We arrived in Puerto Princesa to be greeted by yet again a million tricycles and taxis desperate for our business. This time we took the easy route and headed straight to a hotel that was sold to us as soon as we got off the plane. De Loro resort had no power when we arrived (apparently this is pretty typical throughout the whole of Palawan island) and so our normal room check before paying wasn't quite as useful as usual. But the place looked nice, with traditional wooden ceilings and artwork and sculptures scattered everywhere around the lobby. So we took a chance and checked in.
After ditching our bags we jumped on a tricycle into town to check it out before the sun went down. In the Philippines it'll cost you double to get a tricycle anywhere on your own but if you're willing to share as the Filipinos do and squash in with as many people they can fit, then you can get just about anywhere for next to nothing. Seated next to us was Teony. A man we knew for only a few minutes ride but who showed us more of the Filipino generosity and friendliness we have come to expect. He told us of places to see and things to do, offered us free lodgings in another town and then paid for our tricycle fare. When we planned our trip to the Philippines we were given many warnings of the dangers here, and so have been very wary in the things we do and who we talk to but time and time again the Filipinos have been some of the warmest and most generous that we've ever met.
One thing that we find somewhat frustrating here after our travels in the rest of South East Asia is the lack of street food. It is not common here and cheap restaurants serving traditional Filipino food are not as easy to come by as you might think. Some that we do find have cold food that has been left out all day which I do not think our stomachs could handle and so we opt for what seems to be the popular thing here….fast food! It's not just your usual fast food though, even MacDonald's sells fried chicken and rice (something they seem to live off here) and there are many fast food bbq chains that sell chicken, pork, sisig and fish with unlimited rice. It's delicious and definitely fast but we have to admit that we definitely have been lacking in vegetables for a few days.
However, Puerto Princesa is known for having some awesome Vietnamese restaurants left over from Vietnamese refugees and our love for Vietnamese noodle soup called Pho is taking us on the hunt!
After our first nights stay in De Loro we decided the mouldy smell and dirty room was not quite for us and so we asked to view their nicer rooms on the second floor. We were quite surprised when we found the room was beautiful! It was at the top end of our budget but we couldn't resist and actually ended up staying 6 nights there.
That night we went to a bar called Katabom to see a local band that plays reggae with a twist - they use native instruments. They were awesome and we are hoping to see them again on our return to Puerto. The bar itself was very busy but we managed to get there early enough to grab a table and a couple of beers. There was great ambience and not so many tourists, just the kind of thing we were looking for. More and more people were arriving and when we saw three Filipino women struggling to find a table, we offered them to join us.
Rema, Lisa and Lila were another great example of the friendliness of Filipinos. After a few drinks together, Rema offered us a ride home but before that took us for a walk along the bay front. Upon reaching Rema's vehicle we realised she must be a very wealthy woman and were very comfortable in her brand new 4x4 travelling with the air con on full blast.
The following day Rema and the two girls offered to take us out for the day and so we took a journey down to Kamia Bay, a resort owned by a friend of hers who is also a corrupt government official! On the journey there we stopped at so many places to pick up a variety of foods; mangoes, Santol fruit, corn, Pan De Sal (bread rolls) and lechon(roast suckling pig).
Kamia Bay was a beautiful and a very expensive resort. We picked a table and then Lisa began unpacking even more food than Rema had bought along for the picnic; spicy chicken, rice, fresh fruit shake, apples, peanut butter. We were spoilt! Rema told us that Filipinos like to eat a lot and we soon became used to her chants of 'eat, eat, eat!' As well as all the food that was brought along, Rema also ordered a speciality for us to try, Jellyfish! It looked terrifying even with the effort that was gone to make it look appealing, but we couldn't turn down a taste and so with apprehension we let the jelly fish wiggle its way onto our forks and into our mouths. It wasn't the worst thing we've tried but Katie will definitely not be chewing on that slimy, gooey Jellyfish again.
After a stroll along the shore at Kamia, we were taken on another trip to see the Jwahig Prison and Penal Farm, a strange prison without cells that tourists can wander around. Here Greg took a dip in the popular cold springs and then we visited the souvenir shop. The shop sold a variety of things all made by the inmates and staffed by them too! They also turned on the music and performed a dance for us, something they do all day for any visitors that come along. Rema, Lisa and Lila joined in and danced along with them, we just managed to resist and filmed the entire thing instead.
After a day of activities in was time to head home but not before a visit to Rema's house. She had a beautiful home just off the beach and a number of people coming and going to help serve. As we arrived the table was laid out with delicious looking food and again we heard that chant we were beginning to love 'eat, eat, eat!' This time we enjoyed Gambas (shrimps in a spicy sauce), Bulalo (beef shank in onion broth), Lapu Lapu (grouper fish), dragon fruit, fresh fruit shakes and of course more rice. We were so happy!
After all that food we all could hardly move but they couldn't resist involving us in one of the Filipinos favourite things to do…Karaoke! We have heard amplified singing coming from every corner of the Philippines and it seems something that they have a real passion for. So we joined in as best we could but mostly listened to the girls sing their hearts out. It didn't take too long for Katie to whip out her hula hoop and give the girls a turn, something they really enjoyed. At least we gave them a little bit of entertainment to pay them back for a whole day that they gave us.
The following day we headed to the infamous Underground River. This is the most popular thing to do around Puerto Princesa and it involved a very uncomfortable and crowded bus journey through torrential rains. A ride on a small Bangka (boat) in the thunder and rain and then a 1 hour trip through the underground river. The tour itself was fun; our guide had a great time pointing out stalactites and stalagmites that looked like fruits or women and a number of many other things. The caves are full of thousands of bats that hang sleeping all around you; this was something that was pretty cool to see although we would not want to have been there if they were awake!
After a visit to Rema with a bunch of thank you flowers and a chorus of 'eat, eat, eat' to which we demolished her squid balls, it was time to head to El Nido, the departure point for island hopping trips around the Bacuit Archipelago.