June 20, 2011

Bungalow on the Beach and Boats sinking in the Lagoon: Palawan

We woke up around 4:30 am to make our 7am flight to the one of the neighboring islands--Palawan. The taxi driver made us wait while he got petrol, ripped us off on the fare (it was too early for me to argue so I was just annoyed), then we found out that he dropped us off at the WRONG terminal! Sadly, we found out that it is not like airports all over the world where you can walk to the next terminal, no, we had to get into ANOTHER taxi and drive ten more minutes ! Now, I was not only annoyed, but tired and sweaty and therefore irritated. It is good I had eaten some left over lasagna for breakfast because it was only 6 am and it already felt like a long day... I needed a nap.  The one hour flight provided that.

Boarding the plane was chaotic at its best. You had to walk out on the tarmac and board using the stairs their parked next to it. People were boarding both in the front and rear doors. I assume the airline thinks this speeds up the process, however, it was a disaster! People coming in from BOTH directions trying to pass each other on that little aisle made for some hilarious encounters. We were told to board on the front stairs and our seats were LITERALLY the LAST row! We clawed, climbed, and clamored to our seats. When we landed in Puerto Princessa, the capital city of Palawan, it was raining. They provided us with these beautiful orange umbrellas to cross the tarmac to their small one roomed airport. On the other side of the airport a large group of locals gathered with signs for various hotels, shuttles and people. Down towards the end was one that had our name—we are still not getting used to that.

Our drivers picked us up in the family resort owner’s family van. They were both really friendly and excited that I spoke Tagalog because they spoke limited English. The ride was around 67 kilometers north of the city. We saw the length of the city, most of which looked like a smaller Manila. We were shocked to see that large dump trucks full of children served as the local school bus! Not fun considering is was raining.

As we drove farther into the country, the beautiful mountainous vistas were typical of any tropical. Trees and bushes coat the landscape with a lush welcoming green. About every mile or so there would be a large area cleared and large rice fields and family farms were there. Often while we would see a lone farmer out tilling the earth with his caribou (really LARGE  gray and muscular ox like animal). I tried to get a few photos as we whizzed by the dirty window and speed blurring of the nearby plants do not quite capture the serenity of the scene.

People do not live in houses here, they truly live in huts. These huts have bamboo frames, woven leaf walls, no windows or doors, just holes where they would be, and thatched roofs. A bamboo fence marked the families territory, each bamboo pole was cut at an angle at the top to form a spike and they were lashed together with braided fibers of some kind. Inside they yard, each home was similar looking yet unique. All were small and the same color, but the shape of the house changed. The yards were clean and manicured patches of dirt with plant gardens and areas for the pigs, dogs and chickens to roam. Sometimes the huts stood out in the fields alone, other times there was a cluster of huts gathered around a center area with a pump well. Children were taking turns pumping the well to fill recycled plastic jugs before returning home to wash their clothes in the tub. The only thing of strong structure were a few of the newer churches. The safest place when the storm comes is the house of the Lord. 

We truly are blessed. Here we in the United States, worried if there are foot prints in the house, or complain that the air conditioner in the school is not cold enough or so cold we ‘freeze.’ These children go to a school WITHOUT walls!

We finally arrived to our bungalows. We were the only guests this weekend so we were given a choice of huts to stay in. Of course I chose the one right on the beach. We both loved hearing the all familiar sound of crashing waves again. We opened the door to the hut, a nicer version of the ones we saw on the drive. It was charming! Complete with the mosquito net around the bed, woven walls, hardwood floors that you could see light coming through, a small bathroom-- that you could sit on the toilet and shower at the same time if you wanted too—and a ‘brown out.’ So what that meant is that although there is a fan, A/C, and a small German water heater in the shower (I know it is German because they were so proud of their engineering they stamped it on three different places to make sure as we showered we knew. I was putting quite a bit of faith in the Germans though because the little water warming box, electrical of course, was two feet from the shower spout! Talk about a combination for disaster! But if I shot the water away from the box to not get shocked I was spraying the toilet and soaking the toilet paper, not really ideal either, so Germans, I hope you are wise as your stamp is pretty) we could not use any of them at the moment because there was no power so we just had to wait until it came back on.

We went out to the beach. It was beautiful. Hiva and I are spoiled with beaches in Hawaii so seeing this beaches was not sandy but little pebbles about silver dollar sized was not exciting. We explored anyway. We found that a little ways down there was a sandy beach and  swam for a while. The resort next door had a lagoon in it with a homemade zip line into the water. We both rode down a few times! It was great, the only mishap is that when I sat in it the first time the small rope holding me up snapped and I went down early! Can you say DIET!? Haha. We rented one of their paddle boats to boat around the lagoon. Hiva sat in front and I got on in back. We were not balanced enough so as soon as we pushed off into the water , the boat started to fill up on my end. I saw what was happening and tried to get off which only made is worse. Soon Hiva was screaming and laughing because my end of the boat was all the way under and her end was extending into the air but sinking FAST! WE SUNK THE BOAT. Double DIET, DOUBLE DOUBLE DOUBLE DIET…

The area we were staying was so far from anything we both felt a bit stranded without a car. We went exploring. We stuck out for sure. I was the only white guy for MILES and it happened to be a community fiesta. We bought candy and snacks from their little sari-sari stores in front of their houses and smiled and waved as we went. I stopped at one point to take a photo of some little kids and after several of the adults wanted us to take photos with them too! It was a blast. They even invited us to join in on the celebrations. We declined ( in tagalog of course) and went back and peacefully read on our porch overlooking the waves rolling in and listening to the storm rumble across the ocean. (Sounds corny, I know, but it is true!)

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