Island hopping, a dangerous encounter and an overnight stay on our own private island (el Nido p2)

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May 3rd 2015
Published: June 8th 2015
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In total we spent around 10 nights in El Nido. We did not need to stay that long but to be honest we opted for the cheapest flight back to Cebu which was over 2 weeks after arriving in Puerto Princessa. Initially we planned to visit Coron island but instead decided to spend more time in Port Barton (see previous blog) and El Nido with a few days at Puerto Princessa either side. So what did we do with all that time?

Well, for starters - every morning we went to the Mid-Town Bakery. They sell the best donuts in Palawan, the size is decent and they are always fresh. Compared to the donuts in Greggs bakeries back home, here we were treated to warm donuts covered in sugar on the outside and a warm doughy soft texture within. All for 10 pesos. We had them every day and got up early as if for a special occasion to get our fill of the best donuts we have ever tasted. We told every new person we spoke to about these donuts.

Some mornings we would go back to bed and other mornings we would catch up with research (we were seriously considering adding India to our itinerary at this point) or read a book leisurely. Our hostel was directly facing a church with huge speakers on the outside ready to blast out the sounds of prayer or the pastor/priest singing. The first Sunday morning that this happened we were woken up abruptly at around 5am, first by the church's loud bell followed by the pastor singing and preaching before the service began. At first we sat up with a jolt, both shocked trying to get our bearings and figure out what that noise was. Wow! It was so loud, enough to broadcast to the whole town and unluckily for us our accommodation was right in front of it. Nooo, pillows over our heads, we tried but could not get back to sleep as this went on and on for a good 4 hours. Later on that evening we were treated to the same again. This time before and during the evening service. Whhhyy??

In general our days were spent relaxing here, either wandering the town, going snorkelling, hiking Mount Talaw, going to the beautiful Las Cabanas beach or for Chris watching the much anticipated boxing match between Pacquio and Mayweather. If there was any place to watch this world famous match it would either be in Las Vegas or here in the Philippines.

Interestingly the boxing match took place on a Sunday so as per usual we were woken up with the prayer being blasted out, whilst the whole town was preparing for the big match. P stayed back and relaxed; silently contemplating how ironic it was that half the town was at church rejoicing and celebrating peace and harmony, while the other half of the town was shouting at tvs and cheering on violence.

After morning donuts, Chris went in search of a place that would be showing the match with fellow Brit Lucas (whom we met at our guesthouse and befriended). We ended up in a small bar that was somehow showing a delayed stream - not live! Luckily Chris noticed in time (courtesy of sky sports twitter feed) so he, Lucas and another couple they had met at that bar headed straight to a bar showing the match live. The bar was cosy with a mix of locals and foreginers all ready for the 'Fight of the Decade'. The locals sat with a large sum of money in the middle of their table - a private bet apparently all on Pacquio. As more people piled in, more bets were placed. During the match the heavens opened up outside; nobody thought nothing of it until the TV signal completely froze! No one could believe it, everyone just stared hoping it would come back on. Thankfully the rain passed and the signal eventually came back greeted with excited cheers.

It was a tough match to call in the bar, with the locals cheering Pacquio's victory before the official announcement. It wasn't too long before the actual result hit them with Mayweather stealing the game. There were many shocked and slightly sad locals but there was no animosity at all.

During the match, a somewhat friendly but inaudible elderly man came in the bar and directed his attention at Chris. The conversation went as follows;

Filipino Man: "Hello where are you from" *shakes hand*
Chris: "England"
Filipino: *laughing out aloud* "Nooo Africa!"
Chris: "I'm from England"
Filipino: "Noooo!! There are no black people in England"
Chris: "Believe it or not I am from England"
Filipino: "Africa? South Africa??"
Chris: "No England"
Filipino: "South Africa???"
Chris: "Yes. South Africa"


Whilst in El Nido, after enjoying the first snorkelling trip we were determined to do another and after hearing that you could stay on a private beach overnight on one of the small islands, that was it; they had us sold. We ended up booking tour C with the overnight stay on an island. As the day to our tour grew closer, our excitement grew and grew. The idea of staying in a tent under the stars on a secluded beach with a few others was paradise for us. Plus we had the opportunity to kayak back. We intended to hire a kayak here anyway so it made sense that we would take advantage of the kayak on the way back (maybe stopping at a few other beaches first).

As we arrived at the meeting point on the beach we were met by the rest of our group including Antonia (German) and Geraldine (French living in Vietnam) who were both staying at our hostel and after our recommendation they were also staying overnight. The rest of the group were all very friendly and we all got talking to everyone more or less straight away. This mainly included the others also staying on the island; Diet (Filipino now living in Singapore) Sam (Salford, England). This made the tour far more enjoyable as everyone conversed easily creating a lovely social atmosphere.

At the first snorkling stop, we were both reluctant to go in the sea at first as the beach was covered in jellyfish. We asked a couple coming out of the sea whether there were many jellyfish in the swimming area. They replied “ I don’t mean to scare you but there are loads, some really big ones but as long as you can swim around them you will be okay”. Sure enough there were many that were bigger than the size of a car steering wheel in width, with their tentacles making them equally as long. With enough dodging in the water we managed to escape them. Again the fish in the sea made this stop very pleasurable.

Other stops on the tour included the Hidden Beach which is meant to have inspired the author of the book and film 'The Beach' (but in order to keep it a secret he instead decided to mislead people into thinking it was in Thailand). Next we stopped at Starfish Island and got to enjoy the beautiful coral reef and we spotted a black tip reef shark and finally we ended on Secret Beach.

All these beaches and lagoons were truly stunning and we were completely blown away by the beauty of these islands. Never had we witnessed anything like this before. Surrounded by huge limestone rock faces, clear blue water, beautiful coral and fish, we were as happy as could be. We doubt our pictures do this place any justice even though we tried. Let us know what you think.

One annoying thing at each of the stops were the stings from plankton. The stings are not as bad as jellyfish stings and after a few seconds the sensation usually disappears but after swimming through so many you would aways feel them stinging away.

The evening could not have gotten any better by the prospect of sleeping on what we liked to call our own private island and beach (slight over exaggeration but you get the gist).

As we were dropped off and the remaining day trippers stayed on the boat to get dropped back off in El Nido, their sighs and expressions of envy was clearly visible. The 5 of us being dropped off found it difficult to hide or contain our excitement.

The two of us had never even stayed in a tent before. Facilities were as expected; basic squat toilet and a bucket & well for water (although the well ended up breaking during our stay).

Before sunset a few of us decided to paddle the kayak around making the most of it while we had it for the night. For the two of us, we decided a practice paddle would be helpful before we had to paddle back to El Nido the following morning.

After Geraldine, we took the kayak out for a ride. Moving out with the waves should have been easy but failing to both paddle in sync we moved a little bit forwards, turned in circles, then slowly edged forward again. This was proving to be hard work.

30 minutes or so afterwards when we were starting to gain some rhythm between us, we both spotted something swimming 5-10 meters away from us. Something with a leathery back with raised pointy edges. Chris suggested it maybe a crocodile and wanted to take a closer look and take pictures. Before Chris got the chance, P was already paddling in a manic state back to the island. Unfortunately as some coral was raised, P ended up whacking it with her paddle in her tunnel focused attempt of getting out of the water back on the beach as soon as possible. Nothing was getting in her way. I guess this is what they call the flight stage during fear. P certainly had an unexpected boost in energy and did not hear a word Chris said as she paddled back non stop.

When we arrived back on the island (back to safety) we were convinced it was a crocodile or something similar but after later speaking to our guide we found out it was likely to be a Monitor lizard (we have no pictures you'll have to google it). It basically looks like a cross between a crocodile and a Komodo dragon. Not something you want to meet kayaking. Thank goodness we were not snorkelling.

We do love spotting sea life but I guess coming from the UK and not growing up either snorkelling or diving we have only developed this interest later in life. This initially grew during trips to Mexico and Belize many years ago, an experience we have since wanted to repeat but with Chris easing into it quicker than P.

Our evening on the island was beautifully spent gazing at the stars and with amazing company. We shared interesting experiences during travelling, childhood mischief and cultural differences. With the alcohol flowing, great seafood for dinner, good company, beautiful skies, we laughed and conversed the night away so easily. It was definitely a night to remember.

Earlier in the night after serving food the guide joined us for a round. He spoke passionately about what he does and the ocean and the sea life he encounters. He also shared his fears of it being ruined as he has seen diminishing numbers of turtles and sharks. Sadly some of his efforts to make tourism friendly have gone in vain as he explained other tour guides allow people to walk on the coral (very bad). Also with all the tour boats going to the islands each day all placing anchors in the coral, he understood the rate it was being destroyed was startling. He said he has since tried to promote the use of sea buoys for the many boats stopping at each island to prevent the use of anchors but felt as though he did so with little success. The government were not yet in favour of purchasing these. This made us sad to think that coming on tours like this contributes to the destruction of the coral and sea life.

Oh we forgot to say that after the kayak experience, P did not like the idea of kayaking back to El Nido with these Komodo dragon like creatures and so we both jumped on the big boat with the rest of the group in the morning. Maybe next time.

For the rest of our time in El Nido we took the time to stroll the town, just to people watch and watch life in the town unfold. As with anywhere you have tourism, you have to dodge the tours and tricycle drivers. Here they would say "Hi Maam, Hi Sir. Las Cabanas beach/ Nacpan beach?" in which we replied "No thank you" multiple times. It was nice they sometimes replied ‘No problem’. Although it was however strange to be greeted Maam and Sir all the time. Something that were we used to in the Philippines but it was still very unusual for us.

El Nido beach was potentially very beautiful with half a mile of golden sands and beautiful views of the small islands in the distance. However by day it was not really a place people hung out because of the petrol polluted water from all the boats, the visible sewage streams that flowed into the sea and thirdly the amount of jellyfish there were that lay dead all over the beach. These were by far some of the largest jellyfish we had ever seen.

Instead people often took a tricycle out to Las Cabanas beach (a 20 minute ride away). The beach here was arguably the best beach we have even been to because of the views of the islands. There was just no way you could take a bad picture of this place.

Plus only a few wooden shacks and cabins lined this beach (as opposed to the dense concrete settlement of bars and lodges along the beach in El Nido). During our time at this beach we were again treated to some beautiful sunsets and we generally just relaxed in the shade (there was clearly no need to sunbathe after 3 months of travelling). One evening after sunset, as we walked up the stairs from Las Cabanas beach, P let out a bit of a yelp and Chris tried to ascertain what had happened. With P frozen and unable to move or talk Chris did not have a clue what was wrong. In the end, P revealed she was not going to go up the stairs to the main road as she was confronted with a huge black snake that she nearly stepped on. P was clearly not budging as she was unable to move with the fright. The only way to convince P she would be ok was by Chris clapping and stamping his way to the top in order to ensure any snakes would roll away. Again we must have looked like a right sight.

In the evenings we either stumbled onto some local entertainment or had drinks with the many people we had met during our stay. One evening we stumbled upon a local beauty contest, with rounds of swim-gear, ball-gowns, talent (ahem) and questions. This was more than entertaining and we ended up watching the performances until the end.

In the evening, we divided our time eating and drinking out with Tom, who we met in Port Barton, a few others staying at the same place (Lucas and 2 german girls), a lovely irish couple; Mark and Sophie who we had initially met in Apo Island and bumped into again here; and finally the group who we had shared our time with on our Paradise beach; Diet, Sam, Antonia and Geraldine.

El nido, was a place that initially we thought would only require a couple of days to visit. Instead we enjoyed a week and a half of relaxing, adrenaline fuelled activities, snorkelling trips, an overnight island stay and beautiful days spent at las Cabanas beach. Not half bad if you ask us. I guess with these activities and the slight touristy feel of the place you could call it our holiday.

Transportation: Jeepney to Roxas 1hr 20min/150 pesos, Jeepeney to El Nido
Accommodation: Unnamed (When asked, the proprietor hopes to call it Mikee) most likely unlicensed yet as they were currently in the process of renovating and setting up.

Total Days spent; 46 days

Exchange rate: £1/ 70 pesos

Costs for us: £36/ 2,480 pesos for us both per day including 4 flights (one we did not use).

Accommodation: Generally very affordable for basic lodgings. Not really established in terms of backpacker hostels which may make it difficult for Solo Travellers. Generally around 300-500 pesos for those on a low budget.

Transportation; For us; getting around the Philippines involved the frequent use of public transportation which was always inexpensive especially the Jeepneys. Due to the low level tourism here there are no real direct ways to get from one beach on one island to another. However we rather enjoyed the journeys and it allowed us to interact with the locals which was always really pleasant. Flights are necessary from Manila to Cebu and Palawan.

Favourite Activity

Chris; Swimming with Dolphins

P; all the snorkelling we did

Favourite Place

Chris & P; Our undiscovered paradise

Favourite lodging

Chris; Homestay in Sagada because of the views

Things we will miss

Chris; Donuts and Lava cake!!!

P; People being soo friendly

Things we will not miss

Chris; Plain white rice

P; The early wake up calls by roosters

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 33


9th June 2015

Embracing the Philippines
We continue to enjoy following you around this fabulous island country, walking on the beaches with you, tasting all the foods and meeting the people. Happy travels.
11th June 2015

Embracing the Philippines
Thanks Dave and Merry. Happy to have you on board, its always lovely to get your comments. That's it for the Philippines now though. Indonesia next..
9th June 2015

Keeps getting better and better...
I loved that you woke up early for donuts! And I laughed out loud about the South African conversation that Chris had - not many people in remote parts of Asia believe that I'm Australian either, but ironically they'd guess that I was British or French based purely on the fact that most mixed race couples they see are from there. SO happy to read that you are considering going to India :)
11th June 2015

Keeps getting better and better
Those donuts were especially nice, although I don't think they would do us much good if we carried on like that. We really endulged in them. Wow, never would have guessed people would have said England because they have met many mixed couples from the uk. But funnily enough, there is. Now they are going to have to add Australia to their list. Although I still don't think people will believe us. When we said England we always hear them say Africa. It will take time. Yes, very excited about India we are definitely going. Still need to do research but as we have just entered Hong Kong for China, we both have been taking on the challenge to learn some Mandarin in the past couple of weeks and its proving to be quite some cgallenge...😣
11th June 2015

Keeps getting better and better
Those donuts were especially nice, although I don't think they would do us much good if we carried on like that. We really endulged in them. Wow, never would have guessed people would have said England because they have met many mixed couples from the uk. But funnily enough, there is. Now they are going to have to add Australia to their list. Although I still don't think people will believe us. When we said England we always hear them say Africa. It will take time. Yes, very excited about India we are definitely going. Still need to do research but as we have just entered Hong Kong for China, we both have been taking on the challenge to learn some Mandarin in the past couple of weeks and its proving to be quite some challenge...😣

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