Back on land after our Underground River adventure, we ate a quick meal before negotiating a share van with a couple from France back to Puerto Princessa. Two hours later, after numerous pleasant stories we spent the following few hours searching for rooms in a city built long before the predicted boom. After driving around to almost 9 different guest houses we finally found a place and settled in.
The night passed quickly. Internet. Pool. Beers. An unspeakably unimpressive meal courtesy of Lonely Planets unending recommendations. Sleep, deep sleep, when time becomes irrelevant and you awaken not knowing if it is 4am or 4pm. Wonderful.
A frantic search for cheap passage to Port Barton ending in frustration and dead ends..... heading to Banwa guest house to try their methods.... momentary decisions to leave Palawan and suffer the indignation of 6 days in Manila..... hope restored... a van found.... costly.... but private... and we left in a cloud of smoke with beers cold and an amicable driver... off to the famed Port Barton... three hours away through jaw-dropping nature and the simplest roads... villagers smiling and waving... kids ecstatic in their glee.... fishermen tending to nets and waving as we passed by in a blur of white and tinted windows.... finally the decision to stay bore fruit as the van turned onto the mud roads that would eventually spew us out on the beach. Glorious lush jungle, impossibly beautiful villages, toothpaste commercial white smiles, waving children, buffalos resting in small ponds, school bells chiming, mountains concealed in thick tapestries of vegetation, rice fields nearing harvest, dust caked roads snaking their way between the tall palms and thick foliage. And suddenly, after a turn in the road Port Barton appeared... the sun hungry, the ocean sparkling down narrow alleyways leading to the beach.
We bid our driver farewell, found a decent lodging, and thus began our 5 days here. Days spent in hammocks reading Theroux, nights spent at Judys with playlists and ice cold beers.
Today heralded the infamous Island Hopping day.
We awoke far too early (8pm), grabbed some breakfast, strolled up the beach as the fishermen were already hours into their day, met Jo and David, and set off on the smooth waters of morning.
Today was one of the best days of my life.
We first dropped anchor near a huge reef, snorkel gear attached, in we jumped, swam in aquamarine waters, the colour of bliss, throngs of brightly coloured fish, intense visibility, huge corals, white sand, gigantic angel fish, the boatman hopped in an moments later had speared a 2 kilo Lapu Lapu to take over to Paradise Island later for lunch, we marveled at the brilliant colours as the fish beat its last breaths in the storage bin. Onwards to another island were time felt like it stood still.... water lapping onto powder white sands, driftwood, shells, palm trees, strange jellyfish washed up along the rocky outcrop.
The boat then headed to Paradise Island as we sat and glanced down a full 5 meters to the seabed unobstructed in our visibility. The waters were calm and rested. Paradise Island was a 10 meter long beach with a small bungalow, a hammock, a barbeque pit, a dog, a cat and a few roosters. The boatman gutted the fish and threw on a huge mackerel steak he had been given by a passing boat. They cooked the Lapu Lapu while a pot of rice boiled to the side. We all walked over to the shade of a tree and ate a feast with toes rubbing in the sand and the sound of silence permeating so wonderfully. An hour later a few locals pulled up on a boat and offered us Tanduay with coke as they grinned and asked us if we liked the Philippines.
Two more snorkeling sites were next on the agenda, clear waters providing amazing worlds under the ocean to explore. Some of the spots were even better than Thailand which I did not expect for some reason.
Exhausted I pulled myself back up onto the boat just as a rainshower broke overhead. I sat there on the bow bobbing up and down as the rain splashed all around. Those moments are rare in life... when there is nobody talking to you, nothing to achieve, just perfect nature, perfect silence, perfect mood and environment to reflect and inhale and just enjoy being.
A half hour later we headed to the island of Capsalay where the annual fiesta was underway. Walking through the small immaculate gardens and past bamboo bungalows with small children grinning from behind windows and the teenagers riding bikes through puddles. We watched our first cock fight amidst a flurry of betting and gesticulating. For all my natural hatred of the creatures (waking me up every morning at 3, 4, 4.30, 5, 5.36, 6.13 etc) I was actually rather sickened to see the fight. The Philippino's almost laughed when we left looking slightly ill-at-ease. However, it was a slight blot on an almost perfect day.
We downed some cold beers, watched a basketball game, showed the kids some magic tricks, then it was time to head back to Port Barton lying at the front of the boat looking up at the sky.
The evening holds the promise of a farewell party at Judy's for an American who seemed stoned and drunk already at 4pm. Lets see if he even makes an appearance.
The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.