Palawan, a Paradise – Palawan, Philippines

Palawan, a Paradise
Palawan, Philippines

I tend to seek the most tranquil of locations when I travel. Ambiance is important to me. A tranquil ambiance nurtures the need to tap into the recesses of your inner soul, leading to discovering things that even you didn’t know about yourself. The beaches surrounding El Nido conceive my perfect tranquil ambiance.

The islands of Bacuit Bay lure you with a seductive serenity so sedate, it’s a beauty only the heavens would know. The aura beams you up, high, higher and higher still, through the threshold – into the upper echelons of spiritual enlightenment. Visions, once blurred are now suddenly clear as crystal in your new glowing light.

I knew at a very young age what I wanted in life and have intricately detailed the path that will lead me there, learning along the way and growing with every experience I have had. I know that each of these experiences and every voyager I have met on this journey of life has influenced or changed me in some way, if ever so slight.

At 1, I left Vietnam.
At 2, I nearly perished in a refugee camp.
At 3, I had my first memory.
At 6, I noticed I was different than the other kids.
At 11, I started middle school.
At 13, I started high school.
At 14, I slowly crawled out of my shell.
At 16, I shared my first kiss with my first boyfriend.
At 17, I stepped over my first major milestone – I began to mature and developed a niche for myself in this world.
    – I served as president of my economics class, which led me to realize I wanted to study business.
    – I became student body president of my high school, completely out of my shell.
    – I graduated from high school.
    – I started college.
At 18, I broke up with my first boyfriend and realized exactly what I did not want.
At 19, I fell in love.
At 20, I fell out of love, experienced my first and last broken heart and realized exactly what I wanted.
At 22, I reached another milestone.
    – I graduated from college.

    – I returned to Vietnam for the first time on my second longest international trip.
    – I entered the ‘real world’ and started my first ‘real’ job.
At 24, I got laid off from my first ‘real’ job and embarked on the second most significant journey of my life.
At 25, I found myself.

I used to wish I could go back in time and do it all over again, correct all my mistakes and do it the ‘right’ way. I have since realized and accepted that changing anything in my past would prevent me from being who I am today. Nonetheless, as I have grown older, my convictions have not changed. Rather, only the horizons of their beliefs.

Once you can come to peace with who you are and every element of your being, you have unlocked the gates to your own nirvana, a spiritual utopia in your own regard. You’re on an entirely different plateau now.

I would forego the fancy frills of a five-star resort for this is the type of place I would honeymoon. At first glance all the islands and their beaches may look the same to you but with a little imagination and investigation, you can unlock the hidden treasures that lie within.

The Gems of Bacuit Bay
Let me paint a picture, as vivid as can be,
Of lazy days and starry nights amidst the deep blue sea.

You wake at dawn, the sun it glares,
Above the east horizon’s air.

Butterflies dance dizzily, ’round your head,
The moment you get up, step out of your bed.

The fringe of coconut palms, sway with the air,
Like the sailing of the wind, through the tresses of your hair.

An aquarium of tropical fish frolic undersea,
While you are frolicking on the shores…

Imagine yourself alone on a powder-fine white-sand beach. There are a few coconut palms planted several meters from shore. Amongst them are bountiful green snake-like vines braided on the ground, while massive mounds of karst have toppled to the floor.

A log stretched across the beach acts as your bench for the day as you lazily thumb through the pages of last week’s newspaper; A single abandoned hut lies at the end of the beach, acting as your shelter for the night.

The winds have sailed the seeds from several specimens of tropical vegetation. They are now planted into the mounds and mountains of the karst in the background, while your banca floats somewhere between the clear and light lime luminescent water close to shore in the foreground. Most impressive of all is the lone palm tree triumphantly towering on top that somehow implanted its seed and injected its roots through the cracks and crevices of the karst.

On the island of Matinloc are well-defined stalactites so meticulously sharp, you know they had to be sculpted by Mother Nature herself. From here you snorkel across the canal-like waterway to the deserted beaches of Tapuitan Island. As if this were not tranquil enough, you escape to the hidden cove of Matinloc’s secret beach, a white sand treasure hidden behind a hole of the island’s wall.

Back in your banca, you then drop your anchor on shore after slithering to snake island, so named because of its distinguishing trailing sandbar. This one is smaller with coconut palms, vines and mangroves too. On one end of the island is the vegetation. On the other end is an s-curve trailing sandbar. Snake Island has no karst.

Judging by the perpendicular angle of the sun, it’s time for your midday workout – a snorkeling session off Simisu Island. This is the clearest ocean water I have seen in the Philippines. Even at the end of rainy season when water is most turbulent, you can still see flurries of fish more than 20 meters away.

Miniloc Island
After that warm-up, you complete your workout with a swim in the small and big lagoons of Miniloc Island, two of the most revered of these treasures and perhaps the most dazzling of the gems in Bacuit Bay. The small lagoon is hidden behind a hole in the karst within a 300-degree semicircle cove. This cove harbors light lime to deep turquoise waters, depending on the depth of the ocean floor. The big lagoon is shrouded within a labyrinth of Miniloc Island. At high tide, you can take your small banca all the way in. At low tide, you must drop the anchor along the beach, behind the big boulder of karst protecting the cove. From there you will wade through ankle to thigh-deep water and at some points, no water at all. As you approach the lagoon, you will notice the change in color of the water. At your feet it is clear; in the distance it is a deep emerald green.

Next on your list is Cudugnon Island. Here, you crawl through the cavities of a cave where human bones have mysteriously been placed, surrounded by stones as though it were some type of shrine. The human skull that once stood there has been stolen. Now all that remains are a small pile of broken bones.

Commando I
To buy fresh fish for dinner tonight, you head to the mainland, to El Nido. On the way, you stop at the beaches along the mainland, the 7 Commando twins, 7 Commando I and 7 Commando II. Their cousins, the Lapus-Lapus twins are too close to the gushing turbulent waves to attempt an anchoring. Here, the water is a brilliant baby blue, with coconut palms and vines in the background. The massive mounds of karst separate these beaches.

On your way back home to Pinagbuyutan, you stop at Malapacao Island, unmistakable by its shape, an asymmetrical horseshoe-like island of karst. Malapacao stands across from Pinagbuyutan and is visible from your beach with the single abandoned hut. From Malapacao you watch the blazing sunset to the right of your island. In the center, it is bright yellow. It then turns a rosy pink before it reaches the outer ring of bright light red. As you gaze at the last rays of day and inhale two lungs full of fresh sea breeze, you know that each time that sun sets for you, it rises for someone else. A daylight version of this view graced the cover of Lonely Planet, Philippines – 1997.

Lee-Ann, an English-born, Australian-raised woman has been living on her beach on Malapacao for the past 17 years. She never leaves her island, not even to go to the mainland. She felt what I felt, only ten times more magnificent – so much so, she abandoned a 14-year traveling partnership and common-law husband because she fell in love with the island rather than him. She has forsaken all comforts of western society because she has found nirvana, her own utopia in a Garden of Eden filled with hibiscus, coconut palms and other such tropical vegetation she planted herself. Speaking with her for only 15 minutes, I could tell she has reached a pinnacle so many of us try to achieve. Her very aura exudes enlightenment.

It is dark now as you make your way back to Pinagbuyutan. The sun has set. All that remains is its reflection, the pale moonlight amongst thousands of other glittering stars scattered in the sky. One of them begins to fizzle as it twinkles towards the atmosphere. That twinkle in the sky is now a twinkle in your eyes – make a wish.

After grilling your fish for dinner, you lean back against the log, your bench during the day. You look down at the toppled rock your arm is resting on and notice that this one is a darker shade of gray than the rest, with two crooked white lines laced within. Your lips slowly curve a smile as you think to yourself, “They’re all different, each and every one of them.”

These are the gems of Bacuit Bay, my favorite destination on this entire journey to date and without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I have seen on earth.

I left my soul in Palawan.

Note to self – BYOH (Bring Your Own Hammock)

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