It’s somewhat of a local secret, the White Beach. No one can tell you exactly where to go or how to find it, but they let you know that it’s paradise, and it exists in an area where it’s hard to separate that dream from the reality.
‘Head along the beach, and just keep going,’ is all they give us. We swoop around the village bay and stride through a winding path which twists through lush, green palm trees. Mangroves are next, then past hidden coves until we reach a coconut farm at the water’s edge. A sign reads that lounging on the beach costs 70 pesos, but that includes a free, fresh coconut so it doesn’t seem like a bad deal. The coconut farmer, a young man not too many years older than me, approaches us for the fee and hands us a fresh young Buko, cut to drink and refreshingly delicious. The beach is white sanded and full of shells. The farmer’s son plays in the shallows, catching fish on a plastic spoon as his wife breastfeeds a baby in their hut behind the coconut palms. It’s a more than idyllic home to a foreigner, although you sense the poverty that exists, even in paradise.
Unlike El Nido, Palawan’s tourist hot spot, Port Barton has remained remarkably untouched. This might be something to do with the road which took us here and left me with a swirling stomach. Or the lack of resorts which keep away anyone except budget backpackers. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of time before these long stretches of white sand and turquoise water become a magnet for beach bums.
For now, the sleepy village remains a laid back feel. Guesthouses are locally run, small and cozy and encompassed by nature. Power is temporary, only available after 5 p.m. everyday, and WiFi is even worse. There’s only one “new” joint in town where you can grab a proper coffee, although the range of fresh curries and fruit on offer in the village makes you long forget. While it may be lacking in some luxuries, as I stare out onto the villages white sand bay, hanging palm trees and see the smiles of the locals I really can’t imagine much more idyllic places to get away from it all and switch off for a while. There are certainly worse places to holiday.
We stay a while at the farmer’s private beach before ditching the drunken coconut and heading around the bend to the elusive White Beach. The path gets even more uncertain and we end up hopping over a collapsed palm before we spot the bay. It curves elegantly before clear, calm waters which soon surround me as warm as bathwater.
Back in Port Barton and it’s time for another stop at Mabuti Cafe, our favourite roadside joint and the spot I mentioned which serves the only proper cup of coffee in town. Homemade ice cream, breakfast pancakes and a stack of board games are also on offer. It’s not in every remote paradise village that you also get a hipster cafe.
The next morning we are out on a boat trip, eager to explore the corals, islands and sandbanks surrounding Port Barton. The local boats are known as Bankas, a narrow middle with stabilizing outriggers which cause us to bounce along the waves. While El Nino has huge limestone crevices protruding from the waters, the landscapes in Port Barton are much more modest. What it lacks above the water it more than makes up for below, as at our first snorkeling spot we find schools of rainbow fish and vibrant undamaged corals. At the second, a giant turtle sits still below surface, obviously not expecting our company.
Each island is a circular pod encapsulated by clear blue ocean. Some are home to local families, others are desolate apart from the chirping birds and crabs who run their shores. It’s on the amply named ‘Paradise Island’ where we stop for lunch that I truly believe I’ve been transported to every desk job’s screensaver. Lunch is a rich vegetarian affair followed by juicy honey mangos.
Back in the bay, and the sun sets through deep, pink, stormy clouds. Local boys run through the shallows and fishermen pull in their Banka’s for the day. Tourism and local life sit side by side here, the former not yet destroying the latter, yet providing much needed income for economic growth in the area. While it still remains somewhat of a secret, you sense it might not remain that way for much longer.
To learn more about Annapurna Mellor and to view her latest work, visit annapurnamellor.com.