Tag Archives: palawan

Full Fathom Five…

13 May

Imperial Japanese Navy ship AkutsishimaThere is a sepulchral magic to a shipwreck. Viewed from underwater, with russet filigrees of sea ferns flourishing on the fractured edges of a shell hole in the side, lettuce corals unfurling from a rusting crane, the gossamer fins of lionfish undulating like silken flags outside a propshaft, a wreck is one of the most awe-inspiring sights the planet has to offer.

The battle of Coron Bay might have faded into history. Just another skirmish in the closing throes of the Second World War in Asia, where US Helldiver pilots annihilated a Japanese supply convoy hiding in the Calamian Islands.

After the raid, in September 1944, it took weeks for some of these monsters to sink. They drifted, crippled, on the currents for many miles. Others went down almost instantly, taking many of their crew with them. Some have never been found.

Z and I visited three of the ones that have. Continue reading

A Serpent in Paradise

3 May

Black banded sea krait rising from the base of the sea

Not, honestly, the best thing to see while snorkelling

The labyrinth of reef-fringed karsts around El Nido, Palawan, must be one of the best island-hopping destinations in the world. Whether above water or under it, we’ve had the most amazing couple of days.

A little too amazing for the camera I bought in Vientiane, making that two cameras down in under four months, so you’ll have to take the ensuing purple passages on trust…

We’ve spent the last two days island-hopping, first on kayaks, then on a bangka, with Z’s new friend Dima, from the Ukraine, but based in Manila, and his ma, Natasha. It’s been absolutely idyllic.

Take Secret Beach, for example. You snorkel through a foot high crevice in a jagged grey limestone cliff, above a dramatic, turquoise underwater drop off where shoals of angelfish clog the water, into a lost world: white sand beach, shallow coral lagoon, all fringed by these surreal volcanic shards of dark grey cliffs, with crabs scuttling boldly vertical towards the swifts’ nest up above. And you, your companions and your boat, have the place all to yourself. Continue reading

El Nido

2 May

view of bangkas and islands in El Nido bay.

A good way to wake up...

After a few weeks in the Philippines, one becomes almost inured to beauty.

Almost, but not quite, for El Nido, in the north of Palawan, really does take your breath away. It’s named for the swifts’ nests which snuggle within the gothic cliffs that cast a shade so deep the backstreets need streetlights of an afternoon.

A little place, about three streets deep and three streets wide, El Nido sits on a shallow, deeply indented bay, dominated by jagged shards of the cliffs and studded with deep green karst islands, forced from the bay by primeval forces, whose surrealist precipices, humps and angles resemble nothing more than a child’s first sketch of islands.

The first amazing glimpse of the sea in all its glory as you wind through crazy chocolate drop hills, past lazing caribao and palm-thatch villages, is utterly gobsmacking.

I’ve posted before about the beauty of serendipity in travel. And in El Nido, serendipity has really struck. I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that five hours on the top of an overloaded bus over bad roads could be a beautiful thing.

Buses, and for that matter jeepneys, function in the rural Philippines as a form of FedEx, delivering unaccompanied goods from sacks of rice and boxes of chicks through to fridges and air conditioners. The bus we took, amongst other things, was carrying furniture. Result! Continue reading

Sweet Madeleines

30 Apr

Z up palm treeIt’s a wonderful thing, being a child. Who would have thought a palm tree could have provided pretty much an entire day’s amusement? Scaling it. Monkey-climbing it. Swinging from it. Jumping from it. Building fires under it…

I had planned to leave Port Barton today, which, given we hadn’t planned on being here in the first place, is understandable. My pocket pyromaniac, however, had other plans. And one of the joys of extending our trip was that I was able to say yes.

It was, of course, the palm tree wot done it. Dead-centre on the flawless crescent of white beach framed by viridian hills, it offers just about the perfect gradient. The slant is sufficiently slight to clamber up with ease, yet sufficiently steep for said activity to provide a challenge, with soft, white sand below it to cushion any fall.

It offers a pirate’s lookout over the tranquil bay, a place to watch the sheet lightning which has been flashing and crashing over the hills for much of the afternoon.

And, after a slight bout of homesickness yesterday, prompted in the most Proustian of fashions by the least Proustian of items – a packet of orange-flavoured chewy sweets — Z has been as happy as, well, as happy as a small boy up a palm tree.

Homesickness, I think, goes with the territory of long-term travel, whether as an individual or as a family. Continue reading

Maritime Woes

29 Apr

Fishing bangka with extra outrigging, off Palawan, the Philippines

You can find the bloody fish, though, can't you, chaps?

There are many things unique and wonderful about the Philippines. But the boatmen here are phenomenal in many of the wrong ways.

Right now, sat in utter serenity on a perfect crescent of a beach (me) and scaling a coconut palm (Z), the various unpleasantnesses of the morning feel like serendipity in action.

All the same, Filipino mariners are quite the phenomenon. I’ve traveled in heading for forty countries. This is the only nation I have ever visited where boats routinely deposit one in the wrong bloody place. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Desert Island Caveboy

28 Apr

View of caves on Lipuun Point, Palawan, the Philippines

Home sweet home for almost 50,000 years

Even with my spawn noisily constructing a hand-axe from fossil coral and driftwood and a six-year-old channelling his inner T-Rex, there’s something about caves that speak irresistibly of mortality.

More than 200 limestone caverns burrow deep into the rock of Lipuun Point, a protected peninsula of mangroves and scrubby dipterocarp forests half an hour’s boat ride from the little town of Quezon, Palawan. 90% or so remain unexplored, and excavations continue, apparently at random, exposing deep layers of peach, cream and dusty bronze.

In one of the largest, a tumble-down cathedral over 40 metres long and perhaps half that in height, they found the skull of Tabon “Man”, which some date to as old as 47,000 years.

It was hard not to wonder, as small modern children played noisily in the shafts of light between waterfall stalactites and tumbling vines, how different they are from the kids who played before them, almost 50,000 years ago, and the unknown man or woman whose bones miraculously survived that long. Continue reading

Short Trousers…

26 Apr Me from behind, walking through coconut forest, Mariquit, Palawan, Philippines

Why is it that someone capable of the Wildean (or Timmy Timpson-esque) remark — “I’ve just been stung by an aquatic delicacy; I am hardly in the mood for seafood?” –- is reduced to howling, “Noooo, mum, seriously, please don’t! Please! Don’t do it!” when I attempt to buy a pair of shorts?

I’ve posted before about my spawn’s touching concern for the size of my arse. However, here in the Philippines, they use American sizes, which not only means that any shop will contain some clothes that fit you, but is particularly wonderful for Brits.

By the simple trick of switching from UK to US labels, one can, as if by magic, lose at least two sizes overnight. After my “XXL or XXXL, Madam?” trauma in Cambodia, a tense forty minutes squeezing into swimsuits in Saigon, and the horrors of knicker-shopping in Bangkok, this is all to the good.

What is less to the good, perhaps, is the preferred sizing. Continue reading

Light Effects

26 Apr

Blue streaks of light in the sky as the sun sets over islands, Tabon, Palawan, Philippines

Does anyone know what causes this?

We were in Tabon, last week, in the south of Palawan, where the sunsets are amazing. But this, I have to say, I have never seen.

These flattened cones, in a very intense blue, like rays of a cartoon sun in negative, appeared from behind the islands in the bay, and scattered across the sky in an arc with the setting sun. Our host, who’s lived there for almost 30 years, was none the wiser either, but definite that it couldn’t be a light show.

Does anyone know what causes this? Is it some sort of rainbow?

Calamansi Butter

22 Apr

Cut and uncut calamansi fruit on chopping board

Good things come in small packages

So these little fellas are calamansi, Filipino style, tiny, spherical citrus fruit which experts believe originated as a cross between a mandarin and a lime. They are, along with ube (purple yam), probably one of the defining flavours of the Philippines.

What makes the Filipino calamansi (or kalamansi) so fantastic is the absence of bitterness. They have a tang even more sour than a lime, but without the bitterness, so the hit is like essence of citrus. You can mix them with soy and chilli for a dipping sauce, or sprinkle them on just about anything to cut sweetness, salt or fat.

But today, after a trip to the market in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, we ripped off a recipe from Theo at the Tabon Village Resort down south, and used them for the ultimate “lemon”-butter sauce.

I went a little stir-crazy at the market, in fact. Continue reading