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Published: September 23rd 2015
The Philippines is a strange country in that there are over 7000 islands that make up the Philippines as a whole. Each Island tries to boast of something different for the tourist market going from mountains, hiking, beaches, diving and yet they all seem to have that one common denominator which is that the people are poor. It is heartbreaking when you are walking down a street whichever Island that you are on and you see a young child in rags with arms stretched out asking for money. However there are some small towns that this is not affected by this and it seems to be places that the community gets together and helps each other.
Anyways my next stop on the amazing world adventure was Palawan. Along the way through Philippines, many people had mentioned this in conversation of the place that they would go back to, mainly because of the island hopping that was available at El Nino. The two American girls I had been travelling with for the last week had missed their flight due to a small cock up, and so I arrived in Puerto Princesa on my own and headed for a hostel that I had found on Hostelworld and knowing it was low season went without booking. A trip through the city and onto the backstreets made me realised that this place could be a bit further from civilisation then usual. However the hostel was an amazing place to settle down and chill with a couple of beers. An outside common room designed round the bar and that was me for the night. Not many backpackers around which meant I could get the laptop out and catch up with my emails and have an early night.
Before arriving on the island I had been given the name of a guy from Couchsurfers, who liked to show travellers around his city, so after getting in touch, he said he was free and was looking forward to showing me the sights. I managed to hire a bike out and picked him up along the way to the main road. Shawn (his English name) was a 19 year old student who has been a member of the website couch surfing for about 2 years and loves showing off his city to anyone that allows me and usually has about 4/5 people a week to show around which he does for free and with a lot of enthusiasm. First port of call was to the crocodile farm that Puerto Princesa is famous for however it is not really looked after, and the crocodiles seemed to be stuck 10 to a pit that each had a pool of dirty water. Obviously I'm not willing to go down to change it as they looked vicious! After walking around the back of the crocodiles to see other animals that equally did not look like they weren't tendered to often, it was back on the scooter to head towards the Prisoners Farm, which Shawn explained was an area that prisoners worked the land and that you were allowed to see them and also interact with all of them, however the rainy season hit again and the rain came down so with no cover we headed back to the hostel dropping Shawn off on the way. Although it was one of his shortest couch surfer tours he was still smiling and told me if I ever got back again then I could contact him and he would do a better tour.
On getting back to the hostel, there were the 2 american girls, like stalkers who had followed me to the hostel. It was good to see them again and even though it was raining and still only about 6, the bar had a happy hour and it was cheap! Really bad mistake as I started going through the drinks menu with them ticking off each drink that we had! So it was with a sore head the next morning that I decided to head off to El Nino, the main reason for coming to the island. The girls were still in bed when I left but they had mentioned that they would head up in the next couple of days. One thing I wasn't told about was the journey would take 6 hours with a half hour break half way up. The minibus was definitely the best to sleep in especially with a lot of dodgy roads along the way. Arriving in El Nido at the very north of the Island just as the sun was going down, i encountered at least 6 tricycle drivers wanting my business. The previous hostel had given me a couple of recommendations of where to stay without booking and the only place I could remember was The Lion King song "Hakuna Matata" which had been the name of one of the lower down hostel recommendations, so thats where I went. A long journey and lots of fresh air meant it was yet another early night for me with no alcohol, I wondered if I was coming down with something?
The next day i woke up early and went for breakfast at one of the many restaurants. El Nido is built on tourism and not a lot else, it's one of them places in the world that has so much scenery and natural coral that backpackers have been coming here for decades and the locals have built what was once a small village into to money making town. In fact most of the staff from the hostel came from Puerto Princesa as there was more work in El Nino. After breakfast I decided that I would do one more night in the hostel and head back down the island which meant I had to do the Island hopping that morning, which I booked through the hostel and within minutes I was being lead through the back streets to the beach and told to wait. The weather already looked bad with dark clouds above me, threatening rain, but I was not going to be put off. The boat trip consisted of only 3 islands as the captain told us that the weather was going to get worse so it would be a shorter trip! The first island we landed at, all 10 of us on the boat got off and we were told that this was awesome for snorkelling, so on went the snorkel and although there were various fish of different sizes it wasn't really that spectacular but was still good seeing the fishes and coral. Next island we went to was exactly the same, in that we went snorkelling but we were also treated to a small BBQ on the beach. I made a mistake of walking along the beach to grab some food and walked into an anchor which went straight into my ankle and drew a lot of blood and even more concern from the other people from the boat. I took it in my stride as I've been injured so far during my journey that I accepted it as there was no pain. After lunch, it was back on the boat and we headed for the secret lagoon, and for the first time I was stunned by the beauty of the place. It was an inland lagoon surrounded by a high rock formation and the colour of the water was a pure blue/green combination. We were told that we could only get off the boat if we hired canoes to get around. Although it was a scam, a few of us agreed that we would but secretly swam off nodding our heads. The sea was warm and there were lots of bigger fish around, with some attacking my feet. The lagoon went on to an enclosed opening which lead to another lagoon and lots of people on canoes. It was an amazing place but was spoilt by the number of tourists that was forced into the area. After an hour of swimming and discovering underwater caves and being attacked by more fish I headed back to the boat which then took us back to the mainland.
After getting back to the hostel, I went for some dinner as all that swimming had made me hungry and found a cheap restaurant around the corner and within seconds of sitting down, along came the 2 american girls who had not long been in El Nido. Talk about a small world, especially as they had booked into the same hostel as me. They joined me for food and afterwards headed off back to the hostel with some beers bought from the local shop and joined a couple from Israel in the common room. After a lot of alcohol, we headed off into the town to find some bars, and it was after these bars at 2 in the morning that I had my iPhone stolen by a pickpocket. To explain how I got it back via a taxi driver, the Chief of Police and all his staff being woken up in their pyjamas and a head hunt for the thief would take too long and would probably be more entertaining then what I've written so far but I got my iPhone back unfortunately it was broken. The Chief of Police was over the moon that a crime had been solved that he wasn't really interested that the phone wouldn't work! As it was now 4 in the morning and a Chief of Police demanding a cup of coffee for payment for getting my phone back, I was tired and still a little drunk so had to go back to bed.
Waking up with a damaged iPhone is not the best way to go and even worse when you know you can't sort it out as a bus was leaving in the next hour to take you back down the 6 hour journey to Puerto Princesa. Off I went with regret, and trying to get some sort of response from my IPhone wasn't helping, but I arrived back in the hostel in the back streets, to grab my laptop and see if I was missing out on anything in the world. The main reason for returning was that I had a flight to Manila the following day which was there to meet a friend that I hadn't seen in 4 years. Neil had been with me in the Congo working with an NGO on one of my previous postings and although we had kept in touch we hadn't seen each other in all that time. He had mentioned a few months earlier that he had some holidays coming up and where I would be. I had said Philippines and he booked it straightaway. I will tell you now that as Neil was ex army, recently broke up with his girlfriend and liked his alcohol, the next few days is something that will stay in Manila. It's not part of the travelling as more a catch up with a friend and it was a little bit wild! Sufficient to say that everything that I've heard about Manila is true and everyone that told me to stay away were right!
So my adventures around Asia was coming to an end and I was about to head for Australia for a new country and a new continent. 7 months down and I still have a long way to go......
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