Friday, August 26, 2011

Balicasag Small Boat Scare

This is not my story but that of a very close friend. I am posting it just the same, so fellow travelers will be better informed. Here goes…

They were done with the countryside tour and were just resting by the beach. A boatman came by and offered to give them a tour to Balicasag Island the following day. P2600 for four of them. Husband, wife plus two children, both in high school level abroad. The kids got excited for that would have been their last snorkeling adventure in the Philippines before flying back to Canada. All set!

Following day, boatman came at the agreed time to fetch and walk them to the boat “parked” somewhere at the end of the beach where there were not so many people. She asked why. Boatman casually confided saying ‘so that they won’t be spotted by the coast guard’. She sensed something fishy was going on. But assumed it was just to avoid boat registration fees or something. You know, “colorums”, they’re everywhere, right?!

At the boat, they were introduced to a young couple who the boatmen said would also be traveling with them. Well and good, and they were merrily boarded. On departure, waves were rather big and the young couple were giggling and having fun at the boat’s up and down movements. As the trip progressed, the wind got windier and the big waves got even bigger. Boatmens’ facial expressions did not show that anything was to worry. All 6 passengers became silent, alarmed at the big waves compared to the size of their boat. Gloomy day. Husband, looked at the outriggers. Noticed some parts were decayed and could easily break in the high waves. Children a bit cautious but not at all frightened. The young couple’s joyous cheers were gone.

Husband, already worried, asked where Balicasag was. Accidentally, simultaneously, wife also asked “malayo pa ba”? Boatman pointed to a lighthouse that they thought looked too tiny, and kept disappearing from view due to the waves. So wife said it was still very far. Asked kids and husband if they thought they should go back instead. All agreed. She kindly asked the young couple if they too would like to return since the waves were getting bigger and harsher. Both quickly agreed and exclaimed they were just waiting for the family’s decision. So boat returned. End of story!

Now what was that?

Well, all in the country knew that August 24, 2011 was not a very fun day going anywhere offshore. Did you?! Typhoon Mina was seen skirting the northeastern seaboard though PAGASA said it won’t make landfall. But the rest of the country was just the same windy and gloomy with sporadic showers, right? Very! And of course, it did not exclude Bohol. But boatmen must earn a living, so they made a go for it. And the ultra-excited tourists (the family of 4 and the young couple) considered this a chance of a lifetime. So they still went for it. Good they unanimously decided to turn back. Part of me was saying “if boatmen were not worried, then it should have been safe”. But a bigger part of me was shouting in my mind “why the hell frighten yourself and break your own standards of safety when no one is forcing you”. Again, I still say, good they decided to turn back.

Away from the coastguard? Well, here is proof of what I often say (if you smell something fishy, then there is something fishy hehe)! They were not able to ask specifics why the boatmen were evading coastguard authorities. So we just guessed some possibilities. Like, maybe the boat was unregistered because unqualified to ferry passengers – especially over-excited tourists. Or, maybe there was an advisory already sent out for small boats not to sail due to the weather. Whatever the reason, wife should have already listened to her instincts. Btw, looking at my map, the group’s resort was/is about 13kms from Balicasag.

Anyway, this is still Bohol, and I’m proud to say that though tourism is big in the whole island, people still don’t forget the unadulterated meaning of “fairness”. Later the boatmen returned to refund what the tourists paid. They just asked to take P600 out of the whole amount for the gas spent for the aborted trip. When boatmen were gone, wife exclaimed “are we still in the Philippines?”! She did not imagine some such boatman would still bother returning just to offer a refund! And I proudly said “well, this is Bohol”!

All’s well folks, but let’s learn the lessons in their story.

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