Exiting the Manila jungle and landing in Puerto Princesa, located on the east coast of beautiful Palawan. I question the landing capabilities of some of the Filipino pilots at that also, it was like he was trying to land a see-saw. The electricity was out when we got a trike ride from the airport leaving us in total darkness and wondering how developed is this place? To be quite frank, there ain't much in this city, a ditty little airport, one long main street, a good few bars, restaurants and market stalls perched on the side.Stayed here for a few days before departing north to a secluded village on the east coast.
Port Barton, now this is a gem of a place. But to get here I can safely say it was the worst road I have ever travelled on, 6 hours of it. Think of travelling up a typical farmers lane in Ireland and multiply it by 5! There were craters in these roads that you could lose the bus never mind burst a tyre. Some of it was so mucky from the rain, it required the driver to take a run at it using a drifting technique just to make it to the other side. Memorable to say the least.
There certainly wasn't too much going on in this place either, a handful of shacks clustered together, in total about the size of a very small village in Ireland. Located right on the beach, the village had a few main networks of parallel roads that hosted a few decent resorts, a few simple accomodation huts, basic restaurants and grocery shops, a church and a little community school area. There wasn't much tourists around here at this time of the year and the locals were very friendly. Rains were inclined to pick up in the evening with downpours literally coming out of the blue at any stage. The main attraction of Port Barton was without question the island hopping. Wow! White sands and clear turquoise waters and most importantly the place was literally to ourselves, barely a tourist in sight. I went snorkeling (a poor snorkeler I will add) and besides not drowning, I managed to catch some amazing coral reefs and marine life. It was worth mentioning our Filipino guide whom....yes......picked a huge turtle from the seabed and wrestled it to the surface to show us, needless to say, he got a tip at the end of the day! We ate a local dish barbecued on one of the islands island (damn, yellow fin tuna steaks taste delicious!). After some sunburn on my back, a nose full of salt water and some toe blisters from the flippers, we headed back to the mainland contented and tired. This place really is a hidden gem that you should get to, the infrastructure to it is so poor that it deters travellers from heading there in their droves. I reckon however in the next few years when the roads finally get a structural makeover that this place will flood with incoming international revellers, get there while it is untouched!!!
Another stomach churning and ass bopping ride to the north and more touristy El Nido was next. Famous for its island hopping and scuba diving. This place was a lot more built up than Port Barton, with plenty of accomodation and restaurants to facilitate your needs (No ATM's though yet!). We were here in low season and to be honest it was perfectly crowded, apparently high season can become jam packed especially on the narrow beach. Some more island hopping was done here, to amazing beaches and natural lagoons. The weather was not good on those days, however floating in a turquoise coloured lagoon during a heavy downpour made for a very memorable and picturesque moment. I done a little more snorkelling here and...again...I managed to almost drown myself. Thinking I was basically a fish now 'cos it was my second snorkelling session, I wandered a little far from the island shore. I looked up at one stage to see I was quite far away and out among the rougher part of the sea. I tried not to panic and mentally repeated to myself "Alright ciano, you got out this far so you can surely get back, no hassle pal". I panicked instantly, obviously not believing my own mental encouragement. The masked filled with water, I had to come up for air, started swallowing water and so the struggle began....basically, I was drown swimming. I was so close to screaming for help but rather than create a huge scene (at least a hundred or more people on the shore) I scrambled intensely and stupidly to the shore line where I more or less collapsed when I reached it. I was happy I didn't call for help but I was physically exhausted and speechless from shock. That was my snorkelling done for that day I tell ya.
The second memorable moment of El Nido was the trekking and motorbike hiring. Totally spontaneous, I headed towards the local waterfall on the a semi-automatic Honda bike giving French travel compadre, Christine, a backseat ride. This is the only way to catch a glimpse of the real Philippines. Winding, bumpy, gravelly roads. Driving by wooden huts, kids walking to school, farmers tending their land and herding animals, it brought me straight back to the wilderness and charm of Vietnam. Again everyone extremely friendly, smiling and waving at any sign of a foreigner. We found the waterfall signpost we were looking for, but we had to park the bike up and trek about an hour to get to it. I opposed, considering that well, I'd seen enough waterfalls and that we were advised to pay a guide to help us navigate the maze of worn paths that led to it.Not to mention that I am inherently lazy and upon return it would be getting dark. The people I were with were more than happy to chance it (clueless women!!!) so I had no choice but to go and not be a total wimp. It was totally worth it though, trekking through pretty overgrown paths, large rivers, the back of peoples houses, avoiding farm animals you name it. We got lost multiple times and by the luck of god always seemed to bump into locals that re-guided us. The waterfall well was... ok....but it was all about the journey to and back. One of my flip-flops broke to, meaning I basically walked back with one bare foot. The other one subsequently broke later leaving me riding the motorbike in torrential rain in the dark with no footwear. I'm pretty sure mother wouldn't have approved of that carry on!!!
Palawan was amazing and I'd recommend it to anyone going to Philippines to check that place out. I would also highly recommend if you wish to try out scuba diving that you can get PADI certified in these place for a fraction of the prices that you would pay in the likes of Australia. Next stop is due Eastwards, towards the city of Cebu and adjacent island Bohol.
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