Knife in one hand and a fork in the other, I ate my pizza. My eyes focused in on my Drishti, or focus point that happened to be the wall. Baby cockroaches scurrying across the wall were challenging my focus. Where the fuck has my pizza addiction brought me, I thought to myself. It was 8:00 P.M. and the only accommodation I booked for the entire trip fell through. I was in the country not even four hours, and I fell madly in hate with the city of Manilla.
I asked a kind employee of Cockroachland where is a place that I can stay. Thank God everyone spoke English. She pointed me into the direction of the City of Dreams, a bougie hotel mega-complex with a casino. I sauntered in and knew I did not deserve to be there. At my age, the only thing that should be hanging from the ceilings is Grateful Dead tapestries, not chandeliers. But in I walked to the front counter where I met my Manillan savior, Miguel. Miguel hooked it up. He gave me a free upgrade to one of the nicest suites and booked me a flight to Palawan the next day. I supplied my credit carded and decided not to look at the bill.
After an afternoon of waiting for a delayed flight, I was happy to be in Puerto Princessa. It was the second of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Even though it’s a marketing scheme, it’s my personal quest to check them all out.
The underground river is a trip. It’s a HUGE cave and complex ecosystem. We had to listen to a prerecorded tour with our one sided earbud to omit noise pollution. It left me with my mouth gaping open, something the audio recording reminded us not to do because of bat poop. It was simply stunning even though everything had slight Christian undertones. There were so many stalagmites and stalactites named after Jesus, I felt like I was in church. Nonetheless, it was amazing.
I spent the rest of my trip in El Nido.
My favorite day was island hopping. I choose tour A because my drunk neighbor recommended it. My favorite part of traveling was meeting other spunky travelers. I met a couple of guys from Israel that were the life of the party. They took epic pictures and shared all their snacks while the Americans hid theirs. Cultural differences.
I swam, snorkeled, and forced people to take pictures of me on a boat. I made fun of some girl sticking out her butt for pictures which made the crew laugh. It made me feel less bad telling them how to take pictures from strategic angles.
I saw tons of parrotfish, triggerfish, and a clownfish so big, Finding Nemo lied to us. I also saw a lot of dead coral. It made me sad to think what was once one of the most biodiverse places in the world was ruined by tourism. It made me think twice about where I want to go next and what the kind of impact I want to have (and not have) on this planet.
Things that I learned on this trip: I am an ok packer. I wore everything I brought but I regretted not bring my Chacos. Those shoes ruined my life in Vietnam, but they would have been ideal for island hopping. If I go to the Philippines again I would not go to Manilla. I would scuba dive every day and I would plan a loose itinerary in advance. I didn’t plan that well, so I ended up staying in El Nido longer than I wanted. I wish that I was more ambitious and explored another island. I do appreciate the experience and have learned for my next trip.