I’m not really sure what I expected from the Philippines, I think I tried not to expect anything in case I was disappointed. But disappointed I was not. The Philippines is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited, and I was honestly astounded at how natural and untouched the island of Palawan is. Maybe Manila let me down a bit, but we barely scratched the surface of that huge sprawling madness of a city, so I can hardly judge it. Cities that are so old and that grew so quickly tend to make very little sense and can be overwhelming. Of course Cairo, Athens, Hong Kong, and Chennai are confusing. They are ancient compared to American cities. The Old town of Manila had a very distinct Spanish/abandoned fortress feeling to it. I enjoyed seeing the buildings taken over by moss, erosion and ivy. We even got to walk through Manila’s Chinatown, which happens to be the very first Chinatown in the world. This reminded me of a class I once took called “History of Immigration” in college, where we studied the social or political patterns that cause people to migrate. It amazes me how the Chinese have created a small cultural niche in almost every major city in the world. That’s quite an accomplishment.
After a short rainy day of being whisked around Manila in tuk-tuks, we got back on the plane to go to Palawan, rumoured to be the most beautiful island in the world.
And SURE ENOUGH, when we got there we were greeted by warmth, sunshine, greenery, and hot air as we rode 6 hours on a bus to get to El nido. On that ride, I stared out the window and could not believe the untouched beauty of the WHOLE ISLAND. I saw a honey stand on the side of the road, and a man sleeping in his hammock. That’s basically it. For almost 6 hours. The rest of the island was just lush greenery, streams, rivers, and fields.
Our beach cottage in El Nido was a quiet spot right on the water a few minutes outside of town. There was a breakfast spot next door and other beach cottages around us. Our host was so friendly and happy to help us with anything we wanted to do. We spent 3 days on boats. We island hopped around the bay and explored the coral reefs and limestone formations around El Nido and Port Barton. We saw lagoons, amazing rocks, caves, coral, and probably every single fish in the Philippines. Our tour guides took us all over and even pointed out cool caverns, sea turtles, and coral for us to see. They took our pictures and grilled fish and chicken for us right on our boat. By the time the 5:00 rain storms hit we were absolutely done for the day. Exhausted, full, swallowed too much salt water, and sunburnt. I love being on boats. Any boat any time.
But one of my most vivid experiences in the Philippines is the day we decided to hike up to a waterfall. Once again we had 2 guides who offered to drive us to the mountain and then take us through the jungle to the waterfall. Shortly after we begin our hike we come across a rocky river that our guide just casually waded through. The water not that deep. I think it went above my knees. I was not aware that river-wading was part of the itinerary for the day so I was wearing sneakers and socks. I had to take them off, put them in my backpack and go through the river barefoot. The guide behind me helped me through the slippery rocks and water. I managed that fine, and was going to put my shoes back on when I saw the same river twist back around and cross our path again in front of me. In fact we crossed the same river about 8 more times before we reached the waterfall. I ended up doing the entire jungle hike barefoot. I was terrified of getting bit by scorpions, piranhas, snakes, tarantulas, leeches and I don’t know what else. But as we climbed higher the trail changed from being rocky and dirty to very muddy and squishy and suddenly I was walking barefoot through muddy pools and patches of bright red clay. I’ve missed clay a lot these last eight months and I really enjoyed seeing the bright color and feeling the squish between my toes. Its silly things like that that make me feel like my days are predetermined. I forgot about my sore feet and the scorpions and instead took joy in the squelching mud and dirty puddles I waded through to get to this mystical waterfall. It was a very pretty waterfall by the way, but the journey to the waterfall was far more memorable to me. That was so cheesy but it can’t be helped I’m just telling it like it is. On the way back to civilization it started pouring rain so our tour guides got us enormous banana leafs to use as umbrellas. I guess they thought these silly American girls had a problem with a bit of rain (we were still wet from swimming in the waterfall) but we loved them and held them over our heads anyway.
And that was only the first half of the day. The second half of the day involves a tuk-tuk ride from hell, an appalling amount of mud, a mild case of dehydration, flat tires on the side of the road, and ziplines. Contrary to my belief at the time, I survived all of those things ( I opted out of the zipline as the tuk-tuk ride and mud was just too much to handle for one day) I ended up passing out on the beach under an umbrella for an hour before heading back to the safety of our beach cottage. Days like that are when you grow the most from traveling. When you are forced to experience things that you didn’t know were coming your way. While the island hopping tours were absolutely breathtaking, they are planned and geared towards tourists so you can see the highlights of the bay. This day was a totally spontaneous adventure hindered by the rain, bad roads, and my lack of good judgement when picking sensible footwear. But when you get home you have this amazing feeling of accomplishment, that you had a real experience in that country, not something prepared in advance for you to see. The more I travel the more I understand what kind of experiences I’m looking for in a country. It’s important to balance the trip with variety so your experience is well-rounded. I have to say that the Philippines is one of the best countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and I encourage anyone going to Asia to give it a chance. I know it’s out of the way but you will not be disappointed.
Now I’m back in Korea sitting at my desk. The mountains have turned to a dark green color and there is a heavy layer of fog around them every morning. The leaves are slowly turning yellow and the huge moths have all died. That is the first sign that summer is definitely over, when you see enormous dead moths all over the sidewalk. I’m trying to mentally get through the next two months of teaching. So i’m planning some adventures to Greece (Dumpsters get readyyyy) upon my return to the USA. Im also putting together my grad school apps and planning an art show in south Florida for next summer. Those things should keep me busy enough until February. I have a feeling this winter is going to be really brutal.
P.s. I meant to talk about the really cute monkeys we got to play with, the mosquitos, the fishbites we got, and the overprotective dog friends we made. I never even mentioned the food or the sunsets! Just go to the Philippines I swear you’ll love it.