The beach looks like paradise, but should actually be renamed "Sunburn Beach"
Our next stop was Palawan, an island province in the far Western waters of the Philippines. The island is 800km in length, and has been called "The Final Frontier" of the Philippines. Most of Palawan is an untouched wilderness and it did not disappoint! The only downside is that Palawan is the "cockerel capital" of the world. The little menaces are everywhere. Cockerels are supposed to crow at daybreak, but someone obviously forgot to give these ones a wristwatch.
Every place we visited over the next two weeks was infested with the damn cockerels. I was tempted to buy some gaffer tape and seal their little beaks shut. Then I thought using elastic bands over the beaks would be more humane, because the cockerels could then stretch their beaks open enough to eat, but not enough to crow. But by 4am, after being woken up half a dozen times, I thought a cricket bat round their heads would do much better! Justine posed an interesting question to me. Most incessant sounds and annoying and keep you awake. eg a bird scratching at the roof, a car engine running outside, or a dripping tap.
gathering around people's legs and pecking. Or nibbling? Whatever fish do, these were doing it
yet other sounds don't bother you, such as the sound of waves lapping against the shore, or the sound of a nearby river/waterfall. In fact, these are generally soothing. Why?
We stayed the first night in the Puerto Princesa and had a rude start at 7am for island hopping in Honda Bay. 7am seems to be a time of some significance here. Everything starts at 7am. Buses, Jeepneys, Boats and Tours. Just turn up somewhere at 7am, and something will be happening or leaving. So, we set off at 7am and the morning was spent on Pandan Island, where Justine and I were sprawled out on the beach by 9am. But the early morning sun was deceptively strong, and we both got badly sunburnt. Lobster Cheeks was back. This was such a typically English thing to do! Get sunburnt on the first day of proper sunshine. Will we English never learn? Justine got the brunt of it, and was walking around looking painfully pink for several days. We went for a swim in the sea at Pandan island, and a swarm of fish came up to us. There must have been several hundred of them. They started biting Justine's
This could quite easily fit over my face. With the suckers on the bottom, I didn't try though
legs, little sharp nips that made her jump. But they left me alone! This is typical of our trip so far. I seem to be lucky, untouched by everything, whereas Justine seems to be unfortunate. For example, on the boat to the island, Justine's side of the boat got splashed by waves, whereas I remained dry. The night before, a bat in the rafters pooped on her head, whereas my head was unscathed. If there is something to be tripped over, Justine will tumble instead of me. If there is a puddle to step in, Justine's shoes will find it, whereas mine will remain dry. I have no explanation for this!
The next island we visited was Snake Island, which was little more than a twisting sandbank about 3km in length. Finally we stopped at Starfish Island, where huge starfish were littering the seabed, and didn't seem to mind being picked up. Well, I say didn't mind. They didn't really have much choice.
On getting back to the hotel, I was cornered by an English guy in his fifties who started pouring out his woes to me. We hadn't even been introduced and he starts telling me his
Myself, Justine and our island-hopping guide
the full extent of our sunburn is unknown at this point
whole life story. This is not normal behaviour! He was one of those talkers who never takes a break and never takes a breath. It was as if he had two windpipes, he just kept talking and talking! He lives over here, and is married to a Filipino woman twenty years younger than him. Apparently she is on the warpath! She keeps going to the police and filing false complaints about him. He has been arrested three times in the past month on false charges. Five days before his son's birthday, she stole all the presents he had bought, and sold them. She then got a court restraining order to prevent him seeing his son on his birthday. Tragic as his tale was, he just went on and on and on. I was tired, sunburnt and covered in salt and sand, so I eventually managed to escape his incessant mouth and have a shower.
The next morning we were due to catch a bus to Sabang at the mystical time of 7am. But for some reason, the 7am bus was cancelled, so we caught a jeepney instead. The jeepney also left at..... 7am! The cancelled bus meant that the
the overloaded jeepney
you can see our friend Tom, the "Laughing Belgian" on the roof. Still smiling!
jeepney was in serious demand. Locals were crammed in the back like cattle, with arms and legs sticking out everywhere. Barrels, bags and boxes were strapped to the roof, and behind this luggage were at least a dozen people riding the roof. Justine and I were exceptionally lucky, and grabbed the front two seats beside the driver. A Belgian guy we met, Tom, wasn't so fortunate, and spent the four hour journey on the roof. I call Tom the "Laughing Belgian". He was always grinning, and laughing heartily after everything he said. ("What did you do today Tom?" "Oh, I just had a wander around town, ha ha ha ha ha!") Even after clinging the roof over bumpy roads for four hours and being covered in dust, he was still grinning away.
So, we reached Sabang, a tiny village of shacks and beach huts scattered along a kilometre of gorgeous coastline. We were greeted by the snappily dressed Miguel; local guy, man-about-town, and all round cool dude. He was "The Fonz" of Sabang. Everyone knew him, and if you wanted anything, he could sort it out. He seemed to be everywhere at once, and over the next few days
"Lazy buffalo" mutters the driver
he kept popping up wherever we were. He took us to our accommodation at the far end of the beach on a "Buffalo Cab" - a cart pulled by a huge Karibou, which is a Filipino buffalo. The buffalo was plodding along slowly, and the driver kept whipping him to make him go faster. The buffalo would increase the pace for ten seconds before settling back into a slow plod. He would then be whipped again for another ten second spurt of speed, before slowing down once more. "Lazy buffalo" said the driver, turning to us and shaking his head "Other buffalo work the fields all day. This one only has to pull the cart several times a day. Lazy buffalo".
Sabang was a tiny place, a one-horse town. Or, more accurately, a one-buffalo town. There was only electricity when the village generator ran between 6pm and 10pm. But amongst the shacks we managed to find an excellent restaurant where I tried a new "meat" to add to my worldwide list of consumed creatures - SHARK! I had spicy shark steak in a coconut sauce, and it was utterly delicious. Miguel popped up during our meal and asked us
The Subterranean River
the longest (navigatable) underground river in the world
how we were, then promtly disappeared again
The main attraction in Sabang is the world's longest subterranean river which is navigatable by boat. We hired a boat to enter the cave and were paddled by the locals. This wasn't a little trickle of water but a substantial river thirty metres wide in places. The cave twisted and turned through majestic rock formations , and at one point we entered a vast, cathedral sized cavern about 70 metres high. Our only illumination was a hand-held spotlight connected to a rusty car battery. It was like Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne style. The river can be navigated 8km deep, but National Park regulations only allow tourists to venture 2km inside. But with a small bribe to the boatmen, we went 4km deep.
The next day, Miguel had arranged a guide for us to "Daylight Cave'. Justine and I rode on the back of our guide's motorbike, and let me tell you, three people on a motorbike is a very tight squeeze. I was glad to be travelling with Justine, and not Bernard Manning. On the way, we passed through another village about 5km outside of Sabang,
the entrance to the "Cave of Doom"
we escaped with minor grazes and a spot of bleeding
and heard someone cry out. It was Miguel, our friend and omnipresent dude. We said a quick hello and went on our way. We reached the cave after walking through rice fields, crossing rivers and scrambling up a cliffside. The descent into the cave was quite hair-raising. The rocks had razor-sharp ridges and sharp spikes, and a fall would mean a liberal stripping of skin and possibly minor impalement. This was the terrain typically found in a fantasy movie, where the hero tries to penetrate the cave fortress of an evil warlord. After twenty minutes of careful climbing, we reached a pitch black ravine. We tossed a rock into the blackness, and it took five seconds to reach the bottom. Count out 5 seconds to yourself now...... Long drop! ("and so our intrepid heroes reached an impenetrable abyss of absolute evil. There was no way to descend into it's darkened depths without falling to certain doom. They would have to find another way to rescue the Princess from the cave fortress of Doctor Evil")
After two days in Sabang, we ordered an early morning buffalo cab to take us to the village port. We were catching a boat to
Lazy Coconuts on Sabang Beach
just sitting around, waiting for nothing in particular
our next destination, Port Barton. As I said earlier, 7am is the magical time for everything, and this was the time out boat was leaving. Whilst our 7am boat was being loaded, a 7am jeepney was also getting ready. Tied to the back of the jeepney with a piece of rope was a large pig. There was no room inside the jeepney, and I thought with horror that they were going to pull the pig and make it trot behind! So I was greatly relieved when I realised it was going on the roof. But what an ordeal getting it up there. I personally have no experience of putting pigs on roofs. It is not something which is generally done in England. In fact, there are very few pigs to be found on the streets of Tooting. But I could see that these guys were doing it all wrong. They had one rope around it's neck, and were trying to put another rope around it's belly. They tried hoisting the pig up, nearly strangling the poor thing in the process. You have never heard such a noise in all your life. Cows go "moo", chickens go "cluck" and pigs usually
squeal like a pig
this was taken shortly before the pig was hoisted onto the roof by the rope around it's neck
go "oink". But pigs being lifted off the ground by ropes around their necks go "rrrreeeeeeeeeee! rrrreeeeeeeee!" Somehow the pig wriggled loose of the rope around it's belly, fell to the ground and then got free of it's neck rope. It had a livid pink weal around it's throat. A crowd had gathered around the jeepney to witness the incident, but when the pig got loose, it charged at the people, shrieking "rrrreeeeeeeeeee! rrrreeeeeeeee!" People scattered from the lunatic pig in fear, and it continued running around squealing, making people scatter even further. It took five men to capture the porky renegade. It was then roped up more securely and hoisted onto the roof in an undignified manner. Once on the roof, I was delighted to see the pig do a large crap. Serves them right
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