Sitting on the verandah, reading a book, I hear what sounds like a loud explosion. I look up from my book. No one else seems to be concerned, continuing to go about their day.
“Did you hear that?” I ask Matt.
He pops his head out of the bathroom. “Hear what?”
“I thought I heard an explosion… It must have been something else.” I go back to reading.
We’re in the remote town of El Nido on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Time-consuming to get to, on bone-rattling roads on a rickety bus, the ride is worth it, as this place is pretty close to paradise. Surrounded by clear, turquoise waters and limestone cliffs, it’s quiet and peaceful.
Wandering in to town later that evening for some dinner, we come across a section of the main street that’s been cordoned off and is being guarded by soldiers. In the dim light we can see a van, the glass of its front windshield now blackened and pushed in, creating a huge hole. There is shattered glass and other objects scattered for a few metres around the van.
“What happened?” I ask one of the tourists leaning against the tape barrier.
“Bomb went off in a bin. No one was hurt though,” he says.
I turn to Matt. “See!” I say triumphantly. “I knew I heard something.”
It turns out that the explosion was caused by a bomb that had been placed in a bin outside the X hotel. An unfortunate cook set it off when she put the rubbish out for the afternoon. According to reports, she lost her hand. At the same time, at a bus stop in Puerta Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, a man carrying a sack of rice stepped off a bus and his bag exploded. Luckily, again, no one was seriously injured.
At a restaurant later that evening, a few people were talking about the bombing. We tried to glean as much information as possible, but strangely, no one seemed too perturbed by it. The streets were still filled with people and no one seemed worried. The soldiers had disappeared by the time we finished dinner and returned to our guesthouse.
It struck me as odd. A bombing in such a small place and people were still going about their business as if nothing had happened?
The next morning, eating breakfast at a café, two girls turned to us, clearly agitated about something.
“Did you hear about the bomb last night?” one girl asked.
They were from England, on a long trip through South East Asia. They’d been walking past the van when the bomb had gone off. They had a few small marks on their arms where they’d been hit by flying shrapnel.
“No one can tell us anything about it,” one said. “Everyone is acting like nothing happened. It’s so weird. I think I want to go home.”
They were both very shaken by the event. I agreed with them – it felt like the bombing had never taken place. The two girls had seen it first hand, and were worried and dazed by it all. I thought that I’d feel the same way – to go through something quite traumatic, and feel like no one cared?
I pulled up some news articles on my computer and showed them so they had a bit more information. As we sat there, they talked more about leaving El Nido and going somewhere else, perhaps even home. I encouraged them to stay. In my mind, why ruin a trip because of something unforeseeable and something unlikely to happen again? But as we kept talking, I wondered whether I should also be thinking about leaving. Could another bombing take place?
In the end, we stayed. We had an amazing time in El Nido, snorkelling in crystal clear waters, lapping up the sun as much as possible, drinking cheap cocktails and eating fresh seafood. I don’t know whether those two girls ended up going or staying.
What about you, have you ever had an experience while travelling that made you think about leaving or staying somewhere?