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I have come to realize lately that I haven't really seen much of my country. Travelling for the past years meant getting out of the country with the desire to see something that we don't really see much back home - autumn leaves, winter breeze and everything else in between. But if there is one thing the past two months have taught me, it would definitely be the immense beauty of my own country. The sudden trips gave me the desire to see more of the beautiful and diverse landscape that we actually own.
One of the blessings that came by suddenly last February was to be given an opportunity to travel with my husband's Aunts and brother. We accompanied Aunt Wilma to her high school reunion in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The place holds a lot of dear memories for my husband, it is where he spent most of his summer breaks and fond memories from his childhood. This trip was very special to me because I got to open one of the many Pandora boxes that my husband hold - I had a personal experience of how he spent his countless of summers by going to the places he frequented and eating the food they would usually enjoy.  
Puerto Princesa is an emerging City, the Airport is newly renovated and way better than the other domestic airports to date. They offer self driven rental cars right outside the airport, and this is what we actually used to go around the town. If there is one thing I noticed about Puerto, it would be its rich and lush greenery, one which I hope would be kept despite its drive toward development. I think this makes the place very special on its own as the lush sights brings a person into another dimension or sense of wonder. Growing up in and rarely leaving the city, I haven't seen this much green my whole life. There is something so majestic about being able to walk freely in a forest, looking up at the trees enveloping the surroundings and breathing the fresh air.
We spent our first day touring around the city where we got to check out the Mitra Farm, Baker's Hill, and the Crocodile Farm. My husband wasn't joking when he told me there really isn't much to see but trees and occasional food hubs, but I still did enjoy the tour as it was something still very much different from what I was accustomed with. 
Since we were only in Puerto Princesa for literally two full days, our last day was dedicated for island hopping and I strongly suggest this route if you are on a quick getaway and would just like to see more of Puerto Princesa. But if you have more days to spare, checking out the Underground River for half a day and go firefly watching at the Iwahig River at night would also be a gem! 
Booking an island hopping tour in Puerto Princesa wouldn't be a problem as most of the accommodations in the island would definitely have their own contacts or recommendations for the tour that you want to have. For this trip, we decided to go for the Honda Bay island hopping tour.

Located in the mid-eastern coast of Puerto Princesa, Honda Bay boasts a number of beautiful islands around its territory. Most tour packages, like the one that we took include hotel pickup and dropoff. Since we stayed at the city center, the ride to the Honda Bay port took us around 30-45 minutes but the usual average travel time if you are staying on further areas would be around an hour or so. Upon arrival to the port, we were met by our tour guide and were asked to join the rest of the tour group. Our tour package included boat transfers, entrance fees to the islands, lunch and life vests. We were advised to rent out snorkeling gears and aqua shoes to which we did, it wasn't really hard to get our gear because there is a shop by the port that offer a complete variety of gears, the only thing that we struggled with would be the long line and volume of people renting the same stuff because there was only one store who carried out the business.
While waiting for the rest of the group to finish renting, I decided to walk around the port and observe the locals and the way they built their homes. I always do this in my travels, I like to immerse myself with the often less travelled and inquired details of a place. I really think that we all need to be curious enough to see beyond our tours and start to observe the people that make the place what it is and how it looks like.

My thesis never left me in this trip, even the last one in Boracay. If there's anything that I took home with me, it would be a deeper understanding of the material that I'm trying to work on and a recalibration of how I should visually narrate my work using this beautiful material.
The first stop in our island hopping adventure would be Starfish Island: It is known for...well, the huge population of Starfish and corals. In fact, this island has the most number of star fish in all of Palawan! We really took our time to snorkel and see huge and beautiful corals as well as the amount of fishes swimming along with us. It's such a shame to admit, but this is actually my first time to snorkel. I have always been a fan of the beach but never really had enough interest to step out of the sand and look deep in the water to see the rich vista it could offer. So this adventure definitely made me fall in love with the sea, its creatures and it gave me a sense of awareness as to how much I can strongly contribute to preserving this beauty. 
Aside from the beautiful creatures, Starfish Island and most of the islands along honda bay boast a lush population of mangroves.
The second stop to our adventure would be Luli Island: "luli" is actually a short cut for the term "lulubog, lilitaw" which could be translated in english as "sinking and rising". The island was coined with the name as it literally submerges in the water during high tide and greets its visitors with its powdery sand during low tide.

Luli Island was my favorite among the three islands we got to visit. Maybe because we spent more time here, had lunch here and actually got to interact with other people. One would not miss this small shack that serves drinks as it is the only area where the loud reggae music would be coming from. Order a bottle of ice cold beer or a glass of mojito and get friendly with the resident mixer, he might actually give you something extra. This is also where most of the visitors flock around after lunch to interact and get their refreshments and dance along the upbeat tunes.
If you're not the type to get yourself in a crowd and interact, there is also some peace and quiet in the island. You can lie down by the sand and get your tan, just make sure you won't forget to turn around for an even tone!;)
But when you get tired from resting, head on to the side of the island where all the screams are probably coming from to see this diving spot. My husband and brother in law took a few trips to the board and jumped by the cold water.
Brothers having fun!
Our last stop for the day was Cowrie Island. There's really nothing much about the island but it is probably the best place to get decent rest and enjoy several water activities like kayaking, banana boat rides and jetski riding. The island also offers massage services by the beach for those who wish to rejuvenate from the long day of swimming and water activities.
We decided to swim and eventually made a friend! We talked so much that we didn't even notice how long we were at the water or if we were being called already to go back to our boat. This was definitely a perfect way to end an island hopping trip! If we had more time, we would actually take more islands than the usual recommended ones, but it's still the best decision we've made given our tight schedule. We ended our tour at 4:30pm and headed back to the city center to catch the sunset in the famous Badjao Seafront restaurant.
We went here on our first night but to no avail, the line was so long and we were too  hungry to wait it out! So, we decided to come and visit the place after our island hopping adventure before the peak hour started. Coming here at 5pm gave us some time to enjoy the place to ourselves, we were able to catch the sunset and the water to rise along the mangroves as we enjoyed my husband's favorite dishes.
The sunset was indeed beautiful and priceless from this view. The photographs can never justify its raw and majestic beauty and I praise God for being able to witness this with my own two eyes. After dinner, we headed north and drove for another 2 hours to catch up with our Aunt Wilma. We arrived at night, with a lot of funny mishaps of getting lost along the way but the beautiful night sky welcomed us and took all the mishaps away. We were not able to capture the beautiful sky that night, but my husband and I really enjoyed our talk under the massive amount of stars. 
We stayed in a place called Sunrise Villa, we were told that it has the best sunrise view in this side of town. So we decided to get up at six in the morning to walk by the beach and witness the sun rise.
It was indeed the most beautiful and peaceful walk we had in our two years of marriage, with all the things that are happening in our daily lives we realized how much we sometimes overlook the unrelentless love and grace being given to us daily and watching the sun appear slowly from the horizon and the waves crash down the shore is such a great reminder that there is indeed a great God who has made all things beautiful, and we only need to open our eyes and look beyond our daily pain to see and seek beauty in all situations.
We ended our sunrise walk and talk by conversing with the Lord in prayer. The walk back to the villa was indeed a warm and assuring one as we were gifted by the rays of the sun and the cool breeze from the sea.
If life was so much simpler, I would always come back to this visual memory and choose this kind of life. Away from all the expectations and the pressure, away from negativity, away from the city. Because who would want to leave this kind of paradise?
But then reality sets in and we realize our purpose. We need to go back to our daily routines and do our best to carry our cross relentlessly and work for the good, for His glory. And these momentary trips to paradise are also needed to refresh the weary soul and body, to recalibrate our purpose and go back to the very beginning to remember why we all started and what or who we are doing all these things for.
This trip reminded me of my purpose. It reminded me of life and its beauty. It reminded me to stay basic and true to my values. It made me love my country more and all its beauty and occasional flaws. It was indeed a happy heyday!

If you wish to know more about the Honda Bay island hopping, visit Go Palawan for details!


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