Off we went, two weeks ago now, flying from Manila to Busuanga Island, part of the Calamian Island Group in Palawan. I had been near this spot all those years ago, but never here, to Coron Town, so this was something new. Our spirits were high, but our energy was low…the peeps in Manila can out-party me any day of the week, and this time there were two! We celebrated G’s birthday/despedida (as well as J’s homecoming and the first time Baby S made it to her family’s country) over two days, and had only slept about 6 cumulative hours the previous two nights. No worries – we were off to a vacation island to lie about on the beach drinking tuba (palm wine) and getting sunburns and…and…well. It just didn’t work out like that, really.
First things first – I’d been asked to send my Terms of Reference across to the woman with whom I’d met the day before…something I’d not yet endeavored to do. So as Chris and I had left our computers at home under the auspices that this was a holiday and no work should be done, a trip to the local internet cafe was in order. A bit of lunch and then we made our way…only took a couple of hours and it was done. Off we traipsed back to our hostel, Patrik and Tezz Guesthouse, a nipa hut situated on stilts in a residential area of Coron Town. Patrik and Tezz are Swedish – Tezz is 1/2 Pinay – and run a 6-room guesthouse right next to their own place. Tezz’ mom (her Pinay half) is around and helping out as they find their feet, but all in all they’ve got a great thing going. They’re really keen to keep their prices low (we paid Php550, which is about 8 squid, or 13 bucks), and they’re really charming and hospitable. Actually, by the time we’d left we’d formed more of a friendship, I think, than a patron-owner relationship, but I digress…
Day two, and the weather’s not great. Chris and I decide that we’ll take the motorbike to Concepcion, where there’s a waterfall and it’s supposed to be really nice, but as the rain is on and off, and we’ve been warned about really bad roads, we opt to go the other way, toward the easier route to the hot springs. We pass the springs just a bit to go to the locals’ beach further up the road, and while the views are amazing, it’s not exactly great weather, so we swim for a bit but come in to dry off (under the gazebo’s roof as it’s raining) and then make our way to the hot springs. We only had to stop once along the way as the rain got too heavy; for the most part it just drizzled, but definitely no sun.
Arriving back to the guesthouse, we meet A, a U.S. American of Taiwanese descent from Texas who’s been living and working in China for a few years, and W, an Austrian pilot making his way to all the best spots in Southeast Asia (mostly to dive, but not exclusively). These guys, along with Patrik and Tezz, are our saving grace over the next three days, in which it rains. Without letting up. All day and all night. Look – when we were in Scotland it pissed down and that was no problem – we knew we were in Scotland. But this is Palawan, for crying out loud! They almost never have heavy rain like this, and they most definitely miss the typhoons 99% of the time. Sadly, there is still that 1%…So we made plans, and cancelled them, and made them again, but cancelled them in the end. The thing is, there’s nothing to do if it rains that hard…boats won’t go out because it’s just too dangerous, and if you dive, there’s no visibility really, so.
To make matters worse, Chris and I had both had some really bad news. Chris has been working with this international company for a while who had been planning to send him to NYC for a couple of weeks to work on a project – a city he’s always wanted to see, and of course his expenses would have been covered…doesn’t get better than that! And I had heard back from the woman I met with in Germany to say that my Terms of Reference had gone through with no problems and all was well…and then I got a text from her to ask what kind of visa I had, “because if you’re on a tourist visa we can’t hire your services.” Ahem. OK. Well, I am on a tourist visa, so…”Is there any way you could get it changed?” And then Chris gets an email to say that his NY trip had fallen through because the client will need more work done than they’d originally planned, and he just wouldn’t have enough time before we make our way back to France…so far, not such a good trip.
On the fifth day the rain finally let up long enough to get out on a boat, and so Chris and W went diving while I went along for the sun and a bit of a swim. Chris hadn’t been out diving for 7 years, so he was a bit nervous, but he’d had some time on the rainy preceding days to read up a bit and refresh, and his guide (from Rocksteady Dive Center) was working his way steadily toward his 5000th dive, so it was all good. He did two dives – Lusong Gunboat and Morozan Maru, 20 and 22 meters respectively – both of which were sunken Japanese warships from WWII. He had a blast, and the weather was really nice in the end…the boat ride itself was lovely, too, and they made us an incredible lunch along the way.
And while the weather did seem to be making a change for the better, there was still this chance of me getting my visa changed, and someone we’d met had a pretty tight connection at immigration, so we thought it would be best if we could get out to Manila a day earlier. Our flight to Busuanga had been only about 1/2 full, so we thought it would be no problem, but just to be safe we went first thing in the morning to the airline office. Coron Town has no electricity between 1:00 am and 1:00 pm, so these guys informed us that they were unable to tell us if either of the two flights that day had seats available. They informed us we would just need to make the 45 minute trip out to the airline and ask there. Still, we thought, it’s a really slim chance the flight would be fully booked…indeed. Got all the way there, and sure enough – fully booked. Tried to get another flight with another airline – super expensive (Php6500 – like staying in Coron Town for another week!). So we made our way back to the hostel, feeling about as bummed as we had at any point on our trip…not only did we not get to Manila a day early as we’d hoped – and thought would be so easy – but we lost another precious day of good weather, because by the time we got back it was well past 3:00 pm…sigh.
Next day was uneventful…made our way back to Manila and to the cheapest hostel we could find within close proximity of Immigration – Friendly’s Guesthouse – which is relatively clean and reasonably priced (we paid Php900 for a tiny room with a bed and a nightstand), but the sleep wasn’t great because there was: a. no screen on the window; b. an overwhelming stench of mildew in the room; c. an air conditioner from 1973 that was as loud as a jackhammer right there in the room with us; and of course d. all that niggling stress about my meeting at Immigration the next day.
Which did not go well. I mean, at first it did – the guy I met with was so kind, and he spoke with some other people, and they all thought I should fill out this form, and here were the documents I’d need to submit with them, and I could get it notarized for free downstairs…so I rushed through completing the form, getting passport pics taken, photocopying this that and the other, and texting the woman I’d met with to let her know what they’d need to send across. Nearly there, I was, and then realized that this was for a company – as in a business – and of course this organization is governmental, so none of this stuff applies to them, and when I was finally able to make this make sense to the connect at Immigration, it turned out that actually I would need to apply for sponsorship from the department of the Philippine Government with whom the organization has their bilateral agreement, which the woman I’d met with had known from the outset, but was hoping we could get through some of the red tape somehow…
What a bummer. And that was that. Got a taxi back to the airport, wanting nothing more than for this horrible vacation to be over once and for all! But now we’re back, and we made it through, and with any luck, that’ll be the worst holiday we ever have…