Part 11. Lazy Last Day

The next day was technically our last full day on the island, so we decided to make it a slow and lazy one.  We had breakfast at a French place by the beach with a view over the harbor, and enjoyed proper huge cappuccinos and fresh orange juice.  We went back to the hotel for a lazy swim in our small but nevertheless amazing rooftop pool, sat around for a while, and then the mad dogs inside us demanded action.

We remembered seeing billboards advertising Canopy Walk, and decided this was just the right entertainment for a lazy day.  Google helped us locate the place – conveniently within a 10-min walk from our hotel.  And in the heat of midday two idiots set on a journey!…

At the entrance to the canopy walk, 5 young guys were relaxing in the shade.  We were their only customers at this time, and after some discussion among the guides, one of them sighed and parted with the group to accompany us on our walk.  We were strapped into harnesses, given hard hats, and instructed never to take them off, never to stray off the path, and religiously follow the guide.  In hindsight, flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear for the experience, but we bravely dived in.  The first part of the canopy walk consisted of climbing numerous narrow stairs, in some places bolted directly into the cliffs of the Mount Taraw hovering over the town, in others, hovering on metal stilts over the hollows in said cliffs.  Quite intricate and clinging to the mountain at precarious angles, they represented a masterpiece of engineering ingenuity. Metal tubes of varied length and width were bolted together to create a stairway path around and about the mountain. Whoever came up with the technical specifications for the thing, and implemented them in real life must have been an engineering genius, or partook in very serious drugs. Probably, both.

In about 3 minutes we started sweating like pigs.  The fact that the steps were shaded by the rich foliage of the jungle covering the cliff helped shit all in the over +40C heat.  Nevertheless we persevered and continued climbing the amazing structure bolted to the cliff.  The fact that our guide was running ahead like a gazelle, squeezing himself into the narrowest turns of the stairs with boneless ease served as an inspiration, and huffing and puffing we kept moving on.

Our bravery was rewarded: the steps brought us to the top of the cliff, the jungle foliage opened up, and the bay and the town lay in front of us, all but gift-wrapped.  The view was stunning, and the fact that it was just us and our guide, with no tourist crowds pushing for a selfie with a view, made the experience so much more special, even in midday heat!

The amazing view of El Nido from the top of Taraw Mountain
Yes, we are on top of the world!

The view wasn’t all the Canopy Walk had to offer, though.  After spending enough time admiring the bay and the birds-eye panorama of the town, we moved on to the next surprise – the Spider Web!  Stretched over a hollow in the cliff, the Spider Web was made of thick metal ropes radiating from the center, and secured with metal rings of increasing diameter, clipped to the ropes.  It looked like a real spider web, only made by some monstrously huge alien spiders.  And there were 3 of them – one giant one, and two smaller ones!  You could walk on the Spider Webs (you actually had to walk across them to get to the continuation of the canopy walk), jump on them, or sit in the middle, pretending to be said alien spider.  We did all three, and were happy like idiot children in kindergarten.

Spider Web!

Despite the heat and the physical efforts required for the experience, the Canopy Walk was definitely the highlight of the day, and we can wholeheartedly recommend it to all visitors to El Nido. Just ditch the flip-flops, and wear trainers.

Enlightened by the majestic views, and chuffed with ourselves for surviving all the climbs and turns of the cliff path, we were ready for some refreshments.  Our favorite Subasco only opened in the evenings, so we landed for a pit-stop in Happiness – an Israeli bar with swings.  What an absolutely brilliant idea, and a true embodiment of happiness!  All bars in the world should have swings in them!  The swings were strategically hung around the bar, so that you could push off it with your feet while enjoying your drink.  All you had to watch out for is not hitting one of the wait staff, going back and forth behind your back, but they seemed to be quite familiar with the swings’ speed and clearance needed to avoid them, and were undeterred in their movements.  We spent a lovely hour swinging by the bar, sipping on our cold beers and watching the world go by.  Nic also took an opportunity to enlighten the bar staff on the intricacies of Irish folk medicine – the day manager seemed to have been going down with a cold, and was professionally advised on how to make a Hot Toddy that would awaken the dead.  The guy gratefully concocted one right there and then, gulped it down, and went home to nurse his cold and soon-to-come hangover.

Refreshed by our beverages, we got second wind, and decided to hop on a bus to get to another nearby local attraction – Nacpan Beach. This 3 km long, white sand beach looked mellow and relaxed. Apart from the inevitable I HEART NACPAN sign, it did not look overly-touristy or super-crowded.

We walked the white sandy stretch in both directions, and landed in a pizza bar for creative cocktails and sunset views.

The bar made us once again wonder at the popularity of Italian cuisine in the Philippines – not only was spaghetti with meat balls a staple dish in the Jollibee – the most popular local fast-food chain – but a remote beach on an equally remote island could boast a proper Italian pizza oven, chucking out more than decent pizzas! Philippines was a true land of contrasts: a comprised of a multitude of islands, each with its own character, a pseudo-Latin American-looking country plopped in the middle of South East Asia, with people enjoying Italian food, and speaking very decent English language in addition to their native Tagalog and a variety of other dialects – what a mad, fantastic, enjoyable mix!

A very decent beach pizza

Our last evening in El Nido was spent in the already familiar fashion – we went back to Subasco.  By this time everybody there knew us.  We said hello to the owner, the band, and all the regulars, and had a great time listening to the guys jamming together.

The next morning, a taxi van booked by the hotel took us back to Puerto Princesa.  This was not Bobby service, but it delivered us safely to our destination, from where our long journey home to Munich through Manila, and Istanbul began.

A Ballet Poster

Some people’s sole purpose in life is to make others around them miserable.

The Task

I have a task for you…”, she said staring into the air above my head with a dreamy look on her face.

A task?  Wonderful!  Only 2 weeks into the new job, I was all ready to prove that there was nothing I could not do.  Even though the exact opposite was probably closer to the truth, I was inclined to type E-mails, organize things, make coffee and answer the telephone around the clock, if need be.  I would make this job happen, if it kills me.

Polite attentiveness and alert desire to please registering on my face, I kept waiting for my young hip boss to word it out.  She was beautiful, smart, professional, and she took her time.  She always did.  If I were the person who hated inconveniencing others and putting them in an awkward position, feeling the need to fill in all the uncomfortable silences, she seemed to actually take pleasure in making people wait and feel uneasy by creating as many pauses, as humanly possible.  I was not even sure she actually had a task in mind –probably one of those business self-help books piled up on her disgracefully cluttered desk had a chapter on the importance of keeping the lowly subordinates busy.

Speaking of desks – what was it with prom queens and their innate ability to make a mess around themselves?  I mean, seriously – if you want to be perfect, why not start with throwing yesterday’s sandwiches in the garbage bin instead of pushing them to the side of the desk and camouflaging them with documents, only to bitch to the cleaning lady later for not finding them and allowing the place to stink of stale mayo and last-week’s tomatoes?…  The cleaning lady was, of course, expressly forbidden to move the papers on the desk, poor woman.  She had the nerves of steel, though, every time patiently listening to Her Highness’s complaints about life’s imperfections in general, and her way too small office in particular, and just going about her cleaning routine as usual.

I could not believe myself now that I once thought Her Highness to be cool and awesome.  A few days into the job I remember sharing my sincere admiration of her with a girlfriend, saying how wonderful it was to have a boss who was young, smart, beautiful, and not a bitch.  When this same girlfriend bumped into the two of us exiting the office together a couple of weeks later, she could not hold herself, and called my cell seconds after, shouting at the top of her lungs “You mean SHE is not a bitch????  Open your eyes, girl!”  To my credit, the eyes opened quite fast after that, and my initial rosy impression of Her Highness did not survive the first month.  The phantom “nice and awesome” creature was replaced with a harsh reality – the “I’m too busy & important” snow princess.  And the ballet poster played an important part in the eye opening process .  But I am getting ahead of myself….

Her Highness was not even exactly my boss.  My real boss, who I was hired to assist, barricaded himself behind a locked door, barely saying a word to me, and she gladly assumed the task of “breaking me in” and molding me into a perfect employee.  She made it clear, that she took up this mission out of the pure goodness of her heart, and it was already a lost battle …  But then – nobody’s perfect, and she would just have to try to make a cookie out of the crappy ingredients she got.

…So, I was thinking….”, she suddenly woke up from her contemplative trance, and smiled in my direction in an almost tender and loving way.

She was obviously not seeing me, but enjoying the reflection of herself in the glass door of the shelf behind my back.

We have this important client, Mario, you know, he was just here a couple of months ago…

But of course!  I have only been here two weeks, so sure, I absolutely and definitely know Mario!

He is a hu-u-u-uge ballet aficionado, and when we were driving to this fancy restaurant downtown one evening, I remember him pointing out a poster on the street – something about the tour of The Bolshoi Ballet Company, or something…  And I was just thinking…, you know…, how ma-a-a-a-arvelous it would be if we could send it to him…”, she sang, looking closely at her nail, contemplating if it was just the right shade of pink.

I loved all those fancy words she had a habit of sprinkling her tirades with, all pronounced with a fake French, or bigger-than-life American accent with all the rolling “r”s!)

“Uhm…, send what to him, exactly?…”

The poster.  You see, in client relations, it’s these personal touches that make all the difference.  Wouldn’t it be absolutely sublime to courier him the poster he noted a couple of months ago?…

… and probably forgot about completely”, I was itching to add, but held my tongue.

… just to show how much we care”, she finished, satisfied with herself, and obviously impatient to see me getting the fuck out of her office.

I was not buying it just like that, though.

Uhmmm…  But what kind of a poster was that?  What was on it?

What?”, she snapped out of her pink nail polish meditation, and stared at me with open disgust.

What was there on the poster?  Since I have not seen it, and was not there with you, when you were driving through the city to dinner, it would help to have some idea what I should be looking for.

Oh, you know, it was just a ballet poster…  A shape of a ballerina with a background of the Bolshoi or something…

Or something?...”

Well, I happen to have more important things to remember!…  I have to run the whole business development side of this company, you know?!  It was a ballet poster, it was all over town, it’s easy.  Use the Internet – you can find anything there!  Now, excuse me, I have a telephone conference with a potential client, so why don’t we both get down to work?

And with a wave of her pink-nailed hand I was dismissed.

A ballet poster.  Nice.  Was all over town 2 months ago.  Fuck, that is just what I need!  Rummaging through the shreds of my memories of the last 2 months, I could not, for the life of me, remember seeing anything with even a distant resemblance to what was described by Her Highness.  How the fuck am I supposed to find something I have never seen, something that has been vaguely referred to me as “a ballet poster”?…  The fact that I could not NOT find it was not an option.  I had to.  Find it, or die trying.

The Search

I sat morosely at my desk, wrecking my brain as to how to tackle this treasure hunt mystery.  Googling “ballet poster Bolshoi background” did not bring any remotely fitting results.  It did open my eyes to the fact that, apparently, ballet porn was an item, but we seriously don’t want to go there…  Still trying to erase some of the images I stumbled upon from my memory, I decided to tackle the problem in an old-fashioned way: by phone.

One of life’s little mysteries is that while I absolutely hated talking to strangers on the phone, and was probably the worst liar one could imagine (I literally felt my ears burning and nose getting even longer every time I was trying to make things up), this was exactly what I did next – I picked up the phone, and started lying my socks off.

I called The Bolshoi Theater administration in Moscow, and boldly inquired whether any spare copies of the theater’s ballet company latest tour in St. Petersburg were available.  The bored voice bordering on obnoxiousness on the other side asked who the hell wanted to know.

Uhm…  I am calling from St. Petersburg.  From the Mayor’s Office.  My name is Victoria, I am the secretary of the Mayor (and I gave the name of the then City Mayor).

If I am going down, I might as well go all the way!

The voice immediately woke up and almost visibly directed a big Cheshire grin into the telephone, simultaneously hissing to somebody by their side:

Hush, you idiots – it’s the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office!

I repeated my question once again, this time to a much more receptive audience, with every word expecting my fake cover to be blown, and the voice threaten me with the cops, or at least demand some sort of proof of my announced identity.  Nothing like that happened, and if anything the voice only grew sweeter and more scared by the minute.

How wonderful to hear from you!  What can we do for the Mayor?  How can we be of service?  Tickets to tomorrow’s premier, maybe?…

No, no, thank you”, I interrupted, “This will not be necessary.  If you can just point me in the direction of that poster, I mentioned, the Mayor will be much obliged”.

My nose was getting longer and longer by the minute.  Shit, I was good!

Oh, but of course!  Which poster would she like?  We have just ordered an anniversary one – we can send the 1st copy directly to St. Petersburg next week!

No, no, it’s your previous one, in fact.  From the tour in St. Petersburg, you know?…

Of course, of course, I see!  Your wonderful city!  How lucky are you to be living there!

The voice was openly gushing, and I could almost see the middle-aged lady on the other end jumping in fake excitement.

Let me check which one exactly was from that tour.  We keep all the extra copies, you know?!

Thank you so much, this would be wonderful!

Shall I call you back in just a couple of minutes, or would you mind awfully to wait?…

Yeah, right – call me back in the office and call my bluff?  No, thank you!

I’ll wait, no bother at all!

Oh, you are so sweet!  That’s St. Petersburg manners!

I was rolling my eyes.  Together with the red face and the Pinocchio nose I must be a really pretty sight right now.  Thank god Her Highness barricaded herself in her office for her important call, and I could hear her cooing and laughing into the telephone behind closed doors.

There!  A ballerina with the background of The Bolshoi.  Are you sure your boss wants this one?  This is not our best, to be honest…

I assured the voice that this was exactly what the Mayor of St. Petersburg was dreaming about, and no better substitutes were necessary.

How many copies would you like?  Fifty?  A hundred?…

No, no, just one will be OK.

Just…. ONE?…”, the voice started sounding suspicious.  “But what if…

Of course!” I interrupted.  “I was just kidding.  Let’s make it 5, or better 10, if that’s all right with you.

Absolutely!  We will courier them to you right away!

What?  Fuck!  I did not expect that.  What the hell would I do with the posters couriered to the Mayor of St. Petersburg?  Think, think, think!

Actually, it’s a bit of an emergency, if you know what I mean?...” I had no idea myself, but the voice expressed full understanding.  “Would you mind if our representative picks it up from you this afternoon?…

Of course!  If this is not an inconvenience!…  What an honor!  Everything will be ready by lunchtime!

Thank you SO MUCH”, I exhaled.  “You can’t imagine how helpful you’ve been.  I will be sure to mention this to the Mayor.  Our courier will drop by in the afternoon”.

I dropped the receiver as if it were about to bite me.  So far so good.  Now, where on Earth am I about to find a courier to pick the bloody things up?…

The Pick-Up

A quick mental tally of people I knew in Moscow came up with the total number of 4.  Three were relatives, and thus unreliable.  The 4th one was a former childhood friend I lost touch with about 10 years ago, so also out of the question.  Then, suddenly I remembered: when I was interviewing for this job, they said something about having an office in Moscow.  This would be perfect!  Who can I ask about it?…

My choice wasn’t too big – in two weeks on the job the only people I interacted with were Her Highness and the office driver we spent hours at the airport with, picking up visiting clients.  Bingo!

I dialed his cell.

Igor, hi, it’s me.

Why are you whispering?

I don’t know.  Listen, I am kinda in the shit, and need your help!”

Fuck, did we forget to pick somebody up, or something?

No, no, all good.  We do have an office in Moscow, right?

If you can call it that….

Do you know anybody there?  Anybody at all?…  Preferably not an asshole…

Ha-ha, any other requirements?…

Nah, just somebody I can call and ask for a favor of.

There’s this girl, Anna – she is a kind of an office admin, and runs all the errands there.  Try her.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!  A Big Mac is on me!!!

I hung up.  A Big Mac was not just an empty promise.  After about a week of our airport vigils Igor and I worked out a procedure.  We would leave the office 10 minutes earlier and stop by at McDonald’s on the way to the airport.  I’ll have a cheeseburger with coke, Igor will have a Big Mac with fries, and breathing fast food and ketchup on each other and later on the unsuspecting clients, we would continue on our way.

I cherished the airport pickups.  Not only did they give me an excuse to escape Her Highness, but also provided a rare opportunity to eat.  When I was in the office, one of my tasks was to answer the central telephone line, dedicated to clients and other important communications.  The office was small, and if I did not answer after three rings, the call got transferred to Her Highness, and if she could not be bothered to pick it up, to the Big Boss after her.  Since Her Highness expressly stated that it was not her job to do mine, I was afraid to leave my desk even to go to the bathroom.  Going to the kitchen to heat up some food, or chop a salad, was unimaginable luxury, so I was happy about visitors, as they provided much needed food and toilet breaks.

I looked up Anna on the company telephone list, and dialed the number.

Hi, Anna, my name is Victoria, I am a new girl in the St. Petersburg office”, I started.

Hi, yes I know.”  Anna sounded ok, but very business-like and in a hurry.

Sorry to bother you, but I don’t know too many people in the company yet…” – I wanted to say “I don’t know anybody yet”, but although it felt real, it was not technically true. – “I need your help!” I blurted out.

Sure”, said Anna.  “What is it?

It’s for….”.  I gave Her Highness’s’ name, and Anna visibly tensed.


If you don’t help me, she’ll eat me alive!

Ha-ha, she can, can’t she?”  Anna laughed, and repeated in a friendly tone: “What can I do for you?

I need somebody to go to the Bolshoi Theater, and pick up some posters from them for one of our clients.  Today.

Posters?  From the Bolshoi?…  This is something new!

Can you do that?…  Please!!!!!

Sure.  I actually have an appointment nearby at 2 in the afternoon, can drop by there right after!

Oh, my God, I don’t know how to thank you!!!!

Don’t mention it!

Just one thing – tell them you are from the St. Petersburg Mayor’s Office.


Don’t ask…

OK.” Anna sounded unperturbed by her new affiliation.  “Anything else?  What shall I do with the bloody things afterwards?

Is anybody travelling to St. Petersburg from your office this week?

Not that I know of…

No worries, I am sure we will have somebody travelling to Moscow soon, I’ll ask them to pick the posters up.

Sure. They’ll be in the office.”

And with that my Moscow savior hung up.

The Delivery

I spent the rest of the day fidgeting and checking my watch every 5 minutes.  I calculated and re-calculated the times: Anna said her appointment as at 2.  How long was it for?  Half hour?  One hour?  Two?… How far was it from The Bolshoi?  She said she would pop in right after…  When would it be safe to call?

My patience lasted till 5, when I dialed the Moscow office number again.  Anna picked up on the 1st ring.


Anna?  This is Victoria.  I am very sorry to bother you…

I got your stuff,” she interrupted.

Really?…  Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!  You are the best!

Not a problem at all.  They were actually quite nice there, in the Bolshoi.  Tried to push some premier tickets on me.  I barely escaped.

Did they ask for an ID, or something?

Not even my name.  I mentioned the Mayor of St. Petersburg, as you said, nearly pissed myself how friendly everybody got right away!

Anna, I owe you.  Thank you so much!

Yes!!!!  I pumped both fists in the air!  I did it!!!!

By the end of the week, one of the colleagues frequently travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg dropped a roll of posters, carefully wrapped in several layers of paper, on my desk. 

Trembling with excitement, I grabbed them, and marched straight into Her Highness’ office.

Here,” I announced beaming.  “I got it!

Got what?” She looked mildly annoyed.

The ballet poster.  For Mario!  As you asked!” I announced.

Ah, yes, the poster…  Very good.  Just leave it here, I’ll take a look after my conference call.

I can send it to him right away, if you give me the address!”  My energy knew no limits.

Just close the door when you go.  Thank you!

Nothing could spoil my triumph.  I did the impossible, I beat the odds, I found the unknown and outdid myself!  I was chuffed.  Surely, when her stupid conference call finishes, she’ll see the posters, and even if she would never admit this openly, she would see that I was not as useless as she made me feel.  I might even be able to make it through the trial period!

The End

A year later, when Her Highness was finally offered a bigger office, it was me and the cleaning lady, who were left to pack up her stuff and move it to her new digs.  She flew her coup the moment she heard the good news, and left the two of us to fight the debris.

While throwing away old sandwiches, digging through piles of magazines, books and papers on her desk in a futile attempt at organizing the chaos, I saw a familiar-looking tube, wrapped in several layers of paper and half-squashed with a heavy dictionary.  I took it and unwrapped the paper.  Inside were 10 copies of the ballet poster.  A ballerina on the background of The Bolshoi.  My ill-gotten and lied for trophy.  It did bring back memories.  I stared at the posters for a good 5 minutes, and then threw them in the bin.  I did not even swear – admirable self-control!…  I probably should have kept a copy as a souvenir.  Of my entrepreneurial skills, or my stupidity, or both…

I did not say anything to Her Highness.  What would be the point?…