Sun, Sea and Sand !
Easter and by that it was time for our traditional (twice makes tradition, right ?) annual family trip with my sister and her closest. In the planning period we had been looking for a nice beach, a swimming pool nearby, diving and good flight connections from both Korea and Taiwan. Perhentian Islands in Malaysia did it for us last year (maybe except the good flight connections), and this year we quickly zoomed in on the Philippines. Boracai and Alona Beach were out of the equation as Inge&Tamas had been to Boracai and we already knew Alona. El Nido in Palawan was really the dream destination, but with no flight connection, we decided to go for Busuanga in the Northern Palawan province instead.
It took a lot of web research to come up with acceptable accommodation for us. It being Easter week the available selection was not so big, but we found what looked like a nice Philippino all-inclusive sea side resort which I was quite keen on and another land-locked resort which appealed to all of us. So we booked 3 days at Majika's and 4 days at La Natura and hoped for the best!
Friday April 22nd after work we took a cab to the airport express bus stop. Friday traffic ... aarrrggghhhh ! What should have taken 25 minutes took one hour and when we finally arrived, we were told that there were no more buses for that day. More aarrrggghhh !! So another taxi to the airport (which actually only took the same time as the first taxi ride). There on time, we were told that the plane was 1 hour late ... triple aarrggghhh !!! And only one restaurant open, and guess what ?? the food was aarrrggghhh !!!!
OK - so not the best start to the vacation, but from there it could only get better. We landed at 2am and went straight to our hotel, The Wine Museum. The poor security guard was "the new girl" as he shyly told us, so he had absolutely no clue! Couldn't get the AC to work so we got another room instead. Next morning we found out that the room with the broken AC was later given to Inge&Tamas when they arrived at 6am. A shame about this hassle in an otherwise nice guest house.
In the morning we met up with Inge, Tamas, Sofie and Miklos for breakfast before heading off for our noon flight to Busuanga. Again Cebu Pacific air managed to leave one hour late, but the kids did really well in the crowded departure lounge. Even after all the travelling the night before.
White sand beaches ahead!
Flying in to Busuanga we had our first glimpse of what was waiting for us. Beautiful white sand beaches, blue and emerald waters and what looked like great diving/snorkelling reefs. We were excited. One would think that with the poor luck we had experienced in Korea and Manila, country side Busuanga would be an even bigger logistic challenge, but quite the opposite. Once we had set foot on the island all our worries disappeared and things just seemed to happen effortlessly! Majika's were already at the airport waiting for us and brought us to a small pier in the mangroves half an hour from the airport where their boat was waiting for us. 25 minutes later we walked in to the restaurant at Majika's where the welcome drink and late lunch was already served.
Daddy's telephone from last century was still a hit with Miklos at this time. It didn't take long for him to find other healthier interests such as coconut hunting, shell collecting and swimming :-)
Deep in the mangrove ... transfer from van to boat
Maybe it looks nice in the photo but I am not sure this is easy to live this close to the mangroves
Out there somewhere lies our hotel for the next 3 nights!
We had expected to have to rough it a little at Majika's but this was not at all the case. The "resort" definitely has a strong philippino feel and there is none of the 5-star extras (which we try to avoid anyway) - what they did have was comfortable cabins, a small dive center, a nice communal/bar/billiard area and lovely staff. We felt right at home from the beginning.
The "resort" is located on a beach on Apo island, but as it is squeezed in between the mangroves, the owners don't recommend swimming from the beach. A few of the other guests did go for a swim there and were stung by jellyfish. We decided to head out to the floating pontoon by the reef for a bit of snorkelling. No problem - the boat was ours when we needed it !
Last year the kids were only just starting to snorkel, but this year they caught on quickly. Tamas and i would take one each and swim with them over the reef. Whenever they would need a little support, they would climb on to our backs. This worked well when we were with mask and snorkels but not so well if we were just swimming around. Then we would struggle to stay afloat. But back to the kids - this year they were going everywhere and weren't afraid of the fish. Although neither Inge or the kids liked it when the sergeant majors were nipping at them!
As the beach at Majika's isn't a swimming beach, they include day trips in their all inclusive rates. So next day we got on their banca and headed for Pass Island. After a couple of hours we reached this bounty island. Picture perfect ..... great white sand beach and a colourful reef starting right from the water's edge. Of course I got carried away and stayed out for over one hour, leaving the back of my legs raw ! Easy to spot where the sunscreen had been applied and where it had been missed !
When out of the water we watched Tamas open a coconut (yes - it does take a really long time ...), had lunch or climbed the small island hill. This was exactly what we had come for !
Approaching Pass Island
Looking towards Busuanga and Coron Bay
Sofie getting ready for a sea safari
Inge - this time with prescription goggles so she could actually see what was nipping at her feet !
Paula and Sofie at the Pass Island hill
Maczak the jester
Banana fritters - almost as popular as the succulent mangoes !
Sunset at Majika's
Next day we did the boat-trip thing again, but this time with a twist ... Tamas and I added a morning dive on the Japanese shipwreck Morazan Maru, sunk on September 24th 1944. Actually she was an English built ship sold for trade in central America and captured by the Japanese in 1941 where after it was used as a cargo vessel for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Now she is a great and fairly straightforward wreck with some easy penetration through the cargo holds and engine room. As it was just Tamas, me and the guide, we had a relaxing dive and a good introduction to wreck diving for Tamas. Could have used a torch though ... it was pretty dark in there.
The Morazan Maru is heavily encrusted in corals
Spot the fish ....
The girls and Miklos had been waiting for us on the boat and after the dive we continued to the Lusong wreck and Coral garden. The Lusong wreck is an old gunboat or submarine hunter lying very shallow, thus allowing for snorkellers to enjoy the abundant marine life on the wreck. It is rare to have these wrecks within snorkelling range and I think we all enjoyed the experience - especially the non-divers who don't normally come across wrecks. Coral Garden was snorkelling site No. 2. It was really a coral garden. I was pleasantly surprised at how healthy the reefs were. And how accessible they were for snorkelling. There wasn't much to come for in terms of large pelagics, but lots of small fish and very colourful coral.
The Lusong wreck
Only the hull remains but it lies in a very comfortable depth for snorkelling
Tamas and Sofie on the Lusong
After lunch at Majika's we went out to another nearby sunken gunboat for more snorkelling. This wreck lies a bit deeper and was therefore not such a good site for most of us. I was gradually getting into the freediving zone, so I could make a few trips down to the wheelhouse at 10-12m, but the kids probably didn't get much out of this wreck. Next site was better ... back to Majika Reef which we had visited the day before.
We snorkelled the East Tangat and the Lusong. Tamas and I dived the Morazan Maru and the Olympia Maru
In the evening we climbed the hill behind the resort with Tamas. The view was amazing and as the sun set the bay turned golden ...
From the hill behind Majika's
Paula and Tamas
A friendly Australian guest took this photo for us - Inge and the kids were too lazy for physical excercise
Majika's just to the right of the mangroves, East Tangat wreck at the left side of the facing island and Majika reef by the little speck in front of the small island in the bay to the right (does that make any sense ???)
Next day was our last day at Majika. Unfortunately - we had become accustomed to the constant flow of banana fritters, unlimited mangoes and fresh (I mean really fresh) coconuts, which Junior would athletically pick from the palm trees whenever the kids were coco-hungry. I can't recommend Majika's enough. We felt so at home and the all inclusive deal made everything hassle-free. Tamas and I spent the last morning diving the Olympia Maru. This is another japanese cargo vesel sunk during the air raid in 1944. A bit deeper than the Morazan but also better. And lying upright on the sea bed. This was a really nice dive with some tight swim-throughs.
Tamas in one of the cargo holds of the Olympia Maru
In the bow section
On the safety stop after 30 minutes at 30 meters.
Back dry and high, we checked out the Majika pier - Tamas and Miklos by kayak and the rest of us by foot. Poor Sophie fell through one of the missing boards on the rickety bridge and got a big scare. Luckily she managed to hang on and didn't fall all the way through. Kind of reminded me of Inge when she got stuck in the hay conveyor when we were young at the farm..... had to be bathed in brown soap to get her out !
The Majika Pier with Tamas and Miklos waiting for us - they had taken the kayak there
... or whatever you call this spider-boat. Tamas and Sofie
Now a few island portraits - first Miklos
On the Majika boat we were transported the 1-2 hours to Coron town. We had book the last 4 nights at another resort near the village - just to be a little more connected. Surprise surprise when we had to travel 20 minutes into the jungle on a tricycle (all 8 of us). Not so connected after all. The end of the trip revealed a walled compound very different from what we had expected. I heard Inge mention that she hadn't booked any concentration camp, but once inside the high wall we were good. Again we were blessed with friendly staff and this time we had a swimming pool !!! The cabins were great and overall we became quite fond of the place - only downside was the food, which let us down more than once. And it's not like there were any options close by!
La Natura - the kids in the pool and the adults chilling in the sun chairs. Nothing out of the ordinary there ....
On Busuanga there aren't so many beaches and tourists are pretty much forced to do boat trips to get to the beaches and reefs. But it is no hassle at all and for me it's actually an advantage as I love being on the sea. First day out we went to Siete Picados for snorkelling together with all the other tourists (!), then Kayangan Lake with the most fantastic approach through a maze of islands. The lake itself is a dive site but most tourists go there for swimming or snorkelling. The water is transparent and the sea scape quite interesting. It reminded me of Lord of the Rings at times. Lunch was a Viviens Beach (Vivien is the caretaker) - a beautiful small cove on Coron Island.
We were told that the port authorities were really strict, so we had to put on life jackets. We didn't really believe that anybody could not be relaxed in this place, but we wore the life jackets anyway.
I've learned a thing or two from the Koreans ... e.g. how to protect yourself from the sun !
Coron Island is equally spectacular from afar and up close.
Kayangan Lake. Should have brought my underwater camera...
Picture perfect (the view ... not Tamas, although Inge may disagree !)
Leaving Kayangan Lake through the maze....
... towards open sea (kinda)
Paula's new Facebook profile picture.
Miklos being SILLY!
Lunch at Vivien's ???
Sofie and Inge bathing at Vivien's
After lunch we went to Barracuda Lake, which is quite similar to Kayangan .. just with less tourists. The kids had no problems swimming/snorkelling around in 20m deep transparent water. Well done ! The day trip ended with with snorkelling at twin Peaks, where Tamas and I spent an hour circling one of the islands. This place was really good with a couple of turtles and two barracudas - our first and also to be our only.
Approaching the entrance to Barracuda Lake
The Maczaks in Barracuda Lake
A tricycle for 8 ...
Evening at the pool with the kids and a cold beer when we ran out of energy! Paula loves the pool, so we decided to take a day off and just stay at the pool while the Maczaks went to the hot springs and yet another beach. Our last full day in Busuanga was to be enjoyed in full with a trip to Banana and Malcapuya Islands. Two hours on our private boat (we had used the same boat crew on all our days at La Natura) and we reached a picture perfect beach. Smaller than Pass island and busier but still far from crowded. The reef was right there 10m from the water's edge, so snorkelling couldn't be easier. Miklos had decided not to get wet this day so he kept Paula company in the shade (after discovering the pool at La Natura he had decided that sea water was "disgusting"!). I think that Paula had had enough by this time also, but there was still one more island on the itinerary - Malcapuya. Malcapuya has a larger beach than Banana island, but the snorkelling is further out and less accessible. But good once you get out there. I saw 4-5 sting rays, squid and various file fish. May not be ridiculously exhilarating but quite pleasant none the less. A NICE way to end our island hopping in Busuanga/Coron.
Not a bad view - Banana Island
Baywatch ! (Malcapuya Island)
Miklos went from loving the snorkelling to hating sea water in one day !
Sofie on the other hand was quite the water-girl!
Almost diving ....
Lots of life on the reef
Blue-spotted stingray - wasn't quick enough on the trigger to get a shot of it swimming in the open
Next day we went to the airport with Inge, Tamas, Sophie and Miklos, as they were headed to Cashew Grove for another 4 days, while we were heading back to Korea (they did not like Cashew Grove and returned to La Natura after one day!). Long and difficult goodbyes - had again managed to fool the kids into liking Uncle Peder and Auntie Paula! We will be missing our yearly Easter trip next year when the Maczaks will be back in Bruxelles.
OK - lots of photos already, but here is the slide show with all of them: