I was excited to get to the Philippines, I’ve heard a lot of beautiful things and wanted to experience them. On my travels in Laos a couple of weeks earlier a fellow traveler told me to do some research on Palawan. I did and it looked beautiful, my travel mate #1 and I then decided to spend 20 days there. A bit later travel mate #2 decided to join us for 10 days.
Good old Puerto Princesa, what can I say? It has its charm, sometimes a bit hidden though. The one thing I remember best are these new kind of tuk-tuks like I’ve never seen them before. They’re simply called tricycles and hold up to 5 people(!).
After exploring the city a bit by foot I was sitting in one of these tricycles on the way the meeting point with my travel mate. I used the occasion and asked for some Tagalog (Filipino) words, my little list looked like this:
- Comusta = Hello / How are you?
- Magandang umaga = Good morning
- Magandang hapun = Good afternoon
- Magandang gabi = Good evening
- Salamat = Thanks
I wanted to get some smokes and asked my tricycle driver “What is I’d like some cigarettes in Tagalog?” “Just say Mahal kita” he replied. Confident and optimistic I arrived at the little street shop thingy where a beautiful young woman worked.
“Magandang gabi. Mahal kita.” I said and smiled. She looks at me confused, smirks to the tricycle driver and starts acting like she’s really flattered “Oh, you love me? Woooow! wink wink“ … “Well, wow… actually I wanted some cigarettes” is what I said while punching my tricycle driver, “that was a good one, sir!”
El Nido is a ~6h bus/mini-van ride from Puerto Princesa. On the way up comfortable with 10 people in a 12 person van, on the way back with about 20 person, a rooster, and a lot of luggage while it was raining cats and dogs. And somehow I even managed to sleep a bit on that ride.
El Nido itself is pretty much like the little paradise village from the movies. If I’m correct they shot parts of Bourne Legacy at a nearby beach!
As usual I used the chance to drive some motorcy, by now I’m even used to manual gear shifting. Driving around in Palawan brings mixed experiences, on the one side the bumpy roads and tiny wooden signs at trees with tiny crossways don’t make that whole navigation thing really easy, on the other side it’s the best thing ever and you get waved and yelled at by all the locals.
After driving a bit through the lands you might just end up at a beautiful beach, almost empty, like in paradise and the movies about paradise.
One time I decided to stop to take a picture when I saw an older woman walking on the side of the road. I took my pictures and got back on the street when I saw that woman only made it a few meters and was just standing there, looking at a tree. When I stopped next to her she made me look at that tree too, I didn’t find anything suspicious about it though. I asked her if she wanted a lift on the back of my bike, she laughed and happily hopped on. She told me where she lives and I told her I didn’t understand a word. “Just say stop when we’re there.” and she replied “Ok, stop, ok”. I enjoyed the weird looks we got from the other locals and her family when we arrived, yes it was indeed a white guy playing taxi for a filipino. Her husband’s face went from “WTF” to “Why, I don’t even …” to “OMG, that’s funny. Nice guy, let’s wave excessively!” … that was fun.
The one thing everyone in El Nido does is island hopping. Different tours for different groups on different boats. My buddy Jason, who rented me his motorcycle, suggested to take me and my friends on his own boat on a tour. “We make best of best tour” and that was hard to argue with. The prize for the private boat with Jason’s crew was the same prize as the non-private ones.
The next day we got up “early” to make it to our tour at 10:30am … Jason introduced us to the captain, his brother Clarke, and the crew, two of his cousins, Marc and Sam.
After 30 minutes we gave up trying to start our boat and switched to another one. We then had to get fuel and as later turned out also some booze. At the first beach the three started to prepare delicious lunch, grilled pork and fish on a tiny grill and were cutting the fresh fruits skillfully. It was also lunch time when we started to drink the rum and coke they bought earlier. Good thing they didn’t buy more, as we shipped off an hour and a half later the crew and some of us were already quite tipsy.
Hours later at one of the many beaches I even played some capoeira with the captain, it was a long, exhausting, but nonetheless beautiful day.
Puerto Princesa Part 2
The 6.5 hour drive back to Puerto Princesa with 20 people in a 12 people capacity mini van took a surprising end at the robinson mall. That name sounded familiar.
Two weeks earlier, during my first stay in Princesa, we tried to get a tricycle back to our hotel. The only tricycle that stopped for us already had two passengers, I politely asked the two if it’s ok to share the ride before I learned that this is a common thing and there is room for 5 that the driver can fill however he likes. While driving back we started to chat and one of the two told me she worked at the robinson mall and that I should visit.
I was hungry from the 6.5 hour drive without a break and decided to use the chance to see if I could find her store. Found her store and chatted a bit, exchanged numbers to continue the chat while having dinner, grabbed some food, and looked for the hotel, I was badly in need of a nap.
Later that evening we ate and drank good bye to travel mate #1, burgers and red wine. And the next day eating and drinking good bye with travel mate #2, adobo chicken and cuba libre.
This was now the first time in 6.5 weeks that I traveled alone again. The next day I spent most of the day in my hotel room, catching up with work and emails, and trying to make a plan for the last 4 weeks of my surprisingly long trip through South East Asia. The next few days were full of work, planning, sleeping, while in the evenings I dined with my new robinson mall friend, even learned some more “Tagalog” in my last days there.
Maraming salamat po, maganda ka.
I already had my flight back to Bangkok, but what to do in Thailand? After going through the many options I had, I decided to go for “sunny, beach, relax, island” option. Even though that meant spending the night at the airport in Bangkok, just 6 hours, it could have been worse.
And here I am now, in my little 20$/night bungalow on Koh Phangan, famous for its monthly full moon parties, which I luckily missed by one day. It’s low season and it’s quiet.
That makes it possible to write these ~1300 words for my journal, gives me time to work on my own projects, and time to mentally prepare to go back home after … after about 135 days of traveling!
Holy cow, when I left I thought “how awesome would 100 days be?”, that was 3 weeks ago in the Philippines, and to answer my own question: Very!