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Delving deep into tribal culture before paddling Coron's "Time Tunnels"
Nothing lifts the lid on tribal culture like a dish shared when the key ingredient is poisonous if not prepared properly: Savour a view, a yarn and a meal referred to as “Tagbanua roulette” with a tribal family in a remote corner of Coron, a limestone island that offers some of the most sublime sea kayaking in the tropical world. The head of this family is Reden, an elder of the Tagbanua tribe.
The meal and banter taking 45 minutes is preceded by a 60 minute guided walk through a Tagbanua family's banana and sweet potato garden to a lookout over a green lagoon, birds nest caves beyond. Another point of interest of the walk is a cave that descends into a body of brackish water with the option of a dip. Lakes make up about half the area of Coron Island, some being super-sacred, homes to the giant octopus–the most powerful deity of the Tagbanua. The centre of family life is by the sea where the family has its outrigger banca, a homemade styrofoam kayak with double-bladed paddle (any guessing as to how the design of the paddle came about in the past two decades?) and a solar charging panel.
What we get out of this experience?
Knowledge that Tagbanua culture is defined by water, a product of Coron’s largely uninhabitable limestone kast topography.It’s no accident Reden’s home is a cave at the edge of the water and his favoured view the green lagoon. Reden’s garden and birds’ nests aside, it is the sea that sustains Tagbanua culture. The sea – as well as the lakes — are at the core of Coron’s identity.
Sharing a meal whose key ingredient derives from land and not sea is a distinct compliment: the Tagbanua are not alone in gifting visitors a taste of the exotic!
We leave how we arrived--by kayak. Next experience is paddling the "time tunnels" of Coronone paddle stroke at a time before entering the Secret Lagoon, a sacred place with its own language demanding silence on pain of punishment.
Launched from the mother outrigger banca, the kayak trip hugging the undercuts takes up to six hours, a highlight being bamboo poles placed precariously aiding the harvest of birds’ nests as high as 200 metres from caves in the sheer limestone cliffs above. Paddlers also do a circuit of the green lagoon seen from Reden’s lookout, an opportunity to see how seaweed is grown and harvested. Gliding again en route to the Secret Lagoon beneath the heavily-undercut cliffs paddlers lose all sense of time, like being in a cave. Sightings of cormorants, kingfishers, sea eagles are common. Phosphorescence abounds as do scuttling crabs. When entering the Secret Lagoon paddlers had already digested the stories of punishment, starting with an elder and elected official who cut trees for profit and was whipped, ending with an account passed on by Willie, an elder at the entrance of the green lagoon – the one seen from Reden’s lookout — about punishment being dished out for being noisy! Silence prevails.
There’s no better way of connecting with the seafaring Tagbanua who themselves paddle to get around their virtually impenetrable island than by kayaking. Not only is paddling a compatible activity culturally it maximizes the experience that comes with accessing some of the most significant portions of Coron Island. Kayaks also afford a ready way to connect with both individual paddlers and kayakers as a group.
The paddle is a comfortable 4-hour paddle to the Secret Lagoon from their motorised outrigger support boat or from a Coron island beach camp, where the previous night we would have had Willie, a Coron elder, over for a chat around the camp fire. Ever since he instilled fear in the children of two Australian families paddling the east coast by telling them that kids had been whipped for being noisy, he delights in waxing lyrical about the strictures of Tagbanua traditions.
Fully briefed, paddlers depart at low to medium tide from near Callis Point to kayak some 15 kms to the Secret Lagoon, passing under undercut cliffs, imitating the experience of caving when all sense of time is lost. The passage through the undercuts is punctuated by the site of bamboo poles attached precariously to the towering limestone cliffs. The poles help Tagbanua access their birds’ nests. Also on the itinerary is a circuit of the green lagoon and an examination of the seaweed farms, dropping paddle at a couple of beaches and viewing eagles, cormorants, kingfishers, crabs. Finally a slit in the limestone coast allows passage into the Secret Lagoon, a body of water of intense green and blue hues. On its limestone walls are a species of slipper orchid said to be found nowhere else in the world. So important to the Tagbanua is their lagoon it has a distinct language. Those who don’t know it must shut up on pain of punishment. The lagoon is tiny by Coron standards, but paddlers have been known to be mesmerized after enduring the tidal drum beat of the waves pounding in the undercuts, such that many hours can elapse. Tribal Adventures will hope to limit the experience to 30 minutes, making the total paddling time for the east Coron paddle to the Secret Lagoon to 3 ½ hours.
Take-home message: There’s no better tropical sea paddle
What you’ll experience?
The majesty, drama and tranquility of paddling Coron’s east coast, losing a sense of time kayaking Coron’s spectacular undercuts
After transitioning from cormorants to kingfishers, from pulsating sea to tranquil waters, you’ll arrive at the Secret Lagoon and listen to its Silence.