Monday July 18, 2016 Goodbye El Nido: Hello Port Barton and Prince John's Lodging and Restaurant.
After our experience on the Cherry Bus, we allowed our next host to arrange a van to Port Barton. We are ready and waiting before the appointed 7:00 AM but 7:00 AM comes and goes. We have just enough internet connection to contact Prince John’s Lodging and Restaurant to check on the van. The van will be there by 8:00 AM. The van man arrives with the question, “What time is your flight?”
“What? We’re not going to the airport. We’re going to Port Barton to catch a boat to an island.”
“The van to Port Barton left at 7:00 AM,” says the van man.
“We were ready at 6:30 AM. You didn’t come!” Well, this can be fixed. We can ride to Roxas, then transfer to another van that will take us on to Port Barton. Don’t worry. Same price. Just miscommunication.
*Aside* This is not unusual in the Philippines. Good thing our Type-A personalities are mellowing out or we’d be steaming by now and not from the ambiant temperature.
The van ride to Port Barton is better than the bus ride to El Nido in that it doesn’t last as long and the van is a bit more comfortable, but it’s still moderately miserable. This is mainly due to road conditions. There is really good paved road interspersed inexplicably with nearly impassable pothole-filled, gravel and rock road. Of course this turns into really muddy gravel and rock road when it rains.
*Aside* It looks as though it hasn’t rained for a day or so and there are still mud craters that make me lean forward a bit to ask if the van to Puerto Princesa always runs. “Yes!” is the proud response, “Recaro Vans always run.” I don’t know how that’s possible, but I am reassured.
In Port Barton we have lunch, then meet our boat: two men and a Bangka. About 20 minutes later we arrive for our “rustic, local experience.” Tucked among the palm trees, on the second floor with a balcony view of the common dining space and the ocean, is our room. We feel only a little like mountain goats as we climb the steep stairs to our room. We instantly decide our two big, over-heavy suitcases (about 70 pounds each) will stay downstairs.
*Aside* We are getting smarter. We have a small carry-on bag that can hold Tom’s CPAP, our personal hygiene essentials, and several days of clothes. We pack most of the dive gear in our big dive bag, leaving the rest of the gear, our non-essential toiletries, extra meds and extra clothes in the other. In theory we only have to open the small bag. This method worked fine until we decided to Island Hop at Prince John’s, but more on that in a moment.
The bathroom? Small room downstairs, outside: please pour water down the toilet after using. Shower and hand washing is next door: big barrel of water and a dipper (shampoo, cream rinse and soap provided on the shelf above the barrel). Someone to pour the water over your head while you shampoo: not provided.
Electricity? There is a generator. John will run it occasionally during the day for charging and from about 6:30 PM to 10:00 or 11:00 PM. But Tom has a CPAP that requires electric to run during the night. Oh, no worries - we’ll just keep it running till the gas runs about at about 5:00 or 5:30 AM. Well, the description did say an island experience.
One more thing - internet? Sure! John turns on the hotspot on his phone. Alrighty then. I guess that’s everything. Sort of.
But really - it LOOKS like paradise.
*Aside* FYI: This version of paradise does not include air conditioning or even a fan. We’re probably lucky there is mosquito netting
Local Filipino food is on the menu for dinner. For P300 each (about $6.50 for both of us) we have
dinner on banana leaves.
*Aside*Yeah, real banana leaves hacked off the tree are the plate - they do wash them first. Believe me it makes cleanup a breeze and the pig (who will one day be Lechon Baboy - roast stuffed pig) eats the leftovers and the “plates”.
Salad is sliced tomatoes and cucumbers spread down the center accompanied by bowls of balsamic with chopped finely ginger, garlic and onion. Adobo, Kare Kare and Binagoogan is spread along the rice runway on either side of the salad. But wait there’s more: fresh sweet and sour steamed crabs! And veggies: okra, green beans, pumpkin and eggplant. It’s fantastic. Our host is a chef!! Bananas simmered lightly in coconut milk are the finish to an amazing meal.
We enjoy our first Prince John's Lodging and Restaurant sunset.
The generator is on, the bed is comfortable and we sleep well.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
The plan for today is Island Hopping. But for that we need to open both big bags for equipment: snorkeling gear, swimsuits, underwater camera housing, the usual water stuff. And we’re off!
First stop: the waterfall. We walk about 15 minutes, through what appears to be a small rural neighborhood, along some paths (some mucky, muddy, some not), beside some jungle, up a hill, over a bridge, up a steeper hill and finally down into a lagoon at the base of the waterfall. The water splashes down over the shear face of the cliff into the pool where it collects, cool and refreshing, then tumbles its way down and down, pooling here and there, into that neighborhood we walked through.
*Aside* Accompanying us on our tour is an Austrian family of three: husband Robert, wife Andrea and their five year old son Emanuel (adopted from the Philippines) - also guests at Prince John’s. The child probably enjoyed the lagoon more than anyone. Of course I would probably enjoy the lagoon more if Tom would carry me around on his back and play with me under the waterfall. Maybe I should have mentioned it?
Next snorkeling, then lunch on different island. The snorkeling is better here with healthier reef under our gaze. When we move to the island, one boatman starts cooking our lunch while the other boatman goes off to deliver two other guests to the Port Barton van. It starts to rain.
*Aside* Well actually, it starts to pour torrential, drowning rain. Have I mentioned that this is the rainy, typhoon season? It rains so hard we can’t see the other islands that used to be just over there across the bay. I think the fire goes out under our lunch. We begin to wonder if we will ever see the other boatman again. Finally, after more than an hour of stormy weather, the rain subsides, the fire is restored and the other boatman (and the boat) return.
At 2:30 PM lunch is served: foil roasted unicorn fish, rice and pineapple. It’s delicious. With our bellies full, the sun comes out again and we forget there was foul weather.
We look for turtles to snorkel with but apparently they see us first so we don’t see them at all. Our final stop is a sandbar. As our boat gets close, it looks like the most boring place in the world. Then we see the all the starfish and hundreds of hermit crabs in different sized and shaped colorful shells and a number of intact, but-oh-so-fragile sand dollars (we don't even try to bring one back). It’s much more fascinating than at first glance.
Returning to paradise we discover two new guests from Australia: David and Kathy. We also discover tonight’s dinner menu is Seafood Festival. Out comes the banana leaves, salad, rice and veggies as before, but this time accompanying our sweet and sour crabs are fried calamari, grilled lobster, sweet and sour fried fish and a whole grilled unicorn fish. We thought last night was delicious but this tops it. The location may be rustic but the food is amazing. Also John cooks most of it in front of us, giving us a cooking lesson as he prepares the meal. Carrot cake shows up for dessert.
Wednesday July 20, 2016
*Aside* Rebecca has a problem. Her knee hurts, a lot. It’s unknown how she hurt it, but it hurts. Muscle rub and Advil help, but are not correcting the problem. Therefore tomorrow will be rest-the-knee day for Rebecca.
John arranges for the local massage therapist to come to treat Rebecca’s knee. “She’s old,” the twenty-something John tells Rebecca. “An elder in our community, like 60”
“I’m 62,” says Rebecca.
John back-peddles only a little: “Yes but 60 in our community is old. You and Tom are different.”
*Aside* This is probably true. Filipinos - especially rural Filipinos - live hard lives of hard work with extreme sun exposure. The average life expectancy of an American is over 78 years; for a Filipino it’s 68 years.
The massage therapist arrives and it is determined that there is “air” in my knee. She sit down on the concrete floor, declining a chair to work hard on my knees for about an hour - you have to do both of them for balance. I am assured that all the “air” is out now and that it will be better. The cost? About seven dollars.
*Aside*My knee does feel considerably better after she works on it but I suspect it isn’t fixed. That would just be too good to be true.
After a day of rest and relaxation, we enjoy a final dinner of Filipino food. The addition of two Filipino guests from next door, Robbie and Timmy, generates engaging conversation during the meal.
Thursday July 21, 2016
John reserved front seats on the van to Puerto Princesa for us. Riding in the front seat next to the driver is better than riding in the back, but it’s been raining a lot and the road is really slick in many places, so again the ride is “exciting” - a little like riding on a slippery slide. However we make it to Puerto Princesa uneventfully, returning to Roma Pension.
*Aside* If someone had told me at the beginning of this trip that I would look forward to a cold shower, I would have told them they were crazy. However, the first thing I did at Roma Pension was take a cold shower, feeling really grateful for the running water!
We meet Josh again and scoot into the Out Patient Clinic at the hospital just before they close for the day. The Doctor looks at Rebecca from across the desk and says, “Osteoarthritis - take this prescription for three days. If it’s not better come back. Oh, and stay off it.”
*Aside* In three days we will be in Coron. I really don’t know much more than I did before I saw the doctor and I don’t really trust the diagnosis since there was no examination of any type, but no matter. My instinct is anti-inflammatory, like Advil, and I’m going to try some yoga. In my reading I find moderate exercise is better than no exercise. I wasn’t planning on diving in Coron anyway. I guess the hike up the volcano is off the list though. However I do hear the hot springs in Coron calling my name!
Josh joins us for dinner at Kalui again, then we are on our own on Friday. Saturday we meet for
lunch and goodbyes at Ugong Rock. I ate delicious Tuna Kabobs - I wish I’d ordered more!
Back at Roma Pension, it’s only about 3:30 but we gather our luggage to go hang out at the 2Go Ferry terminal until time to board. We have a leave time of 11:58PM. We board at about 9:30PM and it almost feels like coming home. We have a stateroom, mirror-image of the previous one - same comfortable bed and same hot shower. With meals included, we don’t even have to think about where to eat until tomorrow evening. It’s like taking a little respite and we appreciate it even more since visiting Prince John Lodging and Restaurant. This time when we turn off the lights we don’t hear children crying, or the TV next door, or the voices of other people. It’s really quiet. It’s like a little slice of heaven. When you compare it to the alternative of flying, it’s definitely the perfect choice for us.
Good Night! See you tomorrow in Coron!