The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Archive for the category “Palawan”

My Favourite El Nido Videos

There’s all sorts of videos out there about El Nido that range from the humdrum to the self-absorbed but there are a couple of gems that stand out. They manage to capture the spirit and expansive beauty of Palawan. Forget about the humans that grace the landscape, it’s the scenery that steals the show. Humans simply give scale and context.

I still get that ‘wow’ feeling when I think back to the time ‘the Chef’ and I were there. If you visit El Nido and open your heart and mind to the experience you just might end up feeling the same way.

(Extra)ordinary People of Coron


When we first arrived in Coron ‘Captain Lolong,’ his wife and his son came to visit us at our cottage. I can remember them sheepishly waiting on the path at the edge of the property, the ‘Captain’s’ wife clutching a journal to her chest. ‘The Captain’ took the journal opened its pages and pointed. “Andy! Andy!” his wife squealed excitedly. There in black and white were the comments ‘the Chef’ had written after our Tao Expedition ended in 2011. The words brought a flood of warm and happy memories.

During the course of our stay they would take us to look at different properties for sale. We couldn’t believe the kindness and generosity they showed us. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were.

The trip came to an end it was time to say good-bye. Instead of us going to see him ‘the Captain’ insisted he would come to our place in town even though he had no money for a tricycle. At this point ‘the Captain’ was no longer working. “No problem,” he said. He arrived on the back of his neighbour’s motorcycle, walked through the steel front gates and marvelled at the ‘pink house‘ we had rented.

We sat outside on the porch, sipped cokes and talked for a while about our plans, his plans and about life in general. He was 63 and told us he didn’t think he wanted to work for Tao anymore. I felt his weariness. Then in the middle of talking he took from his back pocket a thin and worn wallet. Slowly, he unfolded it and carefully opened one of the compartments taking out a very flat and curved cigarette. He gently rolled it until it became somewhat cylindrical again, put it in his mouth, lit it up and continued to talk without missing a beat.

Not once did he ever complain about his situation. Not once did he ever ask us for anything. I thought that was extraordinary.

To see how others interpret the word ‘(Extra)ordinary’ visit the Weekly Photo Challenge

Be Prepared: Dangers in a Tropical Paradise

‘The Chef’ picked up a large Ziplock bag and held it up for me to see. I almost gasped with laughter. It was bulging at the seams with gauze, tape, bandages, and assorted first aid essentials. In all the years I’ve travelled I never needed a first aid kit so I kind of thought it was over-the-top. I don’t think so anymore.


Dangers lurk in the water and on land in a tropical paradise.

Now as we get ready to make the move to Coron I’m reminded of the dangers that lurk in ‘paradise.’ Just last month in August a 24-year-old tourist died of speculated anaphylactic shock from stepping on a stonefish or sea urchin and also last month the town of Busuanga declared an outbreak of dengue fever (carried by mosquitoes). At least 90 people were admitted to the Coron District Hospital and one person died.

As beautiful as Palawan is it’s also fraught with dangers. There’s a big controversy now that the town of Coron is not ready to deal with medical emergencies. The tourist who died from stepping on a sea creature was apparently never warned by anyone, including the boatmen, not to step on the corals. They didn’t know what to do when he was in distress. The tourist’s boyfriend was the only one to attempt CPR. One can only speculate what the outcome would have been if the they had a first aid kit with an epi-pin.


There are other critters besides mosquitoes that like to bite. Antihistamines are a good addition to your first-aid kit.

On our second trip to Coron we stayed at a semi-remote cottage at the edge of the rainforest. ‘The Chef’ was bitten around the ankles by little black flies. His ankles swelled up, turned red, black and blue and became painful. He limped when he walked. It took 10 days and 20 antihistamines before it returned to somewhat normal. During that time the owner of the cottage thought we should have it checked out at the hospital which was a little concerning after she told us the hospital has the reputation that you ‘only go there to die!’

Nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

I got a nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

It started as a little itch on my leg. Over the course of 48 hours the itch had turned into a nasty, oozing, blistering rash. It didn’t hurt but it sure didn’t look pretty. I applied a topical antibiotic and ‘the Chef’ wrapped it with gauze to keep it clean. I drastically wanted to know what it was so I resorted to searching the internet to try and find out what it could be (I know that’s not a good thing). I was hesitant to go have it checked out as I knew the poor reputation of medical care here in Coron. The last thing I wanted was to be prescribed something I knew nothing about from someone who might not know what they’re doing.

As it turns out I must have brushed against what they call ‘burning grass’ when we went on an excursion to check out a property. A local told me to clean the rash, then pour hot, hot water over it a couple of times a day. It worked but it took a long four weeks for it to fully heal. During that time I joined a handful of other tourists in town whose appendages were also wrapped in gauze from various mishaps.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you stay hydtrated.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you don’t get over heated and stay well hydrated. We visited during the hottest part of the year and the three of us went through 1 jug (25 litres) of water almost every day in addition to all the beverages we consumed while we were out exploring.

Renting a motorbike can be perilous especially if you’ve never ridden one. Our friend King, received cuts and bruises when he crashed his motorbike over the side of an embankment trying to maneuver over a dilapidated wooden bridge. He was very lucky. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have attempted that particular trip and at the least would have insisted he wear a helmet. King as we found out is quite accident prone. During one of our property searches he stepped on a rusty nail while walking through the jungle and had to dig out a little piece left behind in his foot when he took out the nail.

Probably the most common health risks in the tropics relate to the heat and sun. Sunburn, heat stroke/sun stroke, heat rash, and dehydration can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. We’ve experienced all of these so now we know what to look out for.

Be Prepared

We sometimes take for granted that there will always be medical help when we need it. You should be prepared.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Educate yourself on the dangers in that environment.
  • Don’t assume medical help will always be close by or even adequate.
  • Make sure your basic vaccines (such as tetanus) are up to date.

DIY First Aid Kit List

What you put in your first aid kit will depend on risk factors like how long will you be travelling, what kind of activities you will be doing, etc. We usually stay a minimum of three weeks and are quite active. We like to swim, snorkel, motorbike and explore off-the-beaten path places. Here’s our first-kit supplies (we’ve used everything). We’ll probably add an antifungal cream and an Epi-pin.

    1. Analgesics (eg. Tylenol, ASA, codeine, ibuprofen, Tylenol #3)
    2. Assorted bandages and gauze
    3. Topical Antibiotic (in Canada we have Polysporin)
    4. Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
    5. Adhesive tape
    6. Scissors
    7. Tweezers
    8. Anti-septic wipes
    9. Eye patch
    10. Safety pins
    11. Antidiarrheal (such as Imodium)
    12. Antinauseant/motion sickness (such as Gravol)
    13. Mosquito repellent (the local OFF is very effective)
    14. Sunscreen

Would you rather buy a first aid kit? Day Tripper puts together an excellent one that’s compact, lightweight and easy to tuck away in a travel pack or suitcase. Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper

Cultural Curiosities: Searching for gas in a Coke bottle

Please do not drink.

Please do not drink.

We texted Vince. He was available to take us to a property that made it on our short list. It was well over 20 kilometres from town so we asked him if he had enough gas in his tank. We told him maybe we should put in more.

As we passed the edge of town it started to rain. We were getting pelted by raindrops from the open sides so we all tried to move strategically towards the center of the tricycle. Little beads of water started to form on the roof just above ‘the Chef’s’ head. I watched in amusement as the beads got heavy enough to fall.


Tricycle + Rain = Adventure

New gas stations seemed to have popped up since the last time we were here just nine months ago. As we reached the first station we saw it was closed. No gas. The next one was the same and so on. No one had gas. I started to get a bit worried.

No, motorcycles do not run on Coca Cola

No, motorcycles do not run on Coca Cola.

Suddenly, Vince veered off the road and stopped in front of a small roadside stand. He was handed a one litre green hued Coca Cola glass bottle and just like that we had gas! This ‘bote-bote’ (bottle-bottle) gasoline is an underground business for people who cater to motorists who want convenience. It actually makes sense when you think about how tricycle drivers try to save as much gas as they can when they transport people around. They already shift to neutral on downhill sections of road and coast. I can imagine they would be happy not to have to drive out of town for gas. It sure saved our trip.


Tricycles are the taxis of Coron.

But with these new gas stations and a recent fire that was made worse by a ‘bote-bote’ seller, the Municipality of Coron is now banning this practice. I know it’s for safety reasons but a little part of me is sad to see it go. It’s the kind of quirkiness that gives a place its character.

The #1 Reason We Love Palawan

Spear-fishing with Fred

Spear-fishing in Coron Bay.

“Do you want to go spear-fishing tomorrow?” Don asked. “Hell, Yeah!” we said. You didn’t have to ask us twice. Water is one of the many reasons we love Palawan. We are both inextricably drawn to the call of the sea.

Childhood memories

Bringing back childhood memories.

On our first visit to Palawan ‘the Chef’ was standing on a beach and with the sensation of sand between his toes was transported back to a time when he was an 8 year old boy. Back then his father was in the German army which gave the family the opportunity to move to a base in Sardinia, Italy. Here, his family lived on the beach in a canvas tent.


Water is life.

Imagine your father taking you and your little brother out to sea in a small boat and throwing you both overboard. This is how ‘the Chef’ learned to swim. With his new-found skill he learned to spear-fish with the local Italian kids. I didn’t have it quite so dramatic. We had civilized swimming lessons in grade four. I wasn’t a strong swimmer but always felt comfortable in water, so much so I jumped off the high diving board without really thinking about what happens when you reach the bottom.


Being part of the sea.

As mesmerizing as water can be it has incredible power that needs to be respected. The sea and mother nature are in constant flux. We got this dose of reality on our boat expedition from Coron to El Nido.

Forboding seas

Realizing you’re only a tiny part of mother nature.

Cruising over the Linapacan Strait, our small bangka groaned as we crested ten foot swells. I realized it was a hairy situation for the crew of the Krisolo when Jem our guide came to the front and asked us if we were okay. He had a concerned look. I knew we were in good hands with our old school Captain Lolong so I wasn’t so much concerned as I was captivated and exhilarated by the sea’s powerful energy.


Nothing cures whatever ails you like salt water can.

There’s just something about escaping on the water that calms the soul. Palawan is the ultimate water world for any nature lover. We can’t wait to make it our backyard.

Shopping for Dinner at the Coron Market


When you’re in a place where there are brown-outs almost every day and refrigeration is pretty unreliable you start to think differently about food. In the late afternoons we would join the many Coron locals and make our way to the market in search for some dinner. This became our daily routine.


We could never bring ourselves to buy meat. We are so conditioned to see our meat neatly wrapped in plastic and styrofoam we become disconnected to the animal it came from. Here, heads, snouts and guts hang beside the more common cuts of meat. It was a shock to see a pile of meat laying on a bare counter with pesky flies landing every once in a while. Ironically, it’s probably the freshest you will find.


Turning our attention to the very wet fish aisle, ‘The Chef’ would cruise up and down until something got his attention. He would take his time as the variety of fish was amazing and confusing. After paying for his pick we would make our way to the vegetable section then pick up some bread at the bakery on the way back.


At home, our friend ‘King’ always had the dubious honour of being sous chef, meaning he got to do all the dirty work like cleaning and filleting the fish. I probably had the best role – happy eater and dishwasher!

This post is part of the Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh.

WPC: Converge


I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to win big.

We were in Coron, Palawan during the Kasadyaan Festival in August. It was typical of many small town fairs around the world. Colourful food booths with outrageous food lined one street while small vendors plied their wares on another. The streets were alive with people.

We stopped at a small red trolley. I lined up to get my fix of salty, garlic fried peanuts. Directly across in a vacant lot a couple of bright yellow amusement rides waited for the chance to spin children around as their parents visited games of chance beside them.

Under bare fluorescent lights coins were laid down. The wheel of fortune spun round and round. Here, under the darkness of night hope, luck and kismet converged.

To see how others interpret the word ‘converge’ visit the Weekly Photo Challenge.

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