Adventures With Dick – Private Island Part 1
“I’ve got a great idea…”, said Dick. Now when Dick says he has a great idea, experience has taught me that you don’t immediately answer, as it will invariably include travel, women, booze and of course sex, all to excess!
“Yes – and …?”, I questioned cautiously. “You’ve never been to Palawan have you?”, he replied. Before I could answer, he continued, “I know this amazing little resort on a private island … we’ll grab some scenery from one of the bars here and have a few days lying around on the beach, swimming, drink beer, tell some war stories and of course lots of boom-boom”. “Who do you know who that has a private island”, I asked. This was dismissed as if Dick hadn’t heard me, replying instead, “No time like the present – eat up and let’s go shopping for some scenery.”
Now when Dick gets an idea into his head, he is truly a man of immediate action and one does tend to get swept up in his enthusiasm. I did however have to say that I liked the sound of private islands, booze, women, boom-boom and hanging out with Dick for a few days.
So in the spirit of adventure, I duly finished my meal and followed Dick out of the diner on to Burgos Street in Makati City … or as he used to refer it as, ‘the street of dreams’. “I think we’ll start our quest at Banditos at the bottom of the road and work our way up” he says. By now I have of course foolishly bought into the whole island paradise thing – after all, what could possibly go wrong with Dick in charge?
I will not bore the reader with tales of that night, suffice to say that 3 days later, we, that is Dick, myself and two enthusiastically nubile young Filipinas report at the Air Swift boutique airline check-in counter at Manila airport for our flight to El Nido in Palawan. Glorie-Ann was my companion and Marilee was Dick’s latest recruit to join his horizontal athletics team.
In my book small planes are more of the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 size, rather than the 18-odd seater Dornier turboprop that we found ourselves on. I took heart in reading that the airline was indeed ISO 9002 certified. After the initial shaking and what to me appeared sufficient vibrations to shake every rivet loose in this flying sardine can, we did get airborne. As the plane was not pressurised, we had to stay low and endure every bit of turbulence that the tropical low cloud and humidity threw at us. Also remembering another flight with Dick when he magnanimously inducted his new pupil of the day into the joys of the mile high BJ club, I was somewhat concerned that he might just don his teacher’s cap with his new piece of scenery. As this flying box car was fairly full with tightly packed passengers, he fortunately abstained from such instruction. After we cleared the smog and smell of rotting vegetation, raw sewage and traffic smog, all wetly damp with typical Manila humidity, finally reaching what was humorously referred to as ‘the cruise’, all 10,000+ feet of it, the low altitude being due to the fact that this sardine can was not pressurised. However the little plane settled down to a comfortable, if noisy 1¼ hour flight to Palawan. Our two new recruits were, after some initial fear and consternation as to how to fasten the seat belt, beginning to enjoy this brand new sensation called flying.
As we passed over the coast and started out crossing the impossibly blue and clear Mindoro Straits, I have to admit that I was totally taken in by the simple beauty of the scene below. As we started our descent into El Nido proper, all I saw below was thick green jungle and was reminded of scenes from Apocalypse Now. Although a seasoned flyer and not usually nervous in most aircraft, we were in a tiny, overloaded flying sardine can. I also stupidly thought to myself that if we were to come down in that, it would probably take days for any rescue teams to find us. But Captain Cautious and his 15-year-old First Officer, (why are all Pinay FO’s a mere 15 years old?) brought us safely in to land at what I can only describe as an air strip. Admittedly it was paved, but it reminded me of pictures one sees of WWII US forces carving out airstrips in the jungles of the Pacific islands for the USAF.
As we taxied to a stop, a couple of Jeepnies arrived at the door of the aircraft to take us the 100 odd metres to the bamboo hut that past for a terminal building and then on to the jetty on the adjoining river. After grabbing our bags, we were driven down to the bamboo jetty where we boarded the little boat that would take us on our first leg of our trip … destination, Miniloc Island Resort – a couple of boat rides away. The muddy jungle river curved its way towards the warm and in my mind, big ocean. At this stage I was beginning to wonder where Dick’s supposed friend was who owned this private island. Surely he would have arranged a private chauffeured collection for his important friend Dick? The little boat was, in true Asian fashion, typically overloaded with passengers and what I assumed was provisions for the resort. There was alarmingly very little freeboard left. The boatman seated in the stern, fired up the rusty little outboard and opened up the throttle to flat out, and off we tore, splashing through the river towards the big ocean. The passing scenery put me firmly back as an extra in the patrol boat scene of Apocalypse Now – this was real jungle stuff. I ruminated as to the possibility of water skiing behind the boat as had Charlie Sheen in the movie.
As we rounded the last bend I could see ahead what appeared to be massive breakers – and we were heading straight for them at a ridiculous speed. We were literally flying through very shallow water, but were about to enter some very deep water on the ocean ahead. Glorie-Ann’s eyes widened and her little hand tightened around mine as we sped towards what was surely going to be a terrible tragedy at sea. As the little boat with its screaming outboard launched itself into the surf and I felt us becoming airborne once again, Dick turned to me and said, “Man, this is living …” We miraculously survived the surfing moment and our boatman throttled back the overworked motor and we cruised gently towards a large double outrigger boat that was awaiting us offshore.
The captain of the larger, slower outrigger completely lacked our previous skipper’s sense of adventure. That however was just fine with all of us passengers. During the three-quarters of an hour serene cruise through the Bacuit archipelago, leaving the little ‘town’ of El Nido and all traces of civilization behind. We passed some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen in this world. Off to starboard was the blindingly white Paradise Beach on Cadlao Island. Visible from both the port and starboard gunwales, dozens of jagged vertical gray limestone pillars dotted with tropical greenery jutted out of the ocean, as if some mystical force had pushed them up millions of years ago. This reminded me of the James Bond movie, ‘Man With The Golden Gun’. I’d seen scenes like this in the movies, but never thought they were real, or indeed that I would actually ever see them for myself in real life … as you have probably gathered I’m a big movie buff!
“Wow this is incredible – amazing” I enthused to Dick, who for once was also struck dumb at the passing scene. The horizontal athletics team were also squealing with delight and enthusiasm … I squeezed Glorie-Ann’s hand, this was going to be an amazing few days I thought.
Slowly the scene in front of us unfolded revealing the almost hidden Miniloc Island Resort, set in its very own private cove, against the backdrop of steep mountains covered in jungle greenery on three sides. As our outrigger came in behind the breakwater and moored on the pier – again bamboo! I could see the small, but pristine white beach laid out invitingly with thatched umbrellas, sun loungers and a bar. Off to the right were what I assumed were the thatched accommodation cottages on stilts over the sea overlooking the ridiculously beautiful sheltered bay.
“Private Island Dick?”, I asked. He just shrugged as if to say “who knows” or maybe it was “who cares” , but did respond by saying, “Just another day in paradise my friend, told you you’d like it – it’s f**king amazing isn’t it? – this is what life is all about.”
I most certainly had to agree with him!
The staff of the resort welcomed us with a kitsch song and dance routine – perhaps not quite in the same class as ‘Bali Hi’a’ of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific, but given the setting I could at this stage forgive virtually anything. After checking in we were shown to our two adjacent bamboo and thatched huts, which whilst not perhaps up to western standards were importantly, air-conditioned, simple, clean, comfortable, with a large bed, thankfully no TV; the en-suite bathroom with open air shower topped off the tropical island feel. However the small outside covered patio was a master stroke, with a day-bed style couch and pillows. The row of water cottages were strategically arranged, so that every patio was isolated and hidden from its neighbors’ eyes while still providing a great view of the lagoon. This thing was just meant for evening boom-boom activities!
Our intrepid team regrouped at the resort’s open air restaurant for lunch. Dick had booked us on the ‘all inclusive’ package which included three meals per day and soft drinks, plus all available water sports. Fortunately the buffet style restaurant was decent with thankfully a western-orientated menu and only limited Filipino range of foods on offer. There was also a stir fry option with a huge range of spices and condiments, so we were spoilt for choice and able to make up Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese meals with them. The seafood was of course so fresh, I think it actually swam to the kitchen each morning. That first lunch Glorie-Ann selected chicken, chopped up odd-shaped green and red chilies, finishing off the whole dish with soy and chili sauce. Always enjoying spicy food, and against Dick’s admonishments of “that shit will burn your lips off”, I just had to taste it. I should have listened to Dick’s words of caution, as jeez this was hotter than Hades … Glorie-Ann just laughed!
After lunch, we briefly explored the resort before retiring to our rooms to road test the day bed facility with some sweaty afternoon body to body athletics.
On arriving at the open air bamboo (more bamboo!) bar for pre-dinner drinks, we were all loaded on to an outrigger for some bottom fishing. Having only previously bottom fished many years previously, I was somewhat nonplussed by the lack of rod and reel. I was handed a small reel type contraption and instructed into the ways of traditional local Pinay fishermen. The idea was to bait the hook and then let out the line until it hit the sea bed and then trawl until something bit, at which point the fisherman was to jerk and haul the line in, hand-over-hand. Like many things in The Philippines this was another quaint way of doing things. When I once again enquired if our captain did not have maybe even a small rod and reel, he responded with the traditional, “Oh, no, sir. This is the traditional way we fish here. No need for rod and reel, sir.”
At this stage I decided to hell with traditional fishing – I suspect there was not actually any intention of us catching any fish. So we all four climbed into the SML’s that were on board. The gentle breeze, the rocking of the boat and the sunset – Oh man, that sunset was the most incredible sight I had ever seen. I realised that perhaps I was finally relaxing, sat back and enjoyed the moment, the last rays of the sun highlighting Glorie-Ann’s features, as she struggled to extradite herself from a heap of tangled fishing line at her feet. Dick had long given up on the fishing bit and was quietly leaning against the gunwale, smoking. He like me, was totally enraptured by the surround sound Imax images of natural beauty. Two old farts, sipping our beers reveling in the simple fact that we were both here in pure South Pacific heaven with two gorgeous young girls!
After supper, we drank some more SML, played some pool in the beach bar, where Dick and I thrashed our two junior members.
It had been a long and tiring day, filled with so many new experiences and scenery overload, we soon called it a night and retired to our respective bamboo and thatched cottages to practice some more horizontal athletics. Whilst we were each hidden from the prying eyes of others, we did giggle at the noises of passion emanating from our next door neighbours.
To be continued the following morning …
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