El Nido is famous for its countless offshore islands and hidden beach paradises.
Kat decides to make the rest of the journey there by bus.
When I’m alone at last on the road, I let out a literal whoop of joy. This is decidedly more fun.
The fabulous view from our terrace!
I’m not really in the mood to do much, as unfortunately I’m not really myself at the moment, emotionally speaking. But here in El Nido there’s no getting out of another snorkelling trip.
On a wooden boat we cruise from one stunning bay to the next. But time and again I’m struck by a sense of loss and heartbreak, so while the others explore the turquoise water in a kayak, I sit on the deck of the boat, listening to familiar music and crying.
. . .
Next morning I’m fit and full of beans. We’re off to Nacpan, where there are no roads. But Kat’s back problems return, and I can literally feel the atmosphere getting worse and worse by the minute. Then I get lost again – personally, I’m quite glad when that happens.
We’re like an old married couple.
I can’t do this anymore!
When we get back to El Nido that afternoon, I’m restless. Something’s got to happen today. I download Tinder, try to understand it, and quickly find a few pretty girls who like me too. All three ‘matches’ want to meet in the Reggae Bar. That’s handy, I think, and go for a quick swim outside the cabins.
Only once I’m in the water do I remember that I’ve seen several sewage pipes leading directly in here. I look around – I’m completely alone …
The Reggae Bar isn’t bad. There’s a pretty great band playing and everybody’s in a good mood. Everybody except me. What the hell is wrong with me? It would be easy to blame everything on Kat. Thankfully she stayed at home, and we’ve decided to part ways the next morning.
But even without her, I’m not myself.
I drink rum-and-cokes from jam jars, trying to get into the party atmosphere. As it starts to work a bit, out of nowhere I suddenly get terrible diarrhoea, and only just make it back to our cabin. Maybe it’s from the sewer I was swimming in before?
Once I’m feeling better, I go back to the bar on the beach. Among the crowd, I recognise one of the women from Tinder, obviously looking for me in vain. But she has an almost crazed expression on her face, so I pull down my cap and slip past her on the dancefloor. Now or never, I think.
But just as I’m launching into my dance moves, I step in an ant’s nest.
The little creatures bite me all over my lower leg, and by now I’m really fed up. Angry and disappointed, I stomp back to my bungalow.
I spend a while sitting and crying on the terrace. Then I spend most of the night on the toilet.
. . .
I’m still feeling pretty unwell the next day, my whole body aching. I can’t eat anything, and I don’t want to do anything. Plus it’s cloudy anyway.
My stomach bug has been joined by a depressive mood.
I get over it, however, and drive Kat to the bus station. That was some emotional rollercoaster we rode together. She thinks so too, and we laugh about it. After a long hug, she gets into the jeepney and disappears in a cloud of dust.
The rest of the day is pure agony. I wander through the streets for a bit, ride the moped around, try to sleep. In the evening I’m at least able to eat a few bananas.
If I could, I’d fly home right now.
Right into the German cold. I’ve been travelling for nearly three months, and somehow I’ve had enough. The crazy Tinder lady keeps sending me explicit messages every few minutes, so I delete the app.
. . .
I’m feeling better again. Luckily, as I have a long day ahead of me. That said, I think I’m coming down with a cold. I eat a big breakfast and strap my rucksack to the front of my moped.
Slightly feverish, I struggle through a ten-hour trip back to Puerto Princesa. I compare the photo I took of the mileage clock the day I left with what it says now.
I’ve ridden 900 kilometres!
. . .
The next day I’m facing another journey: it’s one hour to the other end of the city, to Iwahig Prison. I overheard on the first evening in Palawan that you could visit it off your own bat. I can’t let the opportunity pass me by.
The prison is also an organic farm, and many of the inmates are free to move about the whole area. One of them gives me a tour, and I give him some cigarettes in thanks.
Then I follow him into a large room in a wooden building, where a group of prisoners rehearsed a choreographed dance for tourists.
It turns out that all the members of the dance troupe are murderers, many of them multiple. And that they’re super friendly.
I spend the rest of the afternoon with them, and they tell me their hair-raising stories. One man killed three people who had raped and murdered his mother. Another stabbed to death a rival gang member in cold blood.
Many of them have been here for more than fifteen years. Dancing gives them a reason to get up every day and ignore the fact that their children are growing up without them. It’s an unusual afternoon, and it makes an impression on me.
. . .
Why did I travel like this, plan-less and following my intuition?
My Philippine journey only arose through some unforeseen events a few months prior, above all the unexpected end of my relationship. It made me simply accept things as they were, loosen my grip on the reins and trust myself to fate.
The mini-relationship with Kat showed at lightning speed how partnerships can develop, and I saw many parallels with my failed relationship back home.
I set off on my travels immediately after my break-up, in the hope of getting over things more quickly. But on the one hand I’ve thought about it very often during the trip, only some of my experiences here helping to dim it, and on the other I feel cheated when I get home out of three months‘ valuable post-relationship work.
Was the trip just an unsuccessful escape attempt?
Today, a year after the break-up, I’m ready to give my life some more structure. Still, one day I’d like to follow my intuition again, on another such journey.
Bye bye, Philippines!
It’s been intense!
* * *
Translated by Caroline Waight