Silver Linings: Palawan

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Monday, February 7, 2011

 Silver lining: n. A hopeful or comforting prospect in the midst of difficulty.   

My parents, Claire and I arrived in Manila a few hours late due to a 2 hour delay because of the de-icing process of the plane in Seoul, and barely made our connecting flight in China.  But we made it!  But, our bags did not.  Arriving in 80 degree humid weather in jeans, a long sleeve shirt, sneakers, and a fleece is not a pleasant feeling.  We were rushed through the paperwork and were told our bags would be flown to Puerta Princesa, the capital of Palawan, where we could pick them up sometime.  I was enthralled by the culture change from Korea to the Philippines already!  No Mercedes taxi cabs.  No clean streets.  No immaculate subway system.  No secure and safe feeling.  Just a loud, dirty, chaotic mess.  It took 45 minutes to get to the hotel in traffic, when it should have easily been a 15 minute drive.  I received a message at the front desk that my friend Juliet had called and to meet her at Rockwell tower a.s.a.p.  Juliet is a wonderful and amazing soul that I met traveling in Colombia this summer.  She is an author of a book The Tale of Juliet (everyone must read!) which is all about her life and struggle from growing up selling fruit on the beaches of the Philippines, to having a successful and fulfilling life in Canada.  So, I had the privilege of meeting all her family, seeing her 5 star condo in Manila, catching up on the last 6 months of our lives and receiving a signed copy of her book, finally!  What an awesome surprise it was to see her face again and.... in her home country!  

 We were off to Palawan the next morning, a small island west of Manila.  Palawan is rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the best island destination in East and Southeast region in 2007, and the 13th best island in the world having incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes and one of the most bio diverse (terrestrial and marine) islands in the Philippines. The island has local interest for conservation and sustainable development and is named the eco-island of the Philippines.  Definitely my kind of place!  We were greeted by Lynn and Earl, from Crystal Paradise Spa and Winery, who immediately empathized with our lost baggage situation and took us to the nearest mall to stock up on summer clothing.  Thank goodness the airline gave us a voucher of a whopping $20 (which we never ended up getting!).  I purchased a swimsuit, cover-up dress and flip-flops and was ready to hit the beach.   The excitement stirred me up once again being in another culture.  The lack of cars on the island and surplus of tricycles for transportation was all I needed to see to know that I was going to like this place.  It was a two hour drive to the resort, passing by small thatched roofed huts with "Tina's Store" or "Kelly's Shack" painted on signs, with fruits and bags of chips displayed in the front.  Old men hung low in hammocks, while the women washed clothes in a basin next to goats tied to palm trees.  It reminded me so much of Honduras and brought me back to the work we did in the small villages in the mountains.  I noticed everyone was smiling.  Life was good.  Laid back and stress free.  At least that is what I saw.  But was that really the case?  Or just a view in my rose colored glasses?  I wanted to know, I wanted to meet them and know more about the culture and lifestyle.  We arrived at the resort and welcomed by Miss Abby who gave us a fresh flowered lei and coconut with a straw. But, don't believe everything you see on the Internet.  A little bit of false advertising made us believe we were going to a white sand beach with crystal clear water and a fixed menu with 5 courses each night only an hour away from the airport.  Definitely not the case!  A little rough around the edges and a bit run down, we were surprised with what we first saw.  But, silver lining #1 and old English idiom, you can't judge a book by it's cover.  We were escorted to our villa where fresh flowers were scattered on the bed and the view overlooked the infinity pool and palm trees with the ocean in the distance.  We had lunch delivered to our room and sat overlooking the ocean and listening to the echoing sound of the waves crashing against the shore. 

Dad and I decided to stroll down the beach, only to run into some local boys in their nippa huts (indigenous Filipino housing made from woven bamboo).  They came running out and surrounded us like we were aliens from another planet, staring and smiling and giggling.  They pulled in fishing nets to show us what they had caught, and utterly proud as well.  With little English, we were all connecting and communicating.  The oldest of the crew introduced himself as "Romeo," and I was immediately impressed with his charm and of course, beautiful brown eyes, skin and natural fit physique.   All the sudden I see Romeo shimmying up the coconut tree in his bare feet like a monkey with a machete.  "For you, anything" he yelled down to me as a bunch of coconuts fell from the tree.  He split it open and we sat under their hut drinking the fresh coconut, as my Dad was being defeated in the arm wrestling matches with the boys.  Romeo mentioned that he was happy and I asked why.  He responded in broken English that meeting people from other parts of the world was very rare for them, so they were very thankful to have met my dad and I.  Romeo and his gang lived in a cluster of nipa huts on the beach, their own natural resort surrounded by beautiful landscape, fished everyday for a living, ate from what they had been provided from the earth and swam in their underwear and clothes.  They lived simply.  They were happy.  As I walked away, I was flooded with happiness and insight. From that day forward, I didn’t care about my bag, or the cold shower, or the roughness around the edges. I had overwhelming emotions and realized how I had what I needed, my family, a place to sleep and clothes on my back....The silver lining to my lost bag mishap! Their smiles will stick with me forever.  

The next four days in a row, we were showered with rain.  Literally.  Unexpectedly, there were torrential downpours for the rest of our stay at Crystal Paradise resort.  This is when we really, really missed D.J., the entertainer and comedian in our family.  Once again, I could not complain after meeting Romeo and his gang.  Mom and I enjoyed a day of pampering, which included a 2 1/2 hour massage and exfoliation using all natural products such as honey, sugar, and fresh coconut and cucumber.  We spent the rest of the days reading, watching terrible 90’s movies, resting and eating all day long!  Terrific bonding time I must say!  I made friends with the honeymooning Korean couples and enjoyed mingling with all the staff and guests over bottles of the resorts homemade mango, guava and pineapple wine

After feeling a bit cabin feverish, I decided to make the 5 hour trek up north to Sabang beach to the famous underground river, stopping half way in Puerta Princessa to hop on Claire's tour.  I left at 6am only to get dropped off in the middle of no where in the pouring rain at 7:30am, which was the time the tour was leaving. I managed to hop on a tricycle and ask the driver to take me to the airport, because he had no idea where Claire's hostel was.  So, 15 minutes pass, a half an hour pass, and after an hour.  Where am I?!  I see the airport and manage to find someone who could then take me to her hostel.  I show up and see a van, with the tour guide, Kim, Claire, an Australian family, and a Filipino couple sitting waiting for me, for over an hour!  I promised to buy them all beers after the tour and repeatedly sent my apologies!  For the rest of the trip, I was the one who they picked on, of course, regardless of my apologies!  So, our journey continues to Puerta Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  We cruised down the 2 km of a 8.2 km long underground river that flows beneath spectacular limestone formations before directly emptying into the sea.  It is nominated as one of the 7 wonders of the world and after experiencing going through it, I now know why!  I was bummed that it was raining, but our tour guide Kim mentioned to us that the rain made the scenery extremely atmospheric and better than it would be if it was sunny!  There ya go...another silver lining of our trip!  Rain=atmospheric!  After the river tour, we enjoyed a lunch on the beach with all traditional Filipino foods and tried mangrove root mollusk, a supposed aphrodisiac.  That night we enjoyed a vegetarian meal (hallelujah!) with the awesome Australian family who was on our tour and experienced for the first time the consequences of drinking a bottle of Tanduay rum and long island iced teas with Tom and Josie.  A long neck bottle is only about one dollar...that's what we get for being cheap!  Unfortunately, it didn't keep us away from this awful hangover-in-a-bottle, as it is served everywhere!

At the end of our week long stay in Palawan, I had grown very fond of this place, from the food to the untouched natural beauty to seeing the smiling staff everyday, “Duke of Earl,” Jason, Abby, Rachel,the spa ladies, Romeo and his gang.  Despite the weather, lost baggage, and run down accommodations, we had an awesome time.  Can't believe it will be another year before I see my parents again!  I cannot thank them enough for I believe it’s more about the people and experiences you have within a place than the actual place itself.  I now look for a silver lining in each situation that might not be so favorable, and so you will see, is the underlying theme of my whole vacation!  The adventures continue as we spend our next week on the island of Bohol and the last week on Borocay....I must say, once again though, I fell in love already. With...the Philippines.
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