I was travelling while I was sad- I wasn’t even sure why I was sad. I thought about all the things that had me worried – missing the key people in my life, adjusting back to Philippine culture, getting stressed out over the pretentious lifestyle people paraded over their social media accounts. “Really!” I thought, the Philippines isn’t all beautiful beaches, mountains and upscale malls – it was also potholes, heavy traffic, shanties, and homeless, hungry people.
A friend offered free roundtrip tickets to Palawan so I took the chance. Manila – the city had been stifling me for some time. I bought bikinis and outfits that would look good on camera, I worried about my belly and my double chin but as soon as I got there – my worries started melting away.
It didn’t matter what I wore or how I looked, the island had a way of slowly peeling off anyone’s pretence. The people were genuinely kind – from the time we took a tricycle from the airport to the small roadside carinderia adjacent to the bus station – we were given honest advice, tips, and offers with nothing required in return.
We slept on the overnight bus to El Nido – stopped and helped out a car that had crashed on the highway barriers, arrived at 3 am and was kindly escorted by another tricycle driver to different accommodations until we found a vacancy. We sailed on rough seas with strangers, swam and looked for fish. we had delicious, hearty lunches of barbecued pork, grilled squid and buttered shrimps prepared by our boatmen. It was such a joyful and simple time – and nobody seemed to mind if we had turned darker than usual or that our bellies bloated. We truly enjoyed the magic that came with living by the sea.
It was so easy to fall in love with Palawan. As we bathed one last time on the beach witnessing the sunset, I started dreaming of going back, staying there, figuring out ways on how to live off the island. I made fervent prayers while we rowed quietly inside the ancient caves of the underground river. I will be back, I told myself as we spent our last night on a little boat in the darkness of the Iwahig river, gazing at the fireflies.