongs to a one legged man) and headed off on our cycle back to the resort. As we reached the fork in the road which had caused us so much trouble in the first place, we noticed a small boy dragging what looked like a length of rope behind him, possibly a toy? Nope, as we passed we had to stop in wonder as we realised he was dragging a dead 12ft snake behind him....dinner maybe? I was too tired to really find out but what a sight!

Finally back at the resort after a very long and tiring day we marvelled in the sheer beauty we had experienced on the island of Sibuyan. Not only in it's natural surroundings and the endemic species that habitate them, but also the beauty of it's human inhabitants and the wonder that they create to add to the fantasy of the island.

What a place, what an experience and what the hell are we going to do to top it? I'm sure the next experience is just round the corner and after another evening of wonderful fresh Philipino food (particularly Sisig) and playtime with David and JR we retired to our slumber, ready to head off to the fourth and final Island in the group, Carabao....

Until next time

Ari Na Ko

Da Perkins
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david ellis on

Brilliantly described Henry, just wish we were there. You dont really need me to say this but I do hope you are both savouring every moment of this amazing trip it sounds incredible. As you say just when you think it cant get any better it does. Lots of love from the Ellis family. Have fun!

perkins2013 on

Thank you, so glad your enjoying the blog! We are of course savouring every moment together, having such a lovely time here :)

Alex B on

I'm glad you wrote about JR and David at Sanctuary Garden. Isn't that just touching? The whole place is amazing and I'm glad to read about it. You see, I worked with the owners 2 years ago. Two things I suggested that they could do to enhance the experience is putting the story of David and JR so people can read. It was disconcerting when I first saw them in the cage. Next one is tag your flowers and trees, among them the 32 varieties of hibiscus. Yes Sanctuary Garden is a little gem. I had a similar cottage as yours, and the marble bathroom slays me.

Btw., 5 months in the Philippines and you missed one of my favourite places, Batanes up north. It's like no other place in the country - the stone houses, the people, the fantastic sea and landscape.


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