|Paradise (Pandan Island)|
|Sunset on our Private Beach (Port Barton)|
|Lobster Dinner (Port Barton)|
|Show Offs (Port Barton)|
|Idle (Port Barton)|
|Bus companion (Port Barton to El Nido)|
|Island Hopping (El Nido)|
|Walking the Planks to our Guest House (Coron)|
|Thank you! (Sablayan)|
|Medium Security Prisoner (Sablayan)|
|Prisoners working?! (Sablayan)|
|Prison Lake (Sablayan)|
|Kite Surfing (Sablayan)|
|Abs manly silhouette (Sablyan)|
|Filipino Boy Band (Sablayan)|
|Pig on a stick take away style (Sablayan)|
|How do you grow liquid zinc? If you know please provide further info in the comments section (Sablayan)|
|Awesome Banana Ketchup that should be exported (Everywhere)|
|Fruit Lunch (Everywhere)|
|Hard-core Anti-Smoking Shopkeeper (Sablayan)|
|Unsung Hero & His Free Library (Manila)|
|Stumbling Upon Commercial Production for Yakult (Manila)|
In spite of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines the highlights of our 3 week trip here were far removed from the status-quo beach holiday one might have expected.
Perhaps top of the list was a visit to a Filipino penal colony. There were very few guards, very few fences and very few checkpoints into or out of this open countryside penitentiary.
But there were lots of prisoners, arranged in order of their perceived risk-level, from Maximum (rape, murder, etc…) to Minimum (petty theft), and who wore respectively coloured t-shirts depending on which category they belonged to. Those sporting orange were Maximum security prisoners and were effectively the “dangerous” ones.
However, save for those first few apprehensive minutes, akin to a boy taking a girl out on his first date before slowly becoming comfortable with the situation, we did not feel nervous just walking around by ourselves, and were free to talk to all prisoners. This included one who had been in the colony for nearly 7 years.
His job in the prison had been to take care of his own field of vegetables, which he grew and sold to supplement the meagre offerings he received from the system. He spoke openly (for the most part) of what he did on a day-to-day basis, and grinned when telling us that he had recently been downgraded from wearing an orange t-shirt (Maximum) to a blue one (Medium). However, he closed up when we brought up the story of his incarceration and simply replied that he was innocent.
When we asked him why he didn't just escape – there were after all no fences, he was allowed a phone to stay in touch with friends and family outside the imaginary prison walls, and he was only required to check in with the prison once a week – he said that the risks were too great. We later heard of one prisoner who had escaped, been caught, and subsequently placed in solitary confinement…for 3 years and counting.
Another one of our Philippine highlights (not quite sure if this should be called a highlight... at least for Di) came in the form of a 5 hour trip to the hospital. After Abs slipped on a concrete pier, like Superman hurrying to Lois Lane’s rescue, Diana came running to make sure he was okay. Unfortunately Diana also slipped on the concrete pier and consequently dislocated her thumb. After rushing to the nearest hospital several hundred kilometres away Diana was ploughed with drugs (who knew sedatives had such a remarkable effect?!) and her thumb put back into place.
There were a few other highlights (such as the guy who inadvertently turned his home into a library in Central Manila) but it would be folly not to mention the beaches as this was where we spent 90% of our time.
Port Barton on the island of Palawan offered us an idyllic and effectively private beach where we were able to relax and enjoy the warm South China Sea just a stone’s throw away from our lodgings. The fresh lobster was a nice touch after we asked a local fisherman to sell two to us as he was about to throw them back into the sea.
El Nido, also on Palawan, was famous for its island hopping and rightly so as it offered us a chance to indulge in being shipped around various private islands where we could snorkel to our heart’s content. Despite the abundance of marine life it was sad to see how little coral there was, a result of the years of dynamite fishing that we heard still took place in other parts of the country.
A 10 hour boat ride to the island of Busuanga was an apt break from the norm. There was little to do but read in the shade of the bungka (traditional boat) or watch the frescos of white and grey clouds traverse whatever direction the wind took them as we sifted through emerald green waters. During this time we became experts at looking at the horizon to prevent regurgitation of our lunch during choppy intervals in the journey.
Wreck diving is a must for all diving enthusiasts, and Coron Town on Busuanga was the perfect destination with its plethora of sunken World War 2 Japanese ships. This was definitely one of Abs’ top diving experiences.
And then came Pandan Island where Abs was lucky enough to swim with a turtle as it munched sea grass like a little underwater pac man before surfacing for a breathe and scurrying off into the depths of the ocean. Diana, still incapacitated by her healing thumb, was content with lounging in a hammock and occasionally venturing into the aquatic metropolis moments away from her sandy paradise.
Despite the Robinson Crusoe, picture-perfect image of the trip painted in the words above, we decided we had had enough of pristine beaches, constant power cuts and no fast internet connection. And so, after nearly 3 weeks in the Philippines, we contently boarded our flight to our next destination, the Vegas of the East, Macau.