08.05.2016 - 12.05.2016
After our foray in to Manila, we got on a plane south-west bound to Puerto Princesa - the main (capital) city on the provincial island of Palawan. The Philippines is made up of 7,641 islands so it's really quite spread out and not overly accessible given the amount of sea between each place. Palawan is a long thin island and we were based in Puerto Princesa (near the middle and on the east coast) for our time there.
After leaving Manila we were hoping to retreat to some tropical paradise but we were again slightly disheartened when we arrived on Palawan. The drive to our hotel took us past hundreds of ramshackle houses (more like corrugated iron sheds) surrounded by litter, at least two stray dogs per person we saw, small lots of barren land for sale sprinkled with rubbish, and lots of shacks lining the roadsides. It was a lot less chaotic than Manila and I'm sure a lot safer, but still felt a bit bleak. It was clear we were in a more developing country and that living standards here were a lot lower. Occasionally there would be a house made from brick or some other material. Again we noticed a lot of children and people barefoot just sat around on the roadside. Cars weren't common - you'd mainly see people on scooters or tricycles (like rickshaws) which acted as taxis, or sometimes a mini van usually owned by a hotel or other shuttle service. Scooters would often be parked inside people's living areas which were tiny and dark - probably deliberately dark because of the heat.
The hotel we stayed at was beside a strange beach - a vast expanse of wet sand and mangrove trees. I think it had originally been a mangrove swamp area (not a dark muddy swamp but a sandy one) and had been cleared of trees to allow people to enjoy the beach. It wasn't like a normal beach - the sand was always wet with a mud-like consistency, thus it wasn't the sort of place you could have a sunlounger as it would slowly sink. The sand area went on for a long way out before you reached the sea, and in between times you would come across hundreds of crabs, hermit crabs, and starfish in the trapped seawater. It was extremely quiet and felt quite isolated. The beach didn't really belong to the hotel, it just seemed that land merged in to other pieces of land and no-one really owned anything - a bit like any land around the houses which had no edges. That land couldn't really be classed as a typical garden as there was nothing green, and often just covered in litter and a few chickens with no boundary to the road or anywhere else.
There was nothing in Puerto Princesa that really held any interest for us and a couple of times in the evening we took our hotel shuttle to a mall just so that we had something to do and could go out for dinner as we decided against the hotel food. We were surprised to find a mall there actually, and even more surprised when we saw that although it was quiet there were still plenty of locals. I am still not sure whether people living in the corrugated iron sheds went shopping in malls: we thought they surely didn't have the disposable income given the state of their houses. Perhaps the people there were really just the elite - it wasn't possible to tell by their appearance but they didn't seem overly wealthy. There was a supermarket at the mall so we picked up some items from there too. Interestingly during the elections they stopped selling alcohol during voting hours. Perhaps part of the campaign for the elections to appear proper. Another example of the culture that wasn't for us in The Philippines was when we visited a shop to buy a new camera strap (we'd accidentally left ours in another hotel). There were no prices on anything and after all the staff swarming around us we asked for the price for a very flimsy camera strap. They just came out with something ridiculous that equated to about £15. Of course we didn't buy it and we weren't even prepared to barter at such a stupid starting price; it was probably only worth about £1!
We took a couple of day trips to see other parts of Palawan. We had considered visiting El Nido in the north of the island which people seemed to rave about, but it was such a long journey away (at least 5 hours by bus but we were told it would take a lot longer). Instead we did a day trip to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Underground River about 50 miles away. We donned mandatory life jackets and safety helmets to go in to the turquoise water and in to the huge cave system.
We quite enjoyed it and the water was really clear and beautiful. We also saw, on the minibus on the way there, that there were areas/villages which still had no electric or running water. Lots of people were sat on the side of the road or lining up to vote. There were long queues for polling stations which we hadn't expected (more about that later).
We also did a day trip to Honda Bay, which is the access point for island hopping. Whilst the sea and islands are beautiful, the tourist element ruins this a little bit as it can feel a bit crowded. Here are a few pictures we took whilst island hopping (we didn't take any of the groups of people!).
After Palawan we got a flight to the island of Cebu, further east. We had decided to travel from there to an island called Bohol, and then from there to a smaller island just across the water called Panglao. It's often not possible to fly directly to your destination given that there can't possibly be an airport on every island, so journeys often involve a boat trip or two.