A year ago when when I first started writing about our move to Palau, I didn't realize that the name for the people and the language of that country was spelled Palauan (thanks to a red underline from spell-check) and not Palawan (no red line). Come to find out several months later, Palawan is its own island in the Philippines.

There weren't very many companies that paid for commercials in Palau, so most of the commercial breaks on tv were filled with ads for the other shows on that channel. Every now and again though, the Philippines or Thailand would air a commercial to travel there, and one of those ads was for the island of Palawan. Little did I know when I learned about this island, that I would be visiting Palawan just a few short months later.

Sunday

Bohol had a brand new airport, but apparently it is difficult to go anywhere in the Philippines without going through the capital, Manila. I've heard that it used to be relatively easy to hop from island to island, but ever since airport security tightened up, most air travel in the Philippines must go through Manila, so fly to Manila we did.

The flight was an hour long, no problem, and then our flight from Manila to Palawan was delayed by two and a half hours. Always plan for a full day of travel in the Philippines. Domestic flights are notorious for getting delayed and canceled.

We drank some cappuccinos and ate some airport paninis, hopping from one vendor to the next in the little terminal area, mostly out of boredom. Then we finally boarded our flight to Palawan with an overweight, curly-haired man wearing a vulgar t-shirt.

When flying AirAsia you don't get so much as a cup of water without paying a pretty penny, even by US standards, but Fletch had gone ahead and ordered us a couple of sandwiches when he booked our tickets. They came in a nice little box with a window that showed a sandwich cut in half and bursting with ham and lettuce and tomatoes. But when I opened the sandwich up it was to find that all the ham and lettuce and tomatoes had been lined up in the spot where they had cut the sandwich in half, just to make it look nice, and the rest was just bread. I was hungry enough by that point that it still tasted good. Fletch's sandwich was nearly complete after I gave him my ham.

An hour later, we finally landed in Palawan. We had spent less then two hours airborne but the journey had still taken all day and was nowhere near to being finished despite the late afternoon hour. I wasn't exactly sure how the next part was supposed to work out. We would be taking a shuttle from the airport city of Puerto Princessa to a tourist hub up north called El Nido. Supposedly the shuttles ran every hour or so from the airport but that was all of the information I had been able to glean.

The airport turned out to be quite small. We claimed our bags, walked out, there was a travel office, we went inside and said we were going to El Nido, paid for the tickets, and a young boy led us to a lot a little ways away where the shuttle was parked. Easy peasy. Another couple who would be sharing the shuttle with us asked how much we had paid. Then after a look of dismay, they shared that they had made arrangements ahead of time which had cost them nearly three times the price of our tickets for the exact same trip.

The journey was long and tedious, and took us over five hours. Halfway there, well past dinner time, we stopped at a place aptly called Half Way Coffee and Restaurant. I bought a bag of cashews for dinner, the only meatless thing I could find, and on we went.

Sleeping was nearly impossible between the little space that we had and the assortment of songs playing off of what had to have been my lost iPod shuffle from Freshman year of high school. "Thanks for the Memories" by Fall Out Boy. Arctic Monkeys. "Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance. "Teenagers" also by My Chemical Romance. It was a horrendous-music induced trip down memory lane.

Monday

I woke up at half past midnight as we were dropping off the first few people at their hotel. Fletch was looking at where we were on Google Maps in relation to our hotel and said that we would probably be next. Sure enough, I could see the mosaics spelling out the name of our hotel, even in the dark.

A tall man was waiting there for us. As we unloaded, he offered to take my bag and I politely declined. He then stated with great pride and confidence that it was ok, he was the security guard, so I sleepily gave up my bag with thanks. He showed us the way to a room next to some construction and I hoped that it wasn't currently active construction. This had been the only room left available online so we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

The security guy asked what we wanted for our welcome drinks, and then promptly returned with two cold beers. The room was clean and simple. The security guard gave us welcome drinks at 1 AM. There was some artwork of strippers on the wall for Fletch. For this being the only room available, we had lucked out.

We woke up five hours later to the sound of absolute silence. We had definitely lucked out with the room. Since the main parts of the hotel were under construction, breakfast was served at a few scattered tables along the beach. We sat down and rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and stared in awe at a view that was very much like Krabi, Thailand, with tall cliffs jutting out of the ocean.

Bacuit Bay in the morning.

Despite the early hour, the beach was already busy with peddlers walking about, hoping to make a sale, all carrying identical boxes of fake pearls. They would take out a single real pearl and light it with a lighter to show that it was real, and then try to sell the other pearl-looking beads in their plastic boxes. The key was not to make eye-contact, but this being my first morning in Palawan, I wanted so badly to soak in the view, which from a distance convinced several of the little Filipino men that I was looking at them. They would hurry over and I would try to say 'no thank you,' but saying anything at all turned out to be too friendly and encouraging, and the only solution was to ignore them completely. I soon gave up trying to enjoy the view.

While we waited for breakfast to be served, Fletch ran next door to rent a motorbike. When he returned, we ate, and headed over to a dive shop, Deep Blue Seafari, where a friend from Koh Tao was currently working.

Half the joy of traveling is meeting people from all over the world, who in turn travel all over the world, and then meeting up with them again in a completely new place. Jamie had been a roommate in Koh Tao, and now was working as a videographer in El Nido, Palawan. Seeing as we only had a few nights left in the Philippines, and it was such a trek to get to El Nido, I had been hesitant to travel the long distance for such a short amount of time and had instead been playing with the idea of just staying in the airport city of Puerto Princessa. But Jamie had convinced us to visit him in El Nido and so we did.

Jamie had warned us that a sudden, cold upwelling had just come in and reduced the visibility in the water to almost nothing. He wasn't kidding. It was like teaching back at my old reservoir in Colorado again. The only thing my brain could comprehend was how cold I was and if I stuck my hand out in front of me, it disappeared.

Three layers of neoprene always makes for the best of fashion statements. (Photo credit: Jamie)

 Fletch and I descended down the mooring line, wary to keep it in front of us so as not to lose the group, yet somehow managed to lose the group regardless. We hovered there for a moment, looking in turn from the sand underneath us to the rope in front of us to each other. Finally we looked up and could just make out our German DM helping out the tiny-footed Israeli girl who seemed to be having ear issues.

Apparently Jamie was with our group the entire dive. I never saw him. Whether that was because of the visibility or my brain being too cold to comprehend the little bit I was seeing, I don't know. 

This is a sea squirt, which is an animal and not a coral as I originally thought. They were all over the place and reminded me of a purple and yellow human heart. 
The second dive was just as cold and murky. 

The lionfish are a little different then the ones I am used to. They have these pretty, pearly, opaque wings. 

Props to Deep Blue Seafari for having the nicest boat lunch I've ever seen. All sorts of fresh fruits were laid out, including papaya, and the boat captain even seared a fresh fish for us.

As it was the first of the month, our third dive was a clean up dive. I love cleaning up the reef and doing my share to keep plastic out of the ocean. So much so that I travel with my pretentious, Whole Foods, reusable grocery bags, just to limit how many plastic grocery bags the markets try to pawn off on me in other countries. (And it would seem that the closer you get to the ocean, the more they try to bag each individual item in its own plastic bag. All that plastic ultimately ends up in the ocean and looks like a jellyfish, which a turtle will then try to eat and die. Sorry, I don't mean to be morbid, but that's the truth. Say no to plastic and save a turtle.) Back on topic, I love cleaning up the reefs, but I was so cold by dive three, that when the visibility caused me to lose the rest of my group, I hardly bothered looking for them for a full 60 seconds before ascending and continuing my trash search on the surface, in the warmth of the sun. 

When it was finally time to dry off, I climbed up to the boat's sun deck to realize that a dog had been chilling up there the whole time. He was very hyper and anxious to play, and got riled up to the point that I had to ignore him to keep him from playfully gnawing on my forearms. I guess he learned about the whole eye contact thing from the pearl peddlers.

When we got back to the shop, we rinsed our gear, brought it back to the hotel to dry out, showered, returned to town to find a place to drop off our dirty laundry, then found a bar on the beach where we could sit and relax. We watched the sun set over some hummus and a banana daiquiri. Even though the sunset was blocked by one of the massive rocks jutting out of the bay, before it went down, the rays of light made a spectacular show as they bounced and kaleidoscoped off of all the cliffs. 

Sunset in El Nido

At 7:00 we returned to the dive shop to see Jamie's photos that he had taken during our dives. It's a little bit sad when you realize that a camera lens is better than your naked eye. He had somehow managed to turn so many nice pictures out of our mucky dives that I had to question if he had even been on the same dives as us.

We went across the street to a little hole-in-the-wall place for dinner with a few other people from the dive shop. Fletch and I ordered a squid adobo and a vegetable pancit to share and I realized that this was the first proper Philippine food we had eaten. Normally I'm all over the local cuisine. I think food is one of the highlights of traveling. After a year in Palau though, I was too preoccupied with getting my hands on every fresh fruit and vegetable that I could. Oh Palau.

After dinner our little group made our way over to a place called the Bazaar, which was a hip little square surrounded by different bars. I got good and addicted to the chili mojitos, which made everyone else cough, but that just meant more for me.

We spent the evening drinking and playing darts. Well, I spent the evening drinking and watching everyone else play darts. Miss no-hand-eye-coordination here, finally got dragged out of her seat and a dart forced into her hand. I warned everyone to stand clear back, which they did, thinking I was joking. I threw two darts, neither of which made contact with the board, or target, or whatever you call it. Everyone had a good laugh. After that I was amazingly never offered another turn. But we all had good fun and shared memories of Koh Tao until it was time to find a tricycle to take us back to our hotel with the stripper paintings.