“If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” — Henry David Thoreau
Next stop: Palawan, voted to be the best island in the world by the New York based magazine Travel+Leisure. Finally, it was time to explore my favored location in the Philippines.
In comparison to our stay in Bohol, we had less of a plan for Palawan. We managed to book the hotel last minute, but only had the opportunity to settle for a budget solution. All other available options were high-end leisure resorts out of our price range. Usually, I would never decline the high-end option, but five-hundred bucks a night seemed to be a bit too ambitious. Also, we needed to figure out how to attempt the four hour journey from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Thus, here we were, uncertain of where exactly we would go and how to actually get there.
Puerto Princesa welcomed us with a warm breeze, masses of travelers, and yet a very relaxing vibe. After we claimed our luggage, we made our way out of the terminal. We agreed to rent a car for the three days ahead. This would give us more freedom and spare us any car sickness from the curvy roads. Not that we cannot handle roads, but there are two types of Filipino drivers. The city driver, speeding up and breaking down in heavy traffic, bumping you back and forth, and the province driver, trying to break any speed record in his Toyota Hiace.
At 5:3o pm, with the sunset in the back, we were on our way. The darker it got, the antsier the road became. In villages, tiny fires were burning, adding a layer of fog over the street as dogs would run across and playing kids would emerge out of nowhere. In the hills, landslides were blocking off part of the road and ditches appeared without warning signs. Yet, we made it safely to our hotel, checked-in and fell asleep exhausted.
El Nido and its surrounding has been largely unknown until the late 1990s. It was the Philippine government, which decided to designate the north of Palawan as a protected region. Ever since, it has become the go-to place for divers and tourists. Nothing is more true, the little town is crowded by tourists from all over the world. Expectations did not live up to reality. It seemed that the news about Palawan had traveled fast throughout the world and somehow we were last to hear about it.
We walked down to El Nido beach for a cup of coffee and planned our day. It was there, that we heard about Nacpan Beach. Supposedly, one of the most beautiful stretches of sand around the area. We finished our coffee, walked back to the car, and gave it a try. In fact, the beach was aesthetic. A wall of palm trees in the back, the sight of sand and sea in front, and blue skies above. If there was a place to zone out and forget about the world, it was exactly this stretch of land. By the late afternoon, slightly sunburned, we drove back into town and arranged a island hopping trip for the next day.
It was Saturday 7:30 am, finally time to explore stunning lagoons & exotic beaches. In my mind, I pictured the movie castaway with Tom Hanks. Excited as we were, I opened the curtain in our tiny room and …. it was raining. However, nothing would stop us. We assembled in timely fashion by the boat and boarded. Our first stop would be the small lagoon. By the time we got to the island, we weren’t the first boat anymore. Quickly, five, ten, fifteen other boats arrived and offloaded their passenger with two options. Either you swim yourself or you rent a kayak.
“Why would someone rent a kayak? ” – I asked.
“There are biting fish, called territorial fish.” – Our tour guide answered.
To hell with it I thought and jumped into the water to make my way into the lagoon. At this point, the rain was coming down and I was surrounded by kayaks. Again, expectation did not align with reality as I was swimming in a crowd of people. In order to get into the lagoon, you had to walk between corrals through a narrow path. While most kayaks had no issue to accomplish this simple task, there were a handful of boats who begged to differ. The struggle was real as they paddled straight into rocky walls. I have no idea how this was possible, but looking into their faces, they were as clueless as me.
On my way back to our boat, I somehow got stranded between four corrals. Unfortunately, each was protected by territorial fish. These suckers don’t pardon as every other second I would be bitten. At first, I was standing still trying to think of a way out; soon, I was dancing and realizing there was no way out. In the distance I spotted our tour guide and transferred myself onto the kayak – lesson learned: don’t ask stupid questions.
We continued our trip throughout the day, but the rain and crowd diminished a bit of what I had expected. It was not the relaxing stretch of world I came to find, rather I was too late to spot this place. Thus, I will come back, but next time I will explore different regions and I am still sure that Palawan will offer what I am truly searching for – that stretch of undiscovered beauty.
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