A Disappointing Trek to The Batak Tribe, Palawan

The last day and night in Palawan. We say goodbye to Dr. Margie and Art tomorrow who were then participating in a surgical mission in the Philippines. A very early start with breakfast at 5:30a, pre-ordered last night. The wonderful staff was in the dining room catering to our every need. However, the absolutely gigantic spider on the wall in my bathroom wasn’t exactly a perfect start to a morning. Huge!

This morning’s excursion would visit the Batak Tribe, bearing the “love offerings” we bought in Puerto Princesa especially for this. When Steve and I heard the hike’s nitty-gritty details from Vim, the two of us bowed out. A tough decision but ex-Marine’s back was really bad. To hike into a remote area with no way out wasn’t very smart. Margie and Art would have to bear our share of the “love offerings.” Vim anticipated two-hours hiking to the village, crossing many streams/rivers, two-hours in the Batak Village and then return the same way. He also said that many times a few Batak hang around the San Rafael Visitors Center selling their wares. We took books with to read while waiting for their return.

huge spider on my bathroom wall, Sabang


San Rafael is the jumping off point to visit the Bataks, mountain people who live in the river valleys. They are of Negrito stock, and since only less than 400 of them thrive today, they are considered a “”disappearing people.” Malnourishment, high infant mortality, low birth rates, land seizure and exposure to disease all contribute to their demise. A few Batak tribes are very aggressive and Vim warned not to laugh at their short stature (as if we would). Also, do not take photos of any children under the age of two.

Bags in van. Check. Packed lunch in van. Check. With that, the driver stomped on the gas and drove like a bat out of hell on the windy, mountain roads to San Rafael. Art asked him to slow down several times. Driver ignored the request. Driving along, Vim asks, “Oh, did you bring insect repellent with you?” Umm, no. Fortunately we didn’t need it.

Batak Visitors Center in San Rafael, Palawan

photo of Batak people inside the Visitors Center, San Rafael


All visitors must sign in at the Batak Visitors Center. The main house in a compound has displays and information about the Bataks. Clothing, bows and arrows along with other Batak implements and that was it. There were two, very uncomfortable rattan benches outside in the shade and the two of us settled in with book to wait.

Batak tribal clothing display at the San Rafael Visitors Center

Batak tribal weapons at the San Rafael Visitors Center


The van left with Margie, Art, Vim and a local guide to the trailhead, a few kilometers down the road. It was now 8:15a and we didn’t expect them back until 1:00p at the earliest based on Vim’s time schedule.

A big surprise when the van pulled into the compound at 11:25a. Hiking took one hour in each direction crossing many streams/rivers that were fortunately low and easily crossable, and only  20 minutes in the Batak Village. The villagers were less than excited to see them. The Bataks took the “love offerings” as an entitlement, and divided them up. Other facts in case you are thinking of doing this? Some children. A few bare-breasted women nursing babies. Hardly any men. A poor village with very little interaction. Nothing to buy. The Bataks are short with black curly hair (sounds like me) and were not wearing traditional clothes.

An extremely disappointing tribal visit. Trust me. The four of us know how to interact with tribes and the less fortunate. Dr. Margie even medically treats those who need assistance in these places. Thank heavens we didn’t risk Steve’s back for this. Fried chicken and rice for lunch inside the Center and we were out of there and on the road back to Puerto Princesa for one last night.

busy little Puerto Princesa, Palawan



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