Some ventures off the island

Before I started these island development projects, the idea came to me to start an island hopping enterprise. A country of 7,107 islands, about a thousand of which are in my area alone. A calm area and more affluent part of the country, with honest folks, little crime and no typhoons. The dream was to explore them myself, equipped with portable solar panels (I expected none or next to no electricity in the villages I planned to visit, but was told there is a mobile signal everywhere), and fill in a database of contact numbers to local fishermen who could take guests to their next destination, while teaching the new homestays how to properly service them. A truly rural experience, with a map users can click on as they plan their route from one island village to the next. Once they made payment, the website would send them all the details and contact information along the path they selected.

portable-solar

Will update pic when I get back to camp, but purchased three of these from a forest ranger in the US who made these himself for his own needs and then started to sell them online. 60W each, folds up into very compact and light units, waterproof and pretty durable.

But since I stumbled on my own island project, which I considered much more interesting, I decided to make the island hopping a side venture, even though it has generated significantly more income than from paying guests visiting my paradise. But it was something I could easily manage through the internet and a text message to the various boat operators.

I was invited on a few trips with my main boat operator, Benji, but better safe than sorry and I began to slowly accumulate others. One such tour I had organised was for a Japanese girl and her boyfriend. Since it was such a small crew, I decided on trying out, for the first time, Henkey’s larger boat. But because I haven’t used him yet for such a service and because I felt it needed some supervision and training, I decided to join them, to make sure everything ran smoothly.

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One of Henkey’s boats, laden from one of my big fat moves to the new island.

This coincided with two female German volunteers who were on their way, and one Italian paying guest (who was so gracious as to bring, on my request, deluxe parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, which I greedily devoured myself). They were headed up from the same direction, so I came to an agreement with the Japanese couple for us to join them to reduce their costs. But when the crew arrived in their larger boat, the Japanese girl was aghast that it was too small and worried about the big waves. Meanwhile, on my request, she had brought a new battery-operated drill from Japan, to replace the one that was stolen from Patoyo before I moved to the new island, but on opening the package I learned they use a 110V system in Japan. This will require the purchase of yet another inverter (due to my paranoia, I now own about 5). They told me I can keep the deposit and went back to El Nido, so me, the Italian and the two Germans had a slightly discounted boat tour back to the island.

I boarded Henkey’s boat with his crew of three (son, daughter and her husband) and we made our way southbound to pick them up. We waited in San Fernando for the usual Filipino delay, during which time the local coast guard gleaned me of information, and once he found out my boat crew had no permit for such a service, I secretly whispered to them to make their way south to Sibaltan, where I will direct my new guests once their bus arrives.

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More party mayhem in Pical.

We launch the tour and the first stop, as part of my suggested itinerary, is Pical, where I had the usual pleasure to party with Arcenas again. It was a great party, but the crew were not interested in joining while the wife moaned and groaned that she could not wait to get back home to breastfeed her baby.

I’ve always had a great time in Pical and with Arcenas who, like Benji his good friend, loves the local brandy. It just so happened to be Christmas and an appreciated diversion from my lonesome self back on my island.

I brought my African drum to the festivities and was seated next to Arcenas, the village’s captain, at the head table. Rather boring for the first few hours as everyone in the village took turns going up on stage to give a speech or entertain the other guests in a language we did not understand, but eventually the DJ disco man turned on his performance and the rest hit the dance floor.

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Due to all the business I have been sending him, Arcenas’s
massive operations is expanding and spilling over onto the beachfront property.

As usual, when I have my drum and a few shots of brandy, I sink into rhythmic meditation and fraternise with the locals until around four in the morning, when a scuffle breaks out. Seems the atmosphere has been overly electric and one boy is jealous of another. The little scuffle quickly breaks out into an all out brawl, almost. With my martial arts training and significant size advantage, I choose to sit idly at my table, not budging an inch. When all of a sudden, Arcenas, the village captain and the tallest and largest of them all (my height I’d say), appears in his gleaming white pajamas brandishing a metal pole. Swinging it from side to side like a sword and hollering out commands in Tagalog.

The air stands still for a moment, as he gazes intently from person to person. Eventually his eyes hit mine as I sat there calmly, watching the show, he gives me a nod, continues his surveillance of the rest of the clan, tells the DJ to shut it down and we all go off to bed.

The next day the boat crew asks us what the plan is, but when I tell them, the daughter groans, “Another island??” They do not seem to understand my business objectives.

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Camping out with the Italian dude and German girls on Takling.

We arrive to Calibangbangan, near to Takling island (where we intend to camp overnight), and do some business in terms of looking for a place where future guests can tank up on restaurant food and explore the mainland before retiring for the evening on the island. After all, the whole point of such a tour is to provide variety. To rush straight to Takling, a completely deserted island, can result in a totally boring evening.

We try a few places in calabingbangbong but all the locals we approach are worried they do not have a permit to serve tourists. At 30,000p a year for such a permit (about $700), it is not a worthwhile venture for them. Even though I find a great tree on the shore with a shady hut and large table which could easily be served by the private home adjoining it, the owners look at us like aliens and decline my invitation for future business.

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Takling

On Takling we make the usual campfire on paradise beach, to which I bring my musical instruments while the daughter groans to the side on the beach, waiting for the dreaded experience to be over. After Takling there is one other island I want to stop by, but since I fell asleep on the boat, the crew took the opportunity to b-line their way straight home – and karaoke it is again for the evening.

On another occasion, I had three girls struggling to get to my island from Coron. I ask Henkey a few times if he would be interested in picking them up, offering 7,000p (about $140), which is a fair deal for his sized boat. He and his son agree, but when we arrived at his house, lunch becomes a priority and Filipino time takes precedence. Eventually, I confront them and point out that time is running short and that, if they really want to take the task, they should have left several hours ago. At which point they change their minds and decline the offer.

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Holding some bizarre, prehistoric animal in front of Henkey’s house
while a neighbour’s eagle pet watches precariously in the background.

The third time I try to use his service for these extended boat tours, his son shows up three hours late in his small boat (we agreed he would always use their bigger, safer boat for these extended journeys), by which time my guests decide to abandon the wait and go for lunch. Once he finds them they explain they are not ready to go, but after lunch they find him cooking rice and not ready to depart for another hour and a half. Once the “tour” launches, he passes all the stops I instructed him about and makes a b-line straight for his home. When the guests ask if they can see some other beaches in the area, Mark, the son, tries to charge extra. Once at his home, when the guests ask what there is to do in the area, he replies “nothing,” and walks away.

It seems that many locals, as do many Asians in general, perceive foreigners as walking ATM machines and have no clue about providing a service in exchange for the payment. I consider Henkey and his family great people and my close friends, but business is something separate and I have had to boycott their service until we can sit down so I can explain, again, how it works, and they reimburse the last guests for his catastrophic service.

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Local boys serenading to the German girls in Pical.

Problems have arisen with other providers as well, as they collude with one another to incrementally increase their price every time I send them new guests. So I play them against one another, possibly bring in a third party, and starve them into submission. I know that the prices I offer are fair and that they are only acting out of short-sighted greed. This becomes another front in my battles to make my intensions here successful.

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