Published: January 8th 2008December 19th 2007
He must be here somewhere. Unless the evil dynamite fisherman got him first
Four hours by boat over choppy water and we reached the sleepy village of Port Barton. In hindsight, coming here was a mistake. There was very little to see or do. It was a haven for older men and their twenty-something Filipino companions. The men spent their days in the hotel bars getting legless. The men would sit at one table swapping tall stories and drink their beer and whisky chasers. Meanwhile the Filipino women would gather at another table with their orange juices and swap gossip. Finally, when the men could only mumble and barely stand, they would be escorted to bed. It is quite a sight to see a tiny Filipino girl support a swaying man across a bar, especially when the man is twice her size with a beer belly the size of a horse's arse. I wonder how these unlikely pairings occur? Do the men pick them up in bars? Do they meet on the internet? Is there an agency specialising in matching fat, overweight old men with young, attractive girls? The mind boggles. I have touched on this subject on an earlier blog entry, but please don't get the idea that this is common all over
too many puppies!
the poor mother simply didn't have enough teats to go round. But it didn't phase her, she just relaxed and let the puppies fight over the milk
the Philippines. This country is a beautiful place with much to offer, and this seedy side is only seen in some of the more touristed areas.
So, as I said, there was very little to do in Port Barton. Justine and I spent our time playing backgammon, hiking in the hills nearby, and befriending small puppies on the beach. On the second day, we cut our losses and charted a fishing boat to take us North to El Nido. Our choice of transport turned out to be less than ideal. The boat was more like a toy boat that you would play with at bathtime rather than a proper seaworthy vessel. We had been told the journey would take four hours, but it actually took SEVEN hours across a very rough sea. The whole seven hours was spent cowering under a tarpaulin while waves crashed over the stern into our boat. To add insult to injury, whilst disembarking at the end of our journey, Justine fell out of the boat into the sea, fully clothed!
The next few days were a highlight of out time on Palawan. El Nido was a charming and friendly coastal town, surrounded by
this photo was taken after Justine fell out of the boat into the water
impressive limestone cliffs on all sides. El Nido means "The Nest" in Spanish, and is famous for providing the main ingredient in Bird's Nest Soup. I had always thought that Bird's Nest Soup was made using noodles arranged to look like a bird's nest. But the main ingredient is actually a bird's nest! Not the usual assortment of twigs and branches though. These nests are made of saliva from a species of swift, which hardens to make a lattice, and a sturdy little home for ther swifts. Sturdy though it may be, I'm glad my flat in London is made from good old bricks and mortar, and not the saliva of birds. Bird's nest soup, however, cannot be found in El Nido. It is exported to China, where it fetches a market value of £150 a kilo. Although prior to exporting, the nests are meticulously cleaned of all dirt and feathers. Nice!
Off the coast of El Nido lies the Bacuit Archipelago, a series of islands with towering limestone cliffs covered in a blanket of green, with numerous secluded beaches and coves. This is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world. We did a
This imaginatively named lagoon was hidden away from the sea, and had to be entered through a hole in the cliffs
tour to several islands, and kayaked in hidden lagoons. One lagoon was called "Little Lagoon", and another was called "Big Lagoon". If they discover a third lagoon, I wonder if they would call it "medium-sized lagoon"? We did our tour with an eco-friendly company that anchored their boat away from the island, and we got to the island by kayak. Other companies brought their boats in really close, smashing up the coral in places where the water was more shallow. While snorkelling, I spotted a boats anchor hooked right into the coral!! Disgraceful. I swam down and carefully removed the anchor. I was hoping the boat would drift away - it would serve them right. But as soon as I dropped the anchor, it wedged in the sand.
Paddling around the islands and lagoons in a two-person kayak was fun. But when both are trying to steer in opposite directions you don't get very far! Although Justine and I didn't make the best kayaking team, as a general travelling team we did really well. Three weeks of travelling without the slightest disagreement or bother!
Now, this is the tale of "The Sunglasses Thieves". A few days earlier, we
Waterfall near Port Barton
This was where the Sunglasses Thieves found their bounty.
had visited a waterfall for a swim. An Australian couple were also there, and we had a chat with them. Justine forgot her sunglasses, and left them behind on a rock. She only realised the next morning when we left for El Nido. We encountered the Australians again two days later in El Nido. They walked past us and said hello, and Justine said to me afterwards "I'm sure he was wearing my sunglasses". I looked behind, and sure enough, her sunglasses are sitting on top of his head. They were definitely hers. Justine's glasses were very distinctive, a twist on the aviator style, whereas when we had first met the Aussie guy, he had been wearing Oakley sunglasses. They must have known they were Justine's glasses when they found them, because we were the only other people there. So when we ran into them again later, I spoke to him. I asked him whether he had found the glasses at the waterfall, because Justine had lost hers there. But he said "nope, didn't find these". I stood there for a moment , dumbstruck at this blatant deceit. I asked him again just to make sure I was hearing right
"shut up!" "no, you shut up!"
arguments over steering the kayak
Me: "so, you didn't find them"
Me: "You bought them?"
He could barely look me in the eyes while he spoke to me. I looked at his partner, and she suddenly looked down and found the tabletop very interesting. Barefaced lies! I could not believe it. With him insisting they were his, there was very little I could do without causing a scene. Although I was tempted to snatch them off his fat little face. So we left the Sunglasses Thieves and went on our way.
As with most villages in Palawan, the people here are very poor. Televisions are rare, and large crowds of people gather around the "Neighbourhood TV". At night you would walk down the street and see people crammed into a shop watching a small TV on the wall, or people hanging outside someone's house, looking through an open window into their lounge. More common than TVs are karaoke machines, which were found in at least three bars in town. Filipinos are crazy about karaoke, or "videoke" as it's known over here. They will sieze any opportunity to belt out a tune. Unfortunately, most of them are completely tone-deaf,
Justine about to enter the water
Q - Why do Scuba Divers fall into the water backwards?
A - Because if they went forwards, they'd fall into the boat
and their tuneless efforts will turn stomaches and curdle milk. But however bad the singing is, however much it makes you wince, you must not laugh or make fun of the person. Because Filipinos take their karaoke seriously and sing it without a trace of irony.
El Nido is also famous for it's diving, so Justine and I went scuba diving one day. We both have our basic PADI, but neither of us had dived for seven years. So we decided to take a "refresher" course with a company run by a salty old sea dog from England. But our so-called refresher course involved putting on our scuba gear, bailing over the side of the boat and figuring it all out once we were under the surface. It was a case of "sink or swim". We did a bit of sinking and a bit of swimming, which is the whole point of scuba diving.
On our first dive we saw an incredible sight; a huge shoal of yellow fish swimming past us. The whole shoal was rippling and flowing like it was one big organism, it was amazing. The shoal was easliy ten metres long, and I estimate
teenage fish gang, roaming the seas in search of trouble
there were several thousand fish in this shoal. very cool
there were thousands of fish packed tightly in there. This would have been a prime target for the dynamite fishermen. This unscrupulous practice is stricly illegal, but some fishermen still use dynamite. It explodes underwater like a depth charge, and the shockwave stuns or kills the fish, making them float to the surface. The fishermen then simply scoop the fish up with a net. Several of the coral dive sites have been damaged by dynamite blasts. There are regular patrols to prevent people from doing this, and so other fishermen use a technique called "cyanide fishing", because it makes no noise. The fishermen swim underwater using homemade gear consisting of compressed air pumped through a tube from the boat. They spray cyanide over the coral, and then wait for the effects. Once in seawater, sodium cyanide separates into sodium and cyanide ions. The cyanide ions cause paralysis of the fish, and sometimes death if the dose is high. Edible fish will be placed in fresh water for ten days for "rinsing". Fish for aquariums will be packed into plastic bags and shipped for sale in the US or Europe. Roughly 75% of the fish caught by cyanide fishing will die
A series of stunning limestone islands
within 48 hours, and this means a greater number of fish need to be caught to make the process profitable. And here is another shocking statistic for you. In the nineties, 80% of all tropical fish sold in the western world came from Palawan in the Philippines. Of that 80%, between 70% and 90% were caught using cyanide.
We spent several evenings at the "El Nido Art cafe", a cosy hangout run by a German lady. It was stocked with a decent selection of red wines, so we tucked into a nice bottle of Nottage Hill Cabernet-Shiraz one night. (if only I had a piece of cheese to go with it..) Whilst quoffing my vino, I read a copy of "Reader's Digest". Have you ever read this? It's actually a very good read, full of interesting articles and humour. There were a few that tickled me, so I thought I would share them with you. These are not especially travel related, but hopefully will make you smile if reading from your desk on a gloomy day.
1. There was a man in Vietnam who changed his son's name. It is now Mai Hoang Long, which means "Golden Dragon".
room for one more?
there's always room for one more on a jeepney
Originally it was Mai Phat Sau Nghin Houi, which means "fined six thousand and five hundred". This was how much the man had to pay as a fine, for ignoring the government's two-child policy
2. You've all heard the old wives tale that eating carrots is good for your eyesight. But do you know where it comes from? Well, during World War II, the British didn't want the Germans to know their pilots were using a newly-developed radar system to detect enemy planes. So a rumour was spread that Royal Air Force pilots had excellent night vision because they ate lots of carrots
3. A man in America has an unusual hobby; collecting other people's supermarket shopping lists. He picks up discarded lists from bins and car parks, and has a collection of over 1,400. He groups them into categories. eg. recycled lists, which are written on things other than notepaper. And obsessive-compulsive lists, which are overorganised to the point of being anal. And "lists that will kill you", which are dominated by highly unhealthy foods
There are more photos below