From Manila we boarded a 14 hour ferry to Coron town on Busuanga Island. Unlike the Indonesian ferries – wooden benches crammed full of people, chain smoking throughout the journey and a lack of air conditioning – our first experience of a Filipino ferry was surprisingly comfortable in comparison. Primarily due to the strong American influence in the Philippines, we found over the next month that many western practices had been incorporated into day to day life there.
What greeted us on our departure from the ferry was a town which, had it been western society, would still very much have been asleep. Yet as we arrived at 4am, the hustle and bustle of the day ahead had already begun – numerous tuk tuks (taxis) met us at the ferry port and local families were rising to commence their daily routines before sunrise. Coron predominantly consists of one main street laden with restaurants, shops and a few scattered dive shops. The charm of Coron lies in the fact that – although it is an ever developing tourist hub – it retains much of its local atmosphere. We spent almost a week here getting acquainted with Filipino life and diving some of the 8 magnificent wrecks which are sunk there.
Outwith Coron town, Busuanga Island is a maze of differentiating terrain which changes from steep inclines over dirt tracks to sandy beach paths in a matter of minutes. We ventured through this maze of terrain one day in the hopes of finding a deserted beach much spoken about by our hostel owners. The journey was magical – away from the main touristy town of Coron, local life plods along at a happily relaxed pace.We passed through many communities on our way, each consisting of 10 to 12 houses aside the road. Children ran after one another as the intense sun bore down on their skins in the stifling midday heat. Children, families and whole communities gazed in our direction as we rode over the bumps and waved in passing. Outside one particular small, rickety shack, locals of all ages were gathered and roared with laughter as a bottle of rum, followed quickly by another bottle of rum made its way round. As we drove past them, they shouted in our direction in Filipino, while waving rum bottles and sending large gaping smiles towards us.
The beach was deserted – bar a few local kids splashing in the sea – we had 4km of white sanded, blue watered paradise to ourselves and yes, it was as blissful as it sounds.
After a week spent reveling in the beauty of Coron and the surrounding Busuanga, we got on a boat to Palawan. The boat was lined on either side with wooden benches and white, plastic chairs lined the middle providing multiple rows of seating for the journey. Locals and tourists alike piled onto this boat which looked like it could hold 10 rather than 50 passengers (always reassessing those western normative ideals). Both hanging pretty badly, we folded our limbs on top of each other and closed our eyes, all the while wishing the wild waters below away from our churning stomachs. Thankfully, the 6 hour journey passed without much sickness from either of us!
El Nido was a picturesque town to welcome us to Palawan. Narrow lanes are laden with western delights – anything from burritos to crepes. The shops – instead of holding small, intricate gems from surrounding areas – were stocked with western attire and prices to match. We wandered to the beach for dinner where many BBQ’s were roasting the local catches of the day and the sand was laden with plastic white chairs and tables – the beach alive with the buzz of a true tourist hub. Naturally, sitting in the midst of dozens of tourists, we decided to hire a moped the next day and escape to Nacpan beach to camp out in a beach hut.
Sadly our days of lazing in hammocks and escaping the tourist buzz were cut short as my sinus infection – which had been slowly creeping in on my mind – was now having a wild party in my head. We headed back to El Nido so I could get some painkillers and lie in a fanned room rather than a stifling beach hut. After a few days of my head constantly feeling like I was smacking it against a wall, I ventured to El Nido Doctors – this being a ram-shackled house with a broken, handmade sign saying ‘drop-ins’ and pointing to a back door. Thankfully the doctor knew what was going on and, prescribing me some antibiotics, sent me on my way.
In my opinion, travelling through different countries one after the other provides you – or it definitely did for me – with a forever altering mentality. Just as you think you’re getting the hang of it – and by this I mean that you’ve learned enough words to barter at food markets, you know what is and how to get the local public transport, you’ve spoken to enough locals to know how to have a joke with them – you’re thrown into another culture completely. Yes, there is a certain overlap within South East Asian countries in terms of culture but if you really come to terms with the ways in which their society functions, they are all so widely different. That is the beauty of travelling – just when you are starting to feel comfortable, you voluntarily through yourself into another awkward, uncomfortable ball of fire which you’ve got to figure out all over again.
Our time spent on the West coast of the Philippines was us trying to experience the true nature of the country. To desperately try to wriggle free of the tourist hubs which are all too easy to comfortably slip into, and instead search for those hidden gems.
Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman
Be weird. Be wonderful.