After months of planning, on 26th July 2017, the British Universities Kayaking Expedition (BUKE) will be flying to the Philippines for seven weeks to paddle the amazing whitewater that we already know exists and to explore first descents in north-west Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. Here’s an insight into some of our planning for this trip.

Choosing a destination

Previous BUKE trips (biannual expeditions lead by UK’s keenest student kayakers) have gone to the likes of Madagascar and Venezuela, and we were equally keen to go to a far-flung destination in the hope of paddling rivers that seldom see kayakers. At the end of our team selection weekend, we had a shortlist of Kyrgyzstan, the Caucasus (Georgia/Azerbaijan) and Taiwan. Several of us liked the sound of Taiwan but were worried that the catchment areas for many rivers appeared to be too small.

Further research piqued our interest in the Philippines. Here, thanks to Google Earth, we found many rivers with kayaking potential. We saw pictures of lush, green, mountainous terrain with rivers winding their way through narrow gorges. The rainy season for Luzon is June – October so we should have more than enough water when we’re there. Study the rainfall (or snowmelt) charts for a country because no matter how amazing the rivers might look, they won’t be very good if there isn’t any water!

Transport

Transport is often the most expensive aspect of exploration. We were lucky enough to get in contact with Steve Rogers, a Brit who lives in the Philippines and has paddled some of the rivers on the island of Luzon. He has been a huge help with logistics and helped us to organise transport. We fly to the capital, Manila, where we will be met by two vehicles for the Manila to Baguio leg. One vehicle for kayaks and gear, and the other for us as passengers. In Baguio, we change to a mountain Jeepney for the Baguio to Sagada leg. We will be using this Jeepney for the rest of our trip. We are renting a small house in Sagada and as our base-camp.

Jeepneys are a popular form of public transport in the Philippines and no two Jeepneys are decorated in the same way. The Jeepney that we will be using will have ample space for seven people inside, whilst the kayaks will go on top. With a local driver we won’t have to sort out shuttles and his local knowledge of the mountain roads will also prove useful.

Sponsorship and support

There is a common misconception that big adventures come with a huge cost. For example, our return flights including kayaks cost less than £400 per person – not bad for over fifteen hours of flying each way! When choosing a destination it’s worth considering the living cost in that country. Food, transport and accommodation in the Philippines are far cheaper than the UK, but somewhere like Iceland is more expensive. However, a seven week trip to anywhere in the world is not cheap, so we applied to many grants and funding opportunities.

We’ve been lucky enough to benefit from funding from the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and the Imperial College Expedition Fund for which we are very grateful for. We would also like to thank the Lord Mayor’s 800th Anniversary Awards Trust for their financial support.

Reliable equipment is also vital. Palm has agreed to be our official paddling wear sponsor and has also given us deals on safety gear. We’ve been testing the new gear in the French Alps and Norway and have been really pleased with everything so far. Cheap and cheerful gear sometimes works out, but if you’re going off a big waterfall you want to know that your spraydeck won’t implode.

River Legacy has agreed to fund two Delorme inReach devices which we, and future BUKE trips, can use. These devices will allow us to communicate with our driver and emergency services via the Iridium satellite network which is far more reliable than mobile phone coverage in remote locations. We also have several other sponsors that help make the trip happen.

Preparations

We’ve all spent as much time on the water as possible in the last few months, including trips to France, Italy and Norway.

We’ve done research into the climate so when we’re arriving at a river it’s not a surprise that it’s hot, humid and raining. On the subject of rivers, we have spent hours on Google Earth mapping out potential rivers and calculating the gradient.

Vaccinations – it’s always difficult to work out how likely you are to contract an illness, but if the internet and medical professionals are advising you to get a vaccination for something, it’s probably worth getting it! Yes, they can cost money, but do you really want a life-threatening illness? We’ve all got vaccinations for Japanese encephalitis, rabies and hepatitis A & B, among others.

Since most of us are there for longer than thirty days, we needed visas. The cost of a visa varies on the country, but for us, it costs £28 for a sixty-day tourist visa. Always check if you need a visa unless you want to end up on the wrong side of the local police.

Follow our progress

We are taking a laptop with us to allow us to write blog posts and upload photos and videos to social media. You can keep up-to-date with our trip over at kayakthephilippines.wordpress.com, on Facebook @kayakthephilippines2017, or Instagram @kayakthephilippines2017. On our return, we will be giving talks around the UK about our trip, as well as making a short video series. But for now, time to start packing!
– Adam Vaughan