Published: October 10th 2010October 5th 2010
Initially, I thought that I would have to work hard in order to persuade Elyse into taking the 8 to 9 hr bus ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. To my relief she was on board for the long journey up the coast to the Northern tip of Palawan.
After all of the research I had done on Palawan I had learned that most if not all the travels simply used Puerto Princesa as a point of arrival and departure to the island. The one exception is for the world class scuba diving spot 90 nautical miles off the coast, but even that requires divers to sleep on a boat for the entire duration of their stay at the reef. Also It is a significantly cheaper alternative than flying to the nearby island Coron to the North, then taking a boat to Palawan. Furthermore the hotels in Coron are also about quadruple the costs of the hostels on Palawan island. One other option suggested by Lonely Planet was to take a 36 hours cargo ship ride from Manila to El Nido. Some travelers whom had made this journey wrote on their blogs that the conditions were worse than
In Puerto Princesa you can rent a private van for around 10 to 15 thousand pesos which is much faster and it would leave at your requested time, yet this was out of our budget as after all we still our teachers in China. We found out from our tour guide Maria Consuelo, aka Maricon, that there were alternative ways up to El Nido. We would end up taking a 15 passenger van, not a bus which left at 6:30 am to El Nido for 700 pesos=$15.90 a piece. Well we didn’t end up leaving until nearly 8 am from the city bus terminal and the ride was long but it only took 6 hours and of which it also included a 30 minutes lunch break; if that’s what is called at 10:40 am.
We arrived close to 2 in the afternoon and got out and waited for our luggage to be unstrapped from the roof of the van. All around tricycle drivers were waiting for the new batch of arrivals so that they could take them to their hotels. The city, or rather town, consisted primarily of a few main streets that ran up and down
along the coast. Immediately behind us stands a range of low lying mountains similar to the ones found in Southern California, yet these are covered in thick tropical foliage. At one end of the 1 or so mile stretch of beach a huge lime stone outcrop reaches almost straight vertical nearly 1,000 feet in the sky, while at the opposite end the sea disappeared behind a point that falls gently into the water creating a small u-shape to the coast line. If that weren’t enough another massive limestone outcrop, this one a separate island about a mile off the shoreline and nearly at the center of the u-shape, shots up through the sea at an equally impressive height. This all makes for the town to seem much smaller than it actually is.
We hailed one of the tricycle drivers and headed to the Entalula Hotel since we had heard it was a nice place to stay as it is right on the beach, but nearly all the hotels in El Nido are right on the water. Our room was not one of the four bungalows that I wanted which we heard about but an upstairs room that had an
amazing view of the water and the massive limestone island. Our room was only 1600 pesos 36 USD and was nice and spacious.
We dropped our bags at the room and headed out to get lunch and find a dive shop. Stopping by one dive shop we got pricing for 16,000 pesos per person to get certified in a PADI open water class. We decided to move on and meet an Austrian guy who owns a restaurant right on the beach and he put us in contact with his friend Maria who was a local dive guide with over 15 years of diving experience that owned a shop called Plankton Divers. While Elyse waited for our food I ventured out to a dive shop called Sea Dogs as I had seen advertisements in Puerto Princesa. I wanted to get more information as to pricing and certification requirements. Even though their shop seemed highly reputable and well qualified the costs were even more than the first. I had been expecting to pay around 220 USD to become certified as that was the range that my friends paid, albeit in Thailand.
Elyse and I had discussed the pros and cons
and meet with Maria to find out more information. She was really sweet and explained our options and recommended that we sign up for a discover scuba course that costs 3,800 pesos per person and consisted of a full day including: instructions by two dive masters, a lunch, two dives, and island tours. We agreed and decided to meet her in our lobby at 8:30 am the following morning.
In my head I knew this was best since Elyse was on the fence about diving anyways. A little unknown fact about Elyse is that she is afraid of animals. She immediately comes up with the worst-case-scenario in her head such as what if a shark tries to eat us, or what do we do if a fish tries to bite the equipment rendering it useless, instantaneously followed up with a comment about the fish likely being poisonous. I once saw her jump at a squirrel while we sat outside our tent cabin in Yosemite. To her defense we did encounter a little black bear running through the campground the day before and her nerves were on high. Needless to say this was a huge step for her and I
was really proud of her for committing to yet another of my adventures. Typically Elyse feels rewarded after such an outing so I find that it has been easier to convince her to attempt such activities. She likes to remind me how she sky dived before she had even met me and again with me two years ago.
The rest of the day we relaxed at our hotel beach front, drank some cocktails at a nearby bar, then we walked the beach at sunset to find a place to have dinner. Over dinner we decided that our hotel was too much money for what we got. It wasn’t the bungalow that we wanted; the walls were so thin you could hear other guests unzipping their suitcases in the other room; there was a bucket in the bathroom to fill up since there was not adequate water pressure to wash the shampoo out of your hair; no warm water; and no Wi-fi.
The next morning, we checked into a bungalow a few properties over for 700 pesos a night (16 USD). It was basically a bamboo hut with a bed, bathroom and a fan to keep us cool. The AC
was nice at the last place but like Vietnam the power in El Nido is off from 6am to 2pm. Our door opened up right on the beach with unobstructed views unlike our last place. It was a scene right off a post card but this was real life and we loved it. At these points I tend to think about what it is that I would have been doing had we stayed in San Diego, and as always a big grin appears on my face; best decision ever.
What can I say about scuba diving? (self contained underwater breathing apparatus) It’s awesome! We had been snorkeling plenty of times but the problem is that you cannot go to deep. This was perfect since you had to do basically next to nothing 15 meters below the surface and you could see tons of fish and coral. Way cooler than at the dentist’s office, we felt as if we were in our own personal aquarium. The water was so blue and so green in places that it looked unnatural. It was also possible to see down to over 30 meters to the floor of the ocean. Our first dive we
walked into the water from the beach and on the second we rolled backwards into the water from the boat. I required little assistance once in the water and immediately headed out on my own with the dive master Jeff following behind me. Elyse was accompanied by Maria throughout the 1st dive and I was really impressed when I saw Elyse swimming alone towards the end of our second dive.
Every once and a while I would hear a tink, tink, tink, and turn to see Jeff hitting a small metal stick on his air tank while instructing me via hand signals to level off, or come up since I had gone too deep. Apparently I was not supposed to go to 20 meters in depth as I was not qualified to do so. These are the small things that Jeff should have gone over with me before we submerged. I had known before hand as to the dangers of coming up too fast but nothing more than making sure to breathe out so your lungs don’t expand too much from the differing pressures. This could lead to lungs collapsing and the Benz, but I learned that from Discover
channel not Jeff.
The crew of the boat all got a good laugh at Jeff’s inability to control me while under the water but I guess he didn’t suspect a new diver to take off with no apprehension towards the new environment. I guess I really didn’t think about it since the water was so clear and it didn’t seem like we were that deep. It felt more like a stroll in the park with fish and coral instead of birds and trees.
On the surface after our second dive Jeff told me the dangers of reverse diving. Basically you want to start the day at your deepest dive then move to shallower spots as complications could arise due to the changing pressures. Great to know; couldn’t this have been made known before hand? I figured that the pressure gauge that was given to me which had a little red line next to 20 meters was to indicate how far I could descend.
That night Elyse said that she had her fill of diving and that she wanted to just relax on the beach the following day. We were scheduled to take an island hopping tour but
I wanted another day of diving. I had the woman at our hotel call Maria and schedule me for another dive while Elyse would just sit on the boat. Maria stated that she would give the same island hopping tour but would simply include scuba diving as well. In the words of Elyse, scuba diving was like touring the temples in Siem Reap; after a while it all starts to looks the same (Same, Same, But Different as it’s called in South East Asia)
The next day Maria did not accompany us on this trip since Elyse was not diving. It was going to be just Jeff and I on the first dive and Jeff’s apprentice Ka ka joining in on the second dive. We headed to a spot that Jeff said was amongst the best that El Nido had to offer. Splashing into the water it felt as though I was flying as I descended towards the sea floor. At the top I was given specific instructions not to go deeper than 16 meters. Our first dive was for 50 minutes and was much more impressive than the previous day. I saw a sea turtle and followed him
around for a while. I pursued a school of fish for a short time before hearing the tink, tink, tink coming from Jeff. I looked at my gauge and noticed I was only at 14 meters. I swam closer to Jeff who was writing something on his underwater message pad that was strapped to his wrists and he wrote barracudas as he pointed towards the school of fish I was after. We saw a giant Cuddle Fish along with a few other fish that Jeff pointed out but since then I have forgotten their names, possibly one was called nemos chets or something.
We went island hopping and snorkeling for a while then headed for lunch on what was basically our own private beach. The steep cliffs came down to the sandy beach where there was enough room for a few beach cottages if someone wished to build them. There was already one built and it belonged to the land manager for this island. Apparently there had been a double sale of this beach and both owners had their own claim and put up little shacks to house their guards. Only one was left standing as the other was
destroyed after a little feud between the land guards whom each represented a different buyer who claimed rights to the beach. There were also three or so dogs that hung out on the little beach as well. Palm trees gave us plenty of shade as we ate our lunches. An afternoon rain shower came but ended after a few minutes.
After our lunch we left Elyse on the island with her Kindle while we headed to our next dive just a few minutes away. I chuckled a little after Jeff described this spot as same, same, but different than the first. He was basically right but this dive had much different terrain as we followed what I describe as an underwater hillside. I practiced my ascending and descending based on taking in oxygen into my lungs and focused on using less air while I was underwater. Jeff said that with the level of air I had left we could have been under for an hour and a half. I thought that sounded pretty good for a beginner. We came back to pick up Elyse. As she boarded the boat she said that she felt like she was on the
show survivor and left on Exile Island.
The rest of the day we spent touring a few more islands. We sat on one island’s beach that had a little stand that sold fresh coconut. We talked with a guy from Boston and his Spanish girlfriend whom both lived in Shanghai. Afterwards we did a little snorkeling which was pretty good before heading back to El Nido. We hung out and relaxed the rest of the day and enjoyed a nice dinner on the beach. It had been a perfect experience in Palawan. We loved the atmosphere, the people were genuine and not only after your money, which is an all too common thing in SE Asia, there was never a language barrier as everyone spoke English (even tricycle drivers), and best of all there were no people pestering you to buy their crap while you tried to relax on the beach. This was by far the most enjoy getaway of all time for us and we would highly recommend Palawan to anyone that wants to relax and enjoy life in a tropical paradise.
There are more photos below