Balangay now in Malaysia; crew hopes to meet Aquino in Vietnam

From: Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date Published: October 3, 2010
Written By:  Alcuin Papa

LITTLE BIG BOATS. Balangay replicas sail into Singapore on September 25. Seafarer Art Valdez beams as Philippine flags flutter. The balangay also sailed into Terranganu, Pahang, East Malaysia October 2. Sato Raypon and Andy Maluche/Contributors

MANILA, Philippines—A replica of a pre-colonial “balangay” with its Filipino crew is halfway through its journey around Southeast Asia and is poised to undertake its most dangerous leg, crossing the stormy South China Sea, crew leader Art Valdez told the Inquirer Saturday.

Valdez, a former undersecretary at the Department of Transportation and Communication and former leader of the Philippine Mt. Everest team, said in a telephone interview they hoped to make it to Hanoi, Vietnam by the end of this month in time for Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit there.

Valdez said the crew hopes to meet President Benigno Aquino in Hanoi.

“We hope to meet him in Vietnam and invite him to see us at the port,” Valdez said in a telephone interview from Pahang, Malaysia, where the balangay is now docked after calling at Singapore September 25-28.

“We would tell him that Filipinos should reconnect and revive our maritime consciousness," Valdez said. "The sea has always been part of our environment and our culture. But we lost it because of colonialism.”

On Saturday, Valdez said he and his crew were in Terengganu in Pahang, the center of traditional shipbuilding in Malaysia.

“We are halfway through our journey,” he said, adding they would sail next into the Gulf of Thailand and into Bangkok next week. From Thailand, they plan to sail to Cambodia and Vietnam.

The “balangay” sailed into Singapore last September 25 where Valdez said the crew was welcomed warmly by crews of vessels from around the world.

“When we sailed into Singapore, the port announced our arrival and asked the other international vessels, including supertankers, to give way for us since we had no engine. We could see the warm welcome extended to us by Filipino crews on the vessels as we passed by. This is proof that the Filipino is one of the best seafarers in the world,” Valdez said.

From Hanoi, Valdez said they would sail to Danang, Vietnam, where they are set to cross the South China Sea to Palawan some time in November. He said this would be the longest leg of their journey and the longest time they would spend out in the open sea.

“We will be out in open sea for a week. It will also be the most dangerous since there might still be storms in the South China Sea in November,” Valdez said.

From Palawan, the crew will sail to the Tubbataha Reef, a favorite of divers from across the globe. From there, they plan to sail to Panay Island and enter Luzon through the famed Hundred Islands in Pangasinan.

Despite the dangers they faced, Valdez said the morale of the crew was high. “The reception in every port we have been to was very warm. No one has been sick. Most of the time, we have been feasting on fish.”

The core members of the crew include Valdez, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Carina Dayondon, Leo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Noelle Wenceslao, Dr. Ted Esguerra, Fred Jamili and Dr. Voltaire Velasco.

Sarnea, Dayondon, Oracion, Emata, Wenceslao, Esguerra and Jamili were with Valdez’s successful Mt. Everest teams that planted the Philippine flag on the world’s highest mountain.

In 2006, Oracion and Emata were the first and second Filipinos to conquer Everest, respectively.

A year later, Dayondon, Wenceslao and Sardena became the first Southeast Asian women to scale Everest in dramatic fashion, starting their ascent from the North Side and going down the South Side for a historic traverse of the mountain.

“This voyage is a once-in-a lifetime event, just like our journey to Everest. The voyage of the balangay is symbolic of regional unity. It also has historical value because at one time in our history, we were all connected by marine highways,” said Valdez.

He also said their balangay journey was more enjoyable than their trips to the fearsome Mt. Everest, which is known to claim lives every climbing season.

“The sea is our natural environment. We are at home in the sea, not like the high altitude of Everest,” he said.

Valdez added: “But this journey is also tough. We have bad weather. Sometimes when we have to land on small islands, the residents there mistake us for pirates. But we explain to their local police the purpose of our trip.”

The journey of the Philippine balangay started in Manila Bay on Sept. 1. They made around 80 stopovers while sailing south.

After touching Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Turtle Islands, Valdez said they entered the waters of Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu and Sarawak in Malaysia. They doubled back to Brunei before sailing to the Batang Region of Indonesia. From there, they sailed on to Singapore.