El Nido: Island Hopping
The El Nido Story
When we were investigating coming to the Philippines, a lot of people told us that we couldn’t miss El Nido. The word “paradise” was used repeatedly to describe the place, so it was top of our list.
However, as we arrived in the Philippines, the Filipinos that we met together with other travellers had different superlatives. Dirty, over-crowded, smelly and several awful stories. Natalie (Port Barton) had woken up here to find a massive cockroach crawling across her neck. Both Greg and I would have freaked! Her and David also said that lots of people that they spoke to had experienced rats in their rooms, Daddy Dovey would have a heart attack at that one! Added to this were reports from travellers and blogs that the water in El Nido is so infected that everyone gets sick.
We had no idea which experience we were going to be met with. Obviously, we hoped for the paradise one but I think deep down we both thought that it was more likely to be Natalie’s version. This was not helped by the fact that our hostel was called “Seaslugs”, mmmmm, nice name. Surely nudey branch would have been nicer.
We bid farewell to Port Barton, a place that we had surprisingly learnt to love. I think mainly due to Natalie and David, who it’s fair to say are two of the loveliest and interesting people you could meet. Thanks guys, you made these last few days a lot of fun for us old folks!
We were booked on the 8am van ride to El Nido. There are two choices, public buses or vans. The van was PHP 500 each and tool around 4 ½ hours with two stops. As usual the van was packed. We picked up with a French couple who had also been on our van from Sabang. I was squeezed in-between Greg and another Brit guy around the same size. I didn’t really like having skin to skin with a stranger in that heat. But he was a trainee GP so could have looked after me if I was ill I guess and he smelt nice, so small mercies and all that!
The journey was long, helped with many conversations along the way. Greg got drone envy again as one of the fellow travellers had one with him and loved showing it to everyone.
Our New Home
So, for the next two nights, we are at Seaslugs Travellers Inn. The hostel is just a five-minute walk from the bus station. On check-in, the staff were friendly and gave us a choice of rooms. The one we went for was a twin with a balcony at the back. It had good air conditioning and was very quiet. This is luxury for us these days!
Seaslugs is based at the Corong Corong end of town. I will write a future blog about the different El Nido districts as I think that it makes quite a difference to your experience.
El Nido Town
We set off into town, about a 10-minute walk. Our plan was to book the fast boat to Coron and find out about island hopping for tomorrow.
The walk was quite draining due to the temperatures, particularly after the long van journey. We tried in vain to find Montenegro’s offices to book the ferry. In the end, a “fixer” found us and took us to an agent where we booked up.
After that we went into the Art Café, where all the foreigners go apparently. We had a lovely lunch and booked on their island-hopping tour for tomorrow. We then did a bit of wondering about, got cash out, visited shops (not done that for a while), stocked up on medicine (which appear to be the most expensive items in the Philippines) and wondered back to Seaslugs.
I’m feeling homesick today. I’m not sure why it’s hit me that way today but it has. I want to see my Mommy and Daddy, the rest of my lovely family and friends and my beautiful little pup Juno. I’m sure that it’ll pass.
I know that most travel blogs and stories are all about the amazingness of travel but you do have tough days. It can be tiring if you are a natural introvert as you are socialising a lot of the time, and it can be quite lonely if you are a natural extrovert as many of the “relationships” are very brief. Greg and I have both “conditions” covered!
The disconnect with friends and family back home is tough. Everyone is getting on with their own lives and there is very limited contact. I guess people think that you don’t want to hear about their “boring” lives, whilst you are having this exciting adventure.
So, feeling all in all a bit bummed out.
El Nido Sunset
Everyone visiting the Philippines is just crazy about the sunsets. It’s easy to see why, they are stunning here. We had read that the best place in El Nido to watch the sunset is at Las Cabanas, Marimegmeg beach.
Greg negotiated a good rate for the hire of a scooter for a few hours (PHP 350). Off we went. Our intention was to go to Corong Corong beach first then onto Las Cabanas. As Greg and I have previous form for getting lost, we got the directions wrong and missed the turn off.
Las Cabanas Beach
We found the beach by the number of trikes and motorbikes parked on the road. We headed down a few steps onto the beach. The beach has several bars / restaurants that offer sunbeds, beanbags etc if you buy a drink. We picked the Beach Shack and sank into two very comfortable beanbags waiting for nature’s sun show to begin.
The beach was crowded with very fit, buff under 25 year olds. Greg and I tried not to get body envy! It struck us how the fitness / beauty industry has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. Everyone is seeking the washboard stomach and big muscles now. Many of the backpacker girls had make-up on, false eyelashes, nails etc. 10 years ago, backpackers were those that just didn’t wash! A new world, with lots of vain pressures to look a certain way. We are not immune to this and I am planning a detox when home with MK Health Hub to get myself in shape, but I’ll blog about fitness and travels another time.
Anyway, it’s fair to say that the sunset wasn’t as spectacular tonight due to cloud formations etc. It was also difficult to get a good photo as there were so many people taking selfies at the seafront.
We moved on, back into town and had dinner at a seafront BBQ place. It was ok.
Island Hopping Tours
There are four island hopping tours from El Nido. They are imaginatively called Tour A, B, C and D. After meeting Barbara and Lukas on our island-hopping tour at Port Barton we wanted to do tour A with kayaks via Art Café as they recommended. Unfortunately, this appeared to be fully booked so tour C was our only choice.
Island Hopping Tour C
Our island tour began at Art Café at 8.30am. We arrived, paid the balance, chose our snorkel gear and waited for the boat. Funnily enough we bumped back into the French couple that we’d met in the last two van rides. It is nice how paths keep meeting along the way.
There were 12 people on our boat, so we thought that we’d have a nice quiet day. Mmmmm, some hope. Every place we turned up at had 5 boats already there and more turned up whilst we were there. Personally, I thought that it was way too crowded for it to be special, even though the views were very nice.
Our first stop was Hidden Beach. It wasn’t hidden enough as loads of people seemed to be there! We made our way to the beach with some rocks underneath our feet. There wasn’t too much to see from a marine life point of view. A few aggressive trigger fish attacking a Dutch girl from our boat, plus some amazing little black fish that swarmed making brilliant shapes.
There were also many opportunistic businessmen selling coconuts and cold drinks to everyone. They track you snorkelling then when your head pops up to see what’s blocking your way, you are met with “you want buy coconut”. It was so funny. What did they think we were going to do with the coconuts whilst swimming? Use as a floatation device maybe?
Back on the boat we headed to Secret Beach. This beach is where Alex Garland was inspired to write The Beach. Koh Phi Phi in Thailand was just the setting for the book. The entrance to the beach was cool through a little tunnel. Greg and I spent some time messing about and trying to get some cool Go Pro shots. Barbara and Lukas (Port Barton) had inspired us with their photos. Not sure we are the ideal models though but we were having fun anyway! The beach isn’t so secret and soon there wasn’t a square metre to be had so we headed back to the boat.
Next up was lunch on Matinloc island. This was a narrow strip of beach where there were already 5 boats moored up for lunch on the widest section. We headed to the smaller end, thinking that we’d get it to ourselves. No such luck as we just got settled and along came two other boats. There genuinely wasn’t any room to lie on the beach and relax at all. There were again many coconut men and I treated myself to one (a coconut not a man!). It was rather nice and well worth the PHP 50 that I paid the nice gentleman in a Tottenham Hotspur 1990s shirt (Follow the Bear!).
Lunch was nice, vegetarian noodles, rice, barbecued fish, barbecued chicken, fried rice, salad and fruit. The fruit here is particularly lovely. Very sweet and unlike the hard, barely tasting exotic fruits that we import into the UK.
After lunch, we anchored off the coast of Tapuitan, a beautiful looking island. We hopped off the boat for some snorkelling action. One of the main things that I will take away from this part of the trip is that I seem to have almost totally overcome my fear of the sea. I enjoy snorkelling and diving now and I’m happy to mess about whilst swimming. It will add a great deal to future travelling experiences I think.
The French guy on our boat has a fear of sharks (understandable) and at one point on the dive there was a shark a couple of feet away from him and Greg. He didn’t see it, I think his eyes blanked it out but Greg was chuffed to have been so close.
My highlight was seeing a peacock manta shrimp. It was sooooo beautiful. I heard later that this is one of the most interesting sea creatures. It can see in every dimension together with having a sucker punch that can break camera lenses. I just thought it was beautiful and unusual.
Our last stop was on helicopter island. Greg and I just chilled here and bought some beer from a local boat family.
We returned to El Nido at around 4.30pm.
In the evening, we went to Angle for a few beers and food. The bar was owned by a couple of French expats. The expat community is dominated by the French in the Philippines, who knows why. We had a lovely meal, as you’d expect from French hosts.
The next day we were up bright and early for the 6am ferry to Coron.