Published: September 12th 2007September 6th 2007
The journey to El Nido
We were up bright and early for our journey to El Nido, and only worried slightly when we put our backpacks on the jeepney an hour before we were due to leave and the driver promptly drove off with our bags still in the vehicle, leaving us in the street wondering if he was going to come back! Deciding not to worry we headed to Judy's and had some breakfast, and were relieved to see the jeepney drive past us back to it's starting location. We decided to stop off at the local shop to buy some supplies for the journey ahead of us and were introduced to a boy who made strange shrieking monkey noises and liked to stroke our arms! Sadly, it turns out that the boy had been collecting coconuts up a palm tree when he was younger and had fallen out of the tree 3 times, this had resulted in him having severe brain damage and being highly excitable (and carrying a huge, thick plank of wood which he swung randomly) at the thought of travelling on a jeepney!
The 1 hour jeepney ride on 'The Lion King' from Port
Inside the 'Sweety' bus
not so sweet...and more like sweaty!
Barton to Roxas was quite the experience. Although the jeepney was rammed with Filipino passengers, none would sit anywhere near to us foreigners. We had learned that this was because Filipinos are quite shy in front of foreigners...they are happy to stare at us as if we are monkeys in a zoo, but not sit next to us; it's quite sweet how shy and polite they are! We travelled along very muddy...er...roads, getting splashed with mud every now and again whilst the boy with the plank of wood got increasingly excited, started squealing like an animal and at one point swung the plank outside of the jeepney so fast that he accidently let go of it, hitting a passer by, knocking him to the ground. When we looked alarmed the other passengers on the jeepney nervously smiled at us, we think to try and make what had happened look less worse than what it was!
Anyway, the jeepney suddenly stopped and the driver pointed to a bamboo shack restaurant at the side of the road and said 'El Nido'. We immediately thought that El Nido wasn't up to much...but we soon realised that the bus would stop here to
collect us and take us north for a further 5 hours. Sure enough a bus with the name 'Sweety' wrote on it arrived and it was jam packed with passengers. The driver said to Neil 'you wanna sit on the roof?' Neil laughed and quickly realised the driver wasn't joking. Instead we were able to find a tiny space to stand in the aisle and Donna found the corner of a seat to sit on, literally with one bum cheek on the seat and Neil tensing every muscle in his body to keep upright!
This journey was not comfortable and when the rain started outside and the roof began to leak so much that we had to put up our umbrella inside the bus we questioned our decision to do this journey by bus. So the bus got busier and busier as it picked up school children, men with roosters and mail to be delivered along the way and we could see the drivers face in his rear view mirror as he became more determined to slide around the muddy corners in the road at increasing speeds. Although he was no doubt a focussed and skilled driver, at some
point his determination to get to El Nido overtook his memory and he forgot that his helpers/conductors were sitting on the roof. So much so, that at one particularly rough point in the road, we swear we saw one of the 'crew' fall off the roof and hang onto the back, clutching for dear life! He must have been ok though as one of his mates passed him a fag through the window to smoke whilst he hung on! El Nido itself
After 7 hours of the gruelling bus ride, we found a small room with fan and private bathroom for £5 a night with a good view and location. Two Swiss girls (although Neil keeps insisting on calling them Swedish, as you can see in one of the videos!) we had met on the bus agreed that this was a good price for the room. Currently the electricity in El Nido runs from 3pm until 3am, the reasoning for these times is unclear, as the town seems to have the infrastructure to support 24 hour electricity. Sure enough, at 3am every morning the electricity to the whole town would stop and our sleep would become uncomfortable once
David, Donna, Neil, Lidia and Julia
David (Austria), Lidia and Julia (Swiss..despite Neil thinking they were Swedish)
again. Our hopes of a comfy night's sleep were destroyed even further by the sounds of 6am water volleyball games (with screeching whistle and shouting) in the sea outside our window! Yikes..the food here again (like most parts of the Philippines we visited) was pretty poor with more bone than meat...forcing us both to turn temporarily vegetarian. Even then the veggie dishes were not good value. What is it with the Philippines having such fertile land and yet there being little choice in good quality fruit and veg produce?
El Nido itself is a nice sleepy town surrounded by moody limestone cliffs with quaint streets full of bakeries, grocery stores and a few souvenir shops which you can meander around. The beach itself is not great and seems to be best in the morning as by the afternoon the water would become a murky brown colour and seaweed would wash into the shore making the beach not a pretty sight. Despite this, it was nice to be able to sit at some of the handful of beach bars/restaurants and drink a San Miguel beer with some of the locals and the few tourists in the town. The beach even
had a large helicopter on it, a strange place for a helipad you may think, but on closer inspection (see the pic) the helicopter had experienced an 'incident' which had turned it into the most expensive beach wind breaker/washing line in the world! El Nido boat trips to Bacuit archipelago
The Swiss girls (Lidia and Julia) joined us for 2 days worth of boat trips to some of the islands in the nearby Bacuit archipelago. These trips can be easily organised from El Nido but are best planned in groups of 4 or more as the boats are chartered for between £14 and £20 for a days island hopping.
On the first day of island hopping we visited small and big lagoons, which you could kayak into and offered some good snorkelling. We next visited Simisu island (named after a WWII Japanese soldier who died there) where we had a picnic lunch and did the best snorkelling we had yet experienced. Feeding the fish and seeing so many different colours, shapes and sizes of fish against a stunning and colourful coral reef backdrop whilst having great visibility was amazing. Although Donna worried that feeding the fish bread
would make them fat! We penultimately visited another picture perfect beach (we can't remember it's name but we do know it was named after someone who had died on it though!) which had lots of Korean tourists on it paying for ridiculously overpriced accommodation ($350 a night!!). Our last stop was the Seven Commandos beach, so named because...you guessed it...7 US Commandos died on the beach after contracting malaria in the 1980's. We had always wondered how you could get a beach named after you (apart from buying an island of course!) and it seems the only way, in the Philippines at least, is to die on the beach you want named after you! We weren't prepared to do that, so instead we sunbathed and snorkelled amongst - yet again - pristine coral. Donna even spotted a very rare lion fish which Jason, our boat driver, enjoyed prodding and poking. Reading an aquatic guide to reef fish we learned that this specific type of lion fish would give you an extremely painful sting if provoked. Well spotted Donna!
On our second day of island hopping we sailed to the much further reaches of the archipelago and visited the Secret
Beach. This beach was surrounded by limestone cliffs, it was invisible from the outside and could only be accessed by a small hole at very low tide. We also did some snorkelling around some deeper coral at Star Island where we had been told we may see bigger things such as turtles, barracuda or manta rays. Sure enough, 20 minutes into snorkelling, Captain 'Nemo' Neil spotted a HUGE turtle swimming up from the depths below...we got so excited because we have never seen a sea turtle this big before, it was about 1 metre in length and it got very close to us. Our boat captain Jason, was keen to then show us a shrine which had a curious revolving statue of Mother Mary which was er...nice? before sailing us to Helicopter Island for another beach picnic. This time we were accompanied by monkeys...no we aren't talking about Lidia and Julia, there were a family of monkeys who watched over us while we ate our cheese and tomato baguettes. To cut a long story short we finished off the second day with some snorkelling and sunbathing on magnificent beaches.
The ability of being able to hire one of these
You aint seen me ...right
paranoia because we were watching the sunset on private land whilst drinking a bottle of rum with coke!
boats to take you to any island of your choosing, most of which see few tourists, is probably the main thing to do from El Nido and, as other bloggers have written before us, is great, un-touristy fun. How long this will last before the area is ruined by mass tourism like that seen in similar areas of Thailand like Phi Phi and Koh Phang Ngan is anyone's guess but we heard that an international airport is in the process of being built near El Nido, along with a new domestic airport.
After spending 6 nights in El Nido we opted for the 8 hour 'Sweety' bus journey back to Puerto Princesa for our flight out of Palawan to Cebu. However, this time we booked ourselves 2 seats with cushions and everything to give some comfort to what we knew would be another gruelling and dusty road trip.
There are more photos below