Calauit: A Safari Like No Other

“This better be worth it.”

 After sleeping for less than 3 hours, I
found myself dragging my feet like a drunken zombie at 3:30 AM down the stairs
of Coron Ecolodge as we wait for our tour van to arrive. Everybody in the
dining area was having their caffeine fix and chatting like it’s 11 AM! Obviously,
I was the only one who hates early-morning starts.
The van arrived before 4 AM, and as we
loaded ourselves into the vehicle, I was relieved to find an empty seat near
the window, where I could rest my head and doze through the entire 3-hour
journey dreaming dreams. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
We were dropped off the pier and instructed
to sit still on the benches of an open outrigger boat with our lifejackets
donned. So much for catching a nap.  I told
myself to just enjoy the view, but it wasn’t possible as we cruised the waters
in the pitch dark, using only the faint glow of a flashlight to avoid crashing
onto the limestone islets.
So I just closed my eyes, felt the cool mist
embrace my face, listened to the water slap against some shore nearby.  An hour after, I was marveling at the
picturesque rock formations against a purplish blue backdrop as the sun rose
over Busuanga.

The boat trip was nothing short of
impressive, as it turned out. We had breakfast of eggs, hotdogs, rice, and
coffee on the boat as we rocked with the waves. In between bites, I was busy
snapping photos of the towering cliffs and deserted coves pounded by waves any
surfer will die for.

Three hours later, we were ushered onto Calauit
Island, a 3,700-hectare wildlife sanctuary, home to both endemic and African
animals.  A big truck with benches
accommodated the overflow of tourists and drove us to the sanctuary, where a
pack of the native Calamian deer snubbed us as they concentrated on their
breakfast. Subtle movements behind the trees told me giraffes were nearby,
waiting for the tourists to feed them—spoiled, spoiled giraffes. While the
truck witnessed a flurry of photoshoots and never-ending shrieks and screams
and giraffes gorging on the leaves they’re being fed on, I noticed a herd of
zebras quietly grazing nearby.

 It was Africa all over again, though on a
smaller scale. I’ve been to an African safari before, so I didn’t expect much
from this trip, but surprisingly, it gave me a sense of excitement just the
same. African animals were shipped to Palawan following a call from the
Government of Kenya to save its wildlife, as the country was ravaged by civil
war in the ‘70s. In 1977, 104 heads of giraffes, zebras, impalas, waterbucks,
bushbucks, gazelles, elands, and topis arrived in their new home. At present
the pack continues to flourish because, unlike their natural habitat in Africa,
Calauit is devoid of predators, and surprisingly, they thrived in the island as
if it were their natural home.
But what sets Calauit apart from the safari
I’ve been to is the endemic and African species living harmoniously together,
sharing resources, and basically accepting each other. We could all use a
lesson or two from them.
After seeing all the other animals
(crocodiles, tortoise, wildpigs, monkeys, etc.) we hopped back into the boat
and sailed towards a quaint little island outlined by pink sand for our lunch
break. Sheltered under the shade of an overgrown talisay tree, we devoured the
freshest seafood fare Coron has to offer—crabs, shrimps, squid, fish, you
name it. The next hour was spent lazing around, dipping in the crystal-clear
waters, enjoying the otherworldly feeling of isolation. Such peace!
Coron makes me go ahhhhhh!
Once we’ve digested enough food to pump up
our energy levels, we headed to Lusong Coral Garden, where virgin coral reefs
and clear waters breathed promise of eventful snorkeling. In less than a
minute, everybody was all geared up in lifevests and snorkeling equipment and
dove into the azure waters, including those who confessed they didn’t know how
to swim. That’s how tempting the water is!
With our tour guide leading us, we snorkeled
over what seemed like miles and miles of coral beds shining brightly in a
kaleidoscope of colors.  As my eyes
combed through the coral garden, I chanced upon what looked like a giant steel
board clothed in moss and sea plants, in what turned out to be one of the
shipwrecks, a gunboat. It was a magnificent sight, a bit scary and
overwhelming, but beautiful nonetheless. I wished I knew how to free dive!
No doubt, we all sailed through the rest of
the tour back to Coron with smiles painted on our faces. On the boat, we can’t
help admiring the natural beauty of the Philippines’ Last Frontier. The
limestone cliffs, the red mountains, the hidden lagoons told us the best was
yet to come. I could get used to waking up in the wee hours of the morning for
this!
For a mind-blowing experience (sensory
overload!), check out Coron Ecolodge’s Caluit Safari Tour.
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