As you know, travelling to El Nido was no easy ride, but once you get there, your effort certainly reaps reward. El Nido – Spanish for ‘the nest’ – is tucked a moon-shaped bay of the Bacuit archipelago and acts as a nest for travellers wishing to explore the surrounding islands, cliffs and coral reefs.
Island-Hopping is the headlining activity with tour companies left, right and centre, allied with hotels, cafes and even the odd tricycle driver. There are 4 tours on offer, adventurously named Tours A, B, C and D, where A is the cheapest at PHP 700 per person and each one taking a PHP 100 step-up.
Most of the day is spent bouncing along the waves on a banca boat toward five stops, which range from rocky inlets, and azure lagoons where you have to swim through small crevices in the rock, to white sand beaches and snorkelling locations. There’s also a midday stop where the boatmen grill fresh fish, or in the case of us vegetarians, some very plump aubergines with salsa.
If you’re fit enough – which the Nicholsons are, and I sadly am not – you can rent a kayak and paddle your way to a nearby island. Fortunately for me I had Luke in the back of my kayak to make sure we got somewhere. Unfortunately for me, he also dropped his lifejacket in the ocean, which some boatmen frantically pointed out to us as we obliviously paddled further and further away from it.
I have nothing much to say about scuba-diving as the thought of being deep under the water with a tank of air strapped to my bag and being told not to panic, would only make me panic. Luke, his dad and his brothers, however, went off with some Rasta man to Miniloc Island and returned with awesome stories of a sea turtle and eels. Julia and I opted for a massage along Corong-Corong beach instead.
If you’ve read the Lonely Planet, like I of course had, or in fact just spoken to anyone, you will know not to visit the hot spring. Described as a “boiling pit of mud,” the hot spring was exactly that. Once you venture through treacherous bogs of sinking mud for around ten minutes, you reach an absolutely scalding stream of water which burns your toes through your shoes. As Luke marched ahead, I, in all my feminine grace, lost my leg in a mud pit and was thankful to have been rescued by our guide and tricycle-driver, Anghel.
Anghel agreed to take us all on a day-trip trekking to the waterfall, and with a knowing silence also led us to the hot spring as requested. The waterfall is a 30-minute tricycle drive and 45-minute trek through the forest, across seven or so small rivers. As unprepared as everyone else in my sunshine yellow trainers rather than flip-flops, I luckily had Luke to piggy-back me across on the way there. After getting sweaty in morning sunshine, the cold water pool at the base of the waterfall was ideal.
On the return route, we reached the clearing where the sparse trees lead past a sleeping carabow and onto the road. Our guides frantically stopped us and began looping round along a precarious alternative route that involved crossing the river along a few bamboo sticks leaning between trees. “Why?” we asked. “There’s a drunk man with a knife over that way,” he said motioning toward our original route. “Ohh.” Unfortunately, it turned out that this makeshift bridge was only marginally less dangerous than the knifeman, as while our lean Fillipino guides crossed without problem, Luke’s somewhat sturdier family proved to be more weight than the bridge could handle…
In the afternoon, we went along to Nacpan beach, where I saw a cow on the sand and a coconut fell from a tree we were sitting next to and smacked the ground like a meteor. During the typhoon that hit the island in our first few days there, a Filipino had drowned at this beach when the strong waves pulled him out to sea. They still hadn’t found the body, and I couldn’t help but think that every buko, sucked dry of juice and browning, bouncing along the waves side-by-side with our banca tour boat was the unfortunate man’s skull.
On the way back from the beach, Anghel told us he left school at 13 because in the Philippines you only go to school for as long as your parents can afford it. After that he started driving tricycles for a living, and now he’s 30 years old. He had left his tricycle parked under a tree next to the village. It was a tarnished and dark green, adorned inside with sketchy hand-painted capitalised Bob Marley lyrics – NO WOMAN NO CRY. When we returned, the tricycle had been overrun by local kids who stared wide-eyed at Anghel with his sunglasses and rattail hair as though he was the coolest man they’d ever seen. He was pretty cool.
Back in town, by evening, live music plays from various cafes, dens and bars along the streets and beachfront. The Pukka Bar plays some pretty sweet reggae music and the Art Café had good acoustics going down. Shisha and frozen coffee at Habibis also made for a more laid-back night out. Home-made flavoured rum, from cinnamon and spices to orange and banana, at the French restaurant made for a slightly more expensive evening.
June – November is the Philippines’ rainy season, so to be sure of at least some good weather leave enough time for there to be 2 days of rain storms. It happened to us, but luckily we had 8 whole days on the island. Friends we know who went only for 3 days left pretty disappointed.