Silence, back to basics in stunning San Vicente, Palawan

Travel to a new place at least once in your life, but if you can afford to leave it all, make it once a year, ideally.

The big city has too many distractions, making it hard to get away from the rat race and dismal routine of Manila. You have to wonder why so many of us are here. We’re bursting at the seams.

Then again, easier said than done – not everyone can afford to. But if you can, just go.

My love affair with the island of Palawan has lasted longer than my past relationships. It’s no summer fling, folks. From the tip of Culion to Busuanga, Coron, Puerto Princesa and further down to El Nido, there has never been enough time to cover it all, but God knows I’ve tried.

Palawan’s pristine waters, coral reefs, lakes, wrecks and calm island people keep me coming back every single year. Each visit exposes interesting nooks around the province, while unfortunately, there are signs of development and destruction.

Before the start of the monsoon season, we made the decision to take 10 days off to explore the northwestern cove of San Vicente, from the end of May to the first week of June.  Approximately about 185 kilometers from Puerto Princesa by land, it is the same road you take when you travel to Port Barton or El Nido.

The basics

The plan of action was to head to the home of a family friend, visual artist Diokno Pasilan. Since he and his wife are currently based in Australia, he was kind enough to share his beach front property with us. They had discovered the place over 10 years ago.

After an hour’s flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, you board a van for a 5-hour journey by land.  The area of San Vicente boasts of 14km white sand beaches, with no development along the stretch. (READ: Head to 'Borawan' and these 5 unspoiled PH beaches)

The best tip is to rent a personal van and stock up on supplies at Puerto Princesa. Pick up all the basic needs for your whole stay, from toiletries to dry goods, condiments, vegetables, meats and shellfish. Take katol (anti-mosquito coils) – lots of it, and any other mosquito repellent on earth.

A first aid kit is essential, because there are no doctors in sight for miles. Fresh fish is abundant in the market of San Vicente, but everything else is fairly hard to get by. Most travel guides do a great disservice to city folk. You really have to research and ask to know what you’re getting into.

As our van pulled up before sunset, it was a sight to behold. Diokno and his wife Ruth named their property Kabantagan, after a local plant, a bamboo-like vine that is common to the area. Kabantagan is in the barangay of Kemdeng.  “Paedeng” is the root word of “Kemdeng” – in Tagbanua, meaning “little dog or puppy.”  The natives have a great affinity for dogs; they make loyal companions for hunting in the forest, and the best guards to secure your property.

For more action, one can go snorkeling in Port Barton and other close by islands, a boat ride away. Our days were spent swimming in complete isolation and discussing what the next meal would be. A generator ran for 4 hours in the evening and was promptly shut down before midnight. Diesel isn’t cheap in these parts. We hardly saw a soul.

I’m not going to lie. Our first two nights, which passed without a fan, were hell. The heat before the rain, the bugs, and the complete darkness in all directions, just made you wonder – what could possibly crawl into your bed at night? But after we got over ourselves dealing with the lack of fully charged gadgets, and our bodies adjusted to the temperature and the presence of bugs, everything started to settle in.

We created a routine, rose early, read, talked about life, cooked together, listened to music, swam, walked, and drank – the hard kind. Good excuse! Water was not easy to come by. The tank didn’t fill up enough through lack of electricity.

Still time

There is still time to see this achingly beautiful town of Palawan in all its glory. It’s quite a blessing in disguise that it is such a chore to get to. No development, less people. That’s something that is rare in this day and age. Most people want to be seen and heard at a beach. Where’s the action? The party?

The silence can be deafening. If you can’t visualize yourself in a place stripped down to the basics, and stay still enough to just take in nature, San Vicente is not the place for you.

On our last day on the island, I walked on my own, trying to digest how the time flew by. Past the long stretch of sand, along the cove, the water was still. Stunning. A group of elderly Tagbanuas passed by.  “Good afternoon,” I said. One of them turned to smile. I watched them walk until I could no longer see them along the horizon.

I landed in Manila, later on in the night.  The view from my balcony felt surreal to me; I watched the chaos of gray buildings and cars below. As I stooped down to water my ailing plants, it occurred to me that it felt like those people on that island really understood life. They never left. Maybe they had it all figured out. –