Okay, so I have a bad habit of loving almost everywhere.
I am a traveller after all so it makes sense that I love new destinations. I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t. But sometimes I end up singing the praises of everywhere I go, proclaiming it the best place ‘ever!’
But trust me on this one, alright? 😉
Or ya know, DON’T because that would preserve Port Barton’s privacy a little longer.
It’s that great irony again – the more we seek out those undiscovered places (especially if we tell people about it) the less discovered they become.
After visiting El Nido, one of the most touristic places in the Philippines, I was feeling underwhelmed. If El Nido was once undiscovered (which I’m assuming it was) those days are long gone. Yes, the lagoons are beautiful but you’ll be holding your nose on your boat trip as you pass the one million other boats chugging through them that day.
Luckily, someone said six magical words to me: ‘Have you heard of Port Barton?’
Flash forward two days and I was in paradise. There was no Wi-Fi, aircon or ATMs but it was still paradise. This was my breakfast view – banana pancakes beside an abandoned beach with only three (three!) boats bobbing in the harbour.
A bit about Port Barton
I’d describe PB as a chill, cheaper version of El Nido with less tourists and less Western infrastructure. The electricity runs between about 8am and midnight which means that whilst you’re sleeping there will be no aircon, no fan, no nothing. One morning I woke up SWELTERING at 5am to the crowing of roosters and couldn’t get back to sleep (I’d also been drinking until 2am). I dragged myself into a cold shower to cool down only to find, nope, that didn’t run outside electricity hours either. Lol I’m making PB sound awful aren’t I?
But it’s beautiful. Keep reading to hear about camping on abandoned islands and swimming with luminescent plankton in the dead of night. PB is the stories I’ll tell when I’m 90 about the times I felt most alive.
Also if you visit, stay with Lady Gaga.
No, not THAT Lady Gaga… a wonderful Filipino woman who runs a guesthouse and is probably the kindest woman alive. She had a habit of sorting out everyone’s problems and never asking for anything in return. Once I’d lost my friends and was wandering the dark streets and an engine drew up behind me… It was Lady Gaga on her bike, offering to tour every restaurant in town ’til I found my friends. BTW this is basically how the people in the Philippines are – they really are some of the kindest and most friendly people I’ve met.
Lady Gaga is a real local character and her guesthouse is beautiful and cheap. Here it is on Facebook.
What to do in Port Barton?
All the usual Asian beach opps – snorkelling, boat tours, relaxing on the beach, waterfalls, hikes. All for about half of El Nido prices. I had one very favourite experience which I want to tell you all about…
The camping boat trip
In Port Barton at the same time as me were Hannah as Faye, two other British girls I’d met at my first hostel in Puerto Princesa, the main city on Palawan where we’d all flown into.
Since arriving, they’d befriended a British guy, John, who had befriended Sandra and Emer, two girls from Dublin (this is how travel friendships usually come about btw). At some point we all befriended Ruth and her boyfriend whose name I have forgotten. Sandra and Emer had been keen to go on an overnight camping boat trip since they’d arrived, and later told us part of their efforts in making friends had been to recruit a crew as you needed eight to fill a boat.
So the next morning as a happy crew of eight we set sail with two local guides, Long and Benji. We paid about £10 for two days onboard including all our meals, snorkel hire and our tents for the night.
This was our view for a large proportion of the day:
So I forgot to mention one little thing. Just as we were about to depart, a friend of the guides’ called out and asked if we had space for one more. We said ‘yeah sure’.
Moritz joined the group. Moritz was from somewhere in Europe and was in his 70s, mean, grumpy and apparently dating a young Filipino girlfriend of barely 20. We wouldn’t have agreed to let him join our boat trip if we’d known more about to start with or how the night was going to pan out. The first indication we had that Moritz was not, shall we say, sane and fun, was when he revealed a huge boil on his back (like legit the size of his head) and asked a traumatised Sandra to rub suncream on it. Good lord.
Anyway, we cruised through crystal clear waters and didn’t see another human being all day. Are you getting that – no humans WHATSOEVER. I think during my El Nido day I saw 15,000 other people with no exaggeration.
We hopped in the water here and there for turtle snorkelling whilst Benji fished off the boat and served it to us for lunch.
We drank a lot of rum and got pretty burnt. Like most travel scenarios we all felt like we’d known each other forever. That included Mortiz as time with him just dragged on and on… When he wasn’t taking all our rum for free he was telling us strange stories about his traumatic childhood and we were beginning to wonder more and more about his mental wellbeing.
Setting up camp on the island
Eventually, we set up camp on an island. I don’t know where we were – I probably never will. There were no buildings but a few kids splashed in the shallows before disappearing later.
As we cooked dinner and drank beers we were treated to the most spectacular sunset. Nothing moved on any horizon and there was no sound apart from us. The rest of the world didn’t seem to matter or exist.
The almost murder
The peace was wildly disrupted by Moritz announcing he had food poisoning and vomiting in the ocean that we were hoping to swim in.
Things got worse as his mental state fully deteriorated and he confided to John that he had left his medication on the mainland and was hearing voices telling him to kill us all.
No I am not freaking joking. Like, how many other travel bloggers do you follow who this stuff happens to? I hope the guy was alright but really, why us? Emer and I recently cackled about the whole thing over beers in Dublin but at the time it seemed less funny.
Whilst we were musing which actors would be cast as us in the posthumous movie about eight backpackers mysteriously murdered, Mortiz announced he wanted to leave the island. No resistance from us!
To get back to the mainland, Benji would have to drive the boat two hours there and back. We mumbled ‘oh no, what a long journey for you’ in the same breath as ‘Godspeed!’
On tenterhooks, and without a guide or anyway of contacting the outside world, we sat on the beach. We pondered doing something practical and sensible but instead shared 2 litres of rum and went skinny dipping.
This was when the most AMAZING thing occurred – the ocean around us lit up. As we moved our arms and legs, tiny bulbs of light moved with us, trailing in the water in whatever pattern we created.
No, this wasn’t the afterlife following our untimely deaths. No, we hadn’t had too much rum (well, we had but that wasn’t the problem).
10 months into my Asia trip, I’d finally found luminous plankton!!
Obvs I have no photos but I’ll share with you the closest thing I can. In New Zealand I visited a cave of luminescent glowworms and they looked similar to this but in water:
Now imagine swimming in that. It was absolutely incredible! I learnt in New Zealand the luminescence is caused by a mixture of chemicals, energy and vibration. I can’t say I fully understand it but it’s the same thing that creates fireflies and glowworms. The fact that there were absolutely zero forms of artificial light around us probably made it shine all the brighter.
The following morning I crawled out of my boiling tent at 6am, sweaty and ready to trample anyone who stood between me and liquid. I was greeted with this view… How flipping perfect. Benji was back, frying up some strange slabs of meat (oh yeah btw, don’t come to the Philippines for a foodie holiday) and brewing coffee. By ‘brewing’ I mean pouring pre-mixed sugary powder into a cup with water… Yeah, I’m a coffee snob, whatever.
The last thing I wanted to do was climb back on our spider boat (I call the ones in the Philippines that because of their stretching arms) and sail back to the mainland. Luckily there were more snorkelling and turtle sighting opportunities on the way.
Back in Port Barton, we debriefed over the previous evening at a local cafe. Sandra, Emer and I stayed on an extra couple of nights and discovered the main source of nightlife in town was at the karaoke bar. The only song we knew was ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and the whole village almost wet themselves laughing at how bad we were. Still worse things could have happened in Port Barton. But they didn’t. What a place it was!
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Read my other posts about the Philippines:
- Diving with sharks on Malapascua island, the Philippines
- Siquijor: the Filipino island that will leave you spellbound
- Doing the Jailhouse rock: my time at the Filipino dancing jail
- The 9 islands not to miss in the Philippines
See you next time for more adventures,