Port Barton

White Beach Annex (part of Deep Gold) in Port Barton is a special, special place. Located about a 15-minute bangka ride from town, this small resort is in a remote place of beauty. There are a handful of two-room cottages each with spacious balconies, a palapa with tables, chairs and a hammock, and several hammocks strung between the palm trees dotting the white sand beach. The beach is great for swimming, although slightly colder water than we’d expected, and there are quite a few jellies when the water is very calm (the bay is so protected that on some days it looked more like a lake). The sunsets here are delightful, especially next to the coconut husk-fueled bonfires.

We got right to work our first day in heaven and promptly polished off a fifth of Tanduay rum (about $2 at the local town shops!) and 1.5 liters of Coke. Then we danced on our porch, watched the young boy from our resort (also known as the jellyfish whisperer) breathe life back into approximately 13 jellies washed up on the shore and place them back out to sea, and took 187 photos because it’s just that freaking beautiful. And later when two water buffalo descended on our beach, the jelly whisperer appeared again to prove that jellyfish ain’t the only animal on his roster, chasing them down the beach and into the sunset like an experienced shepherd.

This place is pure magic, and we savored it, because there aren’t that many opportunities in life to stay somewhere so remote, so untainted, and so beautiful it almost hurts. White Beach has a fantastic view and is one of the most idyllic places we’ve ever seen in our lives on this planet. Collectively (well, really Alan, because he’s been to every country I’ve been to) we’ve traveled to 61 countries. And so trust us (at least 61 countries’ worth) when we say that this is a special place. While the surrounding islands are not quite as stunning as those in El Nido with its limestone cliffs, the laid-back and decidedly non-touristy vibe here made our experience far superior to that in more popular El Nido (don’t worry, we’ll cover El Nido more in our next post). We are currently looking into purchasing this resort, and/or renewing our vows here, and/or scheduling a family reunion where we rent out the entire place for two weeks. Which isn’t even necessary, since we felt like we were on our own private island for much of the time there.

The contrast in peacefulness of this place versus our accommodation in Sabang is comical. Here you sleep to the peaceful sounds of the waves gently crashing on the shore. Well, except for the mystery animal that hung out outside our window making strange noises at night. I’ll have to admit, I was frightened a bit by this thing. I’ve never heard a noise like that. How could one describe the sound it makes? It’s a noise that might lie at the confluence of a quack and a bark. I imagine it might be the sound that an anteater or weasel would make. Well, we discovered later that these are the legendary tuko lizards, a large and totally harmless variety!

I’ve had a history of doing some strange things in my sleep. Once kicked Alan backwards, while sleeping on my stomach, when he went to kiss me goodbye. Once pulled my sock drawer out and put it on my lap and sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I would have no recollection of this when my mother informed me the next day. I once walked into the laundry room of my freshman dorm completely asleep. Though jello shots and natty light might have played a role there. And I’ve definitely woken myself up or had Alan shake me awake while I screamed, yelled or sobbed in my nightmares (Kenny can confirm from when we all shared a room in Guayaquil). I had an epic one of these our second night. I mean, I had vibrato in that yell. And I guess I may or may not have judo chopped Alan while opera screaming. And before I could really process what was happening I collapsed into a fit of confused screaming, laughing and crying. And then I couldn’t stop laughing for maybe 30 minutes. It’s become something of a running joke with the two of us now that Alan is overly concerned with the wellbeing of the French girls staying at our resort (“why aren’t the French girls home yet? Nobody knows where they are.”) and I felt bad that my screams probably left them thinking that someone was getting ax-murdered in the jungle depths. I half expected Alan to run over to their cottage and see if they were all right.

While there was really no need to leave our wonderful cove at White Beach (what with our chef, Ping, cooking and serving up all our meals either on the beachfront table or our private porch (P.S. her French toast is obscenely delicious)), we did manage to pry ourselves away to check out the rest of the area a bit.

We did an island hopping tour on a small bangka. Our driver took us out to a couple reefs for some snorkeling around great coral gardens with loads of fish, and out to some small islands with white beaches and rattan hammocks, including one where he grilled us up a great chicken barbecue meal.  The whole day we saw perhaps five other boats.  Quite a contrast from Phi Phi (Thailand) or El Nido.

One day Alan went diving while Jenni relaxed a while before settling into panic-mode wondering why he was out so long. I did three dives, consisting of one wreck and two reef dives.  The visibility was shockingly poor but there was some good coral and really neat macro critters.  I had never seen a sea slug, now I’ve seen many.  While it wasn’t the best diving of my life, it was one of the most enjoyable days of diving. Paying guests were myself and one girl, accompanied by a dive master plus two boatmen.  It was my first time diving from a bangka, we ate lunch on a tiny island with white sand beaches and hammocks, the scenery was lovely with scattered islands and remote fishing villages, and the whole area is like a protected bay so the water was fairly calm.

On our last day we decided to take the 45-minute walk from our resort to the main town. This accidentally turned into a few hours of hiking when we missed the turnoff and hiked into the middle of nowhere. I swear, we probably could have walked back to Sabang had we kept going. Even hot, sweaty and out of water, there were absolutely no regrets. This is a fabulously beautiful trail (even if you don’t get lost). The palm tree lined beaches and terrific vistas of tropical sea and reefs flanked by fields of goats and water buffalo? Stunning. There’s even a little bamboo raft where you have to pull yourself by rope-rig to cross the small river near the town beach. So quaint and adorable.

Practical Info

In case you couldn’t tell we loved the relaxed and peaceful nature of Port Barton, I will repeat it here.  It was telling that every local we had spoken to before arriving here was positive on Port Barton and negative on El Nido due to excessive development.

There are no ATMs in Port Barton and many places do not accept credit cards. Electricity is limited to certain hours though some establishments supplement this with a generator. WiFi is available only at certain places and at certain times.  Many of the small hotels and restaurants along the main beach offer WiFi.

The town is compact and it is easy to walk around the few streets or up and down the beach.  For help arranging day tours and transportation, you might try the tourist assistance center which is a desk upstairs in a little structure where one of the streets hits the beach. The phone number we were given (I think the mobile of the woman who was working there) is 09106721641.

Transportation: Port Barton is a little harder to reach because it is off the direct Lexus van route that connects Puerto Princesa, Sabang and El Nido.  We took a private van from Sabang.  We were initially quoted prices in the range of 4500HP to 6000PHP so instead we had booked the much cheaper jeepney for a 7 am departure to Salvacion followed by either a bus or the Lexus van. When we showed up before 7 am for the jeepney, our lady at Bing Booking Services said she could now offer a private van for 3500.  We said we’d do it for 3000 and she agreed.  The drive from Sabang took roughly three hours.

Another popular option is to take a bangka from Sabang.  The prices we heard for that were generally 1000 each if there are six passengers, 1200 each if four passengers or 3500 to charter the boat.

For onward travel to El Nido, we took the 8 am jeepney, which arrived in Roxas at 9:50 am followed by a RORO bus to El Nido.  The bus was waiting at the station and the transition was seamless. The bus was fairly nice with A/C and good seats, though it got a bit crowded when they folded down the aisle seats to make it five across.  We stopped at 11:30 am in Taytay for snacks and toilets and we arrived to El Nido at 1:30 pm. The jeepney cost 150PHP each and the bus was 200PHP each.

There are also bangkas or private vans to El Nido.

Accommodation: We stayed at White Beach Annex, which is owned by Deep Gold Resort, and it was awesome!! Though it is on the mainland, you basically need to take a boat to get there (and I think they charge 150PHP each person, each way).  There is a jungle trail that takes about 45 minutes to town.  For practical purposes, you will end up spending most of your time and eating most of your meals at White Beach.  To be clear, this is not a luxury resort.  The rooms are fairly basic and power (and thus hot water and air conditioning) is generally available only from late afternoon until around midnight.

We wholeheartedly recommend staying here, but if you prefer to be a little closer to what little action there is in Port Barton, then you might want to stay in town.  Unlike El Nido, the town beach here is very nice, charming and fine for swimming. There are several accommodation options along the beach, including Elsa’s, Ausan, Greenviews, Cassandra’s Cottages, Summer Homes, Deep Gold’s main property, and more.  We also noticed Evergreen Bayview Bungalows (may be called Villa Evergreen?) on the hill on the northeast side of the bay.

Away from town there are some island resorts including Secret Island, Blue Cove and Coconut Garden.  We also considered Thelma and Toby’s Island Camping Adventure which sounds pretty cool.

Food: We ate all but one meal either at White Beach or during diving or the island hopping tour. That one other meal was at Jambalaya on the town beach.  Jenni’s sandwich was good and my meal included blackened fish plus jambalaya. It was quite pricy at 450PHP but could probably have been split two-ways.

Activities: First and foremost, this is a great place to relax.  As with much of Palawan, the most popular activity is probably an island hopping tour.  We did ours through White Beach and paid 1800PHP for a private tour (lunch included) plus 100 for an extra mask and snorkel.  We did see some other guys on an island tour who had brought San Miguel Lights and their chef was whipping up lobster and calamari.  So if you put in the effort (and $), you can probably have a more gourmet experience than ours was.

I dove with Barton Diving Services (fka Sea Dog Diving). It cost 3500PHP for three dives with all equipment and lunch included.  You can pay with a credit card during certain hours at Summer Homes, or via PayPal. The dive shop has kayaks available for rent or for free if you dive with them.  There was also a kayak at White Beach that we paddled maybe 100 yards offshore before Jenni insisted the danger was becoming too great. I think there may be a waterfall walk around here, but I’m not sure.

March 14-18, 2014 (Friday-Tuesday)

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