Palawan, the western island of the Philippines. Time for some beaches and island hopping. After a morning relaxing in Cebu with a wander around the shopping centre and stopping for a coffee we decided it was about time to leave. We soon started to regret stopping for the coffee. Being an internal flight at a small airport only 12km away we had given ourselves a reasonable 2 hour window to get there and check in before the flight. An hour and 45 minutes into the taxi ride we were both getting a little bit anxious. As we up at the airport we dived out of the taxi, grabbed our bags and went in search of the check-in area. With automated check-in for just about every airline except the one we were on resulted in being forced to pay for one bag to go in the hold, mine being a bit over the very meagre 7kg cabin bag allowance, added yet more delay. Thankfully security was quick and we walked, briskly, straight to the gate and onto the plane with only a couple of minutes to spare before the doors closed and we were under way. The drama didn’t quite end there though. As we were dropped off outside our hotel by tricycle, we found the gates were shut and the reception was dark and empty. Upon reviewing our booking we discovered that the reception hours ended about ten minutes ago. Thankfully we discovered that the gates weren’t locked so we wandered in and found someone to let us into our room. We finally got to relax and found a small restaurant tucked away down a small alley next to the hotel that happened to serve remarkably good pizza. Next morning we would be heading north up Palawan to El Nido.
The drive up was about as relaxing as the taxi ride to the airport but for almost the exact opposite reason. The aim of the journey for the driver of the minivan seemed to be to see just how many other minivans he could overtake. I’m glad I didn’t look at the condition of any of the tyres, especially for the periods of rather intense rain.
We made it to El Nido for our four day stay to explore the nearby islands of the Bacuit Archipelago. We found our hotel without any fuss which had uncharacteristically good air-con. We really appreciated this in the tropical humidity with the knowledge that in the coming month we would be spending a lot of time in the same climate with no such luxury. However, the shower in the room was anything but potent. The water that came out of the shower head was less than a dribble. An occasional drip is a better description. The heater part didn’t even seem to add any temperature, merely stop the water from coming out or be off and also stop the water coming out. So for the next few days our method for showering for the next few days would be to crouch near the knee level tap in the bathroom and splash a lot. Oh well, at least there was a tap.
First up was an island hopping tour around of the archipelago, this boat even had a silencer on its engine. We anchored up at Miniloc island first to kayak around the imaginatively named big and small lagoons. Perfectly picturesque, sublime turquoise blue waters surrounded by rugged and sharp limestone converted in jungle vegetation. This was followed by some fantastic snorkelling and a delicious lunch of fish and pork barbecued on the boat and served up on a pristine white sand beach.
We were quite fortunate that we had a perfectly clear day for the whole of the trip as most days had periods of torrential tropical downpours varying from a couple of seconds, enough to soak you through completely, to hours at a time, sufficient to turn the roads into 2 inch deep rivers.
Our other main excursion of kayaking out to and around a couple of the nearer islands got us thoroughly drenched before getting anywhere near the water.
Thankfully the rain, like the sea, is beautifully warm and the clouds keep off the relentless sun. The unsettled weather made the paddling good fun with some choppy water and moderately sized waves on the beaches. The islands are very much what you would probably picture if someone told you to imagine a tropical paradise, the only real blemish on all of it the ubiquitous plastic detritus. It’s very striking how much of an issue this is. Every beach we’ve been to in every country has evidence of the polymer flotsam but it’s been most obvious here on the otherwise perfect beaches.
While wandering around El Nido looking for a cheap place to eat we stumbled on a place selling “beef stew” for 80 pesos, which is slightly more than £1. We had to find out what that was like for that price given that the standard inflated tourist prices for an evening meal in El Nido seemed to be closer to 250 pesos. The stew was actually more like soup but otherwise was amazingly tasty. Moderately sweet, as a lot of food is in the Philippines, and with a very distinct aniseed flavour. Not something I’d have thought to do with beef stew, but definitely something I’ll be trying to replicate when we get home (eventually).
Overall we had a relaxing few days in El Nido, partly due to the large quantity of precipitation, but it was a welcome change of pace not trying to do too much every day. This was a feeling that, not entirely unintentionally, followed us to our next stop.