The Philippines.. Where the beer is cheap, the locals are smiling and the scenery stunning. Throw in a few tricycle rides, some food poisoning, late nights & interesting journeys and you have yourself one hell of an adventure!
We set off early one morning to take the only direct bus for the day to a beach village called Port Barton. We wanted to make our way up to El Nido, but also see the beach and get out of Puerto Princesca. We took a tricycle to the bus terminal, via the ATM… Where we both failed to get cash out. Both Port Barton & El Nido have no ATM’s so we couldn’t go anywhere without any cash. What are the chances that both of us can’t take cash? Likely of course!
So we went back to the hostel to use the Wifi and call our banks. And by the time we had it sorted we had missed the one & only direct bus for the day. We decided to just wing it by taking a bus to the highway turn off and then traveling across to the coast somehow. We went to the bus terminal and chose a retro green bus full of locals and we were on our way. The bus must have seated around 40 people, but had at least 60 piled on. We were basically sitting on each others lap. It was cheap & cheerful, but slow as I am sure we picked up every kid in Palawan from school and dropped them home again. We finally made it to the highway turn off where we were of course harassed immediately by tricycle drivers wanting to take us to Port Barton. Thinking we were not too far and there would surely be buses going that way we stood on the side of the road waiting to hitchhike. We’d met a young Spanish guy called Pablo who was attempting to hitchhike with us. After half an hour of nothing going by, we agreed to take the tricycle which we discovered would take about an hour and a half.
We strapped on Poss’ ginormous suitcase and my backpack on the back and squeezed the 3 of us, plus our small bags on the metal seats in the front. We also had a passenger behind the tricycle driver so it was quite a cramped little ride.. And BUMPY. And DUSTY. We were all laughs and smiles and embracing the ridiculous method of travel along these dirt roads while talking to Pablo about travel & the world. About half an hour in we had a much needed break when a tractor was removing the biggest tree I’d ever seen from the “road.” We were finally on our way again for another 15 minutes when we got a flat tyre. I’m not surprised due to the sheer weight of the 5 of us + all of our luggage. We were stranded, in the middle of nowhere, in the hot sun, covered in dust and longing for the beach of Port Barton! I really needed to pee so I asked the drivers if I could pee in the bush, which they replied ” watch out for the scorpions.” God damn it, that’s a sure way to make me pee all over my feet and legs, which I did of course.
We waited for some locals to come along who took the driver and the flat tyre to god knows where and we were supposed to wait for them to return. I’m sure we could have been there until midnight at the rate things happen in the Philippines so after an hour we hailed another tricycle driver who agreed to take us the rest of the way. We finally pulled into Port Barton just before the sun set. Not bad considering we were aiming to be there at lunch time!
After such a long & interesting day of travel we were completely gobsmacked at the beauty of this little village and beach and so excited to grab a beer & retreat to the water. We went to check into our room at a beach B&B which I’d arranged very casually via Facebook. And of course in true Filipino style they had given our room away as we were so late. We walked along the beach asking for a room and found nothing until a guy offered us a tent in his garden for 350 pesos (approx $10.) It was that or sleep on the beach so we happily agreed! We had some beers and swam in the beach while the sun was setting as our host set up our tent. We went for dinner and our topic of conversation was guessing whether we would have any bedding in the tent when we returned. We wondered if he might be nice enough to throw in some pillows or a sheet or anything. Of course when we finally made it back to the tent in the garden it was (*drumroll*) just a tent. Just a bare tent, set up on the hard ground, ready for a super comfortable nights sleep!
Pablo and Poss went in with nothing, but I emptied the entire clothing content of my backpack and made a makeshift mattress and pillow. I’m really not sure who was better off as I woke up at least 150 times, while the others slept a little better. It wasn’t the most comfortable nights sleep I’ve ever had, but in saying that, it wasn’t the worst either. And it definitely wasn’t bad waking up in a garden on the beach!
Unfortunately we had to leave early in the morning to take the only mini van heading to El Nido. We were soooo excited to get in the mini van, which wasn’t dusty and had air conditioner and catch up on some much needed Z’s on the 5 hour ride. We were like 2 kids in a candy store, so excited for the prospect, calling it “first class” and asking where our champagne was. But for anyone who has traveled in Palawan you will know, its almost impossible to sleep in these vans, unless your neck can handle your head being thrown around little one of those little bobble toys.
Despite that, we made it to El Nido, checked into our hotel, which had a mattress and pillows and a toilet and was literally on the beach! We had been told by so many douche bag travellers that El Nido main beach was dirty and busy and the water was brown. We are so glad everyone told us that because it made our first impression like we had just stepped into heaven. It was absolutely gorgeous! The town of El Nido is a small hustling, bustling place with bars & restaurants, convenience stores and a gazillion travel agencies. Although busy, the atmosphere is fantastic and the setting serene. There are restaurants literally on the beach with the plastic chairs & tables perched in the sand. There was almost no Wifi in the town, or when you could find it wasn’t worth even bothering. Which was great, to cut off from the world for a few days and really enjoy whats going on around you. I couldn’t have been happier!
There are 4 boat tours departing from El Nido, simply named; A, B, C, D. They all visit different islands, beaches & lagoons. (Read my Palawan in a week blog for tips.) We chose Tour A as we really wanted to see the lagoons, so we departed for that the following morning. We were on the boat with 4 Dutch guys, a French couple, 2 Americans & 2 Chinese. Admittedly we were laughing at the cute Chinese couple who were literally head to toe in a swimming costume; full length rash vest & pants, swimming shoes, even gloves, hats, floating devices around their necks & life jackets. And they stayed in that get up for the entire day, I’m not even sure if the water actually touched their skin. But after our first few stops we realised their ridiculous get-ups were probably the smartest idea in the world.
We arrived at Secret Lagoon and there were already a handful of boats so we had to swim a bit to shore to make it to the lagoon. Obviously an easy task for most, but as we went to enter the water the boat driver told us to watch out for the jellyfish. There were literally thousands!! Thousands of tiny little transparent jellyfish with little stingers waiting to sting us. A few people on the boat were reluctant to go in the water, but I wanted to see that lagoon so I jumped in and swam through 6000 of them. It was a little like sea lice, so the sting was not too bad, but not enjoyable at the same time.. Especially when one stung me right between my legs, so close to my bits it was scary. But I, followed by everyone else, made it through and experienced the first lagoon which was accessed by a little hole like cave in the rocks surrounding it. Pretty cool! And you guessed it, the Chinese swam through with ease, with not a sting on them! The next obstacle after jellyfish was the rocks and coral we had to walk over at every stop to get to the shore. I have pretty strong “African feet” (as one of the Dutch guys called it), but I must have cut them up at least 500 times. The Chinese with their little waterproof shoes are not so funny after all hey? 😉
Our third stop was small lagoon which was absolutely stunning! One of the best water locations I’ve ever visited with its turquoise blue waters, cliffs surrounding and green trees growing from the cliff sides. We hired a kayak and made our way around the lagoon and the little pools, jumping off small cliffs and of course taking a million photos. It was amazing! The last stop of the day was a beautiful beach where I had an entire coconut filled with rum punch that I drank through a straw poking out of the top. Such a beautiful way to end an amazing day in the Philippines!
That night we splashed out and bought ourselves a $3 1.5 litre bottle of Filipino rum and a couple of bottles of juices (that cost more than the rum itself) and we sat on the beach making our own rum punch. We found 3 Polish guys doing the exact same thing as us, sat in the sand with their rum & coke mixing up their own drinks. We were close enough to the Reggae bar to enjoy their music and drink for a few dollars while laughing all night with the hilarious Polish. After polishing off a few bottles between us we went to the Reggae bar to have a few more. The Polish were nice enough to buy us a round of Jagermeister and a chaser of Coca Cola (two of my most hated things), but of course I happily drank it. After that its a bit of a blur and I don’t remember the walk home, but there are some pictures of me on a motorbike in the street with a rum punch in a plastic cup, having the time of my life!
We moved hotels the following morning and were lucky enough to find a private room for $10 each on the beach. However, in Australia we wouldn’t have let our dog sleep in this place, it was so filthy. But when in Rome! It was cheap and again, it had an actual mattress and actual pillows (well kind of..) That night I inevitably got my first (and only) dose of good old Asian food poisoning. So I spent the night on & around the toilet bowl (literally bowl as most toilets here have no seats anyway.) It wasn’t as severe as the last time I visited the Philippines, but enough to put me off food and moving for the entire following day.
Another days travel and we were back in Puerto Princesca where we spent a night before our early flight to Manila and then Boracay. We had almost the day in Manila airport before a 50 minute flight to get to Kalibo (to then travel to Boracay.) Of course we were shit out of luck and sat on the runway waiting to take off for THREE hours. A 50 minute flight with a 3 hour wait on the tarmac. Apparently due to “heavy congestion” in Kalibo airport which is just ridiculous considering its the size of a regular Australian house and would be lucky to have 10 flights in/out for the entire day.
Anyway, we finally made it to Boracay, hours behind schedule and checked into our brand new B&B. After the accommodation we endured in Palawan this was like the god damn Hilton! So new (10 days old!) the place still smells of paint, no creaking doors, no bugs, toilets on the seats, new pillows and fluffy white towels. I am sitting here this morning watching a priest blessing the place for the first time which is an experience in itself. And how they have no bugs has just been demonstrated in front of my eyes. One of the staff walking around with a small tennis racket looking device that you put onto said bug and it zaps it, dead! I’d say that would come in handy for a few travellers visiting Australia!
Last night we sat in cushions in the sand being served beers & cocktails, smoking a shisha pipe and listening to a DJ bust out some reggae tunes while little local kids danced like Beyonce for money.
We are planning to do the cliff jumping tour to Ariels Point, which I missed out on last time I was here due to the weather. The day includes unlimited drinks, so basically jumping off cliffs drunk. (Hope Poss’ Mum isn’t reading this!) When we told our hotel receptionist that would never happen in Australia she replied with the Filipino tourism slogan; “Its more fun in the Philippines!” Damn right it is!