Friday, August 28, 2015

Kayak Around Taal Volcano Island

(from my book Akyat)

When the kayak plan was drafted, I assembled my UPM paddling team and connected with the Primer Group for support and sponsorship. I presented a plan to circumnavigate Taal volcano. The distance was 35 kms, doable in one day. This may not sound challenging for experienced kayakers, but since we didn’t expect to get a much faster sit-in ocean kayak and all members of the party were more adept in handling a beer bottle than a paddle, I thought the distance was just right. The pencil drawing became a colored picture, and the colored picture became reality.

To make it more meaningful, we scouted for a socio-community service
component. I wanted an easy but meaningful contribution to the
education of kids there. Weeks prior, my team visited the island and discovered a small
school with 350 grade school students. “Kayak for a Cause” was born.
The barangay and school officials were cooperative. I contacted the
Batangas office of Gov. Vilma Santos. They were also supportive after
they learned that the trip would promote eco-tourism in Taal Lake and
support a local school. They lent us all their 9-foot sit-on-top kayaks
and provided hauling service.

Danny was with me for the first section, but Pen took his seat to allow more efficient team travel (the 9foot kayak was 'unmanageable' for her). Here, enjoying the 2nd leg (eastern section) of the island.

On the event day, we prepared our gear at Taal Lake Yacht Club. Alcohol
evaporated from our system from the previous day’s pre-trip party
when we kayaked at 6:20 a.m. on a warm February day. We were a total
of 12, including three guest rowers who came from nowhere. We used
a variety of kayaks. The most challenging were the short single plastic
sit-on-tops. We had three homemade fiberglass sit-ins, two in questionable
condition. The rest were sit-ons, including mine.
We arrived at the school after an hour of paddling.
at Pulo island shore, arrived after almost 1hr of paddling from Talisay town (around 5km)

We waited for the support boat that got stuck in home base. Imagine
kayaks moving faster than a motorized support boat! I fretted while
smokes of anger came out of my nostrils. A support crew must always
adapt to the core team’s movement, not the other way around. Delays
affected the primary team and put the main objective at risk. The boat
arrived. I urged the team to help and haul all the goods fast. We had
another 30 kms to travel.
happy kids, faculty members and kayakers

We distributed school supplies and participated in a reception program
arranged by the school before paddling on. I felt guilty seeing those
pupils in their uniforms on a Sunday. As the program came to a close,
I saw the school kids smiling along with the teachers and barangay officials.
They were happy because a group of adventurers visited their
island and collected many school supplies for them (pens, crayons,
notebooks, branded school bags, educational posters, folders, even
small decorative wood planks with room names). Future kayaking by
my team around this island would be welcome.
We bade the school goodbye and went back to shore. We focused on
"be good in school" is all I can remember saying ;)

We paddled on and went clockwise, anticipating strong afternoon
winds. We thought it best to ride the eastern part first, then worry
later about the wind and rough water as we exited the western part of
the island. We assumed that the wind would come from the northeast
based on the week’s local weather.
By 10:30 a.m., we stopped for a big lunch. Given the absence of navigational
aids like GPS or maps, I based my “navi-guessing” on my
watch and estimated that the group was half-way and we deserved a
break. We were still high and eager to paddle on.
lucky with the weather unlike the week previous.  a slight current on the 'way in', and manageable wind at the latter part.  Thank God!

With full stomachs, we slowly paddled towards the island’s southeastern
tip. It was slow-going. Our energy and blood were busy
digesting our heavy rice meal.
When we hit the southwestern side, our morale and interest ebbed.
Most of us were tired. The thought of paddling heavy sit-on boats
added to our misery. We secretly chanted: “We want a fast boat, we
want a sit-in kayak!”
I heard someone shout. It was getting louder. I turned and saw
Christian Guerrero “the climber” shouting profanities, cursing the
boat. Or, perhaps me. He was experiencing leg cramps. The small
leg room of his boat couldn’t fit his long legs.

We navigated through countless fish pens. I avoided them and any
human-made obstacle given my vulnerable kayak. We encountered
these bamboo-enclosed fish pens after we left the school, but on
this side of the island that was narrower, the once fantastic lake
view was marred by ghastly-looking, lake-killing fish pens.
Laurel side (left side of the pic is Talisay town). One can see an endless array of fish cages in the area, my team passed through this maze (closer to the island).

Although fish farming around the lake provided livelihood to local
communities and enriched fish pen owners who weren’t from this
barrio, the unregulated industry was killing the lake and its native
species. Oxygen depletion (where the water’s oxygen content level
was low) caused by over-farming easily killed the fish. Worse, the
non-native tilapia became dominant and could wipe out native species
such as tawilis (the only freshwater sardinella in the world) and
the tiny Taal sea snake, probably the only freshwater sea snake in
the world.

On another occasion, I kayaked this same lake and its Pansipit River
with conservationists from Pusod who echoed the same conservation
message. In my own words, this was: “Don’t fuck up this lake!”
After covering around 28 kms, we were close to the northwestern
tip of the island. We rested and complained about our slow boats,
our tired and sore muscles, and asked ourselves why we were doing
this trip in the first place. It was typical attitude from mountaineers. One of the members said, “You think of stupid things like ultra-marathons, now
long-distance kayaking. Puro ka pahirap!” That was said in jest, but
there was some truth to it.
employees of P&G also donated and help packed the kits. Thank you!

We hit open water again and saw the yawning gap between the island
and Talisay town. We felt possessed as we paddled harder and stronger.
We wanted to finish this, have big lunch no. 2 and take a long rest!
We were on our own for the next hour and didn’t mind who was left
behind or if the support boat was around to aid anyone. We put all our
energies into one thing–paddling. Even those working in tandem rarely
talked. It was paddle, curse, paddle!
the day before, assembling kits for the kids. Thanks to Primer Group, R.O.X. 

We reached the other side of the open water, hit the shoreline and
moved a few kilometers to our base. The spirits guarding Taal Lake
were merciful. After almost seven hours of rowing. we arrived at
the final point safe, in one piece and still sane! We were finally done!

I was very satisfied that we covered a significant distance of Taal Lake,
completed our island circumnavigation and donated 14 boxes of
school supplies for 350 grade school kids in the island.
On the shore, we merrily exchanged high fives, punched or slapped
each other. The group was so happy that the trip was over, our misery
was in the past, and we could resume our lives off the water.
We all felt the high of that trip days after. We were blessed with a good
weather, we were able to borrow kayaks for free, get support from
sponsors and our group of novice kayakers all survived our longest
kayak ride.

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