Palawan has become very popular of late. As two Chinese tourists started pushing each other in the chests and hurling expletives as each other as their young concubines watched on laughing in the baggage collection point at Puerto Princesa airport after a short flight from Manila, I thought that people are, literally, fighting to get to this unspoiled paradise in one of the most beautiful countries on earth, the Philippines.
Veronica and I picked up our baggage (we’d had to collect it at Manila airport after our flight to Hong Kong, take it off the belt for someone to write on the tag with a pen, and put it back on the same belt again in a farcical attempt at organization), then got our local Sims (we went with the prominent Globe brand).
Walking out of the airport, we almost walked straight into our first scam – a trishaw taxi driver wanted to charge us P300 to the Blue Lagoon Inn, which he claimed was 20 minutes away as this was “new airport”. Blue Lagoon themelves on their website claim it takes 10 minutes, so I was a bit dubious. As it happened, it took 9 minutes. We were lucky to see a guy carrying a Blue Lagoon Inn sign – he was there to pick up a family who had been on the same flight as us. He said he’d take us for P25 each – a bargain. We hopped in the van with the family, and headed off down the dark streets punctuated with the odd red and white circle of a San Miguel lighted sign, which made us thirsty for that first beer.
We checked into the Blue Lagoon Inn, and were given a refreshing strawberry juice, then shown to room 12. Room 12 was not by the pool. It was tucked away behind the small car park – clearly reserved for those guests like us, the short-term stayers; the one-nighters. Basic, barren, and the mosquito grill in the bathroom over the window had been prised open at the bottom, a few of the annoying little buggers were already buzzing around in anticipation of their feast that night. The room didn’t matter. It was cheap, and we only needed it as a springboard to our next destination. The rest of the hotel, however, was quite lovingly-appointed. Clean-looking bungalows set around a pretty pool, which had underwater lights that were glowing a soothing blue, before flashing various colours as though the climax to a trance song was coming up in a nightclub.
We headed off down the dirt track to the main avenue – Rizal Avenue. Trishaws trundled up and down this, the main thoroughfare of Puerto Princesa. We walked past several attractive, rustic-looking establishments, the kind that provide simple, easy-going, laid-back ambience that is so attractive in this part of the world. We ventured into a new food and arts area called Mango Farm, tastefully done wooden stalls selling artisanal goods, set around some beautiful willow trees. Some local families were here enjoying the new space, sampling a local barbecue. We didn’t linger long, however. Parched, we went back to Rizal avenue and came to a lovely, bright space with blonde wood furniture and a live band called La Terrasse Cafe. The rest of the foreigners in PP had evidently done the same thing – it was packed with ruddy white faces, old and young, tables full of barbecued food, vegetables, rice, and San Miguel.
“Get me a pale. Please.” I rasped at the waiter, absolutely parched. When it arrived I downed it in one. We ordered a feast. Kang-kong in coconut milk, pork satay, fish in coconut milk for Vero, deep fried tuna belly for me, washed down with loads of water and san Miguel. We spoke of our love for South East Asia, our heads and hearts full of the wonderful memories we both have shared from this part of the world. We went to bed content.