Linapacan? Never heard of it!
Linapacan is the small archipelego between Coron Busuanga and Palawan mainland. Coron Busuanga, Culion Island, Linapacan and Iloc Island are part of the Palawan province of the Philippines; and it is a truly stunning area.
Off the main drag, Linapacan is not a common tourist destination, especially for those with limited time to explore the more inaccessible parts of the 54 islands in its domain.
Getting to Linapacan
After much research and deliberation on our journey, we decided to try and take a cargo boat from Coron to Linapacan, and if we couldn’t find one at the harbour (because there aren’t always delivery boats every day), we would take the ferry the next day (buying the 800 peso ticket from the pier in the morning). Luckily for us, a friendly trike driver helped us locate a boat picking up goods. The cargo boat eventually left at noon (giving us a solid three hours to get to know fellow passengers as we all waited) and arrived at the island around 5pm. They charged us 500 pesos each. It was worth it not only for the little bit of money saved (no time saved) but also for the contacts we had made on the boat during the journey.
On the boat to Linapacan there were six passengers and four crew. One passenger turned out to be quite fluent in English and held the prestigious position of Barangay Counsellor (a local government official of San Miguel, Linapacan), which elevated his status greatly in the eyes of the Filipinos here. His name is Monmon (said “Mawn Moon”) and he convinced us to come to his island instead of going to San Miguel (the main city on Linapacan). He said that his friend “had a cottage” where we could stay (price unknown), that there was good snorkelling on their reef and that he would feed us.
Why not? So, of course we agreed and we got off the boat with him at the tiny Inapupuan Island (15 minutes north of Linapacan by fishing boat). The low expectations of our detour served us well and made it more exciting to discover a whole village that was excited to have tourists in their midst. The ‘cottage’ was actually an open bamboo hut on the beach, with a only a roof, a table and a bench. There was also an outdoor ‘bathroom’ where we could wash (in buckets) and use the long-drop under the stars (with some draughty bamboo walls for privacy). The owner of the hut (a 19-year old smiling girl) cooked a huge portion of fish and rice for us and carefully watched us eat every last drop by solar lamp.
CULTURE TIP: It seems that in this part of the Philippines it was expected that we as guests eat first, while everyone watches us and prompts us to eat as much as we possibly can in one sitting. The elders then ate what we left, and then the others tucked in. It was quite something to get used to people literally staring at every mouthful we took and not being willing to let us eat an appropriate-sized portion but insisting on piling up our plates at every meal; sometimes filling our plates for us despite our pleas that we were full to the brim. [Thank goodness we swam for a few hours each day to keep those calories from sewing our clothes smaller during the night!]
We slept on the table in our trusty duvet cover, fighting off only a few mosquitoes, but enjoying the breeze and the bright stars above. Like the birds, we woke up in true island style to the call of the confused roosters (sometimes all night), the dogs and villagers waking up with the sunrise; and the fishing boats returning from their morning expeditions. This area is known for its squid-fishing industry, which are collected between 5pm and 5am every night on boats with about eight lights shining on the water to attract the luminous-spotted ink-makers large and small.
Inapupuan is apparently famous for dried mini squid (about a hand’s length) and we saw them laying out the squid at sunrise to dry for two days. After this, it is sold to traders in San Miguel (like BRC hotel), who send it on to the Manila markets about twice a week. A kilogram of mini dried squid sells at about 120 pesos, and the large dried squid at about 300 pesos per kilogram (much more than the measly 37 pesos per kilogram they get for the cashew nuts that come in from a few of the islands).
The next morning we jumped in for a snorkel (the reef is only 30 metres offshore) and unfortunately met with an array of sparkling jellyfish, which quickly redirected us back to our beach hut nursing a few little stings (nothing major). A great pity indeed as the reef looked amazing through the clear blue water off the boats. Inapupuan, we will have to come and see your reef again!
Monmon’s brother kindly ferried us to the next island on his (tiny) fishing boat, as we had read about staying on Patoyo Island (right opposite San Miguel – about 10 minutes on a boat). He dropped us on the beach with our bags and waved goodbye as he took Monmon back to his job across the bay in San Miguel. We followed our noses to a village (called Osun), asked a couple of people where we could stay and secured a spare bed at what we like to call, The Eagle Inn, with Berta and Lito.
Berta and Lito
The bamboo frame is in their front room and was available for 200 pesos per person per night and we gave them what we thought was fair for the generous meals they provided (fish, squid, rice, water and coffee). Two nights later we moved across to new friends on the neighbouring beach.
HIGHLIGHT: Lito has an eagle (that he seems to have rescued from a fishing net) perched on his tree, which eats two fish a day and takes a bath in the ocean every week. An amazing sight to see Lito (a small Filipino fisherman in baggy basketball shorts) lift the huge bird by its body, well away from its sharp hooked beak, dunk it and splash it a couple of times in the ocean, smooth down its feathers and then carry it back to its perch next to the pigs, chickens, cats and dogs.
Days on Patoyo were spent lazing on the beach, snorkelling in the awesome reef just off the shore, observing the local fisherman, sleeping in our hammocks and generally loving life in paradise.
The Gonzales and Castolo Families
The next two nights we spent with the Castolo family. Pastor Gonzales met us on the beach, introduced himself and then asked us to come and stay with his employers (he is the caretaker of the Castolo beach). This was another lovely introduction to the true Filipino hospitality and character. There was an abundance of food, laughter, company and an easy air of peace between friends. Since they were all Christians and Catholics, it was an added bonus to be in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mrs Gonzales was particularly wonderful, the definition of ‘being clothed in strength and dignity’. Her five children reflect her noble work ethic and her boundless energy to serve put us to shame over and over again. We were so blessed to have met both the Gonzales and the Castolos on Patoyo Island.
Jayar and Mialyn’s Wedding
The last day on Patoyo we met another family from San Miguel who were frantically making wedding preparations on the Liao beach (Note: You need to pay the caretaker 100 pesos per person to use this beach). Building, scraping, cutting, cleaning, burning, dusting and a whole lot more transformed this already beautiful beach into an exquisite wedding venue in preparation for the weekend. The bride and groom (and most of their family members, separately) invited us to attend their wedding on Saturday and also gave us lunches and a free ride over to San Miguel when we left Patoyo.
DID YOU KNOW? At a local island wedding in this area of the Philippines, the word gets out fairly quickly about the big celebration. The family expects (and complains about) all the uninvited guests whom they know will just sneak in (after dark) and therefore provides a mountain of food to ensure these strangers are also fed. Our wedding hosts slaughtered six pigs and sure enough after the sun had set and the reception party was under way, the boats started rolling in one by one; bringing crowds of strangers who also wanted some share the delicious food and dance!
The groom’s aunty, Maileen – of The Brinze Kylene boat – helped us find a place to stay in San Miguel (at the BRC hotel), offered us food and gave us boatloads of information about island hopping tours and getting to El Nido from here. Wow, we remember now why we just love the Philippines!
This sleepy little island town is the municipal capital of Linapacan and considered a bustling metropolis by the islanders of its ten barangays. We spent time here before our island hopping trip with the Escultors and used it as a base from which to do some island hopping (close to San Miguel) in small fishing boats. San Miguel contains an elementary school, a high school, two small bakeries, a handful of stores, a municipal office (where Monmon works), a basketball court, a few piers, lots of fishing boats, a big catholic church and bamboo, tin and brick houses. There were a couple of motorbikes, push carts and bicycles, but no larger vehicles that we could see.
You can do an island hopping tour, for example, for 2 nights 3 days of camping (they set up, cook and clean up) with snorkelling for about 6000 pesos (total for the boat and experience for two people, or more). Travelinds did an absolutely fantastic 3 night 4 day island hopping tour with Maileen and Benji on the Brinze Kylene. Check out the details in our Brinze Kylene Expedition post.
GO LOCAL: To hire a fisherman and his little boat from San Miguel for one day costs between 1000 – 1500 pesos excluding lunch (no shade, slow and sometimes rickety) – and what an adventure it is! The cash goes to the fisherman, and by extension his family and community, so it is definitely a good cause and directly supports the local economy.
There were two island hopping tours that we took from San Miguel – one for the day (with a local fisherman above) to some of the smaller islands in the area, and one with the Brinze Kylene for three nights. The Brinze Kylene dropped us off in Sibaltan for our final week on the Palawan mainland.