Palawan


palawan4-port_barton16

The Philippines is an overwhelmingly large place with over 300,000 square kilometers spread over 7,000 islands, many of which are undiscovered by tourists and uninhabited by people.  one could spend a lifetime just scratching the surface of this country.  rather than swiftly hopping from place to place like an attention deficit lunatic (like i’ve done previously),  i decided to take the slower path and focus on fewer places deeper.  this time on the wonderful island of Palawan.

Palawan is a long and skinny 450 x 50 kilometer fairly undeveloped island located on the far west end of the country near to Borneo.  i arrived by plane to the capitol city of Puerto Princesa and spent the next 24 days exploring the island, relaxing on its many amazing beaches and interacting with its people.

Puerto Princesa itself is not on most people’s travel radar and many who come here are only passing through to more precious locations.  i was about to do the same until i went wondering one afternoon and stumbled upon a most intriguing place.  along the west shore of the town is a giant squatters area mostly comprised of fisherman and their families.  here, people have built their homes out of pretty much anything they can find, including old boat parts.  it’s a happy community who’s inhabitance were happy to invite me into their homes, talk with me and feed me fish and rum.  the children run wild by day and the men celebrate the days catch by night.  i hung around here for a good long while and made many friends.

palawan1-puerto_princesa17 palawan1-puerto_princesa4

palawan1-puerto_princesa1 palawan1-puerto_princesa2

palawan1-puerto_princesa16 palawan1-puerto_princesa21

palawan1-puerto_princesa26

less then a year ago, the ground i was standing on when i took this picture didn’t exist. since then the local government has filled this area of the bay in with gravel, extending the shoreline out a couple of hundred meters in preparation to transform this entire area into a highbrow tourist-friendly zone. after over 20 years of calling this place home, all these people will have to relocate. it’s not something they are happy about but the unfortunate reality is that the community has outgrown itself and the dwindling supply of fish in this bay is no longer sufficient to feed everyone.

en rout to my next destination of El Nido, i stopped in the sleepy beach village of Sabang where i put my touristy hard hat on and ventured into an underground river… … … yay.

palawan2-sabang1 palawan2-sabang3

El Nido is a coastal settlement on the northeast end of Palawan and the jumping off point to 45 small breathtaking islands.  needless to say, island hopping is the thing here.  hop on a boat and get whisked away to some prime snorkel spots and hidden lagoons.  then get fed unicorn fish on a beach before drinking beer and playing some volleyball.  El Nido is a secluded paradise and the traveling masses have only just begun to realize it.

palawan3-el_nido15 palawan3-el_nido14

palawan3-el_nido1 palawan3-el_nido20

while here i befriended an excitable Spaniard named Javier and a sweet Swiss girl named Pam.  we latched on to one another pretty quickly and then explored our surroundings via motorbike.  we headed north and got lead through the jungle by a little girl to a waterfall.  what started out as innocent fun quickly turned dire when Javier decided to try and scale the wet rock face all the way to the top rather than take the foot path (don’t worry, he made it in the end).

palawan3-el_nido3

afterwards we rewarded ourselves with some water buffalo whispering, coconuts and puppies.

courtesy of Pam

courtesy of Pam

courtesy of Pam

courtesy of Pam

courtesy of Pam

courtesy of Pam

the rest of the day was spent beach hunting, which apparently is not hard to do in the Philippines.  there are just so many that there simply aren’t enough people to fill them all.

palawan3-el_nido18

and if you’ve ever tried to stare a chicken square in the eyes then you probably know by now that we are not important to them.

palawan3-el_nido7 palawan3-el_nido6 palawan3-el_nido5

we finished off that evening with a little beer (ok, a lot of beer) and balut on the beach.

belut = developing duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell

belut = developing duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell

we were a splendid trifecta…

courtesy of Pam

Javier, Roark, Pam (photo courtesy of Pam)

100 kilometers southwest of El Nido is the stunning and strange beach village of Port Barton.  its tiny network of dirt roads can be easily navigated while barefoot.  at the west of the beach a fisherman mends his nets.

palawan4-port_barton13

at the east end of the beach a pig does his daily exploring during sunset hour.

palawan4-port_barton25

and speaking of sunsets…

palawan4-port_barton10

i couldn’t bring myself to leave this place for eight full days.  partially responsible for this are the three lovely German ladies i met: Christina, Corina and Julia, who proved to be very worthy companions when it came to exploring the near by beaches and islands.

palawan4-port_barton17 palawan4-port_barton6

courtesy of Corina

courtesy of Corina

courtesy of Corina

courtesy of Corina

and as it turns out, Port Barton is rife with jelly fish!



on our last night together and to celebrate Christina’s birthday, we commandeered a beached boat, drank way too much Tanduay Rhum and sang songs late into the night.  Christina had commanded me to learn Wonderwall by Oasis the night before and on this night i played it over and over until my fingers bled and my voice horsened.  Corina and Julia left early the next day and Christina and i then continued on back to Puerto Princesa for one final adventure before she too had to leave.

several kilometers outside of town is the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm – a penal colony originally established in 1904 during the American occupation and is still in operation to this day.  visitors are welcome to roam about this vast colony as they please and will be warmly welcomed by inmates who will likely be busy farming, fishing and making handy crafts.  on this farm we found a local swimmin’ hole where families come to picnic and relax.  therein the water it was all out warfare when i took it upon myself to teach a lesson to some rowdy children who were playing the splashy game.  my tactic was to come on strong at first to rile the little beasts and then let myself get completely overwhelmed before finally conceding to defeat.

palawan5-iwahig_prison_and_penal_farm8

palawan5-iwahig_prison_and_penal_farm6 palawan5-iwahig_prison_and_penal_farm7

i also incurred some battle damage in the form of a thorn that lodged itself deep into my foot.  there wasn’t a pharmacy in miles but there was a crude prison hospital run by inmates that we happened to stumble upon.  i decided to pay it a visit and ask them if i could borrow a pair of tweezers.  they didn’t have any tweezers (seriously? a hospital without tweezers!) but after one event lead to another, before i knew it there were three inmates all simultaneously operating on my foot with forceps and sharp needles.  they tore away at the year-long thick callus on my heel and scooped out the intruder.  it was hilarious at first but i had to stop them after a while when the pain became too severe.  all in all i can’t tell if the procedure was more helpful than damaging but one thing is for sure – i limped away from that experience with a new understanding of my own invincibility.

but nothing soothes a wound better than a little salt water and an epic panoramic sunset view from a vantage point overlooking Nagtabon Beach.

palawan6-nagtabon_beach1palawan6-nagtabon_beach2

it was a cool ride back to Puerto Princesa that evening followed by a sad parting of ways.  my final day on Palawan was spent in the good care of my fisherman squatter friends just relaxing…

…at a cockfight!

palawan7-pp_cockfight8

  1. #1 by Diane on April 23, 2014 - 7:19 am

    Wow! What an adventure; just say no to belut :) Lovely travel companions and I hope your foot heals up without any infection. Love Diane

    Happy Journeys

(will not be published)