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jorgesanchez Sitangkai - A travel report by jorge
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Sitangkai,  Philippines - flag Philippines -  Tawi-Tawi
12435 readers

jorgesanchez's travel reports

Across Sulu archipelago to Borneo

  24 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4
All experienced travellers agree to assert that the 3 more beautiful countries in Asia are Indonesia, Nepal. Philippines is the third, composed by 7000 islands. If you want to see them all at a rate of 1 island per day, you will need 20 years of your life

Rice terraces north of Baguio
Rice terraces north of Baguio
I was in Manila ready to leave the Philippines. I was happy for having visited during three unforgettable months the best of that wonderful country: the North of Luzon with the rice terraces, the ifugao tribes in Bontoc and Banaue, pleasant Baguio, the paradisiacal island of Boracay, Chocolate Hills in Carmen, etc. Now, my next destination was Singapore, where I had to collect an around the world ticket with the French Airline UTA, valid for one year, with the following stops: Jakarta, Sydney, Noumea, Auckland, Papeete, Los Angeles, and back to Europe. But I was short of money, and in order not to spend much I was lodged for free in the dormitory of a sikh gurdwara in Quezon City together with legions of Indians, and sometimes I played with success chess for money in La Luneta, in Parque Rizal. The cheapest one way ticket to Singapore was not lower than 500 US Dollars. Then I consulted a map and noticed many tiny islands in the south of Philippines from where I could reach Borneo travelling across them like a ping pong ball. With great determination I bought a cheap ticket in an overcrowded boat from Manila to Zamboanga, which took one and a half day to arrive there. In the port I read in clear Spanish language the following welcome sign: BIENVENIDOS A ZAMBOANGA. (In Zamboanga, Cavite and Basilan, people speak a language called chabacano, which 90% of its vocabulary is Spanish, and tagalo contains about 60% of Spanish words). From Zamboanga I continued to Basilan and then I followed to Jolo.

Favourite spots:
“Vintas” used in Sulu and in Tawitawi
“Vintas” used in Sulu and in Tawitawi
Playing chess with some passengers on board I made acquaintance with a Badjao, or sea gypsy, who lived in Jolo, and he gave me the name of one of his uncles in his village, called Sitangkai, near Borneo Island. His family name was the same than my mother’s (practically all the Filipinos have Spanish family names) and because of that he considered me a far away relative. He told me that Jolo and Tawitawi where dangerous islands, even for Pilipinos. In those places friendship is more valuable than money. Jolo is a rebel island. It was never completely conquered, nor by the Spaniards, or by the Japanese, or by the Americans or presently by the Filipino Government. I did not venture to go much further than the port because in that area are hidden the guerrilleros of the Moro Liberation Front, or muslim warriors who constantly fight against the Pilipino Government.

What's really great:
Typical Longhouses of Sabah and Sarawak
Typical Longhouses of Sabah and Sarawak
The Joloans are notorious for assaulting, robbing, kidnapping and even killing the passengers of the ships that they board in those waters. After Jolo and Tawitawi I reached Sitangkai, called the Venice of the Philippines because its main “street” is a sea entrance in the island. People used canoes to cross it. I witnessed a wedding between two boys; he has 14 years old and the fiancé just 13. They put me the better chair in front of the ceremony. For them it was an honour to have a European as guest. After the ceremony we all ate fish. I noted that they eat the meat of the fish face and even the small white ball inside the eyes, or the iris. During my stay in Sitangkai I saw two women fighting because one had “robbed” the husband to the other. People lived in palafitos and were fishermen. The Badjaos are sea gypsies but not thieves as the Joloans pirates. They are peaceful people.

waiting for my vintas to Borneo
waiting for my vintas to Borneo
I waited in Sitangkai 5 days until there was not moon and then light, in order not to be discovered by the Pilipino or Malaysian or Indonesian patrol motor boats.
On board my last “vintas” there were pregnant women and many young boys.
To cross about 100 kilometres it took us one day and two nights. The first one we stopped to sleep in a deserted islet. Sometimes on the floor of the boat appeared water and we all had to help emptying it with the help of buckets and even cups and dishes, or the engine did not work and the men were forced to paddle.
Before arriving to Borneo we were detained by the Pilipino patrol soldiers. The “captain” of our boat spoke with the officials affirming that his trip was specially organized to transport a foreigner to Borneo, that is, me. Then I was called, given that for them it was completely unusual to find a European in those conditions. After exchanging jokes with the officials and drinking coffee with them, we were allowed to proceed ahead.

lovely Kuching
lovely Kuching
You can sleep on deck on the boats from Manila to Zamboanga and from Basilan to Jolo. In the badjao villages, such as Sitangkai, you have to make friends; otherwise there are no hotels, lodges or something of the kind except the meeting hut where local people gather regularly to discuss common matters.
In their huts you just lay and somebody will bring you food and water from coconuts. In the “vintas” you do not sleep, just take out water from the boat, pad or help the sick women on board. In Bandar Seri Begawan there is an enormous, clean and cheap guest houses for students and travellers. In Niah caves (State of Sarawak), and from Bintulu to Kuching, you can sleep in the longhouses if you make friendship with the dayak people.
And in Singapore, all the backpackers go to the cheap Indian pensions around Bencoolen Street.

There are no pubs or clubs in that part of the world, but there are houses, called Palafitos, with wooden pillars and palm leaves where they live. I saw “villages” not far from Sitangkai, completely in the sea, without land, like “floating” in the nothingness. I heard that the sailing boats with original designs that they use, are called “vintas”.

You will always eat monotonously fish with rice, or rice with fish, plus fruits (coconuts, bananas, Davao fruit, etc.), and if you are lucky you might find chicken sometimes. In the nights it is very popular to eat “balut”, or a gigantic egg.
Dogs are also eaten in the South of Philippines.
With the dayak you must be always very nice, otherwise they can refuse to help you to cook for you, or to cross the river with their canoes, for instance, and you get blocked. These people belong to a purer world than ours, they are closer to the nature, and will refuse your money. But once you are accepted and they smile at you, then they can die for you.

Other recommendations:
Finally I reached Singapore
Finally I reached Singapore
We disembarked around midnight near a remote village to where we had to swim the last 100 metres. Once on the beach many disappeared in the darkness, and I was invited to sleep in a huge hut besides the beach together with some of the “passengers”. Next day I walked for about two hours until a village called Bakapit where there was a paved road and took a bus to Lahad Datu, in the civilization. From there I continued by buses to Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu. In Labuan Island the immigration officers were surprised to see my passport without the stamp in Sabah State. After consulting with Sandakan I was allowed to continue by boat to Brunei, then I proceeded to Sarawak State and finally I took a cargo ship in Kuching until Johor Baharu, in continental Malaysia, in front of Singapore. The whole journey, from Manila to Singapore, overland (well, oversea), lasted exactly 40 days.

Published on Thursday July 7th, 2005

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Sun, Jun 13 2010 - 07:31 AM rating by xolar

I read this report with great pleasure.
Todas las mejores aventuras Jorge y posteriores - Andres

Fri, Jan 23 2009 - 12:14 PM rating by louis

Great report. Soon I will have my holidays and I am thinking about Philippines. Thanks to your report I am almost sure to go there.

Sat, Apr 08 2006 - 06:00 PM rating by tokyomike

WOW! Now this travel adventure is the stuff that novels are made of. What an incredible experience. Forget about "around the world in 40 days." This trip sounds much more stimulating. Although you're a lot braver than I heading into the deep south like you did. Fantastic report. Thanks!

Sat, Jan 21 2006 - 07:56 AM rating by mj2004!

Sun, Jul 10 2005 - 01:34 AM rating by fieryfox

An interesting report with a twist of adventure. Thanks for sharing this experience. cheers.

Fri, Jul 08 2005 - 09:35 AM rating by davidx

Brilliant and informative yet again

Fri, Jul 08 2005 - 06:08 AM rating by rangutan

Quite a brave venture and one of your best reports, well, they are all excellent. I like the islands calculation - consider too, if the 7000 islands could really be visited at a rate of (more realistically) 1-5 days, the trip would take about a lifetime!

Fri, Jul 08 2005 - 05:21 AM rating by bear495

I appreciate all of the wonderful contributions that you are making. Continue writing such wonderful, informative reports.


Fri, Jul 08 2005 - 04:50 AM rating by gloriajames

Another exciting adventurous report! 5*

Thu, Jul 07 2005 - 05:44 PM rating by eirekay

Jorge, Thank you for another fancinating report! You lead an amazing life, full of adventures and surprises!

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