Road To Onok: The Nitty Gritty

10:57:00 PM

(RELATED: Onok Island Itinerary)

The road to paradise is not always glamorous. I have always known this, but the idea kept on reinforcing itself during that trip to *Onok Island with my best friend, G.

Port of Rio Tuba. Some of the boardwalk planks felt like they would give in at any moment. 
I am only posting about Onok now because I have reviewed the photos and videos from my camera just last night, for the first time! Why I waited for so long, I don't know. Maybe I just didn't want to get lost in its beauty all over again?

But this post is not meant to gush about how wonderful the road to Onok was. Because in reality it was not. It took a total of 20 hours to get to Balabac island municipality from Puerto Princesa, including the waiting time for the daily ferry from the port of Rio Tuba. And that was not it. After reaching Balabac, we had to wait until the next morning before we could take another boat ride to Onok Island.

Port of Rio Tuba: Shanties on Stilts. Photo taken from the ferry. 
Politics and local corruption made it so much harder too. I didn't mind the wait and the lengthy travel time, but when we were already being conned for our money outright, I was fuming mad. This is my home province, and you are making me pay that much?! My pride (and sense of entitlement) almost had me catching the next ferry ride back to the mainland.

To reiterate what I said after that trip, I am glad I went through with it, with all of it--not just the good, but also the not so good. It was a great exercise in practicing grace under pressure. And at the end of it, I got to go home with photos and anecdotes, too.
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It was 7AM. This kid and the older boy he was with just got back from hauling the catch of the day. They went to sea while it was still dark. Their father made them clean the boat as we were supposed to use this same boat to go to Onok. We were gonna give them PHP2000 all-in. Their eyes lit up. The money was gonna be a big help to them. And then, the tourism officer intervened.


This was Manong, the father who would supposedly bring us to the island. When the tourism officer came to us, he said we should use the boat owned by the mayor's son. That we should pay way more. And that we are not allowed to rent another boat. Devastated, even Manong agreed that we should follow what the officer said. He then asked if we could spare some change to add to his crude oil budget. G gave him more than some change. I gave him half of our food. It was the least we can do after troubling him early that morning.

Two things: 1) We initially agreed to get Manong's services because we really wanted to help him get extra money for his family. BUT if it is indeed the mayor's boat you'll be using, you don't have to pay anything, except for the gas. Don't believe it when they say you need to pay more, even if the word came from the tourism officer. (In this case, we were being asked to pay PHP6000) The Mayor doesn't like it when people write/blog about having to pay, because there are NO FEES being charged to visit Onok Island. They are very generous enough to let guests visit for free. You just need to shoulder the boat's gasoline and get permission from the owner to visit, with the owner being the Mayor and his family.

2) The Tourism Office of Balabac definitely needs to level up the professionalism. I won't name the person who asked for the PHP6000 visitor's fee, because we eventually settled it with the help of the mayor's son, in a very maaksyon fashion too. Here's what went down.

We were already about 100 meters away from the port when the mayor's son came out running and made the boat stop. "Kapag hindi kayo tumigil, susunod ako sa Onok at pababalikin ko rin kayo dito!" We had to return to the port. We were held for a long time, around one hour, while the son talked it out with the corrupt tourism officer. He was so angry because we were charged that much, when supposedly it should have been free.

There was a moment when the son wouldn't let us go anymore. I was ready to cry but the son seemed like a tough guy. Crying would have no effect on him. Instead, I forced myself to regain composure. Reinforced with the right amount of name-dropping, the mayor's son eventually agreed to let us go. (It was very fortunate that the mayor was friends with my father when he was still in office. Not very proud of that moment, but I had to resort to that just so we can finally set sail.) It was very stressful but in the end it all turned out well, and all we had to pay for was the gasoline/crude oil.

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While buying hotcakes for breakfast, I tried chatting up to this kid. Kids usually like me, but this one was super hard to break.

Me: Hello! Anong pangalan mo?
Kid: ...
Me: Tumutulong ka sa nanay mo?
Kid: ...
Me: Picture-an kita, ha?
Kid: ...

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I am bad with names so I usually take a photo of people I meet when traveling. These two were with us during the 4-hr ferry ride from Rio Tuba to Balabac. They alighted one stopover before us. One thing I cannot get off my head, even until now, three months later after this happened, was when they were talking to us about Jericho Rosales. Yes, that Jericho Rosales you know! The conversation went like this.

Man on the left: (you can see the excitement) Nakita mo na ba si Jericho Rosales sa Maynila?
Me: Opo. Pero isang beses lang eh. Bakit po?
Man on the right: Noong nakaraan, pumunta raw siya sa Puerto. Naghanap nga kami ng asawa ko ng mauutangan para makaluwas pa-Puerto kasi gusto talaga namin siya makita.
Me: Ano po nangyari?
MOTR: (his face showed sadness) Wala eh. Wala kaming mautangan. Sayang talaga!
Me: (a million things running through my head) Ay! Oo nga po. Sayang.

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Million Things That Ran Through My Head
1. The length they would go to just to see the one person they idolize. That moment filled me with awe and humility.
2. When was the last time I dropped everything to see one person I look up to?
3. Jericho Rosales is still VERY relevant in Balabac.
4. Is it a Southern Asia thing? When I traveled to Borneo, I also got asked a lot about Jericho!
5. Jericho Rosales is still VERY relevant in Borneo.
6. Do I know anyone who knows Jericho Rosales?? Maybe I can ask/plead/beg him to travel to Balabac some time. I know many will be pleased.

Okay, I can only list six at the moment. I know there's more.
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Visit this photoset on Flickr.

*Onok or Onuk can be used interchangeably. However, I prefer to write Onok since it's the spelling I saw in the posters when we were in Balabac

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