Palawan Bike Trip 015
March 31, 2008
I was a little bit concerned about the cycling from Taytay to Roxas. I remembered how hard it was the first time. With that in mind, I set my alarm for four in the morning. It was still pitch dark at that time and I took my time packing and getting ready. Even so, I wasn’t on the road until 5:15. The sun had not reached the horizon yet and I had to use my flashlight to get out of Casa Rosa. The streets of Taytay were somewhat lit up and I could cycle easily. At city limites, I had to rely on my flashlight, and it became a bit difficult.
I got to the roundabout in what felt like a long time, and I turned south to Roxas. When it began to get light, I took out my podcast Shuffle. I wanted something to think about, and I listened to all the remaining podcasts and then to music.
I remembered those last 20 or 30 kilometers as very tough. They were the first 20-30 km this time, and they were as tough as I remembered. In fact, they were much tougher. I found it hard to believe that I had done this stretch at the end of a long day of cycling the first time. The surface was so rocky and irregular that even the mild slopes were impossible. The longer climbs were possible only because the longest of them were paved. I honestly wondered if I was on the same road or if there had been some natural calamity that had damaged it. I had no memory of it being that tough.
Despite the toughness and despite the fear that repeating the same stretch of road would be boring, I enjoyed it immensely. I think a large part of that enjoyment came from the toughening of my body. The skin of my arms, legs, face, and neck was fully tanned and I didn’t need to apply sunblock. My muscles were somewhat conditioned and they dealt with the effort as a matter of course. The only fly in the ointment was the pain in my butt and arms – pains which I suspect could almost be eliminated with a more suitable bicycle.
I enjoyed revisiting the places I’d seen on my first pass – the hills where the bus broke down, the hill with half a cement truck, and the intersection town. The terrain also struck me as a bit wilder and more remote than I remembered. Finally, I was very startled to discover that even the road after the mountains was extremely tough. It was far rockier and difficult than anything on the Taytay-El Nido section. I don’t think it was as bad as the Sabang road – I don’t think anything could be – but it was a close second. Perhaps it was as bad, and the difference is that I wasn’t in any kind of shape at that time.
There were almost no landmarks in the way of towns on this road. I could only mark my progress by the kilometers clocking by. I stopped regularly and had a bit of a sandwich and some Tang. I suppose I made this cycling seem easy above, but it wasn’t, and I needed those breaks. I was drenched in sweat the entire day and breathing hard continually. Anyone listening to the muttered curses wouldn’t have suspected that deep down I was enjoying myself.
My only real encounter on the road (other than the dogs that wanted a bit of my calf muscles) was a young Filipino named Jay who made his living driving a motorcycle up and down this road selling Chinese medicine. He was a typically eager young fellow, who thought he could transform this chance encounter with a foreigner into a lifelong friendship. Unfortunately for him, my reaction was also typical – I dodged his every effort and kept him at arm’s length. He had a lot of weapons at his disposal, not the least of which was that he lived in Roxas where I was headed. He had a night of activities planned for us, and I was hard pressed to deflect them. It might seem odd to fight so hard to avoid spending time with a nice local guy, but I couldn’t imagine anything more painful than a night of interrogation (How old are you? Why aren’t you married? Don’t you like Filipina girl? How much does your bike cost?) after a day of cycling. I saw him later in the day when he caught up with me on his motorcycle. This time, he had his wife and baby son on the bike, and he renewed his attempts to be my host in Roxas. This time I deflected him by saying that I was not going to go to Roxas, but was going to the Coco Loco resort. This wasn’t true, but it was a handy excuse.
After he drove away, I realized that with early star and faster pace, I was going to arrive in Roxas before two in the afternoon, and going to Coco Loco was a real possibility. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made, and when I arrived in Roxas, I went to the docks to see if by chance the Coco Loco boat was there. To my surprise, it was there and getting ready to leave. It was a matter of minutes to store my bike in the Coco Loco office, buy a bottle of water, and get on the boat with all of my bags.
A van had arrived from Puerto and quite a chaotic family piled out and got onto the boat. Meeting them was a strong lesson in something, though I’m not sure in what. Their presence was something like a self-contained typhoon roaring past on a calm spring day. In a way, it was my first contact with the real Philippines, because though they were Canadian and living in Toronto, they were originally from the Philippines. They had come here as part of a family reunion in honor of a grandmother still here, who was turning some unimagineable age past 100. The grandmother actually passed away before the reunion, so the trip was for her funeral rather her birthday. That hadn’t dampened their spirits at all, and they took over the boat and island in the short time they were here.
There was a mother and father, several daughters, a son, a boyfriend, and waiting at Coco Loco, several cousins. I noticed the middle daughter first. Her name was Julia, and she was tall and slim. She sat beside me and talked to me first. There was one white guy in the group, Dylan, and he was her boyfriend. I couldn’t figure that out at all. Dylan stood out – literally – and I couldn’t imagine why he would want to travel with his girlfriend’s family in this way. However, I hadn’t really known what a Filipino family was like. This was a tight group who loved to be together. I’ve never seen a family quite like it.
Like most Filipinos, they can’t understand anyone being on their own, and they set out to adopt me. When our boat arrived at the Coco Loco island, there was a table of coconuts waiting for us, and some waiver forms to sign. They insisted that I sit with them, have lunch with them, and then join them for dinner.
I didn’t have a reservation on Coco Loco, but my luck was still with me and they had a beachfront cottage available – number 19. I went to look at it and drop off my bags before lunch and was well-pleased. Coco Loco Island is very small. I learned later that you can walk all the way around it in 15 minutes. On one side, there are some larger cottages facing the sunset. On my side is a line of smaller cottages facing the land and sunrise. My cottage was the very last one. I preferred that side because there was more wind and it felt more isolated. The beach is also much nicer.
The cottage has a nice front porch with a comfortable hammock. Inside, it’s quite roomy with a bed, a table and chair, a shelving unit. Attached is a large bathroom that is somewhat open to the world. It has a seawater shower and a big garbage can of fresh water.
Coco Loco is the only thing on the island and they rent the cottages a daily rate that includes three meals. For a single person, the rate is 1,800 pesos, or $45 a day. That’s expensive for me, but it’s in line with the rest of Palawan. I’ve been paying 900 pesos for my rooms and easily another 900 for food and rinks, so Coco Loco costs as much as anywhere else.
I still hadn’t made up my mind about the Filipino family. I both liked them and felt a slight distaste at the same time. On the boat, they seemed very conventional – like any Canadian suburban family. The father talked on his Nokia cell phone, and checked the time on his expensive watch. His wife wore big ugly housewife earrings and housewife clothes. The various daughters were pretty, but there was an excess about them. There was too much color in their clothes and too many frills. Everything about them seemed excessive and overdone. The son was the baby of the family, and he had boyish good looks and charm. I was impressed that everyone was so warm and physical with each other. They touched each other and put their arms around each other and ran their fingers through each other’s hair. However, this also meant they felt free to interfere with each other, and they were telling people to do this or not do that. They romped around the boat trying to stay out of the sun. At one point, Dylan the white boyfriend, went to the front of the boat. This panicked them and they wanted to call him back. Dylan didn’t seem to fit. He had a lion tattoo on one arm, a Nazca Lines tattoo on his leg. He wore a kerchief on his head under a ball cap. He had a job traveling around the world installing security systems at Canadian embassies – including one in Afghanistan. I found it hard to believe that he’d last in this family – a family that was all atwitter because he was standing in the sun. I joined him at the front of the boat and got perverse pleasure out of sitting there and getting hit the occasional wave.
Dinner was a revelation. They ordered every seafood dish you can think of and dispatched it all in a happy chaotic fashion. The mother got up and danced at the head of the table. I’d never seen a family behave like this. It was nice, but also disturbing. I found it was an assault on personal space. People constantly offered food to other people and I had to fend off prawn and fish and crab and fruit endlessly. I found I was constantly having to define myself. It wasn’t enough to simply not want pineapple. You then had to explain whether or not you liked pineapple. You had to understand that this was sweet pineapple. You had to do this ten different times until you were forced to have pineapple. And even then you had to have a specific slice and then talk about how great it was. It was either them being great hosts or me being tortured beyond reason. It depends on your point of view.
They asked if I could sing. I said no, of course, because I knew I was being edged into karaoke. They asked if I could dance. I said no, because I knew if I said yes, they’d try to get me to dance with the mother. Someone finally said, “You can’t sing. You can’t dance. You don’t like seafood. What DO you do?”
On the other hand, they were kind, warm people. They lived a life of closeness and physicality. I admired and envied that. Yet, it was all to omuch for me, and I was glad to pass on the bonfire and head off to the quiet of cottage 19 on my own.
I slept fitfully, but I got enough sleep to feel rested. The problem was the bed – it was very soft and sagged in the middle. I went to the restaurant for self-service coffee and the father spotted me and invited me to join them at their table. I couldn’t face that so early, and I sat at a different table.
I was surprised, then, to find that they were all leaving. Just like that. They’d arrived like a swarm of locusts, stayed one night, and are gone. I was disappointed in a way. I liked them as individuals. It appears that Coco Loc was a bit too rundown for them. It is a bit rustic, and Julia found cockroaches on her suitcase. I watched them leave, walking to the boat dressed like they were going to afternoon tea or a shopping mal. The island seems a hundred times more peaceful now.
There are a few other people here of course. There is some kind of big European family in two or three cottages next to mine. It’s interesting the effect that being around Europeans has on me. It’s always a surprise to find that the world is not all Canadians and Americans. And try as I might, I can’t get past the trivial differences. I’m thinking here of the Speedos. I don’t understand the European fashion of these tiny bikini bottoms on men. They give me the creeps. There is one man who is wearing a tiny bikini bottom plus a yellow tank top that ends just on his upper thighs. He looks like a little girl in a daisy dress. I wonder if this guy has ever seen himself dressed like that.