At home in Tambobo Bay
DUMAGUETE CITY, Negros Oriental, Philippines — Emma Palallos was in her 20s when she first came to Tambobo Bay in the southern tip of Negros Oriental province in the late 1980s.
This body of water shared by Barangays Bonbonon and Siit in the southern town of Siaton has been a favorite stop for fishermen, who moor their boats off its shores after a week’s voyage, or where these are taken for repairs.
Having newly arrived as “bakwit” (evacuees) from Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province, Palallos joined a group of about 30 fishers and other locals organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to plant mangroves on the shorelines of Tambobo.
One day, they saw a yacht enter the cove. Its owner, whom they later learned was an American named Bruce, liked what he saw and decided to dock his yacht there, and make his home by the bay.
Soon, another yacht came.
Palallos, now 52, said these cruisers must be talking to each other somehow as the yachts kept on coming.
Word soon spread about the great scenery in Tambobo Bay, and locals and tourists started coming to take photos, or feature the attraction in their vlogs (video blogs).
This gave the Palallos couple a business idea.
Having been awarded a certificate of stewardship contract in 2007 by the DENR for their efforts in planting mangroves, Emma and her husband, Bernardo, asked for permission to build a view deck by the mangroves.
Apart from offering a relaxing view of the yachts on the bay, they offer a hot cup of coffee or calamansi juice, a simple snack, or a light meal.
“At first, I had a difficult time cooking food for the western yacht owners because they have different preferences, so I had to learn [how they want their meals prepared],” Emma said.
With the help of their three daughters, Emma can whip up a western meal for yacht owners and other visitors in no time.
Melchor Anque, Bonbonon village chief, said the owners of these yachts usually just docked their boats on the bay and flew off to other destinations, leaving their boats there.
Today, Tambobo Bay, which is home to about 50 yachts from all over the world, is a sight to behold. Images of boats against a backdrop of mangroves have made it to travel magazines, vlogs and TV documentaries circulated around the world.
The boat owners are a mixed group, Anque said. “You get really good ones on some days and you also get the not-so-good ones,” he chuckled.
Now on his last term as barangay captain, he said that back when he was a village councilman more than 12 years ago, the village council had proposed to impose a tax on boats for mooring inside the bay.
“The municipality turned it down because they said the boats were not in barangay waters but in municipal waters,” Anque said.
Lately, he said he heard that the Siaton municipality had started charging mooring fees.
As the bay is located in the southernmost point of Negros Island, the Philippine Navy has set up a detachment near the entrance to keep watch over vessels arriving and leaving the area.
Personnel from the Bureau of Customs, or the Bureau of Immigration, periodically visit the area to check up on the status of guests in their boats, Anque said.
Eventually, Bernardo had to give up being a fisherman to be able to concentrate on the view deck business with his wife, and to help clean and maintain the yachts as hired caretakers.
Emma said some of the foreign boat owners, who are temporarily out of the Philippines, had entrusted to them the safety and maintenance of their boats.
“Right now, only about 10 yachts actually have their owners here living on them,” she said.
Graphic artist Diane Pool, 71, is among the boat owners who chose to stay and live in Tambobo. She and husband Bill, a forensic geologist, sailed into the cove 20 years ago.
They fell in love with the place and decided to stay longer, with Bill teaching locals how to repair and build boats, and Diane putting up a school for children to reinforce what they learned during their formal school hours.
Bill died in 2009 while on vacation in the United States, but Diane returned to the Philippines to continue living their dream in Tambobo Bay.
Since her formal classes have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Diane would spend time with the children in the community, helping them learn how to make graphic designs on the computer, and to improve their reading, writing and other life skills.
With quarantine protocols relaxed, the children and teenagers in the community would now go meet “Ma’am Diane” in a rented bamboo house, just across the naval outpost. They call it the Saturday Workshop, where they get to tinker on her three computers with wide monitors.
At night, Diane would paddle back into her 35-foot Atkins sailboat, called “Pilar,” named after author Ernest Hemingway’s heroine in his novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Lovingly built with the Pools’ own hands beginning in 1975 in California, Pilar has a two-cylinder engine, which runs an average of 24 hours on 102 liters of fuel. This takes them about 100 nautical miles, at a speed of five knots (about 9 kilometers per hour). It has berths (fixed bunks) for four people, a toilet and bath, a galley (kitchen) with a sink, an oven, a stove fueled by wood, a canning machine and 340 liters of water that could last a month.
Pilar has been undergoing some repairs by Diane herself, assisted by some local men in the village.
It took Bill and Diane nine years to launch Pilar in 1984, and has since been their voyaging home for the last 36 years—“almost two-thirds of my life,” Diane quipped.
Then it took them seven more years to complete Pilar, before leaving San Francisco in California in 1991 to go see the world island-hopping.
They sailed into the remote islands of French Polynesia, Caroline Islands and Kapingamarangi in Micronesia, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific—where they learned from cruisers there about Tambobo Bay in the Philippines.
“I just love it here in Tambobo. When I’m on my boat, I can hear the happy sounds of fishermen preparing to set out to sea. They’re doing work as they tell stories, they banter, they laugh, they all have a good time,” Pool said.
“The sound of children playing is also very refreshing; while I can also hear the women busily talking and sweeping their yards with broomsticks,” she added.
“I guess it’s the humanity of this place that I love most,” Diane said. “I want to shed off my American ways and just embrace the warm culture of the locals here.”
A concrete road has now replaced the cobblestones on a Spanish-era pathway leading to the bay, making the road trip to Tambobo much easier than it was eight years ago.
While there is some uneasiness among Negrenses that the new road will forever change the tranquility of the community and those living there, Tambobo Bay will always be more than just a red dot on the map for people who came and have chosen to call it home.
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