Here Comes the Rain…

28 Apr

View from the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Palawan, Philippines: jagged rock and turquoise water.

Not, actually, a waterfall. Just the rain beginning....

Maybe it’s El Nino. Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe we’ve brought the English summer with us. But it feels like the rains have come early this year. And Z is overjoyed.

We walked to the Puerto Princesa underground river yesterday — supposedly the world’s longest navigable river — under heavy skies and dripping leaves. And as we emerged from the darkness of the cathedral cave into the green of the coastal forest where the river meets the sea, the rain fell in great sheets, ruffling the waters and throwing up spray. It felt, for a moment, as if we were paddling out into a waterfall.

There was a thunderstorm last night. There is a thunderstorm now, with bugs sheltering from the raindrops and flooding the lights, the grass a vivid green, the streams swelling already, gouts of water pouring from the nipa thatch, and a blessed coolness in the air. There will be thunderstorms tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that.

Three days ago, this was the view from our beach hut.

View of the beach, Sabang, Palawan, Philippines

A nice way to wake up.

The next evening, there was a little intense rain. Then, yesterday, the skies made their intentions beyond clear. This is Z fording a little stream which crosses the beach on the way to the underground river.

Z crossing a stream against cloudy skies and palm trees.

There's rain in them thar clouds...

I had asked him to “take off your jeans and boots and carry them”. I had failed to specify keeping said items dry, and neglected to mention his socks.

End result? We are some way into the surprisingly strenuous but mercifully short central section of the walk to the underground river (ascending the second valley, to be precise), and Z is fetchingly attired in his long-sleeved top, hiking boots (the socks are MIA) and underpants.

“I wish humans had leathery skin,” he pipes up.

“Well,” I say. “That’s what clothes are for…”

“I feel like I’m a walking banquet for mosquitoes,” he says.

“Oh dear,” I say, examining a 3-inch square of mosquito bites on his thigh. “That looks nasty. I think you should put your jeans on.”

“How about some sympathy for once?” he says.

I was sympathetic when he got stung by a jellyfish — he hasn’t had much luck with wildlife lately — but he was appropriately clad at the time, and I hadn’t suggested he wore alternative clothing.

“Just put your jeans on,” I say. “You can’t insist on walking through the forest in your pants and expect me to have sympathy when you get bitten.”

“But they’re wet,” he says.

“Well, whose fault is that?” I say.

“I hate this trek!” he says. “I hate this trek! We haven’t seen a single animal apart from mosquitoes and there are thousands of them!”

I sympathise.

After rather too much up and down, and some monkey noises which alarm Z, still raw from our encounter with five of the local dogs two nights ago (he now has a large rock which he carries whenever we walk the beach at night), and frustrate me since I cannot locate their source, we take a walkway down through some phenomenal limestone karsts.

We meet a peacock. Then we meet the celebrated monitor lizards. These vary in size from half Z’s size to slightly longer than him. Given their serpentine waddle, flickering tongues, primevally small heads, evil eyes and generally carnivorous appearance, this is rather too large for comfort.

They do not, to put it mildly, vaut les moustiques. And I am not entirely sure we will be going out of our way to see Komodo dragons when we get to Indonesia.

Z smiling in helmet, headtorch and lifejacket.The river, however, which runs through vaulted cathedrals and lowering passages of gold, cream and scarlet rock, where part-blind fish explore systems that head deep into the interior of the island, is stunning.

Weirdly, and to the discomfiture of our tour guide who is telling his unenthralled audience what stalactites are for the nth time that day, the young man’s thoughts turn to philosophy. It seems caves do that to both of us.

He decides that the earth was most likely created by aliens, wonders why people aren’t looking for the hidden civilisations which may, for all we know, be in the earth below us, then becomes wildly excited by a shoal of small fish swimming underground.

But what makes his day is coming out of the cave into intense arrows of tropical rain. “I love the rain, Mum,” he says. “I love the rain now. It reminds me of being in school, in the playground, when it’s raining, and I’ve forgotten my coat, as I almost always do.”

And, yes, he does love the rain. He casts off his clothes. Scampers down to the beach. Bounces around in the waves until our boat arrives.

He loved the bangka ride back from the river, standing and straddling the narrow deck as the outriggers lurched from side to side like stabilisers on a bike and the boatman varied his pace to catch the softer curves of the swell.

Tomorrow — coastguard permitting — we will be spending six hours on a six-man bangka on the open sea, heading up north to El Nido. I have never been seasick in my life. But there’s a first time for everything, as they say.

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