Crossing the Sea in the Middle of a Typhoon
After 28 peaceful hours of travel, we found ourselves in one of the transportation offices just outside the Puerto Princesa airport. The next van to Port Barton was leaving at 1pm so we had to wait for about an hour. Thankfully, we were able to sit on some couches inside the air-conditioned office. Eli had fallen asleep, and we were loaded with bags. While we were sitting waiting for our van, the locals in the transportation office were telling us how Palawan was the safest place to be during a Typhoon… We had NO IDEA that later that day, we would be Crossing the Sea in the Middle of a Typhoon!
“Palawan doesn’t get hit by super typhoons. When the rest of the Philippines is devastated by floods, landslides, and extremely heavy downpours, the island of Palawan gets only some light rainfall. In fact, this island is known as “the land of the living” because we haven’t had to face these weather scares.”
When the van finally arrived, we climbed in and occupied the entire front seat. We were pretty impressed with our comfy situation and the fact that Eli would probably sleep for the entire duration of our 3-4 journey to Port Barton.
Fat Chance!!!! We had no idea just how crazy that journey was about to get….
It wasn’t until 1:30 that we were FINALLY leaving Puerto Princesa. Since we had climbed into the van, they made four extra stops. There was now stuff on top of the van, up to the ceiling at the back, and wait for it… five of us in the front seat. We had to lift Eli onto our laps so that a mother and her seven year old daughter could get into the last bit of space left on the front seat!
All Squished In
If we were only going a short distance, it would have been tolerable, but we were there for the long-haul. We had bags at our feet, the driver’s sling bag was tossed over his seat, and all this with absolutely no leg room to start with. The weight of Eli, on top of that, resulted in both of us feeling severely uncomfortable!!
I wish that was were the worst part about our journey from Puerto Princessa to Port Barton, but it really wasn’t even the beginning of it. Our driver was an absolute mad man. He drove like he was on the run. We took so many steep sharp bends that I was close to puking on multiple occasions. The humidity, confined space, poor driving skills, and terrible state of the roads were all too much for a gal prone to motion-sickness!!!!
A Slippery Ride
The rain was coming down so hard that I imagined us skidding off the road and into a ditch. But again…. this wasn’t the worst part of our journey. That being said, I’m glad that I didn’t know this at the time!!
We eventually made it to Port Barton. It felt so good to get out of that van, but bad news awaited us. The coast guards were cancelling most planned boat trips. The ocean was too rough. All domestic and international flights had been grounded. We were “lucky” that we had even made it this far! We were told that the typhoon was only going to get worse in the next few days. Some travelers, who had just made it to Port Barton, had to turn around and head back to the capital. If they stayed in Port Barton, the roads might be closed in a couple of days, and they would miss their flights home.
We were, however, assured that we needn’t worry because our guest house’s owner had his own boat and he was on his way to get us. At the time, we should have wondered why our guest house boat was allowed to be on the ocean but no others were.
Honestly, I didn’t even think about that. I think I assumed that we weren’t going far so it didn’t matter.
We waited. And waited… and waited!!!
Patience changed to annoyance as we began to get chilly. The storm was thickening and night was falling. There was barely any more daylight remaining, and we were beginning to wonder if we had been forgotten about.
A shirtless Filipino man eventually wandered up to us. He was dripping wet. In broken English he told us that the waves were wild, we needed a tricycle and then asked if we minded the fact that we would need to walk out into deep water.
There was also something said about 500 meters.
I was completely confused.
Was this a two-part question? Did we need to decide between a boat or tuk tuk?? I didn’t understand but he was in a rush and Justin started gathering the bags so I assumed that we were taking the tricycle instead of the 500 meter ocean walk.
We took an unbelievably rough and muddy ride from the city hall to the port. It was starting to rain again, and there was only a little bit of light left on the horizon.
It was then that everything became clear. We needed the tricycle to move all our stuff 500 meters to the port. The waves were too rough for him to bring the boat closer so we needed to hold bags on our shoulders and then walk to the boat.
Justin and I were laughing, and saying how absolutely crazy this was. But at no time did we think seriously about not going. The situation just didn’t seem as bad as it could have been. This man seemed to know what he was doing. He wouldn’t have come back for us if he didn’t think we would make it. So surely this was just going to be a crazy travel story we would tell about that time we had to walk into the water, with bags above our heads, at night, during a typhoon!
Eli and I waited on the beach as Justin and Jeffery went back and forth, carrying each our bags over to the boat. The waves were strong, and we didn’t want to risk one of them falling over with all of our belongings. Jeffery tried to take two bags on his last trip and dropped one of them into the water, only one step in!!
I immediately grabbed the bag and told him to go. Still, at this point, I was laughing and playing around with Eli. I told him that this would be our craziest adventure yet!!!
Oh…. if only I had known that things were about to get quite scary!!
I don’t think that Jeffery anticipated that it would take so long to get the three of us, and all of the bags, over to the boat. He started to look a bit panicked. And trust me, islanders don’t really panic about much!
Once we were all on the boat, and we started moving, the boat stalled.
Jeffery jumped into the water to check the engine, and all we heard was…
Ummmm…. that’s not what you want to hear on the boat, in the dark, with a typhoon rumbling all around you.
Jeffery asked if we had a knife. It seemed that we had caught something in the motor blades. Thankfully, he was able to sort it out. But we had lost more time. The rain was coming down hard now, and the waves were picking up speed and strength. As we moved further from the coast, our laughter turned to prayer. Up until now it had all seemed like a crazy south-east Asia travel story. We all have them, right??
It is all “part of the adventure”.
But suddenly, this was something so much bigger than “some adventure”.
It was pitch dark, torrential rainfall, waves crashing into us repeatedly, water spraying into our faces, and we had our three year old son with us!!! I have heard of many insane stories, but this was more like a scene out of a movie. How could this be happening??
*The Photo-taking ended around here*
Justin held Eli and I held onto the bags, trying to protect my camera and our passports (which were in a small bag, and not waterproofed at all). It felt so trivial to even be thinking about those things while we were in this life-threatening situation. But the truth is that half of my worry on that evening, was that we would have to start our three week vacation with no passports and no camera. For me…. that would be absolutely devastating. For Justin, not so much of a big deal. Haha
And then, my focus shifted…
Eli had gone from chatting and laughing with us, to complete silence. He was reaching out to hold my hand, and the look on his face was enough to break my heart. I don’t think that he completely knew what was happening but he could probably sense that this wasn’t a game.
His favorite saying lately is “Justin and Catherine and Eli. Together forever”. He will take each of our hands, or hold around both of our necks, and then say this sweet phrase. I knew that he just wanted the three of us to be close, but the bags were flying up and down with each wave that hit us. I was using all of my strength to keep them from flying overboard!
I kept reaching out to touch his hand, but I couldn’t hold it. As the situation got worse and worse, Justin started praying out-loud, and then we sang “Jesus Loves Me” (one of Eli’s favorite bedtime songs).
Seriously…. it was like we were in the scene of a catastrophic movie.
How the heck was this happening to us??
The strangest part was that even though there was absolute madness around us, and our lives were in danger, I felt an overwhelming peace. I thought about Jesus and his disciples on the boat, when the storm was raging around them. I knew that God could calm those waves by lifting one finger. That thought alone gave me peace. He controls everything. He had us. If we went overboard, he had us. Whatever happened… God was there, and he held our lives in His hands. There was no need to panic.
We finally saw the light on the shore, and we knew that we didn’t have far to go. When I say not far to go, I mean not far on a boat. But right there, with the shore in the distance, Jeffery turned off the motor.
The shores were shallow and tapered slowly so if the waves were too big, the boats couldn’t get too close to the shore.
Jeffery insisted on taking Eli and I freaked out a bit. A stranger had walked off, in chest-deep water with my son. I couldn’t see him, and my heart sank. Justin reassured me that he could see him. He grabbed a bag and got into the water. Being as short as I am, when I climbed off the boat I was neck-deep in water at moments, and then swimming the next! I carried nothing as I was barely able to stay upright.
I made my way towards that light on the beach, and then ran towards the only thatched roofed shelter that I saw. Inside I found Eli wrapped in a towel, behind the welcome desk, on a strangers lap, with a huge grin on his face.
Oh man, I love that kid. Despite the insane ocean experience, and being carried through waves by a man he’d never known, he was happily sitting with a stranger while she dried him off. My heart was happy.
A couple of minutes later, Justin came into the hut, carrying two of our bags.
We had made it.
It was crazy. It was scary. But we had made it!!
The staff at the guest house helped us to our room, gave us hot tea, and brought us tons of towels and hangers. Almost everything in our bags was soaking wet. It was really not the way that we wanted to start a summer vacation (or any vacation, for that matter), but thankfully, all of our electronic items were dry!
This is DEFINITELY a story for the books!
Oh my goodness, the Esser adventures…