It’s said, that to truly appreciate the highs in life, you must also experience the lows. And with over 5 weeks of near perfect highs in the Philippines, it was our time to take on the lows. It came as we landed in Dumaguete – a city in Negros.
We disembarked the ferry in a sweltering heat and loaded the pram with the bags. Prevelly was sleeping in the baby carrier attached to Daniella and the suitcase was being dragged behind with a nervous twitch, as one wheel threatened to to make its departure. A stop off for some lunch in a coffee house and we then continued on route to find a hotel. After a quick search we found a reasonably priced room that we settled in and got ready to explore the city.
A walk through the streets and we found a playground that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a creepy horror movie. It was missing pretty much all essential components required for each apparatus and had an eerie, rustic, faded coat of paint. Prevelly looked past all of this as she set her eyes upon a swing that squeaked unbearably with each push. But, she had a smile on her face as she held on to the rope that supported a plank of wood as a seat, being held a foot from the ground. This was shortly followed with some nice food on the promenade. An incorrect order resulted in a main course of steak and mash accompanied by a side order of steak. It turned out to be much needed protein boost that set us up for some late night shopping.
All a bit jaded by the long day and with a sudden feeling of stomachs starting to turn, we thought about making our way back to the hotel. Not before Prevelly stole the show in the mall by showing her Maria Carrie side. She sampled sun glasses, tossing the ones aside that didn’t make the cut and finally settled upon a classy, 30 pence pair that doubled up for inside wear. She then proceeded to show the fellow shoppers how to steal a suitcase. The secret apparently is to not make eye contact, not talk to anyone and just look cute.
We returned to our room and Daniella was the first to be hit with an awfully painful stomach bug. A restless night which was only made worse as Prevelly fell victim to the unpleasant illness. The saving grace was that we were in a clean hotel and decided to set up camp with room service and a day of films and naps. The following day started the same but the decision was made to leave and make half the journey towards Cebu airport for our tour of Palawan.
Into Tagbilaran and we checked into a beautiful resort a few miles in land – Dao Diamond. Met by a very straight faced young man who was waiting as the tricycle pulled in, we couldn’t help but think he was a little rude for this type of establishment. In we go and a similar encounter with the next member of staff. As we collect our key we are informed that we are staying in a hotel owned and run by the school for the deaf. 80% of the staff are involved in a program that brings deaf students into the hospitality world. Feeling a little humble and regretting the initial reaction we made ourselves at home in this beautiful resort. A quick swim and play in the pool so that some kind of normality could be restored and we venture in for dinner. The menu came with the signing attached so we had a wonderful lesson in sign language from our welcoming waiter.
Unfortunately the food hadn’t settled the stomachs and I decided to join the crew in making the bathroom uninhabitable for the rest of the night.
The next day saw us make our way over to Cebu. Another ferry, followed by a taxi, that brought us to within a few miles of the airport for our early departure in the morning. With very little consumed throughout the day we wandered the streets of Mactan and found an old mall. With the gods finally showing us a break, we arrived at a small, tucked away restaurant that served the best pasta dishes we’ve had on our travels. A perfect meal under the circumstances and everyone felt a little better. A nights sleep in a motel on the highway and we headed to the airport for our next adventure.
An hour in the air and we were here, the promised land – Palawan. No plans in place so we stayed in Puerto Princessa for the first night. I had booked the hotel/home stay online and unlike my usually delightful picks, this one was not one of my best. Daniella was happy with the place, it had a slightly hippie vibe and it was made of bamboo. I, on the other hand, struggled to see the rose blooming from the pile of manure. The combination of dogs going crazy, children screaming and crying next door and the tail end of this bug being treated in a bathroom no bigger than myself was taking its toll.
The air was cleared as we rented a bike and toured the town. A spot of shopping and lunch followed with a search for the local bus station. We were heading for the beach and Sabang had been recommended. So the next morning we took a tricycle to the station, via a pharmacy and head on up to paradise. An insane hour and a half ride. Through country roads in a bus that must have had its engine modified to reach the speeds it did. Arriving in one piece made us appreciate the beach even more but with the comparison to previous islands we felt slightly let down.
We spent a night just off the main square where minibuses and tricycles gather in the plenty to drop of tourists. After a mosquito killing frenzy and an average night’s sleep we then headed to a more favorable style of accommodation – a hut on the beach. Finally feeling a little better, life seemed to be improving and we all embraced the afternoon with a tour along the coast. The smiles were back as we played games and found some pull up rings attached to a coconut tree. Prevelly showed us how to use a more energy efficient approach to the exercise and then we fueled up on some rice and chicken at a local dinner.
In Sagan there are quite a few tours to do but our particular chosen one had been postponed due to the waves approaching 4 meters in height. With Daniella’s friend Karin arriving on the third day we were planning the next move. Not before the eagerly awaited candy that was on route from Sweden arrived. And on day three the stomach bug was an event of the past and Karin arrived with the kilo of the promised candy. Happy days were back.
We decided to wait until the morning to see if the boats would go and then make our way up to the town of El Nido. A walk into the square and we were met by a wall of like minded tourists. The news of the underwater caves reopening had spread far and wide and everyone had beaten us to the front of the line. Three hours was the expected waiting time, so we changed plans and made our way towards the local Waterfall. A kilometer walk and your there. Expecting a ten minute stroll, we set off and soon realized that the stroll, would involve less strolling and more of a rock balancing climb along the beach. 40 minutes later and we had arrived. Two flip flops down and drenched in sweat, we all welcomed the ice cold water cascading down the rock face and bathed where the rock pools allowed us. Prevelly lit up at seeing the fall and as always showed everyone present how to get the most out of the experience.
Chilled and with something accomplished we headed back for an all you can eat buffet before packing up and setting off on the 6 hour trip. With Daniella in charge of organizing the journey she took no prisoners and gave the locals a piece of her mind with the over the top rates they were charging foreigners. Whilst it seemed to have worked, at face value, we soon realized that the journey, although discounted, would be far from pleasant. A 45 minute car ride to the intersection and we waited for our ‘luxury’ minibus to take us on wards and upwards. A vehicle that somehow managed to squeeze 14 people into a 10 seated van appeared and on top of that proceeded to load up on luggage and delivery items. The buggy quite literally couldn’t fit in so was mounted to the front of the grill. The door was held together with duck tape and the windows had been painted to give some protection from the sun. In a van, that a knock off version of the A team would have used, we bounced our way to the party capital of Palawan.
An upset child, three restless tourists and 11 local passengers made the uncomfortable ride. We stopped continuously on this ‘direct’ trip to let people on and off as the driver pocketed the cash. It was an awful journey and started to taint the impression we had of the local people. Whilst we have experienced far worse comfort levels, it was the thought of being ripped off to that extent that stayed with us. Not an experience we have encountered anywhere else throughout the Philippines. A word of warning to those who are venturing this way. Use the larger, more reputable companies to travel with as the driving will shock you. This is coming from a guy who has written off 4 cars and blown up a speed boat. We have heard of two accidents within as many days of fatal crashes involving tourists.
Finally laughing and coming to terms the situation we arrive in Corong Corong, a beach town just south of El Nido. It was Ten at night and we had no where to stay. We settled on a slightly higher priced venue than we would have preferred, just needing a bed to put Prevelly to sleep in.
The sun rose on a new day and the breathtaking view of the mountains, scattered along the horizon of the sea, brought with it a new, revived atmosphere. We quickly found our new lodging for half the price and located on the waters edge. Seatopia Beach cottages was our new home and within minutes we had made the decision that we would stay here for at least a week. With incredibly helpful staff and an array of lovely traveling neighbors we finally felt as tho Palawan had some potential.
A day of laziness on the beach which was proceeded by a 5 minute tricycle to the town where we dined at a restaurant on the beach. We knew that El Nido was a tourist haven and within minutes we had seen more Europeans than we had in over two and half months. It definitely hasn’t reached the levels you see in places such as Thailand but with so many new buildings in the making it won’t be long before it’s there. With that being said, it’s a beautifully relaxed town and has a great atmosphere as you walk the narrow streets. Prevelly went shopping and found her new best friend. After leaving her Winnie the poo toy at home we had found the replacement and she wouldn’t even let the clerk take it to scan the bar code. She walked proudly amongst the crowded streets, cuddling poo bear as if they were reunited long lost twins. The statuary Mango shake from a street vendor and a dance as a local stool blasted out some tunes and we were nearly done for the day. Daniella and Karin had stumbled across a liquor store and lit up at the variety available from a very knowledgeable American owner. Wine and vodka purchased and we made the quick journey back to Seatopia.
When a bottle of wine is nearly finished and the vodka is in full swing there’s the party animal inside that must come out. The two ladies decided to show the locals how to dance, even with the high humidity that lingers throughout each venue. They headed to the town for a night out and danced until the early hours, dripping in sweat and substituting alcohol for much needed water. I stayed back as Prevelly, although I’m sure happy to sit on her own watching Peppa Pig and eating candy, is still a bit too young. I was acquainted to an incredible group of travelers and spent the evening sharing and hearing of tales that were near the unimaginable. A larger than life character – Miguel, who travels the world with his family for a living, had a lust for life and stories that made the normal traveler feel as tho they had barely been on holiday. With over 140 countries visited, the stories were simply incredible and aplenty. A very kind man – an artist from France, who looked as though he started in the film gladiator and a priest who does nothing but help others also opened my eyes to some of the beauty that this world has to offer.
Day two and we were all in, the long awaited for, relaxed holiday mood. A spot of lunch, some sun bathing as the clouds broke and a haircut in town for myself at a whopping £1.20. A beautiful meal in the evening at a lovely relaxed restaurant along the highway. Prevelly was finally eating and actually enjoying food again. The local chicken adobo meal is the new favorite of hers and one she happily enjoys sharing with, or to be more accurate, taking from her father. With everyone except myself full, we head to the local market to see what is around the area. We come across a wonderful gambling set up, that consisted of numerous colored squares with a slanted border. You put your money on the color of your choosing and three basketballs are rolled from the outskirts. If one lands in your color then your money is doubled, two land in and the money trebled and with all three, you walk away with four times what you started. Prevelly and I nestled in between the locals to get an understanding of what’s going on. Prevelly insistently points towards the red and we are allowed to join and place a 20 peso bet. Money doubled and Prevelly is the locals lucky charm. The next bet and green gives us twice as much again. The locals follow suit and we all walk away better than we started.
Unfortunately on our return to the cottage Daniella is hit with another stomach bug. After seeing Karin in the early hours of the morning we realize that both ladies have come down with food poisoning. A day written off for them as Prevelly and I take the opportunity to have a father and daughter day. We enjoy a beautiful dinner out and with everyone in the restaurant fixated on her every move, she dances and plays as if the place were her own. We return to check on the girls and then join the previously mentioned group to attend a local church where Oliver – the priest, helps local children by teaching them English, playing games and providing a meal. It is near impossible to convey how much love there was in that room and also, as to how Prevelly managed to feel so at ease. Whilst the children stood up and sang for the adults, Prevelly walked between the chairs and faced the group as if it was her own private performance. She then stayed at the front as speeches of inspiration were given and clapped at every opportunity. The group of children were given food and without any hesitation offered it to my beaming daughter. Towards the end she had spotted a drum set in the corner and was given the chance to take on a full size set. Laughing as she played, all onlookers were infected by her smile. She has shone so brightly when surrounded by a happy atmosphere and it was hard not to be tearful as I got to see her beautiful personality effect the lives of others.
After an incredible day we were given the opportunity to spend more time together as the decision to take one more recovery day for the wounded soldiers was made. This time we ventured into the town and spread her infectious smile to restaurant owners and in particular an ice cream parlor. Another wonderful day was had and when we returned the girls were showing more signs of life. We all planned the island hoping trip for the next day and then paddled through the high tide to find a place to dine. We somehow managed to make it past Belle Vita, which had become our local hangout spot, ever since Daniella and Karin had spent half a day there abusing the half arsed Wi-Fi and made it to – La Plague. A beautifully decorated French restaurant with a lovely relaxed vibe that only the French can bring to a dining experience. Prevelly had spotted a dance floor next to a small swimming pool and gave it her all as onlookers were infected once again with her smile and energy. Daniella joined in and the two of them continued to glow with a connection that I didn’t think could get any stronger but somehow has.
Island hoping, beach exploring and many other activities are on the list as we see what El Nido and the surrounding areas have to offer. It was a Rocky start to Palawan but has turned into a spot of paradise and only improves with everyday we spend here.
We hope to report of an incredible week that follows this one and if the internet allows, you will here from us soon.
Much love to everyone, wherever you are.