Aaron’s Blog

The Rider in the Blue Box

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The road from Puerto Princesa to El Nido on Palawan is a long one, taking about 6 hours, half of which is on an unpaved road.  Given the length of the trip and wanting to be able to spend time in El Nido when we arrived, we got on the early morning shuttle, which left at 5:00 am.  So blurry-eyed and weary, we scrunched into our seats in the minibus, popped in our headphones, and started barrelling down the road.

IMG_2386We continued in this manner for about an hour, when the driver suddenly pulled to the side of the road where a man was waiting, sporting a backpack, and carrying a blue box.  So the man settles into the last available seat, plops his back down and rest the box on top, and we cruise along in the pre-dawn light.  About 30 minutes later, the sun finally crests the top of the hills and that’s when our new passenger let’s his presence be known with a definitive, “Cock-a-dooodle-dooo!”.  Yes, apparently the blue box was a makeshift carrying case for this man’s prized chicken.  Now this immideately brings to mind 3 questions: 1.) Why does this man need to deliver a chicken to a location roughly 5 hours away first thing in the morning?  2)  Why does this trip necessitate bring a single chicken? – Is this some type of super chicken?  Perhaps the chicken James Bond?  3) Seriously, a chicken?

Unfortunately, I have no answers to these deep questions.  What I did find out through that fateful trip is what chickens do when they’re cramped up in a box on a road trip.  The answer, is that they cock-a-doodle-do…a lot.  If you would like to try to simulate this experience, I would suggest packing yourself in a box with an alarmclock that you cannot turn off, but can only snooze, and then only sometimes.

On the upside, the chicken did bond us to our fellow passengers, much as Elves and Men bonded together to face the common threat of Sauron (yes, it’s on the same scale).  We would constantly look and each other and laugh, with a shared shrug and wink.  In the end, we all, chicken included, made it safely to El Nido.  I can only hope that that chicken was delicious.

Photo of the Week: El Nido Bay

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The Bay of El Nido at Sunset_1280_for_Web

The bay of El Nido is a beautiful place.  The beach, tucked into the mountains, stretches on with its gorgeous wihite sand as with plays with the clear, blue water.  It is a place that looks like it’s cut straight from the pages of every travel magazine you’ve ever seen.  The area is, as of this moment, the place with the best beach and ocean that we have been to.  Nothing tops watching the sun set behind the mountains while enjoying fresh seafood and beer at one of the local restaurants.

The Underground River in Palawan, Philippines

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Boat coming out of the cave on the Underground River

Have you ever dreamt of being underneath thousands of tons of rock, in a bat-filled filled, watery cavern in pitch black?  Well then, Batman, this is the spot for you.  Not only a caped-crusader’s wet dream, the Underground River is also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.  It’s one of the main draws for tourists on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.  The Underground River winds on for miles under the limestone rocks through numberous caverns, some of which are impressively large.

Boat BrothersMost people reach the caverns through a tour leaving from Puerto Princesa, the main port of entry for Palawan.  Make sure to book your trip at least a few days in advance as there are a limited number of permits available each day and waiting until the last minute might mean you cannot go on the day you want.  Once you do book the trip, the minibus will pick you up at your hotel and then take you and your fellow travelers up to Sabang, the town nearest the Underground River, where you transfer to a smaller catamaran which plies the waters of the bay to take you to the small, beautifully green lagoon that serves as the launching point for the small paddleboats entering the caverns.  As a pro-tip, when getting into the boat, make sure to get in first so that you are sitting towards the back of the boat.  The waves in the bay can actually be fairly big, leaving suckers sitting in the front covered with water – trust me.

AExploring the Cavernfter arriving at the launch spot, it’s time to wait for the next boat.  Luckily this is rarely long, as there are a large number of boats leaving every few minutes.  Each boat is equipped with a lantern, though some of these are fairly weak.  If you happen to be traveling with a decent flashlight, bringing it along is definitely recommended.  The boat fills up with about 10 people and then you’re off.  The inside of the underground river looks like…(drum roll….a cave!  It is interesting to go through it, and some of the structures are fairly impressive.  In fact, figuring out what each one looks like seems to have been a past time of most of the people in the cave as just about everything looks like something.  There’s a giant mushroom, a T-Rex, and even a naked woman.  Of course, get most men in th dark and they’ll see a naked woman no matter what is in front of them, but hey, it did actually look something like it.

The one negative thing about the ride is the length / space of the trip.  It was fascinating to see the cave, but after the first 20-30 minutes, most of the features tend to look alike and the silence of the cave starts to become oppressive.  Plus, there’s a lot of bats, which equals lots of bat droppings.  By the end of the 45 or so minutes of the standard tour, we were caved out.  That’s not to say that it’s not worth it, but a speedboat would be much appreciated.

SabangBeachAfter the underground tour, you are ferried back to Sabang, for a lovely buffet lunch on the beach.  The food was actually quite tasty, and much needed after a long day of travelling.  You also have the opportunity to explore the wonderous Sabang beach, which stretches out with its golden sand alongside the beautiful blue waters.  It’s a truly gorgeous sight and one of those places that puts your soul at ease by irradiating your eyeballs directly with happiness.

Despite getting a bit long towards the end, the Underground River is definitely worth the trip.  Just make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment, then sit back and enjoy.

That Sunday Night: Katy Perry in Manila

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I will admit it, I have a secret crush on Katy Perry.  Though I tend to dislike the pop music that’s made today because it’s usually so formulaic and derivative, there’s something that remains interesting and genuine about her music, with each song seeming to have a truly heartfelt meaning to it.  Some are silly, some are serious, some are filled with love, and the variety is most welcome.  Nao also shares this KP love, and so when we found out that she was having a concert in Manila while we were in the Philippines, we bought tickets to Manila, and seats (ok, standing room) at the concert.  Of course, this may sound lavish, but the flight and concert tickets together were about $30 per person – gotta love the Philippines.

IMG_2310The concert was at the Mall of Asia, a massive shopping center in Manila that is the largest mall in Asia, and the fourth largest in the world.  Not only does it feature a movie theater and a full skating rink, but more importantly, a Cinnabon!  Having topped up on cinnamon, we headed to the concert grounds, which was essentially a large parking lot that was cleared out and had a stage plopped in it.  We headed to the very back section where all the other cheapskates were to wait patiently for the Ms. Perry to begin her show.

Right on time, at 8:00, the opening act, DJ Skeet Skeet, started spinning.  Now, just a digression on naming, but I’m not sure that he really picked the best or most appropriate DJ name.  For those you out there that don’t know the reference, let Mr. Urban Dictionaryhelp you out.  Now, once DJ Skeet Skeet sputtered out, we were left waiting….and waiting…and waiting.

IMG_2312For two and a half hours, we were waiting in the Manila heat while Katy did whatever she needed to do to get ready.  I’ve been at many concerts, but I’ve never seen a band be that late without any type of announcement.  What made it liveable is the friendliness of the Philippinos who were standing by us.  As the minutes wore on, we started talking to those around us and sharing in our common anguish.  We joked about what might be happening and held each others’ place to go get water.  It may not be something life changing, but one of the pleasures of travelling is being able to make connections, however small, with people all over the world, and realize that for all of our cultural differences, we are more alike than we are different.

When Katy eventually came on, she did put on a stellar show, complete with lasers, video interludes, a mind boggling number of costume changes, and a whip cream cannon (want!).  She even brought up one lucky audience member to receive a kiss from a pop star.  However, what I will most remember is the commeradie of the crowd.  Well, that and the incredibly happy reaction by the lady boy next to us when she sang “You’re so Gay”.  That was pretty fantastic.

Photo of the Week: 7 Commandos Beach

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Boat anchored at 7 commandos_1280_for_Web

7 Commandos Beach is one of the spots that tourists hit up as part of Tour A from El Nido.  On our tour, it was the place that we spend the longest just hanging out at the beach.  It was the end of the day and the fact that the beach had a small shop with beer on offer meant that it was the perfect stop to just sit and relax.  There’s nothing quite like drinking cold beer while swimming in crystal clear blue water.  El Nido = Beautiful.

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