Remote, tropical islands dot the South China Sea off the coast of Palawan’s San Vicente region. It was one of the reasons Teresa and I dreamed of coming out here, not just to Palawan, but to the Philippines. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned that I constantly dreamt of the secluded sandy beaches before making the trip out here. It all stemmed from my time on Tioman Island, off the coast of peninsular Malaysia, and the numerous other exotic islands I would visit on the remainder of that half-year trip. The placidity and beauty of the sea, the spectrum of blues and greens it would reflect, left a romantic longing in my heart. Even with a constant objective of living in each and every moment, the effect it has on me afterward when those moments become past remain the most moving.
Forgoing Long Beach for a day, we decided to talk to Soc and arrange a boat to take us island hopping. The more people we could get involved, the cheaper it would be for us. A family of four had just arrived at JuRiSu the night prior with similar intentions as us. We wound up spending the day with Raissa, her fiancé Junie, and her parents Luz and Dan. These four are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met while backpacking and in no time would become our friends. They are so open-minded and down to earth that it wasn’t a surprise to find out that a good deal of travelling had been done between them.
With several options available to us, we decided on an island hopping itinerary that we thought would give us the most variety. It began with a one hour boat ride from the shores of Poblacion to tiny, deserted Exotic Island.
This place was like out of a dream. The sand was as white as it comes and the water was crystal clear and bright turquoise. The sun was hot that day and it was a perfect way to start things off on this adventure. We each grabbed a snorkel and mask from the boat, which was fairly similar to the boat that took Teresa and I from Sabang to the Underground River, and waded out into the clean, crisp water. A few other boats arrived with travellers, but it was never even close to crowded.
As we enjoyed ourselves in the water, the ship’s captain brought several ingredients to shore and headed over to a small, makeshift grill. Here, he began to prepare our lunch: rice, a variety of grilled vegetables, and three large fish caught from the sea that morning. Everything turned out great; Junie cut up several of the vegetables, including some nice hot chili peppers, and made a salsa. It was good outdoor eats and as fresh as it gets.
After lunch, we hopped back onto the boat and headed over to a place called German Island. Here, we had the chance to see sea turtles swimming in their natural habitat. The island is encircled with smooth sand which drops off suddenly, a few metres out to sea. After about five to ten minutes, I caught my first sight of a sea turtle, swimming majestically in the water in front of me. The first thing that struck me was how massive they are up close. It looked like it was at least half the size of my body. I’m not used to swimming in the same waters as an animal that size. Also, while I struggled to keep up with it, it looked like it wasn’t even trying to swim. The speed and grace of its movement is unreal, and would only allow me to witness its presence for half a minute or so.
While I was caught up with this sighting, Teresa and Raissa actually saw another specimen crest the water and dip back down. I was sorry to have missed it.
We swam around for a while longer but the weather was beginning to turn sour. Storm clouds were massing out at sea and approaching shore. We hopped back onto the boat and headed out to a black buoy protruding from the surface of the water. Another diving spot, we jumped right off of the boat and into the water to check out some of the underwater sea life and coral. I decided to forgo the life jacket; they never seem to fit me properly and I have no problem swimming in calm water, regardless of how deep it is. In some spots here, it was possible to dive down and touch the seabed.
The weather continued to worsen and we decided to head back. Raissa knows a young man named Cito who is managing a newly build resort just down the road from JuRiSu, called Club Agutaya. He invited her and her family to dinner at the (then) unopened hotel that’s plotted beautifully along the shores of Long Beach. Raissa invited Teresa and I along with them and together we enjoyed a delicious meal in a beautifully designed restaurant. I enjoyed a beef marrow soup and Teresa had a nice pasta.
As the sun was setting we strolled along the beach. Raissa and Junie enjoy their natural surroundings just as Teresa and I do. We could tell that their family really appreciated where they were, despite still being in their home country. It’s the kind of quality we look for in people when we are journeying in one place or another. It’s what makes lasting friendships and reflects how I like to think of the cultures I immerse myself in. It’s what says it all.