El Nido; a place in the Philippines that had us excited from the beginning of our research; a place that a lot of people arriving in Philippines excitedly discuss and a place described with a striking likeness to Guilin in China and also Halong Bay in Vietnam. Was this place really going to live up to expectations for us?
Getting here from Port Barton was easy enough, we caught a Jeepney to Roxas and another to Corong Corong town arriving 4 hrs later. The drop off in Corong Corong town was only a short walk from El Nido proper, so geared up with our backpacks the 3 of us (Tom still included), walked straight past the tricycles and set out on our 20 minute walk. The sun was hot and together with the heat it had us all drenched in sweat. Rather than securing accommodation quickly we ended up walking from one place to another.
Places here were either fully booked or overpriced (compared to other places we had stayed in and across the Philippines). We refused to give in to lower standards and higher prices. We did find a budget hotel on the sea front for
600pesos but the rooms were really shabby, dark and gloomy so we decided to look some more. In the end Tom went to a place he thought may have some dorm beds and we went to a nearby tour shop who took us to an unnamed place with decently lit rooms and a clean shared bathroom for 500 pesos. Located 2 streets back off the beach. It was a done deal.
The first thing that caught our attention in this town was indeed the beauty of this place. El Nido is a small quaint little town surrounded by some impressive sky scraping rocky mountains with many limestone jagged islands jutting out of the sea in the distance. The town itself was lined with an array of colourful tin roofed shacks that were nestled among churches and community buildings. This town was clearly established in tourism unlike Port Barton, with an abundance of shops for food/clothes/tours littered across the town but still had a comparably low level of tourism to other major tourist beach hubs with no high end hotels or resorts in sight. There are numerous places to stay but many places only have a few rooms each.
As we walked around town, there were many little tourist booths set up with the main attraction of the snorkelling tours on offer. Tour A B C and D. All with fixed prices of 1200, 1300, 1400 and 1200 pesos retrospectively. These prices were a lot higher than the prices we had read about, they had literally doubled in price. Time to use some haggling skills and book tour A for the following day.
Tour A- Not really sure whether we were going to enjoy this tour (as we had heard that the snorkelling spots can be overcrowded and all the tour boats go to the same spots at the same time) we thought we would try it for ourselves and then make our own mind up. If we did not enjoy it and it was overcrowded, we could always book a private boat later on in our stay.
There were 14 people on our tour; a mixture of nationalities (we think we heard American, English, Spanish and Filipino). Everyone mainly kept themselves to themselves apart from one friendly Filipino guy from Manila that we got chatting to.
First stop was 7
Commando Beach. Several other boats were docked here and we were told refreshments could be bought on the island. Not coming here for refreshments, we got our snorkel on and we went straight to the coral reef. There were no more than half a dozen people swimming here at the most so it was not overcrowded at all really. There was lots of space and room to enjoy the beautiful coral and numerous colourful fish that casually passed us by. The coral was surprisingly impressive here and we noticed that it was alive and moving, not something we have really seen throughout our experiences snorkelling.
Just under an hour later we were back on the boat. Heading towards the different lagoons. The lagoons were stunning, different in size and all were spectacular in their own way. Our favourite was the secret lagoon.
As the boat docked outside secret lagoon, we jumped into the sea and saw lots of coral beneath us, with a huge wall that dropped deep into the sea. The visibility here was amazing you could see clearly to maybe 15/20 meters.
As we swam towards a shard of rock with a
little opening to swim through, we saw lots more fish. The coral was real shallow at points so we had to be swim carefully in order to avoid kicking it. As we entered the lagoon we noticed the water was very green but nevertheless clear for snorkeling. We swam around and into a little cave enclosure that had tunnels of light from the gaps at the top of the cave. Overall we really enjoyed the tour and were blown away by the amazing scenary. Yes there were people here but not as many to make it overcrowded.
To top it all off the lunch on the boat was really good. A mixture of fish, eggplant, chicken, pork, vegetables and fruit. The two of us were delighted along with everyone else on the tour. It was a really good day. As the boat made its way back a few of us exhausted from a whole day snorkelling just slept until we arrived in El Nido.
One morning during our stay in El Nido, sat on the shared balcony of our hostel overlooking the town (away from the sea) eating our soft sugary warm donuts, we were both
mesmerised by the height of the jagged karst mountains towering over the town. P commented that she would love to go up there and a few seconds later she spotted a few people that we could hardly make out in the distance at the top of this mountain. That’s it. We were going to do the same. All excited we set upon a mission of finding an agency who provided guided tours to the top. In the end we settled with Art Café's tour group and paid a total of 350pesos each for our own private guide to the top that we would start in just over 2 hours. Understanding it was strenuous and somewhat challenging, P asked the pressing but somewhat ambiguous question “Is it dangerous?” to the well spoken worker who booked it for us and her response was “maybe”.
What? We looked at each other confused, P followed up with “I mean most people go up there and come back down unharmed right?” in which we got the same response “maybe”. This workers vocabulary had rapidly shrunk to the word “maybe” and she refused to say no more which we concluded was her attempt to
avoid any liability in case something did happen. Great, what were we about to set ourselves up for, let’s hope our insurance covers us.
At 2pm we were ready to go and we were greeted by our guide; Roman. Getting there we walked through the small alleyways of the town, through what seemed like people’s houses, back yards and outdoor areas, saying the obligatory "hello" as we passed by. 5 minutes later we arrived at the starting point. Thinking back to previous trails we thought this trek would be a mixture of climbing and walking on unpaved uneven trails.
No not quite. This was a straight climb. Feeling nervous but excited we began our climb. What made this more challenging and more nerve racking was the fact that on previous climbs (i.e. in the Cameroon highlands) the trail consisted of tree trunks, branches, and rocks. Climbing this limestone mountain was rather tricky as we had to climb up sharp edged rock. As we went up, we tried to follow Ramon’s fast pace whilst trying to do so as safely as possible (he was wearing flip flops). Climbing the rock upwards was steep in places but still
with somewhat of a slant backwards. Using all hands and feet and every muscle in our bodies we reached for the closest hand grip. These were often razor sharp pointed edges sometimes with webs behind (the least of our problems). Onwards and Upwards. This was tricky and at first most steps were made by P with her legs shaking and although this settled as we got higher. Nevertheless we were constantly reminded of the danger of what we were doing.
20 minutes in, we stopped for a much needed water beak. 5 minutes was our limit and it was time to start again. But which way? Ramon then pointed the way; up a tall face of rock and we both looked at each other in disbelief. He demonstrated where to step slowly as he went up also pointing out where to place our hands but this was harder than it seemed.
The trickiest part however was where the wall bowed out and so for a few seconds rather than going up on a steep slant or up a straight wall this wall bowed outwards. Although our feet and hands held on our bodies hung. This was
challenging and P can admit she has never sweated so much in her life. Sweat was pouring off every surface. Sweat was in both of our eyes and we were unable to wipe them dry as we clung on tightly instead.
Climbing near the top was no less tricky as we had to make huge steps between razor sharp edges of separate rock whilst being exposed to the height, the slight wind and lack of hand holds (although we did not follow Ramons upright position and sometimes crawled). Alas we made it. We were both in shock at what we had just done, the danger and challenging nature of the climb. We couldn’t believe it. After this shock subsided we were able to take in the beautiful views. The whole El Nido bay, the town below, some of the tall mountain cladded islands in the distance and the lush greenery we were surrounded by. This was awesome and we honestly felt like we were on top of the world. I think we took less pictures up here than we should have as we were in shock at what we had done and could not believe the incredible views.
After a few minutes and some songs played by Ramon on his phone, with an uncanny song that must have been named ‘top of the world’ we made our journey downwards. Right we said upwards was dangerous, going down did not feel any easier. P made the revelation that she did not want to do this. Unfortunately this was the only way down.
On steep areas we had to go down the same way we went up (your body facing the rock) but as we could not see the step underneath us, with our leg dangling the nerves set in. Cue more sweat and the return of the shaky leg. We were both silent as we tried to fully concentrate on our steps and hand holds. Both of us thought about the danger and questioned in our minds how many people must have died doing this. No-one asked as we really did not want to know. 45 minutes later we were at the bottom, we had made it back safely and were congratulated by our guide who pointed out many people turn back.
Thanks for telling us now. In hindsight if we really knew
the danger that we were about to put ourselves in, it is unlikely that we would have done it. With no health and safety measures here sometimes you just don't know what your going to get yourself into. Anyway we lived to tell the tale and got to witness to some truly stunning views.
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