As above, so below

Spent the first couple of weeks of the new year kicking it in Palawan.

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Took a plane to Puerto Princesa, then a 6-hour van ride all the way to southernmost El Nido where the beaches are world-renowned and magnificent. There’s a laminated NY Times article on a billboard right on a beachfront to inform everyone of that fact.

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I mean, the article wasn’t wrong.

Random interesting trivia: there’s a bug that infects mangoes in Palawan. Authorities suspect that the bug was introduced by a foreigner who might have smuggled a foreign mango through a port. Now this bug supposedly makes its nest in the mango flowers, and matures when the flower turns into a fruit. So you get what seems to be a nice, perfect-looking yellow mango, then you slice it open and everything inside is black. And a fully-formed bug flies out of the fruit.

Because of this, there’s an imposed quarantine on the road, some sort of border between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. Apparently El Nido mangoes aren’t infected yet. The outside skin could be blotchy, but the inside of the fruit is fine.

Ain’t nature grand?

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El Nido is a sleepy beach side town with a big ass mountain looming over it. It was great.

I spotted a sign announcing a job opening for a surgeon’s assistant and all it required was for the applicant to be older than 21 years of age and have at least 2-years of college education. And a pleasing bedside manner. I’ve got 2 out of 3, but I briefly, seriously, considered it.

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Look, a Jew Pirate ship.

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The town itself has become a sort of tourist trap where a bottle of local brew goes for double the price it’s sold in Manila, but that’s understandable. The place is great, it becomes popular, people come visit in droves, and business booms.

I’ve always found that befriending locals gives one a different perspective on a place. Found out that the big restaurants that cater to tourists are always given first pick at seafood in the markets, leaving the residents with scraps.

The secret, residents said, was to buy direct from local fishermen and not to haggle too much on the price. That way, one avoids the restaurateurs who buy in bulk, and the fishermen cut out the middle men who skim off the profits to pay for their spot in the markets. Support the local community, y’all.

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I met a young pastor living in El Nido. Said he was born and raised in Boracay. I asked him why he moved– he was already in Boracay! Best island in the world, wasn’t it? Dubbed by Conde Nast Traveler itself.

The pastor spun me a tale of how he put up a restaurant in the Boracay beachfront. The Boracay he knew growing up was a quiet island with people who lived simply. Then the tourists came in and the parties started. Soon, he had many friends who hung out with him just because he owned a restaurant in the greatest island in the world. And the drugs came in and he ruined his life.

So now he was a pastor. He moved to El Nido 8 years ago to try and find the quiet island life he knew, but now El Nido was steadily bringing in the tourists and the parties and the drugs.

He wasn’t kidding. First day on the beach, a dealer was trying to sell me overpriced shwag weed, the sort that would’ve been laughed at in Manila. The foreigners were buying it all up.

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Time to get out of town and explore the other islands then.

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I went camping in a semi-empty island with nothing but my tent, a jacket, and a bag of marshmallows. I stopped smoking in December, so I didn’t have any matches or a lighter on me. That first night in that island brought out perseverance and bull-headed stubbornness outta me, as I made a fire with sticks, the way Scooby Doo taught me.

When I got that fire going, I felt like fucking Prometheus.

The next day, a couple of fishermen asked if I was all right. By this point, I was sick of marshmallows. They asked if I wanted to learn how to dive for shellfish.

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Yep.

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Check it, lato. It’s a particular seaweed that you can harvest, add some garlic and onions, a dash of vinegar, and turn into a salad.

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Diving for shells is hard work.

I got three pieces in five hours. The fishermen got more, including this monster. Diving goggles for scale.

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Just before I left Palawan, I spotted a poster in the airport. It featured several species of shells that one should not take out of Palawan or attempt to buy because these were endangered. Yeah, that particular shell was on the poster. BUT we harvested that monster to feed ourselves and the fishermen’s families, and we threw the shell back into the sea. The fishermen said new mollusks find the discarded shell and live in it again so there was nothing to worry about. The circle of life.

Anyway, we took what we found and brought it to the firshermen’s wives. The cooked up a storm. Adobong shell, or whatever they call it, proving the old adage true that anything can cooked in the adobo way.


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An unimpressed beach dog.

While I was mooching off the good will of the fishermen, I got to talk to their wives and kids. There were two kids– cousins, I think– 5 and 7 years old, their hair turned brown because of the constant sea water and sun. I tagged along the fishermen’s boats while they made their rounds and talked to the kids about how goddamn beautiful their islands were.

Every day, the kids would accompany their fathers around these islands. These glorious mountains. These wonderful sunrises and sunsets. They would feast on the freshest sea food direct from the ocean. I saw them one afternoon playing with a freaking man o’ war jellyfish, pulling out its electric tentacles with their bare fingers and using the jelly head like a volleyball. They were growing up with paradise at their sandy front door.

The kids were like, “Meh. Tell us about the train in Manila.” @_@

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Headed back to El Nido to meet up with my family.

Came across my pastor friend again who introduced us to a couple of local boys who were about to trek up a mountain. This mountain, in fact. And would we be interested to tag along?

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What they didn’t tell us is that El Nido’s mountains are 80% sheer vertical climb, and the jagged sharp rocks are made of limestone, perfect for cutting into palms and knees.

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At the foot of the mountain is a bog that we had to cross. Never seen a bog before.

Photos that are not posted include the death-defying climb. The local dudes said it would take us 30 mins tops. They were liars who enjoyed seeing us suffer.

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The view from the top was unparalleled, however.

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