How Haggling Saved My Life

A Dutch auction is an auction started as high as the salesperson thinks they get away with, without alerting the buyer they’re getting ripped.

For me, who’s not your average moron on the moron bell-curve this has been quite a costly learning process. If I was to paint this blog post as a coming of age story my trip to Palawan would have brought me up to infancy.

Getting to Palawan, from Manila is a relatively painless affair and requires a taxi and a ticket. For anyone who has been or who’s going to visit, if a taxi driver spends half the time telling you how young his wife is (who is in the car at the time) and the other half raising your expectations about the price because of the ‘added safety features’ it’s probably not legit. This dawned on me after I handed over 500 pesos and he handed me an escort agency’s contact card.

Landing in Puerto Princesa, the first impression I had was its level of greenness. The countryside is incredible. The second thing was the main conveyance in the area the tricycle (right), it’s hard to do justice to these things they’re noisy and everywhere, but are great fun. They also make a fair bit of sense in a region where the concept of finishing a road is a new one. Actually, in all fairness the town is beautiful and there is a reasonable amount of tourist friendly infrastructure. That aside you can pretty much walk most places other than the underground river itself which was on my agenda for day one.

I remember chatting with a mate about his experience being a tourist in the Philippines and he said that there was a lot of ‘hurrying up to wait’. Sure enough this was to be my experience too. Luckily I worked for the government before so was prepared for the idleness. Making good use of the time I hassled eagles and obnoxiously photographed as many private residences as possible.

A Philippine ‘monkey eagle’ assessing my position in the food-chain.

So sure enough after some hard-core waiting we made it to ‘Sabang’ the stop off point before the subterranean river. After showing the office some ID to prove that I was the real slim shady (having a name like a butler and being the only westerner on the tour should have tipped them off) we proceeded to wait for one of those dudes to take us across. In the meantime I actively lived life by learning some curse words in Tagalog, eating the local delicacy raw woodworm and saving a drowning chicken to the chagrin of its clucky mother (illustrated below).

Eventually the waiting paid off and after a short trip on one of those boats with training wheels.

You’ve probably been wondering ‘why would you want to go and see a subterranean river? I can sit in the bath with a sheet over my head for free! Well that weirds me out and I think is taking our friendship too far at this point. I think we should start seeing other people.

The subterranean river.

Not to spoil the surprise but much of the inside of the river looks something like this.

So that was day one, which is coincidentally the same number of days I had actually organised to do something. So the next day after some valiant efforts by the Pagdayon Inn to find me a tour, I had the day to myself. Sans something to friggin’ do, I decided to charter my own tour by hiring a van for the day. My plan of attack being essentially to tell the tour guide to take me where he thinks is worthwhile in the area. He began by taking me to Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm.

Prisoners are allowed to roam freely around the grounds and although you may wonder how it is the prisoners don’t escape, they are way ahead of you. All the prisoners have to wear a shirt labeling their security level (‘minimum’, ‘medium’ and ‘maximum’). The system works.

Some hills and obligatory rice paddys

Actually truth be told, it does seem to work. In fact it worked so well that three of the prisoners used the magic of the free-market and me being a wuss to sell me one of their shirts. I haven’t been game to wear it in Manila yet, but if I do and get sent to Iwahig I’ll give you a discount on my shirt.

Although I’m not going to mention this stop in detail, there is a place in the lonely planet called ‘baker’s hill’ which is like a kids amusement park (anyone remember peppermint park?). I thought it was worth a look if you’re in the area and you can see the charming guy below in person:

The Philippines should slap a tariff on bad-taste.

The final place I visited was the Immaculate Conception Cathedral which is an old susipiciously well-maintained cathedral dating back to 1872. Besides from being an additional illustration of the wealth of the church (juxtaposed by a poorly maintained basketball court next to it) it is also definitely worth checking out if you get a chance.

Word to the wise there is a dress code. Had I known this I wouldn’t now be excommunicated.

Just next to the Cathedral is this old fort. I haven’t been able to find anything on the internet about it (because I didn’t look) but from what I gleaned eavesdropping on the tour guide provides a reminder of Palawan’s role in the war.