The Palawan chronicles..(I)

We had decided that the Philippines would be our next travel destination a while ago. A mere 2 hour flight from Taipei, made it a hop, skip and jump away. But further research made us realise that it is impossible to cover the full country in a single trip. For one, there are too many fragmented islands – which at times are connected by flight, but we had a budget and a time constraint to adhere to. I wanted to see the rice terraces of Banaue, but realising they would be mostly brown instead of verdant greens at this time of the year, made us (actually me) hone it down to Palawan. The Scientist was happy to tag along, so long as he did not have to make any decisions.

Our first plan was to go to Puerto Princesa, see the underground river and return to Taipei in 3 days. But after going through the visa processing and a chance click on the wonderful El Nido resorts, we decided to prolong our trip and spend some more time there (We didn’t book those resorts though, sigh). Of course that threw our budget off, but we decided to take that risk (and scrimp after coming back home).

As vegetarians, our first problem (and only) was, of course, food. Philippines is not renowned for vegetarian or vegan options, so we did what any Indian would do. We carried our own food – so tomato theplas, carrot cake, Priya pickles, numerous Haldiram dry snacks and some MTR ready to make upma and semiya packets, and ready to eat Veg Pulaos and Bisi Bele packets first made their way into our backpacks. And weren’t we glad to carry that bit of extra weight!

We arrived in Manila rather late on Tuesday. We had planned to stay the night there and take a flight next day to Puerto Princesa (PP), the capital of Palawan (actually some careful planning and thinking would have deemed it unnecessary to be stuck in Manila even for a night – but hey I was planning all alone, so I will cut myself some slack). We stayed in a studio apartment close to Terminal 3 of the Nino airport, but getting there cost us 350 PHP at night (thanks to the ongoing construction and thanks to the Scientists’ generosity we shelled out 50 bucks more!). We realised how ridiculous it was, as the next morning we could simply walk to the airport in 10 mins!!

The first thing that made us feel at home on landing at Manila was the weather. A bit hot and humid just like back in India, we were all smiles as we took off our coats, sweaters, scarves and caps while waiting for our luggage to arrive at the carousel. The airport also had a very informal atmosphere – and what with the construction and taxi queues and de-tours, we felt like we have landed in India (From that moment on, I entered into Oh this is so like India zone every time something seemed familiar, and there were a lot many such moments).

We took a domestic flight from Manila and arrived in PP around 3 PM the next day. We had bought a local sim and our hostess (we opted for a homestay) informed us she would have someone pick us up at the airport. The first sight that greeted our eyes was this:

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Honda would have never thought the indigenous way its bikes would be put to use. A strange contraption (a close marathi word for this would be taprat), much akin like our autorickshaw, is attached to a Honda bike here, making it a tri-cycle of sorts – a most favoured mode of transport in PP. Of course, given our sizes, this was not the most comfortable ride (picture a bail-gadi (bullock cart) ride back in our villages). Our homestay, though close to the airport was nestled in a remote corner of the town PP is. The tricycle costs 30 PHP per person from anywhere to anywhere in PP, as we were to know. Our hostess greeted us with glasses  of refreshing iced lemon tea.

We decided to rest awhile, and then set out to explore PP on foot. The first impressions were: a smallish town, with dusty roads, no street lights (in the part we lived), corner shops selling all necessities with small minminta (flickering) light bulbs hanging by its tenterhooks. After walking for almost a km, we came by the main streets, a petrol pump. There was some life here.We took in the mostly Spanish and Portuguese names (House of Rose, House of Big Brother, Badjao Seafront Restauarant), and felt like were in some Goan village (Not that I have ever been to Goa yet, but somehow that was what conjured up in my mind, as I walked the streets of PP).

We had read (after some research) about Ima’s Vegetarian Cafe, and made a beeline for the place, as our tummies had by then started signalling. A simple decor, around ten table capacity, and a smiling hostess is what greets you at Ima’s. The menu has mostly Mexican dishes, but some soups, pizzas and sandwiches also feature on the menu. Our first meal here was Vegetarian soup, Spicy Bean Burger, and a fried rice dish. I also ordered a Buko (fresh coconut drink). We knew the orders would take a while, so we ordered all this at one go, and proceeded to wait. We were so ravenous by the time food was served, we forgot about clicking and set about munching.

That done, we decided to walk up a bit, and reached the main traffic signal of PP. It was nearly 9 PM by then, and most of the place was in darkness. The only joints that were open were a lone bar, a medical shop and some food places serving pizza. We bought some bottled water, and proceeded to take the tricycle to our home.

…..(to be continued)..

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