[Part 5] British backpacker’s PH adventure: My Pinoy guardian angel

Will Hatton
Will survives an arduous swim while getting lost on the way to town in search of wifi

This is part 5 of British backpacker Will Hatton’s travel diary documenting his first trip to the Philippines. Follow along with his Philippine adventure right here on Rappler.

Read Part 1: Pulag sunrise 

Part 2: Caving in Sagada

Part 3: Tattooed by Whang Od, the living legend 

Part 4: Street food in Manila

Part 5: My Pinoy guardian angel 

Part 6: Lonely island and Mr GaGa

Part 7: Leaving the Philippines

NATURAL BEAUTY. The beach paradise I foolishly left in search of wifi. Photo by Crystal Egan

Whilst on the island paradise of Palawan, I wrote a story for Rappler on my adventures exploring and sleeping upon isolated islands. Determined to bring this story to you as quickly as possible I made the decision to trek from a secret beach, beautiful yet extremely remote, to a small town where I knew I might find wifi. My journey to the town itself turned out to be a truly hair-raising adventure…

Tangled vines clawed at my chest like the angry hands of wild beasts. The water was past my hips and rising fast. I strode forwards with grim determination, hopelessly lost in the mangrove swamp. “Follow the coast till you find the path, don’t lose the path” – this is what the one-armed boat man had said to me with a beaming smile.

I had definitely lost the path. I lost it some time ago. I inched forward, searching for solid ground on the oozing, slippery floor. Something whisked past my shin and I fought to remain calm. It was not a snake. If I wished hard enough, it would not be a snake. Coconut husks, brown and sodden, drifted past me, the current carrying them out to sea.

IN HINDSIGHT. I should have bought a machete. Photo by Crystal Egan

I took off my backpack, my precious laptop and iPod enclosed within, and balanced it on my head with one hand. The mangroves were impenetrable, I couldn’t go any further into them, I had to go round them, through the sea. I stepped deeper, the water rushed past my stomach and up to my chest.

This was ridiculous.

This absolutely HAD to be wrong, surely people didn’t get from one side of the island to the other by nearly drowning themselves? I began to swim, one arm pulling me forwards with strong yet tiring strokes, the other keeping my bag firmly on top of my head.

How far would I have to go like this? I could hear music up ahead, maybe I was on the path? Maybe this had something to do with tides? Perhaps it was simply hidden and I was trekking at the wrong time of the day? I swam on, the music had to be coming from a fisherman’s boat, he had to be nearby.

The track changed and I suddenly heard my brother’s voice singing to the clash of British punk…oh sh*t. Either there was an invisible fisherman who happened to follow my brother’s punk band or I had left my iPod on. The realisation that I truly was alone in the sea, swimming with one arm, hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer. Panic began to creep into the back of my throat. I forced it down; I was turning around, I was getting out of here.

SHAREPH. Beautiful beach. Photo provided by Will Hatton

I turned quickly in the water, trying to think of happy thoughts rather than of crocodiles (the one thing I am truly terrified of) and found myself faced with a literal wall of huge jellyfish. Three of them. Floating towards me, stingers outstretched like the hands of a lover. Except this was the kind of lover you most definitely did not go to bed with. (READ: 7 romantic PH travel destinations for your dating milestones)

‘Screw it’ I thought, I can’t go back, this is some kind of a sign. I turned again, keen to escape the glutinous blobs of pain and to get back to shallower water.

BLOBS OF PAIN. Jellyfish alert!

I spotted a small opening in the mangrove swamp and swam into it, the sunlight ebbed as a murky darkness enveloped me. This was seriously scary. My only consolation, it was getting gradually shallower, my toes scraped the bottom. I made for a rock jutting from the water and hauled myself onto it. Dry land!! Nearly one square meter of dry land!

I looked around, I was not going back out to sea, the risk of getting stung and then losing my laptop was too great. I opted to try and force my way out of the swamp. I headed inland and with relief found myself crawling up a steep bank towards the sunlight! Without warning the mangrove spat me out onto a sandy path. A beautiful, totally obvious, path.

This had to be THE path! It was bordered my pretty little fields, the odd hut and the mangroves below it… It looked like a rather pleasant walk.

BREATHE. Catching my breath before I continue upon my journey. Photo by Crystal Egan

I sighed. My laptop was still dry, wrapped in plastic bags and concealed within my pack. All was well. I followed the path for another ten minutes before I came to a river flowing out to sea. It was perhaps 15 meters wide and on the other side I could see the town. I was so close! I was hardly going to let some small river stop me. I waded in and instantly found myself swimming with my flip flops in my mouth and my bag above my head. A curious local with a checkered scarf rushed to the waters edge. (IN PHOTOS: 8 PH lakes to add to your travel bucket list)

“Are you ok, Sir?” he shouted.

I spat out my flip flops. “Arrrrgh!” I responded in my best Tagalog.

He got the picture and rushed in to help me. I kept my bag above me and sank, one arm outstretched, waiting to feel him take the bag. The hand of God reached down and plucked the bag from my grasp. I surfaced, laughing, spluttering, swearing. I clambered up and out of the river, rushing back in quickly to retrieve my chewed flip flops.

The local man looked at me like I was loco. ‘Sir, there is a bridge over there….’ He told me gently. I looked. There was indeed a bridge. But I was alive! My laptop was ok! I had survived!! I smiled at him, clapped him on the shoulder and we walked along the beach chatting…

That evening, relaxing in front of a roaring fire on my isolated beach (I had taken a boat back) I thought again on the lengths I had gone to bring a story to my readers and to check Facebook. The first, I was proud of. The second, not so much. It was time to unplug.

UNPLUG. Photo provided by Will Hatton

I turned off my phone, looked up at the stars above me, soaked in the sound of the waves lapping the shore and breathed a deep sigh of relief… I was in The Philippines. All was well, thanks to my Filipino guardian angel! – Rappler.com

Some photos by Crystal Egan. Visit her site here

Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at thebrokebackpacker.com about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if you’re really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.