By Tanner Davidson
In 2016, my partner Taylor and I were on a three-month backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. We trekked around the Philippines for a month and a half and then carried on to Indonesia for the rest. Two weeks into the trip, after chasing surf (a.k.a. drowning), eating copious amounts of freshly baked pastries, and exploring the scenic rice fields by motorbike, we found ourselves on a sketchy 11-hour ferry ride from Manila to Coron, Palawan. Being on a tight budget, we opted for the super-mega-discount-class fair on the overnight ride. There must have been 200 bunk beds crammed onto the top level of this boat. At one point in the night, we were served a small portion of rice and fish. It smelled awful, and I saw locals feeding it to their dogs.
We arrived early in the morning and decided to cruise the streets of Coron for a few hours. The shops were advertising guided boat trips to a few attractions in the area. Trying to avoid the tourist traps, we found a tiny office tucked away from the main street where a young man welcomed us. Not long after introductions, we found ourselves melting into his chairs after he pulled out a joint and generously started passing it around. This was our guy. We explained to him that we wanted to explore the area on our own, and he recommended renting kayaks and just paddling the same route the tourist boats take. Neither of us had kayaked before. Being that we're both from landlocked Alberta we weren't exactly ocean savvy, but we jumped at the idea. He graciously offered up his ancient Motorola phone, "for use in case of emergency" and he sent us on our way.
Early the following day, we started on our adventure. We didn't have much for cargo; two small backpacks with hammocks, snorkels, fishing gear, a couple packs of Ding Dongs and a bottle of brandy. After organizing our vessel as best we could, we paddled out into the open bay. We looked at each other, thinking, "wow, we've really committed to this!" The further we went, the rougher the water got. I could sense the fear in my partner's eyes. I had to stay calm and confident; otherwise, I would have spooked her out. Nerves finally settled as we approached the shoreline on the opposite side of the bay. We finally got to enjoy some of the scenic views we had spotted from the city. I had a rough idea of where we wanted to reach for the first night so we could explore an old shipwreck the next day. We continued down the shoreline until we approached a large rock outcropping that led to a sandy beach. With the exception of two stray dogs and a cat, it was deserted. It didn't take much convincing; this is where we would crash for the night. It felt like we were in a classic sunset-over-the-ocean postcard… until the shitty hammock sleep.
Hammock sleeps are the worst. If it wasn't for the bottle of brandy and the schwag our homie slipped me, I don't think I would have slept a minute in that thing. We started on the second leg of our journey, paddling along the coastline until we spotted a tiny hut where someone was living and running a store with basic food and supplies. After we purchased a few treats and water, the man said, "You guys must be Australian." I laughed and asked why, "Because you seem very comfortable with sharks," he said. Well fuck. That was the last thing we wanted to hear. My partner and I looked at each other, tried our best to muster a smile knowing it wasn't a joke and continued our journey to another island off in the distance. As we were crossing the bay I remember looking behind and thinking how much our trailing jug of water tied to the back of the kayak looked like bait. A thought I kept to myself. Grateful to finally reach land on the other side, we got out of the kayak and started to look for a place to set up camp. The joy was short-lived. We ended up on a privately owned island and were quickly told we had to leave.
Defeat started to sink in. We could see the route back in the distance, but by now we were exhausted, the headwinds were picking up and the waters were getting rough. We had no choice but to use the Motorola phone our homie provided and call for help. A boat showed up a few hours later. The crew seemed super concerned for our well-being and took us back to some random room near the port to chill out, almost like a wellness check. Our good homie came in and started talking to us, kind of beating around the bush, it seemed like he had some terrible news to tell us. When he got the courage, he told us we owed them $2000 pesos for the rescue. The exchange was only $50 Canadian. We smiled, paid our dues and thanked them for the experience.