Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s provincial feeling capital, bakes in the heat, the unrelenting sun pounding down on dry, dusty streets, wilting any life and turning my shoulders a hot pink in the course of an afternoon stroll. My feet, in contrast, are brown, covered as they are in a thick layer of the city’s red dust. I’ve been walking for a few hours now – and long past my destination – but I’m incapable of turning around just yet. It feels good to walk, my decaying flip flops slip slopping along the uneven road. And it feels good to return the hellos of curious locals, to wave at a friendly child, to exchange toothy smiles. Filipinos, I am learning, are a generous and welcoming bunch and always have a ready smile.
Replacing the now cooling afternoon sunshine for a dim restaurant interior I stretch out my legs and think how my sombre mood upon my arrival in the Philippines was quickly smoothed over by the kindness of strangers: a security guard raced around the airport with me in an attempt to sort out the theft; another officer put me on the bus to the next terminal and made sure we left on time; the woman sitting next to me paid my bus fare as I didn’t have the right change. I may have lost something, but I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of small kindnesses. And here I’ve received many.
Dinner is a shared meal. I’m couchsurfing in the city, but Jonathan’s house is more like a welcoming hostel. There are seven of us around the table tonight, and two more faces keeping the home fire lit, all of us telling stories of places we’ve seen, of places we have yet to visit, sharing tips for further travel around this island. The route home is long so we opt to pay for a ride back. Palawan’s choice of transport is a tricycle, a motorbike with covered sidecar, each one painted different colours and all with salty names like Lucky Life, John Harry Ale, Arlene and Powerhouse. It’s a 10 peso ride. We congratulate ourselves on our bargaining skills. And we ride along the bustling streets, crouched and cramped in the sidecar, but filled with an acute sense of being somewhere foreign, on a journey, smiling with adventure.