the world | apulit island philippines

part one of our philippines trip [note: manila and palawan countryside was not photographed due to tiredness and car sickness…]

our first impression of the philippines swept in with the nostalgia of mexico. other similarities, including, the language, generosity and overall hospitality would prove that these two beloved countries share special place in my heart.

manila greeted us with an hour of jeepney-people-watching-traffic along the one mile trek from the airport to the city of dreams. obviously, the city of dreams was the perfect place for us to start our vacation. the name alone inferred either the possibility of either winning big at the blackjack tables or have a solid night’s sleep before jetting out of the domestic terminal the next morning. for us, it was the latter after tk lost miserably with the former.

once we got through the congestion and arrived at dream, our taxi underwent inspection complete with a metal detector, police dog, luggage check, another police dog, another metal detector, lobby. in the moment, i am not sure if i felt an overwhelming vulnerability or if it was the safest feeling i have ever experienced. those thoughts fleeted pretty quickly after finding my pillow. i was out.

earlyyyy the next morning, we glided through the clouds like we had interrupted heaven’s morning coffee. we landed on the island of palawan in the city of puerto princessa. from here, we took a 4-hour van ride to el nido. my eyes took in so much beauty on this ride – my stomach did not. however, if you are the reading-in-a-topsy-turvy-roller-coaster-type-of-person, then you are good to go. along the long curves of roads were children running home from school, men cutting coconuts from trees, cows getting walked with a leash, chickens literally crossing the road [the jokes all now make sense], etc. we arrived at our destination’s boat dock where we proceeded to go through another-invasive-yet-reassuring-police check. meanwhile, we found solace from the heat of the summer here. it was september but it might as well have been july. rainy season was upon us, hence the humidity and the fuzzy mane.

all summer long in shanghai, my inner-californian-self craved the beach. i craved it so much that i refused to be outside most of the time because 38 degree celsius would only remind me of how i no longer had access to the pacific pond. we drank sweet tea and ate filipino baked goods while the police asked us if we had stored alcohol in our luggage. the fresh bay breeze temporarily appeased my urge to jump head first into the sea. i withheld my urge and decided to utilize the ladies’ room before we boarded the speed boat. here, in the palm-tree branch decor i swallowed a mosquito. correction, another damn moist summer mosquito.

we boarded the speed boat along with a group of hotel employees embarking on month-long shift. the employees can have four days a month off – most save them up to take them all at once to visit family on the mainland. otherwise, they spend their time breathing in some of the most beautiful islands in the world – not too bad of a gig. everyone actively smiles in the philippines. at first, i thought that it may be the customer service, but after talking with the local smiling tourists, they assured me that it was just cultural.

now this is where it gets interesting. we arrived to the tiny island of apulit. music filled the warm air. on top the highest peak was a white cross looking down on the ants that visited its earth. on the dock, employees had gathered to greet us with a traditional filipino song. after getting the run-down on how we could be super social on our stay, we were escorted to our room that took us by loud and dusty construction site. we quickly realized that our last minute expedia upgrade was actually a downgrade. the only tempting feature was the ladder from our deck into the baby shark reef. tk made the call to the front desk to ask for a downgraded room was a possibility. like most international travels ensure, many things were lost in translation. many things. as such, this simple request changed the entirety of our trip.

apparently requests such as these means that they have epically failed to serve their guest. so, in response, they went on the offense – changing everything we expected to do in the philippines into a trip that we could have never planned ourselves from a computer in shanghai. from private serenaded beach dinners that you only see on the bachelorette to escorting us hours away to an additional island so we could experience more of el nido had to offer. it was the filipino hospitality that went above and beyond and beyond and beyond under the management of ramil, a filipino-denzel-meets-obama-with-an-incredible-smile-island-director, who made it his personal role to check-in with us everyday to make sure we were smiling as much as he was.

how could we not?

apulit island is the perfect place for an introvert and her overworked husband to start a trip. besides communal dinner time three times a day, tk and i were completely solo (if not in a group of maybe four) in most activities:

swimming with baby sharks
endless snorkleing along the reefs
awkward “hey, we are also not locals” moments with other guest
fresh caught seafood extravaganza for dinner
reading and sipping drinks
exploring the rainforest and all of its creepiness (mouse deer….)
stalking the dino-sized lizards that galavanted around the property
paddle-boarding above swarms of fish
hiking to the other side of the island
sunrise boat rides
digging deep into cold murky caves [i did this only because i love tk and he loves cave exploration]
and receiving 2015’s worse sunburn award.
to name a few.

each night, we received a phone call to ask how our day was and what we would like to do the following day. at the same time, a bedtime story would arrive at our door with a traditional filipino story for us to read. the night, filled with van gogh’s starry night, was invigorating. i could sit on the balcony for hours just staring at what i have missed for so long – water and sky. the first couple nights we sipped on cocktails and watched the summer thunderstorms in the distance. nothing is more beautiful than rainy-season storms above islands.

in part two of our trip, i will write more in-depth of the people we met and the culture we encountered while in the philippines. until then, enjoy a glance at our first stay in el, nido, philippines.

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