The first night on Cacnipa Island was spent in a largely sleepless state – we didn’t want to turn off the bright lights for fear of attracting creatures of the night – and the solar powered fan was making us shiver. The alcohol and water we’d drunk in the restaurant and on the beach caused toilet breaks at one thirty am, five thirty am and seven thirty am. The night was full of life, full of strange sounds. For us city folk living in Hong Kong, it was hard to adjust too.
The muscles in the mid-left of my back had also decided now would be a good time to start spasming. I was in agony. An ibuprofen did very little to alleviate the suffering. Vero had stomach cramps. And so we made a right pair at breakfast, and we very nearly called off the whole day of island hopping we’d planned.
We sat in the restaurant thinking of what to do. A fishing boat arrived with the catches of the day, that we would be eating that night – as fresh as that. We decided to take a chance and go on our tour. We were getting ready to leave on the boat when a Latvian guy asked if he and his girlfriend could join us. It sounded good to us – we were going to be the only people on the boat, and new company, new energies, new stories, is always welcome company. It also worked out cheaper. And so the four of us headed off across an ocean as transparent as glass. We hit a lovely snorkeling spot first – which would have been wonderful had we not had to deal with crap masks and snorkels as usual. We’ll bring our own one day. The Latvian, of course, had his own mask and fins. And his own hammock, which he’d already strung up in a prime spot between two coconut trees back on the island. An ‘action’ man, he worked as a pilot for Ryanair, but his real love was taking people on tours – hiking tours and river tours of his beloved Latvia. He asked no questions, only talked, like most people we ever meet. And so we listened. We learned. Tomas free dives, he used to fly helicopters (I had guessed a military background), he had once seen a bear whilst salmon fishing in Latvia, he has a five day on, four day off work regime, his home is three point five hours from his Ryanair ‘base’, he was on a month-long break right now, as he’d put ‘off’ schedules together….he also had no money with him, and se we needed to lend him P1000 for lunch. About his girlfriend, we knew nothing. She spoke not a word the whole day, just smiled and giggled shyly. Tomas also had a GoPro ‘black’ – the newest and most expensive Go Pro, apparently. He claimed Latvia is the cheapest place to buy electronics. He buys everything from Amazon. Yes, we learned a lot from listening to Tomas. He learned nothing about us. Tomas also had a skill shared by most alpha males, of turning any opposition move into a counter attack, as he did when I brought up my time in Rwanda, and he quickly cut in that he had been offered work there, turning the conversation deftly in his favor, giving him the advantage, turning the focus back to himself, reducing the ‘opponent’ to the role of interlocutor. Despite all this, he was a pleasant enough chap, and at least I learned something about somebody from a place I’d never been to.
The islands we saw and visited were stunning. Absolute picture postcards of what you might imagine paradise to be. Like the Maldives, or San Blas, but more beautiful. Yes, Palawan is the most beautiful place on earth, I’m sure of that.
We had had a good day, and returned full of sun, sea and sand to Coconut Garden. I sat in the same wicker chair at the same table in the restaurant, at the same time as the day before, and saw the same routines take place. The Swiss owner of the place turned on the TV at the same time as the power came on (power comes on from six pm to six am), San Miguel pale in hand, watched the news, turned it off fifteen mins later, and retreated to the kitchen after a swift retort of “look at this floor, sweep it”, and “Am I the only one who can see this?” (pointing to the tea / coffee area which had run out of cups), not to be seen again till the next day, at the same time, with the same beer, watching the same news channel.
Tonight we enjoyed two red snappers – one sweet and sour style, the other coconut milk and garlic style, and talked a bit more with Tomas and his silent girlfriend. Tomas shared with us more about his life in Latvia, showed us photos of him off-road driving through snowy winter wonderland forests in his Land Rover….he talked of his business idea – he’s found a favourable spot on the river and is building a tour centre, and his future house close by. He’s run team-building activities, led scenic hikes, kayaking trips (he’s also bought a couple of kayaks ). He’s switched on, Tomas. He’s got a business plan that will sustain him beyond his career as a Ryanair pilot. “This is my view of the night sky”, he boasted, showing us a photo he took from the cockpit, as we told him of how beautiful it had been to sit on the beach the night before in darkness and watch a million stars. His girlfriend had her own beauty / nail salon business. That was all we ever knew about her. She still hadn’t spoken a word.
After some gentle prodding, Tomas eventually gave me the P1000 he owed me. His girlfriend seemed very embarrassed. Then we headed to the beach for our starry show once again, a magical end to a magical day.