2:41 a.m., June 2
A very dear friend has always bragged about how beautiful Palawan is. She’s been there so many times, as many times, maybe, as the number of times she promised to bring me there. It was because of her stories that I’ve always wished of going to the island to see the color of the setting sun, to listen to the pristine forests’ whisper, to feel the throbbing of the ocean and feel the powdery sand on the beach. I also dreamt of walking on the beach under the thousand stars in the early evening while holding hands with my beloved.
The photographs of Palawan I’ve seen have tickled my imagination. There’s so much beauty, it seems, waiting for me to discover. I’ve had a fill of stories from my dear friend. The excitement in my heart every time I see a photo of the island always brings me to the verge of asking my friend to just bring me to the dreamland she has learned to love.
I could hardly wait. The beating of my heart races with the tick-tock of the clock as the time of my departure nears. A few hours from now I will be able to see the place I’ve only dreamt about. My beloved will not be there to walk on the beach with me. She never made good her promise to show me the setting sun, the pristine forest, the ocean with the thousand-year-old corals sleeping below the gentle surface and the powdery beach. I will be going to Palawan alone. I’m sad.
I’m sad not because I don’t have a hand to hold when I walk on the beach when the sun sets. I’m sad not because I have nobody who would help me count the stars when they start twinkling in the early evening. I’m sad because I’m going to Palawan to attend a funeral of someone I don’t even know, someone I didn’t even have the opportunity to meet when he was still alive and could listen to the lapping of the waves on the shore in the early morning.
7:21 a.m., June 2
Airports fascinate me. People just float inside airport terminals. Men throw glances at women who seem to have a way of moving in the middle of a crowd. Women discreetly offer smiles. Airport terminals have become witnesses to joy and loathing, to departures and arrivals, to those who are anxious to leave and to those who try to hold back tears because of a parting or a reunion or an arrival.
9:50 a.m., June 2
An overcast sky greeted me in Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital. There was no smile even from the sun. I asked a driver of a hotel shuttle at the airport if I could smoke. He said smoking is allowed in the city but not the throwing of cigarettes butts. I joked about swallowing my cigarette butt. The man smiled and said “yes.” I looked around. I could not see anybody smoking.
There’s a lot of Caucasian tourists, Korean-looking boys and girls and Filipino tourists from other parts of the country in the airport. Everybody seems eager to jump into the next vehicle that would bring them to the nearest beach resort to forget the squalor of the cities they came from, taste for at least a few days the feel of paradise.
I came for another purpose.
I approached another shuttle driver who was holding a sign of a hotel. He led me to a grey van that later brought me to a hotel where in the middle of the swimming pool in a courtyard a fountain never stops to spout. I was not watching the fountain. I was watching two young Filipino women in their two-piece pink bikinis carousing with two beer-bellied Korean-looking men.
The sky started to get dim. The dark patches of clouds I saw earlier while the plane was approaching the airport hover over the city. There is no wind, however. The Ipil leaves were not dancing. The stillness of the moment seems to be a portent of danger.
11 a.m., June 2
I saw no beauty in Puerto Princesa. The uneven streets – a stretch of concrete followed by asphalted roads and patched roads and side streets – triggered something in my mind. I saw the dusty road sides, the smog from the hundreds of tricycles that ply around the city, the dark street corners in the evening, the grassy empty lots where grass and young trees try to outgrow each other. There is order in the city. Green plastic bins are all over the city. The streets are swept clean.
Then people started to whisper. They said they have stories. They said they are witnesses. They said they have proof. They said there are shadows lurking behind the dimply lit side streets and grassy vacant lots. They wanted people outside the island to learn about their story. They asked for help.
I started to work.