The Last Frontier (Palawan Bike Tour Diary) I

Day 0 (02.28.11, Monday)

10pm and we just started fixing Ani, put handle bars and changed her chains and brake pads. Ani, my mountain bike which I acquired from an old friend, is named after Anilao, the destination of our first bike ride. Her name also sounds like the name of my dearly beloved Anne.

Buried with so much work, I have no preparation for this trip. Without any exercise or whatsoever, I wondered how I will survive my first multi-days bike tour. Even though I have done some single day cross-country bike rides in Baler-Casiguran, Aurora (110km), San Mateo-Antipolo, Rizal (+50km) and Kabayan, Benguet (+75km), I haven’t experience the technicalities, fatigue and drain entailed in multi-days biking. Meanwhile, Shyo, my companion, is already a veteran on these bike tours. This will be his 7th bike tour and he done bike tours in Bicol, Leyte-Samar, Eastern Mindanao and South Palawan.

Approaching midnight, my customized bike bag weighed more than 7 kilos. It contained the following items: extra clothes, a windbraker, camera, cook set, hammock with mosquito net, GPS, headlamp, batteries, extra cash and a book titled “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. The book, which I recently purchased in Powerbooks for a price of surprise, surprise P15, is a personal account of the 1996 Mt Everest disaster. 24 mountaineers perished that tragic day. A life-journey gone wrong.

Day 1 (03.01.11, Tuesday)

Welcome Busuanga! Got our bikes in the baggage counter (no need to disassemble the bikes), inflated the tires, ate lunch and off we go. The sun released its full power, dominating the vast cloudless blue sky!

We decided to proceed to Coron town. A well-known ecotourism destination, the word Coron means "enclosed" in Tagbanua. The 20km road to Coron is already concrete. We went to the town's port and to our dismay, we learned that the next schedule of batil going to mainland Palawan was Saturday morning. While cozy laying in the benches in Luhualhati Park, we decided to take the passenger tour boat to El Nido which is more expensive, P1,500 per pax.

After dinner, we went to Maquinit Hotspring, roughly 6kms from the town. The hot brackish water of the spring soothed our tired muscles. Sounds of rolling seawaves echoed in the night. Almost fell asleep in the pool. Spent the night in the waiting shed of Barangay Tagumpay. Set up our hammocks, finished up 1-liter of beer and after few minutes, knock out from the world.

Day 2 (03.02.11, Wednesday)

First time to sleep in a hammock and I felt great. It rained so hard last night and it was a blessing that there were no cracks or holes in the roof. Start the day chatting with mothers doing their laundry while taking a bath in the community's balon. Since we will be leaving for El Nido on Thursday, we decided to scrap Calauit Island in our itinerary. So sad. Reviewed our photocopied road map and decided to explore the southestern part of the island.

Packed our things and off we go. Stop quickly in the hotspring, took some photos and explored the mangrove walk of the said private resort. Spinning, spinning. We reached Cabu beach, a white sand coastline. Coron island and the clump of islets called Siete Picos were visible from this beach.

Around lunch, we rested in a house of a very nice family in barangay Balisungan. They owned a sari-sari store and asked them if we can buy some cooked rice for lunch. Instead, they invited us to have a lunch with them. The planned meal of canned sardine became a delicious chicken broth soup cooked with misua noodles.

Spinning in the scorching heat, we navigated an off-road adorned by hills and woodlands. Went to the Mabentangen Pool but to our dismay, no one is allowed to swim in the pool since the area was already tapped as a water source of the nearby communities. We then biked upstream remembering that we saw a word "waterfalls" in the highway signpost. After half an hour, we ended up in a little stream. With no signs of any waterfalls (or even a gushing water), we reviewed the photo of the signage. Written in the signage is Mabentangen Pool and Watershed hahaha. Stupid us. We ended up taking a dip in the shallow stream. Saw some pygmy frogs and bloody-red banana fruits.

While watching the sunset in Lualhati Park, we met Anne. Her husband, whose currently working abroad, is also a biker. Since we still have no idea where to spend the night, she offered that we can sleep in her tour boat. Yey!

Since most of the canteens offered meat dishes, we decided to go to the market, bought fresh fishes and have it grilled in ihaw-ihaw stands near the market. For P200, we feasted on grilled sorohan (unicorn fish) and marmol (parrotfish), rice and beer. Bought a bottle of gin for our hosts bangkeros Noel and Edison and spent the night listening to their stories.

Day 3 (03.03.11, Thursday)

In transit to El Nido via MV Princess Wella. Spent most of the day watching the majestic islands of Coron, Culion, Linapacan and El Nido, reading and chatting with co-passengers and boat crew. After six hours, it was a relief to finally spot the busy coastline of El Nido. Named after a bird’s nest, the town was dwarfed by surrounding giant limestone mountains and lushes forest.

We met Ross, owner of Makulay Lodge and a close friend of our friend Nine. She invited us to stay in her son's room we gladly accept her hospitality. No hammock for tonight, yey! Situated at the top of a limestone rock, the house has a spectacular view of El Nido’s bay and islands.

After a very delicious dinner, we went to Balay Tubay, an art gallery and pub. We met the town’s municipal officer Bong and Arvin, the town’s tourism officer. The two and other resident artists started the Kalugtan Art Festival, celebrated during the Earth week. After six bottles of beer, we pedaled back to the lodge. Passed a drunken person already sleeping in the sand under his bike.

Day 4 (03.04.11, Friday)

6AM and woke up with a mild hangover. My early morning toilet ritual made mechanical alarm clocks obsolete. We biked up North to explore the interesting sites of El Nido. First stop, the long stretch of white sand beach called Nacpan. More than 23km from the town, the almost uninhabited beach was simply breathtaking. We biked along the coastline, waves splashed on Ani’s wheels. Scorching heat compelled me to hide in the shade. After a lunch of packed rice and canned sardine, we washed up our bikes in the community’s pozo to remove the sea salt and prevent corrosion. Spotted a Palawan flowerpecker along the way.

Next stop is the Makinit hotspring. Near boiling temp, the sulfuric Makinit was surrounded by mangroves and shrubs. We needed to cross the laid plank of woods to reach the pond.

Already felt stubborn pain in my legs maybe due to quick loss of body fluids, uric acid due to ahem alcohol, heat and fatigue. It was a relief to finally reached the jump-off to Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, which means “pabigla-bigla” in Tagalog. Having a hard time memorizing Cuyonun words, it took me almost three days to finally pronounce it right hahaha.

After 30 minutes of hike, we reached the falls. It was not as magnificent as the other waterfalls that I have seen but Nagkalit-kalit is an important ecosystem and a primary water source of nearby communities. Also the clean, cool water was both refreshing and relaxing to my aching muscles. Washed up all my equipments too, camera, GPS, headlamps etc to remove traces of salt.

Rice and yummy kinunot na pagi (stingray) for dinner. Beer on hand as I watched the night shadows swallowed the limestone islands of El Nido.

Day 5 (03.05.11, Saturday)

Woke up at 5 to pack my stuff. Right hand middle finger was stung by a bee hiding in a tissue paper and it hurts so badly. After four days of managing on terrible instants, we finally have brewed coffee courtesy of Ross. At the beach, drinking coffee while watching Maniloc island turned from darkness into gold due to the morning rays of the newborn sun.

Said our thanks to Ross, heavy breakfast in our favorite turo-turo, navigated our way to the town’s small streets filled with foreigners and local tourists and we are on our way to Taytay, more than 60km south.

The national road is hell! Loose, small gravel stones made it very difficult to maneuver the bike especially during downhill at the speed of more than 25kms/hr. Decided to use my handkerchief as a mask to prevent further sunburn.

After almost 8 hours of biking under the sun, and pushing myself not to quit, we reached Taytay, the province’s old capital! We Went to Fort Isabel, an old Spanish fortress built in the 17th century to defend the town against invading military forces and pirates. The fortress reminded me of Intramuros. The view at the top of the fort was amazing, the islands of Taytay scattered randomly in the wide blue sea.

Got a Taytay map from the fort and it has a direction to a certain Tubog campsite located in the woods. We decided to spend the night it that area but after hours of searching in the dead night, we decided to abandon the idea. We then learned that the said campsite was no longer operational.

We tried our luck in the waiting shed located in the town’s docking area for boats. The wind was blowing hard but since we have no other options, we decided to camp in the area and set-up our hammocks.

-to be continued-

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