04.01.2009 - 05.01.2009 28 °C
answer...an infinite number.
Wow. What a 2 days of travel. I always thought I was pretty good when it came to traveling and just going with the flow...you know...delays are delays....you won't have enough space, but you squeeze in anyway...that sort of thing. Well I'm exhausted.
We got up at 6am yesterday morning for our boat trip to Port Barton. The wind was still blowing strong and the seas were still pretty big, but we decided to go for it, along with another German couple. The boat was finally ready to go at 9am, but somehow another group of 3 Germans gazumped us and suddenly the four of us found ourselves stranded. I was pretty peed off...the four of us had been planning our getaway long before the other 3 had even arrived on the island, but before I had a chance to say anything they had staked there claim to the boat, claiming they "had to get to Port Barton right away" (I have to say in stereotypical german style...do the Brits remember that commercial, I think it was for Calsberg, with the Dambusters music and the Germans throwing their towels, bouncing bomb style, from their hotel balcony to claim the pool loungers before the Brits could get there.....reminded me of that!)....I assumed they had a bus to catch or something....grrrr.
We were left waiting for it's return...in maybe an hour...yea right! 2 games of Uno, 3 pancakes, a few cups of coffee, and in fact 3 hours later, we saw the boat heading back to the beach.
We loaded all our backpacks into big plastic bags and put them at the back of the boat, and then timed our run, trying to avoid the crashing waves as we jumped on board. Well what a waste of time that was as in less than 10 seconds it was as though I'd been swimming. Soaked, head to toe, from waves crashing over the bow. We trawled along at an incredibly slow speed to avoid swamping the boat. It was absolutely freezing as the winds howled and every other wave drenched us. The 2 boat guys did a sterling job of keeping it upright and bailing out. I lost track of how long the crossing was, but it was between 1 and 2 hours.
As we came into Port Barton bay it was shielded from the wind, so the sea became very calm. We pulled up into the shallows and jumped off with our bags into the water, heading up the beach to look for a room. First place was full, second place had one room, and the German couple we were with insisted on us taking it (well ok, we said "you take it", they said "no, you take it" and we said "ok!"...I don't need to be told twice!). As we walked round to our little bungalow, who should I see across the way, but the other 3 @#$% Germans who'd stolen our ride, sitting there drinking beer. Seems they were in no more of a hurry than us to get there and just felt like jumping the queue as the seas were calmer first thing in the morning.
The room was basic, but concrete rather than bamboo nipa hut, which is a strange luxury in this part of the world...just feels more bug proof to me. Port Barton is a very quiet and lazy village. We found a great little restaurant with internet access which served really good Thai food, so hung out there for the rest of the day. We also enquired about how to get to El Nido, the next destination on our list. The options seemed to be, a boat, that would take 6 or so hours....we really weren't up for that after the days activities...or a series of bus/Jeepney rides. We opted for overland.
Basically we had to get a Jeepney from Port Barton to Roxas on the opposite coast...a couple of hours...and then from there we were being given estimates of anything from 5 or more hours to El Nido in the north. Taytay is the former capital that appeared to lay halfway between Roxas and El Nido, so we thought that would be an option for a night too to break up the journey.
Another 6am morning and we check out of our room and hiked down the beach to the Bamboo Restaurant, where the Jeepney to Roxas was leaving from at 7:30am. It was already there and waiting when we got there at about 6:45am. I'll let the picture explain what this thing is like, but essentially (and I counted), 5 rows of 2 bench seats with an aisle down the middle, that at a push were probably made for 3 and 2 filipinos (i.e. small people). An area about 3 feet long and the width of the bus at the back for luggage, and a luggage rack on the top. By my reckoning, even knowing they fill these things to the brink, I figured 6 on each row and a few on top, maybe 40 odd people would get crammed on?
"the jeepney before everyone got on"
We soon found out that it was the day before school starts back up so all the kids were heading over to Roxas. We layed claim to a back row, right hand side bench (on the direction of some philipino chap) by putting our 2 back packs down and then headed to the restaurant for a coffee. Just as the coffee arrived I heard the bus start up...and then drive off (it was about 7am at this point!). A slight moment of panic, before realizing it wasn't a complete disaster, we had our little day pack with passports/money etc in...but a little peived that our 2 laptops had just headed off round the corner. The girl at the restaurant assured us it would be back, and had just gone on a circuit of the village to pick people up. I only half believed her, having read stories of jeepney drivers taking off when the bus was full, regardless of time or location.
Sure enough though it pulled back round a few minutes later and we went to jump on board. Well our bags were still on the back row, along with a family of 5. The first four rows were absolutely crammed with people, mainly young school girls...and I mean crammed, 7 or 8 to a row with luggage. The luggage area at the back, was crammed with people sitting on buckets...and I also spotted 2 chickens and a pig (no joke!). The question now was do we sit on the luggage rack up top or do we try and get to our seats. We opted for our seats....we somehow worked our way through the throngs in the back and wedged ourselves into an area that had room for about one of our butt cheeks (not one each)...and about 4 inches of leg room. Well I had 4 inches of leg room (being one in from the window), Kim didn't have any by the window as the wheel arch was under her feet. We managed to wedge Kim's backback down by her feet and she was able to adopt a sideways slant seating position, while I jammed my backpack (which had 2 laptops in and was @#$% heavy) onto my lap, at which time breathing became difficult, and all the time trying not to stand on the box down by my feet that had another live chicken in it, belonging to the unfortunate young girl who'd ended up in the seat (and I use the term loosly), next to me!
I counted 50 people inside the bus at one point, but I know it kept filling up behind. The roof was full of people and luggage as well, and sometime around the scheduled departure time we set off.
I can't even begin to describe the road conditions....it was essentially a mountain pass crossing west to east across Palawan. Obviously dirt road not tarmac, and actually more thick mud like. I have no idea how we didn't get stuck, I guess testamount to the vehicle and its driver, but we slipped and slid our way at a snails pace up and over to the other coast. Other than my Vietnam taxi ride, this has been the only other time where I've been somewhat nervous on public transport. More than once I ran the scenario through my mind of us tipping over and figured I'd didn't have a preference over getting squashed if we fell one way or tumbling 500 feet down a mountainside if we fell the other. It was, no question, the worst bus journey of my life. My knees were almost bleeding as they were scraped left and right on the back of the metal seat in front of me, I was dripping with sweat, feeling very sick, and the worst part....my backside...oh my god, it is raw from sitting on the bench which had next to no padding (like my backside too for those that hadn't noticed!). Sometime into the journey (it seemed an age), I was really struggling and Kim graciously took the backpack on her lap for a few minutes to give me some relief. She had the same problem of not being able to breath, so I decided I was going to find another spot for it, even if it meant evicting a chicken or possibly the pig. I spotted a few inches of floor space off to my right, so went for it, hurling the backpack over, and hoping the laptops would survive. This gave some much needed space and relief.
I believe the journey was a couple of hours, but I'm not really sure. We started to finally see people jumping off as we neared Roxas, and were able to spread out and spend the last 10 or 15 minutes in comparitive luxury.
I had begun to think the top of the bus might have been the better alternative, until I saw the German couple, that we'd taken the boat with the previous day and who'd turned up at the last minute and ended up up there, take the first opportunity to come inside. They were quite a boisterous pair usually, but were decidely pale and quiet, and not smiling or joking when they made it in.
Not a minute too soon we arrived at the bus depot in Roxas. By that point I'd firmly decided I couldn't stand another 6 plus hours of the same thing, and that Taytay would probably be my limit for that day. Thankfully Kim agreed and we went in search for a ride there. No one seemed terribly interested, but Kim found one guy who seemed to think he could take us....in maybe 30 minutes! We perched ourselves in a very dusty corner of the bus station and waited...and waited...for about an hour or so, maybe an hour and half. Eventually we were ushered onto a little air conditioned minibus, just the 2 of us, sheer luxury...nice comfy seats and lots of legroom. Getting suspicious I asked the price...and was given a very reasonable answer....so then thought, to good to be true...and sure enough we were driven out of the bus depot to the nearest Jeepney stop. But no, we didn't have to get on a jeepney, they were just looking for other passengers.
After some investigating we managed to find out that the guy driving the minibus had to go to El Nido anyway, so was giving us a ride and anyone else he could find. When we found this out, we decided to give Taytay a miss, and go all the way whilst we had a comfortable spot. We picked up a few people along the way, but it wasn't crowded at all. It was a rough ride though....dirt track all the way and big pot holes. We were both exhausted when we pulled into the small town of El Nido....but pleased that the journey only took about 4 or 5 hours. Oh and that included a slight hiccup, when we were heading down a steep gradient and the driver decided his right front brake was no longer working. After stopping. jacking up the van, and a moment of investigation the general consensus seemed to be that a replacement of the brake pads was needed. So thats what they did...and pretty quickly I have to say...they had all the tools and supplies onboard! We were underway again in about 20 minutes.