…sketchy weather made the trips a bit treacherous.
03.01.2009 - 09.01.2009
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Still on Cacnipa Island.... After watching several folks get drenched getting onto the boat to Port Barton, we decided we should follow suit. Not because it looked like fun, but because we thought, if we didn’t jump at our next chance, who knows how long we might be stuck on Cacnipa Island! Now I know how Gilligan felt.
The weather has been a bit bad, and the storms have made the sea very choppy. There’s no pier, so getting on the boat meant you had to swim out to it. The waves were much too big to get the boat anywhere near shore…I had the bright idea of rolling my shorts up, just incase I could time it and get on the boat between the waves. That was not the case. I started out toward the boat, after the German couple we had been sitting playing Uno with, only to get hit by the biggest wave yet. S*%T! I was completely soaked, and sat on the boat pouting. We took off, and I realized that we were all about to be soaked, as the waves came rolling right over the front of the little 4-seater pump boat. There was a lot of scrambling and bailing out of water in the back of the boat, but our 2 boatmen got us to Port Barton in one piece, slightly wetter than we were when we left Cacnipa.
We had heard reviews of Port Barton being “exactly like Sabang”, which was a horrific thought. It is NOTHING like Sabang – thankfully. It’s a very small village at the seaside, surprisingly with an internet café, which also served lovely Thai food. To get to the café, we had to cross this little bridge, which had seen better days. It was just a metal frame, about 4 feet wide, with a wooden hand rail along one side only. The floor of it was made of wooden planks, that bounced when you walked along them. We were too afraid to have any drinks, for fear of drunkenly falling off the bridge into the shallow water below, so we sat eating our Thai food and drinking frozen iced tea.
Our room was a lovely little concrete box with windows that actually opened, and a floor that I couldn’t see daylight (or scorpions) through. I never thought that staying in a concrete room would be my definition of luxury, but after the last couple weeks have shown me how bad bad can be! The toilet flushed, and there was a shower! The thrill of it! No hot water, though – this is usually not an issue for me, because when it’s hot, the cool water feels divine! Well, these days, it’s stormy and much cooler, so it’s challenging to get up enough energy to force yourself in there. It was like trying to dunk a cat into a bucket of water – all four appendages were locked onto the door frame of the bathroom. ….not going in….can’t….make.…me! I finally got Mike in there, and he calmed down.
Our hotel had “the coldest beer in town”, and that sounded like dinner to me. We had a couple there, played some Phase 10 (card game like rummy) and watched the 3 people who stole our original boat from Cacnipa, sitting there eating some fish and rice. We put a Jihad on them, and took off for some actual food. Funny, sometimes beer just isn’t enough.
Booking a jeepney ride is quite simple – we asked the woman at the front desk/bar of our hotel about getting a ride to El Nido in the north, or Roxas (which is on the way). She sent a text message, and shaazaam, we were in there. It was scheduled to leave at 7:30am the following day, so we arrived at the meeting point at 6:45am, only to see a full jeepney and about 50 people milling around the outside, as if they were trying to get on, too. Glad we booked! Well, come to find out, booking just lets the driver know how many people he has to cram onto this thing, and does not, I repeat, does NOT reserve you an actual seat. We mistakenly put our bags into a seat and ran to the shop nearby for a coffee and some eggs. As the food arrived, the jeepney started up and took off. I was mortified. Both our laptops were in our bags, along with all my clothes (well, my one change of clothes). The girl slinging the eggs told us it’s ok, they’re just going to pick up some people in the town, but they’d come back.
And come back they did, but by that time, the entire jeepney was packed to the rafters with people. They pack people on top of the thing too! There must have been a hundred people loaded on this thing, which consisted of about 6 rows of bench seats, and a little area in back, which I thought was for luggage. There was a stack of buckets back there for some reason. Well when they pulled up to the waiting area, I saw what they were for. Extra seating! I pried my way through the back of the bus, using my elbows to get through the tight spots, stepped over a pig in a rice bag, a chicken in a cardboard box, and finally landed with a puff of dust into my seat. I have no idea how Mike fit through there, but somehow he ended up next to me. Here we are, don’t we look cozy?
I was sitting above the wheel well, so I had no leg room under my seat. My feet were on the same level as my butt – I was basically sitting in the fetal position. If you have back issues, you can just imagine how that feels when you hit very large bumps, with no cushion under your butt or back. OUCH.
After a few minutes on the road, I could see up ahead that the road became a real mess. It was mud, with deep ruts and lots of standing water. Along one side was a steep drop off, along the other, rock cliffs. The jeepney started rocking back and forth as we entered the rutty area, and I lost my stomach. I thought several times that we were going to tip over, right into the thick, deep, reddish brown mud. There were no windows, so that meant I would be buried in the mud if we tipped. If we tipped the other way, we’d go over the edge of the embankment and plunge to our deaths – I couldn’t decide if I’d rather suffocate in mud or plummet over the other side. I can just imagine the thoughts the people on top of the jeepney were having. I’ve only feared for my life a handful of times in an automobile, and this was one of them. (Another being in a Yellow Cab in San Francisco – take DeSoto instead! This concludes this Public Service Announcement.) Not due to the driver’s carelessness, but because of the unfamiliar territory coupled with my lack of understanding of just how safe (or not) jeepneys really are. Well, I’ve never seen a vehicle handle mud the way this one did. It had duel tires on the back, and must have been 4-wheel drive, because it chugged and belched and crawled it’s way through some areas in which I thought surely we’d have gotten stuck.
After a couple harrowing, tense hours, we arrived in Roxas, and were thrilled to get out and straighten our legs. The next order of the day was to procure an air conditioned van to get us the rest of the way to Tay Tay (pronounced TieTie), which was another couple hours, at least. There were several vans just sitting around, and when I asked one of the drivers if we could get to Tay Tay, he said yes, and it’d be about 30 minutes. Being familiar with the local lingo, I got comfortable for my 2 hour wait. That was about right, as a couple hours later, the driver scooted us up and into an empty air con van. It was the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever sat in…relative to the previous ride. And there were no sticks and branches slapping me in the face as we drove down the road! I couldn’t believe my good fortune – that is, until we pulled up to yet another jeepney stop. I was ready for a fight. There was no way in hell I was: A) getting out of the AC van, and B) getting onto another jeepney that day. We sat, glued to our seats and holding our breath, only to have the driver pull away after a few seconds. He was just checking to see if anyone else needed a ride. Phew! After driving in circles a few times, we were on our way. The driver said he was going to El Nido (our final destination anyway) and we could ride all the way if we wanted to. Deciding we could manage the ride in the luxurious comfort of the van, we agreed to go all the way to El Nido. Our driver and his companion were great, and even changed the brake pads along the way after determining somehow while driving that they needed replacement. It took only 20 minutes!
The drive was long, but much more comfortable than the initial leg on the jeepney. The scenery consisted of dense jungle, hills, mountains, and quite a few farms with rice fields. It’s very green on Palawan. Most of the homes we saw were nipa huts, which are built of bamboo. Up on thick bamboo stilts, the woven bamboo walls provide shelter from wind and rain, along with the thatched roof. They are very simple structures that seem to house entire families, and seem to be the norm when it comes to housing.
I’m amazed at the simple lives the majority of the people on this island enjoy. My impression is that they live without electricity, or with minimal electricity delivered by a personal generator when needed, and they utilize well water, or water from nearby rivers or streams. The water buffalo is popular here; they’re used for plowing fields, pulling carts, and riding! I wish the windows on our van weren’t tinted, because I saw a really cool scene that I was dying to photograph. There was a water buffalo hooked up to a cart, with the whole family riding inside, except the dad, who was walking along side and driving the buffalo. Along the road at random intervals, I saw people walking – they were miles away from anything, just walking. Seems if you don’t have a buffalo or a moped, you have to walk, even if it takes you all day to get somewhere.
We arrived in El Nido, and it was immediately apparent that they need someone to help organize the development of coastal areas here in the Philippines. I thought it was possibly just a Boracay thing, but El Nido is well on its way to being the next Boracay. Singapore is a shining example of what is possible. The overcrowded coastline in El Nido has hotels and shops placed shoulder to shoulder, smack onto the beach, leaving very little sand for walking, and zero sand for walking during high tide. The view is incredible – there are small, green islands jutting out of the water all over the Bacuit Archipelago, as it’s called. El Nido is surrounded by limestone cliffs, which are particularly stunning at sunrise. Mike and I took a kayak out one day to explore the islands, which are farther away than they look! We were beat after paddling only half way to one of the closest islands. There are lots of tours you can take on the local tour boats, which is the easier route. We were excited about the possibility of having some peace and quiet, stopping when and where we wanted, and staying as long as we pleased. We saw the biggest sea turtle I’ve ever seen, just about 50 yards away from our kayak! I thought it was a sting ray – you could just see a blob in the water, but it was about the size of a dining table. It then stuck it’s head out of the water to get a breath of fresh air – his head looked to be about the size of a medium-sized melon. It was so cool. I paddled over closer as Mike got the camera out, but he was long gone. By the time we got to the island and did a little snorkeling, we were cold and tired, and wishing we had a boat!
The first night, we stayed at one of the more expensive hotels, the El Nido Beach Resort. It was $80/night, and really didn’t include much besides the room. They said they had wifi, but it didn’t work in the room. The town only has electricity from noon to 4pm and 6pm to 6am. Of course, when you try to get online, it’s during the hours when the electricity is off, so no internet! The hotel was a big rip off, for the area. It shouldn’t have cost more than $30/night, in my opinion, compared to prices/conditions elsewhere. They flaunt a “Japanese” restaurant – that night we tried eating there, but the had no shrimp or fish. Kinda hard to operate a Japanese restaurant with no fish. So we left and found a fantastic little place with tons of character, good food, and live music! Sea Slug’s was an instant hit – try the curries, you won’t be disappointed. We were, however, disappointed with the fish. It was overcooked, both times we tried. Seems incongruent that folks living in such close contact with the sea can’t cook fish properly.
The next day we found the Four Season hotel, which was located halfway up the beach, over the road. It was pretty basic, but had A/C and hot water during the hours the electricity was on. Well, luke-warm water that barely trickled out of the showerhead. I think this was the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen. It was just wide enough for the door to scrape past the sink and toilet. You couldn’t really sit normally on the toilet because there wasn’t enough legroom, so you had to sort of do a side-saddle thing. There’s no separation between the shower and the rest of the bathroom, so as you shower, the toilet and sink get all wet – don’t forget to hide the TP! You literally have to climb over the toilet to get to the shower. One day, much to my dismay, we came back to find that the room had been “cleaned” and the dirty towels we had left on the floor had been folded back up and placed on the bed for us to use again! Other than that, the place was fine, and even included breakfast, which was edible…one fried egg, 3 triangles of white toast and a small banana. Oh, and Nescafe (the instant coffee), of course.
We found the Art Café, which had lovely coffee, tea, snacks and internet, and proceeded to check our email and surf the web for the next several days as it poured rain. After our kayaking day, the weather never did turn around, so we sat indoors most of the time as the rain came down.
We had plans to head to the island of Busuanga to see the African animal sanctuary, but upon further investigation, found the only attractions to be a zebra and a giraffe. We decided instead to go to Africa sometime, and promptly got the hell out of El Nido, back to Puerto Princesa. I can’t quite put my finger on the reasons why, but the Philippines is my least favorite of all the places we’ve been.