El Nido

Paradise islands
El Nido, Philippines

 


A day on a boat.

I’m sailing South, to El Nido on the M/Bca Jessabel.

One boat makes the 8 hour journey each day between Coron and El Nido. They are on a rota of 3 different boats. I didn’t know the difference between them all – they all look the same and I needed to go on Saturday and the Jessabel is the Saturday boat.

After a quick google, I found that this boat almost sunk 3 years ago. Wonderful. But there is no other option to get to El Nido unless I fly back to Manila, then fly to Puerto Princessa, then get a 6 hour bus. Hmmm.

I couldn’t sleep, so left a bit early to head to the boat – better to be early than late! I caught a tuk tuk-style motorbike taxi to the ferry port. My ticket said to be there for 8.30am, but when do these things ever leave on time. I arrived about 8am to an empty waiting room. Just about to make myself comfy for a long wait and a man shouts ‘El Nido miss, this way’.

Must be boarding early!

When I arrive at the boat, it’s full! I’m late.

So I squeezed myself in at the tourist end of the boat – there’s very much a local/tourist divide! The boat is a large version of a Bangka. The inside seating area is two long wooden benches facing inwards and a small sundeck on top, which has been used for luggage. Lucky I didn’t arrive for 8.30am. We left at 8.20am! Annoying – I was told the wrong time. So it was lucky I didn’t miss the boat.

There is only one per day – and it’s very expensive at 1,800 pesos (£30).

We sailed out past Coron, into the bay, then out away from the islands into more open water. After about 4 hours of sailing I thought we must be making quite good time, we seemed to be going along fairly quickly. That’s when they started to open up the floor beneath our feet – where the engine is. And we ground to a halt. Wonderful.

1.1363996800.el-nido-bay

After about 15 minutes of tinkering around (and all the Philippinos gathering around to try and have a look in….bit odd and a total hinderance) we finally got going again.

We were given lunch on the boat – a little polystyrene container of rice and oily vegetables. Lucky I brought supplies.

1.1363996800.inside-the-boat-to-el-nido

The next few hours passed in the same uncomfortable boredom. Moving from wooden bench to wooden outside deck, back to wooden bench. The scenery was unchanging; rocky islands, deserted beaches and the blue ocean.

But as we approached El Nido, the rocky islands started to become taller and taller – the huge towering limestone karsts that El Nido is famous for. I was surprised when we arrived just after 3pm. Only 6.5 hours.

The guesthouse that I’m staying at was just a short walk from the port. Right on the beach. An amazing view out into the bangka-boat covered bay. El Nido looks amazing. Scattered islands, towering limestone karsts and beautiful beaches with outrigger boats sailing around. It’s quite expensive to stay here, so I’ve cut my stay down slightly, which is a shame.

I went for a wander around the small town. The beach is lined with hotels and bars. I was hoping to be able to hang out on the beach, so was very disappointed to find out that its not possible to swim in the sea at the moment – it’s full of green, slimy algae. Even if that wasn’t there, the water is so full of boats, there isn’t really anywhere to swim!

Away from the beach are some convenience shops (but so expensive!!!) and more guesthouses. Also a huge church.

I’m quite the fan of sunsets. El Nido is supposed to have amazing sunsets, but today was a bit disappointing. I watched from my balcony. But it was too cloudy.

Sunday 24 March 2013

I’m going island hopping, out for a day on a bangka boat. In total contrast to island hopping in Thailand – where the beaches cannot even be seen past the crowded thousands of people, the beaches here are deserted in comparison.

Paradise.

El Nido is part of the Bacuit Archipelago. A collection of 45 rocky islands scattered around a large bay. Today I’m just visiting a small selection. For tour purposes the bay has been split into four different sections, with the very original names of A, B, C and D.

I’m starting at the beginning with tour A.

My group was a bit disappointing. The token old man with a filipino girlfriend younger than me, a Filipino family that didn’t get off the boat all day long (not even for lunch) a couple of older people and just 2 other girls the same age as me.

We left very promptly at 9.15am (rather unusual!) and began sailing across the crystal clear waters towards Miniloc Island. As we sailed around the rocks into a small inlet, we were met with about 20 other bangkas. Busy.

So we had to park a long way from our first stop – Small lagoon. (so had to swim a long way past boats to get to the entrance!) To reach the lagoon, you must swim through a small gap in the rocks, which opens out into the lagoon.

It was really pretty – bright emerald water totally surrounded by towering rocks, covered in trailing plants. There isn’t really anywhere to sit or rest, so you just float around, occasionally being hit over the head with an oar by Chinese people unable to use a kayak.

Next stop, Shimizu beach. This was really pretty and almost deserted. After a spot of swimming (we were told to go snorkelling, but the reef was just dead!) it was an early lunchtime.

Lunch was amazing – rice, grilled fish, squid, mangos and watermelon.

Secret lagoon was once a cave, but the top fell down, leaving a small enclosed pool. Getting in was a bit difficult – we had to climb over wet, slippery rocks. The water in the lagoon was a weird milky colour. The entrance to the lagoon was really rocky. I didn’t have any shoes with me, so my feet were sore and I kept falling over! The beach next to the lagoon was nice – a curved bay.

We stopped off at a reef for some snorkelling. But again, a pretty much dead reef with no fish. But there was a really cool massive jellyfish. Not very exciting.

To get to the Big lagoon, the boat parked at an entrance point and we waded our way down a wide gap (big enough to fit 2 bangkas side by side) between the towering rocks. The view both ways was lovely – towards the lagoon, the water turned from sand coloured, to deep blue as the path gave way to the deeper water. But looking back towards the entrance was equally impressive – the islands in the background between the cliff sides.

1.1363996800.view-towards-big-lagoon

Our final stop, Seven commandos beach. This was named after the 7 remaining Japanese commandos who lived in the island after World War II. The water was really pretty. But for some reason all the area beyond the sand was fenced off. Leaving absolutely zero shade. It’s been a long day of sun already and I really don’t need any more!

So after a quick wander along the beach, had to enjoy the view from the shade of the boat.

The clouds have been gathering in the sky all afternoon, threatening to ruin the day. Just as we pulled back into shore at El Nido town, it started to pour with rain. Well at least it was well timed! After just an hour of heavy rain, it stopped, but left all the clouds behind. So no chance of a sunset tonight then.

The most popular shop in El Nido – Midtown bakery. Always a queue of people pushing to get hold of the just-out-of-the-oven bread rolls. The man is bringing out freshly baked rolls every couple of minutes, but can’t keep up with demand! They sell several shapes, but its all of a pandesal style. From the outside, it looks just like an ordinary bread roll. And that’s what I thought. Until you taste it – it tastes so good! It’s sweet, soft and I find myself buying more and more and eating them hot straight from the oven.

The plain ones are amazing. But my favourite – pan de coco. A small flat, round bread bun filled with shredded coconut. Best of all, they are cheap. And pretty much the only thing I can afford to eat in expensive El Nido.

And once again having a battle with a mouse. Yesterday, I thought I was just imaging things when I saw something run across my bed. Then later in the evening, running across my bag and then inside. I chose to ignore it. But today, I heard things crunching in my bag – noodles exploded everywhere and covered in bite marks. Then I saw it, the mouse, on my bed. But it disappeared as quickly as it came. Until I saw it again, running across the pillow towards me! Screaming and running away scared it and it went running off down the side of the bed.

Later on in the evening, it still wouldn’t leave me alone and was running around in the bathroom. That’s two consecutive places I’ve had mouse/rat problems. But also the last of the noodles (that I’ve been carrying around for a month without incident) so hopefully no more mice!

Monday 25 February 2013

I woke to the mouse rummaging around in the bin. Oh go away. Off on another day of island hopping. Could get used to this life again!

Out on another bangka. First stop was at helicopter island – named so because it apparently looks like a helicopter from a distance, well….!

1.1363996800.does-this-look-like-a-helicopter

We were the only ones there for a while, a lovely white sand beach, tall rocks on one side and trailing sand leading around the other corner. The reef was really pretty. But again, no fish. The beach was really pretty. It was quite a long boat ride up to Matinloc Island.

We were dropped in the middle of a load of jellyfish for some snorkelling along a wall. There were a couple of tiny, tiny turtles, but nothing else too exciting. I viewed from the boat instead – much prettier!! On the island there is a small shrine for the Virgin Mary! We stopped for lunch further down the island at Star beach.

Again, we timed our visit well as everyone was leaving just as we arrived. Some more snorkelling (I really dislike!) just off the beach, saw a little squid. This small beach is enclosed by towering rocks – everywhere is just so pretty. And lunch was really good. Just around the corner was Secret beach. To get to the beach, you have to swim through a small opening in the rocks. The small beach is totally enclosed by the rocks and apparently used to be a small cave until the roof collapsed. Under the water was cool – lots of little caves leading off from the main path through.

Lots of people were walking across the underwater rocks to get to the beach – not sure I would fancy doing that, I spotted a couple of scorpionfish sitting on the rocks (they sting). Next up – Hidden beach. This one was just around a corner of rocks. Again. More beach. More rocks. More water. Same same.

We were running a bit early, so on the way back we stopped off at an additional non-scheduled beach – nut nut beach.

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This was actually my favourite from the last couple of days. It was more rustic and jungle-y, with palms hanging over the sand and loads of nut trees! The beach is privately owned by a resort, but apart from the little one-man hut, we were the only ones there. We arrived back about 5pm. Long day!

Back off to the bakery – and they had a freshly baked batch of the coconut rolls, brilliant! The weather was a lot nicer today – only a few clouds scattered in the sky. So I was hoping for a good sunset. But I didn’t choose a very good spot, I was too far along the bay. Oh well.

The pink sky was still nice. Since coming back I haven’t heard from, or seen the mouse. So just when I thought I had got rid of him, back he is! But this time, he wasn’t so clever. Right into the plastic bag by the door. And plastic bag goes out of the door. Bye bye Mr mouse friend. I was feeling a bit sad about losing my mouse. (He was perfectly alive and unharmed, just outside and not in my room) He has kept me entertained for 2 days. But what’s that running along the floor?! ANOTHER one! For gods sake. So we played the same games, chasing across the bed, around the bathroom…..

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