By Mona Lunot Kuker
New York City
After almost 15 years of living in the US, I finally decided to visit the Philippines this year. And one of my exciting tours in my home country was this visit to Palawan.
On January 30, my friends Jackie, Joy, Jan Valerie, Mira, and I flew to my dreamland and traveled on a van for six grueling hours, a long drive from Puerto Prinsesa airport to El Nido, Palawan. It was fun ‘though. Looking at the scenery, remote barrios (villages) and farm lands, on sometimes rough or newly constructed roads, made me feel I’m truly home.
Before our flight, feeling jet lagged after a long flight from New York to Manila, I asked myself if it was really worth going to a remote place. I was apprehensive due to the reported high crime incidents and insurgency.
But to my surprise, local people in Palawan were nice, polite and accommodating. I began to feel relaxed as soon as I started walking on the street and approached tricycle drivers to drive us to our destination.
We had four foreigners with us inside the van. And we learned that several small stores owners near the beach front are owned by foreigners, mostly retired white people. The motel inn that Metro Deal and El De Turismo travel tours had set us to check in was small and miserable. Two of my companions walked out to get a decent hotel nearby.
But being toughies, the three of us decided to stay in the motel inn. All we needed was a place to stay and sleep for the night.
We roamed around the small area which has small stores, motels, nice restaurants and bars. I wasn’t so impressed with the shoreline and view until the next day. The tour guide picked us up at around 9AM. The temperature was perfect.
We rode on a boat to explore four of the 45 islands in El Nido. My jaws literally dropped at the amazing rocky islands with different shapes and sizes. The dancing blue and green sea water surrounding these islands are unbelievably crystal clear. It soothed my soul just by simply looking at it. I told myself, this is paradise.
Kayaking in the secret lagoon is one of the best things I experienced. I went to Florida and the Bahamas last year with my husband, and they’re nothing compared to the stunning and spectacular views in Palawan.
We savored a healthy lunch in one of the islands, with grilled fresh fish, veggie salad and local fruits. I took a plate sat on the warm white sand and ate with my bare hands. I feel like I’m in heaven.
On the third day, we went back to the seashore to collect our favorite shell fish (halames) that we used to eat when we were growing up in Cavite. We screamed and laughed, like thrilled children, every time we saw and caught halames on the sand that were being washed away by the flirting waves.
One local girl selling pearls started following and chatting with me. I asked her how her business was going. And she started narrating that she was able to buy some rice and can of sardines for her family by selling those fresh pearls. I felt a tiny pinch inside my heart.
I told this young girl that they should protect the area by not throwing garbage and polluting the water, since it is a good source to make a living for them. She agreed and started picking garbage with me. One of my companions asked me why I was picking up garbage. I said it’s my way of saying thank you to Mother Nature for allowing me to benefit and enjoy its beauty.
I will be back, Palawan. Promise.
Editor’s Note: The writer is a self-taught artist living in New York. She has been writing a long time ago, she said, in Philippine language. That wonderful vacation in Palawan moved her to write once again, in English. Welcome back to writing, Mona.