It was just another hot noon in the Philippines. Weronika, Monika and Krystian just got out of a cool air conditioned van somewhere in the northern part of Palawan. They got lucky, as the overgrown jeepney going to Port Barton was almost ready to leave when they arrived. It was full to the brim. Inside, people were packed in like sardines among crates of mysterious goods, and the roof was stacked with cargo. “On the roof?” asked Monika. “That’s what he said,” replied Weronika. So they climbed on top, nestled in, and positioned themselves in the most comfortable way possible. The view was great, from two and a half meters above the ground, facing forward, unimpeded by such things like windshields. The comfort level left a bit to be desired. A crate was digging into Krystian’s backside. At least the wind cooled them off when the jeepney-bus started moving.
They were happy to arrive in Port Barton. After an awkward descent from the top of the jeepney-bus, they received their backpacks and threw them to the ground. The laid back village enveloped a beautiful bay. With minimal effort, they found some cozy cottages that they could call home for the night.
The village of Port Barton was very charming. Tourism was just starting to take hold there. They counted maybe a dozen other non-locals. It was quiet and unspoiled. The evening ended just right with a perfectly prepared dinner at the beachside Jambalaya hut.
The next morning, they packed their basics and set off in a boat to go island hopping. The Philippines once again did not disappoint. The water was clear, the reefs teemed with life, and it took a lot of effort to finally leave one palm tree fringed white sand beach, even though they knew another one waited a short ride away.
Finally they arrived at the beach they would call home for the night. It seemed like a perfect island getway was going to be spoiled. The rainclouds moved in, and soon enough the three of them found themselves amidst giant drops of rain. What was there to do? The cold rain chilled their bodies so they took shelter beneath the warm cozy waters of the sea. It was a beautiful experience.
The rain passed soon enough. Mark, the boat captain, guide, and head chef, prepared a delicious meal of perfectly grilled tuna, chicken, rice, and salad. Weronika and Monika sunned themselves while Krystian did what he loves best and donning a mask and snorkel went to see what lives beneath the waves.
The snorkeling was great. The reef lies in shallow water and the water was clear. As the afternoon was chasing the evening, it seemed like it was feeding time underwater. A crab hiding in its burrow snatched a small fish that lurked around too long. The titan trigger fish pecked away at the coral. A puffer shedding all its shyness allowed Krystian to come eye to eye with it as it explored around for a bite to eat. The larger corals were covered with a rainbow of christmas tree worms which simply dazzled in the warm sunlight.
As it always does in the tropics, the night came quickly. As the sun set behind a nearby island, the sky once again lit on fire. The colors were simply indescribable, and the camera did not capture the subtle nuances of the pastels playing together with the vivid fiery reds and oranges. The three adventurers gazed in awe at the beauty that was unfolding before them.
Even though Mark was young and claimed that this was his first overnight trip with guests, he did not disappoint. He grilled up some squid and we had a nice supper. Soon afterwards, a bonfire of dried palm leaves was illuminating the dessolate beach as they sat there, discussing the pure awesomeness of what they have seen so far.
Monika went off into the darkness to take care of nature’s call. A strange noise came from the trees nearby. It was not the cooing of an owl, nor the croaking of a frog, but something in-between. It did not last long as it was soon interrupted by a shriek of Monika. “There were big fiery eyes, looking at me. I’m scared,” she said nervously as she ran back. Mark was folding over in laughter. He explained, “it’s a small bird, about as big as a coconut, loud, but harmless. It has big eyes.” Monika continued to claim that the bird’s eyes were not reflecting her flashlight but simply glowing in the dark. They all had a good laugh.
The things that glow in the dark by themselves came later, and quite unexpectedly. The three adventurers went for a stroll along the beach. Sloshing through the low tide, Weronika exclaimed pointing at the water, “Did you see that?” We went in for a closer look, but could not decide whether the water was really blinking at them, or the fire was reflecting of the ripples, or if the rum was playing tricks on their minds.
As they got further away from the fire, things became clear. It was phosphorescent plankton. When disturbed, it lights up, like fireflies under the surface of the water. They kicked around, threw sand into the water, and jostled the bunches of seaweed which were on the beach at the low tide. The light show was amazing. The clumps of seaweed lit up like UFO’s when shaken. When the water was splashed onto the dry sand, it looked like someone sprinkled glowing polka dots on the beach. Nature once again did not fail to impress, and the three of them felt like little kids stomping through the glittering water.
With not much to do and having to get up early the next morning, they went to sleep. Weronika and Monika shared a tent while Krystian slept on a bench in a beachside rain shelter. Their sleep was interrupted by some fishermen who came on land to cook up a midnight meal at the fire that illuminated the trios’ evening escapades. The next day the girls confessed to being afraid that perhaps some evildoers came by and their minutes are numbered. However, no such thing happened and the rest of the night went by with nothing more than the sounds of the big-eyed bird in the bushes.
The next day they all packed their belongings and headed back to the mainland. There was another jeepney to be caught back to Puerto Princessa, where the three were eventually going to catch an onward flight. The jeepney came, and the loaded in, this time, not having to brave the rooftop.
The trip was agonizing. Even though Port Barton is a small village, the jeepney took over an hour and a half to depart. It made numerous stops where people continued to pile in. Then came the cargo of dried fish which, combined with the diesel fumes, provided a perplexing aroma for the journey. The loud lorry engine heaved and puffed and huffed as the vehicle lumbered up the hills of Palawan. Then it stopped, spewed hot steam, threw off some sparks, and it was time to leave. “Overload, overload, overload.” repeated the passengers as they disembarked and walked up the steep hill.
The trip to Puerto Princessa, although a mere 150 or so kilometers, took into the late afternoon. The poor jeepney had to stop numerous times to cool off. Once in a while, during a brief stop, the men operating the lumbering giant popped the hood, got out their wrenches, and banged on the engine until it was once again good to go.
Our heroes arrived safe and sound in Puerto Princessa. They found a comfortable hotel, and for once, splurged on air conditioning. They ate a delicious dinner and spent the next day exploring the underground river of Sabang.
It is now time to depart. Monika returns to Poland. Krystian and Weronika say goodbye to the azure waters, the pure white sand beaches, and South East Asia in general. It was a good trip so far, but it is time for a change of scenery. They are off to the mountains of Nepal. If the weather obliges and their muscles allow, they will return with photos of Mount Everest.