At last, a turtle!

Port Barton, Palawan. 29 November-1 December

Our flight from Cebu sees us safely in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in under an hour. Transport from the airport is limited to very badly organized tourist vans. After a fair bit of miscommunication and driving in circles through town, in the end they manage to squeeze fifteen of us in one vehicle, and we’re away.

Palawan’s roads are notorious for dangerous driving, meanwhile our driver does little to debunk this notion. Thankfully the both of us are among the lucky few in the car who managed to get a seatbelt. After a few hours we turn from the highway onto a country road winding through rainforest and rice fields. We’re on the north-west coast of Palawan, but nothing here seems to suggest we’re headed for the beach, until finally the trees open up and we can see a white sandy beach and the sea below us in the distance. We made it to Port Barton.

This small, remote beachside village is steadily becoming a backpackers favourite, but isn’t (yet) as popular and developed as for instance Boracay or nearby El Nido. Since there are tons of small islands and sand bars just off the coast, it is a great location for island-hopping and snorkeling.

Our hostel is basic let’s say, with our hut consisting of little more than four walls, a roof, a door and a bed, but the staff are nice and it’s a great place to meet other travellers. Besides, most of our days are spent on the various activities Port Barton has to offer and ar night pretty much every bar along the beach has a happy hour.

Giant Python at one of the beach bars

The next morning is not quite as happy for me as the night before, but nothing a good old hike in the midday heat to a nearby sandy beach can’t solve. En route we’re passed by a white haired jogger, who introduces himself as Dave, from Devon. Dave insists we come have a look at the flytrap plants nearby, and afterwards, before running off into the distance, invites us to come to his restaurant tonight, which serves ‘the best curry in town.’

The path out of Port Barton leads past a handful of clearings with the occasional bamboo hut and pigs, chickens and buffalos hanging out between the coconut trees. When we arrive at the beach we can’t believe our luck: it looks like paradise and even better, we have it all to ourselves! The water looks inviting. When we jump in it’s like landing in a warm bath.

Together with another guest from the hostel we head to Dave’s for dinner, where he makes good on his promise: the food is delicious. Before and after dinner, Dave entertains us with more than a few of his life’s stories and tells us loads about the local wildlife.

The next morning we dive into the action with our first ever island-hopping tour. So far, the coral we’ve seen in the Philippines appears a bit bleached of colour, but we see a huge amount of underwater life and one very aggressive parrot fish.

Lunch is freshly prepared by the boat’s crew on a remote island: an incredible feast of grilled tuna, chicken and lechon, coconut rice with a dressing of vinegar, soy sauce, onion, calamansi and ginger; potato, eggplant and lady finger salad, sliced tomato, cucumber and red onion and pineapple and banana.

After some serious digesting the boat takes us to turtle island. We almost dare not hope after all the times we didn’t see turtles, but today is finally the day we swim with a turtle! We’re as happy as a kid in the candy store.

With our white whale found, and the rain coming on, it’s time to say goodbye to Port Barton and prepare for another long drive further north to El Nido.