3 islands down, 7104 to go (Honda Bay, Palawan, Philippines)

September 24th 2009
Published: October 6th 2009
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(Day 538 on the road)The guidebook had called Manila airport dirty, chaotic and dark. I was expecting the worst, but instead after arriving here from Taipei I found it super-clean, well sign-posted and modern. Maybe they have recently upgraded it or I arrived at a different terminal? Leaving the airport I braced myself for the usual army of taxi drivers and other hawkers but I found - nothing. Not a single person approached me, and I had time to get my bearings. How nice!

Shunning the expensive coupon taxis I took a shuttle bus that took me to a broad avenue and then a jeepney (in essence a jeep converted into a van) to where I wanted to spend the night. A word of warning at this point: I stayed at the Townhouse Manila - don't stay there. It is filthy and crammed, and it allows prostitutes to be taken into the dormitory! The only good thing about it is the proximity to the airport, which suited me fine as I was about to catch another flight the next day. The dorm was open to the street at all times with no lock and no lockers available either, and fat older men were too cheap to get a single room and instead brought their young Filipino prostitutes into the dorm. Very considerate, and what a nice introduction to why so many older men visit this country.

Twenty minutes after arriving at the guest house I was picked up by Lili (liliram), who is Filipino, lives in Manila and likes to travel a lot. We had read each others blogs for a few weeks now and had exchanged tips regarding the Philippines and Bali. So realising that our paths would soon cross we had arranged to meet up for the evening. Lili picked me up in her car and we we drove to the largest mall in Asia, aptly called "Mall of Asia". We had a great chat whilst strolling along the water front behind the mall and later Lili took me out for a delicious Filipino dinner.

Back at the guest house, I tried to spend as much time away from the awful dorm as possible, and ended up chatting to three Filipino girls in the guest house's common area. It turned out to be a very interesting evening, and before I knew it it was four o'clock
Rainbow around the sunRainbow around the sunRainbow around the sun

Yes, there was a real rainbow there, it is not a reflection on the camera lens. I have never seen anything like this before, it was amazing...
in the morning. Luckily the action in the dorm had stopped by then, so I finally went to sleep.

The next morning I took the advise of one of the girls on how to best get to the airport. It turned out that her route required three different jeepneys and took considerably longer than how I had reached there the day before. Strange, wouldn't you think that the people living there should know best on how to get around? I have encountered this phenomenon countless times here in Asia, and it never ceases to puzzle me.

My plan for my three weeks in the Philippines (that's all the time the immigration department gives you unless you want to spend about 40 Euros for a longer stay) is to spend almost the entire time on the islands of Palawan to the south-west of Manila, which seems just about the right size to explore without rushing it. The flight to Puerto Princesa, the main city of Palawan, was smooth, and on the flight with me was adventurous and funny Evgenia from Russia. We got chatting after the baggage claim, hit it off straight away and soon decided to tackle Palawan together.

I have to say that I admire Evgenia's way of travelling: She has no guidebook and speaks literally no English save for "how much" and similar simple phrases (but perfect German as she has been living in Germany for the past seven years), but that does not deter her at all however from travelling across the Philippines for five weeks. She has the most street-smart and unorthodox approach I have seen in a traveller so far.

On our first day in Palawan we chartered a boat to snake island, one of the 7107 islands that comprises the Philippines. The official rate for a boat was 1300 pesos, and we were told decisively that this was the only rate we would get anywhere. Walking literally 20 metres down the road we met a a fisherman who agreed to take us for 600 pesos. He also brought his friend along, knowledgeable marine guide Eric, who showed us around and explained to us the various kinds of fish during our snorkeling. On our way out on the noisy pump boat we saw an amazing rainbow that went all the way around the sun in a perfect circle. I have never seen anything like it, and am quite amazed that my camera was able to capture this.

Snake island itself was simply beautiful: Shaped like a snake it is about three kilometres long but only about ten to fifteen metres wide, and during high tide large parts of the island disappear completely under the water, leaving only the mangroves visible. And counting the large island of Luzon where Manila is located and the main island of Palawan, snake island thus is number three of the 7107 islands I could in theory visit in the Philippines. Only 7104 more to go!

The snorkeling here was also great, and I am forever taken in by territorial fishes. They basically claim their own territory and attempt to defend this against all intruders. In practise that means that if you come too close they will swim towards your mask pretending to attack you. Only at the last instance will they change their course to avoid a head-on collision. How brave of these tiny buggers! They are similar in a way to clown fishes, only I find the territorial fish to be a lot more aggressive and thus much more fun to play with.

On the way back to town in the afternoon we caught a ride on the back of a huge empty lorry. It seemed like a good idea until we realised that it happened to be an cement truck, and by the time we got back to town we were covered from head to toe in grey cement dust . After a much needed shower back at the guest house we finished the day with a leisurely stroll across Puerto Princesa's great central market, where I was quite amazed just how many different sorts of rice they were offering for sale. It counted well over 30 varieties, all with their different prices. Most of them looked completely alike (to me at least) - if the difference in taste is really that noticeable?

Next stop: Bacuit Archpalego (El Nido, Palawan, Philippines).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


6th October 2009

Hi Ben
I can tell you have been enjoying the beach and relatively good weather down there in Palawan. I hear it gets better as you go up north. Good for you to leave Manila at the time you did. Enjoy the rest of your 21-day stay in my country (we really ought to do something about that......), bring a coconut to sip the juice and eat the meat while just being lazy down a deserted beach, try the local fish and other seafood there---simply grilled or eaten with salted red egg, eat some sweet pineapples, buy some cashew nuts there, get a massage, and just have fun! Btw, I can tell some rice varieties. And yes, it is well over 30. Also, you arrived in the newer, though smaller airport terminal. Quiet there.
7th October 2009

Thanks for the info Ben.. we are going to the Philippines on the 29th October and plan to travel to Palawan, it sounds lovely so we'll look forward to it. Is it really 50euros to extend the visa.. we hadn't realised it was that much as we were planning to stay for around 6 weeks but may have to reconsider.. especially considering our flights out are £80 each!! Comes with travelling over xmas we suppose! Anyway have fun in El Nido.. will look forward to the next edition! Take care ps interesting about Evgenia, we have also met people who travel like her and it amazes us.. they still do everything we do though so obviously have something right!
8th October 2009

funny fish
Me and a guy Mark were snorkelling off snake island and spent ages teasing one of those territorial fish. We were in stitches it was the funniest thing...
19th February 2010

Awesome travels
You prolly landed at the relatively new NAIA Terminal 3 which was built about five years ago but it's opening was delayed due to politics among other things. It's not yet being fully utilized by the other international airlines but only for short haul budget airlines and domestic airlines. Lonely Planet isn't necessarily updated as you probably realized by now. Awesome blog BTW, I'm Filipino living here in the US but have yet to visit a lot of the the places in my country that you've been to. I'm quite envious seeing all the scenery and the travails you've had getting there. But you're right, there are places in this world that have to be seen since pictures don't do them any justice. Awesome blog and godspeed.
3rd November 2010

Wow!!! This is amazing, I hope I can visit it someday.
10th February 2011

amazing story!
Hi! Great to see this. Great to know that you visited our place and appreciated it. I am from Puerto Princesa and I am grateful you are sharing the word about our place! Congrats!

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