April in The Philippines: My First Propeller Plane Ride

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My time in Puerto Princesa very quickly came to an end. The main problem was finding accommodation. It was impossible to find an empty bed at the time as there was a regional sports meet in addition in the city in addition to the bible dedication.  After the dedication was over, I felt that I shouldn’t overstay my welcome. After coming back from the morning at Honda Bay, I knew I had to bring my plans forward and head out of Puerto Princesa, and fast.  The next leg of the trip involved heading north to Coron to dive the famous WWII wrecks. I thought I’d splurge on a 1 hour plane ride instead of taking a bumpy and unpredictable ride that could take 24 hours via various public buses and ferries. The only problem was that the flight was leaving in two hours and I still hadn’t a ticket.

Michael took me on what was a mini version of The Amazing Race and sped me round town first looking for the travel agent and then finding that they were out on their lunch break, straight to the airport. I managed to get past airport security without a plane ticket by waving my Singapore passport at the nice guard at the door. To cut the long story short, I managed to get on the plane, but not all the way to Coron. Instead I was to stop at El Nido even though the plane was heading there and had empty seats. Why? Because there was only sufficient fuel to carry 36 kg more of payload! Dismayed that I wasn’t an anorexic teenager, I resigned myself to stopping in El Nido first. At least I made it on the plane.

When I saw the plane on the tarmac I realised why they had to be so precise in their fuel measurements. It was the smallest plane I’d ever been on!

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Of course I had to take a picture with it!

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This baby could take a grand total of 11 passengers and had no aircrew. To my great surprise, I was flying with the mayors (or some sort of official-type) of Coron and El Nido. They were very friendly and of course astonished that I would travel on my own like this.

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I wasn’t too impressed by the level of safety for the pilots here. I was seated right behind one of the pilots and throughout the flight I enjoyed the lovely view of half of the back of his head.

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This flight made me realise the sheer delight of flying. Forget jumbo liners, the scenery from lower flying propeller planes is what you want. First, you get the clouds…

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… then as the clouds clear, you see the islands. Darkest green against the deepening blue, they faded out into further distant islands fringed by pale yellow sand beaches.

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It was utterly captivating just to watch the play of colours across the landscape. For once, I put away my books and note-taking, simply sitting back to take it all in.

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It looked like one of those pictures that appear only on travel brochures.

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It was only too soon that the journey ended at the smallest airport I’ve set eyes on. More of that later, but not without first taking a picture of the cockpit…

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… and charming one of the pilots into a photo with me!

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April in The Philippines: Puerto Princesa

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Some members of another church in Singapore were also Michael’s supporters. Knowing that I couldn’t find a room in Puerto Princesa (it was chock full because of a regional sports meet happening at the same time), a pair of ladies very kindly let me stay with them in their hotel room. Not only that, they also shared a queen size bed and let me have the other queen all to myself! It was bliss staying in a nice starred hotel with private toilets after so long.

The next day was Sunday and I went with them to visit one of the Kagayanen churches in Puerto Princesa. Apparently a lot of Kagayanens migrated to the main island and settled in Puerto Princesa.

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We attended the service in the small church…

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… and saw the fruit of Michael’s work in the hands of the Kagayanens. It was lovely to see how happy they were to have the bible in their own mother tongue, in a language that could speak straight to their hearts.

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I also went to have a peek at the Sunday School, where all the children were smiley and happy and enthusiastic.

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Of course, they were far more enthusiastic after Sunday School let out. The lechon was a huge draw for the kids, especially when the adults were hacking it up into juicy, crispy bits.

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As with church and Filippino custom, there was a sturdy table piled with an incredible array and volume of food. The lechon was the first to go as it was everyone’s favourite. Good thing they offered us some morsels first, because after the tray left it, we simply didn’t have a second chance. The rest of the food was really good too, all home made. It was such a great way to sample local food cooked by locals! Let’s see, I had some kind of offal dish, something called kare-kare which was a dish with braised banana hearts, and the usual chicken and fish cooked in unusual ways. And we couldn’t leave till we were groaning, not the table.

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The next day, we took a trip out to Honda Bay for some snorkelling and general relaxing. It was paradise-blue, amazing.

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We had a little picnic by the beach. Some of us walked on the beach, some of us snorkelled. (It was pretty amazing, I saw some razorfish and trumpetfish.)

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And some of us just lazed like these two starfish on the beach.

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April in The Philippines: The Bible Dedication

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I said bye to the diving group at Manila airport and hopped onto a connecting flight to Puerto Princesa. Just as I settled into my seat, there was an announcement asking for volunteers to be offloaded. They’d be given a nice hotel room and flown out to Puerto Princesa on the next flight out the next day. On top of that, they’d get a return ticket to anywhere in the Visayas (Cebu area) as compensation. I was very sorely tempted by that, but sadly kept my seat as I had to be in Puerto Princesa that very day for a bible dedication.

You see, my church had been supporting a missionary who was involved in some translation work for the villagers on Cagayancillo, a tiny remote island somewhere in the large expanse between Palawan and Luzon in the Sulu sea. They’d recently finished translating the New Testament and were holding a dedication ceremony to which lots of overseas supporters were invited. Now, how often do you get to witness something like this while on holiday? I stayed put in my seat.

As we walked across the tarmac to the Puerto Princesa arrival terminal, a military brass band complete with saxophonist serenaded us. Apparently the mayor of Puerto Princesa had arrived in town straight from an overseas junket just to grace the bible dedication! It was great to come in at the same time as the mayor and receive the mayoral welcome.

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Michael, our missionary-translator, was kind enough to meet me at the airport despite being one of the busy stars of the dedication. He whisked me straight to the hall where the event was held. Soon enough, the mayor himself appeared and gave a congratulatory speech.

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Then came some very touching homespun performances by the talented Kagayanens. Here’s the band playing some haunting Kagayanen melodies, complete with rain shakers and local guitars. I wish I had a proper recording of it instead of snatches of it on the video function on my crappy camera.

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After that, there was a bit of a pantomime/sketch that showed the journey of the Kagayanens and their everyday life, complete with cute props of traditional boats and cooking implements.

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I’m sure there was some sort of praying and dedication stuff happening, but I forget. The rest of the activities were lots more fun! The best part of the dedication ceremony was the end, when the band starting jamming and two by two the villagers got up to dance. It was really sweet how very soon a lot of the overseas visitors soon joined in, many pulled up to dance by an enthusiastic local.

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Later that evening, the mayor hosted the supporters (us) for a lovely dinner and cultural performance at the hotel. Now, a cultural performance put up by the mayor of the island can’t be beat. It was top notch, full of colour and talent. Again, I wished my camera didn’t let me down. This shot was the best I got because they actually stayed still to pose for pictures here. At least you can make out the colourful costumes. Moral of the story? You’ve got to be there yourself in person.

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The best part of the whole dinner party was the mayor giving out rain shakers and personally thanking each guest (including me!) for coming all this way for the bible dedication. It was a sincere gesture from someone who genuinely seemed to care about his constituents, even those in the remotest corner of his remote island.