chilled christmas and laid back new year's eve
23.12.2008 - 06.01.2009 28 °C
Arriving at a destination at night usually fills us with anxiety - anywhere can look unfriendly and intimidating in the dark, but Port Barton was a different story. After a bit of a scary boat ride, we landed on the beach after 9pm, and the boatman, Jerry, showed us to Greenviews - the place we had booked for Christmas. Even in the dark the place seemed friendly. We dumped our stuff and went looking for somewhere to grab some food, and found Judy's. We met some locals, had a nice Chicken Adobo and went to bed feeling very content. Port Barton is a small town on the West coast of Palawan. There are about ten guesthouses pretty much on the beach, electricity for only a few hours in the evening, no landline telephones, and a bus service that runs to the city once a day. Greenviews was our resort of choice for the few days over Christmas - we wanted to be assured of a good room, so didn't mind paying a bit more. It turns out that we were mistakenly given the best room, with a sea view and loads of space.
friendly cat, he hung out with us on our balcony
The view from our room
The next morning was Christmas Eve, and as we weren't out buying last minute presents we weren't exactly sure what we were supposed to do with ourselves. What we ended up doing was nothing. We had a wander round, found somewhere to eat Christmas Lunch that evening and sunbathed. The meal at Summerhomes wasn't really the cheapest option, but we thought that we would treat ourselves as it was after all, Christmas. We tucked into Roast Chicken, Potatoes and veggies, with a desert of Graham Cake, a local speciality. We decided to get an early night, and as we drifted off we could hear the locals celebrating with full force as the night slipped into Christmas Day. It turns out that Christmas Day is surprisingly quiet, and nothing compared to the previous day. We find it odd that Jesus' birthday is celebrated the day before he was supposedly born. As this is the way it is celebrated in quite a few countries, no one else seemed to find it odd. It was totally different from any other Christmas we'd had. There was no Christmas tree, no presents, no Eastenders Christmas special, no really cold weather, and no mention of Santa! We had a great time just milling around in the sun, and attempting to sort the Internet out so we could phone home. It turned out to be really hard, so Brads managed to speak to his family by borrowing a mobile phone, Anna having spoken to hers a couple of weeks previous. Our Christmas Day meal consisted of vegiburgers and copious amounts of alcohol from Judy's and an episode of curb your enthusiasm. If we thought Christmas Day was just, well, normal, then Boxing Day was even more so. There wasn't even mention of Christmas by this stage, and the kids in the street were already greeting us with 'happy new year!' instead of 'merry christmas'.
The days in between the two holidays, we spent changing guesthouses. We couldn't afford to stay the whole time in Greenviews, and wanted to stay in Summerhomes, which we spent more time in anyway. They had a much more central location (nearer Judy's and Jambalaya), a nicer part of the beach, and the two girls who ran the place, Marge and Amy, were really sweet. As they didn't have room until just before New Year, and we had to move from Greenviews on the 27th, we ended up staying for a couple of nights at El Dorado. The change in accommodation was nice for a change in scenery, and it was nice to see different parts of the beach.
After a few days in the sun, 2009 was looming. Again, without the normal preparations new year's eve almost slipped by without us noticing. We were awoken on the morning of the penultimate day in 2008 to a noise we'd never heard, although immediately recognised it as a pig being slaughtered. This is the type of thing we anticipated, sure, we know where pork comes from and we're not squeamish about this type of thing, but to be greeted by it at 8am in the morning, and for 30 mins, isn't the best way to wake up. We found out later that her knife was too blunt, otherwise it would have been a lot quicker - and quieter. New Years eve was spent mooching around on the beach and using the Internet, then we spent the evening chatting with locals and other travellers and at 11.45 strolled to the beach to watch the fireworks. We sent texts to family, and fell into bed just before 1am. Officially our quietest New Year's celebration ever.
New Years Day
Port Barton turned out to be the perfect way to spend Christmas and New Years. If they had made more of a deal of it we're sure we would have felt more home sick, but there was enough of a Christmas vibe to keep us festive. Everyone was so friendly, saying 'hello' and 'merry Christmas' when you passed by. The scenery was very pretty, as the town is in a bay with several islands strung along the near horizon, it seems totally surrounded by land and could almost be a lake. The jagged hills created silhouettes against the sky. The colours in the sky and sea were always amazing, and strangely, when the sun wasn't shining it was even more beautiful, with greys and blues merging into one another. The beach had loads of little crabs and we spent ages watching them dig tunnels and whip across the sand.
The surrounding landscape was just wonderful, and we had a chance to get really immersed when we went searching for the waterfalls. We had an incredibly rough map and some vague directions, and thought it would be much closer, so set off without any water and wearing flip flops. We enjoyed the walk and felt totally alone in the rainforest undergrowth, but there came a point when we had to admit defeat and head back into town. We were pleased enough that we had seen a chameleon on a tree and got to see the colour changing up close, so we weren't disappointed. Anna went to shower off and noticed a black thing on her hip. Realising quickly that it was a leach she calmly asked Brads to get some salt and it was dealt with very quickly. Seeing as this was our first leech experience, we were both really proud that we didn't run around screaming.
The roosters in the Philippines seem to outnumber the people, and are totally revered and loved. When we're in public transport there is no stopping for any cats, dogs or children that might wander into the vehicles path, but if a rooster is nearby the passing van slows right down to avoid upsetting it too much. The reason for this is the cock fighting. This is a national pastime, and seems to be loved by everyone, there's even a tv channel dedicated to the fights. The main problem with the roosters is the noise. One or two are bad enough, but in somewhere like Port Barton there are literally hundreds. They cockle doodle all day and all night. If one goes, they all have to join in. And anything can set them off - a dog barking, a car horn or even a human shouting 'cock-a-doodle-do'.
We spent our days in Port Barton reading mostly. Judy's had a good book swapping service, so we used this to the max and read as much as we could. We chewed the fat with other travellers, just about holding our own. It seems that this part of the world is a bit off the beaten traveller track, and everyone else seemed to have been in South East Asia for ages and only just getting around to the Philippines. Due to the state of the roads only dedicated travellers and holidaymakers seem to make the effort. One guy we met, Miguel, had been away from Spain since the 80s, and was travelling in London quite some time ago - he went to see Queen with Freddie at Wembley for heavens sake! It seems he has been everywhere and seen everything, and still rates Northern Scotland as one of the most beautiful places in the world. As he doesn't look a day over 25 and he's in his 40s, this gives weight to the theory that stress makes you age quicker. We also met Judy's boyfriend, Patrick, who was a wealth of information, and helped shape some of our South America trip. He is a very widely travelled Canadian, who spent his summers as a child in Devon and Cornwall as he has family there. It made us feel very proud that he was so complimentray of the area and said that despite travelling the world, he still considers South West England to be one of the most beautiful parts of the world. It seems the further we travel from home, the more we appreciate what we've got, which is one of the many reasons we undertook this trip.
We met two British couples who were on holiday, both really friendly and very sweet. Steven and Jane gave us good tips for some of the places we're going and we really enjoyed their company. The night we arrived in Port Barton the first people to say hello to us were Ruby and Max, a very bright, outgoing, and incredibly sweet little brother and sister. We said hello a few times when we saw them, but didn't meet their parents Becky and Lee until a few days later. We wish we'd made an effort earlier, they currently live in Herts, but they grew up in London and knew Cockfosters well. They're very well travelled and gave us loads of advice. We had a lovely meal with them, and had a good night drinking rum. We seemed to have loads in common and as they're a bit older and with children, it proved that life doesn't have to stop once you become parents.
An absolute highlight of the week, no doubt about it, was Jambalya. A small beachfront restaurant, with only three tables, run by a couple called Eezy and Mellee. Eezy is Scottish, but has travelled extensively and serves up Creole fish Jambalaya and fresh home made bread. We went there a few times, and would have gone everynight, but were afraid we would appear slightly strange. The food was totally delicious, definitely the best we'd had in The Philippines, if not so far on our trip. Brads even ate fish, it was so fresh and tasty. We were made to feel really welcome, as they do with every customer. They have a saying written on the wall ''always give the customer more than they expect' and they really, really do. He had a great range of music we'd not listened to before (cajun and zydeco) so we swapped some MP3s, after Brads had fixed their computer.