Meet the locals

Bendalong is the ideal south coast seaside weekend village. Just a few hours drive south from Sydney, Boat Harbour Beach, is one of several beaches in Bendalong. This is an area with awesome beaches and whilst many little Aussie coastal villages can boast a great beach or maybe two, Bendalong has seven of them.

“Boat Harbour” is a 320 m long beach with waves averaging 0.5 m right next to Washerwomans Beach. The beach faces north and is pretty sheltered meaning it’s a good place to stand-up paddle board, kayak, swim or snorkel.

Additionally, Boat Harbour beach boasts a boat ramp located toward the eastern end. Thanks to this ramp, the beach has become famous for the large local sting rays that come in close to shore to feed on the scraps thrown to them by the fishermen. You can stand in the shore and let the rays come near to gently pat them or venture for a snorkel with these magnificent creatures on a weekend away.

A honeymoon island

Located in Bacuit Bay, Miniloc is one of four properties of El Nido Resorts, and part of a group of sustainable resorts in Palawan. This 40 year old resort attempts to resemble a coastal Filipino village with a magnificent setting. The holiday paradise only occupies 1% of the island and is at the edge of a plentiful house reef. Snorkellers and divers alike can have close encounters with huge jack fish and a variety of marine species just at its house reef. Even a black tip reef shark if they rise early!

The Bacuit bay is said to have been discovered by Japanese divers in the 1970s when they had to anchor due to a fishing line getting caught up in their engine. Since then it has been popular amongst divers, snorkellers and tourists as in these islands marine life is abundant. In specific, Miniloc Island is also popular among tourists because of its Lagoons.

Snorkelling with sharks

The blacktip reef shark lives in warm, shallow, tropical waters. It has a small territory it usually stays within which is why it is an easy target for avid snorkellers if one knows their favorite spots and is able to get an “off-menu” tour.

The black tips on its fins, in particular on the dorsal and caudal fins, gives it its name.Though it has a white belly and dark back that helps them camouflage with the dim seafloor and the brighter ocean surface which means one must be very alert to spot them.

These sharks grow up to 1.5 meters and is a species that cannot stop swimming, or they will simply sink. However, as a means of preserving the species, females are able to reproduce asexually if no males are available.

Beware of the macaque

This near-threatened crab-eating macaque is a ferocious creature. It lives around Southeast Asia and spotted in a coastal lowland forests in Miniloc, Palawan. This monkey lives in troops and whilst their social composition is a matriarchy, the males are pretty aggressive. They look even more so when showing their teeth beneath their moustaches and cheek whiskers. And even more so when a second one behind you does the same.

Local transportation

Filipino ingenuity and necessity for a mode of transportation gave birth to these tricycles. They originated from military trycicles left behind by the US military during WWII. This popular mode of transport is a motorbike with a roofed sidecar bolted to it to transport passengers and anything else through the narrow streets and small towns in the Philippines. The engines of the tricycles range from around 50-125cc which means they never go too fast; but the rides sure are bumpy!

More islands than days in ten years

All of the Philippines is made up islands which makes the country the second-largest archipelago in the world. It is estimated that it is composed of around 7,500 islands with only 2,000 of them inhabited.

Out of all of them, the small island of Palawan has been named one of the best islands in the world due to its incredible natural beauty. It is no surprise once visitors start discovering the big range of lagoons to swim in, accessibility to do island hoping tours, marine biodiversity to discover snorkelling or diving world class sites; and white sand beaches to laze and enjoy the sunset from.

Once devastation, now a destination

At 9 am on the 24th of September 1944 the US Navy strike force fighters and dive bombers attacked and sunk a dozen Japanese ships at the height of World War II. Considered one of the biggest naval victories of WWII for the Americans, the attack only took 40 minutes, and when it was over, a wide area of devastation was left behind in Coron Bay. Almost 80 years later, it is now home of some of the best shipwreck diving sites in the world.

Near Lusong island, a Japanese submarine hunter and gunship boat with a length of 30 meters is a popular snorkelling site. Presumed to be an auxiliary patrol boat, the Lusong Gunboat, lies close to the surface at a depth that ranges from just 5 to 15 meters. It is amazing how in such a short time the ocean has take over this man-made machine.

Islands of the Tagbanuas

A few hundred steps up and down take you to see the majestic Kanyangan lake. Though this is one of the most photographed views in Coron, this view is actually not the lake itself but the middle point viewing deck looking back to the open ocean into Coron bay. The lake itself sits behind the photographer and is composed of 70% fresh water and 30% salt water.

In the Calamian islands, the local native tribe, the Tagbanuas live. Tagbanuas people believe their ancestors still live on this island and thus entrance is limited up to 4pm everyday. Tagbanuas only let visitors into Kanyangan and Barracuda lakes, 11 others are Panyaan (sacred) and closed to public. Both lakes have been awarded the cleanest lakes in the Philippines; and Kanyangan lake was even awarded cleanest in the world recently.

Tagbanuas used to make a living by collecting swiftlet nests at the top of the island’s high limestone cliffs. This edible bird’s nest is used for making the bird’s nest soup. Now every visitor pays a fee which gives the tribe a much less hazardous means of income.

Never quite the same

Manila’s name is thought to be a corruption of its prehispanic name Maynilad. This pre-hispanic name is believed to come from may, there is, and nilad, a mangrove plant abundant around the banks of the Passig River.

There is a Manila before and a different one after the WWII. It is said that the city never recovered its sense of self after the war and thus never regained its “Paris of Asia” splendour.

A popular overnight stop to head to paradise islands, Manila hosts 1million tourists per year. Makati, one of the many Barangays (barrios) of Manila, a good one for such one-night stops. Interestingly enough, in 2011, an underground tunnel was discovered 3.5 meters below the street level where a lot of high end buildings, modern shopping centers and big companies can be seen. The tunnels are said to be wide enough for trucks to enter and were designed and used as an “underground highway” to transport food, medicines, and supplies for the military.

Pooping log

Christmas is around the corner and with it, it comes a myriad of traditions. Each place has its distinctive customs. Here in Catalunya there is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) or more commonly known as Caga tió (pooping log). As with all traditions, families have adjusted this one and some details of it may vary from household to household.

The Caga tió used to be a regular log but nowadays it is a smallish wooden log with stick legs, has a happy face, wears a red, Catalan ‘barretina’ hat and is covered in a blanket. The log poos lollies and small presents at Christmas though it is not as simple as just that.

From the 8th of December (Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion) the log “appears” in the house doorstep or found in the woods. From that day onwards, children must feed and look after the log until Christmas eve. Sometimes the feeding is recommended to be dry bread, orange peel or dried beans. Others, turrón (nougat). Sometimes parents might replace the small log by increasingly bigger ones as time goes by to make the children think that the log has grown after being fed.

On Christmas Eve, the tradition becomes bizarre and quirky. In order for the Caga Tió to produce its gifts, children are to beat it with another smaller wooden stick and sing to it, ordering it to poop presents. Whilst the words may vary from town to town, the tune stays the same, and translated to English it goes something like:

Poop, log,
poop nougats (turrones),
hazelnuts and cheese of mató,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop, log!

The song should end with a final load cry of Poop log! (Caga tió!) to command to the log to poo. The children then reach inside the Caga Tio’s blanket and find whatever the log has defecated. In some households children must go to a room to pray that the log has pooped something.

Traditionally, the Caga Tio produced relatively small gifts that were for all to share, and not individual gifts. The most common droppings offered by the log include turrón (nougat), small sweets, biscuits and dried fruits.

When the log has nothing left to evacuate, it finishes the feat with a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it ‘urinates’ by leaving a bowl of water. If there is a fireplace, the Caga tió can be burnt afterwards. Though these days many people keep it for next year.

It is said that the origins of this tradition date back to the days when the fireplace was a central and important part of family life. The ashes of the burnt log were kept and spread by crops and near the stable and even on the beds as a rite to promote fertility. Others say that the log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood.

Whatever the beginnings, in this corner of the world, comes Christmas eve, many children will be wacking a log with a stick to make it poop presents and lollies.