Photos, Video, Interviews and Story of our last days in the Philippines, visiting the dancing inmates of Iwahig Prison, going through Puerto Princesa, Palawan, and back to Manila, Philippines.
The last of our stay in the Philippines, through Puerto Princesa and then back to Manila, is not entirely uneventful. Upon leaving El Nido, we chance upon D and V, the couple we’d met in Luzon: their vacation is coming to an end, we exchange contacts and vow to meet up in the future. Our voyage, on the other hand, is just beginning anew.
For lack of time and logistics, we choose to wave off the underground caves of Palawan – though much acclaimed by the national Tourist Board, future discussions with travelers reassure us as to what we missed.
We have a day in Puerto Princesa before our return flight. The island’s main town has few distinctive features; Coco and I decide on a visit to the nearby Iwahig low-security prison, where well-behaved inmates offer local produce and crafts to visitors. Strike a conversation with a group of inmates.
He shows me his forearm, scribblings of dark blue ink turned deep purple, and says:
“This, this my ga’m.”
“Your grandma?” I ask naively.
“No, no, not my g’anma, my gang, G-A-N-G.”
“Oh.” I refrain the reflex to apologize.
“You, you have Facebook?” The question is directed to Coco, whose charms have rapidly subdued the secluded inmates.
“No, no Facebook.” She smiles brightly then nudges behind my shoulder. But we’re soon at ease with the affable prisoners.
The Iwahig inmates perform some dances for us, in exchange for a video clip to be posted online. They’re genuinely into the songs, delivering a rehearsed choreography. There’s something to this, some lessons to be learned. The world’s penal system is still in its infancy.
After a short pass at the crocodile farm, dinner at a local fast-food joint, we ready to leave Palawan, and soon the Philippines.
One dark cloud hovers: my laptop is getting fuzzy, contaminated by blue screen shut-offs. The result of an untimely fall in El Nido. Without a functioning computer, I’m at risk of getting stuck in all sorts of photographic and video production. I proceed to rapidly back it up during the intermittent periods that it works.
Weary upon returning to Manila: a fascinating, tentacular city – but we’re ready to move on to Indonesia. To spice things up though, we’re meeting L., an American-Filipino friend of Coco’s who’s just arrived in town.
L. is hardly more comfortable than we are in Manila’s gruesome traffic. Save for family trips as a child, she’s little accustomed to this wild world. We roam around downtown and Intramuros with her. She suggests a carriage ride: not my prime choice of visitation but I oblige.
After fifteen minutes of slow-paced trot through the old town, the coach offers to take us to another neighborhood. I nudge Coco, in hopes she’ll understand this will take us another hour – along with the unsaid but very real added fee. L.’s not used to these ripe touristic propositions, and cheerfully accepts: “Take us to Chinatown.” I eat my nails.
A dramatic event is about to unfold. Our poor horse’s legs are tired, what from its meager diet, the sweltering heat and our hour-long tour. He courageously pulls us up across a bridge, heaving. As the carriage passes the top, the coach releases the bridle. The carriage gains momentum as it slopes down the bridge.
It’s too late. Up ahead, traffic has come to a standstill. The coach slams the brakes to no avail.
Slow-mo… we watch as the horse, carriage and ourselves come crashing into the jeepney ahead. Slam!
The two girls shriek in horror. State of disbelief. We’re left unscathed, albeit shaken. But the horse’s head has seemingly entirely disappeared under the jeepney. His front legs have buckled badly, crushed against the jeepney by the weight of the carriage.
“I think it’s over.”
We feel terrible. But that’s nothing compared to our horse’s agony.
As we step off the carriage and assess the situation, a tinge of hope: the legs have buckled, but the horse’s head has not been crushed as I originally thought. Instead, it miraculously wedged itself into the rear opening of the jeepney (which fortunately wasn’t full of people).
We watch as the jeepney gently pulls forward, while the coach tugs at the horse’s neck, wedged tight, till the head is suddenly released and the horse springs onto its legs, stunned. The horse is alive, and it seems not too badly injured. Still, it’s out of the question to prolong its abuse – we part with the coach, who, as suspected, drills out the full cost of the ride.
L., well aware of what happened and of our tight travel budget, kindly pays for the entirety of the bill. We’re left to wander back towards Malate.
That evening, after having regained her uncle’s flat, I crash on the couch, completely exhausted. Coco and L. walk out in search of food. I’m paralyzed by fatigue.
At 2am, Coco shakes me up forcefully, “We have to go to the airport.” I mutter nonsensically, thank L for her hospitality. The two friends part tearfully.
And so we return to Manila’s airport, for the fourth and last time, as we leave the Philippines and begin our journey to Indonesia.