After all my searching for a beach paradise – that perfect combination of soft sand, calm, turquoise water, friendly isolation and good energy; the combination of a real and imagined island paradise – I came to this place on a chance recommendation by a local restaurant owner at a baking hot bus station. Palawan Camping is a 30 minute boat ride from the nearest town of San Vicente and is a tented camp on a strip of beach long enough to laze in the sand alone, but short enough to keep an eye on the comings and goings – of which there are not many – at the camp.
The camp is a beautifully arranged, homely set of five shaded tents, open dining area and kitchens. I’m sleeping on a mattress in a spacious tent with a mosquito net view of my sandy verandah, a hammock strung up between two coconut palms, the beach and open sea. There is a small island in front of the beach, an easy kayak trip away, with another long (but not quite as perfect) beach around the rocky outcrop.
Thelma, the owner, keeps all her guests fed like royalty with fresh fish and seafood dishes – and real French-pressed coffee in the mornings, brought to us as we admire the clear, sunny mornings from outside our tents. Breakfast follows. And then it’s a lazy day of swimming – carefully, to mind the many jellyfish – and sun worshipping and book reading in a hammock, punctuated by lunch and a nap.
Towards the far end of the beach there is an outdoor shower. Thelma and her husband Toby fashioned the shower out of bamboo branches that catch water from a spring in the rocks. This is where the drinking water comes from, and standing under that fresh flow of soft water, looking out between the palm fronds to the sun setting over the sea is exactly what a shower should be.
I’ve been here for three days and already it feels like longer. I haven’t worn my shoes at all. Indeed, I haven’t worn much expect my bikini and sarong, and even those were only to avoid offending the passing fisherman. I’ve seen the morning sky lighten and turn a harsh white in the midday heat. I’ve watched the sun turn the sky a multitude of reds, pinks, oranges and golds as it set behind the islands dotting this part of the coast, once from the expanse of the open sea and also with my feet dug into the soft sand. I’ve been humbled by my insignificance under a night sky teeming with stars – stars I recognise at last. And I’ve felt comfortable alone here, although this is a place better shared.
I’m loathe to leave. After all my imaginings I don’t want to leave this place that fits my idea of an island idyll, but something drives me on. I’ve found this one so there must be a better beach, a more perfect paradise, around the next cove or on the next island. In J Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with Savages – my beach reading – I’m reminded that the search for paradise is one that can never be fulfilled, for paradise, in its very essence, can not exist. “Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away.”
And so it might be. I’m going to look for it. And if, after another dusty bus journey, I don’t find it, well, I can always come back here.