Meet Lia, our lovely Couch Surfing host in Palawan

Lia showed us this beautiful painting she did while she was in high school during our city tour.

My friend and I had an unforgettable time in the popular island Palawan, Philippines, largely thanks to our wonderful couch surfing (CS) host Lia. This young woman is nothing short of incredible and gave a lot of her time to show travelers around her home island.

We spent six days couch surfing in Palawan and we were fortunate to see her almost every day. I admire Lia for pushing herself beyond her comfort zone to meet people from different cultures, which, as she explained, made her quite nervous at first.

Among her many other talents, Lia has her own business called Clia Fix and Wear Variety Shoppe, selling custom made products. She has also spent a lot of her time volunteering for environmental conservation projects and also founded the organization Aklat Para Sa Kabataan, which means books for youth in English. At the organization, her team taught children in remote and coastal areas on topics that included health and environment.

Oh yes, and she is also a university graduate who studied petroleum engineering.

I chatted with Lia about her experience as a couch surfing host.

We ran into the Shrek family during Lia’s now famous city tour around Puerto Princesa.

Why did you want to be a CS host?

Four years ago, my friend was a couch surfing host for locals and international travelers and he often invited me to dinners with his couch surfing friends. I found it interesting when they shared their stories, culture and different traveling experiences. But because I didn’t like speaking in English, I just usually stared and listened to their conversation. Despite of my interest, I didn’t continue to be involved couch surfing.

But after a year, I decided to make an account after my amazing trip in Cebu and Bohol (island provinces in the PHilippines). We met some local couch surfers and it was really fun, especially since I didn’t have to worry about my grammar or having to think about English words. The Cebu locals showed us around and ate with us. But even though I had a great time with them, I still didn’t want to be a CS host.

Then last December, my friend who introduced me to CS spoke about his job interview in one of the prominent companies in the oil and gas industry. I asked him how was his job interview went and he said his interview was not stressful. He said being a couch surfing host really helped him a lot and he became more comfortable speaking to foreign people.

At that moment I realized that I had to try to be a host to improve my English and to gain confidence in speaking with other people from other countries. I also love learning about world history and other people’s social life and culture.

This past year, my mission in couch surfing was to answer everyone’s questions about Puerto Princesa (city in Palawan island) and show them the beauty of my place and the people.

Our entire couch surfing family spending an incredible day together at Nagtabon beach, the nicest beach in Palawan.

Have you had any challenges while being a couch surfing host?

Every traveller I’ve met has their own unique story and left me with a unique experience. I guess the challenging experience I had was meeting people who forgot the real meaning or essence of couch surfing and used couch surfing as a dating site.

But of all the people I’ve met, there has only one really challenging couch surfer I hosted and it was my first time hosting. I thought I should not give up and believed not all couch surfers are like the challenging person.

It got easier because I’m much more open and much more confident to talk to people. I realized because there is no difference between Filipino people and people from other countries. Sometimes I felt nervous because I thought some people would feel superior since we are from the developing world.

I believe you should respect others and they will respect you.

Our couch surfing posse ended another fantastic day by watching the Venga Boys ladyboy show in town. Not a bad show for the price of a drink.

You’ve hosted six couch surfers for full days this past week. Where do you get all of your energy from?

I guess my past work helps me as I used to work in research where I had to gather data and talk to people late at night for a week straight. When I was 17 I worked in Dunken Donuts and sometimes had double shifts from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

My colleagues asked me, “You are so energetic, how can you still smile? How can you still walk?” I just answered “I just make myself happy and enjoy what I’m doing.”

What inspired your business?

Maybe it’s in my blood because my family has been running a small business since I was young. We selI daily commodities like vinegar, soy sauce, oil and sugar in small stores in town. I usually do the delivery and customer orders.

When I was in college my brother gave me some money to finance my first business. I choose a lending business but stopped it after two years when I realized that this kind of business is not for me.

Then I started my online and garments business when someone asked for a customized shirts supplier. I tried to be the middle person during that time and organized the orders and it was successful. So I continued to cater a variety of costumized products such as IDs, button, pins, bracelets, lanyards, organizationl shirts, and uniforms and this because my full-time business.

What is your goal for 2014?

I was planning to build an eco travel lodge for travelers in my lot. I want to showcase the real life and culture of indigenous people in Palawan. I want travelers to experience a memorable vacation with the locals at the same time. It will be one of the greatest fulfillment of my life.

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

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Gifts from the heart

As I grew up in Canada, I became used to people giving me generic birthday cards, good luck money or easy-to-give gifts. At home I keep two piles of cards: one pile of generic cards and another pile for people who wrote me cards with personalized messages.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for what I have received in the past. It’s just a totally different feeling when people give you gifts from their hearts and when they consider what you like. I have received the most genuine gifts from all of the countries I have traveled in and I have carried those gifs with me everywhere. I have dumped clothes and things I didn’t need to lighten my load as I moved from place to place, but I kept every item people gave me to remind me of the wonderful memories we had.

In Western countries, we’ve been mistakenly trained to show how much we care about people through gifts, often mindless gifts. The best gifts don’t necessarily have to be something someone bought. They can be something that is handmade or an act.

Here are just some of the gifts people have given to me as I traveled Southeast Asia that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

I met my friend Kathy randomly at my friend’s small Cambodian restaurant in Siem Reap in 2013. Because she was alone, I offered to take her around for two nights during her stay. Before we split up, she invited me to visit her in Bali, Indonesia.

I took her up on her invite and flew to Bali to meet her. By the time I landed, I had only known her for three days. We had a very memorable two weeks together and among all of the things we did, part of our bucket list was her making me this beautiful anklet with the shells she picked up in Bali beaches.

After spending just under three weeks of time together in person, she is one of the handful of people of all the people I know who regularly keeps in touch with me.

One of my best friends made me this going away package before I left for Cambodia. It included these pictures, a letter of support and a USB stick with other pictures of our great memories. What a fantastic friend.

We met some wonderful families in Marinduque, Philippines who became our adopted family while we were there. Two of the moms kindly picked up these shells from the beach and gave it to my friend and I as a souvenir.

This was my going away souvenir from the NGO, PEPY, I volunteered for during my nine months in Cambodia. Everyone wrote wonderful notes. This banner will go up in my room.

One of my closest friends in Cambodia was very busy planning for her wedding so I thought it was very touching that she still had time to think of my going away gift. She even asked her very talented and crafty brother to make an envelope for me to put her gift in.

My friend Phai owns a small restaurant in Cambodia and they made the best stir fried yellow noodle I ever had. I always ate at their place and they were so kind to invite me to their home town south of Cambodia. While we were at the home, he gave me his shirt as a souvenir.

When I went to my friend’s Cambodian engagement party in Phnom Penh, I brought some pens and paper for the kids to entertain themselves. I was really amazed at their ability to draw these wonderful images and kept them as a reminder of their playful presence and my time with them.

My friend’s adorable Cambodian niece wrote me this in Phnom Penh.

A wonderful farewell note from one of my closest friends in Cambodia before I left.

A note that brought me to tears before we left Marinduque. “Dearest Melissa and Zu,

It’s so hard to say goodbye, feels like I’m crying, tears on my eyes keep falling while writing this letter. I’m sure I will miss your company. Take good care of yourself, the two of you, stay safe.

I felt so said right now cuz you are leaving but happy inside that I meet friends like you, we maybe belong to different country and have different culture, but we have the same heart that love to have a friend and meet someone like you two.

I hope that you’ll not forget that you have family in Philippines I’ll be your nanay (mom) always. Take care and I hope you will be back to see us again. Thank you very much for friendship. Hope to hear from you when we are far apart.

Stay sweet Melissa and Zu, I love you.”

My friend and I met an incredible young 16-year-old boy who works so hard every day on the farm in Marinduque, Philippines. Even though we didn’t share a language, we laughed, danced and watched movies together. He has many skills, including origami apparently and made me this boat.

This is my friend’s Cambodian wedding invitation. In Cambodia, you actually don’t given an invitation to your close friends, just the ones who aren’t as close. I wanted one as a souvenir so she kept one for me.

This card was made by one of my closest friends in Cambodia and filled with messages of thanks and good luck after I finished my volunteer term. I rarely get handmade cards and among my friends’ very busy schedules, I appreciate this a lot.

More cards from the people I worked with at the NGO in Cambodia.

We met another incredible and passionate friend in Manila, Philippines who volunteers a lot of her time for children and older people. She also runs a business selling Hello Kitty merchandise. She was really sweet and before we left she said, “I don’t know how to describe my feeling. I’m very sad that you’re leaving. Next time you can meet the older people they will be very happy to see you.” In addition to making us some wonderful meals, she gave us this pen and valentine gift before we left.

One of my great friends in Vancouver was so sweet to make me a CD of great house music to take with me before I left for Cambodia last year. She was my regular club buddy and we would dance hard at the club.

One of my Cambodian friends has a very unique talent for making crafts and was so nice to make this for me as a souvenir before I left Cambodia.

My cousin’s 6-year-old daughter really impressed me with her level of consideration. Whenever I leave, she said she will miss me. She asked her mom if she could give two of her jewelry pieces and when she gave them to me, she said in French, “This is so you will remember me.”

The birthday card my cousin’s 6-year-old drew for me.

My 9-year-old niece Wendy made this bracelet for me.

My friend Katherine came to visit me in Mauritius and was so kind to give me this necklace from South Africa.

I celebrated my first birthday overseas in Cambodia and I didn’t have a lot of friends yet at the time. I asked staff at a hotel called Golden Temple if I could have my birthday lunch at the restaurant. By that time the staff only knew me for a week.

Within two hours of me calling them before lunch, they quickly rushed out to buy me a gift and wrote me birthday wishes. I couldn’t believe they went out on their work shift to do such a kind gesture after knowing me for such a short time.

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Birthday bracelets from some of the staff from Golden Temple Villa.

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Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

Another birthday gift in Cambodia.

I had a wonderful time in Laos and one of my local friends there so generously gave me one of her necklaces. It was too big a gift for me but she insisted and said, “Please take it, it looks nice on you.”

My friend Sopheak in Cambodia kindly gave me this necklace as a going away gift.

My Cambodian friend gave me this necklace before I left.

A going away gift from a Cambodian friend who always helped me with technical problems and was a great guy.

This is from the most well-behaved four-year-old I have ever met in Mauritius. When she came to stay with me by the beach, she kindly drew this for me. She said in French, “Before I go to sleep many nights, I think of you.”

I’m very lucky to have moms around the world and that includes my home country Mauritius. When I stayed with my friend who was visiting at my cousin’s place, she always bought food for us and left us these notes to eat up.

Koko’s recommended stay in Palawan: JLC Guesthouse

JLC Guesthouse is very clean and well-managed.

We booked two nights at JLC Guesthouse and it was so refreshing to meet the wonderful family who runs the place, particularly after a bad guesthouse experience in Manila.

The owners Jeanette and her mom were the first people who kindly greeted us, showed us a clean room, and we quickly became friends with them. We laughed at how different Palawan feels compared to Manila. There was Wi-Fi in the lobby and I spent a lot of time chatting with Jeanette and passing time.

Saying goodbye to our new friend Jeanette who manages the JLC Guesthouse.

JLC is walking distance from the main road and has a better price that many of the guesthouses in the area. It’s also close to Mugnet Cafe, a fantastic place to get great quality drinks, use Wi-Fi and see our couch surfing friend Jonathan play at night.

We introduced one of our friends that we met on the beach to JLC and she immediately liked it and switched guesthouses to stay there instead. They provided free coffee and tea as well.

I highly recommend JLC if anyone is looking for a comfortable place run by honest people, a good location, a good price and Wi-Fi.

They didn’t take it personally when we told them we are staying at a couch surfer’s place the rest of our time in Palawan but we kept going back to JLC just to visit them and say hi. The day before we left they said they’ll miss us and that we were always welcome.

 

 

Our awesome couch surfing host in Palawan

My friend and I were very fortunate to stay with Jonathan, one of our incredible couch surfing (CS) hosts in Palawan, Philippines. Almost every time I make a request to couch surf wherever I am, I usually message women first if I’m looking for a place to crash. But Jon had almost 300 positive references from other couch surfers, so figured this was safe since no women were able to accommodate my friend and I.

I love this bamboo colour.

On the map his place looked quite close to our guesthouse but we didn’t realize the last part was on a bumpy road, which is quite hard for our motto taxi to drive through. It was getting dark and we were unsure of the area and I thought, “I hope this is a real place.” Jon lives next to the navy base and only he and other employees are allowed to drive on a specific road.

When we finally arrived at his place the first night, we walked into his beautiful bamboo house. He gave us an orientation of the house and we found out there were a few other couch surfers at his place. He was very easygoing, has a calm energy and gives people the freedom to go in and out as they pleased. He has had over 300 people stay at his place in the past two years!

Why he wanted to host

Jonathan performs weekly at Mugnet Cafe and has an incredible voice among many other talents.

When I asked him why he wanted to be a CS host he said, “I was talking to a French girl at a vegetarian restaurant and she told me about it. So I started a profile. But it was very basic, I didn’t have a picture. Then people started responding and I said, ‘oh it’s serious.’”

He has new people almost every day and I asked him if it was tiring and he said, “Not yet, I have time.” I told him it was a nice set up because people can come in and out he said, “I like meeting new people. I want people to have their liberties when they are here and feel like home. If we have a curfew, then it’s not fun. If I had to do that, then I wouldn’t be a couch surfing host.”

When we needed to extend our stay by a few days, he kindly said, “Of course, stay as long as you want.”

A diverse background

This is Jon’s outdoor kitchen and where we cooked our last meal with our other couch surfing friends.

He was such a unique character with a diverse background. He used to be a monk, works for the navy, was employed by the UN in Haiti for a year, has a background in electrical engineering, a singer, Master scuba diver and a vegetarian (which is very rare in the Philippines). While we were staying with him, he actually had a year off from his work so he was working on building his own dive shop.

While Jon was working for the navy, he was deployed to serve in UN doing logistics for 21 contingents, which could have as many as 155 people. He said every year two people go for peacekeeping missions. He applied and he was one of four candidates left and he was the most junior. Often senior people get the positions but the position was in his field. He was also in charge of welfare and when UN diplomats came, he would be the one to pick them up.

Jamming and dancing

Jon is our couch surfing host with the dog. The rest of these lovely folks are our couch surfing friends who hung out with us the week we were in Palawan.

The first night we stayed, Jon was kind enough to invite my friend and I to see him perform at the cafe and ended up dancing at another place. Jon had an amazing voice and was a wicked dancer. He has been performing weekly at the cafe since 2007.

On our last night in Palawan, Jon was so nice to open up his home and let us bring a few of our couch surfer friends to cook at his place. After two hours of cooking, we all jammed together and Jon and our friend Ira sang a beautiful duet. It was a perfect way to end the night at his place.

Our wonderful couch surfing friends and chefs Earl and Lia. They are amazing young adults who were so considerate, mature and great cooks.

 

 

Ways to use a lovely bunch of coconuts

A huge pile of coconuts in Marinduque, Philippines.

I was impressed with the number of ways people in the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand used coconuts. I didn’t know that you could use the whole coconut in a variety of ways from the outer skin to the meat. Here are a few ways you can put coconuts to good use aside from drinking the juice:

Our Filipina granny showing us that coconuts can be used as hats, bras and knee pads.

A yummy coconut jelly drink made with the coconut meat in Marinduque, Philippines.

Coconuts can be burned and covered overnight to make charcoal. The family we stayed with in Marinduque used the charcoal every day to cook.

Coconuts can be shaved on the outside and be used as coconut bowls. Our wonderful friends in the Philippines were so nice and used their machetes to cut a bunch of bowls for our friend. 

Coconuts are great for machete practice. Though the local Filipina women were laughing at my horrendous ability to cut coconuts with a machete. It took me 10 minutes to cut one successfully. I would be so fired if I ever tried to sell coconuts.

Coconut meat shavings can be used to make a variety of desserts.

Coconut shavings can be used as kindling to start fires.

These coconut meat shavings were used in a salad at Mindful Farm in northern Thailand. The travelers who were staying on the farm cook every night together.

At Tacomepai farm in northern Thailand, the rougher parts of a coconut was smartly used as a sponge to clean dishes. On this farm, plastic is forbidden and residents and guests reuse as much material as they can.

 

 

 

How long food takes to grow in Marinduque, Philippines

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It’s been a great experience learning about farming and gaining a much greater understanding of how long our food takes to grow naturally. I’ve grown up getting my food from stores and markets in Canada so it’s easy to be so disconnected from our food and the people who grow our food.

I have a much greater appreciation for the work of farmers after spending time in villages in Cambodia, farms in Thailand and one farm in Marinduque, Philippines. My friend and I spent 8 days in Marinduque island with my friend’s brother, whose family owns a big piece of land. They have rain about six months of the year and it’s dry season the rest of the year. Of course the amount of time food takes to grow depends on weather.

Given that Marinduque gets about 6 months of rain in the year and sun for the other half, here is approximately how long their food takes to grow:

Squash: 40 days

Tumeric: 1 year

Coconut tree: 7 years

Pechay: 1 month

Okra: 40 days

Cucumber: 2 months

Garlic: 1 month

One pineapple: 1 year!

 

6 days couch surfing in Palawan

 

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Our incredible couch surfing hosts Earl (the only dude in the picture) and Lia (middle).

I am now a huge advocate for couch surfing (CS) and definitely plan to be a host to travelers whenever I get my own place. My experiences surfing in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have been nothing less than incredible. Couch surfing is the best way to connect with local people if you’re in a city for a short period of time.

While my friend and I were in Manila, we were messaging a bunch of CS hosts to see if we could stay with someone and also hang out with people. To my surprise, a young girl named Lia who lives in Palawan messaged me first when she saw a post that we were couch surfing in her city. She said she didn’t have a place to host us but she could give us a tour around the city. This was impressive considering 9.8 times out of 10, I’m the one who messages people first.

Pristine beach. It’s not as nice as Nagtabon beach.

What impressed me even more was the day before we arrived in Palawan, she called me to ask if we wanted her to make a reservation for us for an underground river tour, which was said to be one of the must-see sights on the island. So we were told anyway.

Meeting Lia

Lia painted this in high school. Wow.

Before we actually met Lia, who quickly became our wonderful friend, she was so considerate to call and ask us if it was ok if two other couch surfers joined the city tour she was going go give us. To do an actual paid tour of the places we went would have been 600 pesos (about $13 US).

We first met her at a coffee shop and got to know each other. I could tell right away she was very friendly and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We had no idea how long she would have stayed with us for the day, but our day was open and we appreciated any time she gave to show us around.

A beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

The more I got to know her the more I was fascinated with her many skills and interests. She is a petroleum engineering student and also runs her own business, R&L Customized Shop, selling custom-made products and crafts.

I asked her how many girls there are in her engineering field and she said, “One out of every 10 students are girls. But I’m close to my friends and they don’t treat me any different. I don’t get any special treatment because I’m a girl.”

We were only the second group of people she was providing full day city tour for by herself and I couldn’t believe she was giving four full day tours in one week with other travelers! She is an incredibly generous, intelligent and very mature person. On top of all of these great qualities, she is a wicked pool player.

Lia’s City Tour

I clearly took too long to get ready.

Lia spent 10 hours with us the first day, I was surprised. She took us to the a vegetarian restaurant, Cathedral, war memorial, Baker’s Hill, a viewpoint, bay walk and finally a restaurant until 10 p.m. I couldn’t believe she was going to give this tour to a few more groups in a week spending the whole day with people. She has her own business so her time was flexible. But to give so much of her time and energy is so generous. We felt so lucky to be on her city tour with Lia on a sunny day. One of our friends went on the paid city tour and it was quite boring and they were sitting in a van on a rainy day.

We found our Shrek family.

I wanted to eat vat a vegetarian restaurant so she took us to one place and met Danius and Roman, two CS guys from Lithuania. After we ate, Lia took us to a few places around the city and stayed with us right until dinner. During dinner Lia was adorable and told us that she was a bit nervous meeting us for the first time because we have a different culture. I told her it’s admirable that she pushed herself to give a city tour to travelers on her own. She told us, “If I had time, I would have picked you up at the airport.” She went to pick up another couch surfer another day. Top notch hospitality. 

Needless to say, we bought some baked goodies.

Non-stop fun

Venga Boys ladyboy show. Great value: buy a drink and enjoy the entire show.

Since we met Lia, we met other fantastic couch surfers. Every day was an unplanned adventure. We cooked together, went to a few beaches, saw a ladyboy show, went out dancing at a local club and went for local karaoke together. This was such an easy group to hang out with and we also hung out with two guys who were staying at another Couchsurfing host’s home.

Earl, Lia’s Filipino friend, was also very kind to spend time with us every day since we met. He helped us whenever we had questions and is a very good help and cook in the kitchen. Compared to many 23-year-olds in Canada, he is extremely mature, considerate and articulate.

Beautiful burning sky.

On one of the nights, Lia and Earl took us to a local karaoke place and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I have never been to a karaoke place with only one microphone and you have to sing in front of everyone. Thankfully it was mostly our friends and just four other Filipina girls. But of course, after you listen to an incredible Filipina girl singing, you pretty much don’t want to follow that up!

We hung out here after a full day tour with Lia before we went to dinner.

One of the days we went out, we checked out a ladyboy show and it was the very firs time the Lithuanian guys had seen a show like this. And just their luck, of the 150 people in the room, the ladyboys chose to pick on them. In front of everyone, the ladyboy said, “You are so cute like a lollipop. Do you like boys or girls?” Our friend was so caught off guard he didn’t even answer and was laughing uncomfortably.

Our awesome couch surfing group.

After the ladyboy show, we all went to the local dance place that Yunis and I checked out earlier. It looked kind of shady from the outside but Yunis and I wanted to see what it was like. There weren’t many people but we enjoyed the music enough to have fun on our own.

The highlight of the night though was when we met this very flamboyant 20-year-old gay boy on the dance floor. He was absolutely fun and hilarious. He kept saying to us, “I am miss Philippines 2014” and kept looking at our friends and said, “dannnnnnce!”  with a strong Filipino accent. When my friend told him, “You must do yoga you are so flexible,” he replied, “No, it’s all natural.”

Our energetic and hilarious Filipino gay friend we met on the dance floor. Totally highlight of our night.

Trying duck embryo for the first time

Yes, that’s right, duck embryo is a very popular food in the Philippines as well as Cambodia. It’s called, “balut” in Tagalog. Because Lia was kind to us, we couldn’t’ say no to her when she insisted that we try balut. She purposely waited until it was night so we wouldn’t have to look at what we were eating, and that was definitely for the best.

Pristine Beach

The kids who were so friendly to chat and play with my friend and I. They live close to the beach and returned back to their families after spending some time with us.

One day we were at the beach for the day and there were a few young kids between 9 and 12 began talking to my friend and I. They asked what our names were, laughed and played with us for some time until they had to go back home.

Our Couchsurfing friend Roman started chatting with a 20-year-old boy who was an elementary school teacher. He said very wisely, “Anyone can be a teacher by profession but not by heart.” He because a teacher at first because his mom wanted him to follow that profession then he grew to love it. 21 teacher meesa

While we were in the shade, we met a fun Finnish girl named Ira who was very adventurous. She traveled to India alone and was going around Asia for a few months. She said many Finnish people are shy at first and aren’t so adventurous. She is not a typical Finnish person. She came back to town for lunch with us and hung out with us every day until she had to leave. We would later discover what an amazing singer she is.

Nagtabon beach

Nagtabon beach is considered the best beach in Palawan by the locals.

We were told Nagtabon is one of the nicest beaches in Palawan so we decided to spend our day there. We had a hard time finding enough scooters for everyone to get to Nagtabon, about an hour away, so Earl and Lia arranged to share a van to take 11 of us to the beach. She got a discount price for us. Locals are always have the best hookups.

Oliver is building a small resort and uses solar power.

Nagtabon was nice and quiet and we shared food for lunch. It was a perfect way to spend the day with the group. Earl had a friend who was building a resort on the beach that was five stories high. The top of the building had a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding areas. His friend was nice to offer us as many shots as we wanted when we were visiting his place. He also gave two of us a short boat ride. You could rarely have an experience like this if you come on your own with a group of backpackers.

Calm waters.

While most of us were in our happy place, we ended our time at the beach by watching Ira, riding the resort owner’s white horse on the beach during sunset. What an incredible way to ride a horse for the very first time!

Ira’s new horse friend.

Cooking at Lia’s

Eggplant, spaghetti, fish, mashed potatoes and other yummies.

Lia was nice to open up her home to us so we could cook a meal for her and Earl who have been doing so much for us. Earl helped Zu, my friend, and I shop at the local market. Zu noticed that the vendors were staring at Earl and Lia because they were hanging out with us Westerners. I guess not many foreign people spend much time shopping at the local markets.

Zu noticed that vendors were quite confused trying to figure me out because I looked like a local Filipina girl but was wearing Western backpacker clothes like the white people they are used to seeing.

Earl: wannabe musician, cook, weightlifter and couch surfing assistant host.

We just needed Lia and Earl to help us shop for the ingredients and just wanted them to relax once we got home. But because they have high standards of hosting in their blood, they helped us with most of the cooking and also contributed a soup dish and grilled eggplant.

In all, we ate spaghetti, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant and soup. It was a fantastic meal. In all it cost about $4 US for a few of us to make all of that food. After that massive meal, Lia let me take a hot shower and sleep on her bed to take a rest during the afternoon.

Last day

We were so comfortable in Palawan that we lost track of what day we were leaving and we realized the day before our flight that we only had one more full day when we told our friends we had a few more days on the island. So we invited people at our Couchsurfing host Jon’s place to cook together one last time.

Jon was so nice to open up his home for us. I really appreciate our friends making time to cook and eat with us one last time before we left. I always believe that the best gift you can give to someone is your timeAnd the friends we have made in the Philippines spend time with us from their hearts.

We had an amazing last night with our wonderful friends at Jonathan’s bamboo house.

Me and two other friends split the cost of cooking for 10 people, including our friends where we were staying. Earl and Lia helped us shop at the market one more time and we all went to Jon’s house together. As usual, Lia and Earl helped us with most of the cooking and we shared a delicious meal.

After dinner, we had a memorable jam session and Jon and Ira also sang a beautiful duet. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end our night there.

Flexing with Earl at Nagtabon beach.

It was still early in the night so a few of uswent to the café to check the internet for a bit. We told Earl and Lia they didn’t have to stay, especially if they had school or work the next day. But they said, “No it’s ok. It’s your last night.”

So while we were checking our email at Magnut café, we had one more karaoke session and Lia and Ira shared their beautiful voices one more time. Lia was so sweet and gave each of us a customized gift from her company. On our last nightI texted her, “I wasn’t sure if we should come to the Philippines because I was tired of moving around. But you’ve mad our trip very worthwhile I will keep your gift forever.”

Our last sunset in Palawan.