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Published: April 1st 2011
We were up and out by 7am; it appears this is a normal time for Filipinos! We met with Barbara and Yves in Judy's for a final breakfast of their strange take on the veggie burger (made from bananas) before we were informed that the jeepney would be picking us up somewhere else. So the four of us headed down the road to the new jeepney pick-up point where we were rewarded with quite a show of dog fighting. Kate thought one of the dogs was quite cute despite being a member of the ugly gang, Luke commented that he looked like Chinese Alan which in fact he did, and had us roaring with laughter much to the surprise of the locals on our jeepney.
Finally we were off after picking up a bunch of empty containers from around the village, which no doubt the driver would have filled with supplies and returned to their owners. We only needed to take the jeepney as far as Roxas (a town outside of Port Barton) where we could wait for a connection shuttle onto El Nido. This actually went very smoothly (the connection, but unfortunately not the roads) and we were in
El Nido by around 1.30pm.
El Nido is a rough and ready little resort in the far north of Palawan, which is visited for boat tours around the Bacuit Archipalego just off the coast. The archipalego is home to many beautiful karsts which have secluded beaches, lagoons and sand bar islands. The resort itself has a lot of accommodation, restaurants and bars along the beach, and generally has a much more modern resort feel than Port Barton.
In El Nido we stayed in possibly the best room we have stayed in so far on our trip, at Inngo. It was in a modest setting, not on the beach side of the road (most accommoation in the town had a beach view at affordable prices) but the building itself was luxurious and made up for the view. It cost 1000 pesos a night (around £14) and was worth every penny with air con, two double beds, and a clean bathroom. This may sound like a normal hotel room, but to satisfy all of these criteria is pretty rare on our budget so we found it difficult to leave! Also, we discovered we did in fact have a bit of
a beach view, as our room was conveniently located directly opposite the walk through lobby to the beach of the poshest hotel in El Nido. So we could still sit on our balcony and see the sea!
We had heard that all of the tour sellers in town were selling tours at fixed prices. This made us happy as although we know we would be paying over the odds, we would rather pay the same price as everyone else instead of being charged what the seller thinks he can get from you. Anyway, we met with Barbara and Yves to go and book onto a tour for the following day. There were so many to choose from that it was lucky they had had a recommendation. We headed to El Nido Corner which was a restaurant ran by a lovely European man. He sold us tour A, B and C for between 500-700 pesos (depending on the trip) including lunch, which was the cheapest we had seen in the whole town. We ate at his restaurant that evening which was not so good value, but all the beers next door were on happy hour at 30 pesos a bottle
(less than 50p) so we made up for our losses there.
The following day we took tour A, which ended up being everyone's favourite out of all of the trips. First we headed to big lagoon, which had really clear waters and beautiful snorkelling. Then we headed to an island where lunch was cooked for us by our boat men. There was fresh fish and squid and rice for everyone (and a special serving of pork for Katie) followed by fresh pineapple and watermelon. Lunch was really beautiful and everyone enjoyed it. After lunch we headed to small lagoon where we had to wade through the water and climb through a hole in the rocks to enter a realy warm lagoon. It was really pretty and warm inside the lagoon. After we headed back via another beautiful island which was by far the coolest as it had a little bar selling beer- what a perfect way to end the day.
That day we had met an Italian couple on the trip, so the six of us all headed out on the evening for dinner. The following day we did tour C as this was rumoured to be the
best trip out of all of them. It didn't kick off to a good start as the sea was really choppy and we were in a little wooden boat. One big wave came over into the boat and cut-out the motor, and we seemed to be the only boat at sea. After about an hour filled with a bit of panic (and Luke being sick) the motor got going again and we headed out into worse waters. We arrived to our first destination of secret beach, which is basically a beach that can only be accessed by swimming through a coral filled tunnel. At high tide the whole of the tunnel is submerged with water, but the wave movement acts like a vacuum in the tunnel meaning it is quite dangerous. The Lonely Planet recommends not to attempt swimming through the tunnel if the sea is bad. However, our guide said it would be ok as long as he took us one by one. At first Katie decided to stay on the boat after Alessandra had anonounced that just like the previous day, there were loads of jellyfish in the water. There were in fact so many that you could
see them from the surface. But after the first 5 had gone for it, Katie Barbara and Yves followed. Although in hindsight what the hell made her make that decision she has no clue. We all made it through the tunnel safely, but were not impressed when we got to the other side. There was nothing to see probably due to the rough sea conditions, and the sea was like a whirlpool inside the cave, so it was really difficult to stand. Also we were constantly being stung by jellyfish. We made it back to the boat safely, but Alessandra had cut her head inside the tunnel. She was ok luckily, but it showed how dangerous the tunnel could have been.
After secret beach it was pretty late so we headed towards another beach which was the planned destination for lunch. However, a French lady on our trip suggested another beach she had seen on a trip the day before, so our driver obliged. When we arrived it turned out there was no shade at all apart from a gap in some rocks which the French woman raced to, making her definitely not the flavour of the day. From
the beach where we ate lunch we were all pondering over what the building was on the opposite shore. We couldn't believe anyone could live, or even holiday somewhere so remote. It turned out that the building was in fact our next point of call, and was a beautiful little church which had been abandoned by the looks of things. We were able to climb up to a viewing point on this island where it was possible to see beautiful views over the karsts. By this point we were all pretty tired from all the sun, and were ready to go back. However, we stopped first at a lovely beautiful lagoon where we were able to swim. It was really warm and the views were only something you could imagine in a fairytale. Just as we were getting out Katie caught her foot on a sea urchin which was painful, she had always wondered what the spiky things under the sea would feel like! We headed back via another beach which may or may not have been Helicopter Island, but we suspect it wasn't. We suspected we hadn't visited most of the places we were meant to due to the
sea- we were lucky that we made it back safely though to be honest as it really was rough. On the evening we headed out with the Italian couple for dinner at a night market that had been set up as part of a festival. They had really good value food, just 25 pesos for double cheese burger with egg. You can guess what we ate every single night after making this discovery. El Nido has more variety than Port Barton in the way of food, however it is still very limited due to having electricity between 6pm and 6am. We preferred these times to Port Barton, as it meant the whole town didn't go eerily dark at midnight. Coming home at night was always a chore however as there were so many territorial street dogs that had no issues about barking at the tourists. We usually made it back without any hassle, but as soon as we went to enter Inngo there were a crowd of three little yappers that we had to disperse. We learnt a little trick from the locals back in Port Barton; if you make a 'tsssst' sound at them they would scatter. Also holding
a flip flop up to them would work too, either way but obviously we didn't try that one.
The following day we had decided to take a rest day as the sun exposure of the past two days was really exhausting. We wanted to take it easy so spent our day in the Art Cafe which was a pretty upmarket establishment. Outside however in a little alley we saw the first monkey of our trip; he was tied up next to loads of litter with nothing to do. It was really sad.
In the Art Cafe we booked some flights to Indonesia, which was a complete change of plan, but we had been convinced by so many people who had raved about it. The flights were around £85 each so not really a bargain compared to our internal Philippines ones but still. In the evening we went to wish Barbara a happy birthday, although she was feeling pretty sick. After we went out for dinner at the festival market again with the Italian couple. This time there was a little local outdoor disco going on which was very amusing to watch. There were also numerous karaoke machines out
in the street, each competing for who could sing the loudest most out of tune ballad it seemed. After dinner we headed back to bed as we had to be up early the next day for tour B.
Tour B ended up being a really great day. Our boat owner ended up bringing along hats he had made from leaves that we had all been impressed by last time he had made them. The first stop of our trip was Snake Island which is a natural sand bar linking two islands that changes shape with the sea. The water seemed a bit high as the sand bar was actually about half a metre deep, however it was beautifully clear and the backdrop was beautiful. As we were walking along the sandbar in one direction, we noticed two old dogs plodding along in the opposite direction. On the other island there were a bunch of tourists eating their lunch. We asked our driver where the dogs were from, he said they were wild and lived on the deserted island, and that at lunch every day they made their way across the sand bar to try and find themselves some lunch. We
found this little story amusing and endearing.
After we headed over to a private island for some lunch and a kick back. There were sunbeds and hammocks, so we spent a good few hours just chilling to the sounds of the strangest remixes. On the way back to El Nido we stopped by at another island for snorkelling but spent most of the time on the beach. As we stepped off the boat in our flip flops for our last walk back to the shore in the rocky sea of El Nido, we spotted two familiar characters approaching the Italian couple. They were Anya and Tom we had met back in Banaue. They too had been recommended El Nido Corner, and were enquiring whether the trips were any good. We all had sat down in El Nido Corner for a gossip, and were startled to hear the news of Japan's earthquake. We read on the news that if there was going to be a tsunami in the Philippines, it was likely to hit between 6-7pm that evening. It was already 5.30pm so we decided to sit on the beach drinking happy hours beers and wait (we were fortunately protected
by the island of Luzon so didn't really have a lot to worry about). It was a real terrible shock about Japan and our thoughts went out to the people killed and caught in the devastation. It really hit home being so close, we were really lucky that it wasn't us.
We all agreed to meet in the market again for dinner. That night was the last time we would see our friends the Belgians and the Italians, so we had a few Red Horse beers and said goodbye.
The following day was spent mostly in bed, although we did venture out for falafel lunch, then back to the market for dinner with Tom and Anya. No drinks again though as we were feeling pretty bad, and they were exhausted from taking tour A that day. We had a really early start the next day; we had booked a shuttle back to Puerto Princesa for 500 pesos each, which was a really good price but meant we had to be at the pick up point for 6.45am.
The following day we were collected from our pick up point by trike and were taken to another shuttle bus
service station outside of the town. We were loaded into the bus which claimed to have air con but really only had air blowers, which really isn't the same thing in this type of temperature. The journey took around 5 hours which wasn't bad at all, although we had to stop for ages in Roxas where a man got off and bought some lunch which he wasn't supposed to do, which seemed to anger the driver. As we were sat there we were approached by more begging children than we had soon on our whole trip. It really is sad, but the thing is half of them couldn't be called children they were at least 17 and surely could have beeing doing something else to earn more money. After this the driver was driving like a maniac possibly to make up the time but possibly because this is how most people seem to drive on busy roads in the Philippines.
We arrived into the New Market terminal in Puerto Princesa where there were numerous transport owners hoping to fleece the tourists. You know this because the trike and taxi drivers practically fight to offer their services to the Westerners,
but ignore the Filipinos. We politely turned them away and walked into the main street to hail a trike driver who was more likely to charge us an honest fare. We took our ride back to D" Lucky Garden first via Jollibees for pasta and a yum burger.
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