Exploring Palawan, day 5: just keep swimming

We came, we saw, we conquered the Underground River. Now, Honda Bay is beckoning.

I was both pumped and disappointed waking up that day: it was our Honda Bay tour, which meant this was our last tour in Palawan. But the excitement got the better of me as I got ready and roused everyone else up.

There was still nary a strip of bacon at breakfast, so I stuck with yesterday’s options. After eating, we waited a little longer for our guide, who turned out to be May too. As we hit the road, she told our group, plus a few other tourists (including Cornelo again), we’d be going to two of Honda Bay’s islands: Isla Pandan and Luli Island. Originally, the itinerary had Starfish Island and Cowrie Island in place of Isla Pandan but, she said, they decided to ditch those since Isla Pandan was actually miles better than the other two (making it a bit more expensive as well). An entire day of sun, snorkeling, fish feeding, swimming, and sunbathing was to be had. I was born of this.

But first, we needed the right gear. They drove us to the rental shop where we each got goggles and snorkels. May had mentioned earlier that the beach we were going to had a lot of stone fish and sea urchins, both of which are pretty dangerous should we accidentally step on them, so she advised that we rent aqua shoes too, which everyone did (except me; I already had my own). After buying some bread to feed to the fish (and to ourselves should we get hungry), we were back on the road again and it wasn’t long until we were at the pier, where we finally found ourselves on a boat bound for Isla Pandan.

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Once there, we found our hut and got settled. With the blue waters, white sand, and towering palm trees, the place looked like a “wish you were here” postcard. Seriously, it’s one of those places you’d literally write home about on a postcard with a picture of it in front. Of course, the picture in your postcard would be crawling with tourists, but it didn’t make the place any less scenic.

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Forced perspective: our ‘castle’ was actually a structure about a foot tall

Like a mother hen, May advised us to keep our aqua shoes on, stay within the safe zone (there’s this area where swimmers aren’t supposed to go beyond because there’s a sudden drop in the ocean floor), and to be back for lunch, which she would be preparing for us.

We hadn’t even waded three feet into the water when we saw fish. Silvery, colorful, stripey, spotted fish. Lots of them. The water was so clear you didn’t even have to stick your head in it to see them. Unbelievable. We hurriedly snapped our goggles on to get a better look.

The feeding was just as much a treat to me as it was for them. Imagine having these things just inches from your face as they tore apart the pieces of bread I had with me. A couple of times, I actually felt them nibble on my fingers (No, I didn’t imagine it; I felt teeth), so I resorted to breaking off little bits and letting them float in front of me so the feeding frenzy could continue and I could keep my digits.

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Don’t worry, we put Patrick back into the water right after this shot

After a while, we decided to go a bit further to where the corals actually were so we could see more fish. Dai, Dani and AJ were on a mission to stay afloat while almost dragging each other down. Con had other plans: he was on a mission to find Nemo to get him on video, and since I kept swimming far to the deeper parts of the water, I coaxed him to come with me so we could try to find the little devil. A lot of Dorys, a couple of Gils, but no Nemo. We gave up and moved on to searching for stone fish and sea urchins because we fancied ourselves this trip’s Steve Irwins. We did spot a few of the spiky fuckers hiding in the corals, but no stone fish. Doesn’t matter; we had an amazing time pointing at and taking videos of whatever we found there. (Con would later tell me he would have mini heart attacks everytime he resurfaced and couldn’t find me because I was still under water. Turns out, he was a bit nervous being so far from the others, afraid something would drag him down.)

By noon, we were hungry so we headed back to the hut where May was just finishing setting up our feast. It was an unbelievable spread, and we showed May our appreciation by charging at it like wolves. Cornelo bought even more seafood from the stall nearby which he shared with everyone, so we were pretty much immobile by the time we were done.

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We wanted to spend a bit more time in the water after eating, but May informed us (with a slight hint of annoyance) that a couple of the tourists we were with had a flight to catch in the afternoon so we had to move fast. Sons of bitches. Why would you book a tour just a few hours before your flight? May said they really don’t accept that kind of arrangement, but they were informed too late. Disappointed, we just took a few more photos, packed up and took the boat to Luli Island.

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Luli Island is actually pretty much a sand bar named after the Tagalog phrase “lulubog, lilitaw” because of the way it sinks (lubog) and resurfaces (litaw) depending on the tide. On the day we were there, there was only a narrow strip of sand surrounded by blue waters where we could swim and encounter fish too.

The water here was even deeper, and there were fewer types of fish, but a lot were bigger than the ones in Pandan. They didn’t seem to be responding well to the bread, so I didn’t bother. I did nibble on some of them (the bread, not the fish) when I got hungry.

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About an hour later, it was time to go again. I’m pretty sure May would have let us stay a bit longer had it not been for our special guests (can you sense the sarcasm?). But that was OK; as we were getting ready to leave, the sky was graying again and sure enough, we rode the boat back to the pier shivering from the freezing rain water. It was so cold, we actually requested that the van’s air conditioning be turned off during the drive back. Before parting ways with our group, we agreed to meet Cornelo for dinner that night.

Since it was our last day (and since the rain had slowed to a slight drizzle), we finally decided to try the pool. I swam a couple of laps before heading back to the room to wash off the day’s grime. When everyone was cleaned up, we headed to this bar and restaurant called Kinabuch, where we met Cornelo, ate, and talked until we felt sleep starting to wash over us. We said our goodbyes to Cornelo and went back to Palawan Uno.

After packing up most of my stuff (I didn’t want to end up rushing the next day since we had an early flight back to Manila), I fell into bed like a ton of bricks. My muscles were a bit sore from trying to stay afloat while snorkeling (everyone wore a life vest except me; I just found it easier to swim without one) and I knew they’d be screaming bloody murder tomorrow, but I’d go back to Isla Pandan in a heartbeat.

Coming up:
Day 6, or: how I learned to deal with going back to Manila and love our video

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