Bacuit Bay, off the northwest end of Palawan Island, Philippines, boasts an archipelago dotted by a blend of tropical reefs, karst limestone outcroppings and sandy beaches, perfect for a sea kayak adventure.
I was back in Corong-Corong, south of El Nido, flying solo as my paddling partner, Ian Taylor, had left due to an injury, assembling my Feathercraft collapsible under the watchful eyes of the same group of smiling kids as a few weeks earlier.
On nearby Inabuyutan Island, I found a beautiful beach and set up camp. The wind picked up overnight and I awoke to discover a blanket of fine sand covering my kayak. A "Kanaway," a strong north-northwest wind that can blow at any time, set in and I adjusted my route accordingly.
Working around the back of Malapacao and Lagen Islands, I reached tiny Pinsail Island and paddled into Cathedral Cave with its impressive limestone ceiling arching overhead. Outside, spindrift peeled of the waves as I cross to Cognon Beach.
A friendly resort worker offered some tips and I headed into the wind and across the strait. I slipped into the lee of Pangalusian Island and on to a beach on Antalula Island scouted on the first outing. Hanging my hammock from two rock outcroppings on the cliff, I watched the fiery sun fall below the horizon.
An enormous monitor lizard lumbered along the beach next morning, its head swaying side to side and tongue tasting the air. I waited for it to move on before packing and paddling to Miniloc Island, a private resort with gun-toting guards that encouraged me to keep a respectful distance.
I cruised north along the east coast of Matinloc Island, finding a narrow entrance to a tiny horseshoe bay and surfed the breaking waves to a secluded beach for a snack. At the northern tip of the island, I negotiated a soup bowl created by a 2.5-metre swell bouncing off the cliffs and reaching the quiet waters, between Matinloc and Tabiutan Island admired the kaleidoscope of blues. A spit of sand backed by a cliff with holds for my hammock was home for the night and I stored my kayak high in anticipation of a particularly high tide.
Next morning, I explored Our Lady of Matinloc Cathedral, built into the cliffs and, although long abandoned, maintained a sense of eery tranquility and beauty. Trolling the clear waters, I got lost in the scenery until the reel started to buzz. There was a slight tension on the line but no movement, so I reeled in at a lacklustre pace when it took off again. Twenty-five minutes later, I landed a three-kilogram tanigui—highly prized—and abruptly changed plans heading to nearby Secret Beach to smoke the fish and watch the moon rise.
The swell kicked up again and breaking out was a little hairy as waves crashed over my bow, with three-metre rollers intensifying the crossing to Helicopter Island. Behind a point, the waves broke over a reef creating a long, slow surf break, so I threw caution to the wind and chased the outside end of the wave. Unable to generate enough speed fully loaded I considered getting deeper in, but suspected it would end in disaster and paddled across the channel to the calm waters of Cadlao Lagoon instead.
Around the bottom of Cadlao Island, I pulled in on a picturesque beach on Bucal Island, a rock spire jutting skyward. With an even higher tide coming compliments of the full moon, I strung my hammock from an outcropping on the cliff to a tree and stored my gear as high up as possible.
Climbing into my Hennessy Hammock, I set an alarm for high tide, just to be sure. Sometime later, the hammock sagged and I fell to the ground accompanied with a loud thump. Unravelling myself, I discovered that a substantial section of the cliff I was anchored to had released and crashed to the ground centimetres away. The full moon revealed high tide lapping at the stern of my kayak, just out of harm's way. I reset the hammock, sliding back into an uneasy sleep.
Heading to El Nido, I found another wave and surfed a couple of long, gentle rides revelling in the adrenaline rush. Paddling the length of the beach, I noted the dirty water and felt no special attraction, so I was happy to head back to tranquil Corong-Corong to take my kayak apart and ready for the ferry to Coron.