Balabac Islands

So where do I begin, I think if I wanted to go to a place like the places I travelled to back 30 years ago without any connection with the outside world this 3 day journey would be it.  The tour without an itinerary. I loved it, expect for the part where they wanted to share a shower with me and they couldn’t understand why this was not going to happen.  The bus journey to our boat took 6 hours from Puerto and without knowing I shared the journey with four Filipinos, two from Manila and two from Boracay.  Raymond and Miki spoke english and over the three days I learnt about life in the Philippines for young 20 somethings.  Christopher was our main guide, cook, sailor and the nephew of the owner of Candaraman Island.  He loved his life and wanted to continue doing tours.  He was very talkative unfortunately or fortunately I don’t speak Tagalong so I am sure I missed many interesting facts about this area.  We did have numerous brief conversations about his fear of losing the island he has come to know and love.  Many Islands have been taken by government officials for private use and Onuk a gem of a place is now in the hands of a wealthy businessman who is going to change it to a Maldives style resort.  The helipad was being built when I was there.  He knows that being able to stay here will be coming to an end very soon.  So I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy the one night I spent there.  However it was staying at Candaraman Island and sharing a night with Christophers family that was a highlight.  His mother Helen, aunty Ris and Vicky made us feel at home and prepared a wonderful meal.  Although the though of eating Balut, a egg with the embryo inside made me uneasy.  Luckily it wasn’t such a special occasion to eat this delicacy.  We sat around the table sharing our outside world with them and their lives in these parts of the world.  I was a fascination to the ladies because I was travelling on my own, single and no children.  This was certainly a talking point and one I have often had to repeat with many locals.  The most amazing aspect of the night was when Ris told me that her daughter, Donna is studying accounting in Australia and did I know a place called Melbourne.  The moment she found out that I was actually from this great place she didn’t leave me alone.  She has not seen her daughter for 5 years as she was also studying in Singapore.  She said Donna was being sponsored by her sister who has lived in Melbourne for 15 years.  It took a year for the paper work to go through immigration and it cost tens of thousands of dollars for the three year course at VIT.  She works at Melbourne central and was surprised that you get overtime if you work Sundays.  Donna was 1 of only 2 students that got an HD and was very proud of what her daughter has achieved so far.  However she does not know when she will see her again.  There was a sense though, that with the uncertainty of the islands Ris knows that this is the best for her daughter, as Ris is only able to live day to day, making the small amount from tours like ours to provide other needs.  Yet she would not change her life for the world, and wonders why people need the modern world.  Actually I agree, the modern world with the constant want of things is something we are told we need to aspire to, but what I have learnt from all the people I have met so far, there is only one constant and that is the love of family and friends, your health, good food and a laugh.

There were two events that bought us strangers together.  The 1st event was the boat trip to Onuk which only had a narrow entry through the reef and only passable through high tide.  Then the boat trip from Onuk back to the mainland through open waters.  In my haste when booking the tour I didn’t ask questions like will the boat be covered from the elements?  Also I hadn’t even thought about getting on and of the boat which consisted of a narrow piece of wood that was set at a 90 degree angle. 

We had a peaceful boat journey to Candaraman Island, not much swell as the water was protected from the many islands dotted along the way.  Anyway I welcomed the sea spray which was cooling especially with the Philippines heat.  It was the journey from Candaraman to Onuk that changed that.  Although not a major shipping channel we were closer to Malaysia (Borneo) than Manila.  You could see large ocean going vessels in the distance and the swell was considerably larger, especially in a small low lying boat.  We were also sailing into the wind, so a journey that might take an hour turned into two.  We were all happy when we made the outer reef and started to relax.  Looking over the boat’s edge the water was so clear and the colours of the reef were vivid.  Christopher moved to the front of the craft to guide the boat through water as the water become shallower.  However you could hear in the tone of his voice that things weren’t going to plan.  Suddenly, the sound of the boat scrapping the reef.  We were asked to move back, but then the propellor made a horrible clunking sound.  Even with my untrained eye you could see there was no way through.  The next thing I knew the crew and the Filipino guests were jumping off the boat.  What the….?  Was there a hole in the boat?  Raymond, his eyes as big as balloons screamed at me, “get off the boat”. I thought we might be stuck here until the tide rose, not jumping off!  Looking at the fear on the other guests eyes, water and swimming wasn’t something they were comfortable with as they huddled together with their life jackets standing on a large rock.  They were more interested in taking selfies and posing for the camera to show their friends, not evacuating a boat and wading in waist deep water.  So I grabbed my go pro and jumped in.  I just wished I had my togs on and grabbed my goggles as well, as the reef was so full of life.  I swam over to the others and I tried to reassure the young girl, by this time her life jacket was high around her head.  She was petrified, however with some coaxing she started to float with the current towards the boat.  By this time Christopher had moved the boat off the reef.  The next challenge was getting back on.  Lets just say, I use to be able to get my legs over my head, luckily I turned off my Go-pro. We eventually made it to Onuk and once settled in and filling our stomachs with food we bonded and laughed about our adventure.  That night without electricity and only my head lamp for light, we ate an amazing meal of freshly caught tuna cooked by Christopher, played cards and listened to Christopher talk about his dreams and Marco talk about his hopes for a new business venture, selling beauty products.  I have to thank Raymond for being my translator.

I had planned to wake up to a beautiful sunrise but that turned to despair when the colour of the sky wasn’t crimson but dark grey and ominous.  I could see out in the distance the chop of the sea and I could hear the roar of the waves pound against the reef.  So to did the others.  This time I was ready, I had a plan, just wear my togs and sit further back in the boat.  I am sure everything will be fine.  Christopher got word that the boat was struggling to reach the Island to take as back.  The sea was angry and after a while, with the help of a pair of huge binoculars I could see a small object bobbing up and down in the sea, so tiny and powerless.  I think from the time we first spotted the boat till it reached the outer reef it took 2 hours.  Of course the next problem was how the hell were we going to get past the reef.  After several attempts they decided to anchor the boat at the reef and we were going to meet the boat in the swollen seas on a small wooden canoe.  OMG how the hell are we going to jump from one boat to the other?  Ask no questions I decided was the best option.  So did the others.  So we all crammed in and set off.  The boat was so low in the water my eyes were at water level.    The next trick was leaving the inner reef and tying the canoe to the boat.  It took several attempts whilst the boats were bobbing up and down like yo-yos.  Still the question how do we get from one boat to the other?  I wish now I had my Gopro because I don’t have the language skills to describe how hard this was.  If yesterday was a hassle this was an ordeal if ever there was one.  Somehow though we all managed to crawl on without any injuries.  Now safely on the boat we took off. I put my life jacket on, mainly for protection of the water rather than saving us from going overboard and I sat behind Raymond at the back thinking that I might get some sort of protection.  Well within two minutes that idea went out the window.  The swell was well over 6 meters and at times when on top a wave I felt I was on the big dipper.  The boat would move side to side and fall down the wave with a thud, no cushioned seats on this little beauty.  The motor was struggling, one boy was pushing the hand bilge and Christopher was tossing out water from a saucepan.  When I turned around about 15 minutes later they had changed jobs.  The only thing I was thinking was thank god the water and air was warm.  I could see land in the distance but at no time did I feel we were getting any closer.  Four hours later and not wanting to disappoint us by not going to the pink island Christopher decided to stop at a sand bank.  Now by this stage the last thing on my mind was gee I really want to take photos of me lying on a sandbank.  The boys however thought it was a great idea so of they went lying on the sand, throwing water in the air and taking selfies of the beauty of the sandbank.  I just sat on the boat feeling like I was watching a reality show.  Eventually we made it back to land the journey from the sandbank without a hitch.  The van was waiting to take the 6 hour journey back to Puerto, including a shared shower with 4 others at the back of someones house, in the middle of a field, I kindly declined.  All I wanted was a loo, but that is another story.





Sabang is a beach side town an hour north of Puerto and better known for its surf and the underwater caves.  Up to 10 years ago a place no one visited unless you stayed for a week, that was until the road was built.  Now the daily hordes of Chinese travel for a day trip to Sabang.  There is now a Sheridan hotel to cater for those who don’t need to wander too far into town.  I did think for a moment to sneak in for a swim in the huge pool, but I definitely would have looked out of place.  The hostel I stayed at was a 15 minute walk along the main road and owned by a German man who came over 30 years ago.  He and his wife created a beautiful place, unfortunately today it needs work done.  I sense in his tone that he is disillusioned with how his life has panned out.  Critical of the work ethic of Filipinos, the state of western society and the loss of an area now more interested in making a quick buck and destroying the natural environment.  His son was born in Sabang and has never left the area, he has 4 children to a Filipino who sat with me and spoke about the changes in Sabang since the road opened up.  She wants to build up the hostel again and hope more backpackers will come and appreciate what they have to offer, however because of the way shuttle vans just come in and out for the caves, the hopes of having people stay for longer for a day are remote.  She said they use to come for a week at a time, to surf and soak up the lay back lifestyle.  An example of how mass tourism can have such a devastating effect on ones life.

Although Sabang today caters for the in and out tourist, staying for three days gave me the opportunity to wander the streets.  On my last night after the day was a total rain out, I was sitting on the pier waiting for the lady to start her bbq so I could eat yummy pork skewers, I heard the sound of a man, “the speaker is now connected”. What speaker, before I could turn around music started blarring out, children from everywhere ran to the sound.  What followed for the next 2 hours was an outdoor version of bootscooting come a gym workout.  I loved the sense of community, this wasn’t run by adults but teenagers love of music and dance.  The Filipinos love of pop music and Karaoke filled the air with fun and laughter.  Of course when children take control there is the probablity that some would run amok and sure enough behind the organised dancing, the youngest of the bunch were jumping on car roofs, bonets, opening doors and basically causing mahem.  Yet not once did I see an adult repremand or stop them from playing and having fun.  I must say as the party ended and the kids returned to their homes, I danced my way also up the road in darkness to the hostel, I’m sure noone saw me doing my own bogan interpretion to Vogue!  Well I hope not.


Port Barton

Wow, if I was able to just say one word this is all I want to say about this great community, but you guessed it I can’t just say one word.  It is a four hour journey to Port Barton which really should only take two.  But hey I chatted all the way so it didn’t seem that long.  Again the only issue was my bag and fortunately the walk from the bus stop to the Dragon House hostel was only 200 meters.  The moment I walked into the hostel I felt at home.  The staff including Mike the manager were fantastic, by the time I left Port Barton the girls behind the bar were calling me mummy.  I do hope that was a term of endearment!  Anyway I met a bunch of great travellers, expats and of course many locals who were happy to chat to me about their lives in Port Barton. 

Robert the captain of a boat, who also was a motor bike taxi driver when the typhoon stopped boat tours for two days spoke to me about how he learnt his sailing skills from his father, when Port Barton was just a sleepy little fishing village.  He taught Robert the waters around Port Barton, where to and not to go.  His father also was well known around Port Barton and Robert was well aware of his fathers good name.  Many of the families who live on some of the islands do not allow foreigners or even locals because of corruption and the fear of losing their way of life.  Something I found out later during my trip to the Balacan Islands.  Robert has 6 children and all of them in one way or another work on his boat.  I loved how he was teaching his son when I took a reef tour.  Certainly the master and his apprentice. He loves his life but worries what will happen when the new road opens and what that may bring.  It is alright to say it brings work but it also changes peoples priorities. 

Everyday from dawn to dusk at the Dragon House there was young lad who maintained the hostel.  He could put his hand to everything.  From unblocking toilets to creating 3D glasses for computer games.  He was always tinkering away at something.  He was well know in the Port Barton community for his ability to problem solve.  He told me that he was always interested in how things worked and as a young child was always pulling things apart to the ire of his family and friends.  He wanted a better education but could not afford the fees so he learns news skills via You Tube instead.  I wonder if he was living in Australia how much an hour he could earn.

I was fortunate enough to meet two couples who were setting up life in Port Barton, atm their names escape me.  One couple were from Brazil and the other couple were from Holland, they decided to open up Gorgonzola a pizza come European style restaurant.  This of course was difficult as they needed to have Filipino backers and run it as a corporation.  They were just starting out, including both couples are expecting newborns in the next couple of months.  A daunting task if ever there was one, however they  were looking forward to raising a family in such a wonderful place.  However something that was worrying them was education for their children.  Even though the Philippines has compulsory education both couples wanted an education one might get in our own country.  Although they did point out that they were not happy with the current education systems that are in place in many western countries.  They saw the failing of a system that only rewarded such a small percentage of kids.  We had a great conversation about different systems of education and we all felt the same that the current education systems throughout the world were failing the younger generation.  They spoke about a more holistic approach, a learning environment that bought creativity to the forefront rather than just an add on.  Using your whole body not just the head to the table.  So in 4 years time if anyone wants a great job, in a great place in the world the job is there to be had.

Obviously meeting travellers has been a great privilege as many have amazing lives.  In Port Barton whilst on the reef tour I was fortunate to meet three amazing people.  All have amazing stories of growing up, their present lives and what the future holds.  Aidan a gifted photographer who has travelled the world taking photographs for travel companies and being flown to all corners of the world.  Funny man and a great story teller.  His friend Alex an amazing girl travelling through Asia and Australia for 6 months, funny as hell and her party stories have to be heard to be believed.  Yet I know I could tell a few of my own from days gone past.  She was so happy with her new job at Lloyds bank who had allowed her to take 6 months to travel and allows her to return to her job.  I think she would not have gone if she wasn’t guaranteed a job.  Something many people face is the uncertainty of reliable work and a job they can enjoy.

This takes me to Marco from Germany, I am a tad disappointed that I did not get his contact details because I would love to know what his future will hold.  Marco sat with me for 2 hours and told me his hopes and dreams of the future.  He has been working for his father in his engineering business for the past two years.  He hates it, the regular day to day structured life is not what he wants.  For six years he was a dancer in a dancing troupe on a cruise boat which he loved.  However his parents did not agree with this form of work.  He tells me that they don’t believe that wandering the world, being creative is going to give him a secure life.  His mother and father emigrated to Germany from Spain in the 1980’s.  They sacrificed everything so their children could have what they didn’t when they were younger.  His mother has built a very successful Spanish restaurant on the border of Germany and Switzerland.  However you could feel the anguish Marco was dealing with and the added pressure from his father for Marco to settle down and have a stable job.  He is desperate not to let his parents down and this like many people I meet is the concern they all feel. During his spare time he has just started building a budding photography business and he could see a way out.  Already he has had many people persuade him to continue and hire him for weddings and commercial projects. I do hope he follows his dreams and I am sure his parents will always love him no matter what direction he chooses.


Puerto Princesa


The hospitality and the welcoming I felt when I first arrived was reassuring.  Jonathan the owner of the Bamboo Nest and a group of young local Palawan’s that invited me out for conversation, dinner and karaoke.  Puerto Princesa like many cities unlike our own can be overwhelming.  The streets are ramshackled and the knowledge of how the scooter system works would probably take me years to learn. Luckily I happened to share a dorm with (Maica) from north of Puerto whose boyfriend happened to be working in Sydney.  I think she was intrigued that I was on my own and we or should I quickly chewed her ear of.  Her mother works as a NGO in Malawi.  Maica has not seen her for a very long time.  You get a sense that her mother has worked hard to provide a lifestyle that not many Filipinos have.  Well educated and the yearning for greater things.  She told me how she loves going back to see her grandparents, who live a simple life, tending the ducks and gardens.  However in a world where money rules, having an education and not just a basic education is important.  I have met many filipinos who are completing their masters and are extremely proud that they can help their family.  This is another observation, family is the bread and butter that life is built around.  You are not just providing for yourself but everyone in the family.  Maica would like to complete a masters in tourism and become a travel guide.  I am glad she friended me on facebook because I hope one day some of you might have the pleasure of taking a tour with Maica.  She certainly helped me when trying to get around the town, even though we still got lost.  I am also selfishly excited that her mother works at a hospital in Malawi with children hence when I visit Malawi I might just meet her and of course Madonna.






Leaving on a Jet Plane

“This is your bus madam, hurry please this is the last one for the night”.  The calmness I felt suddenly turned to panic as I grappled with lifting my backpack, I had clearly overpacked.  I promised myself I wouldn’t but it was too late now.  With all my strength I hurled my bag on my back, stumbling in the process also aware that I had to lug my carry on bag. Clearly I needed help but help didn’t come.  So with half the bag on my hip and my day bag dragging along behind me I stumbled the 5 meters to the bus and fell through the doorway.  With a bit of luck the backpack also fell in, and what seem like a hurling competition my day pack flew over my head onto the floor next to the driver’s feet  I looked up, “you can go now mate”.  Somehow I was able to compose myself and drag the bags onto the seat above.  I didn’t have much time to view the AirPort scenery as the only thought I had was how the hell was I going to get of the bloody bus. It’s amazing when everything or everyone around you is so calm, yet in my world it was chaos.  At least the drive to terminal 4 gave me some time to manoeuvre my backpack into position.  As the bus pulled into terminal 4 I could see some trolleys and at that one moment, panic disappeared as did the long awaited trip I had planned for 2 years.  I was on my own again, in a foreign land, no one but myself, my bag and a zillion thoughts. 

Three weeks have now passed since I have arrived in the Philippines and apart from bag issues, (which will be an ongoing nightmare) the uncertainty of what to expect has passed, or at least here on Palawan Island.  To say I have faced some hurdles along the way is way to obvious, but nothing to be overtly concerned about.  The people of Palawan are welcoming and happy to assist even with language difficulties and the western habit of everything having to be on time and organised.  This will be something I will have to work on as I become accustomed to a more relaxed approach, where time is only measured by the sun coming up and setting.

I have been fortunate enough to meet many amazing people, both local, expats and travellers from all around the world.  This is my main mission, however the most difficult part is to record and document the conversations.  Travelling is a fluid experience and not every conversation or meeting will allow me to record peoples thoughts and experiences.  That is probably why I could never complete an anthropological course.  So in combination with the video, I will link each blog entry with images I upload through my daily instagram.  Hopefully you will get to know, through their voices, a little about their stories. Oh and lets not forget the amazing locations that will also be highlighted.




The Journey Begins

It’s been a long time between drinks since I posted the first blog for outsidetheframe and in retrospect the idea of posting stories whilst still living in Australia was not what I wanted this blog to be about. Unfortunately through my own naivety and events out of my control, (which I will not go through here), I decided to take a rain check and wait until I had all my travel details complete. 

With this done, and the cancelation of my first itinerary I have decide that my first port of call will be the Phillipines and the Island of Palawan.  Already I am finding the prospect of meeting locals tantalising, especially with apps such as Couchsurfing and online booking apps for accomodation and flights.  Gone are the days where you land in an unknown location and freak out because you have no idea where to stay or what to do.  It blows my mind in todays connected world how incredibly easy it is to meet locals before even arriving.  I suppose I won’t know if this is a benefit or not until I spend time away.  I do wonder if it takes that whole mystery out of travelling?  In some ways I am glad I have had the experience of travelling to many places in the world without connectivity.  In a sense even travel guides and blogs, with their recommendations create some sort of homogenous world, like being on a tour bus, no thinking required or the hard yakka of making an effort.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 30 years older since I last travelled with a backpack and without an itinerary. Physically and mentally I will enjoy the idea of not having to walk km after km looking for a place to stay and having to use sign and body language to communicate. Also the purpose of this trip is not to be on the move every 2-3 days but to stay put a little longer. I do have the luxury of time. 

How it will work

I have no intentions of writing a travel blog that plots my journey about my experiences and taking photos of exotic places, like a to do list. (although I will update with  instagram) There are plenty of blogs out there that do this. The sole purpose will be to document other peoples stories, both locals and other outsiders who view the world without rose coloured glasses and have their story to tell.

Blog, Vlog, Instagram, FB Group, Twitter account and Podcast.  Seems extreme but each social media platform will show a daily snapshot, a bi-weekly update, a monthly vlog about people I meet and places I get know.  I will also create a podcast for women who travel solo. (This will take some time to organise)  I will need feedback as I need to develop my skills and knowledge. Please don’t just click the like button.  I am a teacher and I need feedback. (thankfully I wont have to worry about data or spending countless hours justifying my existence) I would also like people to use this in an educational sense, for teachers to use me to enhance their curriculum (I have the ability of Skype and periscope) and students to plot a journey and develop their critiquing and questioning skills.  Even if you aren’t a teacher maybe you have contacts that you think would be great to hear about.  Let me know, I don’t just talk Madonna and Collingwood.

My intentions are not recreational but also with an eye to develop my production and story telling skills.  The purpose of this is to hopefully and successfully apply for Filmmakers without borders, a non for profit organisation that grants filmmakers, students and teachers to work with a local community for a year.  I will attach a link so you can see what this organisation does.  If not successful I will continue to travel with the idea of also supplementing  my funds with teaching internationally.  Of course with an open itinerary anything could happen, as long as I keep my ears open and my mouth shut, (at times a difficult skill)

There you have it, so with all this in mind, I leave on the 23rd October.  I am already looking fwd to meeting Jonathan.  See you soon, Outside the frame.

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton