Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taal Volcano Island Circumnavigation - Kayak for a Cause (~35km distance)

We were able to ride the waters of Taal lake! And completed our island circumnavigation - and best of all, were able to solicit and donate around 14boxes of school supplies to 350 grade schoolers in the island! :)

We started kayaking at 6:20am Feb21, we were 12 riders in total, using a variety of kayaks. Our most challenging boat were the short (9footer), single plastic sit-on top. We only have 3 sit-ins (2 are said to be in questionable condition) - and the rest are sit-ons borrowed from somewhere. ;)

We arrived in the school after around 1hr of paddling; we distributed school supplies and participated in a short program (lasted until around 830am), before paddling on, and around the island.
We went clockwise - anticipating notorious winds in the afternoon, we thought it was best to ride the eastern part (hence clockwise), and worry about the wind and bad water condition as we exit the western part of the island (we assumed that wind will come from the NE).

By 10:30am, we stopped for a big lunch, I guessed that it was the half-way pt - and that we deserved proper break and rest. :) All team members were still on high, and very much eager to paddle on.

When we hit the southeastern side - our morale and interest started to drift away... ;(
Most of us (if not all) have gone tired, and the thought of paddling heavy sit-on boats just adds to our individual misery... We secretly chanted - "I want a sit-in, I want a fast boat.."

After covering around 28km (close to the northwestern tip of the island), we rested and complained! :) We ranted about how slow our boats were, how tired we were, on why we were doing this trip in the first place, and so on and on... Typical mountaineers!

As soon as we hit 'open water', and see the yawning gap between the island and Talisay proper - we all got possessed and just paddled hard and strong - slapping the water as if there's no tomorrow. We all wanted to finish this trip, to have a BIG lunch (take2), and just take a long REST!

We were on our own for the next hour, until eventually - we hit shore. YEHESS - WE WERE FINALLY DONE!!

We were just so happy that the trip was over, that we can put behind our misery - and live a better life off the water. hehehe. Of course we were complaining then - but the high of the trip is something we all felt even days after...

No pain - no gain! No hardship - No fullfillment!
We were blessed with a good weather, we were lucky to even borrow kayaks for free, lucky enough to even get support from sponsors - and happy enough that we all survived our longest kayak ride to-date (around 35km)!

Will that be our last? We'll see... =)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kayak for a Cause - Feb21


My team of kayakers from UP Mountaineers will be paddling around Taal volcano island this Feb21. We plan to bring school supplies to the island-school, for children who are in need of notebooks, pencils, school bags and the like.

We’d like to invite you to be involved in this effort, by donating new or second-hand (but useful) school materials, which we will bring along with us. The children of the volcano island are deprived of such treasures as most families merely rely on limited earning opportunity by guiding tourists visiting the island, or fishing in the lake. We would like to support kids’ education and encourage them to go to school, to hopefully provide them with better opportunities in the future.

We hope you can be part of this activity.

Thank you!
Romi Garduce
(in behalf of my team)

For Donations: you may drop them off at ROX Store in Bonifacio High Street.
We recommend you donate goods instead of cash (or pool your money with your friends to procure supplies).
As we also support resource conservation - we also accept 2nd hand school supplies including useful notebooks or calendar-planners with a lot of blank/unused pages (minus the used part); used coloring pens; even coloring books or old school bags.
For those who wishes to join us in the water:
We plan to kayak starting early in the morning (of Feb21/Sunday), from Talisay (Taal Lake Yatch Club) to the island, then go around the island, then back to Talisay - covering around 35km. We expect to paddle around 6-7 hours (depending on the condition).
You may paddle with us either, for the entire route, or the trip to the island (which is around 5km 1-way). But you have to arrange for your own logistic needs, as we are constrained with resources (i.e. get your own kayak, support, etc.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cavite to Pasay

Noveleta Cavite to Pasay Mall of Asia (~29km)

As a show of support to Swee (who’s doing an epic ride from the southernmost tip of Mindanao Island to the northernmost tip of Luzon Island - visit ), I struggled for several weeks to get good kayaks for a would-be UPM kayak team. But as fate would have it, we didn’t get funds to even rent a boat.

Down to a desperate attempt to show that support, I felt compelled to kayak for at least 1 day, using my inflatable. Hey, it’s generally ok but long distances could make my life a bit more difficult, and I might even invite danger especially if we’re riding thru tricky waters (which the inner Manila Bay has proven given the presence of thousands of sharp bamboos and sticks meant as fish pen posts).

Since I would be using a tandem (my only inflatable boat), and since I have not kayaked for more than 20km in a single go, I invited an experienced, trusted adventurer from UPMountaineers as my co-paddler - Danny Dematera - an ultra-marathoner, all around endurance athlete, and a dragon boat racer. Danny was quick to say Yes, eager to try something relatively new.

The next critical thing would be our plan and route. Well, the funny side of route planning was that, we were never sure where Swee will start his Manila Bay leg, or when, or how the incoming and outgoing typhoon will affect us. I’ve come up w/ like 4-5 alternatives, and initially thought of doing a 2-day stint starting from Naic Cavite (around 40km from Mall of Asia in Pasay).

Finally, I got a text message from him, confirming his ‘most likely’ schedule for end-Oct and start of November. Unfortunately, because of the typhoon threat and office schedule, I could only do 1-day (Nov2), and so I changed the plan a bit more - our route was just merely overlapping with Swee’s. A small hope of meeting in the water.

Swee mentioned that he’s typically doing 7kph, w/c alarmed me be a bit, as I’m only used to around 4kph using my tandem inflatable (i.e. it’s not meant for speed). This means that I have to either start ahead of time, OR, put a good distance between us. I did the latter, having around 20km gap. 10km should be sufficient enough, but the town before Noveleta (i.e. Rosario) didnt offer resorts, or any good starting point. Looking back, 20km was too much. :)

Danny and I went to Noveleta Cavite the day before. In my mind, the starting point has to be a resort (I need a good sleep, good food, and less ‘audience’ during set-up and take off). Surprisingly enough, there are resorts in both Tanza and Noveleta Cavite (my candidate starting pt towns). Of course, that’s Manila Bay so I guess resorts were not that popular even for us beach-combers.

The ‘good food’ part was ok (I bought litson manok on the way), but the accommodation was crappy. I was wearing my kayak outfit (long sleeves rashguard) during the night to avoid mosquito contacts. I was not very successful.

The next day, we woke up early, set up our kayak, and pronounced – Ready! Danny, not being used to inflatable set-ups, gladly remarked “Ayan, mukha na syang kayak!”. Haha! The boat was initially deflated, folded, and just looked anonymously like a big bulky something that doesn’t resemble a boat.

Soon we mount the kayak, and for some strange phenomenon, out of the blue, off the calm – flat waters of Cavite, 2 consecutive 2-3-foot rolling waves suddenly appeared from nowhere and ‘greeted’ us unexpectedly. Luckily, our kayak was positioned at 12o’clock, preventing an early capsize, but the roll was strong enough for us to have our own little mind games of a possible incoming disaster. Those 2 were the last of the strong waves that we encountered thru-out, so we just called them ‘welcome waves’.

We paddled strong and hard, Danny leading the pace. I was a bit concerned as I’m not used to this speed, but trusting Danny, the power-man, was all I could do. He follows a bit of different strategy as I do in alpine climbing – and his motto “go fast at first until you run out of strength” hahaha, a bit of gung ho style in my opinion, but I was ok given the day-only trip that we planned.

We focused our energy in paddling, and I – especially to keep up w/ Danny’s power row. Fortunately, the weather and sea were very calm, a bit of little rolling waves and insignificant swells here and there but generally ‘flat’.
We soon hit a 6km mark (in my mental map), and I was surprised that it was only around 1:10h of effort – “We’re doing almost 6kph!” I relayed that to Danny, inviting him to go slow and to have a better chance to meet up with Swee’s team. He suggested that we’ll soon be tired and get slower anyway, so we’ll just keep our pace ‘til we run out’. In my mind, we’ll rest in Island Cove (half-way mark) anyway – so I guess we’ll meet Swee regardless.

During the first hour, we already felt that something is wrong with our boat set-up. That would be my fault since I should know how to set up the kayak properly. When I bought the kayak, there’s only rigid material that supports that aft and bow, but nothing in between. Months before our trip, I already rode the kayak a few times and made some adjustments in the setup – i.e. I put 2 rubber mattress ‘lining’ on each side supporting the main bladder, to reduce sagging and drag.

For some reason, Danny’s port side (that’s on his left) was a bit ‘crumpled’ creating unnecessary drag - and forcing us to paddle harder on the left-hand side. To stop or not to stop? As mountaineers, we breathe and live the word ‘tiis’, so we just ignored the ‘inconvenience’ and paddled on.

After covering around 10km, and as we were crossing Canacao Bay – we both agonized the paddling as the feeling then was like rowing on a sea of thick oil. We were paddling at the same pace, but somehow – the feeling was that – we were gaining very little distance. Danny even shared that he felt ‘toinked’ in this section, I guess a bit of a morale stab given the lack of ‘progress feeling’. In truth however, I believe we were kayaking at the same speed (5.5 to 6kph) but the flatness of water, and windless condition (Canacao is between 2 land masses) – it would feel and seem that we were not gaining distance as we paddled.

On to our paddling, we started encountering numerous fishpens, even slide over 1 pointed bamboo – scaring the shit out of me. We’re not within easy reach of anyone, and even w/ the 3-layer system of my inflatable, “bad luck-stick” can easily puncture the hull and sink us instantly. We slowly navigated the fish pens, looking for tell-tale signs of boat ‘pathways’.

Soon we reached Island Cove resort, and to my surprise – there was nowhere to dock, or land as the area was cordoned off by either fishpens, or fences. I was intending to dock and eat lunch at their restaurant, to wait for Swee.

By then, we’ve reached halfway mark in just around 2.5hours. I underestimated our capability, Swee’s team has no chance in overtaking us given our lead (i.e. handicap distance).

We continued kayaking and decided to hit the mainland coastline to eat. We docked and rested, and stretched for a bit, when I got a text message from Swee saying “we’re now in Rosario, where are you?” If I’ve known about our speed capability, we could have started further south, or even start very late. Rosario was about 10km further south of were we’ve started (& our initial direction is northbound). We were ahead by around 25km! There goes my poor planning and wrong assumptions. ;)

I advised Swee that we’ll not be able to meet anymore, and we’ll go ahead to MOA. He plans to stop and rest in Island Cove and continue the next day (sadly, Nov3 is not a holiday for me). I promised him a Manila meet-up and story catch-up, over a round of beer.

Danny and I fixed our boat problem (put 2 rubber matts on the port side), and ate a little bit. I suggested that we eat proper lunch at MOA instead of eating in the muddy, polluted water around us. I couldn’t bear to eat our spam and bread lunch w/ my wet-from-Manila-Bay hands. “Ang arte!” :p

We continued kayaking, we avoided the fishpens and headed northwest for a little bit, until reaching almost the half-way pt between MOA and Sangley pt. Then it was a windy, little swelly rowing from then on. Mid-sea kayaking gave us the impression of an ‘endless effort’, and of gaining insignificant distances.

We hit the near-shoreline soon, and eventually reach MOA. To our surprise, we did 7kph the 2nd half of the journey! Sure with aching shoulder and back muscles, but a pleasant surprise to discover that we can perform even with a cumbersome inflatable.

Danny initially suggested that we stop at the Yacht club (the 'base' of dragon boat teams), maybe an additional 3km, but as we hit the coast of MOA, we felt the hunger and decided to land.

Not very surprising, the guards tried to stop or scold us, I reasoned that the boat condition was not fine and that we need to immediately dock (-“we were hungry” is the more urgent reason).
I’m still wondering why unarmed, sporty-looking individuals are not normally allowed to just dock in our coast, when people in their cars, or those walk-ins are ok. Why the bias? I can fold my kayak and it’s not a hassle to anyone. Should we educate our establishments that boats were there since pre-historic times, and we only use cars a century ago? ;p Anyway, dumb as it seems, our typical policy of ‘boats- off limits’, even in beach resorts, seems to be the default, discouraging boat enthusiasts or adventurers from maximizing this travelling tool, or in promoting paddling eco-tourism.

Anyway, after quick chat with the guards, and after they radioed ‘help’ to their superiors (and got further instructions from their bosses), they let us go (what the f* will they do, jail us?). I told them that we’re paying customers, and that we’ll eat in one of the resto, at least that was the argument.

We ate at Harbor View (grilled food) restaurant, and Ahhh – food never tasted so good after almost 30km of kayaking!
We soon packed our gears, and headed home. It was for me just a starting pt experience, of more great kayak adventures to come.

Sa uulitin!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kayak Pirate

CAUTION - Ranting mood!

Was it a ripped off?

Imagine paying up +72,000php of taxes, duties, storage, more taxes and broker’s fee – for a kayak and paddle set priced at 81,000php! My new kayak set is now an unbelievably, super-expensive, +150000-worth of crap! – Except that it’s only an inflatable version and obviously non-motorized - and it looks more like a play tool more than an expensive expedition boat! Now, is that a SCAM or what?!

(how's my intro so far, i warned you this is ranting time :P tao lang...)

This is the first time that I’ve imported something - having no option to locally source what I need.
My broker - ABPHIL Logistics, couldn’t do anything about the, then growing cost figure, feeling helpless as I was saying that ‘Customs’ practice is just like that’. I wondered why didn’t they just pre-advise me from the very start.. Perhaps I could have applied for an exemption or asked help from somewhere. This is my biggest disappointment in this whole affair as I’ve expected transparency about cost and fees (we are not talking about a cost figure of a few hundreds of pesos only). Hindi po ako mayaman and I’m just an ordinary employee-citizen!

Imagine this scenario – I fly to New Zealand (40-45k plane fare), pick up my stuff, go back home and ride my boat!! That’s a lot faster and CHEAPER and less “painful” than me being ridiculously charged a monstrous amount of money for a gadamn piece of ‘soft’ boat they tagged as luxury item. No wonder we have a lot of illegal smugglers in this country, and even under-the-table deals in Customs!
I just find that my final fee was unacceptable. A friend told me about her import of BMW w/ a total cost-fees of only 200k, that’s just less than 20% of the car value when I was asked to pay 89%?!?!

Anak ng Pawikan talaga! I pay taxes (vat/evat) every single day, I pay a big income tax every single month, now I’m being charged by Customs for an item that I plan to use to promote Philippine Eco-Tourism, as well as Conservation awareness. It's true sometimes that law-abiding citizens are the ones who lose a lot more than 'bad guys' (think smugglers and their buyers).

I find this experience so ironic -- good citizens are always the kawawa and punished ones, I don’t think the big politicians and big businessmen pays this %amount of tax (even if they have millions to spare).

The late beginnings – a flashback

Early this year of 2009, I was preparing for my first team-effort Kayak expedition to complete a modest 100km distance. I was hoping to get a good sponsorship so that my team (all members of UPMountaineers) can acquire the ideal expedition kayak version – sit-in, composite, 16footer singles, rigid kayaks! Ahh - that would be a grand day!

I meant to acquire that version to prepare ourselves for an even tougher 200km distance a few months after, and an even tougher 500km+ distance in the future. But, SURPRISE! We were not to get enough funding from our primary partner – DOT (Tourism), as well as from other sponsors. DOT sort of “cut our funding” given feedback from two kayaking guides (from the kayak association), claiming that my team does not need the expensive sit-in types, and can survive using plastic sit-on versions! Bwisit! Of course, nobody knew about my long-term plans (200km, 500km) and the need to have sit-in versions. I’ve sensed that even in this sport arena – crab mentality is ever present (those kayak guides wanted the money for their use, of course). Argh!

Anyway, I went back to the drawing board – and re-launched my plan, skipped the 100km prep trip (being gung hos), and advertised a 200+km kayak expedition by June. Can we complete that distance? Mah! Hahaha! Gung Ho nga eh! The team got excited and sort of started training, albeit without our kayaks. The potential partner from Singapore, Huey who is an expert kayaker was very excited and supportive of our plans. We intended to get kayaks from him given his reasonable product price and the discount that he offered.
During this period, Swee Chiow (our friend from Everest days) was already on his quest to paddle the Philippines end-to-end!! That’s more than 4000km in 4 or 5 months! (He’s crazy, I’m not haha!) Part of my team’s plan is to ride with him for 10days sometime May or June, but to do that – we need high-end expedition sit-in kayaks, otherwise we’ll just lag behind him, or worse – we’ll just tire ourselves using plastic sit-ons and not even complete our set distance. Even with the ideal sit-ins, we still do not know if we can keep up, so there’s more risk with sit-ons.

By late May - bad luck hit us again, we were lacking a significant amount of cash to push thru with the expedition (which was set to be launched by June1). Truly, the global financial crisis affects everyone, and everything! Meanwhile, Swee Chiow’s expedition has been experiencing some hiccups – he too was having trouble with financial support.

When in doubt, do something!
When I’m not getting what I want - I get agitated, frustrated then do something crazy to move forward. But most of the time – it’s costly! Financially, at least! In mountaineering, I’ve decided to climb mountains without monetary support (to prepare for Everest) – and expensive out-of-the country trips had drained my savings leaving me poor to this day. I don’t even own a condo unit (rent-forever mode), and still living a loan-full of life. =( Funny that until today, I only have an electric fan and transistor radio as my ‘amenities’ in my rented 16sqm-room apartment.

But to hell with comfort life, adventure mode is kicking in - “I want to kayak!”

Renting an expensive 300peso per hour of boat is not a sustainable approach. I did rent several times, and it is not simply meeting what I need in terms of distance, experience and fulfillment!

So why not buy my own kayak? Umm why the hell not?! I got excited, dug for more details and weighed my option.
A. Plastic Sit-on-top! Relatively cheaper (maybe 30k?), but not ideal for long distances (imagine I’ve had quad-cramps and got burnt legs just after 2hours on a sit-on!). Then the bigger concern of hauling the boat to the paddling site!

B. Fiberglass Sit-in! MY IDEAL version. I thought it’s expensive (50-100k) but then so is a high-end mountain bike! Or a Scuba diving gear set! Then my next problem again is – hauling! How do I move this 16-footer boat from one site to the next? I need to have a big car (duh!) and a trailer! Hello?! No F way!

C. Foldable! Ahh… this one just felt perfectly right. Except that each is priced at 150k and up. A little more money and I may just use that to climb another mountain in Nepal. The good thing is that – it fits on a backpack so you can carry it when riding a bus, jeep, even tricycle! :) Still, I just couldn’t afford it.

D. I was left with no other option but to go for an INFLATABLE! Not perfect, not good for expedition – but hey, I can take it to places, ride it easily, even do multi-day trips in a relatively calm seas! It fits on a big pack so transport is easier compared to rigid kayaks.

Inflatable it is! I checked websites, and asked experts. I realized that the good-quality versions are still expensive (50k up), but I didn’t want to buy a cheaper version, poor quality product might cost me my life in an unforeseen mid-water disaster! Was I being over my head buying this inflatable for a hefty sum of money? I WAS LURED BY GREAT ADVENTURES! And I couldn’t wait anymore. Damn the 80k or so, I just have to find more ‘rackets’ to earn a bit more and support my ‘luho’ and unquenched desire to paddle.I thought of this decision (to buy) for quite a few times, sat on it, slept on it – and every time I realize that I still don’t have my own kayak – I get frustrated! So the hell with cost – “I will buy my own kayak!” -- of course I thought it will never reach a 100k mark – stupid me!


New Zealand seems to be a good source of inflatable kayaks, supposedly cheaper shipping cost vs. US or Europe. So I went ahead and asked around, and finally – ordered from PaddleZone
I chose a tandem version so I’ll have the flexibility to load the boat with camping stuff, or even invite a team mate.

I got so excited that I didn’t bother checking local cost in detail. Soon, I was connected by PaddleZone with Abphil (as their partner here in Manila) – and was sort of assured that I don’t have to worry much. Given that they’re Paddlezone’s partner – they should have known the high cost from the start? I actually asked for a total estimate, but they couldn’t give me any, just a broker’s fee quotation (w/c seems relatively small).

I think what was “tricky” in the overall transaction was the fact that I was kept blind in all possible costs, tax, etc. I only heard trickles of it from time to time. More like little, secret surprises, translating to a growing disappointment.
If I’ve known that the cost will shoot up - I could have asked a government agency (like DOT perhaps?) to help me reduce or get exemption given that my primary objective is Tourism promotion or Eco-conservation/docu trips! Or maybe even ask a commercial importer who may have special discount or exemption deals with BOC, etc. After sharing my story to friends and contacts – a few would say “oh why didn’t you tell me, I could have do this and that; or Mr. X could have done something, etc.”

But in my initial correspondences, I was “kept assured” that everything will be just fine. Fine?! Anak ng tinola! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just about the money, it’s about principles and the painful feeling of being “ripped off” legally or otherwise!

Anyway, for all those who are considering an importation, this story is a watch-out. Of interest, this (below) is how I’ve “managed” to gain this +72,000peso cost (on top of my kayak price and its shipping cost)…

The Science of Tax and other Importation Cost
Below are some tidbits about my expenses, this could be useful for estimating cost; mock calculation should be done BEFORE making an import decision.
I. Non-local cost:
a. Product – this should be the biggest chunk of the total cost BUT NOT necessarily the basis of a go-buy decision. My mistake! In the end, my product cost was only about half of my total expenses! ARGGHH!!
b. Shipping Cost – I chose NZ considering that shipments should be cheaper (closer to home)– cost me +300us$!
c. GST – sometimes the exporting government charges a tax, in my final invoice document, the freight went up, but GST becomes zero (exempted I think), so I’m not sure how this was played. :(
d. Bank charges - if you decide to wire the money for payment. This could easily be a 30$-charge per bank (sending and receiving bank means you’ll pay both).

II. Local cost and the source of my HEADACHE! Tip here – GET A RELIABLE and TRUSTED and preferably a FAMILY-FRIEND broker! If you don’t know anyone and do not want to pay “that much” – don’t import! Your broker is your only line of defense against the “full wrath of our tax laws”, or even against fraud. By default, you’ll be screwed so it’s just a matter of mitigating the tax or fraud issue. Judging from my final total local cost (almost 90% of the product value) – I failed miserably on this cost aspect!

Here’s the breakdown of my total 72k cost. =( It will probably take a few more months before I get past the denial stage. Para akong nasaksak neto!

Some details on the Duty, Dutiable amount (w/c I thought was just the product value), and the VAT (w/c was surprisingly based on total gadamn landed cost and not product price). And where do these taxes go? Sus!

The primary questionable (or hard-to-accept) item here is EXCISE of 20% - for how can an inflatable kayak be classified as a luxury item similar to a yacht or jewelry? And especially if not motorized? I think the customs examiners or BIR people (designing this 'exagg' or 'excess' tax codes) should try paddling for 5 or so hours; or even just a few hours in 1-meter swell out in the sea, and “feel” if they can consider that “a luxurious lifestyle!” Kayaks maybe “non-essential” (for the blind who thinks that global-warmer big cars are essential; or someone who does not understand an ‘eco-tourist’); but definitely not a luxury item similar to a yacht used by a sun-bathing diva!

This excise tax thing also made me wonder how importers like Toby’s or ROX can afford to import, sell and earn from it. :( Am I just being stupid and naïve? Or simply not aware of our complex tax laws? OBVIOUSLY - a 72k tax/cost for an 81k product (that’s 89% of value) is something really difficult to swallow and seemed highly questionable!

Conclusion – Import? NEVER EVER AGAIN!
I guess that's the reason why people buy smuggled goods (not that i do or planning to) - but ugly rules and policies and bad experience such as this will discourage anyone from 'being a good citizen'. 
Mood: Obviously, PISSED!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kayak Journeys

Philippines is gifted with a lot of great paddling opportunities. With its 7100 island, you'll never run out of channels to cross, island to circumnavigate, or places to simply explore and visit.

With this unnoticed treasure in mind, my team will embark on a new quest - to explore this vast country and re-discover Philippines in a new light! We'll paddle wherever our feet... or boat leads us through. Be it a swamp, river, lake, channel or open sea, anywhere interesting! And we're not just limiting ourselves to paddling or kayaking -- true outdoor adventure goes beyond the boundaries of our boat. For sure, there will be camping, hiking, swimming, climbing, snorkelling, bird-watching, wildlife docu and so much more. If you're not into this, just sit tight, watch/read how these stories will unfold - as we start our Great Paddling Adventure!!

Adventure wish list:

  • 100km / 5days - Kayak Tour Around Taal Lake and to Balayan Bay. 2009

  • +200km 10days - Kayak Tour (Manila - Mindoro). 2009.

  • +200km Tour (Verde Passage - Apo Reef). 2009.

  • 600km Tour / 30days (Palawan!). 2010.

  • Hike and Kayak Pinatubo lake!

  • Hike and Kayak Anggat - Ipo and La Mesa.

  • more to come...

Taal Circumnavigation part1

My team (all from UPM) was excited with the propsect of circumnavigating Taal, and exiting Pansipit river and on to Balayan bay. Being true-blooded adventurers (we are not kayakers), it's an experience that we want badly, and an experience that will propel us to 'greater heights' in the kayaking world. We're set, for a Feb run!

by end-January - we're not as excited anymore :(

All plan but no go :(
Funds are hard to come by... might have to do this run alone or on-our-own!
Our cash support from DOTourism was cut as well given 'competing' projects among several groups of kayakers. This would have to wait...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Born to be Wild Series

(Selected Born to be wild episodes in this link )

The wildlife and adventure TV series was not without visiting spectacular places by small boat or kayak. In Born to be Wild, my team travelled around the Philippines in search of wildlife, adventure and wonderful places.

Bucas Grande, Siargao – the Jelly Fish Lake!

It was a surprise for me to have learned that Philippines actually have a jelly fish lake! I’ve seen and snorkeled in one, in Palau, and I just thought that it was awesome. Why? Oh imagine swimming with a thousand orange jelly, soft creatures! The Siargao version is a little bit different though, as the little lake is not technically a ‘lake’ but an enclosed water body – still connected to the main sea by a norrow passage. For some reason, the Jelly fish (w/c by the way are not really ‘fish’ hahaha!) seemed to have found refuge in this protected water body, maybe safe and away from predators. I am not sure to this day whether those species (there are 4 at least, I think) simply had evolved to be stingless (due to absence of predation similar to Palau story), or just born to be stingless. I am sure they are of no sting as I tested each and every type (by touching) ;) while I was swimming and free diving with them.

Bucas Grande offers good paddling opportunities; I somehow likened it to Coron – having similar little limestone islands. It could be a bit tricky to navigate the islets and narrow passageway though, as you can easily lose your way (from a little distance, you would not see the small passes). Then there are those hidden lagoons and ‘lakes’, where sometimes entering and exiting thru a narrow channel could be difficult as the water level rises up, or down (i.e. tides). During the ‘low tide process’, I felt the pull (as if riding class 1 river) coming from the inside (of the lagoon), and that can throw one off-balance or even cause an accidental head-smash against the sharp limestone ‘ceiling’ of the cavern-cum-channel.
But with a good guide, everything should be perfectly fine. ;) There are good opportunities to explore these passes, to snorkel the coral reefs, and swim with the jelly fishes.

Panay's Bugang – the Cleanest river!

Panay, as I’ve come to slowly realize is like little Palawan. It is till teeming with a good number of wildlife, and a relatively more preserved, albeit degrading, and bio-diverse eco-system.
Other than the forest, we of course visited their Bugang river, tagged as the cleanest river in the Philippines. The river eco-system is obviously in a healthy state, as you see aquatic plants (w/c acts as filters), nipa and mangroves along its banks. We used bamboo raft to ride the shallow portion of this river, we snorkel and video-document the riverhead (it has an underground source of flowing water), and banca-paddled the outer part where the river meets the sea.

The mood it offered? Calmness. Peace. Quiet reflection of one’s life. :) “meh ganun!”

Mangrove forest of Pagbilao Quezon

We also ran this story about mangroves, and one very good site where mangroves thrive is in the banks of the river in Pagbilao Quezon. As the Born team does not own a kayak (hehe), we borrowed a banca and I paddled the river as well as the nearby sea – where I ambush-interviewed some local fisher-folks about the supposedly-healthy marine and coastal environment. We also bumped with this old guy manually catching mangrove-crustaceans (a peculiar species armed with one giant claw) – in return for the video op, we bought his sack-full of this surprisingly tasty shrimp-creature. ;)

Pagbilao also offered bird-watching activity, but unfortunately for us – we arrived on the birding site noontime and found no birds except for the occasional fly-by of unidentified small birds.

Beyond the seemingly healthy eco-system image, is a not-so-perfect picture of man’s crave for more energy and something that is slowly destroying our environment – and us. Visible in the horizon is the big Coal-fired power plant, and as you may already know – coal produces a lot, lot, lot more CO2 waste compared to petrol, and this greenhouse gas increases the rate of global warming.

I was contented when I was paddling in the rich and healthy coastal environment, but felt a bit of annoyance when I saw the giant tower of the power plant looming from the distance. This is not about my own opinion, the world already knows – Coal is a global warmer!

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pic1. Romi strolling around Bucas Grande (using a tandem plastic sit-on-top kayak).
pic2. Bugang river flowing out to the sea. Notice the lush Nipa plants along its banks.
pic3. About to raft... (cameraman suddenly jumped aboard so Romi reacts... :)
pic4. Romi paddling in the river (using traditional banca), note the healthy mangrove forest at the background.
pic5. Greenpeace volunteers protesting the use of coal. Pagbilao power plant at the background.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

About Paddling

(garduch.2004, revised Jul2009)

Splashing rage, gut-wrenching swells, hi-speed river descents, back-breaking boat-rolls, …gasp, sunburn and fun! All that, is Paddling! This is one outdoor sport that is now slowly gaining popularity, and currently enjoyed by a number of athletes and enthusiasts, who, unlike the majority of us hydro-phobiacs, had embraced the risk of drowning in various rivers and waterways or even the littered coastal waters of Manila Bay.

Paddling offers a variety of choices catering to different types of people… for the adrenalin-loaded extremists, or the weekend enthusiasts, endurance athletes, or even family groups, lost tourists and wannabes.

You just have to pick the right boat and place, match it with your mood and preference, and off you go for an exciting thrill of a ride.

These small boats were popularized by the Arctic Eskimos. It’s a traveling tool they use to move from one place to another, to hunt for seals, birds and polar bears. Modern day expedition kayaks are now better-designed, sink-proof, light-weight, ice-sturdy but of course more expensive than their traditional counterpart. Small single-sit plastic river kayaks are in high demand for countries with grade 3 and up rapids, while the long fiberglass-made sea kayaks are more popular for inter-island tours or even multi-day expeditions. Inflatables are also gaining notice, as these versions come in relatively cheaper price and save a lot of carrying space in your SUVs.
Most resorts in the Philippines have these rigid sit-on-top models, used by the bored from-the-urban tourists who simply want to vent out their corporate frustrations in the form of slap-the-water-with-my-paddle.

The sit-in type kayaks are more popular among kayak experts, as these models are normally faster (-less drag, lighter in weight, better tracking), sleek in design – it’s like riding a water Ferrari! The downside, it’s more expensive, difficult to haul (in land) and for novices - re-uprighting procedure is a challenge. Sit-ins are those types where you hide your skinny legs inside the boat hull, and wear this funny skirt used to cover the hull lid to prevent water from filling in. Boat entry is a bit more difficult than sit-on-tops. In the latter, as the same suggests, you just “sit on top” of the boat. Of course you have to make sure that your footing distance is adjusted to your leg comfort level and that your back support offers the right lumbar resistance. But that’s basically it. Sit-ins on the other hand require you to, well..”sit inside” the hull of the boat, which seems to makes it difficult to balance since the boat sways at every inch move that you make. And there’s that bigger problem of re-entering the boat at mid-sea. Capsizing a sit-in kayak in a meter-high swell is not uncommon even among experts. As part of the kayaking lesson, you have to learn at least the basic recovery – on how to upright a capsized boat, and how to re-enter it. When I did this exercise with a friend, I thought it was easy, bringing in my yabang with me, only to be humbled when I was unable to clear the water from inside the boat, or even re-enter it with relative comfort. You don’t have all those nasties if you use a sit-on-top, but sit-ins, wah!

The not-so-basic method of capsize recovery is not to leave the sit-in, but just flip back over. Sounds easy? Well not quite, it needs a lot of practice and patience and a high tolerance to seawater gurgling. The method to re-upright the kayak was termed ‘eskimo-roll’, it’s a difficult maneuver that requires spine-breaking stretch and flip, as you roll about, submerged for a few seconds.

Kayaks have wide array of designs serving the broad spectrum of lunatics who ride the surfs (surf-kayaking), rivers (river kayaking), ocean swells (sea kayaking), and even snowed downhill slopes (ski-kayaking).

Inflatable Rafts
If you have seen the “Cast Away” movie of Tom Hanks, or the “River Wild” of Kevin Bacon, then you already know what a Raft is. I used to think that all rafts were made of yellow inflatable fabrics. Well, that’s all because of those old versions, built as survival rafts of sinking ships. Yellow because it’s easier to spot for rescue. Nowadays though, raft boats are also being used by the military, or even smugglers. Zodiac boats, as an example, are black/gray inflatables that allow outboard motor propelling. Very popular in maritime military operations. The same boat are being used by illegal immigrants chancing their way from Morocco to Spain, in the hope of getting that golden job somewhere in Europe.

Rafts are commonly used in, err...Rafting; river or white-water rafting as it’s called. The fabric design is abrasion-resistant which can withstand the bumps and skids as it hits the rocks of the shallow portion of river. The bladder also absorbs some amount of impact which a rigid canoe or kayak fully takes in as wear and tear. The boat would normally have several, so-called bladders, which are air-filled independently. Well you don’t want to sink when your one and only bladder whooshes out air, right?! Having multiple bladders will save your mother from worrying about her near-drowning son. When I was in Indonesia, paddling the rivers of Java on weekends, we normally bring this 8-man raft along with hand and foot pumps. During rest and breaks, we would occasionally re-inflate the boat, especially if it took a lot of punishment during the ride, or when the boat’s lids, seals and valves are not reliable as it should be.

Rafts are popular as you can carry tourists for some fun-filled sport. But very limited in terms of stability as capsizes are normal even in low grade rapids, especially if the rowers are novices. I’ve seen experts riding a 70-foot waterfall using rubber-plastic kayaks, but I haven’t seen a big raft riding a grade 6 river. Of course kayaking on grade 4 and above (ex. Waterfalls), are reserved for the experts. Unless you made it to the WWF finals and is used to heavy head butting, you can probably endure the beatings while you’re riding the boat upside down.

The Banca
More popular for small-time, by-the-night fishermen, than for the avid rower, this boat has been here since the Polynesian trading of the nth century. The boat normally comes in with 2 outriggers, the bottom hull is curved from a tree trunk, and the outrigger is normally made of buoyant bamboos. Small ones can ride 2 fishermen, and several kilos of Jack fish. Small to medium can fit in 3 or 4 people. Anything bigger than that would mean an onboard motor installed, normally cannibalized from an old jeepney or car.
The greatest advantage of a banca outrigger is its relative stability. The two extra arms slap the sea as it moves, as if treading water. In high swells and big storms, small bancas can be swallowed by the arcing water, and be pulled in and sank. (Plastic kayaks do not sink). In the Action Asia race in 1999, we were using this small 2-3man banca for the water section of the race, and we had assumed guaranteed strength and stability even on high-swell conditions. Later after the race, we heard that 7 bancas sank. So there you go, stable as it should, but it sinks nonetheless.

I’ve seen some canoes introduced in our water system, but I don’t think it took off successfully. Canoes are normally flat-water boats, with big fat bottoms. It’s generally for conditions with no surfs, no swells, or no rapids, just flats. Think lake on a fine day. Bancas with outriggers are cheaper and a lot more common and available, so there’s no competition to speak of.
American Indians have used canoes in the past, and are still popular today not just in the great Pocahonta’s river, but in many river systems around the world. Some even use to ride high grade rapids. I’ve only used a canoe once, when I was snaking the jungle river of Ujungkulon in the Western side of Java in Indonesia. I remember seeing crocodiles bathing in the sandy banks, a 10-ft python snake sleep-snoring in one of the branches above me, a few Dory-looking types of fish (the auntie of Nemo), and the ever flat but moving water of a murky river. I always think canoeing equals sight-seeing because of this very experience. Of course I’m being too naïve…

Big Canoes (Dragon Rowing Boats)
If you want an all-muscle and cardio paddling activity – this is it. I’ve never joined a single Dragon Boat training due to a very inconvenient schedule, but a lot of friends from the outdoor club are rowers. This suits athletes who want to race with a big bunch of other rowers. I’m more into recreation-cum-adrenalin-cum-endurance. Not solid cardio and full-muscle-burn type of thing. Besides, I’m the loner type, so I’d prefer solo boat rides, or at least just share the row load with 1 or 2 other row-dudes. Boats used for team rowing are long, flat-bottom types. Good for straight line race, but not really suitable for high swells, surfs, and slaloms, or even long-distance rides.

Paddles. Probably the most sophisticated paddle type is the one used for kayaks. Modern kayak paddles have 2 curved paddle blades, with 2 interconnected handle which can be set to linear or angled paddle blades (off-set). The angled model is designed to ‘cut thru’ wind and air drag. While one business end claws thru the water, the angled end cuts the wind preventing drag and resistance. Other paddle type is the famous oblong lolly pop model (wooden or plastic). Hi-tech types use carbon fiber shafts – sturdy and light-weight!
Personal Floatation Device (PFD). A friend had once asked me why not just call it ‘Life Vest’ as we used to call it, and I tried to explain that PFD is more appropriately generic because not all floatation devices are vest-type. It could be a buoyant hip-belt floatation, or neck-anchor type. These are made of buoyant filaments, like styropor materials or other closed-cell foams, and (rarely) some are the inflatable types. PFDs are life-savers especially in a high seas or bad weather conditions.
Others. Water bilge is normally part of a sit-in kayak set, use to pump out water from the inside. The banca equivalent is a ‘tabo’ or a cylindrical plastic container use to scoop out the water. Dry-bags are indispensable, to keep those mobile phones and money and food dry at all times. It’s just a piece of waterproof fabric-made, top-load cylindrical bags with roll-able, sealable flaps to keep water out. Not 100% fail safe though. In rafting, we normally use 2 bags, the smaller one inside the other. Sun hats? A must if you don’t want to smell like dried dilis, or if you hate the tanned, exotic-look. A pair of sunglasses is a must to protect your eyes from glare and UV.

Ahh, Board-shorts! Gone are the days when swimming trunks are widely used in the beach (keep them for pool-use please!). Beach boys and divers have already acquired the fashion of the boarders or ‘Surfers’. The imported version is a bit expensive though, normally priced at 2500 pesos and up. You can actually buy 4-5 locally-branded shorts with the same amount. The material is ideally of synthetic fibers, since ‘cotton cuts when wet’. Plus synthetics dry up more quickly as water retention rating is low.

Rash-guards are also the ‘in’ nowadays. These are the fitting shirt that looks like the regular wetsuit, and in fact also used by divers during the summer months. It’s synthetic, non-wind drag, and quick-drying. Plus it helps to keep you from being tanned (say 100+SPF rating), or being tinged by a jellyfish. Some prefer white color to reflect back white light (-dark colors absorbs more light and heat).

Philippines is loaded with boating and paddling opportunities. We have thousands and thousands of small islands, and touring around an island or crossing small inter-island channel becomes a pull to paddling enthusiasts. Some resorts offer an expensive 300p/hour kayak ride. And of course there's always that option to whisper-deal a small-time fisherman for a banca rental for 100 bucks or so. And probably another 50 pesos for a quick 10-minute fisherman’s paddling lesson. I did rent a banca several times in Anilao when I found myself bored, just to put some variety in my weekend life. The good news is, most fishermen use their small outriggers during late afternoons and evenings, and the best riding time for us sea-tourists are early mornings - when the water is flat and wind is busy hissing some place else.

There's also that opportunity to raft and kayak in the rivers up North (Tugegarao vicinity). Chico river I heard, offers a good grade 2 rides, or even probably grade 3 on scary-weather conditions. It’s probably the nearest good quality rafting destination from Manila (around 10 hours away). CDO (Cagayan de Oro) also offers good rafting opportunity, but of course the distance and plane fare could be a challenge if you’re living in the Metro.
Rafting is a mixed adrenalin-&-endurance sport. Sometimes you may need to ride for 3 straight hours, or longer. The adrenalin component of course, is when the converging water starts to pull you in for its kill.
Training in rafting is fun, practices include capsizing and re-uprighting the boats, unassisted entry procedures, rescue techniques (tow rope skills), paddle-swimming, rapids swimming, and a lot more.

Formal Sit-in kayak training is also available in very few resorts. It pays to have formal lessons so you don't develop bad paddling habits, plus you learn the much needed survival skill on how to bail yourself out of problems.
There is also the Dragon Boat team, accepting enthusiasts for a much more challenging physical training. If you have the time and patience, this is a good investment in terms of skills and endurance development, not to mention the fun in partying with the group. If you’re lucky, you may even join a boat competition in Boracay, or even Hong Kong or Australia.

Once in a blue moon, you will also hear Regatta events either in Galera or Boracay (and other popular beach-bummers’ places). It’s a race-for-fun type of activity using highly decorated boats, or bits of scraps assembled to look like a boat.
If you are the masochist type, there’s always the adventure race (aka ‘eco-challenge’) which includes various disciplines such as hiking, trail running, swimming, biking.. and of course, paddling. The grueling multi-day race might include a plus-10km ride in open sea with big swells and strong winds, so you must have gained a bit of good experience before you venture out in such activity.

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Paddling may not be an athlete’s primary sports, but it certainly adds a lot of fun and flexibility to his or her outdoor life. Whether you simply want to stroll about and reflect on your recent BF-GF break-up... riding a tranquil and flat morning water of the Taal lake; Or, challenge your guts and known limits and ride 20+km open water distance in a 2-meter swell… Or you probably just want some variety? Solace? High-adrenalin rides? Endurance exercise? Or a test of fear? Mother Nature can give you all that, just find the right place, a good paddle, and a perfect boat …