The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Paradisical Palawan Part I: Puerto to El Nido

PHILIPPINES | Friday, 10 February 2012 | Views [1964]

After a somewhat painful night bus trip (eight hours, uncomfy chairs and resultant fluid retention/‘cankles’, Americans in front of us whose favourite topic of conversation was ‘cute faces on fat chicks’) we arrived in the Philippines’ somewhat notorious capital, Manila. Complaints abound about the pollution, corruption, poverty and smell – but after awhile one Asian city starts looking a whole lot like all the others, and we didn’t encounter any particular problems during our day of waiting there. It was spent wandering around one of the enormous shopping centres – Manila is your quintessential consumers’ paradise – which sold everything, from balut (cooked duck egg with foetus), to Angry Birds cakes, to Havaianas (Phils is the only place in the world where Jack’s feet are considered ‘large’), to a disturbingly large selection of ‘feminine intimate washes’ – I’m talking a whole aisle in the supermarket - to anything else you could possibly imagine. This worked out well for us and we spent the day productively hunting down supplies for our twelve days in Paradise – including sunscreen and two shiny blue brand-spankin’-new snorkeling masks.

After a pleasant (free snackies!) if slightly delayed flight, we experienced a very cool almost-in-the water landing in Puerto Princesa – the largest city in Palawan (for those of you whose Philippines geography is not quite up to scratch, that’s the big long skinny island to the west of the Visayas – although technically it’s part of Luzon). After the cool climes of the north, the heat and humidity was a slight shock to our delicate constitutions, so we spent a few days acclimatizing in our blissfully airconditioned hotel room (the hum of the aircon almost drowned out the sound of the planes…yep, the only way we could afford it was by staying at the tantalizingly-named ‘Airport View Inn’…ahhh, budget travel….but it actually turned out to offer some of our best nights’ sleeps in the country to date). Activities included hanging out at Jollibees (the Philippines’ home grown fast food chain, which is everywhere) being brainwashed by their blatant but frustratingly catchy theme song which is on repeat throughout your entire meal (‘I’m your friend, I’m Jollibee; jolly, friendly Jollibee’ and so on), visiting a butterfly garden, and having a lunch of sickeningly sweet baked goods at nearby Honda Bay.

Feeling refreshed and ready for action, we pushed northwards to the quiet, one-street coastal village of Port Barton for some serious relaxing and soakage-up of sun and saltwater. Initially we made grand plans to hire a bangka (trimaran but with outside hulls of bamboo like an outrigger canoe…hmmm boats…thanks to Jack for that description!) and do some island hopping in the area, but J was fighting off a cold and feeling somewhat under the weather, so we spent the time reading and swimming instead (who’s complaining?). After a night of massive rainfall, the jeepney trip back to the main highway was interesting, and a little girl vomited her rice porridge onto my bag. We also encountered our first hint of dishonesty since being in the country. One of our fellow passengers who just happened to be a mini bus operator informed us that the connecting public bus to El Nido (our next stop) would not be coming for hours but that his bus, which was only 100 pesos extra, would be leaving immediately from Roxas (the stopover point). When we disembarked the story changed slightly; the minibus wasn’t coming for two hours but we should sit around at the shitty roadside stop and wait because no other public buses were coming until later in the afternoon. Luckily we were with some Austrians who were just as wily and cheap as we are and the boys managed to source us a public bus (packed with people, of course) which left immediately and cost us less than half of what our friend had asked.

El Nido is a smallish town on the northernmost tip of the Palawan mainland, which is renowned as the gateway to the beautiful Bacuit Archipelago, where limestone carsts reminiscent of Vietnam’s Halong Bay (slightly less dramatic, but with more beaches and less pollution) jut out of the water. The town itself, while not unpleasant, exists purely for the tourism industry (you can tell when there’s no market…which also means no cheap mangoes) – everyone is very proud of Palawan making Nat Geo’s top 10 destinations for 2011, and the pics of El Nido, which is admittedly gorgeous, get well flaunted in that campaign. We spent two out of three days experiencing the Archipelago in the cheapest and most convenient way possible: island hopping on organized bangka day trips (the third day was spent in our hotel because Jack got drunk on Tanduay* and had to sleep for hours, although he maintains this was part of his recovery from the cold…sure drunkie). On our first day of island hopping I awoke early full of energy and excitement, donned by bikini and new fake Chanel sunglasses, and went to pack my shiny new snorkel…only to discover someone had opened my bag on the bus trip and pilfered it! I was quite disappointed but on reflection decided you could probably get worse things stolen, and there were snorkel rental places everywhere. The islands are pretty amazing; lots of white sand, palm trees, clear water and limestone cliffs with keyhole passages you swim/climb through to access ‘secret’ lagoons or beaches (this area is what inspired the guy who wrote ‘the Beach,’ although it was set in Thailand). All this beauty was slightly detracted from by the hordes (by Filipino standards anyway) of tourists; the fluoro orange life jackets/rings worn by all the Chinese people who can’t swim clashed especially well with the idyllic scenery. There were some nice fish to be seen snorkeling but (heartbreakingly) much of the coral was dead owing to climate change, dynamite/cyanide fishing etc. Despite high hopes, we didn’t make any new friends as a result of our tours; all our companions seemed to be pretty unfriendly (including a surly French couple who bitched the whole day and refused to get in the water because the sky was ‘too grey’ to see any fish, and an unattractive Russian duo – the female made us well acquainted with her breasts (white rash vest, nothing underneath) and peed with her tog bottoms on (? – is that okay in Russia?) on a main pathway from the dunes to the beach).

 

On that pleasant note, I will leave you until I have the energy and inspiration to transcribe our next mystical adventure! But I will say that we were nice and far away from the earthquake that occurred a few days ago, and are both (as always) happy and well and missing our wonderful fams/friends.

T & J xoxo

* Filipino rum, costs about $1 per 375 mils. Often served with coke and calamansi, a tiny citrus which grows in abundance here, fabled to have magical healing properties. Jack thinks it staves off hangovers so we have been going with that.

 

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