The road to El Nido

November 27, 2011 § 6 Comments

After leaving a rainy Manila, we were relieved to have been welcomed by a sunny Puerto Prinsesa. My mom couldn’t take the trip with me so we were to temporarily part ways at the airport. She took her van to Hotel Centro after making sure I was all comfortable in the van to El Nido. (I’m 23 mom, but thank you).  I chose the seat beside the driver, so I was expecting a smooth and nice ride until I realized that I would be sitting through 5 hours of 97.1 Barangay LS blaring on the speakers. Add that to the driver’s (who looked a lot like Ramon Bautista) addiction to honking his horn at every opportunity. He even used it on the goats, who funnily kept their calm and stared as he maniacly maneuvered to avoid them. The trip by van to El Nido takes about 5 to 7 hours. The van costs 700 but when I go back here, I’m taking the more exciting non-aircon bus which costs only half of that but takes almost 10 hours. All the Europeans take that option. The trip is scenic, with only the virgin forests sprawling below the blue sky as the view for the most part. Simple towns appear after long intervals, and children walking to school greeted us on the road. My cellphone signal appeared and disappeared with the towns as well, causing my parents to pester the dispatcher, as I found out upon reaching El Nido. “Monitor na monitor ka ng magulang mo e, tanong nang tanong kung asan na kaya yun van”, kuya Dong said when I finally met him. Apparently, Smart is stronger in Palawan and I was not entirely out of my parents’ radar. After the town of Taytay, the paved road turns into a rocky, dirt road. We bump along this path for another hour, and by 5pm, I had finally reached El Nido. I stayed at Entalula Beach Resort, which fronted the beach. My cottage was directly in front of the beach as well.  Upon arriving, I packed out my things and decided to take a stroll in town so as not to feel so bad about wasting almost an entire day just for the travel itself. I thought about going to a bar or something since it sounded like a better idea than eating dinner by myself. Unfortunately, after checking out the few bars there, there were either only couples or no one. I saw an interestingly named one, the Lonesome Carabao, and there was literally no one in there. I’d totally feel like a lonesome carabao if I stayed there (how aptly named)! So in the end, I bought myself 2 pieces of barbecue and a liter of water, went back to my room and continued reading Beijing Coma. My only consolation to that lonely night was that I could roll along the entire king-size bed and hog all the pillows as the rhythmic sound of the waves lulled me to sleep.

The next day came early enough. I woke up around 6am because my mother wanted me to buy black rice from the market. I asked the resort owner how to walk to the market and she advised me to take a tricycle instead because according to her it would be a 30minute walk. I took a tricycle then and went down the Tabuan market. Wednesday was market day, so I was expecting a full market. Upon inspecting the produce, I realized I was too early. (7am and I’m still too early X_X). The other jeepneys from the mountain plantations had not arrived yet and most of the vegetables there weren’t fresh anymore since they came from Manila. I also couldn’t find a stall selling black rice so I decided to go back into town and look for one there and be back in the resort in time for the tour. I decided to walk back since I was still early for the tour and you don’t get to walk along a place as idyllic as this everyday.  The town was located right beside the limestone formations El Nido is known for.  There wasn’t anything too fancy around, except that I noticed a surplus of massage parlors.  That was good enough since it meant the place wasn’t heavily commercialized yet.  It turns out, the market was just a 10 minute walk from the resort, and I managed to buy some black rice on the way.  Upon returning, I prepared my things for the boat tour and wished I wouldn’t be stuck in a company of foreign honeymooners. Luckily, my wish was granted and I was with an American couple and a Chinese mom and daughter.  They were all friendly enough, but I preferred to engage in conversation with the Chinese party more since the American couple was of course…a couple.  They had their own thing going on.  Apple (Wu Jieping) and her Mom were from Shenzen so they spoke Cantonese.  Mom couldn’t speak nor understand English, so Jieping was our translator.  Jieping had this foot injury that she got 2 days before their trip so she had to cancel her diving plans since she wasn’t supposed to get her wound wet.  We took Tour A (ill-advised again by the resort owner.  she told me Tour A (Miniloc Area) was the best for snorkeling…tour C naman pala!)  Half-way across the sea, a heavy downpour suddenly started.  I almost lost hope of being able to take decent pictures, but Wu Jieping was right that the rain wouldn’t follow us because she was lucky.  Upon reaching the lagoon, the sun reappeared and the rain miraculously stopped!  Small Lagoon was okay, there was a snorkel area and a couple of small fishes, but the lagoon itself (which you had to enter through a narrow passage) was interestingly a sand bed.  The water in the lagoon was warm, and I asked our guide, Kuya Junel, why it was so.  He told me, “ma’am, madaming ihi kasi dito”.  I’m sure he was joking, but I wasn’t interested in the sand anyway so I decided to go out again and snorkel around while waiting for the others.  After that, we went to Secret Lagoon, which reminded me of a scene in the Pirates of the Carribean.  It was called secret since you had to enter this small hole to get it.  At this point, Wu Jieping decided to try and get down from the boat to see it.  We strapped a life vest around her leg and I swear it was a struggle to get her to the hole across the knee-deep water without getting her leg wet.  Thankfully, she made it (and back too! haha).  By this time, I was already starving since I just ate an orange for breakfast and luckily, lunch at a beach was next!  I forgot the name of the beach, but Kuya Junel said it was named after 2 Japanese divers who died while exploring an underground cave chamber.  All of the tour groups seemed to have stopped at that beach for lunch since there were a lot of boats docked there.  This was the time I had to thank my lucky stars that Jieping and her mom were there or I would have had to eat lunch by myself while watching all the smooching foreign couples smooching in the water and in the sand.  So I survived lunch and the next stop was Big Lagoon.  Big Lagoon was better for snorkeling and kayaking, although it was totally nothing compared to Apo Island.  I pointed a sea anemone with 2 clown fishes defending it to Chinese mom (I couldn’t for the life of me understand what her name was…I made Jieping repeat it 4 times) and after that I think we suddenly made some maternal bond because she started talking to me in Chinese with hand signals but I couldn’t understand her most of the time.  It was fun trying to decipher what her message was though, and I tried to reply with a lot of smiles and head nodding.  After surveying the area twice, I tried to look for sun dollars to take home, but finally decided against it since I wasn’t sure if what I was picking was dead or alive.  When we got back the boat, Chinese mom was showing Jieping a hard coral she got and she was perplexed why it had mucus with it.  Kuya Junel told her it was still alive, so she nicely handed it to Kuya Junel for him to put back.  The last stop for the tour was the 7 commando beach.  It was extremely hot by then, and there was a store in that island that sold buko juice for P30 a buko.  We drink buko juice every weekend and I wasn’t really up to walking along the shore by my lonesome self (I tried not to be too clingy with Jieping and her mom since this was their bonding vacation after all) so I asked Kuya Junel where I could snorkel.  He pointed me to the area beyond the boats and I told him “ay kuya, ayoko dyan, baka madaanan ako nung mga bangka”.  So he told me he’d accompany me and I gladly consented! haha. We ventured pretty far from the shore and I was proud of myself that I didn’t let my shark phobia act up.  The waves were quite strong that time, but it was all worth it since we spotted a pawikan!! Finally, at least something worth the tan.  I swam back the boat dead tired, a month of not exercising and I’m tired as a dog after 20 minutes of swimming.  We got back to the town around 4 in the afternoon.  After fixing up and taking a bath, I decided to go out and buy water and something to eat for dinner again.  However, Jieping called me and asked me to eat dinner with them and I happily obliged (I hate eating alone)!  I asked one of the resort attendants where we could eat good seafood and he pointed us to a restaurant at the far end of the beach (I forgot the name…haha).   I did the ordering for them and we ended up ordering too much (because Chinese mom said we should order at least 4 dishes).  They wanted steamed fish, but unfortunately, they either grilled or fried the fish.  I tried to explain to them that it was more common to grill fish here in the Philippines, and steamed fish dishes are usually eaten in Chinese restaurants.  We had a really filling dinner, and we managed to talk about a lot of things, even if Chinese mom and I couldn’t understand each other. haha.  It’s always nice to make friends with complete strangers and feel as if you’ve known them for so long.  I got another invitation to China woohoo! (and I got free dinner too)  I packed my things upon getting home since I would be going back to Puerto Prinsesa the next day.  I left my straw hat and a note to Jieping before I went to the terminal.  I hope I’ll see them again in this lifetime! :)

The trip back to Puerto was faster, we left El Nido 7:30am and I was at Hotel Centro by 1:00pm.  I only ate cashew nuts for lunch on the stop over, and it turned out to be a bad choice because I had developed a stomachache upon reaching the hotel.  Our room smelled like danggit because my mom bought a lot of it from the market the other day.  We ate at Kahlui’s that night and after some prodding, my mom finally consented for us to go to Kinabuch’s Bar and Grill for me to eat tamilok (because it was the only restaurant in Puerto Prinsesa that serves tamilok).  I had to eat the entire plate of raw worms by myself because my mom didn’t want any of it.  It tasted like oyster, and I think they also consider it an aphrodisiac becase RJ Ledesma once raved about it.  haha.  Anyway, it was counter-aphrodisiac if you ask me because I got a stomachache again from eating it!

The next day, we went on a tour to the Underground River.  The last time we went there was about 15 years ago, and all I could remember was the zebra fish near the cave entrance and a Lion King rock formation.  We left the hotel 6:00am so my mom had her breakfast packed.  The van ride was 2 hours to Sabtang, and we stopped in a carinderia on the way where the tour guide and the driver ate breakfast.  When my mom started to eat her breakfast, she suddenly took notice of the sinangag rice and tuyo that the carinderia was selling, and decided to trade in her breakfast for it.  The nice store owner agreed and even gave her some extra bananas.  Upon reaching Sabtang, we had to take a 30 minute boat ride.  While waiting for the boat, I saw a stall selling freshly caught salmon for P90 a kilo!! It was so frustrating we couldn’t buy it then because we still had the whole day on the tour and we didn’t have ice or anything to preserve the fish.  After several minutes, the boat finally arrived and we finally got in.  An alternative to the boat ride is trekking the Jungle Trail for about 5 hours (I want to try this next time haha).  The waves were strong again that day so the boat ride got me a bit dizzy.  Upon disembarking the boats, we had to walk a short distance in the Monkey Trail and finally take another paddled boat into the cave itself.  I applied insect repellant twice before going in, but I emerged from the cave with 10 insect bites as souvenir.  I have to admit that caves don’t really pique my interest.  There were a lot of bats, and a lot of guano as well.  My favorite rock formation was the “bacon” because it really looked like a giant piece of bacon. haha.  I couldn’t get a decent shot inside the cave because I couldn’t figure out how to fix the camera settings.  We spent around 40 minutes inside, and I have to admire the boat men who paddle around 10 passengers for 1.5km and do all the talking as well.  After the cave tour, we checked out the monitor lizards near the trail.  Then it was the boat going back again followed by lunch and finally back to the hotel.  On our last day in Palawan, we went to the wet market to buy fish to take back home with us.  There wasn’t much fresh fish because “amihan ngayon”, as our tour guide Kuya Eden explained so it’s hard to fish.  The cool thing about the market there was that you could pay them to pack your fish/shrimps/crab/whatever ready to check in at the airport.  Inay bought dorado, samaral, dalagang bukid and lapu-lapu while I tried to look for salmon in vain. :(

And that ends my week in Palawan! :) Okay, ang dami nanaman kailangan gawin. :|

Entalula Beach Resort

El Nido

Secret Lagoon

Seven Commando Beach

raw tamilok at Kinabuch’s (Php150 per plate)

Wu Jieping and her mom :)

the salmon *bow*

Underground River

Inay with a carabao at the beach

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