This is an authorized translation in English of a post in French by @marc-allaria: PHILIPPINES - Stop#5- L'ARCHIPEL DES BACUITS...!
As my primary language is not English, there are probably some mistakes in my translation.
Remember that the person who speaks here is NOT me, Vincent Celier (@vcelier), but Marc Allaria (@marc-allaria), a French guy.
The Bacuit Archipelago
Two days and two nights at sea, 15-minute sleep sessions, night slaloms among the many fishing boats, the radar on alert, I fall asleep in ten seconds and wake up with astonishing regularity two minutes before each of the ringtones of my alarm clock, the night will have been difficult. The day rises and the island of Palawan illuminates Aurora's bow. The last stop on my Filipino journey, Palawan is also my last opportunity to consider with a little more optimism the quality of the country's underwater world.
What's more captivating than finding in the middle of a uniform scenery a geological peculiarity concentrated on a few kilometers? El Nido, a small cocoon gathering a few thousand souls in the heart of the Bacuit archipelago, is the entry point of a surprising formation of rocks. Made famous in France by the television program "Koh-Lanta", whose goal, I recall, was to put the candidates in survival mode about two km from a crowded village of supermarkets and restaurants, El Nido has become a seaside resort living at the pace of a tourist flow now well established. But in June, Alleluia, it is the beginning of the wet season. The tanks fill up, the hotels are empty, and the tranquility is poured back again in the alleys of the village as well as in all the corners of the archipelago.
From fishing to tourism
Guardians of swallow's nests
Cliffs made aggressive by a cutting rock, added to that a verticalness guaranteeing them an almost impossible access, we understand then quickly that the only ones who can pretend to regularly access these islands are our feathered friends. Among them, a species of "swifts", commonly called "swallows" (Why ?!), with the ability to secrete mucus for the design of their nests. The particularity of this mucus is to display the price of 200 000 php/kg (= 3300 €/kg) in the markets of traditional Chinese cuisines. At this price, it will be understood quickly that the owners of concessions do not hesitate to afford the luxury of "guardians of nests" royally paid 80 to 100 € per month. These guards are responsible for staying days and nights near the concession and to prevent unwanted visits. A mattress in the hollow of a rock, a cabin on one of the few beaches, or real small houses surprisingly fixed on the walls of the cliffs, their places of life seem surreal. Ramon and Aton, aged 15 and 17, have to stay 60 days in a cabin set 10 m above the sea. A rope to access the terrace, another to hoist the canoe, a bench on the ground as a bed, the picture of Miss beer 2009 displayed on woven walls and soon rotten, a corner of rock to isolate half a barrel used for cooking, this is the home of these two young guardians, happy to have a job. They live in the small village of Coron-coron located three hours of oar where one of them goes from time to time to seek water and food. Fishing, cigarettes and forced weight lifting, are the main distractions on this terrace with breathtaking views. Highest activity today, Aurora's visit. The tea is served, the packets of biscuits are consumed at high speed, and their eyes let me guess how could shine my eyes when in my turn I visited their house so particular. A meeting, short exchanges, everyone separates, everyone is happy, easy and sufficient.
House of Swallow's Nest Guardians
Sea and cliffs
Two hundred meters of prominent cliff to the left, two hundred meters of prominent cliff to the right, thirty-five meters of water under the hull, an intense blue, the anchorage in the corridor between Tapiutan Island and Matinloc gives the desire to climbing up the mast, and addressing Mother Nature to shout "Thank you Madaaam ... !!" That being done, a small trip in a kayak to discover this place, where I seem to be the only individual of my species at this early hour, is quite natural. The silence is captivating, the cliffs aspire to respect and the colors to wonder. On the walls, the vegetation fights to introduce its roots into a rock that would be difficult to break with a mass. Here everything is sharp: the stone, the foliage of the vegetation, and the mosquitoes! Some beaches are discovered at the bend of a rock bringing a little sweetness and access to land to these idyllic places. The water is crystalline, the hunters of the aurora whip the surface in their races with the juvenile fish. Blue and gray dominate the tone of the place. I feel good. To crown it all, in this place where I feel so lonely, the Internet has invited me on board and allows me to make this place, the most beautiful business office in the world.
I resume my "work" schedule. Get up at dawn, morning dive, computer treatment of my photos, writing ... One would think that in this perfect setting, perfection would have no trouble immersing itself under the surface. So I run with the greatest optimism, following my instinct, the hazardous exploration having often been a success for me. Today my instinct has betrayed me. Under the water everything was shaved, relatively cloudy, and flat. Small mistake reading relief, I thought then. Yes but yesterday and the day before yesterday it was the same thing ... So, I fill my frustration with macro photography. In this kind of conditions, sea anemones and nudibranchs are always very present, and give a little smile to places marked by suffering. The scheme is classic, dynamite and cyanide destroyed everything here.
One of the rare coral tables
Saved by tourism
So, signed with a "K" which means Koh-Lanta, a big audience show, (unfortunately) has arrived. At the same time millions of people, mostly European and especially French, have become acquainted with this superb place. Tourist attendance then exploded, the fishermen's canoes were converted into public transport canoes, and to occupy all this beautiful world, some diving clubs were created without having real beauties to visit. At the same time, understanding that fish in the shop window is more profitable than salted dried fish, protected areas have emerged and continue to be developed. Guards have been placed in all corners of the archipelago, porcelain blocks have been placed on the bottoms to better retain the coral, and in some well-defined places, the underwater life resumes its normal activity. The recipe works. So the question is not whether or not we can give life back to the planet, the question is, as always, whether it will pay enough to do it. And yes, the protection of the environment has become, as well as transportation, communication or tourism, a consumer product that is operated when it is considered profitable. But the essential is there: on a few hundred square meters, the underwater landscape is again correct.
From an underwater point of view, this stop will not have brought an adequate response to the pessimistic speech which was woven in my head since my arrival in the country. But if we forget this parameter which perhaps holds me a little too much to heart, it will remain for sure value, the Bacuit archipelago is simply one of the most beautiful places that I had the chance to visit. The sun goes down, the sky blushes, a canoe plays with the shadows, tomorrow it will be necessary to leave again ...
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