If you asked 100 people who had been to the Philippines what the highlight of their trip was, I’d hazard a guess that 95 of them would reply with “El Nido”.
For this reason – coupled with the fact that after a cold, rainy, but awesome few days up in Banaue I was already missing the sun – I couldn’t wait to get myself over to Palawan to see this supposed ‘paradise on earth’ for myself.
As a side note: you may have noticed that I said I was missing the sun – perhaps a bizarre thing for a bloke from the north of England to say considering that we get about a week of sun during a good year! The truth is that over this past year I’ve really acclimatised to the temperatures in Asia to the point where a blistering hot, humid day feels like the norm for me. Sure, I’m still the same, slightly pasty, factor 30 wearing northerner I always was; I just hate the cold that little bit more than I used to. God knows how I’m going to cope when I’m back in England!
Before El Nido however, I decided to have a stop off in Puerto Princesa – the capital of Palawan – for a few reasons.
Firstly, two overnight buses in three nights really took it out of me. Granted, the second bus was made a hell of a lot easier with a sleeping pill, but it still didn’t compensate for a night in a proper bed. Having said that, it could be argued that some nights in ‘proper’ hostel beds weren’t a much better alternative! Get the violins out when you’re ready, people.
It was also at this point that I realised I hadn’t actually had a room to myself since meeting James in Thailand at the end of September. We’d had private rooms at times between the two of us, but I hadn’t actually had my own space to lounge around naked or sit in my pants watching TV for around four months! I guess I could have done this in a dorm, but I’m not sure it’s good hostel etiquette and wouldn’t make me too many friends.
There was also the fact that my beloved Rochdale were on TV at 4am Tuesday morning – something which doesn’t happen too often. I wanted to be in a place with solid WiFi to stream the game, as I’m not sure many bars in Puerto Princesa would fancy showing our spirited, brave but ultimately disappointing (and undeserved) 4-1 defeat against Premiership giants Stoke. Their loss.
Finally, Puerto Princesa was the gateway for visiting the Underground River – one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world’.
Now; just how many ‘wonders of the world’ are there? I mean, really?! It seems that almost every country has at least one landmark that they claim to be a ‘wonder’, so I’m wondering (no pun intended, seriously) just what it takes to actually get the title of a ‘wonder’. It seems that there are quite a few lists – including manmade and natural wonders – and it seems to me that people just make new ones whenever it suits them. Up in Banaue, they actually claim that the rice terraces are the ‘8th wonder of the world’; now that’s just taking the piss!
If it was up to me, however, then the Underground River would lose its ‘wonder’ status (there are too many – it’s a victim of circumstance) as the day itself wasn’t all that great. Yes; the cave itself where the river is housed is mighty impressive and the natural rock structures do look like a lot of things (such as one rock which looks like a face, another that looks like Jesus, and there are loads that resemble food), but the long day of waiting around outweighed the positives of the river. Put it this way: we set off at 6.30am and arrived back at the hotel at around 3pm – the tour of the cave was 45 minutes.
Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the rest of my tour group were Philippino families on holiday, who spent the whole day trying to grasp the fact that I was a solo traveller and kept asking me why I have no friends and where my girlfriend was. Cheers for the esteem booster, guys!
Two nights in Puerto Princesa was enough, and I was feeling suitably refreshed and ready to head on up to El Nido.
I opted for the local Roro Bus – a slower, but cheaper and more spacious option than a cramped minibus likely to be driven by an absolute lunatic who thinks he’s South East Asia’s answer to Lewis Hamilton. In the end, I ended up paying 295 pesos (about £4.50) for a six and a half hour journey on the bus instead of 600 pesos (around £9) for a five hour journey in the minibus. A good decision I feel and as they say at Tesco: every little helps. On the very slight chance that there are any Tesco bigwigs reading this – why wouldn’t they be?! – then I’m open to sponsorship. See my contact page.
As you can see from the image below, the bus journey got off to a great start.
Thankfully, Sleeping Beauty got off about two hours in to the journey and it was all plain sailing (or driving) from then on. I couldn’t figure out whether he got off at his desired stop or whether he slept past it, but I know what I hope happened.
It’s always tough arriving in a place in the dark, so I had prepared a list of hostels that I would try and get accommodation at on arrival – how prepared am I?! There aren’t many shared rooms in El Nido from what I gather and, thanks to the place winning loads of tourism awards over the past few years, cheap accommodation can be fairly hard to come by. My first stop – the Hakuna Matata hostel – was all booked out but they had a spare bed in their extension for 300 pesos which, at this point, I was more than happy to take.
As it happened, the extension wasn’t quite what you’d expect when someone tells you that there’s an extension to their hostel. It was, in fact, a load of beds crammed in to the attic of the owner’s house. Still, can’t complain for the price. We had a small patio area right outside to room to hang around, drink and socialise, whilst the toilet was in very close proximity next to the patio and the dorm itself.
You’ll see why that last point is relevant shortly.
Due to me spending so much time on Bohol, my remaining weeks in the Philippines were something of a rush. To avoid wasting any further time, I booked on to one of El Nido’s famous island hopping tours for 9am the following morning. I’d heard that tours A and C were the best if you had a limited timeframe, so I booked on to tour A with the intention of maybe doing some diving the following day before tour C. In other words; it was the most planning I’d done in months.
The tour itself was pretty decent. The islands around El Nido are truly stunning to look at and the beaches we visited – especially Simizu – were lovely places to hang out. As is standard for any sort of excursion, there were a couple of tourists who hate tourists, who took the opportunity to whine whenever they saw another human face. I took it upon myself to remind them that we were also tourists so can’t really complain and the response of “Yeah…I guess” wasn’t really what I was hoping for. I would have liked more of a rise out of them to be honest, but I think I still got my point across!
The lunch included was delicious too, as we were treated to freshly grilled fish and a selection of meats, salads and fresh fruit. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch? And a bloody good one at that! All in all, a very enjoyable day was had by everyone (apart from you know who!) and we arrived back at El Nido for 5pm with plans for some nice dinner and a few drinks at the reggae bar later that night.
I awoke the next morning with a slightly aching head and an iffy stomach; par for the course after a night on the Tanduay rum. I also remembered that every shop had been closed as I made my way back to the hostel at 2am in the morning, so I was without water. After spending a good half an hour motivating myself to rise, I eventually made it to the shop around the corner to stock up on supplies.
Then something weird happened. The second I gulped down some of the water, I had a strange feeling: it was coming back up, and at pace. I jolted up the stairs like Usain Bolt and made it to the toilet just in time to throw my guts up. Good morning indeed.
I spent about five minutes hugging the toilet bowl before I was confident that there was nothing else to get rid of. I drank some more water, brushed my teeth, and then I realised things were about to get worse; a hell of a lot worse.
Squeamish people: stop reading now. Seriously.
I felt like I broke every land speed record as I jumped out of bed and threw myself on to the toilet, just milliseconds before…well…you know what.
I was on the verge of tears. I had stomach cramps like never before, I was as dehydrated as the Sahara Desert but couldn’t keep anything down, I was breaking out in cold sweats, I had the shakes and I was walking a proverbial tightrope as to which end of my body was going to erupt next. I was a mess.
Safe to say I daren’t leave the dorm – or at least the vicinity of it – all day. I couldn’t risk being more than sprinting distance to a toilet for more than 15 minutes. Bye bye diving. I went for a wander to get a banana shake and some rehydration sachets (the devil’s drink) when I was finally feeling capable of keeping stuff down; even that was cutting it fine and my return journey was considerably faster than my outward one.
As you’re probably all aware – I’m not a doctor. My initial thoughts were that this could have been food poisoning but I ruled that out once I realised that my friends, who had all eaten the same food as me the previous day, were fine. The only other thing I could think of was sunstroke, as I’d essentially spent a working day on a boat in the ocean. I’m a regular applier of suncream, but I’m guessing my factor 30 just wasn’t enough for a shiny bald head like mine on that particular day.
The rest of my roommates came back from their tour at around 6pm and, naturally, spent the next few hours sinking some pre-drinks on the patio. On the other hand, I was still struggling massively. Remember when I said the location of the toilet was relevant? That was a walk of shame to rival any other!
At around 9pm I finally managed to stomach some food and that was my cue for an early night, as I was still rather foolishly hoping to do tour C (which I had been told was, in fact, much better than tour A) on my final day.
Sadly, however, it wasn’t to be as I still wasn’t feeling up to it and so I spent my last day in El Nido lounging around the hostel. I did make it over to the main hostel building though, and managed to go for a walk to the market with a few friends. It wasn’t exactly island hopping, but anything beats lying in a stuffy dorm feeling sorry for yourself!
Before I knew it, I was back on the Roro Bus down to Puerto Princesa and my time in the Philippines was nearing its conclusion. It wasn’t the nicest way to round off an awesome month so I decided to make it a little more positive when I got back to Puerto Princesa; there’s nothing a king sized bed to yourself can’t fix, right?