The International Writers Magazine: * Written Before Typhoon Haiyan - see link for travel advice to this region before you try to travel.
Palawan Islands - Eden Revisited
Fred C. Wilson III
Our plane was the jewel of the Asian Spirit line. The short flight from Manila to Palawan took little over an hour. We landed on a grassy field just outside Coron, Buswanga Island. The short ride from the airport to the city center was anything but smooth. It was my first jeepney ride. I’m a big guy; 330 pounds. Packed into a half-jeep half-bus made me a giant among men. I never felt so large stuffed in something so small.
During the ride I struck up a lively conversation with a young British couple from Manchester, UK. We talked about Manchester United their world class football (soccer) team. The couple was immigrating to Australia once their Philippine holiday ended. It was Cockney vs. South Chicagoese. The other passengers were amazed how well we got on conversing in two unintelligible dialects.
About thirty-five torturous minutes later we arrived in Coron. After leaving that tomb-on-wheels our situation improved. We took a short walk to the pier through the market place and boarded a banca, the Philippine version of the outrigger. Soon we were gliding across the beautiful blue waters towards the family owned/operated mini-resort of Kubo sa Dogat or House on the Beach. This resort was built on stilts and is located in Malbaton, Coron near Coron Bay northwest off Uson Island on Kayangan Lake. We would be sea gypsies for the next five days.
The resort consisted of several wooden buildings that resembled the homes of the original Tagbanna tribes people who once inhabited the area. It had most of the comforts of home and situated on top of an islet so small the complex covered it. A rogue wave could topple the entire complex leaving it a floating heap of kindling wood and us with it.
After we settled in my wife and I showered, took a nap, and hours later toured the place. The four large glassless windows acted as picture frames displaying the majestic handiwork of the Divine Artist. The vast blue sea that surrounded us gave us an eerie feeling. The small cluster of wooden houses, high emerald green peaks of hills and mountains that lined the horizon, tiny fishing boats, an occasional yacht gliding in the distance, and a sky so azure as to redefine the color blue exuded a bigness hard to describe. The tranquil peace gave new vitality and definition to serenity. Seeing the big Palawan sky made me forget the bumpy ride that brought us to this earthly paradise.
After a festive dinner of broiled lobster, prawns the size of fists, local delicacies, mineral water, and bottles of icy cold delicious San Miguel Beer, though I prefer the more potent Red Horse Beer, my beloved and I sat outside our door watching the sun silently settle over the darkening horizon. Once the sun retreated behind the mountains the fisher folk started their nightly rounds. Tiny white dots of light flickered from their torches.
When darkness descended it was though the entire earth was covered with a gigantic sheet of pitch blackness. It was so dark I could barely see ahead of me. We were alone on a massive black ocean sailing; Palawan so heavenly during the day so dark and mysterious during the blackness of night. The experience was both tranquil and frightening.
With the Dawn came breakfast. We ate under a canopy of thatch. The roof shielded us from the rising heat of the morning sun. Our meal consisted of local fruits, bottled juices, mineral water, eggs, and various breakfast meats. We dined on long wooden tables.
||This magic place could easily pass itself off as the long lost Garden of Eden. I felt that I was witnessing the first day of Creation. Reader imagine yourself on an islet surrounded by mountains to your south, the majestic South China Sea to your West, North Busuanga Island, and the Sulu Sea in your East. The Palawan island chain is the least developed but the most beautiful of all the provinces in the Philippine archipelago. Hemmed in by bigness, our tiny party was as grains of rice dropped in the middle of an endless sea.
Called the ‘Last Frontier of the Philippines,’ Palawan is under populated though the footsteps of ‘man’ are evident. People pollute so WATCH OUT for remnants of broken bottle glass, rusty nails, rusty cans with jagged exposed tops that litter some of the island’s ‘pristine’ beaches. Sandals are fine for ship decks and lounging around in your hotel. Once you step ashore wear comfortable sneakers or shoes. Step on any of the uglies I’ve mentioned with the nearest doctor islands away…not good. Unless you’re wearing a wetsuit avoid the really deep waters when swimming or ocean kayaking.
|The Box Jellyfish or Sea Wasp is the most venomous animal alive. A single stinger applied to wet human skin leaves a crusty blood scar that remains for years. Its sting is excruciating. My wife was stung by one. She was incredibly fortunate. Despite two sea wasps swimming in tandem miraculously only a single strand stung her and that was on her little toe despite she’s very short and these animals were chest level high. We pulled her screaming and kicking from the water, treated her with some lemon and salt a local remedy; it worked.
Had the creatures stung her eye level she would have died screaming. After she was treated we used a hooked stick and yanked these twin jellies from the sea, removed their stingers, then dispatched these transparent killers before they could inflict more damage on other unfortunate swimmers. Earlier on she and the crew urged to me swim. I had a premonition to stay out of the water. I marveled at how Providence worked in our behalf. These transparent beasts have hundreds of stingers! Don’t be deceived by the beauty of the place. Palawan may be an earthly paradise but it's not Heaven. This writer wants you to return home from your Palawan holiday with your head full of fond and precious memories alive and in one piece not belly-up in a box lined with metal handles.
||Palawan’s a haven for wreck divers, ecotourists, and World War II buffs. It’s been labeled as the most neglected tourist destination in Asia. If you despise camera clicking loud clothes wearing mobs of tourists swarming in and out of places and sites best left alone or sparsely visited - do Palawan. Palawan's beaches easily rival the sand and surf of Boracay, Phuket, or Kuantan although I think Waikiki would give it a serious run for its money. Palawan’s not pricey. You get what you pay for.
For the luxury minded there’s deluxe beach resorts that cater to every human whim and wile depending upon what you’re willing to pay to beach bum tent-on-the-sand accommodations for those on tight budgets.
Palawan’s the ecotourist capital of Asia, but don’t expect to see it all in one day. No way is it humanly possible to cover the 400 mile long island chain in its entirety that is unless you live there and explore it. Like its frozen neighbor Alaska to the far North, boats and planes are the normal modes of transportation. No bus stops, cab stands, subway lines, highways nor Metra train stations are found in the wilds of Palawan the largest province in the Philippines. You literally get to ‘go native’ and the photo ops are fabulous. Every click of your shutter is a salable post card. Freelance travel photographers can make decent livings selling prints to stock photography companies if clever.
||If you're a nature buff Palawan’s the place. The beauty of life under the sea is as impressive as the rain forests. The islands are a veritable cornucopia of nature’s wonders. There’s wild orchids, cherry blossoms, coral, tropical fish, monkeys, parrots, Calamian Deer, anteaters, turtles, and the Palawan Bearcat. There’s poisonous Benturan snakes, sharks, death dealing jellyfish; again don’t get overly carried away with the natural beauty of the place; use common sense.
With 323 animal species, the province has a reputation as a wildlife refugee. A protected area, Palawan is one of the planet’s largest nature reserves. Experts cited Palawan as the 13th best island in the world.
Our host family took us for all day forays in their large white banca for a bit of deep water swimming, ocean kayaking, and hiking along the shores. On board they’d prepare a daily barbeque of delicious pork, fish, and other on board goodies for lunch. We would eat and drink to our hearts content. With our bellies full we’d take a nap or nip depending what kind of liquor we brought along on the trip. Well-rested we’d dive off the boat into whatever body of water we were that day and swim until tired. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer eat yer’ hearts out guys!
As a world-class dive sites go Palawan rates 3rd. Palawan has some of the best. During the Second World War a flotilla of Japanese warships we’re sunk during an air-sea battle between the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy around Coron. The Japanese flotilla now rests and rusts at the bottom of the sea. Now a major dive site, these ships attract thousands of wreck divers from around the world.
It was deep water swimming, hiking, kayaking, and shipboard barbecues during the long hot days; dinner and camaraderie with our table mates during the cool of the evenings. The warm waters of Palawan provide some of the best swimming anywhere. Palawan has a superabundance of fascinating marine and home to the native Tubbathaha shark. When swimming remember never to stir up the sand but if you ever experience underwater vertigo FOLLOW THE AIR BUBBLES; they flow up; trust me.
Physical beauty is everything to Filipinos. Being fat in the Philippines is socially unacceptable. I found out the hard way. When the boat docked at the city pier, we had to literally walk the plank to reach the other side. The fun started when we walked through the marketplace. This became a test of my mental mettle in dealing with difficult diplomatic situations. A kid confronted me and shouted in flawless street English, “Hey! Godzilla’s in town!” The little brat started to mimic the fictional monster as he walked alongside me imitating my every step. At first I was riled and tried to laugh it off. I was mobbed by kids. People started laughing as I walked. I forced myself to laugh with them. Eventually they gave up and let me pass.
One word of extreme caution; that incident had a humorous ending. I know of many cases where street children caused serious injury and death to tourists. I knew an Aruban policeman who was mobbed, beaten up, and had his camera smashed in his face by street children in a Mexico City Metro (subway) station! My best buddy served in South Korea in the U.S. Army. A few years ago he told me how a mob of street kids stoned a soldier to death! I can site several occasions when I was nearly beaten up those little bastards in Chicago! It can happen anywhere. You can’t be too careful.
The Maquinit Hot Springs was a pleasant experience. This fascinating place is located on the other side of Coron Island and reached by banca. After docking the boat we hiked through a Mangrove swamp that separated the lake from the hot springs. The warm waters felt good on our feet as we sloshed our way through the swamp towards the healing hot waters. The temperature was 40 degrees Celsius. The only known saltwater hot springs in the Philippines, the water flowed over our bodies relaxing our every muscle. The therapeutic waters was a soothing balm. We left looking like the boiled lobsters we’ve been eating the night before. We walked back to the boat happy for having taken part in another of nature’s natural healing wonders.
It was our final day on the islet. Our happy party was leaving this land of enchantment. We were going back to Manila. A sizable contingent of French tourists replaced us. Unlike the more loquacious British, Australians, others we encountered, the French were a frosty bunch. After breakfast we set sail for the city. I felt a twinge of sadness seeing the little wooden house we had called home drift into the distance.
We had to endure a final Purgatory in the jeepney ride back to the airport. The driver took a torturous short cut through rough terrain. I was forced to lie on my gut throughout the ordeal. My belly fried on the hot metal floor. The flight back was as smooth as the initial trip. An hour later were landed in Manila. If you want the Palawan experience call: Ms. Enty Reyes, the owner, at: 011-632-712-4224.
At least 14 towns in Palawan were placed under a state of calamity due to the damage caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda, which cut across the central Philippines in November.
The 14 towns are: Agutaya,Araceli,Busuanga,Cagayancillo,Coron,Culion,Cuyo,Dumaran,El Nido, Linapacan,Magsaysay, Roxas, San Vicente, Taytay
© Fred Wilson December 2013
Palawan lacks the pollution, ugly urban sprawl, and the wall-to-wall concrete mall atmosphere that contaminate the rest of the country. The unearthly grandeur of the place is indescribably magnificent. Don’t take my word for this, see for yourself. Log in to these sites or best yet go there once rebuilding starts and help the Philippines economy recover: Trip-Advisor weather details for Palawan
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