Sunday, November 12, 2006

Day Four: Falling in Love

We have time only for breakfast (our usual meal of longaniza, unlimited scrambled eggs, hot cocoa, mangoes, French toast) and last-minute packing before we’re off to the airport already. Raymond, one of the hotel owners, drives us and we gush about the place, the total ambience of it, the location, the warm staff. The Lonely Planet was definitely right.

I spot a handicrafts store in the airport and find that it is only slightly more expensive than the market. That’s one more nice thing about this place – the people seem to be really honest and not the type to take advantage even if it’s so obvious you’re a tourist and do not know the first thing about tricycle fares or the prices of products. So I buy a scrapbook made of cogon and banana leaves and this dazzling lamp made from coconut shells and marbles. I’ve previously bought this bamboo stick with pebbles inside that make this soothing sound when you flip it over. It’s called a rainmaker, used by ethnic tribes to ask the gods for rain, and also doubles as a musical instrument. When I travel I love finding these things that I wouldn’t see anywhere else. It’s like you can bring a piece of the place with you when you go home.

Needless to say, we all fall in love with Palawan. We would miss our walks along the bay at night, and all around town too. It feels like Tagbilaran with all the old houses and buildings, the distinctly provincial charm, not too commercialized like Bora, no cabs even. But it feels safe, too, with street lamps everywhere and locals and tourists enjoying the fountains that are on even at night, or just out on the baywalk smelling the salty breeze. We will miss Alma and Jay (the waiter from Tribu who told Yosh stories about his son who was Yoshi’s age), Honda Bay, Ka Lui, and all of the friends Yoshi made in all the places we visited.

There are times when words fail you bcoz everything is just too perfect. This is one of them.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Day Three: Puerto Princesa

We could have taken the Underground River tour. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and we did wanna see the Vietville that Regie was raving about (mainly for the bread sold there). But we were discouraged by the hour-long bumpy ride, plus no one in our family really is the spelunking type. So we take the city tour instead.

It starts off with the Palawan Museum, where Yoshi is freaked out by the mannequins wearing traditional costume. (Mannequins are among the few things we can scare him with when he’s being naughty, which is, like, 24/7.) We move on to Plaza Cuartel where several American soldiers were burned by Japs with a few escaping by swimming to Iwahig. Across the plaza is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which looks a lot like San Sebastian Church. Too bad it wasn’t open that day. I love the look and feel of ancient churches.

Iwahig is the farthest thing you can imagine from Alcatraz (think Murder in the First with Kevin Bacon). It’s like one big farm and the minimum security prisoners live in huts with their families, catch crabs, play badminton, and sell their handicrafts and prison shirts along the road. Yoshi even got to play catch with some kids, who go to school there too. It’s still a sad place tho. The desperation of the prisoners is palpable.

Next stop is The Crocodile Farm where we see the most number of baby and adult crocodiles ever. The boys have so much fun holding and posing with this baby crocodile with only a rubber band clamping its jaws shut. Ches explains something like, the crocodile’s muscles for opening its mouth are weak so that a mere rubber band can hold it shut, it’s the muscles for closing the mouth that are strong hence the impossibility of extricating something once bitten already. (Mental note: Sweetly suggest to Ches to spend his time giving me a massage instead of digging up all these totally useless info on crocodiles.)

I can’t wait to get out of that place. I can’t help thinking that the crocodiles might stage a mutiny any moment and scramble out of their cages and swallow us all. Hel-lo. It’s entirely possible.

We proceed to the Butterfly Garden which is like paradise with all the flowers and greens and butterflies of all colors landing on your shoulders and palm. The first unfortunate butterfly that Yosh successfully catches dies a sudden and painful death bcoz he promptly and with sadistic glee crunches its head and wings before Ches and I can even yell “NO!” Groan. I have a son who’s a murderer at the ripe old age of three.

We also drop by the late Ramon Mitra’s ranch which offers a spectacular view of Honda Bay. I think it’s a nice gesture on the part of the family to open it up to the public and for free, too. Our last stop is Bakers’ Hill, which has a bakery famous for its hopia and a resto. The place is one big compound with the owner putting up as the main attraction huge statues of Snow White, Marilyn Monroe, Bugs Bunny, dinosaurs and other animals, Santa and the Snowman. Yoshi is in heaven.

Alma brings us back to the hotel and exchanges a long and tearful hug with Yosh. Yosh treated her as tho she was his Ate Ann’s substitute in Palawan. He would hold her hand and cling on to her and bring her stuff to show off or make her go with him so he can point something out. And she all too gladly obliged. For me, she embodied all the good in the Pinay – intelligent, affectionate, well-groomed.

We have dinner in Badjao Seafront resto. A bit out of the way but worth the trip if only for the ambience – all wood again, and jutting out into the bay – and the stuffed eggplant. Yoshi is happier here than in Ka Lui bcoz they serve fried chicken. It’s all he eats in Palawan, plus mango shake. I remember in Bora last year all he had the whole trip was scrambled eggs. Well at least it goes to show his tastes got a little bit (just a teeny weeny bit) more sophisticated.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Day Two : Honda Bay

We start off early for our Honda Bay island-hopping tour. We are picked up by Alma from Sanctuary Tours. Yosh has a hard time pronouncing her name and alternately calls her Ate Elma or Ate Melba, but they’re best friends by noon (naturally).

We pass by a rough road on the way to the pier and Yosh remembers how I used to drive like that with the car getting all bumpy when I started driving lessons with Ches. Grrr. Toddlers are too honest for their own good.

We take the 45-minute boat ride to our first stop, Snake Island, and Alma points to us the many islands that surround us, including where Dos Palmas is at a distance. Snake Island has maybe five small huts and a small store where two caretakers spend the night. It’s the ideal place for snorkeling, which Ches excitedly joins in, with our able guide Butoy holding his hand in the deeper end. I do a bit of it too but am too much of a scaredy cat to go where the corals and bigger fishes are. Am content just standing at knee-deep water and letting the small fishes come to me as I feed them bread. Yoshi is perfectly happy being a good boy and staying by the shore playing with his bucket and shovels and trying to throw all the sand back into the water. (Good luck to you, sweetie : ) )

Alma prepares for us a buffet lunch of prawns, squid, itlog na maalat and inihaw na liempo. Regie is right. Lunch in Honda Bay is da best. I share my food with this large polka-dotted dog that looks so tame and sweet and who responds when I call her Spiffy.

We look like long-lost relatives of Oprah Winfrey by the time we leave Snake Island after lunch. The boys are especially burned, with Yoshi looking like a golden lechon de leche and Ches vaguely resembling some African aborigine in a National Geographic cover : ) I’m just happy to get a healthy-looking tan to cover up my usual wan and anemic aura.

We proceed to Starfish Island, where we were the only humans around save for the caretaker who’s playing a drum, probably to create some semblance of a noise in the otherwise completely uninhabited island. Butoy swims off somewhere and promptly produces five big starfishes to our immense delight. It’s our first time to see starfishes as big and brown as these. They look just like ceramic decors but turn them around and you see their five arms gobbling up little shells and sand. Our favorite pictures for the entire trip are those with the lovely starfishes. (Of course Yoshi is more interested in trying to drown them with water from his bucket than in agreeing with his parents’ pleas to pose with the darned things …)

Ches goes off with Butoy again for more snorkeling. Yosh is caught up in his own world (pretending that the sand in his bucket is noodles that he’s cooking for merienda). And as for me, well, floating around and around the clear waters and looking up at the blue, blue skies, I’m as far away as possible from the drudgery and broken dreams of my everyday existence.

We all fall in love with Starfish Island. Alma informs us that there used to be a resort there where you could stay overnight, but they took it down and the place will soon be developed by the owners of Dos Palmas. I’m not sure if that’s entirely for the better. I hate to think what commercialization and crowds of rowdy tourists would do the perfectly serene and seemingly untouched island.

Our last stop is Lu-Li Island, so-called because it is lulubog, lilitaw depending on the tides. It has a private rest house supposedly owned by the family of Hagedorn, as well as this tall gazebo structure right on the water where you could climb and dive from a board. There are two dogs too. (There seems to be a dog in every island in Honda Bay.) We pick the nicest seashells from this place.

If only for our perfect day in the Honda Bay islands, the whole Palawan trip was worth it already : )

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Day One: Finally, Palawan

We were supposed to go in time for my birthday but we had to move the trip bcoz this bid project that I was working on and that was supposed to end last month was extended. Major hassle re-booking plane tickets and hotel reservations, not to mention waste of money too.

Anyways. There we were finally, in the old and dingy airport, to catch our 8 am flight. Yoshi is so alive as usual. He’s never been one to miss any unusual happening, no matter how late at night or whatever unholy hour at dawn, especially when it involves crowds or strangers or people other than the three of us that he lives with day in and day out. His philosophy seems to be, why sleep when you can live? Mine is the exact opposite.

I watch the people on the public pay phones. There’s something that gets to me about the scene. I imagine they’re saying last-minute goodbye to loved ones, maybe professing emotions they can’t admit to in person. I watch too many movies, I know.

We fly Cebu Pacific and gear up for the fun games. We don’t win any tumblers tho, which were given to the eager-beavers who’ve probably memorized all the items for the show-me game. Duh. I promptly doze off and don’t stir until we’ve landed.

We are met in the airport by Noel from Puerto Pension, carrying a placard with The Lonely Planet logo. Puerto Pension is highly recommended by The Lonely Planet, as well as by several blogs and travel websites. And it’s so nice when the pictures truthfully represent the actual product. It’s not like when you buy a burger bcoz in the ads it looks so big and yummy but when you get your order it’s this pathetic bun that’s a poor excuse for food. With Puerto Pension it was even better in person. It’s so Palawan as it is made all of narra and bamboo, everything from the roof to the walls to the stairs, even the furniture and the paintings in the room were truly Pinoy, and the ceiling in Tribu resto at the fourth floor looks like it’s made of roots and twigs of age-old forest trees. The best part is the view of Puerto Bay from Tribu or from the corridor soon as you step out of the room.

A nice touch is this book corner where you can borrow or appropriate for yourself books that have been donated by previous guests. Most are travelogues with nice pix but are totally useless because they’re entirely in German or French or whatever. But I did find The Secret Life of Bees, the debut novel of Sue Monk Kidd, which became a phenomenal bestseller. (I’d read it on my free time and finish the 400+ pages before we leave.)

The hotel is also near the market where we hoard the unbelievably cheap cashew. (We’re a family of nut lovers. Hence, we marry guys like Pops, Ches and Teody : ) Grace must be one big nut lover too bcoz she married Rino : ) )

After resting a bit, we go to the baywalk and proceed to The Legend Hotel to use their pool. It’s just the three of us at the start but after school hours we are joined by kids who show up for their swimming lessons. Yosh makes fast friends with Pavan Sadhwani, who’s a bit older than him and who’s also a scaredy cat and sheds endless tears when the coach makes him swim on the deeper portion. I can just imagine Yosh wasting my money too on lessons he’d refuse to take after I’ve enrolled him.

Dinner is at Ka Lui, which was highly recommended by Noel and Ate Bel at the reception. They make reservations for us bcoz they say the place is always packed. And we can easily see why. It’s this big bahay kubo where you have to take off your shoes and walk around barefoot on the cool and shiny bamboo slats, and the whole place is stylishly decorated with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables, capiz and seashells, quaint art form and all sorts of hanging lamps. The seafoods were luscious and unbelievably cheap. We had tanigue, lapu-lapu, prawns, halaan soup, inihaw na talong and fresh fruit shakes for just a little over P500. (Ches and I are big fans of seafood. When we see food we just have to eat them : ) )

It was the perfect meal to start off our Palawan adventure.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wasted Heart

He’s her husband’s best friend. He’s always been aloof to her. She thinks he must be jealous of her. Around Christmas he knocks on her door and asks her to pretend it’s carol singers. He brings out these cardboards where he writes that for him she’s perfect everyday and his wasted heart will love her until she’s nothing but a bunch of wrinkles.

Or something like that. It’s my favorite scene in Love Actually. (The girl is played by Keira Knightley). I’m a sucker for this kind of love stories where the boy and the girl are so in love with each other and you want so much for them to be together but you know that it’s just not gonna happen. I’m not even talking about romantic tragedies of epic proportions like maybe Titanic or Brokeback Mountain or The Thorn Birds. Those are guaranteed tearjerkers too, but I prefer the small, quiet sidelights to a bigger story that becomes all the more touching bcoz they’re so real and you know that in real life love is sometimes swallowed up by more pressing issues.

In Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, the girl marries this guy whom she likens to a tablecloth that one buys despite a stain, hoping that the stain will be hidden from everyone’s view when they’ve all sat down to eat, but it turns out that the stain is right smack in the middle and everyone can’t help but notice. (This is one of the more clever metaphors I’ve read.) And then this guy comes along (without any noticeable stains) and makes her feel special again and she falls for him too but she knows she can never leave her husband. In the end he tells her something like, since this is the last time I’m going to see you, I feel that this gives me the freedom to tell you things I could have said in another life…I love your mouth…I hate your husband…I wanted to make love to you so badly I would have given almost anything to do it… (Guys always say the perfect lines in books and movies. I guess that’s why they’re called fiction.)

I also love Falling in Love with Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro. This movie shows that you can be blissfully married and perfectly content with your life, but then this person comes along that makes you fall in love all over again, and you’re just totally helpless about it, you just fall and fall. I liked it that this movie wasn’t about sex or involving young and dashing lovers which bored housewives would ditch their families for. Rather, it was between two aging and ordinary people who try their darnest to stay rational in the throes of passion.

I guess precisely the beauty of this kind of love is the utter impossibility of it all, the total and devastating sadness in the end. But you also know that the people who go thru it are blessed bcoz they were given the chance to begin with, to feel immense love for someone else, one that doesn’t need to be reciprocated or even known, one that doesn’t have to end happily ever after. Many others go thru life without even seeing a glimpse of this kind of love.

Friday, November 03, 2006

31 Things that Make my Birthday Happy

1. a husband who remains my best friend after 14 years since we first met in Ms. Perlas’ Comm I class in AS

2. a baby who’s strong and healthy and a constant source of laughter and tight hugs, who cries when I leave for the office and jumps in glee the minute I go thru the door after work, and who’s still young enough to be bribed into calling me a ballerina

3. my family and friends – my support system

4. Garci, Ginger and Sugar, who complete our home and family

5. our humble abode

6. Perky our car, tho she’s been in the shop for weeks undergoing massive repair after I hit her hood against this post that had the gall to be there while our president’s driver was teaching me to drive (Duh.)

7. that I passed the UPCAT, LAE and Bar, which paved the way for me to earn a decent enough wage to provide for my family and afford my little heart’s desires (or at least most of them)

8. hour-long phone calls with my sis where we try to outdo each other on our latest shopping finds, exchange Hollywood gossip, say nasty stuff about our husbands and parents and generally be maldita together (This is also my chance to enumerate to her the 60 million kikay stuff I beg her to buy for me, altho I email this, too :))

9. my old, old friends from St. Mary’s, like Kaye who still remembers my birthday and emails me a novel about her life as a singleton trial lawyer in California, and who - it turns out - reads my blogs (I love you, Kaye :))

10. all my new friends like Mabelle and Beavis who bother to chat me up as tho I’m young and cool like them (Beavis even sends me a personalized birthday song that he records in his cel, and of all the greetings and gifts I receive, this cracks me up the most)

11. my reliable gang from UP and QT, some of whom I’ve known for more than a decade, and who’ve put up with me all these years for all the quirky and not-all-that-good girl that I am

12. my circle of friends in the office, who provide a much-needed respite from the stress if not monotony of work, with all our gossip and junk food and dirty jokes and lunches that last for three hours when the bosses are out (or sometimes even when they’re in)

13. that I’m still a size XS (this is true. I swear on all my Hello Kittys.)

14. books that manage to be so good I can never put them down even after midnight on a workday

15. movies that make me gush or cry no matter how may times I’ve seen them

16. chocolates. Res ipsa loquitor.

17. that Pow and Mau are still in the running in Philippine Idol, and having Reg around to psychoanalyze the results night with

18. that there are people in local showbiz like Mr. C who are truly talented (hel-lo? Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka?) and surprisingly make a lot of sense

19. my pair of Schus from Ches, which he put on the middle of the bed on the eve of my birthday. I thought it was one of my old pairs that Yosh was maybe messing with, till I untied the blue ribbon in the dainty brown box, and found this exquisite pair of dazzling pink slingbacks with high, pointed heels. Everyone said they are so me. (How can anyone ever come close to this guy?)

20. that my office is a mere 10 minutes away from home, such a refreshing switch from all the traffic in EDSA and C5 that I had to endure for the almost five years that I was in QT

21. travel opportunities, especially the all-expense-paid kind from the office and preferably with my family

22. Yoshi’s Ate Ann, who’s so good with him and babies even me

23. my beloved blog, the one outlet for the prolific writer in me

24. the CD of my fave songs that Thom downloaded for me, everything from the Beatles to The Cranberries and Shakira and Under the Sea

25. Lola Donnie’s pinakbet, Lola Cording’s halo-halo, Mom’s chocolate cake, Pops’ chopsuey, Jen’s buko pandan, Mommy's corn soup and Ches’ salsa for my nachos. The best foods in life are free :)

26. my acerbic wit and wry humor. If no one else, I find myself funny. Or, I can always make Ches find me funny, ha ha :)

27. that even when I attend taebo class I still get to spend what seems like a lifetime with my boys at night, playing nonstop and walking around the neighborhood and going to the grocery and even watching marathon DVDs when the little one sleeps early

28. Vada, who coos and giggles and even screams like the darling baby girl that she is

29. Ally, Dharma and Jarjar, who still flip over when we visit on Saturday nights, as tho I never abandoned them at my mom’s house

30. things of devastating and unexpected beauty, like rainbows that appear from out of nowhere, trees that stand majestic and proud, and flowers that brighten up our dreary existence

31. that Pops was still up to taking us to our usual jaunts in Cavite and Tagaytay in the last end of Ramadan holiday, despite his illness