Note…. More photos at the bottom of the blog
4 November 2011 – Friday -
Finally the day arrived for our trip to Coron, Palawan. We packed real light, since the trip was to be a short one. I had all these names buzzing around my head and was confused and flummoxed as to which place we were italics really close italics going to – was it Coron? Busuanga? Coron town proper? I was not so sure what to reply when someone asked me italics “where are you going this weekend?” (Yeah – I smartly answered “Palawan” and invariably the next question, rapidly asked, would be ” Palawan? Where? Puerto Princessa?” Dammit – yes. Now shut up and let me figure out once I arrive!)
Cebu Pacific deviated from it’s reputation of being timely by taking off from Manila airport one hour late. This, I guess, was a premonition of the kind of attitude we should adopt towards timekeeping for this trip : “beware. All ye who come here. leave your watch behind – you are going to an island where time passes very slowly.” Still we were happy – after all we were going to a place reputed to be among the best snorkeling and dive spots in the world! Not that we were divers of any sort!
Warning : Some comments made in this blog may be injurious to the sensitivities some people. This is unintentional. Thin skinned people are warned to take this blog with a pinch of salt and a dash of Tanduay.
The Compulsive Filipino Shutterbug
One thing which often amuses me is the penchant Filipinos have for taking photos. Don’t get me wrong – Filipinas are, in my opinion, among the prettiest girls and women in the world (the list currently contains Thailand, India, China, Russia and Brazil. My personal choice and you are free to disagree with it. As if I care!) And I won’t get tired of the umpteen photos they keep showing me in the office of themselves and their friends. And Filipino men are generally smart looking. But still….. Seeing them pose and click – italics everywhere definitely amuses me. Philippines has got to have among the highest densities of population of SLR digital cameras – every third person trots a foot long camera! During the last feast of the Black Nazarene here in Manila, grapevine has it that cameras outnumbered pilgrims 2 to 1!
And so it came to pass that while we were boarding the flight, one of our co passengers was busy taking a photo of the tail! The rest, of course, were busy clicking photos of themselves jumping in the air with the plane in the background!
The flight was mostly uneventful. My experience with Cebu Pacific has so far been okay – they have clean flights, and are like any budget airline. Delays? I have learnt to accept that from even the best airlines – Quantas, Lufthansa, Continental…
We all got ready with our cameras to watch the flight attendants break out into their dance routine for the safety instructions. The you tube video we had seen earlier last week had got us all hungry for this free show! (Freak show?!)
PS – I do not take any credit for the above video – it was made by someone else – all credit goes to to him / her / it.
Awww – disappointment – no dance! Later I asked the flight attendant – “why was there no dance”? She flashed a smile and told me, “Sir, it is only on specific routes, with specific attendants who have been trained in this”. Filipinos need training to dance? Now that is hard to believe.
For those who have never travelled by Cebu Pacific, there is another surprise waiting for you. Midflight, they play games – party favour types. The flight attendant chirped, ” for the next prize, I would like you to show me a handkerchief that has all the colours of the rainbow. The first person to show me such a kerchief will win this pair of sunglasses“. Now, what interested and amused me was not the game, but rather how involved all the passengers got in this! And when I say everyone, I mean everyone! Even the 60+ lady sitting next to me was in “standby” position, waiting with her purse open, ready to spring out the next item out of the trove that she had carried. I wondered, did she pack so many different items in her bag just for this game?” While I ask this rhetorical question in jest, it brings forth an interesting observation – People, irrespective of age, LIKE to play games and they LIKE to win things. The item is not important, neither, interestingly, is it’s cost – it is the feeling of having got something, maybe it gives some feeling of achievement, I don’t know….
Random nonsensical thoughts…it is a matter of life and death!
The two hours in the flight got over soon. And as we sleepily gazed out of our window, there it was – Busuanga island with it’s turquoise green waters and fringing reefs.
I have always loved seeing coral reefs from up above, and however often I might have seen them, it still thrills me. I take pleasure in allowing the small things in life to thrill me, to make me happy. It is terribly easy to stay glum, but there really is no point in doing that – is there? Of course, it is equally stupid to keep smiling even when it is raining shit incessantly. Anyway. When I die, I want to be able to say to myself, “yes – I have a few regrets, but wow… I had a darn good time in my life too!”. Well, ok – most probably when I am dying, I expect myself to say either of the following two things -
“Dammit – looks like I will die now. I KNEW I should have had more fun last night.”
“Wow! It’s finally happening! I am dying! I am so curious to see what lies next…”
First impression of Coron -
As our plane approached the airport, the island slowly revealed itself – and sadly the first impression was absoutely crappy. I would have to be high on maple syrup to be able to wax eloquent about it. But truth be told, all we could see was dry forests, patches of light brown clearings, and … Hold it – what’s that… Forest fires!
Finally – touchdown! Our Indian and Japanese pilots mumbled something about (what sounded like) how good it was to fly with us, and we jumped off, straight onto the hot tarmac. Why does someone not train pilots to talk smartly? Before disembarking, the pretty Cebu Pacific lass again reminded everyone “a request to all passengers, please do not take photos on the tarmac due to the high traffic” . Who was she kidding? Did she not know which country we were in? We were in photoland, in the shutterbug capital of the world.
The below posts were part of this blog, and were really thoughts that came up while writing this blog, but after a while, I realized that the thoughts merited their own pages in the blogosphere – yeah they were as erudite as Angelina’s back stage slip-up of the nip-up…
Coron airport and my thoughts about Financial colonialism -
Francisco Reyes airport is a small airport, built with the help of the Korean government. You see this all over the world in developing countries. Some call it financial help or technological aid. I like to call it financial colonialism. The airport in Colombo was made by the Japanese government. Half the airports in China have had money coming in from US government and companies like Ford. Many airports and infrastucture projects in India come from the World bank (an organisation, which masquerades as a bank, but given it’s lousy performance and unbelievably high interest rates, would not have survived in the real world for even 2 days were it to really try to be a bank!). At the end of the day, all these countries beg other countries / firms to help them build things and end up paying them 10 times the cost – either directly or indirectly. I cannot understand why – especially as each of these countries is more than capable of pulling of these projects on their own.
Or even if they don’t feel they are upto it, they could at least use these alms / loans / developmental help for one project, learn all there is to learn during that one project, and then tell the alms giver “fuck off” and continue building infrastructure on their own.
They don’t (save for some smart countries like Singapore, and now China) – which reconfirms my philosophy – human beings are generally idiots!
My Skewered view of the Welfare state -
Oh – by the way, if you thought I was being sympathetic to first world countries – no. We first -worlders just pillage the rest of the world for a few centuries (we have a fancy name for this – we call it civilisation! Well that was the justification given till the 1930s for the colonising of Africa, the new world (Americas) and most of Asia), collect the moolah, then distribute this money to people who Darwin did not have in mind when he spoke of “survival of the fittest”. Yes – we give it to people who are not the fittest. Indeed, au contraire, they are either too lazy to make it on their own in the world / find work, or too dumb / incapable. (Yes – we have a fancy name for this too – we call it the “welfare state” we came up with this idea in early 19th century, thanks to a certain gentleman called – check internet , then sold it to 3 dozen commonwealth countries that got their freedom a few decades later, and now we are reanalysing how to right this blunder in the midst of one financial crisis after the other. And oh yes – we too beg and borrow money (albeit with some sophistication) – from the Jews and Banks. very little difference between the two. Anyone who has worked in The City knows that. And just before you start throwing “anti semitic” check – labels on me, may I assure you that some of my best friends are Jews. Well, it has to be… After all, I AM an investment banker!
Hot cross buns -
Our hotel had arranged a pick up for us – Bravo – it is the same pick up van that every hotel has arranged for it’s guests. One van for 10 parties! We waited for the remaining passengers, under a shed with a small steel bench (very useful to heat your bum after a two hour flight! Hot cross buns!). Finally everyone was there – 2 Filipinos on vacation, very happy, smiling and shutter crazy, a brit lolo (grandpa) – a tad over 60 years old (yeah – his paunch and white hair gave him away!) with a young Filipina (sweet 19 surely), two loud mouthed South Europeans gabbering away in their language as though anyone was interested in their crap – even if we could understand it, which thankfully we could’nt; a middle aged American couple – very sweet, polite; three balikbayan ( a Pilipino word describing Filipinos who have lived for some time abroad and have now returned to the Phils) trying their best to speak only in English with an American twang, but sounding terribly funny as they kept saying “whath do these por- rhrhee-nurse (rolling their “r”s like an Angeles dancer would roll her arse) theeenk op themselves” (nasal twang induced every two syllables), me and my girlfriend – both of us chirpy and laughing at how we did’nt mind all this as long as we spent the weekend together. Well – we both work in finance so we are expert liars!
The jallopy (well to be fair, it was a Hyundai Starex, with an overworked aircon) took us through a thin long winding and serpentine road – which alternated between concrete (noisy), tar (smooth) surfaces and wooden bridges (jabad jabad – making our heads bob like the small doll on Dwight Schrute’s table!) – no fancy views on the way. We passed Kokos nuss (which had been one of our earlier choices), Dive link, Coron sea dive (another earlier choice which was vetoed later) and finally were in Coron town.
Coron town and the existence of God -
Coron town has got to be among the most laid back tourist towns I have been to. There are 2 narrow “main roads”, with shops, small lodges, Pension houses (the name given to rock bottom budget hotels in Philippines – usually family run) and hotels. The hotels along the lake (which I shall reveal the truth about soon) are actually on stilts. You look for a sign, take a small lane from the main road, follow the signs, pass a few houses, and land up at the hotel masquerading as a resort.
That is the time we were convinced about the existence of God!
The hotels and resorts in Coron town are so crappy and sad that we were glad we were not staying here.
Thank God we had booked ourselves at Discovery divers resort – located on a small island in Coron bay. Coron bay has waters that are mostly muddy near Coron town (nevermind the fact that it looks better in photos). Move 30 metres off and the waters get clear, a good reason not to stay in Coron town.
As we would discover later, the restaurants here too mostly suck (though there IS one fantastic restaurant – La Sirenetta – check – which I will talk more about later)
Here is an excellent map of Coron that I found
Discovery divers had already arranged for our boat. We land up at the desolate looking jetty next to the public market (lots of boats, lots of dry mud, no people). A cellphone call assures us – the boat is on it’s way.
A few jokes and smiles shared with the other boatmen… I always use such opportunities to practice my Tagalog – which is improving day by day, thanks to my office colleagues who are my guros, who taught me everything from “komusta po kayo, magandang babae, mahal kita, sa-an kanaka tera” to “putangina mo” – yes, they are one naughty bunch!
Bangka – a boat with a Pinay attitude
Finally our bangka arrives (it is 4 pm and the sun is hot), we squat in it, and off we go.
This was one interesting voyage. The bangka kept heading into what looked like small islands. But as we approached, almost miraculously, a path appeared between them, and the green bushes cleared to reveal a small cut through which our expert captain navigated. We passed close to the islands.
Coron bay is actually littered with many islands – some small, some big, but all are green (at least in the year 2011). In 10 minutes we were on the wooden wharf of Discovery divers.
We were greeted by Melanie, a young girl who earlier worked in Manila (Makati – close to my office). She sweetly explained to us what the island has, how our room would be (she sang…. italics “our rooms and cottages are clean, with a great view of coron bay, but they are simple. There is no hot water and no tv. Sometimes we have a brown out, but we will do our best to make sure you are not inconvenienced, since we now have our own generator. Please tell me if you need anything, boat et cetera to be arranged, at any time. Here is my cellphone number” – excellent customer service. Prepare them for the worst, tell them the truth, and when they see anything better, they are even more impressed. And jolly good – we were impressed and happy with what we saw! )
She helped us chalk out a plan for the next 2 days (around our main preoccupation – sleeping!)
A few words about Discovery dive resort
Discover resort is located on a private island, a few minutes from Coron town. And only about 10% of the island has small cottages and flowering plants – the rest of it is virgin forest. It is run by a British man and his Filipina wife (called Little mama! Yes – by now I am used to Filipino nick names – Bong, Ding Dong, Bing, indeed there is a mayor here called Tarzan!) – they spoke to us every day enquiring whether our room was ok.
We had a cottage, from which we could see Coron bay and a lot of plants. The interiors are tastefully and simply done, white washed walls, a bamboo support for the room that doubles as a clothes hanger, books to read (I dipped myself right away into Khalil Ghibran) and a bathing area without any door (naughty!).
There is no hot water – which does not matter here. But unfortunately they had some issues with water pressure on the second and third days, so we bathed old style – with a mug! The staff had kept a huge 50 liter drum of water outside our room. There is no TV. And unfortunately we spent the last night with no electricity. That is also when we realised how much superior native houses and architecture are. Our cottage remained comfortable and well ventilated despite the fact that neither fan, nor air cooler worked that night.
Since we wanted to just relax, we set off to enjoy the beach chairs and hammocks tied between the coconut trees, just by the water.
Tokku tokku – A new tagalog word for me -
Coron bay, to be honest, is less exotic than the name sounds. But it is very quiet here (except for the putter – putter of bangkas, bird calls – there was one that tweeted sweetly outside our porch, and at night – the sound of crickets and toku toku – geckos. Yes, I learnt a new tagalog word…. Tokku tokku)
It was peaceful as we sat by the water, listening to waves lap up ashore, on a small Thai style cabana, and watched the sun set. The sky turned into a myriad of shades of orange, and slowly, darkness crawled in.
There is no beach here (actually there is a little sand which I think is man made), but there is abundant shore line, and some stretches with mangroves. Nice place to sit and relax.
Out came the stars… First one, then two, then ten, like children peeking in when adults leave, and in what seemed like just a few minutes, the sky was filled with countless stars. We selected our personal stars, made up stories around them, wished our wishes (sometimes it is soothing to be superstitious!) and went for dinner. We were pretty tired and wanted to relax.
Dinner was served at the restaurant (which also moonlights as the reception area, again, a library of books) just next to the water. The place was decorated completely in native style – fishing nets, cloth lanterns, wooden paddles, rattan furniture, coconut shells carefully nurturing new born saplings, we were already in another world. We hungrily lapped up our rice, adobo, coconut curry vegetable and leisurely climbed back to our cottage.
By the way, this was also among the best food we had in Coron. La Sirenetta was the other good place to eat.
Sleep wrapped us in her arms as quickly as we wrapped each other in our arms, to the sweet cooing of the gecko (the net fitted on all windows kept me relaxed!). We had to join the two single beds to make a queen sized bed for ourselves!