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Chapter 4.4 – Welcome to Palawan

After days spent with my new family on Bagambangan Island, finally the weather forecast announces a slight improvement: not that much, but enough to make me decide to leave. Relieved for my departure planned on the following day, I go to sleep calm and unaware of what was coming next for me. That night I have an attack of dysentery. After many days of drinking the water of the local population and not the one from sealed bottles, I am almost expecting it. So I spend the whole night getting around on the beach and digging holes back and forth until dawn.

Yet I have to leave anyway, I can’t afford to waste more time. On the beach where I set my camp the waves are still too big, so after a family meeting we decide to bring everything on the other side of the island, which is about 1 km by foot. Our farewell is touching, everybody is gathered on the beach. My new adoptive father Manuel, with sore eyes, as well as all the others try to convince me not to leave because it’s too dangerous. But the decision has already been taken, so I go.

Taytay palawan philippines Stand Up Paddle

The crossing is easy as expected and the stomach is not troubling me for 3 hours, but then it starts aching. Every 10/15 paddles I have to stop because of the pain. I should cross a bay but I don’t feel like it so I look for a beach, which is nowhere to be found. At a certain point I see a window in the mangroves and I move into it with Jethro, where I find a village, hidden by the mangrove, with 6 or 7 houses. A guy is watching me but he doesn’t do anything, driven by my upset stomach I immediately go to him explaining in signs my situation. Another guy arrives, they talk to each other and then they say “ok”. The guys look like they have just come out of a Bud Spencer movie: one is tall and overweight with a sweetheart face, the other one is small and skinny, with red eyes. Both of them don’t seem very smart. To be frank, they look really unreliable, but I have no strength to continue, so I just set up the tent and I stay there for a couple of hours.

The next sunrise, after checking to have all my vital organs still at their right place, I leave. The first hours go smoothly, then the wind rises and bring waves that have literally battered me for the remaining 5 hours, until I reach Taytay. Here I am going sleep in a bed and have a shower after 8 days, which is always a pleasure.

TayTay Special car

On the following day I leave late because the two guys who were keeping my board don’t wake up… As soon as I start paddling, I encounter wind, waves and a crowd of fishermen looking enjoyed by this scene. I go on anyway, I can’t afford to waste time today neither. More than 5 hours of wind and waves are expecting me for 11 km. During these hours I use every possible technique to avoid thinking: I sing, I play mental games, I even meditate but every time I am interrupted by the nth wave splashing on my face. It is hard, I even spend my break fighting against the waves and trying not to lose my board while I am eating some local sweets, now sea salt – flavored. Still I manage to stay incredibly calm in this situation, zen-like I’d say.

Once I get out from the bay, the wind isn’t blowing frontally against me anymore and I am able to proceed for a while. I feel dead tired but suddenly, magically, a beautiful golden beach appears right in front of me. Unfortunately I have to paddle again against the wind to get to it, but the beach looks perfect to me. It takes me 40 minutes to reach it and when I am only a few meters away from the beach, a motorboat comes at full speed towards me. I look exhausted, with my hair hardened by the sea salt as if I used hairspray to comb like Einstein; I try to show my best smile, but they don’t smile back. They ask me where I am going, who I am, where I come from and why I am there, then they talk to each other, call someone via walkie talkie and… the judgment is taken! “Stefano, you have been nominated”, I have to go. I feel too tired to discuss with them. I leave towards the coast, losing the precious kilometers I paddled before but hoping to find another beach and luckily I do really discover another amazing one.

On the next day I hope that the worst lays now behind me and I start paddling but after one hour the wind starts blowing and waves start splashing from the side again. I have to sit down to control the board but by now my foot and knees are full of blisters and my butt is irritated from the contact with the surface of the board. I go on for 7 hours, swearing against the wind which does not even cease for a second. I think about the guy who told me: “I don’t envy you, my life is miserable enough” and this makes me laugh. In this moment, with all these wounds and these troubles I do feel quite miserable, ahah.

In these days I’m reading a book by Dalai Lama about the impermanence of things and I choose it as my philosophy for the day: hold on because, sooner or later, this day will come to an end, as well as the wind and the waves. As a matter of fact, coming out from a bay, I enter my 8th hour of paddling slightly changing my direction and finally the wind that I hated so much starts helping me. The low sun light up the mangrove that emerge from the water. In front of this amazing scenery I find my smile again and I feel very lucky to be here. All the trouble and pain have been the price and the added value of this moment, that I will never forget. The meaning of what I am doing is also this: with much effort and struggling I collect moments that will be indelible in my memory and I also learn something about me, which otherwise I could hardly learn at home.

Palawan sunset Stand Up Paddle