December 2019 marks both the end of the decade and the tenth year anniversary of my family moving to Palawan. In those ten years, I fell in love. Not with a person though, but with a place. Puerto Princesa and I have changed a lot side by side, going through the ups and downs of life with many happy, sad, funny, strange, and meaningful moments in between.
When my dad first got a job here in 2009, he and my mom knew it was going to be an adventure moving from big and chaotic Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, the Philippines’ last frontier. While my mom, my 3-year-old brother, and 7-years-old me packed up our lives in Manila, my dad went ahead, video calling us from an Internet cafe during his days off and getting covered in the red Palawan soil and dust on his way to work on a motorcycle. When we finally settled in in early 2010, we were greeted with blue skies, a sparkling ocean, and so much green. The trees, flowers, birds, chickens, lizards, pigs, ducks, everything was beautiful and new. We also got to know the city, commuting with my mom and the cutest little brother ever via tricycle everywhere we could, to the post office in Mendoza Park to mail letters, Itoy’s for WiFi and cake, and NCCC for groceries and packs of Bread Pan and Chuckie. And of course, we visited the Puerto Princesa Underground River, where we saw a giant monitor lizard, cheeky monkeys, and sleepy bats. My brother fell asleep inside the cave, the gentle rocking of the boat and the cold winds making his eyelids heavy.
2010 was also my first year of school in Palawan. It was filled with friendship, monthly programs, making the honor roll, and playing bato bola when class was over. But as 2010 ended and 2011 began, a new wave of excitement was happening outside of school: the Underground River was in the running to become one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. I am proud to say that I was one of the thousands who texted “PPUR” to 2861 to vote so it could make it to the official listing. Similar campaigns to promote it was up and running all over the country and Puerto Princesa was full of activity. Tourists, both domestic and foreign, were coming in the thousands to Puerto Princesa to see the PPUR, and by extension, the rest of beautiful Palawan. All of Palawan was very busy. They got even busier when the PPUR officially became a New Wonder of Nature on November 11, 2011. I started having to skip class often because relatives and good friends of my parents were coming in almost every week. Since those friends also had kids, it was up to my brother and I to give them the kid-friendly tour of Puerto: how to catch crabs and put them in a paper cup, how to walk on an island-hopping boat in Honda Bay without falling off, how to hold a baby alligator at Crocodile Farm, and where to rent bikes in Baywalk. That was one of the best years of my life.
2012 was interesting because Robinsons Place Palawan opened for the first time. At first, I remember being bitter towards it because they had to cut down and uproot hectares of Acacia trees in order to build it. We used to pass by that area every day, and we’d always marvel at its lush trees and the occasional horse and cows grazing on the grass. But when the Robinsons Cinema sign was put up, I was sold. My family loves movies, and for the past few years, we’d watch movies on my dad’s laptop, squeezed together on my parents’ bed. The experience of entering a cold theatre with a screen taller than our house watching something new instead of downloading an old movie on the internet was so exciting. Finally walking into our first movie in Palawan ever, sitting in the front row to watch Madagascar 3, is a memory I will cherish and remember forever.
2012 was also the year I met my best friend. We were first introduced to each other during the firefly-watching tour in Baywalk.
Surrounded by silence and the constellations above us, we got to know each other through whispers and giggles in a small paddle boat. After that, we met up every week at Baker’s Hill to play in their playground. We made up stories and adventures with our brothers on the swings, and climbed up and down the concrete snake that we imagined was actually a leader of a super villain gang that could turn into a snake at will and poison people. After fighting the snake, we’d run around until we got tired, then ate pizza and planned what we would do the next time we fought bad guys, er, I mean, played pretend. We made up backstories for our superhero personas, and drew costumes and logos with the help of my dad, the biggest comic book nerd around. We didn’t have social media, so we sent each other letters via our parents on their way to work, dropping them off at our houses because we live so close to each other. We made friendship bracelets, a doll house, and other arts and crafts projects, watched old movies, listened to our parents’ favorite music, and dreamt about when we’d be sixteen years old and be big and grown up and go to prom and maybe even have boyfriends because that seems old enough, right? Those were good times.
The beginning of 2013 was even better. I was ten years old, I had a best friend, I was exploring a wonderful place called YouTube. Phineas and Ferb and Ni-hao Kai-Lan were on TV, and our summer was packed with workshops, beach days, and a Manila visit to our cousins and grandparents whom we missed very much. That summer, I made new friends, got my first crush, performed on stage, learned new things, got three shades browner, and summer felt like it was going to last forever. But, as they say…walang forever.
In the middle of summer 2013, my dad was transferred back to Manila, perhaps permanently. My lolo, the sweetest person in the whole world, was also admitted to hospital, very, very sick. Our Manila visit seemed like it wouldn’t just be a simple visit anymore.
Our eternal summer ended with us hopping on a plane to Manila, worried and doubting whether we’d still be able to call Palawan our home.
To be continued.