Day 4 Tagaytay ~ Manila ~ Puerto Princessa
By: Kelly Riley
After spending a whole day traveling around the beautiful city of Tagaytay with our trusty tricycle driving guide and his adorable son of a copilot, we asked him to come the next morning to drive us into town so we could catch us bus to Manila. We were set to board a flight over to the island of Palawan and spend 3 days in the sun and sand. We stood at the entrance to the resort, listening for the familiar whir of the dirt bike, but our arranged time came and left and with a sigh, Nadia and I trekked out into the rain to the main road. Luckily we knew we could catch a Jeepnee into the main part of the city and soon the rumbling metal jeep appeared and we climbed in. This time when I climbed out and was bombarded by tak tak drivers, Nadia was prepared and asked who would drive us to the bus stop to Manila for 50 pesos. We followed the first driver who agreed. He looked smugly at the others as he wiped the water from his tricycle seat and loaded the foreigners in. A rainy ride in a tricycle was a new one for us, and of course I only had a white outfit remaining, making myself even more into a spectacle.
The big express buses lined up on the road in front of a Dunkin Donuts, an odd sight indeed. But we were thankful for the promise of coffee before our 2 hour ride to the capital. When we finally managed to get through the thick traffic that is the streets of Manila, our next quest was to find a taxi to take us over to the airport. The sidewalks were just as packed as the streets. After weaving in and out of people we spotted a staircase that led to walkways above the roads. Maybe it was instinct or maybe the desire to get out of the suffocating mob of people, but we decided to take the staircase up and across the busy intersections. When we came back down, we happened to arrive right beside a taxi stand and an available taxi ready to shuttle us away. It turns out that there are two different airports in Manila, one for international and one for domestic. The domestic airport was small, but quite packed. We made it with at least a half hour before our flight to Puerto Princessa. This was one of the first times we had actually arrived on time for a trip of ours. But sadly instead of being rewarded for our planning and promptness, we were punished by the flight being delayed at least 3 times. This happened on our return flight as well. Domestic flights in the Philippines are a nightmare.
After we finally landed in Puerto Princessa we groggily walked out of the airport. Other tourists ambled around, trying to figure out how to get to their resorts, but having hit the ground running in Tagaytay we knew to go straight to a tricycle. On the island of Palawan, the tricycles were limousines compared to Tagaytay. They were huge with two benches in the cabin both facing each other. The cabin itself was like a bubble that incased the driver with the passengers. We felt like we were traveling in luxury after what we had experienced. We gave the driver our address and off we went. After our days in the deserted resort in Tagaytay, I was very nervous we had booked a similar accommodation here. The driver turned down a dirt road. On either side of us were little huts and shacks separated by fences that looked to be constructed from palm fronds or branches. It was cleaner than the slums we encountered in Manila but this certainly looked even poorer than Tagaytay.
“Oh god…where are we staying now?” I asked, nervous again. This look into a community that was so vastly different than mine made me uncomfortable. Which I noted and immediately felt guilty for, but that didn’t prepare me for the guilt I felt when we turned into the entrance for our resort. The length of a driveway was all that separated one of the poorest places I’ve ever been with a resort I could find in America. Guilty feelings aside, the resort felt like something out of Coraline. There were plaster animals all around the grounds, and though they didn’t have buttons for eyes their proportions were all off and it gave them a distorted, dream-like feel. Besides that the place was beautiful, with a pool that had a swim up bar, a restaurant with an outdoor patio area and indoor wine cellar, plus the bed felt like a cloud. If there is one thing Korea is lacking, it’s soft beds. This I had grown accustomed to but laying down on this huge, cushy wonderland felt like all the vacation I needed. We had most of our meals for this portion of our trip at the resort. The food was a mix of different cuisines from around the world. Having been away from America for so long, we were as excited for the Western options as we were for the Filipino food. Nadia on the other hand was thrilled with all the desserts.
Day 5: Puerto Princessa
For our first full day in Puerto Princessa we decided to embark on a quest for sunscreen. If you have read the previous parts of our journey you will know I came to the Philippines fully expecting to find sunscreen in every corner store. This was a sunny, tropical country after all. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everywhere I searched I came up empty handed. The people of the Philippines are naturally darker having lived under the sun for their whole lives. I am from a similar climate having come from South Florida, but my ancestors of pale, white Europe did not make me naturally prepared for the baking rays of sun I was being subjected to. So far I had been mostly able to avoid direct contact and Nadia had introduced me to Shea butter which had kept me at a soft pink tint of the shoulder instead of full-fledged tomato. But finally we had a significant amount of time in a larger city, so Nadia and I searched for shopping malls near us.
As we walked out of the entrance to the resort, the security guard greeted us. He was young, probably around our age and one of the nicest people we would meet in the country. He explained to us we could either rent bikes or have a tricycle take us into town. This was an easy decision and he called over a driver. Like I said, just outside the resort the regular housing was shacks, and it turned out this was also where they got their pool of drivers from. One gentleman came running up and we all climbed into an even nicer tricycle than the one we came in from the airport. He asked our destination and off we went. The city of Puerto Princessa was very much like a cross between Tagaytay and Manila. What was terribly exciting to me was no one paid me any attention. Tourists were common here, and thanks to Nadia and her complexion, I merely looked like I was traveling with a local.
It didn’t take us very long to arrive at the mall. We paid the driver who asked if we wanted him to wait. I got the impression that most guests of the resort preferred this to hopping in a tricycle not sanctioned by the resort. But Nadia and I had survived Tagaytay, we felt quite equipped to continue to deal with freelance drivers. The first thoughts that hit me when I walked into the mall was how much it felt like a regular old American mall where teenagers would congregate on weekends to perform their mating courtships. The malls of Korea are very different, they are more aesthetically pleasing and art adorns most floors along with intricate curves of halls and staircases. They themselves are works of art. In America we don’t care half as much, and often just have two levels with an escalator to transport the consumers from floor to floor. This was the vibe we got upon entering the Filipino mall, and I was very surprised by how comforting this was. The first floor was a grocery store and we decided to buy wholesale wine, snacks, detergent (to wash our clothes in the sink like the true backpackers we pretended to be), and much to my extreme relief, I found sunscreen. Nadia sat with me on an empty stage in the main portion of the mall as I applied it all over myself. After I reapplied it nearly every hour after, she began to learn about the struggles of the pale people.
After roaming the mall some more, Nadia buying designer perfume at a fraction of the cost back home, beautiful fabric, and roaming a book store that was almost 100% in English, we decided to head to an area Nadia had learned about online. This was well known to have a lot of touristy but nice products for us to roam through. I found a black pearl bracelet for Rachel, my frouple who sadly couldn’t join me as she was trapped in a slave contract. I also found a crocodile tooth bracelet for Min who dropped Nadia and I off at the airport and was holding our winter coats for us while we were away.
We found these unique little trinkets in a small shop where this beautiful young woman worked. She chatted with Nadia and I the whole time we were in the shop. We learned about each other and after we checked out she handed us each a seashell to remember her by. This was answered with a group selfie by Nadia. Puerto Princessa was turning out to have the nicest locals we had yet to meet. Tomorrow we were booked to travel into the Underground River, the main attraction that drew us here. But so far, we were enjoying the relaxing and wonderful island of Palawan.