As I’m writing the first draft of this article, I am drinking coffee from a veranda waiting for the sunrise in this paradise. Yes, no other word aptly describes this place – its clear lakes, green lagoons and tall borders of limestone karsts, seas thriving with corals and colorful fishes and shipwrecks open for exploration.
I set out on my own. I bought the flight tickets to Busuanga airport on impulse, one stressful afternoon. My trip isn’t over yet, but I feel like I’ve already experienced more than I did in other places. Now I’m here writing a draft about these realizations that I’ll be taking with me when I leave back to Manila.
1. Solo travel is an exhilarating, liberating experience
In the Philippines, solo traveling is pretty uncommon. Here in Coron, I’ve already been asked a few times why I’m alone, whether I’m undergoing a life crisis or I have just joined Camp Sawi (the local term for the broken-hearted club). A girl in a joiner tour was surprised when I told her that I’m actually in a happy relationship.
For the past 2 years, I’d always traveled with other people. First with strangers, then with regular travel acquaintances and recently with Hali.
Except for a day trip to Lake Pandin in Laguna, I never really got the chance to be alone.
Going on a solo travel to Coron, Palawan, made me re-discover this freedom. I was surprised why I hadn’t done this before. I can do what I want. I can visit souvenir shops in town, following the exact same route every day and there’s nobody to suggest otherwise. I decide what I do. Would I like to go on this tour on shipwreck sites or visit the safari in Calauit? Would I like to retire early or head to the Maquinit hot spring? I can eat wherever I want or change my mind just as easily. Hey, this vegetarian restaurant looks interesting, that one beside the pier looks perfect for sunset viewing.
“Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.” – Hannah Arendt
In the island hopping tours I went on, I was relaxed and happy. I didn’t have to make small talk or wait for anybody. I can take pictures if I want to or leave my camera on the boat if I just want to be in the moment.
There’s absolutely no stress or pressure – just exhilaration of enjoying myself.
2. I need to learn to do things on my own… like taking pictures!
I borrowed a GoPro camera from Hali but didn’t use it that much because I was on vacation. I brought it just in case, but really I was perfectly happy to be without one. On the few occasions that I did use it, the shots were a #MajorFail.
For one, I didn’t know it was even necessary to wipe off the camera case to make sure it’s clean. It’s just that I’d never seen Hali do it, and when I’d point dusts in the casing he would always dismiss it. As a result, many of the photos I took are blurry or cut with dust lines. (On the good side, the dust lines look like sunrays.) I also didn’t know the limitations of the GoPro 3 edition, such as that it easily results in overexposed shots on bright backgrounds.
(Luckily, my Chinese dorm roommate shared her photos of the Kayangan Lake view deck for publishing, yey!)
It dawned on me that I was too reliant on Hali, I didn’t even know how to use an action camera properly.
Considering our plans of working in another country next year, chances are high that there’ll be more solo travels in store for me, and if I want to continue blogging, I need to claim responsibility on this as well. Also, I think it will make things more simple. Hali and I get into petty fights about photos that need editing sometimes. He’d be so busy at work that he couldn’t do some tasks right away, and I would pester him about deadlines. Maintaining a blog can be pretty stressful too.
Wouldn’t it be simpler if I don’t have to approach him every time I need something?
P.S. Please congratulate me for managing to edit all the salvageable photos I’ve taken here on my solo travel to Coron!
3. Mainstream isn’t all that bad
So far, we’d kept mostly to off-the-beaten destinations in the Philippines. This is something that I’m proud of, but it’s also tiring, in a way. Visiting less-touristy places often means rugged backpacking – enduring long boat rides or hiring a habal-habal through rough roads and mountain trails, sleeping in tents and so on.
We avoided mainstream tourist locations simply because the Philippines isn’t ready yet for sustainable tourism, and in a country with a huge population — about 100 million — established family vacation spots in particular can get really crowded.
This is why I’d only been to Coron, Palawan, just now… and this wasn’t even planned!
Coron is different from the mainstream places I’ve been to in the past. As my friend Andrew said, it’s a perfect mix of urban-rural living. And yes, I like it better than the mainstream El Nido. (P.S. If you’re wondering which Palawan attraction is for you, read this travel analysis on El Nido vs Coron.)
There are comfortable accommodations and even nice hotels, but Coron isn’t sprawling with it. The island views are out of this world and kept natural. In fact, some of the bigger lakes are closed to the public for fear of disrupting animal habitat. My favorite spots in the tours are the Green Lagoon, Twin Lagoon, the view deck in Kayangan Lake and the CYC beach and Malcapuya Island for snorkeling.
Here’s the most photographed spot in Coron — the view deck in Kayangan Lake. My lovely friend Xiao captured this one.
Coron definitely made me change my mind about mainstream attractions. I’ll definitely give them a new chance.
Here are my realizations on my first real solo travel to none other than Coron. What realizations did you get when you first traveled alone? I’d love to hear them too. 🙂
P.S. You might want to read about our travel guide to Coron, Palawan here as well!