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Day 76- 78: El Nido; Instagram Vs Reality

Boat tours & toilet trips!

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17 February- Tour C
El Nido is definitely the tourist capital of Palawan and maybe the whole of the Philippines with a plethora of white people. It was certainly a place that pops up a lot on Instagram and one of the locations Izzy was most excited about.

El Nido tourism is basically all about 4 location hopping tours; inventively called A, B, C, D. You can't really come to this place without doing one and most blogs we read recommended two. Tour A is overwhelmingly the favourite with tour C second. Tour B gives something a little different with cave experiences and Tour D just isn't really spoken about. We had selected to do two tours as we had a decent amount of time and as I said there didn't seem to be too much else going on. We selected A for its popularity and mainly for the promise of the big lagoon, a place on Izzy's hit list since we decided on this trip, and tour C as it sounded the best of the rest.

Today's tour was tour C. On the beach nice and early we were ready. Unfortunately it seemed someone on our boat wasn't so we were delayed setting of (bloody Daniel!). Once all aboard we were away. It seemed that having booked online for a slight discount meant that we were sharing a boat mainly with local people. Now this isn't a problem but we have found that generally these are not as up for mingling, which can greatly impact the overall tour experience as demonstrated in Port Barton. There was however one group of Filipino girls that had made friends with two guys from Belgium. One of these girls was basically a Filipino Katja, full of energy and beans; giving you no choice about whether you wanted to speak to her. Such people really do help interaction among the group. However even she couldn't generate a lot of conversation from the locals. We, on the other hand, were happy to engage with her.

The first stop was a brief snorkel at helicopter island (or as some of the locals call it Jollibee island. Personally I like this better as it does look more like a chicken drumstick). Next up was Matinloc Shrine; a small beach a short distance from where we stopped, surrounded by atmospheric looking limestone cliffs and blue waters. Here there was the opportunity to rent a kayak. Although as we were unaware of the this additional charge we hadn't brought enough money. In any case it didn't seem to be that worth it. So we opted to swim in the crystal clear waters. We don't regret tired decision and if we were to go again we still wouldn't rent a kayak but it did mean that we suffered a few minor stings from the small jellyfish in the waters.

Drumstick or helicopter... You decide:

Next it was time for lunch. Where we pulled up we were surrounded by picturesque scenery. These islands really are idyllic. Although this happy feeling was soon replaced by a bit of resentment as we had to pay an additional charge to enter the place we were stopped for lunch as it was private land. Now I understand this, but considering we had already paid a decent amount for the tour itself, had no choice where to stop and as the island literally had a derelict house, a barely functional toilet and a few steps it seemed cheeky. Again I get that you want to get as much as possible from the tourism and people will pay, but it along with the kayak it just seemed like loads of hidden extras and put a dampener on things. Regardless, lunch was another tasty BBQ complete with grilled fish, chicken curry and fresh fruit. However when the food was opened our Filipino shipmates went to town on it. Pilling their plates high. It really was a bit of a scramble to get the popular food like the fish. Being already in a bad mood this lack of courtesy had us both in a little funk. Especially when iz spotted one particular woman continually going over to the bench and shovelling food into her mouth and filling her plate like she hadn't eaten in weeks. She was on like round 5 before some people had eaten round one. The final straw was when we saw she had taken one of the 3 bottles of coke for her family of four leaving the other 10 of us with 2 bottles. This was a red flag to Iz and being the brave bear she is she went over and poured herself a glass from the confiscated bottle much to her annoyance. I faced a similar injustice as I went back to get more pineapple and Daniel (remember him from earlier) just took all of the remaining pieces... You know despite this being over half a pineapple.


Not feeling the communal love it was back to the boat. And off to our next stop hidden beach. These was a gorgeous little beach slightly hidden from view, unless you know where to look, and required you to swim up as the entry was too narrow for the boat. Now this place did cheer us up as we managed to put Daniel and co to the back of our minds. After completing a mini photoshoot our new friends insisted on (see below), we had fun with some panoramic shots and playing with some of the features on my phone.


We could have happily stayed here a little longer but it was off to the final spot; secret beach. I imagine when people first stumbled across this place it would have been breathtaking. You had to swim through a gap in the rock and popped up the other side in crystal clear waters, enclosed by huge cliffs on all sides. Now the thing that took away some of this charm... Was the number of people. Me and Iz imagined what it would be like to bring a small picnic and bottle of wine and here a little date afternoon here just the two of us. But the problem with secret lagoon is it is no longer a secret. It was still impressive nonetheless. Another thing we have encountered during our time here is the level of sexism. This was demonstrated very clearly when Iz asked if she could climb a rock like she had witnessed someone else do for a cool photo. However our guide informed her she couldn't as she was a woman and therefore it is too dangerous. It is funny as Iz is a better climber than me and nowhere near as clumsy. Yet I would be able to climb where she couldn't. So as not to rub it in, and for my own health, I stayed in the lagoon too.

Then it was back to the boat for the trip back to shore... Well close to shore you still had to wade through chest high water to get to the beach.


The rock Iz wasn't allowed to climb:


During earlier exploring we had come across a really cheap local and tiny burger place. As I write this it has dawned on me we have had a lot of burgers here. But they are everywhere. They seem to love their fast food and with a few exceptions the local cuisine hasn't recently been a taste explotion. Albeit small for the price the burger and chips were decent and filled the gap we needed. Patrick and Lizzy had messaged as promised about their arrival in El Nido and wanted to meet for drinks. This is one of our favourite parts of traveling and having got on well in Port Barton we were up for a catch up.

As we both had early boat tours the next day it wasn't a partically late or wild one. But it was great getting to know them both a little more and discuss their remaining plans for the Philippines, passing on our tips for a few of the places we had already ticked off. Patrick, bless him, wondered even let us pay for our drinks. A generosity that was very much appreciated and one we promised to repay on our next meeting hopefully in Coron.

18 February- Tour A
Like groundhog day we were back on the beach waiting for our tour. It was here we spotted the coke stealing Filipino family and Daniel from our tour yesterday. Any hopes they were not on the same tour were dashed as we headed to the same boat. We were also joined by fou r elderly people one of which wore a make badge stating "Sister Anderson". It was clear this again wasn't going to be the relaxed party boat experienced with Joey in Port Barton.

The guide on this boat was great and approached the tour in a way I imagine I would if I was tasked with such a job. He was full of information about the islands, the wildlife, dangers posed and myths explained/dispelled and the geography of the area; putting his previous role of a geography teacher to good use. He stated that it is a very similar job but the ocean is now his classroom, I like that. The only problem was that I could only here about 60% of what he said over the boats engine.

The first stop up was secret lagoon. Similar to yesterday's experience this lagoon is now in no way secret. And we had to wait around 20 minutes to even gain entry, via a squeeze through a gap in the rock, to an area very similar in looks to secret beach on tour C. Can you spot the so called resemblence to the last supper painting below.

Back on the boat it was time to head to Shimizu Island for a snorkel. As you can see these boat tours follow a very similar pattern. And although they are enjoyable on the whole, and it is interesting seeing the different sights, both Iz and I started to feel that we had our fill of such tours. I think Iz started to feel this way before this trip even ended as this coupled with stomach cramps meant she was happy to just sit on the beach while I went in search of fish.


The last supper anyone?:

Up next...lunch. Knowing what we were up against from yesterday's experience we tried to get in first and get a healthy, but not unfair helping. This just seemed to make our Filipino boat "friends" even more determined and she stayed perched by the table the whole time pulling a face like a slapped arse every time someone took any food like it was a personal insult. This did mean by the time our nun companions got to the front there was only scraps left.

With lunch over and her cramps subsiding it was good to see Izzy's face light up as she knew the next stop was the big lagoon. The highlight of the tour. Saddled up in the kayak and paddling down the stream into the lagoon was magical. When the sun hit the water you could really see how aqua green the place was and it was stunning. The place was big enough to enjoy the tranquility despite the people and we even managed to bag an isolated spot for some pictures. It lived up to the Instagram photos and we soaked in the view for as long as we could before being instructed to paddle back to the boat. We are consistently gobsmacked by the beauty of nature on this trip. How it can look so perfect, yet such perfection has been reached in the most unplanned of ways.


Anchors down for another snorkel spot. Which was one of the better spots we have had with some colourful fish all riding some fairly rough waters crashing against the rocks. Iz, like most, didn't stay in the water too long and headed back to the boat. I was about to do the same but then I spotted a large concentration of fish towards the back of our boat. It quickly became apparent that some of the crew were throwing leftovers overboard and the fish were loving it. Again such behaviour really can't be helping the marine life, but it did make for some good photos and with everyone else on board it was a private viewing. Well until Iz shouted over for me to get back onboard as they were leaving. Quickly scrambling up the ladder I was back in my seat and we were off... Well until they realised they had left two other people who had been snorkeling near the rocks and had to turn back.


The final stop was the pretty 7 Commando beach. Here we took the opportunity to try and get some traditional "obviously staged but we will pretend they are natural" beach shots. After the mini photoshoot yesterday Iz was confident... However unlike the Instagram obsessed girls we didn't quite have their grace despite a bit of persistence. You can see our efforts below, obviously Iz looks great in all of them but I do prefer the more natural ones taken before/ after said poses! You never know by the end of this trip we may have our swimwear postures nailed, but it's more likely that'll we'll just stay geeky!


Tour A had been more enjoyable than tour C, despite both being similar. We much preferred the sites taken to and the guide was much better which adds a lot of value. If we were to make a recommendation it would probably be only do one for and pick tour A, skip the rest and maybe try a different activity nearby. Or if you really want to do two maybe mix it with tour B as I feel this would give more diversity.

Both pretty exhausted it was back to the hostel to pack up and prepare for our early ferry tomorrow. Not knowing what to eat we had liked the look of, yes you've guessed it, another burger bar with a seemingly Mexican theme. Now based on what follows this part is pretty tough to write but I will proceed. The burger look decent enough... But it tasted horrible. Yet neither of us really mentioned it as we were both enjoying the evening and nattering away. That was until all of a sudden I started feeling really dizzy and feint. We put it down to not having eaten massive amounts in the last few days and a lack of water. But once outside I started feeling really nauseous and not knowing where I was.

Iz helped me back to the hostel and got me into bed. I hoped it would just pass but the sickness feeling didn't go away until finally I did throw up. I hoped this would be it and I could get back to sleep. How wrong I was. I'll save you the gory details but let's just say I didn't get much sleep at all and probably neither did the rest of the hostel. I've not experienced anything quite like it. So intense for so long and I felt so helpless and embarrassed being in a 10 bed dorm room. Izzy was an absolute star though and was there throughout helping with whatever came up despite not feeling well herself. I literally couldn't have gotten through it without her as I could barely move. I really am indebted to her for this evening and it just cemented how much I love this girl. I'll tell you now not many girlfriends would have stuck through what Iz did and never once complained. We still do not know what it was but feel it was probably that the fruit on the boat was preserved in water as we have heard over the last few months El Nido has had a big problem with water contamination and people getting sick. It is annoying as we have been so careful.

19 February- the missed ferry!
I didn't get to sleep until about 5.30am. We were supposed to be at the dock at 7am! We both decided that the way we were feeling this just wasn't going to happen. I'm not sure we could have carried our bags that far let alone survived the 4 hour journey on the boat to Coron. We decided to cut our losses and stay in bed, missing the boat.

This was a costly decision as the boat wasn't cheap and we had also paid for a hostel we couldn't cancel. But we knew there would be times like this and some things are more important than money; health is definitely one. One issue with this was that we still needed to book a hostel here for tonight and move as our hostel was fully booked. We found a place with a private room that was a 2 minute walk away. Literally round the corner. However feeling the way we did it felt like a marathon. Iz had started feeling sick and dizzy now too. So we decided to do it in too small trips to but push it, but desperately wanting to just be in bed.

Trip 1- two little back packs. Got there ok and stocked up on water and coke. Checked in but the room wasn't ready yet. Iz also could not move and was obviously in pain. To try and pay something back for the night before I volunteered to go and get my big bag and bring it back and return to get hers. Iz pleaded with me not to knowing how I was also feeling, but she also knew we needed to fetch them and that someone needed to stay with these bags.

Trip 2- I intended to go and bring both in one trip. Although they are heavy as I said this place was only around the corner and Izzy's has a good handle. But when I got back strapped mine on and picked up Izzy's I nearly fell down the stairs. So I decided it wasn't a good idea after all and just returned with mine.

Trip 3- I really did not want to go back. It was really tough making the two trips we had already and the sun was beating down. I felt so tender and weak. I considered leaving Izzy's bag there and going back later but I knew leaving again world be almost impossible once we got on that bed in our room. Sucking it up, I headed back to complete the final trip.

With some luck after my return we only had to wait a few minutes before we could head to the room. With my last bit of strength I lugged the packs up the stairs and dumped them in our room before we both collapsed on the bed. This is where we spent the next 19 hours, sleeping basically the whole time, only leaving once to get more cash out.

Posted by Bears on Tour 21:44 Archived in Philippines Tagged kayak el_nido hidden_beach secret_beach big_lagoon tour_a tour_c helicopter_island

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