As an island nation that straddles five geological fault lines along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines endures far more than its fair share of natural disasters. Earthquakes, tropical storms of all stripes, and volcanic eruptions routinely exact a fearsome toll on the archipelago. On the upside, this is a uniquely beautiful country to call home for a few years and, in some ways, Manila has proved a far better posting than our previous assignments. The last couple of weeks in particular have underscored this dichotomy, as a volcano we hiked just a few months ago blanketed Manila with ash several days before we headed out to Palawan for a beach vacation with S’s visiting family.
In addition to its namesake island, the Palawan archipelago comprises almost two thousand islands and islets. Images of Coron and El Nido – Palawan’s crown jewels – adorn most Philippine travel brochures. Azure lagoons, ringed by small, sun-dappled beaches ensconced in craggy limestone cliffs beckon the traveler. There are less-touristy spots in Palawan to soak up the sun also, and S’s mom chose one of these for our vacation.
After a few days of staying indoors as much as possible to avoid the poor air quality in Manila caused by the Taal eruption, we were relieved to spend five days in Sabang – a quiet fishing village with a small beach surrounded by pristine jungle. Considering that we usually find it difficult to stay in one place when we travel, five days might have been overkill. Sabang has several attractions – an underground river, a mangrove forest, bird watching and hiking – but these can be knocked out in a couple of days. And while the beach is pretty, the surf was aggressive, which limited our ocean time.
We saw long-tailed macaques, colorful snakes and birds, sea otters, and monitor lizards prowling among the mangroves, and tons of bats on our tour of the underground river, which runs through an impressive cave. Mostly, though, we split our time between the beach and the pool, soaking up not just the rays of sunshine but also our kids’ obvious enjoyment. The days when Munchkin refused to go in the pool are long behind us, as he has become a good swimmer. Junebug still has a ways to go in this department, but she too seemed to have a great time…most of the time.
Typically, when we travel we try to max out on activities and sightseeing. After visiting three new countries in as many months to close out 2019, however, we appreciated the opportunity to slow down – to spend some time with a book, a crossword puzzle, a backgammon board. Most importantly, we appreciated spending time with S’s parents and aunt – both because it was a treat to have them travel halfway around the world to see us and because traveling with them made the kids much more manageable.