You Can't Make This Stuff Up
Andy and I were living in Seoul, Korea. We were very fortunate because it was a hub for travel in and around Asia. It was relatively easy to get most anywhere and we tried our best to take advantage of that. So after a bit of research we decided we wanted to go to Coron, a large island in the Palawan area of the Philippines. The draw to going here was three fold - a tropical paradise, an incredible scuba diving area, and off the main tourist grid.
Whenever we had time for a vacation, I always wanted to have a little 'soak' time at the beach. Nothing decompresses me as well as that expansive ocean. We were somewhat experienced scuba divers and had read about the 11 main shipwrecks from WWII that had become an artificial reef home to a host of sea creatures. We also heard you may see wonderful things like a leopard sharks and brilliant corals among the plentiful other marine life. Lastly, getting off the grid, passing the tension line, getting out of dodge, we just needed to get away. We really love it when we meet real people without an agenda. We didn't want the sales pitch of the Phuket suit salesman with the lingering handshake that almost turns into an arm pull into the shop or the hustle and bustle of every tourist trying to spend time on the same little gem of a beach.
Getting to Coron was a little bit more interesting. It required a flight to Manila, then a flight to Cebu I believe, then a flight to Coron and there is always some type of boat trip involved. I don't remember exactly how the itinerary went, but I know we had to get to Manila first. And that is where the story begins. Upon arrival to the Manila airport, we hurried to catch the next flight. It was of no use, it had been delayed. It was raining like a son of a bitch - so the saying goes, but I am not sure why - and we were stuck in the airport. We checked in frequently asking about when the next flight would be departing and if we would be able to still get on it. We were told about 1 hour every time we checked. We grew to know the Manila airport inside and out. What to eat, where to eat, book stores, shops, anything and everything. Eventually, we were told that the flight had been cancelled until tomorrow and we would have to come back then. Well, that posed an interesting problem, where to stay for the night. We didn't want to get out and walk around with our luggage in the rain, so we just went to the recommended hotel and crashed for the night.
We arrived bright and early for the first flight out only to find it was delayed. After about the third delay, we specifically asked how long they expected the delay for and when the last flight had gone out. It wasn't until now we were told that the Busuanga Airport in Coron had been flooded for a week in a typhoon and they didn't expect any flights for the next couple of days. 'Why?!@#$! Why wouldn't you have told us this yesterday, when we first checked in for the flight.' I don't know if you can hear the incredibly irritated tone, but it was loud and clear on that day. The response, a simply put 'you didn't ask'. Wow...
So, now sitting in the Manila airport we had to find somewhere else to go and trade our tickets in. We went over the the all too familiar bookstore and bought a travel guide of the Philippines. As we studied the guide and frequently checked the flight schedules to various places, we were growing weary. We couldn't fly there today, this place only has flights once a week, this one requires two boat trips once arriving and a 12 hour bus ride... How did we find ourselves in this position - sitting on a wood bench in a row with strangers all trying to find the best place to go spur of the moment with no idea what to do. I was walking toward the bench looking at Andy with his nose buried in the travel book and suddenly I see this dwarf of a man 'pop' himself up onto the bench next to Andy and start talking. He was not well groomed, he looked like he had been through the wringer along with us, a bit disheveled. He wore a bright Hawaiian style button down shirt, flip flops and was in desperate need of a nose hair trim. He jumped down and disappeared. I walked over and sat down next to Andy and he smiled, turned to me and said 'we are following him to Boracay, he says he knows someone with a room for us'.
I couldn't help myself, really? We were going to follow this guy blindly on a plane, a boat ride, a tuk tuk ride and go to some unknown room he knows about? Well, as Andy said, 'do you have a better plan?' No, I did not. So this started our journey with PerChristian Bøhn, the Norwegian dwarf in Manila to take us to the place he lived in Boracay. You can't make this stuff up. Everywhere we went it seemed to be a cross pollination of cultures and people that was truly amazing and exciting. How fortunate we are to have met this lovely man too.
So as we boarded Cebu Pacific Airlines to go directly to Boracay, I smiled to myself with a little chuckle and thought 'what a wonderful life'. It was on the plane that I first got to really meet Christian, he rolled up the center aisle and stood next to me seated , looking at me eye to eye. He told us to stay close to him when we deplaned, that we would need to hurry to get one of the first vans to take us to the boat dock or we would be waiting for hours. He would arrange for all of our tickets and we could pay him back later. So we did as he said and stayed close to him. We took a short ride in a van to the dock, it was dark and raining.
We couldn't see much of a boat, but on the way back we saw it all. It was a make shift outrigger with a roof where our luggage was put, I wondered if it would fall through and crush someone. This was the type of boat that you read about some horrific tragedy that took place with no survivors. We placed our trust in Christian and looked twice at the life vests as we boarded. They were hung neatly along the top edge of the wall that met the ceiling where our luggage was placed. It was clear there were not enough for everyone on the boat. It was also clear there were way too many people on this boat. But surprisingly enough we made it to the other side and again in the dark and the rain, we followed Christian to a small tuk tuk. We piled in and held our luggage on our laps as we barreled down the pot hole riddled road, splashing puddles at those walking, casting shadows on scrappy buildings along the way.
We had arrived, it was a proper place and as promised a room was available for us. I think we had our choice of rooms as there were few visitors during the rainy days we had selected to travel. Christian left us and said we would meet back at the bar for a drink in about an hour. We were tired, ridden hard and put away wet. We had the drink but then told Christian we would catch up with him tomorrow and we did.
We had a lovely day and Christian stopped by the hotel. It was surreal to see Christian and my husband in this setting. They were fast friends, laughing and boisterous as if they had know each other for a lifetime. The hotel was a paradise with stairs that were wide and cascading like the ones in the house Tara, from the movie Gone with the Wind. We were right on the water and positioned in front of a small island that had a religious monument on it. During low tied you could walk out to it and climb the stairs to the top. We were also next door the the infamous Fridays resort. We were able to hit two out of three of the check marks on our travel list - paradise and off the grid due to the rainy season.
Christian, the man we blindly followed, is a lovely man who is selfless and prioritizes those around him first. This was evident not only with us, but shortly after we returned home to Korea, we saw he was volunteering to pack food for typhoon victims in his neighborhood. He has a lovely family which we had the honor to meet.