Thursday, January 19, 2012

A bangka (outrigger canoe) trip in Mindanao - up-river and along the shoreline


During our last trip in July/August 2011 to my wife's home town in Mindanao, the Philippines, we hired a traditional means of Philippine maritime transportation -- a small outrigger canoe called a bangka. The bangka is widely used in the Philippines, especially in the provinces outside the major metro areas, for fishing and transportation within and between the islands, and bangkas are very common in the seashore and fishing villages.  Its long, narrow canoe-like banana-shaped hull is wooden and painted with multiple coats of epoxy paint.  Generally it has two outriggers made of bamboo, which act to stabilize the boat in the tropical sea or river waters. The smallest bangkas are usually manually powered with paddles like a canoe or kayak, although the rather small bangka we hired was propelled by a small outboard engine that was I believe was only 5 horsepower.  I've been on a bangka  before and enjoyed it thoroughly, but this time we took a fairly small bangka and traveled on a trip route we had not taken before, which was  really pleasant and exciting for all of us.  For our 8-year old daughter in particular, this was an exciting, educational, and eye-opening trip that gave her exposure to many things she does not have the opportunity to see in the U.S.

The man that my father-in-law hired to take us out in a bangka was a local fisherman with his own bangka, and interestingly he was also a builder of bangkas.  So since my wife and I didn't personally make the arrangements, I don't really have any practical advice or suggestions about looking for a boat for hire other than "use your common sense,  and look for a boat that doesn't leak" (ha-ha!).   I have a definite appreciation for bangkas, and some day I would like to have one of my own.   Onboard the bangka were our Papa/Lolo (my father-in-law; "Lolo" is the Filipino word for grandfather, and is what my daughter calls him), my wife, my daughter, our bangka captain, his son who was about 11 years old, and myself. 

We started off from the beach at my wife's home town in Mindanao (Oroquieta City), and we went a short distance along the shore line until we came to the mouth of the river that flows through the small city.  Since the draught of our little boat was about equal to that of a canoe, it can get into some pretty shallow water.  From the mouth of the river, we went upstream as far as we could.  We passed under a pedestrian suspension (cable) bridge, which can easily accommodate the width of two people walking side-by-side passing in opposite directions, and we kept going upriver.  We next came to the first road bridge, and went underneath it.   There were a good number of people doing laundry in the river under the bridge, and this was really educational for our daughter, as this is something that is not seen in the U.S. and even in our travels in the Philippines we can't usually see too well what's going on under a bridge because our car is traveling over it.  An interesting social and work event, nearly hidden from the sight of all above.


Washing clothes under the bridge

We then had to turn off the motor and use paddle due to it being shallow.  We were able to go upstream about a couple hundred more meters,  at which point we were starting to scrape bottom and get stuck, and ultimately we had to turn around.  Our trusty bangka pilot and his son got out and re-situated the boat when we got stuck pretty well.  Before we turned around, however, we passed some more women doing the laundry, this time out in the middle of the river (since it was so shallow) on piles of rocks, and on several occasions accompanied by a very small child or children.  We waved at these tiny little children, who watched us with a shy fascination perhaps mixed with a little bit of fear. 


Children accompanying mother on rocks in river doing laundry

Little boys with their mama doing laundry on rocks in river
Once we headed back down-river and got past the bridge, we used the motor again, and headed out past the mouth of the river into the sea, following the shoreline less than a kilometer from the shore.   We headed north to find another, smaller river that came out of an area of foothills.  This smaller river would lead up to a village in which Papa had spent time as a young boy with his family farming and evading the Japanese Army during World War II.  Unfortunately, we didn't get many pictures of the beautiful shoreline, but the following picture is one that shows the area along the shore several kilometers north of my wife's home town.  In the photo below, we are approaching a much more rural and agricultural area, with the elevation of the land climbing up from sea level, and you can see behind the clouds the elevation of one of the main mountains in this area.  In this photo, the water is getting just the slightest bit of choppiness from either a bit of wind or from some turbulence from streams and the river coming down from the foothills.  There's a fair amount of desirable hardwood timber grown in those foothills (mahogany, nara, etc.) in addition to coconut trees and camote (sweet potato/yam root crops). 


Bangka boat "Kimberly", as taken from our bangka boat

We next passed by some fish nets that were staked into the water, and entered the mouth of this second, smaller river coming out of the foothills.  This river was much, much narrower than the river that passes through my wife's home town, but apparently also a bit deeper, at least in parts.   The narrowness of the river was really interesting and somewhat exciting to my daughter and me, but my wife was worried that there would be snakes in the thick trees and bushes that lines the shores (her worries were unfounded, at least during our trip).  We saw many nipa huts (bamboo houses), which near the river are typically elevated up on stilts, in comparison to nipa huts you'll see inland away from the rivers, which are not raised up as high.  Usually, sitting on the bank of the stream in front of these houses are brightly colored bangkas.  As shown in some of the photos below, bangkas represent an important means of transportation for villagers living along the streams and rivers of provincial (rural) Philippines.  Ultimately, we realized that this was not the river Papa was looking for -- it was a bit further north along the coast line.  Due to time constraints, however, we decided to just continue our trip and just "go with the flow" (or in our case since we were heading upstream, go against the flow).


Small bangka passing by, fish nets staked up in background

Bamboo nipa hut houses on stilts, bangkas docked in front



Family (mama, papa, 3 boys, dog) in bangka passing by on this narrow river...  a "fluvial road"

Another nipa hut house, with a brightly colored bangka in front


Family onshore doing some work near their bangka boats

We enjoyed our trip, and a great time was had by all.  Taking a bangka trip along shore and upstream is definitely something on my "highly recommended" list of things to do if you visit the rural coastal provinces of the Philippines, and it is especially fun to do if you have children.  Our daughter got to experience all of the sights, smells, and sounds of this trip, and also got to wave hello to a lot of families and little children along the banks of the rivers.    Papa got to reminisce about some of the trips along the same coastline he took as a child and as a teenager.  And my wife and I got to relax and really enjoy being out on the water, taking in the experience and enjoying the company of family.  Although our trip probably lasted about 3 hours, I could have spent literally all day on the bangka (despite having long legs in a small boat). I think next time we will bring along a picnic lunch and try to spend more than 3 hours out on the bangka.


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