I was headed in the right direction—until I wasn’t. I sat alone on my moped in the middle of the jungle on Palawan Island. Layers upon layers of mud seemed to fill the road around me. Suchi, Tanner, and I spent the afternoon exploring the winding roads up to Busuanga from Coron. But their moped was nowhere to be seen—just me and the roads without streetlights.
It amazed me we had made it to this point considering our day had felt like an episode of Survivor. Our initial plan was to rent a few mopeds to help us get around Palawan Island and cruise up to Busuanga. With each moped, you were taking a gamble. Some ran like Harleys, while others seemed less promising than a tricycle set at Christmas.
We got on the road and crammed in as much scenery as possible. While toying with our mopeds to see how fast they could go, we got to experience what local life was like. Glamour wasn’t to be found for hundreds of miles—only true, raw, primitive ways of living. Many of the homes run without electricity, some barely had walls, but it was an exhilarating experience to see the smiles across so many of the curious faces as we drove past.
As we continued down Coron Busuanga Road, a gang of neighborhood kids on mopeds who looked like they had a bone to pick drove alongside us. They wore leather jackets and cargo pants. With nothing but sneers across their faces, I could’ve sworn we were in trouble until… they yelled as if to give us a warning. As I looked closely at Suchi and Tanner’s moped, I could see that their back tire rim was scraping the ground.
“Putok na goma! (Flat tire!)” the kids screeched.
The wrath of the teenage gang from hell all seemed to make sense now. We came to a screeching halt—unsure of where the closest tire shop would be. Oh wait, we’re in the middle of the jungle! It was at that moment, I realized we had a better chance of a monkey coming to change our flat than hoping any civilian would be available to save us on this afternoon. Someone cue the monkeys, please…
But wait: out of all the smiling faces we’d passed on the road, surely someone was bound to be handy with a wrench. Tanner hopped on my moped (our only remaining hope) and went to check the storefronts nearby. A tiny man on a moped came blasting from the opposite direction. Anything but a monkey—he was there to do his duty. A Filipino gentleman, (aka my freaking hero), rolled up on his moped like a badass, and within a matter of minutes fixed the flat.
There’s nothing else to say except that it cost a mere $10 USD 😳
Up next, the journey into the wild continued. Now that we had made friends with the locals—we were on our way, for real this time. There was a lot to see and do, so we had to be picky about our selections with the limited time we had left. We agreed that the right move was stopping by Conception Falls (the waterfalls in the forest) and then we aimed to go as far north as we could.
We made it to Conception Falls and realized that they weren’t that big of a deal. After seeing the waterfalls in all of their “glory”, we were lucky to stumble upon a hipster coffee shop in the middle of the jungle. Their menu was great, and nearby they had gazebos that topped the images you’d see on any Windows screensaver 🤩 All solid finds. After sipping down our banana shakes and mingling with other hipsters at the treehouse, it was time to journey back to Coron.
We traveled south for what seemed like forever, until it was pitch black on the tiny road that wound its way down the hillside. This leisurely ride suddenly turned into the ride for dear life. Without traffic lights, speed limits, and any rules, this road felt even more chaotic in the dark than it had during the day.
Suchi was riding with Tanner who owned a motorcycle back home, but I was riding with my fingers crossed. We made it into the edge of town and passed the only McDonald’s in sight. Suddenly—I lost my friends and after what seemed like a few miles later, my GPS conveniently stopped working. What do you know: first world problems on the other side of the world.
Unbelievable! Just when I thought the most challenging part of this excursion was behind us, I’m faced with another. I’m back to where I was at the beginning of this story: lost, alone, but not afraid…yet. After seeing the golden arches, I was hungry—and really irritated—at this point.
As I stared into the dark alleys ahead of me, getting home felt so close but so far away.
That moment, I remembered a secret weapon that I turn to in the most unforeseen of life’s circumstances: my instincts. Thank goodness for those or else I may not be writing this article right now. I tapped into the maps I saved in my memory bank, as well as thinking about our hotel address. Between a few locals and a couple of wild guesses, it took me over an hour. But eventually, I made it home.
Before I end this story, I want to say a few things about not only surviving but thriving while you’re trying to navigate in another country:
- Keep an offline map of the cities or towns you’ll encounter on your trip just in case. Here are tips on how to make that happen using your iPhone or Android. You could also print or buy a foldable paper map—just enough to mark your hotel and sightseeing locations.
- Get a local SIM card or consider adjusting your phone plan to an international plan for the dates you’ll be gone. It cost an extra $40 with my AT&T plan for this trip, but that was worth it—because it’s good to have unlimited talk, text, and data to make your life easier 🤪
- When you venture out of your hotel—even for short jaunts—let your friends or group you are traveling with know your location. To make things even more efficient, share your location on your phone with the friends you are traveling with and/or family members back in your home country so that someone is keeping tabs on you.
- Don’t underestimate the buddy system: travel in pairs of two whenever possible. If the two of you will be separating for any reason, like during a bathroom stop or to run into a store, try to stay in constant communication.
- The best tip of them all: if your cell phone battery is low and you are lost, quickly change your voicemail to a message that gives your approximate location, the date, the time, and some context explaining your current situation. While your cell phone may die, your voicemail will be there to instruct the people trying to find you.
While these are a few tricks that I rely on when I’m traveling, different methods may work for you. Even when exploring thousands of miles away from home on a moped in the dark, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Everything you need to get out of a tough situation is right at your fingertips. While McDonald’s could’ve saved me on Palawan Island—as it happens, my instincts did.