Travel diaries: Puerto Princesa, Palawan; El Nido, Palawan; Mountain-Island Zipline; Shimizu Island; Cebu Pacific; Kabayan Hotel; Dayunan Tourist Inn; Malayan Plaza Hotel; Anzky Fruit Shakes and Frozen Cocktails; Small Lagoon; Big Lagoon; Secret Lagoon
“Nothing is more beautiful than nature”
Except me. Kidding. No seriously. I look like a child though wtf.
Jokes aside, Palawan truly is the best island in the world (at least acc to the travel and leisure mag) I swear to god it was beautiful. And still is. Its amazing how they preserved it especially since my countrymen can be careless inattentive assholes toward nature. My favourite part about our tour here is the underground river. I honestly thought the caves would just be a rough and dark tunnel. Its not. Its. Fucking. Majestic. It has different sections and beautiful rock formations. The rock formations are super sensitive (said our guide) and it surprises me how it was preserved until now. I guess I’ll have to thank the indigenous tribes that prohibited travellers from entering the cave back then. They believed it was home to god. Honestly I think they weren’t far from the truth because it was absolutely beautiful almost miraculous. I can’t describe the feeling and I can’t tell you what can be seen within the caves but ughh all I can say is I fell in love. With nature. With the god who is said to live in the cave. And the beautiful rock formations. I wish to come back. I will. I need money first. Fuck
7- نهر “بويرتوبرينسيسا” الجوفي ـ Puerto Princesa Subterranean River :
نهر تحت الأرض في “بالاوان” في “الفلبين” طوله 8 كيلومتر، يمر عبر كهف آخر محاط بالعديد من أجمل التكوينات الحجرية في العالم، في 28 يناير 2012 تمت تسميته أحد عجائب الدنيا السبعة.
Coron tapos Puerto Princesa ❤️. Myghaaad. I’m so excited pero mabubutas ang bulsa ko panigurado. My original plan was to visit my friend in Coron but since we have relatives in Puerto ayon baka puntahan ko din sila. Sana talaga matuloy. Jusq.
A limestone cliff appears in front of you with an opening on the lower portion and you proceed through the opening. You are riding a tiny little boat with 10 other people guided by a local boatman, equipped with a handheld light up front. You enter the dark cave with the walls surrounding you, and little by little it opens up into several sections of large chambers with stalactite and stalagmite formations, some of which are utterly enormous. It is surreal to think that you are inside huge cave with a river that is 8.2 km (5.1 mi) long running through it all while being underneath a mountain. Puerto Princesa, Philippines.
Little snippets of what I was up to during my month long stay to visit friends, family, and the country. Ended up going to a whole bunch of places: Batangas, Pampanga, Nalusuan Island and Oslob in Cebu, Puerto Princesa and El Nido in Palawan, Tanay, Pililla to name the major trips! Shot with my T2i and my GoPro Hero 3.
You know, for someone as seemingly as adventurous as I am, I do not love the idea of travel. I am, at heart, a complete and utter homebody. I revel in comfort, calm, and kindness. I have never seen the European appeal – it seems far too impersonal for me. Places like Nicaragua, Vietnam, Philippines, though…? These are my places. Give me rugged, warm humans who are deeply connected to their place and their people, and I will find in them kindred spirits.
El Nido is not a place of excess or lavish vacations – it is a small island town that just so happens to be one of the hidden treasures of this world. There are no ATMs or banks – you bring the cash you need, and you budget accordingly. Air conditioning is a huge treat, but who really needs it when you’re sitting at an open beach-front bar? Some places will advertise wi-fi availability, but just because the little bars show up on your phone doesn’t mean it’s going to work.
Other places in the Philippines have blown up with tourism and have essentially grown into party beaches – once pristine environments now sullied by westerners’ greed (I’m looking at you, Boracay). El Nido remains what it is today because it requires effort, and most people don’t seem willing to make the necessary sacrifices to reap the unyielding rewards it proffers to those willing to cast aside a modicum of comfort.
Most westerners I spoke to told me that I had to go to Boracay. A few suggested Bohol.
Every single Filipino I spoke to told me that regardless of weather, time, or money, El Nido is the one single place I had to see in the Philippines.
Really tough decision there. Once I was sure of when my little package of Southern Comfort would be arriving, I purchased two tickets to Palawan.
The journey to El Nido is deterrent enough for most people. Once arriving in Manila, you need to take another 70 minute flight to the city of Puerto Princesa on Palawan. Most destinations in the Philippines must be reached with an additional flight, but usually that’s about it. After stepping off the plane and running across the rain-soaked tarmac, we exited the airport and chartered ourselves a “bus” (12-passenger van stripped and re-rigged to accommodate 15 people) that would transport us the 5-6 hours over mountain passes, washed out roads, and across rivers on bridges made out of literal logs.
After buying our tickets, we were escorted by a kind gentlesir to the bus terminal (aka, steakhouse), where we were to wait for departure. As we approached, we were greeted by a sparkly-eyed Spaniard with a personality larger than life.
I responded in the affirmative, and I spent the next 20 minutes discussing with him in Spanish how I came to be in Palawan, and no, I don’t want to buy any of your pearls. No really, I already bought a lot in Manila. Yes, I know that these are real South Sea pearls. No, I don’t want any of your malachite, either. I actually really hate bracelets. What? No, thank you, I don’t want a dream catcher – I live in a place with lots of Native American people, and I prefer to buy things like that from them. No, I don’t want to buy a tour from you. We’re not going on any tours. No, I’m not haggling, we really don’t want a tour. I PROMISE, WE DON’T WANT TO BUY ANY PEARLS.
The onslaught didn’t end until our ride left. It was exhausting and hilarious and I could not stop laughing. It was good to use my Spanish, though. Poor Anna was saved from his endless sales pitches. Speaking of our ride, all I need to say is that it was so insane that Anna spent a good amount of time rubbing my back so I wouldn’t puke everywhere, and the lady in front of me did puke everywhere. For the whole ride. And she was a local.
It’s impossible to describe the beauty of this landscape in words or photos – certain things just need to be experienced. These are the best photos I have, and really, they’re pretty much all I have. I just sat in awe and wonderment as much as I could.
These limestone formations were built over millions of years, one rainstorm at a time. Will you just think about the shear magnitude and scale of that for a moment?
Life finds a way in the craggy nooks and crannies of the cliffs. Sure, it happens here, too, but there it’s just so… verdant and lush and powerful, you know? Maybe you don’t. That’s okay, but I hope that one day, you can see first hand.
The coral was alive and bright and teeming with fish. I could see clear down to the sea floor, and I swam more than I ever have before. Sometimes I would just lay in the water, staring down into the abyss. How much is here that I can’t see? What if a stonefish comes out of nowhere and I step on it and die? I kept going until I was in a patch so shallow that I couldn’t kick, then I turned myself around and swam some more.
When you turn your back on the ocean, you are met with mountains and jungle. The town sits in the shadow of high cliffs that make you wonder how humans ever even found this place. We’re a curious species, though, aren’t we? We tend to find things, like the beach that inspired The Beach. (We went there, but there are no photos because we had to swim through a small cliff wall to get there. Unreal.)
Obviously I love pristine natural environments, but I am equally in love with human connection.
Walking by two young girls collecting mussels on the beach one morning, they looked at us and said, “Morning.” I turned to them, smiled, and responded, “Magandang umaga.” They giggled at my Tagalog.
People always seemed surprised that I knew even a few key phrases – just simple things like good morning, thank you, cheers, you are beautiful, I love you, but still. One person asked me, “How did you learn Tagalog?!”
“Huh? I just ask people how to say things.”
“And they tell you? Wow! They must really like you. Filipinos are shy. They don’t talk to Americans.”
The thing is, though, they do. If you approach a local with kindness, a smile, and some sincerity, I almost guarantee that you will be met with the same in turn. In El Nido, the Filipinos seem to be ignored by most of the tourists (or treated like second class citizens), so it’s no wonder they shy away from most people, but a smile is universally understood and freely given.
In the Philippines, women are all addressed with their first name and either Miss or Ma’am. Depending on who’s speaking to me (and their perceived social rank in relation to mine), I am either Miss Brenna or Ma’am Brenna – I was called both in equal measure during my trip.
When we got to our little hotel in El Nido, we were met by the owner, Miss Vanessa. She’s a lovely, glowing human, and she takes so much pride in her work, which is evident in how beautifully her property is maintained. After we introduced ourselves, she checked us in, answered our many questions about the room and El Nido, and gave us some great recommendations. Right before she took us to our room, I saw her young daughter hiding sheepishly behind her dress.
“Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there. What’s your name?”
She nervously looked at her mom, who pushed her forward and told her to answer me.
“…Bianca,” she answered, quite reluctantly and incredibly quietly.
“Bianca? That is a beautiful name. It’s very nice to meet you, Miss Bianca.”
She smiled so big and turned the most adorable shade of red. I am pretty sure children are not typically addressed as Miss. She was so precious.
We were stopped at a street shop, picking up some sarongs and towels for the beach. We had just picked out what we wanted, and I was trying to make a purchase when the storekeeper screamed and shot out into the street behind us. I was so confused – my first thought was that she was chasing a thief. She walked back in with a critter in her arms.
“Baby monkey,” she said with a relieved smile. She kissed it on the forehead and brought him to the back of her store where he’d be safe.
One of my students was a sweet 20-year-old Mormon girl. We bonded over Salt Lake City, a place she’s never been but is dying to see.
“I will go one day! My dad works for a company as a translator, and he has been many times. Do you live close?”
“I only live about 3 km away, so I like to go running there sometimes. It’s very beautiful, especially in winter with all of the twinkle lights strung up in the trees.”
Her face melted as if I were talking about the swooniest boy she’d ever set her eyes on.
We kept talking, and I asked her to teach me some Tagalog.
“Maganda ako,” she asserted. I asked her to repeat it a couple of times until I got it. “Perfect!”
“What does it mean?” I asked.
“It means, ‘I am beautiful.’”
A very young girl – maybe five years old – was eyeing me on the street. Her scowl was intense, and her brow was furrowed more deeply than any child her age should be able to manage. I locked eyes and mirrored her face. A few seconds later, and I was quite close to her. She relaxed her face into a satisfied grin, put up her hand, and gave me one of the best high fives of my life.
Back in Puerto Princesa, Anna and I were standing in the restaurant of a hotel, looking at a massive map of the Philippines. We were discussing where we were, where we had been, where we were going, and other possible places we could have gone. An older woman came over and asked us if we had any questions, and I told her that no, we’re just having a mini-geography lesson together.
She asked us what brought us to the Philippines, and I explained that I’d come for work and stayed for pleasure.
She was so pleased that we had chosen to vacation in Palawan, but she was also very interested in the work that brought me to her country, so I explained what I was doing and for which agencies. “Thank you so much for coming. We are so grateful to you. This work is so important.”
She proceeded to show me on the map islands relevant to the type of work that we were doing. She knew so much, yet it had nothing to do with her livelihood.
This is not atypical. Conservation and environmentalism are hugely important in the Philippines, and they are ideas that have become mainstream. Manila might seem like a dirty, industrial city, but it is nigh impossible to walk a city block without being able to locate a recycling receptacle. Murals along the highways depict lungs made out of trees, and others have walls covered in vertical planters – green is everywhere. Every hotel I stayed in, including the ritzy apartment in Manila for work, encouraged patrons to be conservative: choose to not have your sheets changed, reuse your towels, choose the lighter flush option.
Anna was a great sport the whole way. We didn’t really discuss plans much before the trip (largely because I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants sort of a girl, and I hate planning), and it didn’t really cross my mind that her expectations might be a bit off. (Sorry! For future reference, the US Government sends me to these places for a reason.)
I led her through the jungle, to obscure beaches I didn’t know the exact location of, wandering around city streets in a red light district, and with heavy packs along small island highways into our little beach-front town (no, for the twelfth time, we would not like a trike ride).
If adventure begins at the end of your comfort zone, I think we certainly discovered some. I’m a geographer. I should know.