I was staying in Coron, Philippines for scuba diving at WW2 shipwrecks when a sailor came and stayed at the port overnight. There was only one restaurant for travelers, so we met. The next day he asked my brother and I if we would like to join him, his friend and deckhand on his boat on his way up north towards Manila, of course we agreed.
Hitting the Open Ocean
To get to Coron, we already had to fly a prop-plane to an airport that was about the size of a bus stop, so we were preparing to go completely off of the grid. One of the first things that we noticed while sailing was that, up two to three times a day, we would pass local fishermen on the ocean. Our deckhand, Eddie, would go and speak with them in local dialect, then we would lower our sail, turn our boat at a 90-degree angle away from the small fishing boats, to show that we are were not a threat, and then buy amazing fish. By buying the fish on the ocean, we would cut out middlemen to pay about USD $2-3 / pound of a variety of fresh fish.
Arriving at a Remote Island
On the way to Manila, we stopped at a beautiful remote reef, Apo Reef, for a few days, before continuing our trip north. Apo Reef was breathtaking, but by the time I saw my first island with people on it I was so excited to see civilization I just took my wallet and sandals in my hands and swam the 70 meters to the beach.
I felt like an explorer as I was greeted by three young children on the beach. I told them that I wanted to go to their market. When I got to the market, it was actually a kiosk-sized hut. Everything that was offered was in single-use packages. A bottle of shampoo was actually sold in small packets, laundry detergent, dish soap, and most other household items were the same. And, there was no fresh fruits, because the island wasn’t large enough for a farm and a supply boat only serviced the island once every few weeks. There was nothing I wanted, but I did buy a pack of local cigarettes for the captain’s friend for about $1.50.
Their Main Item for Trade was Coconuts
A restaurant that I had hoped for was non-existent, same with the ATM machine. I don’t even know if they had electricity. They did offer coconuts to us though, at the price of USD $0.14 per coconut. We bought a few too many coconuts, and to transport them to the beach for our boat, some local children, as young as 3 years old, carried the coconuts with us to the shore.
The boat captain still lives on the boat and does kitesurfing trips on his boat all the time for people visiting the Philippines. The rest of us just dream about when we will go back next. Here is a recent video from a kitesurfing trip that followed a similar path as in this article.
#1 – The infrastructure in the Philippines is really underdeveloped in many parts. Try to bring everything that you need with you wherever you go, including lots of small bills, especially while on a boat for an extended period of time. The boat was our link to modern western civilization.
#2 – Always stop to meet the local fishermen on the ocean. They are a bit like gas stations in the desert when you don’t know how long it will be until the next one, maybe a few days.