14th-19th January, 2015
El Nido, with its dramatic landscape of limestone mountains and white sand beaches, is the top tourist destination in Palawan. When we reached there we were greeted by the usual signs of a popular beach experiencing growing pains – inflated prices, cluttered streets, white people outnumbering Asian – but I had already guessed that it was going to be like this so I was mentally prepared. Jody, James, Chloe and I got ourselves a family room (it was one of the cheaper options in town but yet it still cut a bit more into our budgets than we would have liked) and then booked ourselves for ‘Tour A’, to see some sights in the archipelago offshore the next day.
Our first stop was at a small cove on an island 30 minutes away, where we were told we needed to jump off the boat and swim through a gap between the limestone karsts.
Have I mentioned yet that my new travel buddies own a Go Pro? Well they do. So, for the next couple of months, while I am travelling with them, you will also be able to see photos of the more watery places I venture to.
James and I swam on ahead and reached a lagoon.
In fact, we were taken to many lagoons that day, and a few beaches, most of which were very beautiful. ‘Secret Lagoon’ could do with being renamed though, as you have to queue to get into it these days. El Nido really does have some fantastic scenery but the way that dozens of people are carted around just a handful of famous locations, on these pre-made tours, makes it a little soulless.
We figured out that it is not too hard to get away from all the hustle and bustle though: the next day we hired out a pair of kayaks because we fancied a bit of freedom.
We rowed out to a really beautiful island which had a nice beach, calm waters, and better snorkelling than any of the places we were taken to the previous day, and the only other people we saw were a few fishermen and one couple (who also happened to be on kayaks). It was a really lovely way to finish off our time in El Nido but, on our way back, our kayaks were unfortunately turned over by a sudden wave. As soon as I pulled myself back up to the surface, I began scrambling to collect items and managed to recover Jody’s wallet, bottles of water, the oars, and a few other things, but I lost my snorkel and sandals to the tide.
We caught a bus back down to Puerto Princesa the following morning and our time there began with a trip to Palawan Butterfly Garden, whose friendly staff were keen to show us around the place. I found their collection of cocoons, which had several species of butterflies in the process of hatching, particularly interesting.
It wasn’t just home to butterflies either, but also scorpions, reptiles, stick insects, and even a pair of rescued Palawan bearcats which had been orphaned by poachers. After we were done admiring all the various creatures and taking photos we were coaxed into the nearby Tribal Village.
When I first saw the ‘village’ – where a few men clad in loincloths were waiting to begin the ‘show’ – I did worry that it was going to be a bit false and tacky, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. They were Palawano tribesmen from the southern mountains, and they gave us a demonstration on some of their customs; how they hunt with spears and blow-darts, spark fires by striking two stones together, and one of them even played a traditional guitar-like instrument with only two strings. They didn’t speak any English, so a Filipino translator narrated, and she told us how these tribesmen are volunteers who stay in this village for two weeks at a time, on a rotation scheme, and the money generated by it goes towards several programs to help keep their way of life thriving in the modern world.
In the afternoon we went for a wander around the town, soaking up the atmosphere as we strolled through the local market, along the waterfront, and past the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where hundreds of people had come to watch live footage of the Pope – who was at the time in Manila – give a speech.
I then finished off the day with a sunset beer on the rooftop balcony of the guest house we were staying at.
In the morning I made a quick trip to the Palawan Heritage Centre – a museum which is filled with lots of interesting information on Palawan’s culture, fauna, and history, but does not seem to get as many visitors as it deserves – just before we caught a tricycle to the airport to fly to Cebu.
For the next few weeks of our journey, we will be travelling across The Visayas.
For more photos from El Nido and Puerto Princesa, check out my Flickr account. Some of the photos from this blog were kindly donated to me by James, who not only owns a GoPro, but also a DSLR. He is a very talented photographer, and his website, James Robert Eldridge Photography, is worth a browse if you want to see some more professional snaps from Asia.