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Route of the balangay retraced

From: Borneo Bulletin Weekend Online
Written By: Tony Alabastro
Date: Sept 4, 2010

A sneak-peek in Brunei's yet-to-open Maritime Museum gave Philippine mountaineers turned sailors a living history of the migration of their ancestors on primitive sailboats centuries ago, a water voyage they are retracing now. "Bruneians are lucky to have their cultural heritage preserved in the maritime museum," said Arturo Valdez, team leader of the three-boat Voyage of the Balangay, which touched Brunei on their way to the rest of Southeast Asia in a 12,000-kilometre quest organised by Kaya ng Pinoy Inc, the group behind the Mount Everest Philippine Expedition. A Bruneian archeologist set foot in the biggest balangay, a replica of a 1,600-year-old sailboat dug up in the Philippines, and appreciated its historical value. She boarded Sama Tawi-Tawi, a 75-footlong sailboat with red, yellow and blue vinta-like sails, the symbol of Mindanao seafarers. It is named after the Sama people of Sibuto, the last of the Badjao boat builders, known for their craftsmanship, mastery of the waves and wind passed down from their forefathers, using ancient tools and no blueprints for boat building. "Tourism Director (Sheikh Jamaluddin) welcomed the three balangay and joined the tour of the Maritime Museum. Philippine Embassy and Filipino expatriates made our stay comfortable and memorable. Today, we're trying to make it to Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia 86 nautical miles away," Valdez, who had climbed Mount Everest with several balangay crew, wrote on his blog last Aug 25. Sama Tawi-Tawi, with the prototype Diwata ng Lahi (Fairy of the Race), Masawa Hong Butuan (Radiance of Butuan) built by Tawi-Tawi craftsmen from native Agusan wood, made Brunei its 86th stop and second foreign country after touring 80 places in the Philippines. They ged the coastline from Manila to Calapan, Calapan to Boracay. Getting inside busy ports like Sandakan, Labuan and Brunei is taxing game of supertankers, VLCC (very large crude carrier) and other large ships plying the route of our forefathers. The balangay may not make it in busy ports and narrow channels. They will be hit by those behemoths without modern communications. "We identify ourselves as a Philippine sailboat. They give way. We use the wind and the sails. In the channels of Labuan and Sandakan, boat traffic is heavy. In Singapore, there will be more water traffic. "Scores of cargo vessels were anchored at Labuan, a very busy port. Skies clear and weather were good as we faced southwesterly winds toward Brunei 19 nautical miles. We hoped to negotiate this in four to five hours. We departed the Labuan Yacht Club after an overnight stay and dinner hosted by the Labuan Tourism. They sailed to Labuan, 67 nautical miles away, from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where they rested for the first time after nine days of travel, and completed the resupply of water and food. "Datuk Tengku Aldin, chairman, Sabah Tourism Board, was a great host. Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Vic Lecaros through Consul Mel Lalunio gave a big hello and attended to our needs. KK has always been warm and hospitable to us even during our Everest years. "Datuk Tengku Adlin, 70, loves the outdoors. We met him in 2009 to promote the technical climb in Kota Kinabalu through the Philippines' Everest team. Our mountain climbing gear was flown to China. "We climbed Kinabalu with nothing. It was more exciting, more dramatic. It was cold on the way to the peak. They climbed with only the clothes on their back, with no climbing gear and no change of clothes. Really very cold. Datuk couldn't it. You are the man who walks the talk," he told us. "You can't imagine how we felt. When we arrived, we did not have our baggage with us. It was flown to Guangzhou (China)!" Valdez said. They climbed Mt Kinabalu via ferrata, or rock climbing, where climbers follow a continuous protected mountain path fitted with a series of steel rungs, rails and cables embedded into the rock face, previously accessible only to experienced rock climbers and mountaineers with specialised equipment. From Miri, they will sail to Bintulu, Kuching, Kalimantan and Terengganu. "People thought the Everest climb, the Asian boat voyage can't be done. Our voyage of the balangay and conquering Mt Everest show to the world the excellence of the Filipino. This venture can't be done anymore. People with resources may not have the time. People with time may have no resources. Those with time and resources may have no organisation," Valdez told a briefing at the Philippine Embassy. "We gained weight here in Brunei from the food given to us by Edel Bartholomew (Filipino Association in Brunei president) and the Philippine Embassy. We did not expect a grand welcome by the Brunei Tourism Director," Valdez said.