Island hopping day. Now that sounded adventurous! With an entire van load shoved full of people, we were ready for a boat ride to paradise.
First, we had to pick up our gear. It was absolute madness. We were scrambling to get flippers, special shoes (so you don’t cut your feet on coral), and snorkel equipment with a million other tourists. I thought someone slapped me on the butt with a flipper at one point. At least I got my digital camera into a waterproof case; as I pointed out to others, I wasn’t about to test out those cases with an expensive iPhone. I was worried about the plastic electrical tape they put around the case to keep it closed properly…
|Our chariot awaits…|
It was awhile before the boat pulled in, and I muttered, “What the heck?!” when the crew threw up a small little boarding ladder that went straight down into the boat. Nevermind that I didn’t have good balance – this was a little unstable, to say the least. We piled into the boat, zipped up the “I-just-escaped-from-a-prison-ward” orange safety vest, and prepared for the journey – and for some people on the boat, that meant drinking down a dramamine tablet or two. Sort of an anti-motion sickness mai tai.
The first island we headed to was more like a small scuba area. I got kicked by more nonswimmers holding on to rings than I actually saw fish. I could only imagine that they were scared as hell of all of us. We weren’t about to find Nemo with all the people splashing around like kids in the bathtub. However, the reef was a pretty wild sight though, and just the sheer fun of snorkeling here made me want to do it again – without half of the world’s population kicking flippers aimlessly in my direction.
|Sexy…and I know it.|
|I am clam. Hear me roar.|
Our second stop was Starfish Island. It looked like a postcard with its tiki huts for lunch, turquoise waters, and lazy palm trees. The coconut palms shook overhead with the barest breeze. I was able to have a good – and entertaining – conversation with a guy from England, though, no, it did not make me go all crazy-mad because I was talking to a Brit, though I can appreciate your logical thinking. I was very sensible and didn’t get “frizzled.” Oh, frizzled…
While waiting for lunch, I grabbed my snorkel gear, walked far and away from the nonswimming madding crowd, and dove into the warm water. This was some pretty phenomenal snorkeling. It was as though I was floating in a tank at the Shedd Aquarium: Enormous clams just waiting for a meal, their shells rippling open ever so slightly. Small schools of baby barracuda wishing they were big enough to eat me. A whole school of “Dory” fish flipping back and forth beneath us. My favorite was the parrot fish, which was rainbow-colored like a macaw with fins that fluttered like wings. The angelfish sort of reminded me of the evil-looking one from “Nemo.” Fat puffer fish just blew themselves up for lack of other entertainment. Orange and black starfish plastered themselves against rocks and held on for dear life. A big, ancient sand dollar was glued resolutely to the floor. Darting, see-through fish with long noses slipped around me as I swam. The multi-colored corals were littering the floor, each with its own unique style, shape, and life.
|It’s that dang paparazzi again!|
Simply – amazing. I could have floated there for hours and never have seen the same thing twice.
With the white beaches calling my name to get out of the water – or, rather, it was the tour guide, I found out it was lunch time. Saucy shrimps (yes, with heads and legs attached), cold glass noodles, pork & yams, tuna, grouper, and rice – all pretty tasty after snorkeling for over an hour.
We only had a little time left after eating, and then we were on to our last island – Pandan Island. It was very much a party atmosphere with a tiki bar, massages on the beach, dancing, and all sorts of entertainment. I figured on a beach front massage, and it was an hour of absolute bliss. Listening to the waves crash whilst I got rubbed down with so much oil you could mistake me as a duck from the Exxon-Valdez spill. But, it was a dang good massage – and they even played Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” too. I’m pretty sure the masseuse was wondering why I couldn’t stop laughing during that song…
The snorkeling wasn’t very good here since it was too choppy – makes it rather hard to breathe when the waves were crashing over the snorkel – and not much coral-cover. Some angelfish made an appearance, but nothing else. Disappointed, it was time for tanning and a fruit shake. Made for entertaining people watching, to be sure.
|Funky sun shot of coconut tree|
Though loathe to leave the simple pleasures of a postcard-perfect island, we scrambled back abroad the boat for the ride to Honda Bay. It was a bumpy boat ride, lots of tossing and turning. The sun turned the sky and water an almost intense silver color, shimmering beautifully. I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the scenery; it was nearly a calendar-picture.
|Silver sea’ed majesty|
Once we’re back getting our land legs again, we decided to stop by Robinson’s Mall, the new and large mall outside of Puerto Princesa. Our main goal was sunscreen, which seemed to be a hot commodity in the Philippines for all us pale Westerners. The issue was that sunscreen there was either high-octane (SPF 80+) or it contained whitening ingredients. I had a nasty run-in with whitening ingredients in Chinese hand lotion back in October – namely, an allergic-type rash on my neck and shoulders that looked like an awful, red burn. Therefore, I had to be picky about anything I put on my skin here.
|They see me rollin’, they hatin’.|
I finally located good sunscreen in an ingenious spot – a “Do It Best” hardware store. I only mentioned this because I used to work for that hardware store company in high school, and it was pretty jazzy to find the brand in the Philippines.
At the Robinson’s Grocery Store, we topped off our snacks for our trip to El Nido coming up the next day. I needed sustenance, since I didn’t know if we’d be stopping for food along the way.
Later on, after ice cold showers and some fruit shakes, we decided to have dinner at Ugong Rock. I was in the mood for seafood. Really fresh seafood. On the menu, I saw that they had seasonal crab. I wasn’t entirely sure what season crab was, so I asked the waiter, “Do you have the crabs?”
|Any last words?|
Yes. Laughter ensued. I was laughing so hard I barely got my drink order out (we won’t even go there!). It’s always like that when you say something awful and inappropriate, but funny all at once.
I was given the choice to pick out my own crab from the wide array of crabs. I went back there and pointed to one – of course, they picked out the biggest one in the water – and they held it up, tossed it in a basket to weigh it, and sent it back to its untimely death. I swore it looked at me with sad pleading in its eyes, but all I could say was, “Get in my belly…”
Holy meatballs, it was a tasty crab. I had him cooked in a lemongrass curry sauce, and when he arrived, steaming and coated with zesty coconut curry, I was the envy of all the tables around me. I rather enjoyed making a mess of my food with the shell cracking device. All I needed was a piece to slip out and a waiter to catch it and say, “It happens all the time.”
Name that movie.
But that’s when the slowly-building panic began.
Several backpackers arrived from El Nido and told us that there wasn’t any place to stay in the town because it was the ultra-busy Chinese New Year time. Of course, we had planned to just show up in town and find a place to stay for the three of us – and then, the five of us the next night. For awhile, we tried to play it off, thinking that there was no possible way that all of the hostels in El Nido were full.
|Gearing up for the fiesta.|
Fortunately, we had already booked our air-conditioned van to El Nido, so at least we wouldn’t have to take an open-air Jeepney or ride on the top of the Roro bus.
Adding to this was the street fiesta we encountered at the end of our block. Little kids were all dressed up for a party and they were asking us for hugs and kisses. Very…friendly? We were just out for a walk in our swimsuits, so it wasn’t like we were anything fancy. All I know is, I could possibly live another day without hearing “Gangnam Style” played a million times.
|Back porch at Banwa|
It was a long day; it was an amazing day. I swam in an oceanarium of amazing things I’d only seen behind glass tanks and realized that experiences like this were truly momentous and almost surreal.
But just wait for the adventure of El Nido. Just wait.
It gets better.