I have always dreamt of Palawan, of Batanes, of Mt. Pulag. Among all other amazing places to visit in the Philippines, these three topped my bucket list. I didn’t know much about Palawan other than it becoming synonymous to ‘hidden paradise’, as others who had been there would say. As an internet tourist, I knew Palawan rears one of the most beautiful serene beaches in the country.
My Palawan trip was physically draining but I was glad I only felt the worn-out days after the trip was over. It was possibly the adrenaline that kept me going despite the lack of sleep and the wearisome activities that left most of us wasted at the end of the day. It was a trip worth reliving and I don’t think I’ll get over with the hype of me being in a place that has captivated my heart.
They say when we travel, we leave a part of us somewhere, scattered among dusts and on soils and sands we tread. Me, I unintentionally left my heart in Palawan.
To be honest, I thought this planned trip was too far-fetched to even consider. Even days into the schedule, I had thoughts of a possible cancellation due to production-related circumstances. For this reason alone, I never prepared anything for the trip, so the night before our departure, I crammed til past midnight to get things into place. In spite of the limited time, I was able to get every basic necessity packed, besides the GroPro camera I regretted I forgot to bring along. Yes, that’s when your memory failed you when you most need it… And finding out later your digital cam isn’t working like it used to, is a bonus.
However, I did not allow minute issues to ruin my mood. I had so much positive energy in me at that time to attend to any negativity. That trip was primarily done to foster unity-building among the team. Something I hope til now will be continuously worked out to attain. As I have often said, a family does not need to be perfect, it just needs to be united.
In the first place, we never can be perfect, as the diverse and complex individuals as we are. But in all of our diversity, there is always hope for a united goal and a space where people can still happily embrace each other’s uniqueness despite the varied views and opinions, personalities and beliefs we have, while working out on one end… on one vision and mission.
In an environment where the barrier among members is apparent, it is such as this activity that mirrors where we are when it comes to being a ‘team’. Are we really a team or are we like a tribe competing against each other and wishing for the doom of the other? As the day progressed, circumstances allowed us to see parts of who we are as individuals and as members of a secluded team. We do not climb on our comrade’s back like crabs do, but situations revealed itself the true nature of our unique sides.
It is during these times that reveals to us who among the team was willing to adapt to sudden change—a change from the usual company of friends you often took lunch or had chitchat with or possibly whom you are willing to get drown together if the banca had sunk. Expectedly, the usual set-ups as in the office held onto each other.
At that time when the boss asked one or two willing members to transfer to the other van with the seniors and no one acquiesced, that itself, says a lot about the stigma I often observe in the office. Only a few were willing to embrace the change that awaits us there. Of course, I understand. We are emotional beings so we tend to associate ourselves with those people we are comfortable being around with. In a way, that sadly defies the end why we were there.
I was only with the team for over a couple of years. So I could not fully comprehend how and when this divide began. Inter-generational interests probably is one factor and the others, I do not know exactly. The team is composed of the ‘seniors’ whose age ranges from late thirties to early forties while the ‘youngits’, as how we call ourselves, were mostly in early twenties to early thirties. We are fun-loving and carefree caricatures of our young selves; they are on the other hand, more reserved and formal creatures hammered on the anvil by years of experience. They, most of the times, live by the norms and we are escapees from the urban jungle and crusaders of thrill. I could not judge them because I’ve always think of us as the mirrors of them when they were our age.
Perhaps, they too, were like us in many ways that we could not see. Perhaps they too, loved to jump their hearts out as the sun peeps out of the horizon like we did for two days… or play images of anything veiled in silhouettes while waiting for the sun to rise.
Destination: Puerto Princesa and Seafront at Teneguiban, El Nido
Our first day started with a little welcome ceremony at the airport from the BSBB staffs. Two tourist vans were hired for the trip so the team was divided into two groups with mostly the younger members grouping together and the rest going with the seniors. We then proceeded to Ka Inato’ where we took our lunch. We had traditional chicken barbecue, steamed fish and veggies with bagoong.
We left Puerto Princesa after lunch, had some twenty-minute pit stop at a Mercury Drug store and proceeded on our way to El Nido.
Days before the trip, we were informed that the travel time from Puerto to El Nido would take almost six hours and that we will probably be arriving late at our destination. In actuality, it took seven to eight hours of travel to reach El Nido from Puerto Princesa and that was the longest ride I’ve ever been on in my life. But surprisingly, I never felt totally exhausted. I could not allow myself to doze off even for some minutes. I tried some catnap but failed. The excitement of seeing the outskirts of Palawan for the first time was just too overwhelming.
While on our way, thoughts of what Palawan was really like came jumbling in. I wonder why one of the big bosses called it a ‘jungle’. Puerto Princessa, it’s capital city isn’t like Cebu in many ways, but calling Palawan a jungle was nowhere near either…or so I thought.
Later, I found out the big boss was possibly right, as we headed our way to what seemed to be an endless array of mango and cashew tress and all plants that have thrived on its hardened soil—the outskirts of Palawan has a vast with mostly uninhabited area of wild tress and plants. After hours of seeing the same scenery, I began to question myself why on earth would people live in such a remote place inaccessible to water and power, even basic healthcare perhaps? And could there really be a gem hidden somewhere amidst this jungle?
I have majestic visions of Palawan but I did not prepare myself for what was going to welcome me once I stepped on its soil.
As the hours dragged on, the sun eventually hid behind monstrous mountains and jungles and fogs started to cover the areas we left… Until we could no longer see anything of what was outside. The pitch darkness that enveloped the stretch of distance we traveled was intimidating. You are able to see what the car’s light can only show you and that is the main road. The sky also wasn’t as bright as it should be in Cebu. I tried to find any stars but even these fellows seemed to have hidden somewhere. While the youngits are quietly sleeping as it was past seven in the evening, I tried to listen to Ish and Kuya Aldrin (the driver) talking. At that time, I could feel my excitement dwindling away. But still, I stayed awake on purpose.
I expected for the trip to bring oneness and closeness among members. To some extent, it enhances the value of sharing. We became more generous after sharing every food we have on anyone in the van. Despite the long distance, we never ran out of supplies because always, someone has a food to spare for the hungry piranhas. Not only with food but we share in our other supplies as well—toiletries and even sunblock. The value of sharing was pretty clear. By the time we reached El Nido proper, I sighed with relief that finally the long-hour drive has concluded and we could at last make it to our beds and rest. But to my dismay, the van went on and on. We were informed of another two hours more to reach Teneguiban where the property of one of the big bosses is located and where we will be staying for two nights.
Another dark road led us down to Teneguiban—a small quite community by the sea. It was ten o’clock in the evening and a surprise notice came that we will have to ride a banca to reach Seafront. Again, my vision of the trip was blatantly incorrect. But for the adventure that it gives, I turned in and walked towards the banca which was about 200 meters away from the shore together with the first batch of the team. It was low-tide so the water has receded to a considerable distance enough to give our weary feet the exercise that it needs. Walking in the water under the moonlight at ten o’clock in the evening was something I would not experience had I not been there. That was awesome!
Then there’s our first view of Seafront. From a distance, it was difficult to see where those magical lights actually came from. But who cares about the enchanting view of Seafront under the lights when the mouth-watering smell of dried squid engulfed the area even when we were still 300 meters away from the source. That was how hungry the piranhas had been after the trip. Dinner was served thereafter and needless to say, our late dinner was heavenly. They say all foods are delicious when you are hungry but with all due respect to our hospitable host, the food they prepared were all delicious. After dinner, we were asked to share rooms with the managers (the seniors). At past eleven, we drifted off to slumberland. Our first day was nowhere near as I expected because it turned out absolutely fantastic.
Destination: El Nido Proper (Shimizu Island, Small lagoon, Big lagoon, Secret lagoon and beach and 7 Commando Beach)
We woke up to the loud sound of my phone’s alarm. Guilt flushed over me as I strode the dark room looking for the whereabouts of my phone which has now caused everyone to wake up. I was supposed to turn off the alarm the night before. It was almost five in the morning and the sun was just about to say hi. Some of the colleagues were already awake and silently staring at the beautiful sunrise. Upon making it to the shore, I could not fight the temptation for an early swim. Ma’am Eve was already there enjoying the gush of wave in that native Palawan shore. I am always afraid of the water but when it’s only knee-deep, what else should hold me back?
We were scheduled to go island-hopping on day 2.
Because of this activity, the ocean became an inevitable force I needed to face head on. Unfortunately, my fear of the water was so intimidating that even with the life jacket on, I found myself struggling to keep alive. I could not even bring my face to the surface to breathe which is both hilarious and discouraging. I have always struggled to fight my fear of the water. I loved the ocean but the phobia is something I still haven’t get rid myself of.
I would silently watched the still water below while the banca carried us to the depths of the open sea and felt my knees quiver. I am both excited and scared. Several instances I had to ask a colleague to help me get to where the guide is leading us. I wanted to explore the area by myself so I could conquer my fear of the unknown depths, but I felt helpless. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the help lent to me by my colleagues.
Of the islands we visited in El Nido, my favorites are Secret beach and the Shimizu island. If I knew how to swim, I am sure I would love the place even more.
Upon returning to Teneguiban after our island-hopping activity, instead of waiting for our banca, nine of us decided to walk the distance to Seafront. At the back of my head, I knew no matter how far it is, the shoreline will always lead us to Seafront. What we did not anticipate was how difficult was the way going there. We could not get into the main land because it was beginning to get really dark and we don’t have any light, besides the fact that we do not know the way around and we might get lost in the ‘jungle’.
From time to time, I would checked Aires who at that time was struggling to keep abreast with the guys. I tried to get as near with the men as possible so I could alert them should someone in the group needs any help. I started to get worried the girls will be left out walking on the dark shore alone as majority of the men slowly vanished from my sight. I called out in darkness to ask if they could at least wait for the rest of the team before proceeding. I did not get any answer. All I hear were crickets and the familiar sounds of the wild. Good thing Binoy was still there helping Aires get through the gigantic boulders blocking our way as Kim stepped in to help the rest of us, Anj, Cherry and me. In the distance passed where the gigantic boulders nestled, I noticed a dark figure holding up a light coming from his phone desperately trying to light the way. Yes, Zeke also decided to wait. The two proceeded without restraint while the rest remained and waited until everyone was out of the huge boulders. That was what I call, team-building. We reached Seafront forty minutes later with our swollen feet and a renewed spirit that there is still hope for unity among us.
Besides power, water is scarce in Teneguiban. When you live in a place like that, you could only wish the ocean water is enough to keep you feeling clean the whole night. But no, after that adventure we had, no one felt so drained enough to let the night go without bathing. Just like the good old days and with the water supply coming from the deep well, we bathed outside like little kids do—happily stealing the only two tabo we had from one another and childishly fought for water. Somehow I wished people had retained the simple life in the barrio, like when you have to bathe outside with your friends and water-fight for fun. Simple things such as these are sure to foster openness and closeness, not alienate oneself like most generations of today.
Another sumptuous dinner was served that night. In preparation for Day 3, most members decided to sleep early; while a few others stayed late til midnight.
Destination: Underground River, Sabang, Puerto Princessa
I woke up past two o’clock in the morning to charge my drained battery and decided to stay outside while waiting for the sunrise. It was early dawn and only a couple of the BSBB staffs were already awake. I forcefully closed my eyes just to steal some more hours before sunrise but it was impossible. By six o’clock in the morning, almost all members were all set to go. But before leaving, we took our daily routine in front of the peeping sun.
We left for Sabang, Puerto Princessa before seven—that’s another bloody seven to eight-hour drive to the famed Underground River. Surprisingly, we reached Sabang in six hours and thanks to Kuya Aldrin for the 150kph rollercoaster ride which left the ‘youngits’ screaming with delight. We were really crazy.
Upon arrival, we wandered around looking for souvenir items scattered around the vicinity. Much to our surprise, we were already left behind by the team. We searched the area but unable to find anyone; we tried to call someone from the other batch but failed. It was past one o’clock in the afternoon so we were really hungry. Our itinerary shows we will have lunch after arrival at Sabang so we knew somewhere in that busy area, the team could already be taking lunch but it was impossible to check the place one by one. We waited for some minutes until Anj emerged from the distance. She was herself worried we might have been lost. I could not thanked her enough for reaching out to her lost comrades. Looking out for the welfare of others, this among others, was another instance that reveals the true nature of our being a ‘team’.
We were then led by Anj to a restaurant at the far end of the port area. Almost everyone in the team were already there while most, especially the men, were locked-eyed on the only television I saw in the port area patiently and excitedly watching the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. Sadly, our flag bearer lost in a marathon. One thing that strucked me most was a group of foreigners wearing Team Pacquiao shirts. I wonder if, like most of the Filipinos, they too felt deprived of a decent game.
Unlike the past days, it was surprisingly rainy that day. It was cold and windy and the ocean did not seem to look too friendly to me. We were divided to 3 groups as the banca could only accommodate six passengers each. We left Sam, our host at the port and rode on the banca that took us to the underground river where we were met by our other colleagues.
We took some pictures while waiting for our turn to tour inside the cave. This time, we were grouped into two again—the other and the first banca to set off carried the seniors and minutes later, we followed. None was really able to get some decent photos taken inside the cave as it was too dark for the cameras to work. So we ended up just enjoying what our eyes were able to show us inside the underground river. That experience left me to wonder how all those beautiful formations came into existence after millions of years. Nature indeed, is an amazing artist.
And Kuya banca driver, was gifted with so much wit which made the tour inside more enjoyable.
We headed back to Puerto Princesa proper and checked in at Airport Side Inn past five in the afternoon. We said goodbye to our driver, Kuya Aldrin. I was supposed to ask if we could take some pictures with him but thinking we could always do that the following day, I went on to our assigned room, bathed and changed clothes.
We readied before 7:00 PM as we were scheduled to have our souvenir-shopping that night before dinner. I bought mostly delicacies and some small souvenir items to give to those we left behind in Cebu. We dined at Air Republic, a local bar which obviously serves more drinks than real food. I could be wrong though. I commend the singers for a wonderful show though I think the attire were a bit unnecessary.
Destination: Puerto Princessa Baywalk, Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel, Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Mitra Ranch and Baker’s Hill.
Again, I made it a point to wake up early that day and went straight to the shower after Aires. The water was warm and relaxing although it helped little to ease my skin allergies which have now gone full-blown, with blisters all over my legs and arms. But who cares about allergies? I was right there to enjoy, not mind about minute issues that will certainly heal in time (and with the help of the med the boss gave me upon seeing how it has gone worse). Right after, we took our breakfast with the rest of the team. After fixing all things for our eventual departure in the afternoon, we were introduced to our new guide, Ma’am Joan and our new driver, Kuya Arnie (if I heard it right) who will take charge of the city tour.
So Kuya Aldrin’s role had actually ended the other night. Ohhh-kay.
Ma’am Joan would have been a great guide for the seniors but she was unfortunately assigned to the youngits. As usual, we were quite polite with our new guide but later on some of the boys unleashed their cheesiest jokes that made all of us giggling, including Ma’am Joan and Kuya Arnie. We were sadly, a pain in the neck, even to strangers.
Of all the places that we’ve been to in Puerto that day, my favorite is Baker’s Hill. It has a bread shop where you can buy delicious baked Filipino delicacies. It also housed a finely-designed wide theme park by Shirley Flores where you could take your break, or like us, bombard the place with our obviously childish happy faces. For a moment, I felt I was in a fairy tale brushing shoulders with the characters of my favorite Disney movies and series.
After our lunch at Jollibee, we headed directly to the airport as our flight was scheduled at 1:25 PM. Before leaving the van, I asked Kuya Arnie if he has taken lunch already although I had an idea he hadn’t yet. And I was right. There were some extra rice packs from our lunch so I asked the men to leave it at the van. I insisted we left it with Kuya Arnie and they did. As I left with a heavy heart, I smiled and said my last thank you to Kuya Arnie. It still breaks my heart to think that our stomachs were almost exploding at that time while someone was waiting when we could finish ours so he could take his. We were quite insensitive.. and I still don’t feel good about what happened.
Sam gave each one a pink and yellow turtle key chain. We left him and Palawan on schedule.
We’ve been to different places in Palawan, even with a limited time and I will always treasure those moments. I treasure all the people I met on that trip—the BSBB staffs and Sam, especially those attending to our needs at Seafront, our driver Kuya Aldrin whom we never got to ask the real name, the witty banca drivers who took us to our destinations safely, Ma’am Joan, Kuya Arnie, the Japanese lady who climbed up the seat to take my backpack out of the aircraft’s overhead bin and of course, my colleagues.
But as I said, there is still a lot to be done to bridge the gap and for true unity to thrive. We need to cultivate what we’ve started to sustain what we’ve learned, big or small. There is so much to learn from each other still. After the trip I had with the team, I realized my perception of the place was underrated and my vision of oneness is flickered with a new hope. Palawan is a gem hidden behind a monstrous jungle of natural reserves—a pure diamond in the rough—just like us. Everyone has his own unique beauty just waiting to be unveiled so in time, we could claim to ourselves that we are not the secluded tribe, for we are one with the rest.
PS. I shall return some other time to reclaim my heart. :)