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Art Valdez rebuilds the ancient Balangay and sets it for voyage

Art Valdez at the front of the Balangay

I have always wondered what it’s like for our ancestors to travel through open waters. The ancient Filipinos are originally seafaring people and proof of this is the discovery of an age old Balangay sea vessel excavated in Butuan dating as far back as 320 AD. And when I heard that someone rebuilt a Balangay in Manila, crafted by the Bajaus of Sibutu and Sitangkay of Tawt-tawi using methods originally done during the 14th century, I just had to see this.

Art Valdez at the front of the Balangay
Art Valdez at the front of the Balangay

I have always wondered what it’s like for our ancestors to travel through open waters. The ancient Filipinos are originally seafaring people and proof of this is the discovery of an age old Balangay sea vessel excavated in Butuan dating as far back as 320 AD. And when I heard that someone rebuilt a Balangay in Manila, crafted by the Bajaus of Sibutu and Sitangkay of Tawt-tawi using methods originally done during the 14th century, I just had to see this.

So even with the weather going haywire with burst of squalls and a couple of tornadoes (since when did we have tornado alerts here?) I went to the Harbor Side Parking lot besides Folk Arts Theater on an invitation sent yesterday from the movement of Kaya ng Pinoy to bloggers. Aside from seeing the Balangay I was also excited to talk to Mr Art Alvarez, the person behind building the boat and also the main man who organized the climb of the Philippine Everest Team. After reading John Krauker’s Everest Account in his book “Into Thin Air” I have high respect to people who have climbed or almost climbed the mountain.

A National Museum Sketch of the Balangay
A National Museum Sketch of the Balangay
Detail construction of the Balangay
Detail construction of the Balangay

It was an informal night of questions and answers with Mr Valdez regarding his new project Voyage of the Balangay. We were on the balangay, and can even claim to be the first ones to eat there. Measuring 15 meters long and 3 meters wide, the balangay is finally done after 40 days work by the Bajau Shipbuilders who came from Sibutu and Sitangkay Tawi-tawi. Their craftsmanship is amazing using native wood that also came from Tawi-tawi. On the 12th of June independence day, the Balangay would be released to the waters of Manila Bay and by June 24th 27th it will start its voyage from Manila to Tawi-tawi and soon across open waters of South East Asia, Micronesia, Madagascar, Atlantic and Back.

Here is the Domestic Sailing Route:

First Leg: Manila to Boracay – 248 Nautical Miles, 460 Kilometers
Second Leg: Boracay to Cebu City/ Mactan – 369 NM = 684 KM
Third Leg: Mactan to Cagayan de Oro – 374 NM = 693 KM
Fourth Leg: Cagayan de Oro to Zamboanga City – 299 NM = 554 KM
Fifth Leg: Zamboanga City to General Santos City – 380 NM = 705KM
Sixth Leg: General Santos City to Davao City – 158 NM = 293 KM
Seventh Leg: Davao City to Siluag, Tawi-Tawi – 280 NM = 519 KM

And the planned International Sailing Route:

2009    The Philippines
2010    Southeast Asia
2011    Micronesia and Madagascar
2012    Sail across the Pacific onward to the Atlantic, all the way around the world
2013    Back home to the Philippines

An informal evening of Q&A on board the Balangay at the Harbor Side
An informal evening of Q&A on board the Balangay at the Harbor Side
Art Valdez (2nd to the right beside me at front) with bloggers
Art Valdez (2nd to the right beside me at rightmost front) with bloggers

The Balangay boat will be manned by around a team of 20, consisting of Bajau Boatmen and the members of Philippines Team Everest (Leo Oracion, Erwin “Pastour” Emata, Noelle Wenceslao, Carina Dayondon, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Dr. Ted Esguerra, Fred Jamili, Dr. Voltaire Velasco). They also plan to navigate using methods of early mariners like readings through the stars, sun, clouds, bird migration patterns and cloud formations. With this they have to contend with changing weather patterns at sea due to climate change which would prove to be a big challenge for them.

Asked why Mr Valdez is doing this? He said it’s to bring back the rich maritime culture of the Filipinos and also to show the world that the Filipino Can, in tagalog “Kaya ng Pinoy“. In these times where Filipinos are occupied with talks on politics and scandals, I’m glad to hear there is some news out there that can lift the Filipino spirit and values. We must remember that the word and social group model of our Barangay came from the Balangay. The Voyage of the Balangay is a history in the making, and I will be closely watching this.

The rebuilt Balangay may be viewed at the CCP Harbor side.

By Ferdz

Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

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