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Erlittop Garden, Sibaltan, El Nido
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Our next stop on the island of Palawan called for us to head north to the town of El Nido. We booked a small B&B nestled on the northeastern coast of the island called Erlittop Garden. The most recommended way to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa was a van transfer (pretty harmless, right?). A 15 passegner van picked us up mid day in Puerto Princesa - we were the first ones to be picked up for the journey. The van didn’t take long to suddenly feel cramped and claustrophobic. We went from stop to stop and slowly the 15 passenger van began to fill up with other tourists, locals, and what looked like deliveries that needed to head north as well. With the van now full, we were ready for our six hour trek up north. Those next six hours were probably the most frightening six hours I’ve ever experienced. We were on a single lane highway with no speed limits and a driver who drove like he was in a Nascar race, except this race included dodging stray dogs, weaving around jeepneys, motorbikes, and at times gaping holes in the middle of the road. With each turn and each hill we went over, my grip on the handle and seat tightened more and more. It also didn’t help that the proximity of the road to the mountainside cliffs that led into the ocean was practically nonexistent. To make matters even more nerve racking, we drove through a tropical rainstorm as the entire island was feeling effects of Typhoon Basyang that was currently over the southeastern part of the Philippines at the time. It was absolutely terrifying but at the same time exhilarating. I don’t know how the driver could see in the downpour but he was just trekking along. I just had to close my eyes and pray. We had a few stops on the way to break up the anxiety of the trip, but by that time the ride was just more fun to see if we were actually going to make it to El Nido. Thankfully we did.

We dropped off passengers in the main tourist area of El Nido, which was on the western coast. We, on the other hand, had another hour east to travel to our accommodations at Erlittop Garden. It was a long treacherous trip but we finally arrived. It was pitch black dark when we arrived, and we had no idea where we were but we were just glad to be alive and out of that van. We followed a dimly lit, steep stair path that led us to their welcome/dining area, and we were quickly greeted with warm hospitality from all of the staff. They arranged welcome drinks and a delicious dinner as we waited for our room to be prepared. A calamansi shake and a Red Horse paired well with a fresh vegetable salad and a pork sisig. After dinner and some general information, they led us to our room down a path of perfectly arranged stepping stones. We gazed at the tall trees that lined the path, while walking by various tents and open air huts. We could barely see with the sparse lighting and our phone flashlights. We got to our room and it hit us - we were on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the jungle, sleeping in a mosquito net, next to a gigantic lizard who so thoughtfully greeted us. It all started to sink in as we stood in our room, enjoying the last bit of light as the electricity allotment for the B&B was coming to an end for the day. We were definitely out of our comfort zone.

Welp, as you probably could have guessed, no, that was not the best night of sleep I have ever gotten. We were hot. We were sweaty. There was zero breeze. And of course, there was our large reptile friend watching over us all night. It was definitely one of the longer nights I’ve experienced. We did finally catch a break in the wee hours of the morning when the storm from earlier came back around. The winds and rain picked up, giving us a bit of relief from the heat. All different types of sounds were coming through the bamboo windows and the mosquito net was the only thing keeping us safe. What. A. Night. What a day!

Morning came. We survived. Everything was calm and everything was beautiful. Suddenly everything was at peace. Erlittop was our beautiful home for the next two days. The grounds were gorgeous. The different huts were spread across the mountainside and surrounded by abundant greenery. There were hammocks and gazebos placed throughout. Stray dogs and chickens roamed around the property while travelers from all over the world did the same. The staff was welcoming and friendly as our favorites, Albert and Kasey, always made sure we were taken care of throughout our stay. The food was great and we were extremely thankful for the strong Wifi at the welcome center, as we planned our next activities for the coming days. The views were simply amazing overlooking the Sibaltan Bay. We were in a different world. I will have to admit, we were quite a bit unprepared for this rustic experience and yet, it was everything we were hoping it would be. Some of our best stories came from our time at Erlittop, and at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Puerto Princesa, Palawan
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After a couple days spent in BGC catching up with family and getting over our jet lag, we were off to start our journey to the island province of Palawan. When we flew into Manila earlier in the week, it was in the middle of the night and there was nothing but darkness out of our windows. For this trip we had an early morning flight and our eyes were glued to the window the entire time. The endless blue seas highlighted the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago of the Philippines - it was simply a sight to see. The short one hour flight was certainly not enough time for us to take in the beauty that 30,000 feet above the ground could provide.

We arrived to the City of Puerto Princesa or “The City of the Living God”. This was our first experience without the guidance of my parents, and without the comfort of the city life we got accustomed to in BGC. We touched down and immediately noticed the removal of the high rises, the bustling businesses and most importantly, the excruciating traffic of Manila. Just like that, everything was different - it felt like we were across the world in a completely new land. It was slow, the air was fresh and it felt like we traveled back in time. There were roads that weren’t paved, undeveloped areas, old buildings and lush greenery. We grabbed the first tricycle we saw (which is the best mode of transportation, by the way, and so much fun) and we took a short ride to our hotel, the Blue Lagoon, which was located right on the main street of Rizal Avenue. We settled in and immediately got right to exploring the city.

Rizal Avenue runs right through the city, it was about a 3 mile stretch from end to end. The day was absolutely beautiful and the sun was beating down. We walked the streets, observing all of the different businesses, local restaurants and people. We came across a few blocks of different markets and vendors. You could buy a fake Supreme shirt, freshly caught fish and freshly baked pandesal all at the same time. There was anything you could possibly need (and want!). We wandered over to the west end and found the City Baywalk Park. It was a beautiful landmark that housed a sense of eeriness. We couldn’t quite tell if the park was abandoned or just not open yet. Nonetheless, we had the entire park to ourselves to take in the views that overlooked the mouth of the Sulu Sea. There was nothing but silence, a light breeze and stunning views. What a blessing it was to be there, we were able to sit in peace and take in everything.

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We walked back down Rizal Avenue and visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where to our surprise there was a mass being conducted. We visited Plaza Cuartel, which was a Japanese controlled military fort during WWII. In 1944, American POW’s were tortured and eventually killed by their capturers, later becoming known as the Palawan Massacre. The Plaza looked like an ordinary park, but with its dark and devastating history, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming somberness.

We finally arrived back to our hotel for a quick nap and a refresh.

We only had one night to enjoy Puerto Princesa, for we had an early morning trek to El Nido the next morning. After doing some TripAdvisor research, we found our must go to’s for the evening. Our first stop was for coffee at Eightynine Cafe. What an awesome find. I think we missed it the first time we walked by. It was a small, modern cafe that could’ve been found in any big city, but instead was nestled in the small town of Puerto Princesa. I had to get the instagram worthy Rain Cloud Coffee. They bundled a cotton candy “cloud” above a hot cup of coffee where the steam from the coffee made it “rain” into the mug. It was awesome! We ventured a couple streets down to Haim Chicken for dinner. This was a large outdoor restaurant full of local art, with smoke from the kitchen grills flooding the air. We ordered Fresh Lumpia and the best Lumpia Veggie Shanghai I’ve ever had. We followed that up with the famous Haim Spicy Chicken Leg and Pancit Bihon. Absolutely delicious. It was the perfect way to end our short time spent in such a great little city. Day one down of our island hopping adventure, and we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us ahead.

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The Motherland

Have you ever seen that "Master of None" episode where Dev and Brian discuss their heritage and their parents upbringing? That episode is a perfect representation of how I've always felt growing up. I am Filipino, yet so much has been unknown to me about my own heritage, about being Filipino. Growing up I never took the time to learn about where my parents are from, it was never a real priority as a kid. I never knew how my parents grew up and their entire journey of how they got to the United States. Yeah I've heard bits and pieces and different stories about them and the Philippines as a whole, but I feel like I've always taken my parents for granted and what they've accomplished in their lives. I feel like as normal human beings living our own lives we all take our parents for granted in some sort of fashion. How well do we really know our parents? I know that my parents are from the Philippines, but to be blatantly honest, I really know nothing about the Philippines. I've always had our famous Filipino pride but what does that really mean??  For so long it has always been on my list to travel to my parents' homeland and in February of this year all the cards aligned. Timing, finances, work, just everything lined up and my girlfriend and I were blessed to make the journey all the way around the world to the Motherland of the Philippines. In the next few weeks I'll be posting our journey and trek all the way across the world. Follow along on the blog and subscribe!