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Accidental Tourists 2: Puerto Princesa

Alright! So maybe Bill Shankly did state once that football is more than a matter of life and death. But Bill never went to Puerto Princesa; and never experienced having something other than football thrust upon him by circumstance.

This is just me; and of course, I am making up excuses for a failed mission! This was way back in 1992; and the regional games were to be held in the city of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan.

The volleyball teams were arranging through their Air Force connections to fly out there in one of the PAF’s C-130 Hercules transport planes. They were considerate enough to say that if their contacts could manage it – and if there was still space – they would try to have us booked as well.

My boys and I were resigned to the prospect of sailing overnight from the port of Manila to Palawan with the rest of the city’s delegation. How we ended up flying out to Puerto Princesa instead – yes, like troops in one of those Hercules planes – and the volleyball teams sailing overnight was just one of those twists of fate that sometimes none of us can really do much about.

As things were, the father of one of my own boys just happened to be a Colonel in the Air Force assigned at Base Operations inside Villamor Air Base. We were just sort of told to pack our bags and get ready to fly. Who were we to refuse?

One of the volleyball coaches was sore at me for weeks for not finding a way to have them included in the flight manifest. I had no control over the situation, honest! And I swear I tried hard not to gloat…

As was bound to happen, karma caught up with us in that we were eliminated – garahe na, as we used to say in these competitions – after a mere two games.

Namputik naman! We never stood a chance! For one, we were assigned the room next to the baseball team. They sang on through the night and took baths by the tunggâ-tunggâ pump just outside at three in the morning; still singing, by the way.

My team’s first match was scheduled at 10 in the morning at the wonderful Palawan Sports Complex, carved as it was off a whole mountainside. The second was at one in the afternoon.

What was odd was that teams from seaside places – who were so much more used to the heat than the highlanders that we were – were the ones who were given the early morning or late afternoon schedules. It was as though we were being set up to fail.

As my cousin told me, he overheard those in the grandstand commenting that the boys from Lipa daw were pretty good but just were tamad to chase after the ball. Of course, the grandstand pundits had absolutely no idea that the climate in Lipa was nowhere near the fireplace they lived in.

Oh yes! My cousin! At the time – and fortunately – he was still based in Puerto Princesa. Rather than feel sorry for ourselves, my boys and I did the common sense thing and immediately transformed ourselves into right proper tourists! My cousin was the perfect guide!

He took us to this tiny sandbar of an island that the locals called Lo-Li Island. We all thought it was “lowly.” That was until my cousin explained that the name was the abbreviated version of lolobog-lilitaw. That is, the island was completely inundated when the tide came in.

We brought our lunch along with us and took a 15-minute boat ride from the wharf to the island. Small as it was, it had a house built on stilts so that it would not be submerged when the tide flowed in. The sand was fine and glistening white in the morning sunshine. There was even a small mangrove plantation.

I did not for one moment believe that anyone wanted to be at the stadium! We all took dips in the aquamarine waters by the beach and explored the mangroves for small crabs and baby fishes. A couple of the boys even took turns being buried by their mates under the fine sand.

It was a marvellous day; and although we came for the football, I – for one – did not mind that we were doing something else! So, alright! Maybe we looked a tad sheepish rolling back into quarters. But who were we to refuse God’s blessings? Aba’y lalabô ang mga mata namin!

When my cousin was not taking us somewhere, we would explore on foot the area close to where we were. The delegation was actually billeted at this elementary school 5 kilometres from the heart of the city up in the hills. To get to and from the city proper, we took these oversized tricycles that Puerto Princesa is known for to this day.

If I remember correctly, the name of the place where we stayed was Coron. There, the earth was red-orange and particles of it stuck to our shoes and slippers when we went about the place. It was particularly difficult to get rid of when we laundered our clothes.

The locals told us that the Mitras owned a ranch a kilometre or so up the mountain. So, one morning we all hiked up to what was called Rancho Monica. We would have been happy to see the ranch from outside.

Apparently, though, one of the Mitras was in the SUV that drove past us and saw the name Lipa City stitched onto some of the lads’ caps and jackets. We never did discover which Mitra it was.

As we stood outside the fence admiring the house, one of the caretakers came out and invited us into the property. He even graciously answered a few questions we had about the place. Up in the mountains as we were, we thus had a marvellous view of the landscape; and naturally, we took pictures.

Rather than stay for the duration of the games, though – and risk being branded patabaing baboy at the camp – when another Hercules came to visit the city, we made sure we flew out of Puerto Princesa in it. So, maybe the football did not quite work out as planned; but sometimes even the football has to take a backseat because there are other adventures to try.

I know this is me saying this; but the truth is that sometimes, the adventures are so much more well worth remembering than – sacrilege! – the football.

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