For your convenience ma'am there is now an ATM four hours drive away in Roxas
01.06.2010 - 01.06.2010 35 °C
EPIC! This is the first word that springs to mind when I think back to El Nido. Some of the best scenery you will see anywhere, towering limestone cliffs, hidden beaches, turquoise lagoons, and the warmest people you will find anywhere. So the mystery then is why El Nido, and Palawan Island in general, is often overlooked as a destination and why the hell there were so few tourists? Hmmmmmmmm, well firstly I must admit it was rather annoying that I was coming in from Kota Kinabalu on Borneo, which is only tens of miles across the sea next to Palawan Island, but there is no easy direct way to get there. Instead I had to fly to Manila, the capital of Philippines, then fly out the next day to Puerta Princesa city on Palawan Island, then a bra-popping 7 hour bus journey to El Nido in the far North of Palawan (I will come back to this gem of a bus journey a bit later!) The lack of direct route did give me a fun stopover in Manila on the way through though and a memorable introduction to the Philippines!
I very quickly realised when I arrived in Manila that for the next three weeks I will need to get used to being called ‘maaaaaaammmm’. The people in Philippines are just so sweet, warm and polite. The level of service superb, nothing is too much bother. I also quickly realised that the big big thing in Philippines is KARAOKE, known here as ‘Videoke’ which I am pretty sure is the same thing. I was pretty tired on my arrival, after flight from Borneo then three hour transfer to my hotel from the budget airport just outside manila (I did weirdly meet a guy on the bus transfer originally from Herne bay, about 15 minute drive from my home!! He was the only other Westerner on the bus too, what are the chances?!) My idea of a quiet dinner at the hotel and a chance to check email was shattered by incessant but very funny wailing of love song ‘classics’ by the waiters. Oh let me see, we had ‘How am I supposed to live without you’ several times ‘I believe I can fly’ et al. Just my kind of music right? Anyway, the chef came out and started singing and he was actually quite good but I got the giggles! ‘Why you laugh ma'am? I sing you a love song, what can i sing for you?’ Soooo this was my big chance, but he seemed most unhappy when I suggested Guns n Roses, The Doors and metallica. He wasn’t best pleased atall as he ‘wanted to sing me a love song’ but he still taught me a little Tagalog (the local language) and it was all fine phew!
Next morning I had a breakfast meet with Nalie who had kindly arranged the hotel for me and works in an office near to the hotel. It was wonderful to chat to Nalie about life in Manila, and about the time she spent studying in London. Thanks Nalie and sorry for making you late for work (we got a little carried away, talking about men of course, and our ‘breakfast’ lasted a good couple of hours!) This was all I had time for before heading off for a 1 hour flight to Palawan Island and another overnight stopover at Puerta Princesa city, a chance to shop for some supplies. Are you getting the picture yet that this was a bit of an adventure in itself getting to El Nido? So, the very best part of this was the actual bus journey from Puerta Princesa to El Nido. I had been pre-warned about this and for the first few hours really wondered what all the fuss was about. Well, OK it didn’t help that I was squeezed in next to a giant of a man, at least 7 foot tall, and most of that was his legs. He had the tiniest Filipino wife who practically sat on his lap, but this still only partially made up for the space issue! Some clue of the road ahead came from a scheduled ‘lunch stop’ where some air from the tyres was strategically removed. Then what followed for the next few hours was a bladder jostling, boob jiggling roller coaster ride into El Nido. So, there was construction works on much of this road and they are supposed to be ‘improving’ the roads but apparently the money keeps running out and they have been working on these roads for YEARS! The way I see this is like insurance, stopping the masses from getting to El Nido and spoiling it, as let me tell you, and I am sure I have said this about one or two other places on my travels but this place really rocks. The other piece to the insurance thing is the lack of electricity, only for certain hours of the day. The rest of the time, you can forget about having even a fan to cool off in the intense heat, there is nothing. Not really recommended for the faint hearted. Neither really was the cheap ‘shack on the beach’ that I bagged for my fist couple of days in El Nido. Rustic charm, great sea view, and even a mezzanine level (my own tree house!) but a hole in the floor plus bucket for the loo, mice, HUGE cockroaches and armies of ants. Free wifi though, this is important, even though could only use this when there was electricity.
Anyway, i was expecting my travelbuddy Christian to arrive from his adventures in Indonesia so went on the hunt for some decent digs that wouldn’t offend him. I found Rudy’s place, (View Deck Cottages) a few bungalows up in the cliffs and it was pretty amazing. The steep, sweaty hike up the cliff to the bungalows, that required head torches at night, was well worth it for the inspirational views of El Nido bay and, the best thing, a tasty breakfast brought every morning to our own balconies. The arrival of Christian at least doubled my alcohol intake in an instant, he was a terrible influence. It was great to share a bottle of wine though (something that was difficult to come by in Malaysia) and subject him to my music up in the cliffs of El Nido. I was also to spend the next 10 days or so we travelled together mostly laughing hysterically. We shared a love for irony that seems to go exceptionally well with travelling together. We had to keep remembering to ‘deposit out firearms’ when we went anywhere and the signage indicating the ‘new opening of a convenient ATM that is only 4 hours drive away’ tickled us just a little! Yet another insurance detail you see to prevent the mass tourism, no ATMs here oh no, remember to bring all the spending money you need..
The main reason for making this big effort to get to El Nido was the Bacuit archipelago, a collection of mostly uninhabited islands and limestone cliffs, bloody amazing scenery, located just off the shore of El Nido town. The El Nido bacuits are touted as ‘Halong bay eat your heart out’and are formed from the same Eurasian land plate. I will reserve judgement for when I get to Vietnam and see Halong bay in the flesh... We spent two whole days island hopping the bacuits with the same great group of people, Dong and Tom from China, and Tracey and James from Shanghai (originally from Scotland!). We swam to hidden beaches, kayaked through limestone tunnels and hidden lagoons, snorkelled with turtles and Nemos, had barbeque lunches on the beach. Generally had the best of times with fantastic company and surely some of the most amazing scenery on this planet. After-tour mango shakes, happy hour cocktails and wifi at the Art cafe (our favoured haunt), dinners on the beach, and 20 Peso (30 British pennies) joyrides in trikes to avoid the scary dogs that waited for us on the way home, completed the experience nicely. I accept that we came to El Nido right at the end of the high season so may have been quieter than usual but really, this place is so underrated and special. Even locals that we met elsewhere in Palawan didn’t realise it was so beautiful there when we showed them our pics!