They get a lot of typhoons in the ‘Pines. Coming into Manila – typhoons. Coming out of there – typhoons. Crossing the street to get a drink – typhoon. There’s so much drama about their weather all over the Internet, that what most people overlook is that any wind over 60km per hour in the Philippines is considered a typhoon. What you and I would call a thunderstorm. Light showers. A sea mist.
To get up north in Palawan we had to consider a number of options: flying? Too expensive, and all flights cancelled anyway in the ‘typhoon’ season. Van on bumpy road throughout jungle? Nine hours – uurrggh. What about boat? That would only take 4 hours, but there were only two of us, and we were quoted about $75 each. With great fortune, the perky North Americans intervened. Props to those cookie-loving people.
With clouds starting to mass overhead, we waited for our new pals on the pier while locals talked up The Biggest Boat in Sabang. Nearly 2 Aussie hours later (about 10 Pinoy minutes), we were well on our way to the exotic north in a jolly boat full of merry whiteys. We sat around….and read….and yakked…and watched as the waves got higher and higher.
The Biggest Boat in Sabang rocked to and fro on its bamboo supports, and I observed one of the supports (right) crack open and break away in the surf. Rain blew in from the open ocean – obscuring the horizon and surrounding land – and thunder snarled. Annoi and I gazed at each other, eyes round. She reached up and plugged one of her headphones from her phone into my ear. Expecting to hear some fond message from home (perhaps some intelligence from luli, below), what I heard instead was this:
Show me that smile again. (ooh show me that smile)
Don’t waste another minute on your cryin’.
We’re nowhere near the end (we’re nowhere near)
The best is ready to begin…
Oo-oooo-ooo-ooh. As long as we got each other
We got the world spinnin’ right in our hands.
Baby you and me, we gotta be
The luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin’.
As long as we keep on givin’
We can take anything that comes our way
Baby, rain or shine, all the time
We got each other, sharin’ the laughter and love.
The Growing Pains theme song, complete with air piano. I’ve never had much truck with the idea of bringing music overseas (thinking it separates you from the very people and experiences you’re there for), but I think that for the above gold moment, well worth it.
All land had now disappeared in the storm, and we could have been in the open ocean on a 4-metre swell. Rain and spray soaked us from either side. The boatmen put all our daypacks and cameras in the hold and moved in under the awning to cluster around the tiller (just a skinny strip of bamboo). When we all discussed the trip later, each person was mentally preparing which direction they would swim for and what they would save, if possible. Most people thought ‘money, passport’, but Annoi confessed later she was thinking ‘shoes’. At my shout of laughter she insisted that ‘if you got shipwrecked, you’d probably have to walk somewhere’. And show an elegant calf, no doubt.
A good 6½ hours later, jagged limestone landforms covered in jungle started to appear, rising out of the water like ruins. We rounded the corner of one just as the rain steadied to a gentle patter, and came at last upon the sheltered cove at El Nido. As The Biggest Boat in Sabang came to a halt outside our hotel, the rain stopped completely.
El Nido is one of those places that a certain guidebook insists is crap, but is really lovely. It’s in the natural shelter of a range of limestone cliffs, crossed with tiny wee streets, and looks out upon a flat bay scattered with bangkas and fishing canoes. The electricity is on at eccentric hours (ensuring you’re awake at 6am every morning when the fan goes off), there’s a really cheesy live music bar* and you can get a whole deep-fried squid for about five bucks. One odd thing about El Nido is the curfew for the kiddies. At about 9pm a great alarm bell goes off, like a London air-raid siren in a Noel Streatfield novel. Half an hour later it goes off again, just for the stragglers. I wondered what happens to them if they’re still out after this time. Are they rounded up and detained?
A couple of perfect, sunny days ensued. We snorkelled all day in the Bacuit Archipelago with the North Americans, and ate barbequed fish on a remote beach overlooking a Pyrate’s Cove. We saw a sea turtle swimming in slow-motion, 15 metres below us. I made friends with a shy, piebald brown cow-like fish with exaggerated eyelashes and fat cheeks. One day we were dropped off at a place called Helicopter Island, had a wee picnic and used Annoi’s business card to slurp up the tuna. We skinny dipped for 15 glorious minutes but were sprung by a boatload of Pinoys pulling up in the sand next to us. We were picked up again, just as another ‘typhoon’ rolled in.
*I’m convinced there’s a department in Ikea where you can order a backpacker’s hangout and make it yourself.
These kits have been sent all over the world, from Senegal to India. The packaging (sticky-taped together with 6 screws, an Allen key and a diagram that’s supposed to be explanatory but looks like a Swedish person violating a Stink Badger) contains the following items:
-6 x lengths bamboo for rafters, or shorter lengths, for ashtrays
-Woven palm fronds for walls and door
-10 x wooden tables and chairs, hand-hewn and full of deep grooves for drinks to tip into
-One roll toilet paper, one sheet remaining
-One Best of Bob Marley CD including ‘No Woman, No Cry’, ‘Iron Lion Zion’ and ‘Get Up, Stand Up’
-One Best of Backpackers CD including ‘Hotel California’, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ and that one about getting knocked down and getting back up again
-One stoned bongo player with an eye for the Ladies
-One cheery drunk woman who knows all the words to every single tune
-10 x cheesy hand-drawn portraits of assorted celebrities eg Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Eric Clapton etc
-One rat, trained to skitter over everyone’s bare feet