…and is that snake poisonous?
27.12.2008 - 03.01.2009
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I’m in personal potty hell. …more on this in a minute.
Trip to Sabang
Mike and I booked an air-conditioned van to take us from Puerto Princesa across to the west coast of Palawan to a “town” called Sabang. It has been thrown together to accommodate the tourists coming to visit the Subterranean River, and I do mean thrown together.
The van left our hotel at 7am, picked up a few other tourists – mostly Pilipino - and off we raced. This is the fastest I’ve ever traveled in a vehicle, I think. Or maybe it just felt that way after 5 days of putting around in a tricycle powered by a little 150cc motorcycle? Anyway, as we were hauling ass down the road, I kept wondering, is my life insurance current? …where’s the fire? …glad I have a spare pair of shorts, cuz I think I just shat myself. You know, things like that. The road was pretty good for the first half of the trip, after that, it turned to gravel/dirt/mud/flooded areas. I was really glad we hadn’t had time for breakfast before leaving - I was starting to feel green. The driver was trying to race the other tourist vans along the road, passing going around corners while going uphill…I had to clutch my oh-shit-handle and stare steadfastly out my window. Think happy thoughts, think HAPPY thoughts!
After enduring the gravel road for about a mile, we saw parts of a new concrete road being laid. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to where they were or how long they were, or if it covered both sides of the road or just one. Sometimes we’d be on the right, then the left, then slamming on the breaks as an oncoming jeepny (like a bus, but smaller, and open-air, with people sitting on top and hanging off all sides) flew by. At one point we were so far up the ass of the van in front of us, I couldn’t tell where our vehicle ended and theirs started.
Alas, arrival in Sabang, and thank f&*k for that. Looking around, I thought maybe we were just making a pit-stop. It was kind-of…well, a hell hole. We hopped off the van just to be loaded back on again, with the driver and some new Pilipino guy in the passenger seat – they were taking us to where the hotels were. After about 100 feet, the driver stopped and let us out. His friend, Elmer, or Elmo, not sure, was “in the know” about where the hotels were located. I can’t believe we fell for it! I stood there with my thumb in my ear for a second – shouldn’t have taken a hand off my luggage, cuz there goes Elmo with my backpack! Shit! We soon realize that all the hotels are within about 300 yards of the initial dropping off point. Elmo proceeded to help us ask the front desks of every hotel – all 5 of them – if they had a room for the night. Ok, that’s a lie. We didn’t even ask at the expensive hotel, Daluyon, although Elmo thought it was a highlight to point out that “they have electricity – for 24 whole hours!” Oh shit…what have we done? He kept asking us how long we were staying, and at seeing the state of most of the places here, the duration got shorter and shorter. Our time frame started out at near a week, and ended up at 1 or 2 nights. The next-to-last place on the beach, Mary’s, was the only one that had a room – 500 pesos a night (about $10 USD). Upon inspecting the room, I had mixed emotions, but felt compelled to take the room, as it seemed we had no other option than to sleep on the beach. In hindsight, that would have been preferable.
We went back to the front desk to say we’d take the room – Mary grimaced at us and then turned away. No key, no instructions, nothing. Ok, guess I’ll just bust a hole through the sheet of bamboo (aka wall) like the Kool-Aid man to enter my hovel. It didn’t come to this, as the door was wide open when we got back to the room. It’s really a dismal place. Dark, with gaps in the bamboo where some light punctures the melancholy, sad little flamingo pink mosquito net, under which a slab holds a bit of hard foam up to make a bed. The floor is made of bamboo slats, lashed onto the beams underneath – you can feel them giving a little, groaning as you walk across the floor. Oh, and on top of that is some sort of contact paper – plastic sheeting stuck to the slats. I imagine that this is in place to keep bugs or mosquitoes out, or as we just found out in our new hotel, to keep the scorpions out.
You may not know this about me, but the extent of my toilet phobia is far reaching. I have nightmares about bathrooms, toilets in particular, and faucets & hot n cold taps are in there as well. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had these awful, terrifying, and very real dreams in which I’m in a dirty, broken down bathroom – and I GOTTA GO! So then you’re forced to touch things, and inevitably, something goes haywire and the taps break off the sink while I’m trying to wash my hands after…well….I think you get the picture.
I’ve seen squats before, and that seems to be no problem for me – the ones I’ve seen, anyway. The offending toilet happens to be located here, at Mary’s in our hotel room. The floor slants down away from the door frame toward the right corner, where there’s a hole to let the water drain. This floor is slippery and wet all the time as the tap near the floor leaks. There’s a shower head barely poking through the contact-paper-covered wall, with its tap just below it – it doesn’t work at all. The tap at the floor, like I mentioned, leaks and is just high enough to do it into the reservoir bucket, creating a sound not unlike what I imagine Chinese Water Torture to sound like. Hmmm…reservoir bucket? I’m gonna need a judges ruling on that one. What’s that for? Oh, and there’s a smaller scoop bucket inside it with a handle. Then I notice that the toilet is nothing more than a bowl perched over a hole in the floor…no reservoir tank for flushing. So now it all comes together, well, after Mike explains it to me. You have to dump the scoop of water into the bowl after you’ve used it – with enough force to drive whatever you’ve left in the bowl down through the u-tube. I immediately ran out the door. I was physically and emotionally distraught. Call me crazy, call me a big baby, whatever. I’ve no idea why I’m so sensitive to this. The only explanation I have is that I have a phobia of icky bathrooms. Oh, and the fact that I may have to use this one in the dark, because there’s no electricity here outside the hours of 6pm – 10pm makes it that much scarier to me. What if I slip, and slide right down the angled floor and out the side of the room, right onto the poo pile? At some point, Mike was trying to help me in there, and inadvertently pulled the tap off the wall and water started shooting out all over the floor. I was mortified, and almost vomited – I got really sick to my stomach and had to go outside to regroup. Yeah, it’s bad for me. =(
Mangrove River Tour
To cheer me up and help me forget about it for a while, Mike took me to the mangrove tour office and promptly bought us 2 tickets to ride in the canoe down the river to see the mangrove trees – I think it’s called Pouy Pouy River. We had two guides, the one who did most of the talking (and singing!) was a tiny older guy, Chris, who had more fingers than teeth. He was adorable, and told us all about the mangrove trees, what the male trees look like versus the females, kinds of pests that feed on their roots, and other environmental hazards to them.
Paddling down the silent river, we saw several black and yellow snakes sleeping all coiled up in the branches overhanging the water. They pointed them out and said we could stop to take a picture on the way back. So we did. As we sat snapping photos, I asked Chris if the snakes bite. He replied, “No, not aggressive. Now, he’s hiding and sleeping.”
I asked, if it happened to wake up and bite me, would I die. “Oh yes, deadly.” Mike expeditiously put the camera away and said “Ok, lets GO!” …not a real snake lover.
As we paddled away, I think Chris sensed Mike’s distress, and turned around to ask us if it was ok if he sang us the mangrove song. No freaking way, there’s a SONG, too? This I gotta hear! Chris cleared his throat and started singing in Tagalog and English. After the first few bars, he started a little beat on the side of the boat. I couldn’t really get a lot of the lyrics, but part of it was something about being here with all his friends - the mangroves, and thank you, thank you, thank you to all our friends. It was awesome. We joined in at the end with a little clapping finale. I think the kid paddling at the back of the boat was probably a little embarrassed. You know, the cooky older guy (or gal) who embarrasses other people at work, just by being himself? That’s probably Chris. He was priceless. We pulled up onto the sand and got out of the boat, and Chris told us that there was an activity as well to finish up the tour – to plant a baby mangrove! So we did. The staff poked 2 holes deep into the sand, and Mike and I each placed a baby mangrove in – they are actually seedpods that look like really big green beans. Just stick in the end that has roots starting, and voila! Mangrove!
The trees are truly beautiful, and according to Chris, provide habitats for breeding fish and places for birds to nest, as well as providing the Pilipino delicacy, wood worms. No, we did not eat the wood worms, but hear they’re delicious, and taste like oysters. You dip them into vinegar and eat – Mike looked them up online, and they didn’t look very appetizing. I’ve had my fish eye for the year, so it’s someone else’s turn to take the plunge! Candy??? How ‘bout YOU!!??
We go out to the place with the electricity for dinner, and proceed to drink 2 bottles of nice, cold white wine. Mike had fried chicken with garlic noodles, and I had the putanesca pasta. We were (mostly, I was) delighted to find toilet paper and flush toilets at this place, so we forged a plan to come back to use the potty the next morning. I thought I just might be able to hold it all night and get there for breakfast and a download in the morning. I was wrong.
I woke up at about 2am, sweltering and hungover, and completely full of pee. Damn! I lay still, hoping it was just my imagination and it would go away. No dice. I made a deal earlier with Mike that I’d wake him up before I went out into the sea to pee – I’d rather do it out there than in our room. After opening our front door, I realized that getting to the sea would be a challenge. It pitch black outside because it’s cloudy – no light from the stars or moon, so I may run into a critter or something in the dark. As Mike graciously holds the maglight for me, I make my way to hover over the pot. He’s a trooper, and cheers me on to give me courage. I was so nervous and tense that it took about 5 minutes of dribble…stop…dribble, dribble…stop, spray like hell….dribble to empty my bladder!
Sunshine Cottages & Blue Bamboo Restaurant
The next night, we stayed at the Sunshine Cottages and Blue Bamboo Restaurant – the restaurant part must have been a metaphor, or maybe just a really mean joke – we didn’t see a lick of food. Barbara, the manager, is German, and very sweet. The room this time was 300 pesos (about $6 USD), a price we would have expected to pay the night before. The bed was equally uncomfortable, with foam pillows, and you could see daylight through the bamboo walls and floors, but at least there was air moving through the place, and the bathroom wasn’t nearly as scary, although it did have the same do-it-yourself flush toilet.
Since I wasn’t nearly as scared this time, I decided to “shower”. The floor was a reddish brown painted slab of concrete, and the shower consisted of a bucket of water and a little scoop so you can dump smaller quantities of water over your head. Have you been to Burning Man? If so, it’s like a playa shower, though not quite as fun, cuz there aren’t 10 of your closest friends there to help you! Anyway, I’m happy to be getting clean, finally. I had just flipped my head upside down and dumped the first 3 scoops of water on my hair, when suddenly something came creeping out from behind the water bucket! It’s the same color as the floor, so I thought I was just hallucinating. I screamed anyway, just incase. “There’s something crawling…a bug…..BUG…there’s a bug, some sort of crawling THING in here!! …it looks like a lobster?!” Mike came in and grabbed the scoop out of my hand and started swinging. I screamed, “Holy shit, it’s a scorpion!! Kill it, kill it!” Usually, we’d just shuttle the offender off outside, but since we definitely didn’t want to see this guy again, in our sheets, or in our shoes, we whacked him. This was my first scorpion experience. All business, I asked Mike how we go about avoiding these guys, to which he replied, “don’t stand on them.” Gee thanks, Mr. Obvious. What a turkey!
We each had 2 beers for dinner that night, since the restaurant was actually just a teeny fridge with beer inside. 4 beers for 140 pesos (about $2.80 USD)!
Subterranean River Tour
Earlier that day, Mike and I went on the Subterranean River tour. The boat from the pier in Sabang to the mouth of the river takes about 20 minutes. We hopped on with another couple and their tour guide – a couple of their participants hadn’t shown up, so we got their seats! This was a very good thing, because the boat dispatcher said they were on #31, and we were #61…we would have had to wait another hour, just to get the ferry over to the river.
We arrived on a lovely little beach in a small cove, and hiked down the footpath for about 10 minutes to reach the paddle boat staging area. There were about 50 people waiting to get on the boats there, and the place seemed extremely chaotic.
The tour guide we rode over with got us bumped up in the line somehow, and we only had to wait for 30 minutes to get on the 10-passenger boat to enter the caves. It was quite calm and quiet inside the cave as we paddled silently through the still water. Our guide had a bright spotlight that he used to point out landmarks – one of which was the cathedral, which had beautiful stalagmites in shapes of “the holy family” and “melting candle”. The structures are formed from the water dripping calcium salts onto the rocky surface below. There were others that looked like huge mushrooms, and ears of corn. It was stunning. I’ve never done any cave exploration before, and it was awesome. There were lots and lots of bats and swiftlets flying around, some dive-bombing our boat.
1km into the cave, the guide pointed out the tallest opening in the cave: 65 meters high to the ceiling! He told us that the caves were carved into the mountain above when the water flowed through several cracks and dissolved the limestone inside. Incredible.
As we were leaving, we saw a bunch of monkeys playing in the trees.
Boat to Port Barton
We woke up the next morning bright an early at 6am and hiked up the coast to the pier. The place looked better than ever - a great place to leave, in my experience! The sunrise was truly beautiful, though.
We even saw some people loading a moped on TOP of the jeepney...they hauled it up to the top with a rope and about 10 guys pushing/pulling!
Our 7am boat to Port Barton left at 8:15am…we had to wait on three enormous Swedish guys to have their breakfast. They finally got on the boat, carting a case of beer, which they proceeded to down on the boat! They were funny, and I eventually forgave them for making us late.
The little boat stopped after 2.5 hours at Cacnipa Island, just off Port Barton. We stretched our legs on the beach, and started chatting with some of the guests at the only hotel on the island. They mentioned that Port Barton is just like Sabang (eeek!!!), and that they got there, stayed one hour, and came right back here, to the Coconut Garden Beach Hotel. At 650 pesos/night (about $13 USD), it can’t be beat. There’s still no electricity, but they have toilets that flush! =) It’s funny how your standards change, isn’t it?
We’re very happy here, the food is excellent, staff is friendly, and there’s truly nothing around but this hotel. It has a small beach with a few lounge chairs, a ping pong table, and a bar!!
What more could you ask for? …well, a FAN would be terrific, but I really can’t complain. If you’re looking for a romantic, secluded get-away, this is a great place to be. There are sand flies here though, so buy the coconut oil, and use it BEFORE you get bitten! We learned this the hard way.
The snorkeling is ok here – there are lots of critters under the water to see, but it’s a little murky, so photos are tough. Yesterday I was almost eaten by an eel…I had unwittingly swum over his hiding spot in a rock near shore, and didn’t register him until he was about 6 inches from my hand. I started back pedaling as fast as I could, snarfed water up my snorkel, and came spluttering to the beach, winded, lungs full of salt water and bladder devoid of pee. Mike said he wanted to get a picture and headed out into the water a couple steps, then thought better of it. Neither of us really felt like getting bitten, so no pics of this guy.
While typing this, I had to jump out of bed and chase a chicken out of my room…I just can’t seem to get away from poultry. And here, there are 2 adult ducks as well, and their progeny: 8 fuzzy ducklings! They’re really cute, but elusive. I’ll try to get a photo of them, or some video for the upcoming movie. Stay tuned.
Here are some more shots from Cacnipa Island.