Monday, June 8, 2009
Footloose in Palawan
I confess! The only thing I knew about the Philippines or cared to read about for a very long time was about Imelda Marcos’s vast shoe collection. Little did I know that I had a very different kind of Filipino education in store for me in my future! So come circa 2009, finding myself in Manila, I realized that it was time to discover the nation for myself and perhaps uncover a few of its enigmatic islands. Now being a nation made up of 7,107 islands, it’s inevitable that the Philippines can boast of beaches of almost every kind. From those that seem to be hand crafted by the Creator for diving and snorkeling to surfers haven. Topping the tourist’s must-see list in the archipelago is Boracay. Yet the more I looked at travel information to the beach known for its powdery white sands and amazing water, the more I felt like heading to another lesser known destination- Palawan. Located in the south of the Philippines, Palawan was touted as a collection of 1,780 islands with exquisite beaches and foliage, which could be likened to Borneo rather than the Philippines. Two birds with one stone thought I. Next step book flight tickets and make reservations at Club Paradise, a private island eco-resort in Dimakya Island in Northern Palawan.
One of the hardest things of packing for my three nights and four days package tour at Palawan was how I had to voluntarily travel light. Now this gave my husband a lot of glee, as he certainly did not want to be the one lugging the bags around. And giving him this reason to smile was the flight that we had to catch. The Philippines airlines flight to Palawan only allows you to take ten kilograms per person. So swinging our negligible luggage and breezing past security, we finally boarded the quaint looking Bombardier turboprop to Palawan, which promised to take us there in little over an hour. Bagging the window seat certainly worked out in my favour, as flying out through the clouds looming over Manila I was treated to the first glimpse of Palawan. And what a promising one it was, as it was not only the turquoise waters and the white sand that we could see, but also the coral reefs bordering the isles.
One hour after photographs through the cubbyhole which aeroplanes call a window, we touched down at Busuanga airport, one of the airports in Palawan. Walking out of the charming wood paneled airport, our very tropically dressed (read that as orange shorts and a sky blue floral t-shirt) resort guide greeted us. He then promptly bundled us into a Jeepney to drop us to our ferry. Jeepneys, which are open-air oversized jeeps, are used quite a lot in Palawan, which does not have a lot of vehicular traffic, and therefore no tarmac roads. The ride to the ferry was eventful to say the least- dusty, punctuated with sudden bumps and passing by some of the most amazing grasslands with exotic trees and the occasional villager waving at us.
However nothing in any tourist brochure could have prepared us for the first look of the river we were supposed to cross to reach our island destination. Bordered by mangroves on both sides, looking out of the ferry was a surreal experience. An hour-long boat ride on the river and then on the high seas, suddenly the resort guide pointed out the speck in the distance that would be our home for the next three nights. With each bobbing motion of the boat, the anticipation and excitement rose a little bit higher. And finally we were there.
To the background of an island welcome song and the accompaniment of a fresh mango shake, we tiptoed along the narrow ramp of the boat and happily jumped onto the island.
Overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the spot, the first thing we decided to do was soak it up and that too literally. The waters surrounding the island are perfect for swimming and better still snorkeling. The area is known for its coral reefs and the resort made sure that we could enjoy them to the fullest by handing out free snorkeling gear. Call it voyeurism of a different kind if you want, but watching different kinds of vibrantly coloured reef fish swimming around their habitat, blissfully unaware of the humans around is quite thrilling.
However soaking in the warm waters aside, the island is also a great place for trekking. We even chanced upon a monitor lizard while hiking up to the highest point of the isle. Though it frightened the wits out of me, don’t worry the lizard as well as the fruit bats that are in abundance on the resort are not at all interested in the humans that tend to cross their path.
Located at the northern most tip of Palawan, Dimakya is also a great place to plan island hopping trips from as there are quite a few ones that you can explore while you are there. Yet according to me, the best way to enjoy Palawan is by pulling up a lounge chair and losing oneself in the stunning sunset you can see from here.
Time seems to stand still in this paradise at times, but for me it passed much too fast. And on the ferry ride back to traffic lights and zooming cars, all I could think of was the memories of being barefoot in paradise.
The New Indian Express, March 2009