The Motorcycle Diaries – Philippines – Day 2


Perhaps my best photo yet.


Urh-urh-urh-urh-what the…

A rooster. I was being woken up to the sound of a rooster.


“Shut up!”

I may be Midwestern, but I’m not a farm girl. My alarm clock sounds like a punk rock guitar riff. It doesn’t sound like a bloody rooster.

But, if it’s not the rooster crowing like a dying balloon outside the window, it’s the Euro guys on the top bunks trying to catch the 6:00 bus to El Nido. When they jumped off the bunks, it’s like an earthquake that shook the whole room. I woke up, and I could’t fall back asleep. Not with the roosters having a competition for Island’s Most Obnoxious Talent.

It’s a hard knock life…

I finally pulled out of bed by 7 AM to update my written journal – no power tools on this Asian trek! – and I curled up on the quilt-covered bench to read on Banwa’s terrace to read, enjoy the shady corner on an already muggy day, and do some writing before the other two work up as well.

The roosters crowed constantly all morning, from pre-dawn to full noon, and the rooster nearest to us was cackling out his noise to the yard. I figured on ordering breakfast – a fruit smoothie and coffee – and the girl working at the desk put the order in a little basket attached to a rope, rang a bell, and sent it down to the cook. This amused me. One day, I want to ring a bell and put my order in.

Passed by the melon truck

As I was waiting for coffee to arrive, I listened to the background noise around me – other travelers chatting (several of whom were expats from China) and birds high in the trees, chattering away in the mango and coconut trees overhead. One tree was fat and laden with bananas. I was enchanted by the presence of these fruit trees, for no other reason than it wasn’t every day that I saw bananas other than those with Chiquita stickers on them.

The coffee and fruit shakes came up, along with my mega-veggie omelette. When she asked, “brewed or instant” for my coffee, I immediately jumped on brewed! I love coffee when it comes with a little bit of froth on top, like it came out of more than just a simple coffee pot. It’s strong, dark, and delicious when mixed with creamy milk and brown crystal sugar. I love dark sugar in my coffee. Simply – wonderful.

Have coffee, will travel. My motto.

Marco, however, mistook my mango-pineapple shake for his watermelon one (yellow…pink…just color suggestions, right?), and he drank half of it before I was out of the room. When we ordered a second one, pineapple was out. So, he owed me a pineapple…and we would bring it in to make a shake from it!

Our general plan for the day included renting motorbikes. Now, I will own up to the fact that I have yet either driven or ridden on a motorcycle. I’m not extraordinarily gifted with balance either. So, this should be fun, right? I was very leery of doing this for hours with no prior experience – and trying to beat the learning curve on dusty, narrow town streets with loads of bikes and tricycles wasn’t upping my confidence factor.

We’d teamed up with a travel writer named Connie, and she decided to come with us on our Che Guavarian adventure. She could drive automatic, and if I was going to drive, automatic it was. But, the monkey wrench was, we found out, there was only one automatic bike left amongst the many different little rental places. It took about an hour to wrangle and wrestle out the terms of the rental with a lot of “my friend so-and-so” chatter between the people trying to find us bikes.

Sarah graciously allowed me to ride on the back of her motorbike, and we headed north to Emerald Playa, one of the better beaches near Puerto Princesa. It was located, according to a local guy, by the Microtel, down this road and that. Once we were out of town, it was pretty isolated. Not many people on the road besides other motorbikers and Jeepneys – open-air Jeeps/buses with elaborately decorated exteriors, the preferred local transportation – and my helmet had rather obnoxiously broken the first of three pairs of sunglasses I will go through on this trip.

Starfish: Chillin’ like villain

It took a few turns this way and that, but we finally found the Microtel sign and headed right, and now the road was a bit full of potholes – much like Chicago streets after a freeze-and-thaw winter. Those were highly entertaining to go over when you had a heavy back on the motorbike. This is also an eco-zone, which means there are new plantings in the swampy waters. The beach was behind the hotel, so we parked the bikes and wandered back, slipping on our flipflops as we went.

Henceforth (I promised my students I would use the word henceforth in my writing today), I was stunned by the expanse of fine, white sand, the shimmery pale blue water, and the rise of dark, misty mountains in the background. Mangroves revealed their naked roots above the waterline. A boat or two was moored to a nearby tree, rocking gently as the waves rolled in. At this moment, it was difficult to believe that it was the middle of February, and I was standing, barefoot, on a gorgeous beach as the hot sun poured heat down on us.

The water was so warm and soothing that it felt like stepping into bath water. I sank my feet into the sand and savored the feeling, wondering if this was what a postcard shot looked like. I watched schools of tiny fish slither blithely past my bare, wiggling toes. I felt pity for the poor, stranded starfish flapping in the lazy water.

There were hundreds and hundreds
of bamboo trays filled with tiny fish
laid out to dry in the hot sun.

It was quiet except for the rustling trees and the slurp of waves. So quiet I thought I might eventually hear the fruitless digging of the tiny shellfish which were unearthed every time a wave sucked away the sand which covered them. The quiet was interrupted eventually by a large group of local boys coming to ham it up for us, splashing and paying nosily in the surf.

After some fun, sand, and surf, we invaded the Microtel lobby lounge for some tourist advice from the concierge staff. They had hot – though instant – coffee, which I enjoyed as we relaxed for a bit. From there, we decided to bike the 11 km to Honda Bay, the marina where all of the tour boats leave for island hopping. I had to buy new sunglasses because my other ones were busted. Also, we stopped for lunch – a cold meal from a local shop consisting of fried noodles, a sweet & sour pork mix, and a fried poblano pepper. In retrospect, we were probably incredibly brave to try this food, but I was warm and hungry!

From Honda Bay, we aimed to continue north on the island. There were many friendly people who helped us on our way, including the guard at a random Chinese temple out in the middle of nowhere. He let us in to observe the gigantic Buddha statue and the New Year decorations. But, my favorite greetings came from the people riding in the Jeepneys. They waved like crazy at us.

Stormy skies

Above all this, a goodly storm was brewing in the mountains. The sky was slowly blackening to an ominous navy blue which promised a lashing of rain and some momentous thunder. We decided to turn the bikes around after a few hours of riding, hoping that the storm wouldn’t affect us. I was able to get money shots of the mountains, and, lo and behold, there was a beautiful white cross up on the mountainside. Just out of nowhere – a lovely cross.

We made a stop at Vet Ville, a Vietnamese relocation camp on Palawan. During the war, the Philippines took in a great deal of displaced people, and their camp is modeled on a traditional Vietnamese sort of living style. There was a bakery here that sold great French bread, but everything was so quiet and deserted-looking. The only life I heard was the muted hum of television playing a sports program. I was able to take several good architectural shots of the village with no one around.

Roadside shop

We got petrol and snacks sometime about two o’clock, and the stand was pretty typical: produce, loads of snacks, drinks, and little packets of supplies. In the absence of Jewel, Dominick’s, and other huge stores, the local shops had it all. I grabbed a cold Coke Light to replenish sugar stores.

Rice field

Scenery. Palawan was a truly scenic and beautiful island. Mountains. Palm trees. Quaint towns with brightly-painted elementary schools. Glimpses of water. It’s simply stunning natural beauty. On this motorbike journey, I took my favorite picture from the entire vacation (see first photo).

Distant, hazy mountains

Stopping by one last, very colorful village, we finally made our way to Puerto Princesa proper, where  must find an ATM. This took a considerable bit of time since not every ATM accepted UnionPay cards. Lesson learned here was to always keep my US ATM card handy since Visa and Mastercard were still more universal. When I did find a UnionPay ATM (after several strike-outs), I was surrounded by a horde of very curious little girls who wanted to see what I’m doing. They had been playing in the parking lot and chattered on as I discreetly took my cash and went back to the bike.

The souvenir mart outside of town was busy and full of tourists, to say the least. I was just interested in browsing, and no matter how much Marco tried to convince me to buy the skinned bullfrog purse, I must say, I didn’t give in.

Palm trees – at night

Once we returned the motorbikes to their owners, we headed back to Banwa for cold showers and dinner plan discussion. We were going to try out the place recommended by two other teachers, but that place was already full. We made plans, then, and reservations for the Friday we’d be back in Puerto Princesa. Instead, we ended up at Kinabuch’s, just down the street. Their menu was about ten pages long with many regional dishes – from exotic seafood to crocodile to anything you heart could desire. The place was hopping with energy.

The whole fish (lapu-lapu)

We ate an amazing dinner with fruit shakes. Marco opted for goat curry, and I went for the lapu-lapu (grouper). Now, when I thought of fried lapu-lapu with sweet and sour sauce, I thought it would come with chunks of fish. Oh, heck no! It was the entire fish, fin to eyes to teeth. The teeth were the most impressive feature. Rather sharp too. And it just stared you down. Well, round one of eating things that still had faces (fins, eyes, heads, feet – yeah, most seafood had it all). It may have been the first, but it wouldn’t be the last on this trip.

To round that out, I ordered a Filipino banana pancake dessert, which was tasty but would have been better with vanilla ice cream. But, I suppose the fruit shake was like the ice cream part. I was all about the culinary aspect of this trip and decided that I’d go crazy on food selection or go home – after all, I had to try new things when on the island!

@ Kinabuch’s
Makin’ banana pancakes.

After a hugely satisfying meal, we headed back to Banwa for sleep. Tomorrow we were slated to join an island-hopping tour, and the van was to arrive at seven AM. Good thing we had ordered breakfast ahead of time so it would be ready.

I sure wouldn’t be starting the day with the roosters without coffee!

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