It’s crowded. There are so many people in the small island that there’s even moderate vehicular traffic along the small main road behind the beachfront properties, which would have been unthinkable decades ago. And should that make you shake your head in disbelief, you can get some comfort from a cheeseburger in McDonald’s or a latte in Starbucks. Okay, time to pick up your jaw from the sand, Boracay-visitors-from-long-ago. Oh, let’s not forget the lumot (algae) that stain the clear waters particularly in the summer months when the tourists come in droves. With so many people jostling for a piece of this paradise, it’s easy to tell yourself, I won’t ever go back. I shouldn’t have gone back.
My sister is heading off to Palawan in a few days and while I know she’ll be spending a large part of it writing and meditating, here are a few things she (or anyone with Palawan plans) should try in the country’s ‘last frontier.’
1) Island-hopping. As Palawan is composed of more than 1,700 islands, you can spend days hopping from one powdery white beach or rocky cove to the next. If you’re heading to its capital of Puerto Princesa, Honda Bay is the most convenient group of islands that can provide the requisite, sun, sand and surf. To make the trip even more convenient, you can book a tour with the inn or hotel you’re staying in (which we did through Casa Linda–more details on that at the end) as they usually have their own recommended tour groups. It comes out around a couple of hundred pesos more expensive, but it means being picked up by a van to take you to Brgy. Sta. Lourdes, which is 12 km away from the capital, where the boats to Honda Bay are docked; having a designated boat for the island-hopping; no worries about the different entrance fees of the islands (admittedly though, most are cheap at P50 per person); and being served lunch on the beach. Of course, this also means traveling with a group of strangers, but if you’re feeling sociable, it’s a great way to meet other travelers.
We spent the entire day either soaking in the sun or wading in the waters in front of Pandan Island, Snake Island (my favorite for its two-kilometer stretch of sandbar), and Starfish Island (where we did see some starfish).
Whenever the day gets too hot and I’m stuck in front of my desk beating a deadline while being distracted by the heat and a blue sky devoid of clouds, begging to be enjoyed outdoors, I do either of these two simple things: I lie on the bed and imagine I’m lying on the beach (it’s hot enough in the room, anyway) or I stay seated and still imagine I’m on the beach. Among my favorite spots to revisit in my head are the many enchanting islands of Palawan, the clear, blue waters of Boracay (more than a decade ago when it wouldn’t have that long streak of green algae and seaweed during peak season), and the idyllic little island of Siquijor.
Unfortunately, when you mention Siquijor, Filipinos don’t immediately think beach destination. That goes to the likes of Boracay, Cebu, Palawan, Panglao, Pagudpud… it’s a long list before you hear Siquijor. And when you do hear its name, it’s often followed by inquiries on magic potions and shamans, witches and aswang. When we went there summer of last year for a few days to visit my sister who was spending some months in her friend’s house to finish her book, we didn’t see, hear or feel anything of the supernatural sort. We were not looking for it, anyway.
What we found was a beautiful and sleepy island, without a lot of restaurants or internet cafés. No nightlife for the partying crowd. Not a lot of cars or jeepneys on the road, not even a gasoline station (Whoops, my bad! There is one gasoline station but most people do get their gasoline in stores that sell it by the bottle.). It didn’t matter. All we were looking for was a quiet stretch of white sandy beach where the hours went idly by and we found it in Siquijor.