After two months without a post one might be thinking, “Gosh, she’s having a terrific time in the Philippines,” or possibly, “I wonder if she’s still alive… oh well, not much I can do about that. Just have to wait and see.”
I am not in the Philippines, I am back home in lovely, sprawling, slightly browny yellow sky, Los Angeles.
But I can’t leave an eight month round the world trip hanging like that, “Oh yeah, I was in the Philippines and then I did some stuff, and then some more stuff and then I came home.” People who tell stories like that have no soul. True story.
So let’s back track to where I left off: making my way to El Nido.
It’s a five to six hour journey from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Most Western tourists take a direct van ride rather than the bus because there’s stacks of them going all day long as opposed to the twice daily bus, and they’re air conditioned. The bus is around $5, and the van is anything from $9 – $15 depending on the person who books it. The ride up is beautiful, try not to fall asleep or you’ll miss the dense jungle foliage, the dramatic mountain tops, and the panoramic views of bays with water so blue it melts into the sky.
Arriving in El Nido you get dropped off at a bus terminal which is actually 2 km out of town, which seems an odd place to have a bus terminal, until you actually get to the town proper and see for yourself there’s no way you could squeeze in a busy station amongst the handful of narrow streets packed with guest houses, restaurants, tour operators, tiny shops, and less than a dozen municipal buildings that constitute the entirety of El Nido.
You can take a tricycle into town, or you can stroll along the rutted road dragging your, now very grubby looking, wheelie duffle bag, and stopping to ask rates and availability at every guest house along the way, including the ones which look way too nice for your budget because you never know …
After trying out a series of way too nice places, I found a dark shop, crammed to the rafters with slightly rotting food and cleaning goods, the fruit at the front hosting a rave for the local neighbourhood flies. It advertised rooms to rent, this looked a little more wallet friendly and with my spectacular bargaining skills – “You said it would be 500, not 700, I can’t afford that! Oh alright, 600.” – I found myself a comfy double bed, and en suite bathroom complete with non-flushing toilet and waterless shower. It’s all the rage here, to have a plumbed in bathroom but only have a trickle of water coming from the sink and then a tap low down on the wall to fill up a bucket so that you can then scoop the water from the bucket into the toilet, or over your body. Dousing yourself with a small container of water every five seconds is a refreshing method of bathing in the Philippines , as hot water is considered a namby pamby luxury commodity.
The bay at El Nido is quite stunning, a classic sweeping curve of sand overlooking several verdant islands rising sharply from the water. It is however, a resort, so the beach front is a crowded jumble of restaurants and bars, and it’s not particularly easy to swim in the bay since it is a natural harbour in constant use for the hundred or so small boats – and their anchor lines – that take holiday makers out on tours.
That’s what people do when they visit El Nido, they go on day trips. The Philippines has a socialist aspect to tourism, in that, despite there being dozens of tour operators, they all offer the same four island hopping tours, A, B, C, D, and they all charge the same price. It’s rather nice if you’re aware of the situation because you don’t have to shop around, or worry that you’re getting ripped off. Somebody at some point has declared that tours A and C are the best ones so most people will do just those two, visiting a series of lagoons, undeveloped beaches, and some pretty fair snorkelling spots. If you’ve got a few extra days, then you can make some trips to more deserted beaches and more crystal clear water further North, or get a guide to take you to the nearby waterfalls. Other than that you eat, and drink rum. Sounds hideous, doesn’t it? Just to round out the awfulness, take an evening stroll to the nearest hamlet, Corong Corong. It’s a twenty minute walk that will reward you with a quieter beach, soft strains of gentle mood music floating across the bay, and a sky so crowded with stars that there is no empty space between them.