The prospect of spending unstructured days lazing between the beach and the pool always sounds so alluring. On the other hand I’m a “let’s see what’s on the other side of the mountian” kind of person so the potential for boredom is high. In Palawan, I believe, we struck the perfect balance.
The thing about Palawan is that the real beauty, the white sand beaches, dramatic rock formations, lush jungle, classic paradise, is out in the archipelago. You can stay out there. They’ve got a few resorts. But unless you have four hundred dollars a night to shell out, you’re over here on the muddy mainland with the rest of the riff-raff.
We knew it would be hard to get out there and really soak up the beauty on the standard full day, communication-strained, tourist-packed tour boats. So as always, we set our expectations low (not easy to do when an island has been ranked number one in the world by Conde Nast Traveler) and brought plenty of snacks.
As I watched my three year old happily splash around on the beach for an hour, charm the entire boat crew, insist on wedging herself through a rock crevice to see a secret lagoon, then strike a pose on a sand bar, I knew we’d nailed it. And each evening as we consider where to dine, we crack open a cold beer and watch the sunset from our balcony, as Kalina quietly plays with puffy mermaid stickers. This is grown up and kid paradise.
That’s not to say the trip was without hijinx.
There are no docks on Palawan. So the first step of any tour out to the archipelago is wading to your boat. Depending on the tide level and your height this can be knee deep or armpit deep. Now fortunately I’m genetically predisposed to carrying a purse full of plastic baggies. So no problem. I wrap my phone and my purse, hoist the package above my head and wade.
I do this wrapping and unwrapping at every stop as we wade in and out from beach to beach. After two days of this incessant wrapping I’m pretty pleased with the results: only a few drops of water make it through. But this morning I wake up in the hotel room and my purse is sitting in a puddle of water. Are you kidding me? Thank you, leaky air conditioner.
Aside from the potential soaking of valuables, the whole wading system had worked pretty well on our first island tour. You jump out onto the powdery sand, enjoy the beach, have a nice fish barbeque, maybe drink from a coconut.
The second tour proved a bit more challenging, as we jumped from the boat onto sharp coral and slippery rocks. I started humming “Walking on Broken Glass” and tried to channel a man I one saw walk across hot coals. Radek, with Kalina attached to his shoulders like a baby gorilla, bent down low for stability and decided to channel a crab. So he cut up his hands pretty badly.
This begs a simple question: why is it always the relaxing beach vacation that leaves the most scars? Although everyone else looks like they jumped out of the pages of Sports Illustrated, Swimsuit Edition, we are splotchy with sunburns that will surely start to hideously peel at any moment. We are diced by coral. We are stung by jellyfish (but not badly) and nipped by fish. Kalina, thankfully, was protected by constant sunscreen reapplications, carried over coral reefs like a princess (after our first somewhat failed attempt, the boat crew took pity on us and carried Kalina to and from each beach) and she never managed to encounter any viscous sea creatures.
In addition to the low expecations and snacks that have become so de rigeur, one last thing has served us well and made this trip a success: patience. This is a quality best learned while parenting, but it has plenty of great real life applications!
This dawned on us as we disembarked (waded) from our tour boat, absolutely floored by the beauty of the islands and grateful to have had the opportunity to see such places and make such lasting memories. So it was strange to watch other travelers from our boat march up to the tour office to complain. The tour had left an hour late. We hadn’t stopped at all of the advertised destinations. The guide was awful. The weather wasn’t perfect. They wanted a refund.
Although I’ll be the first to agree it’s never OK to be cheated or treated rudely, other Western values of politeness often don’t translate. Take, punctuality, for instance. According to our tour guide, “we’re leaving an hour late and I don’t know why.” The attitude is we’ll go when we go, what’s the rush?
We’ve learned to take it easy and let go of preconceived ideas of how the day should go. And that always seems to make the difference between dissapointment and as Kalina called it, “the best day ever.”