Tuesday, 26 November 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - PALAWAN


Palawan
15 - 16 November - Manila, Luzon – Puerto Princesa, Palawan

I cycled off to the pier and was pleasantly surprised by the ferry. It was large and very nice with air-con sleeping quarters, entertainment on the deck, and we even had the staff dancing for us as we left; very cool!!  We sailed out of Manila Bay in perfect weather; I sat outside on the deck listening to music, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, until after midnight, fantastic!!!

I awoke the next morning to find that we were surrounded by islands; it was quite a spectacular sight and it looked strangely more Mediterranean than tropical. Food was included in the ticket and we all lined up to receive our polystyrene container with a boiled egg, rice and……ummm, now what was that?  Mince of some sort…. it was very tasty!

We only arrived in Puerto Princesa at 0h30, but unlike the other ferries, we all managed to get off quickly and orderly. I cycled up the road looking for accommodation and found the recommended Casa Luna. The rooms were reasonably priced and were conveniently situated around a quart yard. That was just what I needed so I had a quick shower and dived into bed.

17 November - Puerto Princesa
I arranged a trip to the underground river for the following day, went to the mall to draw as much money as possible (this is the only ATM on the island), and just hung around, not doing very much.

18 November - Puerto Princesa and the underground river
Early morning I was collected and we drove the hour or two to the underground river. On the way we stopped at Ugong Cave which I could not resist exploring. Ugong Rock stands about 75 feet high and you can climb through caves and crevices (with the help of some ropes) right to the top. Instead of walking all the way back, I used the zip-line!!  In a mere 20 seconds or so, I was back on the ground, how cool is that? Once at Sabang Beach we had a buffet lunch (all included) which was delicious.

The underground river is located in a national park and although the whole affair was very touristy, the underground river was definitely worth it!  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and therefore very well protected. Turquoise, crystal clear water disappears into the darkness of the mountain and runs for about eight kilometres. The river winds through the cave before flowing directly into the South China Sea. We only explored 1.5 kilometres of it before turning around and heading back the way we came. It was rather spectacular to row past stalagmites, stalactites and strange limestone formations, created millions of years ago.

19 November - Puerto Princesa – Honda Bay - 13km
What a remarkable day it turned out to be. I left Puerto Princesa, prepared for a long day on the road. In the end, I cycled a record breaking 13 kilometers!!  Shortly after leaving the city, I saw a road sign for Honda Bay; I turned down (only to have a look). I found a small jetty with boats leaving for the nearby islands. I enquired about a boat trip to these islands and in the process met Edna (who is in charge of selling the boat tickets). She had a small property with two nipa rooms (and a pig in the yard) and offered me one of the rooms for the night at 200 pesos (R50.00) and she offered to make me supper (all included!).

The boat ticket was a bit expensive for one person and in no time at all Edna arranged for me to go to the islands with another group. A lovely family from Manila was kind enough to allow me to join them and what a wonderful day it turned out to be. They were the nicest people out, and invited me to share their food and drinks. I got to eat typical Filipino food including salted eggs, eggplant in garlic and chili, fried fish, and loads of other things I can’t remember the names of!!  We had a wonderful time, visiting three of the nearly islands before returning to the mainland.

Edna was waiting for me at the jetty and together we walked the short distance to her house. While she prepared the rice, fresh fish and octopus for supper, the power went out but that was no problem as she quickly carried the food next door to where they were having a barbeque and continued cooking there.

After dark, a few visitors came to have a look at the stranger in their village, and to make matters even more interesting we took a walk up the road to the nearby basketball court, the centre of town and all activities in the area!  On one half of the court youngsters were shooting for the net and on the other half kids were doing cartwheels and jumping elastic rope. On the sideline, you could get something to nibble on, or take part in one of the many games on offer. Kids hopped, skipped and jumped in the street or did silly tricks on their bicycles while the older ones just hung around, trying to look cool!

What a wonderful village. In the short walk to and from the basketball court, I am sure, I met the entire community. I love travelling!!!

20 November - Honda Bay – Roxas - 128 km
It was a rather tough day on the road. Not only was it extremely hot, the hills were also rather steep. I, for some reason, did not feel very well and had an upset stomach and felt nauseous all day. Halfway through the day I started vomiting and soon afterwards started cramping, something that has never happened before!  What a terrible day!  Pushing the bike up the steep hills, cramping, rubbing legs, pushing, cramping, and rubbing!!!! 

What a day!!  It took me nearly the entire day to reach my destination. I found a room and collapsed exhausted on the bed. I had no appetite, which was also not a good thing. I tried to eat a bit of food but was in no mood for stuffing food down my throat.

21 - 22 November - Roxas – Taytay - 80 km
I expected the day to be difficult but did not expect it to be so hard. My lack of food intake did not help and still I felt nauseous. At least I stopped at the chemist to get some medication for cramps and in the process also stocked up on some vitamins (for what it’s worth).

I struggled along all day and had no energy. The hills were rather steep and once again I had to push up the hills, stopping every few metres to take a rest. What an awful day on the road. I was more than happy to reach Taytay, an old colonial town with an old fort and church.

I found myself a room and flopped down in utter exhaustion. Fortunately, there was a restaurant on site and I ordered some soup which seemed to do the trick. I also got some rehydration salt from the chemist and drank as much water as I possibly could.

I stayed in Taytay the next day as well, trying to get my strength back for the road to El Nido. By the evening I felt a lot better and could only hope that I would be back to normal the following day.

I visited the historic Taytay Fort, (Fuerza de Santa Isabel) built in 1667 and named in honour of Spain's Queen Isabela II (it was completed in 1738). The fort's small chapel and cannons are still intact.

23 - 24 November - Taytay – El Nido - 70km
Most people warned me about this stretch of road (that it is gravel and very hilly) and I was not particularly looking forward to it. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that it was not as hilly as expected, and it was only a dirt road in places. In fact, I found most of the road to El Nido paved. Once in El Nido there was no shortage of accommodation as it is a rather popular place, and rightly so as well. I found a lovely place a street or two back from the beach at a reasonable price and with very friendly owners.

It rained on and off the following day so I did nothing - just hung around and explored the tiny village of El Nido. It is famed for its diving so I booked myself a dive drip for the following day to the nearly islands. The trip cost 3 000 pesos and included three dives, the boat trip to the islands, and lunch. That night I spent some money and had food and a beer on the beach.

25 November - El Nido
We left El Nido at around 8.30/9.00 a.m. The first dive was along a wall and as beautiful as it was, it was nothing spectacular. I was, in fact, quite surprised at the lack of coral and life down below. The scenery above water was, however, rather spectacular, with limestone pinnacles and steep cliff faces. It is so spectacular that it is also the location of choice for a good few movies.

Our second dive was far more interesting, with very large fish, octopus, giant shrimp and many more. Both dives were about 55 minutes, around 25 metres with a water temperature of 28c. After the second dive we had a lunch break at a tiny white beach with crystal clear turquoise water…..just like in a movie!!!  The time flew by and soon it was time for our last dive - A wonderful dive amongst large coral and other sea creatures.

Once back on the boat the strangest thing happened - I became complete dizzy and disorientated, with blurred vision and a strange distant sensation. WOW, that was the weirdest thing ever!!!  I drank some water, laid down, and by the time we got ashore I was already feeling better. How weird was that?!!  All I can think is that it was some or other balance disorder. I have had a sinus infection for some time now and took some medication for it just before I left, or it could be plain dehydration!

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