Published: October 28th 2011May 10th 2011
The conditions finally changed and we managed to get on the boat to El Nido. We were all asked to put on out life jackets - now I know you are probably surprised at the level of health and safety, but it turned out to all be for show. Once the coast guard had completed his inspection and left we were told we could remove them.
The boat was nothing special, just a banka with a bench either side. In fact we wondered how a boat this small would handle an 8 hour journey. All we knew was that we had a long and potentially choppy day ahead of us. I decided the best thing to pass the time would be to try and get some sleep, but my efforts were often interrupted by the two girls sat opposite. They were the kind if people who talked loud on purpose because they wanted everyone else to hear there conversation. Although why they thought we would be interested in their holiday romance with someone who was clearly conning them I’m not sure. All I know is that for quite some time one did most of the talking while the other giggled
like a fool.
An unusual moment of quietness was interrupted by a strange noise, not usually associated with being on a boat in the middle of the sea - “COCKADOODLEDOO!”. I thought for a moment that maybe I had dropped off and I was having a dream - but why would I be dreaming of a cockerel!? When I looked around the boat I noticed a cockerel in a basket covered by a blanket. This cockerel wanted to make sure we all knew he was there and that he wasn’t too happy about being on a boat. The noise continued for an hour or so, meaning that sleep would have to wait. We didn’t know it yet, but this was our first introduction to the Philippines love of the cockerel.
Cockfighting is a very popular sport in the Philippines. It’s even shown on television on Sunday afternoons. In the most brutal kind of fight, the cockerels have a knife attached to each leg - this means a fight to the death! Thankfully the type shown on television is a much milder affair. No knives are attached. Instead each time one cockerel jumps for the other they score a
point and when it starts to get a little heated they are pulled apart - a little like boxing for cockerels.
There are people that make a very decent living out of cockfighting. Some men breed them and put them through very thorough training before selling them on. One trainer may be more respected than another and therefore his birds will fetch more money. For most people its about the gambling, owners and spectators alike watch with great anticipation while large sums of money change hands.
As you drive through some small towns and villages they may appear to have very little. Then sticking out like a sore thumb will be a massive cockfighting stadium the size of Wembley - ok maybe not that big, but believe me they are impressively large.
It would also seem that cockerels are fond of travel. No matter where you’re going on any type of public transport you can virtually guarantee that at some point you will be joined by a cockerel in a box, a basket or just on the end of a piece of rope. You can be certain that at some point you will be woken up early
in the mornings by cockerels competing with each other - its just something that you have to get used to.
Anyway back to the boat trip…..
The Phillipines was not on our original list of countries to visit. It was while writing this blog that we discovered someone else’s pictures - most of which were taken on the main island of Palawan. Now after 8 long hours we were finally approaching the main land and it looked just as we had hoped. We were excited to be arriving, but also a little sad. Due to our late departure from Coron we would not have long to explore this picture postcard island, but we were determined to make the most of the time we had.
We enquired at one of the beachfront huts, but were told that we would be charged extra because we were not staying very long. This to didn’t seem to make economic sense so we waked back out onto the street to continue our search. We were met my a short woman lurking in the shadows beneath a tree “you look for cheap room?” she grunted. We nodded and she motioned for us to
follow. She took us through an unmarked gate and into the grounds of somewhere that didn’t even appear to have a name - I have to say at this point we were somewhat sceptical. She walked us through the gardens and showed us to a little hut with a veranda. Not only was this place in much better condition than the other it was a good deal cheaper. Ok so we didn’t have the sea views, but you cant have everything - well not on a budget.
We were up bright and early for our day of island hopping. A small boat collected us and another couple from the beach and took us the first destination. Small lagoon was literally as the name suggests. We were able to snorkel for a while - although there wasn’t much to be seen, before being taken to the imaginatively named big lagoon - no prizes for guessing how it got its name. Big Lagoon was followed by Secret lagoon. This was named because you have to swim through a small hole in the rocks to find it. The gap is really quite small and if the waves are too big its not
possible to visit as its really easy to hurt yourself on the sharp rocks. Lunch was BBQ on a small beach. Luckily there was something for everyone - I enjoyed the fish, which Andy really wasn’t fond of but Andy really loved the pork. It was mostly fat so no one else wanted it - never fear Andy polished it all off! There was some pretty reasonable snorkelling on the island so we spent most of our time in the water before we were called back to move to our final stop of the day. Seven Commandos Beach had terrible snorkelling, but being the big kids we are we still spent the entire time in the sea searching for things, before eventually getting board and amusing ourselves by seeing how much sand we could sneak into each others shorts. I think the idea of stopping on the beach was to sunbathe, but after a day in the water and on the boat I had a sunburned X on my back from my bikini, but the other poor girl on our boat was now a rather painful shade of pink. We were all pretty glad when we headed for home.
Sadly that was all we had time for in El Nido, which was a shame as from what we had seen it looked like a good place to explore for a few days. We found a lovely beachfront restaurant where we sat and watched the sunset before dinner, but because our minibus was leaving just after sunrise we had to head back for another early night.
The early alarm was not a welcome one. We packed up the last of our things and headed up the hill to the bus station. It didn’t cost much more to travel in the air conditioned minibus rather than the normal bus. It would mean that we would arrive 3 hours earlier, but more importantly that we were guaranteed a seat inside and not on the roof! These both seemed like reason enough to pay the few extra pesos.
There were quite a few of us waiting for the minibus and apart from one woman we were all minding our own business. This woman was one of those people who liked to stare at people. She didn’t even seem to mind if you noticed her staring at you. In fact noticing made
her stare harder. I hoped that she would not be on the same bus as us - she was making me feel quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately this was not the case, although I did manage to get seats behind her - I figured that this gave me the least chance of being stared at. I was just settling into my seat and waiting for the journey to begin when I realised that I had severely underestimated the woman in front. She was ruthless in her quest to stare and she wasn’t going to let a thing like someone sitting behind her stop her. I did the only other thing I could think of - I closed my eyes and pretended she wasn’t there.
After a while on a very bumpy road we stopped to collect a very tall couple in matching outfits. They were both dressed head to toe in that beige coloured clothing, the kind that’s made for trekking in the great outdoors with a map around your neck in a plastic bag - or really dull people. They cant have spent much time outside as they both had mobile phones, laptops and those computer book thingies that look like they would take the fun out of reading a book.
We made a stop for what felt like lunch, but a quick check of the watch told me it was only just breakfast time. That’s the problem with getting up so early. Before jumping back on the bus everyone made a nice orderly queue outside the toilets. A woman on the way out of the toilet was struggling to get by, so being polite I stepped to the side to let her pass. Unfortunately I didn’t look before I stepped and slipped over on some wet mud. After jumping up and inspecting the damage I found that it was mostly to my pride, however I was going to end up with a couple of scabby knees - this is something that no one over the age of 10 should have!
As we pulled into Peurto Princesa bus station I managed to embarrass myself further. It turns out that if you are going to fall asleep on public transport its best to not be facing anyone, that way if you happen to dribble no one will notice!
We negotiated a price with a tricycle to take us to our hotel, but on the way out of the station he stopped to pick up another passenger. Its quite normal for a tricycle to collect people along the way if they are heading in the same direction. Our new passenger Alyssa it turned out was also going to the same hotel as us.
After checking in we headed straight for the immigration office to extend our visa. The notice on the door told us that we would need photocopies of our passport so we went inside to find out where the nearest photocopier was. We started to ask the woman behind the desk, but she interrupted us. Without even looking at us she pointed towards the door “procedure is on the door” she barked. She looked like she had been told that looking even remotely happy or approachable was punishable by death. We didn’t feel like was the right person to ask for advice or even directions so we turned around and left.
We managed to find somewhere that could photocopy our passports, but we had one small problem. The entire town was having a brownout - this means no electricity. We had a flight to catch the following lunchtime and we weren’t planning on visiting anywhere else with an immigration office. All we could do was hope that the electricity came back on in time for us to get our visas arranged.
We were sat on the terrace of the hotel when the ceiling fans finally sprang to life. We dashed back to get the photocopies done, but the woman behind the desk was still sat in darkness. We thought that either the power was only on it certain areas or maybe the power had gone again in the time it took us to walk there.
We were lucky that neither of these turned out to be the case. The woman behind the counter had decided that the best course of action during a power cut was to switch all electrical items off. With nothing to indicate when the power was back, she was now sat in the dark for no reason at all.
With photocopies in hand we went back to the immigration office. This time the miserable woman was joined in the office by two of her colleagues. Suddenly she was all smiles, it was like we had walked into a different office - very strange. Extending the visa was very quick and easy, 30minutes later we were walking back to the hotel with permission to stay in the Philippines for a total of 59 days.
The hotel owner recommended a cheap place called Kinabuch grill and bar to eat. The guide book said it was very popular and they weren’t wrong. There were a few tables empty outside when we arrived and most of the bar was empty, but within minutes every table was full with locals ordering masses of food. We ordered baby back ribs and goat curry, both were huge and delicious. We couldn’t believe it when the bill arrived and with drinks we hadn’t broke £8.