An Island Paradise – El Nido

An Island Paradise – El Nido

An Island Paradise – El Nido
El Nido, Philippines

El Nido, Philippines

On Monday morning, bright and early (as in 4:30am!) we were wondering why on earth we had booked such an early flight to Palawan. Needless to say, we got up, got packed and walked out into the humidity and along the street to where the taxis, jeepneys and tricycles wait for passengers. We found a taxi and he agreed to use the meter (they often try and sell you a fixed price of about PHP100 more) so in we hopped for another visit to the airport to catch our 7am flight.

I had found cheap flights on one of the airlines called AirPhilExpress and we got there on time and relaxed until it was time to board. On the flight I sat next to a Filipino guy who lives on the island and works for the government. He was really nice and gave us some helpful tips. The flight was only an hour and as we came in to land (and because the sun was shining for a change) we saw the beautiful bright blue waters of an island paradise.

We landed in Puerto Princesa, the capital of the island of Palawan, where littering is illegal and anyone caught doing so will be heavily fined. (What a great concept!) We had decided that, in order to get as much out of our five nights on the island as possible, we should head straight out of Puerto that day and get to Sabang, the small village which is close to the Underground River. However, on our tricycle ride to the San Jose’ Bus Terminal, our tricycle driver (obviously in cahoots with someone) pointed out that it made more sense to go far north to El Nido and work our way back down and, as luck would have it, he happened to know just the person who could take us! Anyway, what he said did make sense so we agreed and he took us to his connections at Fortwally Tours where we signed up for an air-conditioned van to take us to El Nido, 6 hours away. There we were told that we had to wait another two hours for the van to fill up but that we would leave at 11am regardless of whether it was full or not.

We killed time by walking to the market nearby where they sell all sorts of lovely souvenirs and I bought an extremely rad hat which folds itself up like a fan, unfolds and can be used as a fan, and then the two sides can be connected and turned into a hat!! I love awesome multi-functional things like that! It is very much like an adjumma hat but I don’t care! (An adjumma is an old Korean lady and they usually wear a rather specific type of hat – like this one!! But I BET theirs don’t double up as fans!!)

Eventually we went back to the Fortwally office where there was a van-load of people all waiting for us so they could leave…it reminded me a lot of the taxis in South Africa. We were crammed in there like sardines and most of the luggage was on the roof, some of it on our laps and some between our feet for the 6-hour journey. Sitting next to us was a couple, Mark & Guili, who turned out to be South Africans also teaching in Korea so we chatted and stuck together when we got to the other side. After 6 hours of being in a confined space with them we got to know each other fairly well. They had also been “persuaded” to go to El Nido first instead of Sabang. When we got there we parted ways while looking for a place to stay and unfortunately didn’t bump into each other again until the morning Christine and I left El Nido.

We stayed at a place called Rosanna’s Beach Cottages which was great. The room was big and clean, the water was hot (for an additional fee) and all we had to do was cross the road outside and we were on the beach.

El Nido is somewhere that everyone should go to when visiting Palawan. It takes a while to get there but it is totally worth it. The last stretch of road winds its way down the side of a mountain and every now and then you get a glimpse of beautiful blue water on an amazing mountainous coastline. The town itself is tiny and built along the water. There is something special about it and the people are wonderful. The roads are narrow, there are dogs everywhere, plenty of places to eat and drink and plenty of places offering island-hopping tours. The entire town only has electricity from 2pm – 6am so in the mornings all the shops and restaurants are in darkness.

While Christine freshened up I went on the hunt for a cocktail, as I was finally at the beach! I found a place with “happy hour” advertised outside so in I went and ordered a pina colada. It was “buy one get one free” so naturally I ordered both of them and slurped them down one after the other while I looked at the spectacular view. Christine and I had dinner at a restaurant right on the sand that night with a stunning sunset.

We’d arranged an island-hopping tour with Spur Travel for the next day (we’d booked to go on package “A” which goes to about five or six islands) but we woke up to loud thunder and pouring rain! After smsing back and forth between Spur Tours and us, we decided to brave the rain and go out. Spur Tours said the sea was calm and the weather was due to clear up so we went out to the boat where there were two other people waiting. They were a lovely couple called Fabio and Theresa from Italy. Jason, our guide, told us we were just waiting for a group of 9 Vietnamese people who were joining us…!! (The same thing happened when I was in Zanzibar – they sell you a trip and then oversell it to everyone else!) I felt sorry for the tour guides as it was their head office who had booked this group on our boat. After waiting an hour for them to show up; hung over, loud and LURVING their cameras, we headed off.

Despite the group dominating the view a lot of the time, they were pleasant enough and Christine and I spent most of the time chatting to Jason, Fabio and Theresa. The weather did indeed clear up and the sea was calm. We visited 5 or 6 islands, all amazingly beautiful! The first one was my most memorable. They called it “small lagoon” and to get to the lagoon you had to swim through a small gap in a wall of rock. Then you come out into the most stunning lagoon entirely enclosed by tall cliffs with lush vegetation, birds calling and the underwater scenery which was magical. I snorkelled and got trigger happy with my camera and its underwater casing which worked like a charm.

Somewhere during the day-long excursion we stopped at an island for lunch where the staff on the boat cooked up a storm for us on fires. At the start of the trip while we were waiting for the Vietnamese to arrive, Jason had gone back to shore to get the food that they would cook us for lunch. After a while he came back, climbed on board with two big plastic bags and proudly asked me: “do you like grubs?” I answered, rather hesitantly… ”um…why? Do you have some?” to which he replied with a big smile on his face “yes! A whole bag!” and he thrust one of the bags towards me. Whew! I could sigh in relief as I realised he was saying “crabs” not “grubs”. They were pretty good too! I even managed to eat a whole fish that was put on my plate (I’m not usually fond of bones and eyeballs) and it was scrumptious.

After the trip we met Fabio and Theresa for dinner on the beach and Fabio ordered “Nido Soup” (birds nest soup). It came in a bowl big enough for at least 4 people so he dished it out and I decided I had to try it. It looked good, it smelt good and it actually tasted good! It reminded me of cream of chicken soup. I saved the research for when I got home and it turns out that you are not actually eating the nest but the saliva of the swallow that built the nest. They harvest the nest, soak it in water (removing the grass, twigs etc.) and then use the water and saliva for the soup. Mmm…delicious…!!!

We were short on time so could only stay at El Nido for 2 nights. If I were to go back I would definitely spend more time there – one full day is not enough.

Next stop: Sabang!

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