Back to Puerto Princesa

The minibus back to Puerto Princesa managed to feel longer than the ride out there, perhaps because I spent practically the entire time plodding through Ghandi’s autobiography. Great man with great ideals, but not the most exciting writer to ever lay pen to paper. When we got off the bus, Jacob and I teamed up with Anisha to find a good trike back into town. Anisha is Indian and lives in Singapore, so she had her nose upturned at what passed for a “tuk-tuk” in the Philippines; but I was the one playing hard-ball with the tricycle drivers. They were not used to being told no, but they held fast to their ridiculous rates, confident that I would cave when the rain started to pour down all around us. I led my bedraggled friends to the end of the bus terminal and found a young desperate looking tricycle, and offered him slightly more than I was hardlining with the other drivers, and he took it on first bite. Damn, we were still probably getting ripped off, but at least we aren’t paying tourist prices.

The trike took us to a fancy hotel near Sharon’s apartment. She frequented their poolside bar, taking advantage of the ostentatious decor and free wifi. Angelito was there with her, going through photos before jetting back to Manila for his next round of adventure in Bohol. We killed time until Anisha had to go to the airport, and when we bade her farewell, and she told me to look her up if I go to Singapore. Another random friend on the bus, I’m starting to see a pattern here. The three of us headed over to Nina’s for some of the best vegetarian food in the Philippines. A small restaurant that really cares, they take their time to craft their delicious veggie dishes and drinks. If you find yourself in Puerto Princesa, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you neglected to eat there at least once.

The rest of the night was spent performing minor operations on my feet to remove what was left of my friends the sea urchins, and cleaning up the other random cuts I managed to accumulate in El Nido. One of the most obnoxious and debilitating injuries you can get while traveling are on your feet; it just sucks to be carrying everything on your back when all that weight is bearing down on bruises and open wounds.

Jacob and Angelito left the next day, after we went to Sharon’s workplace on the other side of the peninsula, and visited a beach swallowed by high tide. The highlight of the trip was probably the ride back to town, which took place on the back of a pickup. Laws be damned, I wish I could do this more often! My last day in town I convinced Sharon to rent motorbikes and go with me to Bahay Kalipay.

Bahay Kalipay, literally “House of Happiness,” is where Janet stayed for a few months surrounding her walk around Palawan with Joemar. He had spent about two years there, doing various odd jobs and giving healing massage and participating in their inner dance sessions. The compound is a collection of interesting wood structures encircling a large multi-level meeting hall, following a makeshift schedule of various forms of meditation, yoga, and other “hippy nonsense,” as my grandfather might say. Another quirk about the place is its raw foodist agenda; a step beyond vegan, raw foodists claim that cooking destroys important nutrients, and that humans were meant to rely on a diet of raw fruits and vegetables and nuts. Having just watched a TED talk about the importance of cooking in human development, I was interested to hear what they had to say about their diet.

The walls were open, much like Banwa Pension; in fact, the architecture was very similar to Banwa, and Sharon suspected that they were run by the same people. The owner, Pi, is accredited with “rediscovering” the ancient healing art of inner dance, which, in a nutshell, is putting yourself in a trance and surrendering your body to the subconscious. I have no doubts about the potential of finding catharsis through moving meditation, but the mystique built up around Pi is so thick it’s no surprise he’s shrouded by a considerable ego, or so the story goes. Janet and Joemar had made their decision not to return to Bahay Kalipay, as it was obvious that neither of them would ever see compensation for the work they performed while they were there. Janet had reworked the website, only to have the project given away to a different designer, and Joemar hadn’t received a penny in the two years he was there. Pi’s reputation has placed himself on a high spiritual plane, one of the new-age gurus of Filipino mysticism, but that shouldn’t excuse him from paying his employees. Through his spiritual walks, inner dance work and healing powers, Joemar has acquired a reputation on his own; some people think of him as a Jesus-like figure; Janet’s intrusion onto the scene has made her something of a Mary Magdalene, pulling the messiah out of the spiritual limelight. Sharon knows Janet and has heard it all before, but our curiosity overcame our apprehension. So I guess I had a preconceived notion of what it was all about, and my curiosity was mixed with a heaping dose of skepticism. When I met him he was a very slight man, but friendly. His demeanor didn’t change much when I said I was a friend of Janet’s, and he invited us to go with them to his annex compound which is currently being developed into a more secluded retreat. For some reason I felt like an intruder, and ended up taking just a couple photos throughout the visit, but for those interested in checking it out for themselves, here’s their website