From Port Barton we took another minivan journey 4 hours further north on the island of Palawan to El Nido, a key jumping off point for tourists wanting to see the beautiful islands in Bacuit Bay. The town itself feels a bit shabby, only coming alive in the evenings and guesthouse prices are much higher than elsewhere even with ‘wet room’ bathrooms (i.e. a shower that sprays everything)!
Needless to say we joined the masses and plumped for “Tour A” one of the cheapest of the several options, stopping at 5 locations for 1200 pesos each (about £20). Whist the views, snorkelling and islands we saw were delightful, the tour itself was somewhat shambolic.
The rough seas meant we had to swim to the boat at the start of the day trying to keep cameras and towels dry by holding them above our heads in the big swells, the 9am departure left at 10.20 we think after recruiting a replacement captain, we were the last boat to arrive at every key site meaning we often wallowed around for 20 minutes waiting for a ‘parking space’ and we arrived back ‘home’ after dark in a different town to the one we left as it wasn’t safe to return to El Nido itself with the rough sea!
Despite this, we had the best lunch on a tour we have ever had, enjoyed ‘7 commando beach’ where 7 Japanese soldiers were discovered long after the 2nd WW had ended, saw some pretty coral and a myriad of small brightly coloured fish. The scenery of limestone karsts was spectacular and our photos don’t really do it justice. We did miss out on a kayak trip because we weren’t brave enough to take on the big waves in near darkness!
Other highlights here included a trip to another beach for sunset and ‘sundowners’ and each of our three nights sampling different flavoured ice creams on a stick from a stall Annie found – raspberry cheesecake flavour being Richard’s favourite and Annie’s mint choc chip!
Still moving north we caught the ‘fast ferry’ for a 4½ hour trip to Coron on Busuanga Island. Sadly Richard suffered quite badly with the rough seas, Annie only keeping everything down by virtue of her anti seasick patches!
Here again, thanks to our friends Debbie and Mari for a generous birthday gift of some Philippine Peso, we enjoyed another island hopping boat tour. This one was on calm seas, well organised and a really fun day even if the lunch wasn’t so good. Once again we snorkelled, swam, explored lagoons, quiet bays and hidden lakes.
We only stayed in Coron town for two nights, on one climbing the 700+ steps up Mount Tapyas for sunset views overlooking the bustling and authentic (e.g. not so ‘touristy’) town. Yet again however we’re finding that food and accommodation prices are higher on these islands.
For our final two days we had a complete contrast by moving only 35kms north and were the only guests staying in a restaurant with basic rooms in a tiny rural village called Concepcion. We enjoyed a couple of days reading our books, walking, running and watching village life go by.
On Friday the 13th December we had a transfer to Coron Airport courtesy of a totally reckless van driver so we arrived somewhat shaken up. We then sat and waited for our flight to Manila that was delayed by 3½ hours whilst watching the UK election results rolling in on the BBC news feed. Saturday 14th will hopefully see us arrive in Bangkok, Thailand where we plan to stay for a few days before travelling down the coast and crossing to Koh Samui for Christmas.
The Philippines has been a fun experience although the country has not captured our hearts. The weather has been mixed and travel between destinations has not always been straightforward, however the friendliness of the Filipinos has been amazing. So many people greet us and ask where we are from and the children all want to chat and ask your name. Particular oddities for us include the passion for cock fighting and the colourful Jeepneys we have mentioned in other blogs but on top of this we have never seen so many McDonald’s restaurants per square kilometre as in this country. In addition there are Basketball courts in every small community and nets along many roadsides but these appear to hardly ever be used. Most weirdly the country has two telephone network providers, Smart & Globe but they cannot communicate with each other! As a result most businesses, even tiny stores all have to have two separate phone numbers, one on each network and when we asked one guest house to call an airline for us they weren’t able to as they didn’t have a compatible network – rather strange!