Episode 3. El Nido.
If you don’t have time to travel by shop from island to island (there are more than 7,000 in case you were wondering), it’s the easiest way to take a plane. So we fly to Puerto Princesa, the capital of the long and slim island Palawan, where we’ll spend the next part of our trip.
Luckily, we catch a bus right away, with AC and comfortable seats. Even the music is different – for a while we get to listen to Filipino hiphop before it goes back to the all-too-familiar soft pop. The guy behind me sings along loudly whenever he knows a song. And he knows a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a conversation, just break into song. If you don’t hit the tune – no problem, you just have to be loud.
The bus takes the only road available going North, through rice fields, palm trees and banana plantations. Everything is so green and so much more bearable than the noisy, busy city. It’s quite similar to the landscapes we used to roam in Uganda as kids. On and on we go and the longer we drive, the more it feels like a journey into a far away world, deep into the jungle.
Out of a sudden, the skies turn grey, then black and heavy raindrops hit the bus windows. The heavens open up to release a long awaited downpour and engulf everyone and everything outside. On the lonely road we see a group of school children, their uniforms soaking wet, their hair dripping with water. They sit down, two in one seat. They smile at me shyly when they realize that I’m a foreigner. Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, we drop them off and I wonder how in the world they get to school everyday. It’s a long way and probably expensive to get an education. In fact, many parents choose to not send their kids to school because it’s far more lucrative to let them work on the streets. Whenever a car stops at the traffic lights, you can see them coming up to you, their mouths covered to protect themselves from smog and pollution, their tiny hands holding up bottles of water or snacks. They look at you for a while, their eyes desperate and pleading, but eventually they move on. While my students in Germany are so self-righteous that it makes me sick sometimes, children over here seem to be kept from having a perspective in life at all.
We get into El Nido at sunset and have to find a hotel. What used to be a small idyllic fishermen’s village a couple of years ago has now exploded into a flourishing tourist attraction. The hotel we find is right at the beach in Hama Street – the place to be where hotel is next to bar next to restaurant next to coffee shop. I’m blown away to see people from all across the globe in this little place.
This town seems to attract a certain kind of people. If you’re a free spirit, interested in cheap parties, sex and drugs, El Nido is the place for you. The restaurants are full with elderly hippie couples with grey hair and blurred tattoos. In the coffee shops you’ll find the hipsters staring at their phones. In between are families and well-built divers.
The first day is very rainy and we spend it walking from coffee shop to restaurant to bar. It’s actually nice to bury my face in a good book for a change, but I’m also a little worried that the weather will not get better.
But when we wake up the next morning, I look out the window expectantly and – what a joy – there’s a blue sky, no clouds and the sun is shining brightly. After breakfast we meet our tour guide Lorenzo and he takes us on a tour through the Bacuit Archipelago – a group of islands in the South Chinese Sea.
As we stretch our legs on the boat, we pass by hidden beaches with little cottages under palm trees.
We marvel at rocks in the water. Over and over again, we have to grin at each other because this can.not.be real.
We go anchor in front of a wall of rocks, take the kayak and discover a secret lagoon through a little rift in the wall. All of a sudden it’s so calm. An oasis of quiet and peace.
We go snorkeling, which is quite something for someone who’s shy of water. The view below the surface is quite different – colorful corals, fish swarms, even turtles. Sometimes it’s worth to look deeper.
We have lunch at Entalula Island, a small beach with crystal clear water. The buffet looks like a feast with grilled fish, vegetables and fresh fruits. Afterwards we lie down on the boat and let the sun kiss our bodies. Yes, life is good.
We kayak into Cathedral Cove, a large opening in a rock. Inside it’s dark and we can hear bats flying high above us.
Our last stop on this perfect day is a small beach with palm trees and warm water where we take a few minutes to relax. When we get back to the boat, our friend steps into something. At first, he thinks it was a sharp coral, but by the time we get back to the harbor, his right foot has swollen to double its normal size and he can’t walk more than a few steps. The doctor says it’s nothing serious and that he should ake it slow for a few weeks, but on google we find a few horror stories about starfish and other dangerous creatures of the sea. “That’s some serious shit”, the diving instructor says when we tell him the story.
This has truly been a once in a lifetime experience.
The next morning we leave El Nido with a swollen foot, but with extremly full and grateful hearts.