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Published: July 17th 2016
After a not-so-long but personally-as-forever-perceived absence I am back on my dear travel blog. Honestly speaking, I have been swamped with work lately - which means I am working for THE MAN now - and did not have much time and energy to write and/or reflect on my thoughts and experiences. Priorities are priorities and travel will always be mine, so let's take a little time and tell you the tale of my last trip. Its supposed to be a good one as it contains most of the things that we like to hear about in 2016: jungles, beef skin, calamansi juice, a marvelous trippy underwater world, bubble gum techno, and last but not least, a zombie on a bus.
To give you a little context to this story of beauty and despair, let's start from the beginning: An overworked Italian academic in Hong Kong and his Vietnamese academic girlfriend decided to go for a short 4 day trip to the Philippines. As always, things were a little rushed and we just randomly booked a flight to Palawan. You know, Palawan the tropical paradise! The one we have all heard about (or not)! However, things usually don't come easy and
Palawan is no exception to the rule.
A little more context to the context, Palawan is a reasonably big Filipino island, located in the extreme south-west of the country. So much, that it actually has more geographical and natural vicinity to the neighboring Borneo than to most of the other Filipino islands. The capital Puerto Princesa, which basically is a dusty road with a trippy blue Spanish church, lies more or less in the middle of Palawan. Somewhere near the city is an underwater river leading to a cave, which is a world heritage site. Honda Bay is a beach area with several islands also not too far off from the capital. We did not make in time to visit either.
From Puerto, a curvy road sneaks up north through the dense jungles of the island, passing minuscule villages, plenty of kids playing on the road and billboards of majors with Spanish names offering you their greetings in awkward superstar-like poses. The road leading south from Puerto is said to be even worse, leading to even smaller and more remote villages, jungles and waterfalls - where I did not make it to this time either DANGIT. Anyway, we
had the pleasure to head up north after a long and delayed stopover in Manila and Puerto Princesa. Leaving on a small van from Puerto airport under the pouring rain of the Filipino rainy season, we eventually got immersed into a dark landscape of semi-paved roads, dogs and kids lingering in the middle of the street and, best of all, blasting 90's techno as the music of choice for our driver for the whole 5 hours of the trip.
After a 3 hour ride or so we stopped in the middle of nowhere for a late-night snack... THH was not feeling well so she passed on the food, while I opted for a beef soup with a layer of beef skin (yes, the skin of the cow) floating on top. I did not have the courage to try but THH gave it a bite and paid for it with much more nausea... Anyway, finally arrived in El Nido we dropped dead in our beds, only to wake up in the midst of a tropical dream landscape on the next day. The sea around El Nido is considered on of the world's best and most beautiful, with Halong-Bay-Style cliffs rising
THH shiny and fair :O
out of the mesmerizing blue of the South China Sea. Occasionally these are flanked by pearl white sand beaches and snorkeling through this ensemble was a blast. Colourful fish, weird sea flora glowing in all the colours of the rainbow and coral reefs made me feel like being in a Coffee Shop in good old Amsterdam after a long day of work. Unfortunately, human achievements on the island did not match mother nature's masterpieces and the town reflected this more than anything else.
El Nido is pretty much the typical South East Asian backwater-turned tourist Mecca. Swiss Roesti, Italian Pizza, Reggae Music and "Same same but different" shirts are all offered on dusty, tricycle filled roads in a recklessly developed conglomerate of commercial ugliness. Leaving the main area of town, one is back to wooden stilt houses, run-down bus terminals and just plain poverty (please refer to the beef skin and kids and dogs lingering on the streets). Poverty is also related to the main character which I promised you to talk about in this story - the zombie on the bus.
After our great stay in the Nido, we took the same little van back to Puerto
Testing the waters
to take our flight out. Somewhere half way down we stopped in a little village and a tricycle pulled up... A couple of locals pulled out what looked like the body of a girl, about my age or slightly younger. They were carrying her to our bus, just to have her placed in the seat next to mine. I did not help much that they were trying to feel if her pulse was still there. I was pretty confused and asked a local on the bus what the lifeless body next to me was all about and I was told that ambulances in Palawan were too expensive, therefore they decided to put the poor girl on our bus for another 3 hour ride or so. When I asked what was wrong with her, I was told she was "very sick" and had "a trauma". I was honestly worried about her life and a little about mine, as having a lifeless body next to you for 3 hours makes you wonder if something contageous was going on.
I was partly relieved when the girl started moving a little and somebody even talked to her. However, this only got the girl
Boat on the shores
to make weird noises and tremble in a series of spasms. In my paranoid mind I could see the beginning of a movie in which a body gets picked up on a bus and 24 hours later zombies walk the streets of Manila, ready to suck people's brains out. Luckily that did not happen and eventually we arrived in Puerto - only for the girl to be taken out of the bus to what looked like a religious center rather than a hospital... which made me wonder: did they take her here for an exorcism?! I also saw the women who went with her holding a rosary during the trip, which I dismissed as a sign of simple protection. Well, I guess I will never know but its worth giving it a thought.
Summing up, the underwater world of Palawan is truly amazing, maybe because humans can't touch it (yet), while Chinese soldiers already started claiming land 200 km from the shores of the island due to the South China Sea dispute. Anything related to humans is sadly not working that well on the island. Palawan is poor, painfully poor, especially outside the little tourist enclaves in the north
THH having a wow moment
of the island. However, Filipinos are great in doing what they do best - welcome strangers, smile and, however bad the situation might be, invite you to take the day with a smile over a glass of calamansi juice. All the best to Palawan, nature hast truly given you a gift... now its up to the human animal to live up to its standards in spite of poverty, corruption and natural calamity.
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