Philippines – Palawan, Goodbye, farewell, So-long

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. So that’s it, all over for this visit to the Philippines and for a first timer I have to say it wasn’t the resounding success I’d hoped for. El Nido is nothing more than a launch point for those who like to spend time under water and on Island beaches. As any kind of a cultural experience, forget it – unless of course being surrounded by hundreds of boozy Westerners can be considered cultural then its win win!  As already highlighted in the last blog, Puerto Princes turned out actually be a good stay, that is apart from the food rationing going on at the moment. yes, it’s near impossible to persuade food vendors to dish up more than what amounts to about 3 mouthfuls of anything! But now its time to fly off to another country, Malaysia for a couple of days of culinary delights and a rest between flights.

Puerto’s airport is a small, cute little airport, just big enough to handle the 2 morning flights with Cebu, and then Air Asia about an hour later. All is going pretty well until the little man says “terminal fee”. 200 pesos to leave Palawan by air or face a lengthy boat ride to Manila of 29 hours. So, another tax to pay but at least getting into the country was free with just a 30 day passport stamp so its nothing to grumble about. Air Asia to Manila then, a 1 hour flight but no window seat sadly, yes, I’ve slipped up somewhere during the booking process! Next stop then, Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

here’s a few good bye photos. As you can see, airport security isn’t strictly enforced around here!

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Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Palawan, The Verdict

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. When I first arrived here, its fair to say I wasn’t hat impressed with the place but the trip up to El Nido made me realise that actually there is something that I’m missing about Puerto – not the boozy Europeans or raucous Americans, not the incessant traffic and definitely not the food! It’s the people, yes that’s it. Puerto has a genuine warmth, depth of feeling and definitely a local vibe that visitors staying here for a few days will discover and begin to appreciate. All smiles and even a hug, yes a kid runs up to give me a hug as I wandered around the slum area – and if that doesn’t pull at your hart strings, nothing will! Puerto Princesa rocks!

So, as its the last day for me in the Philippines hers a quick rundown on the facts and figures for Puerto Princesa:

Sleeping: At Color Mansion, Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa. 600 pesos per night, double room, air-con, TV with shared bathroom. Google Map 20-25 minutes walking from the airport terminal, 10 minutes walk into downtown.Can pay with credit card. Free coffee in the morning, free boiling water anytime to make your own tea! Email: lorrainelagan@gmail.com for a reservation or use booking.com.

Eating: The food corner at the 0 KM junction. Local food and delicacies, average cost of a meal here is 60 pesos, on Fernandez. (Google Map). Also the food counter opposite Maybank (Google Map) is another source of good local Filipino food and pancakes. A meal here averages 50 pesos, pancakes 10 pesos each.

Transport: Tricycles, around 40 pesos local  journey for a tourist, bargain hard. Multicab vans average 15 pesos to as far as the Northern edge of town. Roro Bus to El Nido is 380 pesos air-con, Cherry bus to El Nido is 450 pesos air-con to El Nido all stopping at Roxas and Taytay. Non air-con buses are slightly cheaper but are packed out normally.

Free Sightseeing: Downtown Market between Rizal and Malvar, near the fish port (Google Map), Cathedral and historical area Western edge of the city (Google Map), See the slum area (Google Map), Hartman Beach (Google Map). Bay front walk, good for sunsets, scenery (Google Map), and local life..

Cheap Sightseeing: Pristine Beach 40 pesos entry  (Google Map). Boat ride across the bay, public ferry, 40 minutes and 35 pesos each way. (Google Map) Good for scenery photos and a look at rustic village life. For serious photography, afternoons offer best lighting conditions.

Tours: Island hopping for the day is 1300 pesos, Underground river 1500 pesos plus tax plus a few other tours out of town, including a visit to a jail house, rides along the river and spotting fireflies. All rather pricey though!

Money: About 65 pesos to £1, banks and ATMs are numerous and all can be found on Rizal in the downtown. (Google Map)

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Philippines – Puerto Pr. to El Nido by Roro Bus

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. Leaves at 10.20 am, 380 pesos, 7 1/2 hours from the San Jose bus station situated on the Northern extremities of Puerto Princesa City. To get there from downtown one has to ride a local three wheeler called a tricycle, a motorbike with a sidecar. Alternatively hop onto a minibus type contraption called a multcab (see photo) – just enough room for a backpack squeezed in among the locals. All this transport is hailed from near the end of the airport runway and the journey upto The bus terminal is about 20 minutes by multi-cab costing 15 pesos. The tricycle will cost around 50 pesos and is a bit quicker of course.
The big green Roro bus to El Nido, one with aircon and one without, both waiting patiently for passengers. The non aircon is packed and leaves first, at 10 am. The bus I’m taking is the aircon version which eventually rolls out at 10.20 am only to stop for another 20 minutes on the highway just outside the city!
A pleasant ride North with plenty of scenery to keep ones attention on the outside. A stop for lunch just outside a town called Roxas – just a quick stop, hardly time to drink the rather expensive instant coffee – yes, fleeced again. 2 bits chicken with rice and the instant coffee, 160 pesos!
Another stop 20 minutes later in the town of Roxas. Up until now the bus was 1/2 full, now its filling up fast. Now is not a good time to leave ones seat, however urgent the call might be. Backpacks and baggage is place down the middle along with the rice and fish- the only thing missing now is chickens and dare I say, a goat!
And to cut a long story short, the bus is packed all the way to El Nido with frequent stops. The bus will also stop when another  Roro passes heading back towards Puerto Princesa – The drivers like to have a five minute chat. A 10 minutes stop at TayTay town but once again leving the seat my mean having to stand for 3 hours until El Nido!.
Arriving El Nido at 5.15 pm, a journey of just under 7 hours. At leat I didn’t have to share space with a chicken or goat and the roads are pretty good. The bus stops outside the village of Coron so its about a 15 minute stomp into El Nido Village/town.

Top Top: When riding a Roro bus, empty your bowls and bladder at the first stop. Don’t leave your seat at any subsequent stops! When riding a multi-cab don’t have anything of value in your pockets.

Here’s a few snaps from the bus on the way to El Nido.

Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Secret City Beach

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines May 2016.  I spotted this beach from about 10 miles away while on yesterdays random boat trip. A reconnaissance photo zoomed in on and its apparent there is some kind of life there. A look at google maps revels a small patch of sand but no name to the place, not even a street name – intrigued and need to investigate!

After some stomping around in a few dead end dirt tracks, eventually  a sign and the mention of a ‘Pristine Beach’ – i’d like to think Filipino and Western definitions of pristine are one of the same! About 200 yards down a track, in places flooded with swamp water from mangroves either side, there is a well kind of beach i suppose at first look – the tide is rather high. “Oh, the beach is behind but you have to pay”, says the pretty young lady. I don’t pay to go on beaches ever – until now! Well, having stomped all this way I’d better see what kind of scenery I get for 75p.

A small, quite cute little beach and yes, it’s actually clean, but I disagree with the ‘pristine’ description! Mostly locals here with picnics and about 20 kids splashing around in the shallow waters. A very nice and cool spot but bring something to eat and drink as the hut serves just a basic range at extortionate prices.

Here’s a look at today’s ‘Secret City Beach’ scenery. About 35 minutes stomp from the city centre and worth the effort. Google Map

Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Worst Eating, Not Quite

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines May 2016. Often the best food is the local common food eaten by everyday folk. Its nearly always the best value for money and tasty too. I will always try to eat with locals. Not only is it good for the budget but gives one a good insight into local flavours. Here, in Puerto Princesa however the local eating scene is turning out to be pretty poor in terms of value for money and sometimes the quality of the food isn’t that great either.

The portions served up here are so small even a double order won’t satisfy the average Western appetite, and I can’t imagine the Filipino’s being that much different. When ordering pork rice, 50% of the pork is pure fat while another 10 %10 is bone and gristle so actually one ends up with just one mouthful!

Look how small this pork rice dish is. I can even scoop it up in the palm of my hand and that’s before removing all the inedible parts! Average price for this dish is 40 pesos, about 75p. I’d say its worth a lot less than that. Sometimes the order will come with soup – salty and often greasy, quite inedible.

Chicken curry and rice, well unsurprisingly that’s another dish  where one gets less than a mouthful of chicken once all the bones have been discarded, and in all cases just a handful of rice..Order a side dish of vegetable and the price shoots up to 60 pesos, about £1.15. By the days end a western appetite here in the Philippines will cost more to satisfy than it does in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and even Cambodia’s Sihanoukville.

Look at how much chicken I got here with this chicken rice dish!

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This poor value is across the town and consistent, although I did find a good meal out of town the other day. Yes, this local mamma could see I needed feeding up and gave me a pretty decent plate food of Jack-fruit and coconut curry – only 40 pesos, 75p. Unfortunately its a long stomp to this place every day, too long!

So, sadly I have to rate this town in the top 3 poor value for money eating places in Asia, in-between Vietnam’s Saigon and Thailand’s Chiang Mai.

The alternatives around here are fast food joints. The high street is crammed with them and they’r popular with locals queuing for that Americana experience. Tourists too are queuing for their Western fast food.

Americana in the Philippines…

 

Philippines – Puerto Princesa, A Random Boat Ride

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. At worst case, I could end up stranded overnight. On the other hand I might find a secret tropical beach, palms and a cool breeze. Today its a random boar ride to destination unknown. These boats leave the fish port (Google Map) quite frequently as I observed when walking around here the other day. Packed with locals ferrying all manor of goods, so at best guess its a ferry service across the bay. The boat boy doesn’t speak English enough to answer any of my questions but thankfully a local informs me its a 45 minute ride, pointing across the bay towards the towering hills.

Everyone gets a life jacket, we’r even made to actually wear it as the coastguard watches over. Then a list is passed around that all passengers need to write their name, age and signature! A formality I haven’t seen in Southeast Asia before.

So, on a boat constructed of bamboo poles tied together with rope, but it feels sturdy enough as it gathers speed and heads across the bay for a 40 minute costing 35 pesos.

Mangingisda (Google Map), that’s the place I’ve arrived at. The good news is I won’t be stranded since the boat is going to wait here until 3.30 pm. That’s enough time for a little stomp around. In a nutshell then, its a village, rustic and sparsely populated.. I can’t actually define a centre as such but here is a primary school so I guess that could be classed as a focal point. The roads are of compacted stone, with the occasional tuk tuk speeding past throwing up dust. Yes, its a pretty rustic place but also its a good look at a significantly different way of life Filipino style.

And so that was a look at rustic village life. Worth the 45 minute boat ride from Puerto Princesa to get an insight into lives of those Filipinos less affluent. The place has no beach sadly, more of a fishing community. The ride back is an opportunity to get a look at Puerto Princesa from a new angle, especially as the afternoon sun highlights the coastal communities there. Boats are frequent: this one left at 1.30 pm and returned leaving the village at 3.30 pm.

Photo of the day, well it just has to be this one I think – what do you think? drop me a line, i like to get comments good or bad 🙂

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Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Riot Squads Out

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. Last minute campaigning by candidates up for election in Mondays country wide poll on who will become the next president of the Philippines. Every commercial break on TV begins with an impassioned political broadcast while the press seem intent on whipping up hysteria with reports of returning to Martial law and how one candidate is seeking a dictatorship!

Here in Puerto Princesa the local campaign trails are loud – vans adorned with loud speakers ply the high street all day long pumping put cleverly adapted well know Western tunes. One such tune which is actually pretty catchy in a Filipino kind of way, is Queens ‘We will Rock you’. The message, well, if only I could understand the local language – Tagalog. Saturday afternoon and the extremely hot weather isn’t deterring crowds from a political rally in the High Street – and right outside my favourite coffee stop!

The speeches are emotional, somewhat aggressive at times before returning back to a gentle impassioned plea for votes – well that’s presumably what this is all about. So far then its all pretty good matured but the riot squad are there, lined up and ready for trouble. Armed police are also in place ready to quell any trouble – but I don’t detect any real dissent at the moment. If it all turns sour I can easily make a run for it, yes I’ve figured out an escape route just in case, but for now I’ll enjoy my coffee and observe Filipino electioneering.

Philippines – Puerto Princesa, A Deserted Beach

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. There are a couple of beach options within stomping distance of the city according to google maps: Kalayaan Beach by the airport runway and Hartman Beach 1/2 a mile further North. As Kalayaan is the closest i’ll head there first and see how the beach shapes up. Its another hot day, actually its getting a little too hot I have to admit, but the thought of a cooling sea breeze later keeps the stomping spirit going full force!

That stomping spirit i mentioned earlier is beginning to wain. Google maps is out of date – the road I need has a new airport being built across it. A detour then leads to a military gatehouse where the guard kindly explains that Kalayaan Beach is a ‘No Go’ area – period. I didn’t argue and somewhat frustrated stomped off in quite a bad mood, I will admit. Oh well, a little more stomping required to find the next beach – hopefully!

Quite a nice walk as it happens along stony  little lanes in a rather picturesque little village called ‘San Miguel’. Wooden houses, palm thatched dotted among the coconut trees. Splendid villas with a distinct continental design and numerous grocery shops along the main street where kids are running around playing games – yes, even in this heat. A look at Filipino village life, the real Philippines I suspect.

Hartman Beach isn’t going to win best Asian beach award, that’s pretty obvious with washed up garbage littering the place. There’s also a carpet of brown weed type vegetation – but underneath it all there is actually white sand! Hike away from the village and the place becomes more sand and less weeds and its deserted, surprising given the place is so close to the city! not a tourist in sight, not even a shack or a beach seller. With the shallow waters reflecting blues and greens, with the coconut palms swaying in the breeze and with the little boats sitting peacefully in the calm its a truly tropical scene. Well worth the long hard hike to get here. Solitude – its just me and the beach, oh and some local kids who want to say hi and pose for photos.

The real Philippines – turquoise sea, beach with some garbage, coconut palms and fishing boats. Oh, and kids playing with their homemade toys, Hartman Beach, San Miguel, Philippines. Google Map.

 

Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Cathedral, School and World War 2

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. The city proper, that’s a term frequently used around here, i guess to differentiate the centre  from the suburbs. After a few days of stomping around the place its quite possible to identify 2 areas of interest – a historical area close to the passenger dock, and the market area close to the fishing dock further along the bay front.

So lets take a quick look at the history since the folks around here have gone to some effort to document 20th century events.Tourists can wander through a little garden where peace and tranquility reign while at the same time discover the horrors of World War 2 on Palawan.

Points to note: look out for falling mango’s and definitely no littering or spitting!

Download and expand the photos to read the text – an interesting insight into Puerto Pr.c’s recent past. The place is easy to find, located next to a Cathedral in downtown.Google Map.

The city has a cathedral, not a particularly grandeur structure in comparison to some in the United Kingdom, but still worth taking a look. Built only recently (1870) the building sits prominently on the city skyline and functions as  an important religious centre for the city’s devout religious followers as well as a tourist attraction.

Looking around the place and visitors will notice a distinct European look in the architecture. Well, the Spanish were occupying the place late 19th Century so its unsurprising thier legacy can be seen in buildings and indeed all the street names and place names have the Spanish treatment applied – names like Rizal, San Jose and of course Puerto Princesa.

The Cathedral is too large for a decent photo but here is a general view.Google Map.

 

Here are a few shots from a nearby school that was closed for the day, but I was able to gain access for a wander around. Here visitors can appreciate the populations religious followings with a youthful outlook!

And to finish, a few general photos of the area.