Part 11. Lazy Last Day

The next day was technically our last full day on the island, so we decided to make it a slow and lazy one.  We had breakfast at a French place by the beach with a view over the harbor, and enjoyed proper huge cappuccinos and fresh orange juice.  We went back to the hotel for a lazy swim in our small but nevertheless amazing rooftop pool, sat around for a while, and then the mad dogs inside us demanded action.

We remembered seeing billboards advertising Canopy Walk, and decided this was just the right entertainment for a lazy day.  Google helped us locate the place – conveniently within a 10-min walk from our hotel.  And in the heat of midday two idiots set on a journey!…

At the entrance to the canopy walk, 5 young guys were relaxing in the shade.  We were their only customers at this time, and after some discussion among the guides, one of them sighed and parted with the group to accompany us on our walk.  We were strapped into harnesses, given hard hats, and instructed never to take them off, never to stray off the path, and religiously follow the guide.  In hindsight, flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear for the experience, but we bravely dived in.  The first part of the canopy walk consisted of climbing numerous narrow stairs, in some places bolted directly into the cliffs of the Mount Taraw hovering over the town, in others, hovering on metal stilts over the hollows in said cliffs.  Quite intricate and clinging to the mountain at precarious angles, they represented a masterpiece of engineering ingenuity. Metal tubes of varied length and width were bolted together to create a stairway path around and about the mountain. Whoever came up with the technical specifications for the thing, and implemented them in real life must have been an engineering genius, or partook in very serious drugs. Probably, both.

In about 3 minutes we started sweating like pigs.  The fact that the steps were shaded by the rich foliage of the jungle covering the cliff helped shit all in the over +40C heat.  Nevertheless we persevered and continued climbing the amazing structure bolted to the cliff.  The fact that our guide was running ahead like a gazelle, squeezing himself into the narrowest turns of the stairs with boneless ease served as an inspiration, and huffing and puffing we kept moving on.

Our bravery was rewarded: the steps brought us to the top of the cliff, the jungle foliage opened up, and the bay and the town lay in front of us, all but gift-wrapped.  The view was stunning, and the fact that it was just us and our guide, with no tourist crowds pushing for a selfie with a view, made the experience so much more special, even in midday heat!

The amazing view of El Nido from the top of Taraw Mountain
Yes, we are on top of the world!

The view wasn’t all the Canopy Walk had to offer, though.  After spending enough time admiring the bay and the birds-eye panorama of the town, we moved on to the next surprise – the Spider Web!  Stretched over a hollow in the cliff, the Spider Web was made of thick metal ropes radiating from the center, and secured with metal rings of increasing diameter, clipped to the ropes.  It looked like a real spider web, only made by some monstrously huge alien spiders.  And there were 3 of them – one giant one, and two smaller ones!  You could walk on the Spider Webs (you actually had to walk across them to get to the continuation of the canopy walk), jump on them, or sit in the middle, pretending to be said alien spider.  We did all three, and were happy like idiot children in kindergarten.

Spider Web!

Despite the heat and the physical efforts required for the experience, the Canopy Walk was definitely the highlight of the day, and we can wholeheartedly recommend it to all visitors to El Nido. Just ditch the flip-flops, and wear trainers.

Enlightened by the majestic views, and chuffed with ourselves for surviving all the climbs and turns of the cliff path, we were ready for some refreshments.  Our favorite Subasco only opened in the evenings, so we landed for a pit-stop in Happiness – an Israeli bar with swings.  What an absolutely brilliant idea, and a true embodiment of happiness!  All bars in the world should have swings in them!  The swings were strategically hung around the bar, so that you could push off it with your feet while enjoying your drink.  All you had to watch out for is not hitting one of the wait staff, going back and forth behind your back, but they seemed to be quite familiar with the swings’ speed and clearance needed to avoid them, and were undeterred in their movements.  We spent a lovely hour swinging by the bar, sipping on our cold beers and watching the world go by.  Nic also took an opportunity to enlighten the bar staff on the intricacies of Irish folk medicine – the day manager seemed to have been going down with a cold, and was professionally advised on how to make a Hot Toddy that would awaken the dead.  The guy gratefully concocted one right there and then, gulped it down, and went home to nurse his cold and soon-to-come hangover.

Refreshed by our beverages, we got second wind, and decided to hop on a bus to get to another nearby local attraction – Nacpan Beach. This 3 km long, white sand beach looked mellow and relaxed. Apart from the inevitable I HEART NACPAN sign, it did not look overly-touristy or super-crowded.

We walked the white sandy stretch in both directions, and landed in a pizza bar for creative cocktails and sunset views.

The bar made us once again wonder at the popularity of Italian cuisine in the Philippines – not only was spaghetti with meat balls a staple dish in the Jollibee – the most popular local fast-food chain – but a remote beach on an equally remote island could boast a proper Italian pizza oven, chucking out more than decent pizzas! Philippines was a true land of contrasts: a comprised of a multitude of islands, each with its own character, a pseudo-Latin American-looking country plopped in the middle of South East Asia, with people enjoying Italian food, and speaking very decent English language in addition to their native Tagalog and a variety of other dialects – what a mad, fantastic, enjoyable mix!

A very decent beach pizza

Our last evening in El Nido was spent in the already familiar fashion – we went back to Subasco.  By this time everybody there knew us.  We said hello to the owner, the band, and all the regulars, and had a great time listening to the guys jamming together.

The next morning, a taxi van booked by the hotel took us back to Puerto Princesa.  This was not Bobby service, but it delivered us safely to our destination, from where our long journey home to Munich through Manila, and Istanbul began.

Chicken Korma (aka Ben’s Chicken)

A rich, yet mild curry that is perfect for the cold and shitty weather outside!  Our household name for this amazing dish is “Ben’s Chicken”, named so after a dear friend we got the recipe in a box (together with ALL ingredients and spices needed to cook it!) from.  This was an amazing present, and Ben’s name is forever perpetuated in eternity (and hour extremely grateful hearts and stomachs) in this amazing dish.

Ben, if you ever read this – we are fucking delighted and thankful for your thought of X number of years ago!  The sheet of paper with the recipe is now well-worn and has multiple unidentifiable food stains on it, the spices and other ingredients have been replaced many time over, and the box had first found a new use, and then got lost in one of many house moves we experienced over the past years.  Yet, the dish lives on.  Go, Ben!!!!!!

Ingredients

Before you start, several words of caution:

  1. The official recipe says the ingredients are for 4 people.  We always followed it religiously, yet always managed to eat everything we cooked in one sitting.  And there are only 2 of us…  Whether we are exceptionally hungry for Indian food, or the recipe was meant for people with smaller stomachs, remains a fucking mystery.  Anyways, you have been warned!
  2. Another important thing to keep in mind is time – it takes a fucking long time for Ben’s Chicken to be ready!  So I suggest you have a hearty breakfast, and then start cooking.  The chicken will be ready for dinner.
  3. If you are at a loss as to what cardamom, cumin or turmeric is like, and the only cinnamon you have ever seen was the powdered shit on your Starbucks Frappuccino – I already feel sorry for you.  But don’t despair – for those poor culinary-disabled souls, I took some valuable fucking time out of my busy lockdown schedule, and googled all the pictures.  You are fucking welcome!

So, now, the actual fucking ingredients:

  • 75 gr (3/4 cup) flaked almonds, roasted in a pan, and then ground in a spice grinder/coffee mill into powder with only a handful roasted flakes left for garnish.  After years of fucking with the dish (in a good sense of the word), we started cheating, and buy our almonds already ground.
  • 1 tbsp. of butter
  • ~675 gr (or 2 proper big fat-ass chicken breasts), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tbsp. of olive/sunflower/vegetable oil – whichever takes your fancy or you have handy
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed with the flat side of the knife
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • a pinch of ground turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a good pinch of chili powder (use as much as you fucking want, if you actually like spicy food!)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk
  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) boiling chicken stock (you don’t need to try being fancy, and can use the powdered one, don’t sweat it!)
  • 1 tsp tomato puree (paste)
  • 75 ml (5 tbsps.) single (light) cream
  • 1-2 tbsps. fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. grated lime or lemon rind
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala spice
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Saffron rice and/or poppadums, to serve

Preparation

  • If you could not find the already ground almonds, or specifically want to fuck with the flaked ones, you start with those.  Dry-roast the almonds in the frying pan until pale golden.  Set a handful aside for garnish, and continue to roast the remaining ones until they are slightly deeper in color.  Leave the almonds to cool, and then grind them into oblivion in a spice grinder, food processor or coffee mill.
  • Heat the butter in a big frying pan with high rim, and fry the chicken pieces until evenly brown.  Take them out of the frying pan and set aside.
  • Add a little bit of oil into the frying pan, if necessary, then fry the chopped onion for 5-8 minutes, until golden.
  • Stir in the cardamom pods and garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.
  • Add the ground almonds, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon stick and chili powder to the frying pan, mix well, and cook for about 1 minute.  Turn the heat to low.
  • Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and tomato puree and stir everything in.
  • Add the cooked chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 3 (!) hours (now you know why I said the dish takes fucking long to cook), stirring it every half-hour.
  • After 3 hours, stir in the cream, lemon/lime juice and rind and the Garam Masala, and cook on medium heat for another 30 minutes.
  • Stir once again, and – Voila!  Ben’s Chicken is ready to eat. 
  • Serve it with some reserved almonds on top, and eat with rice or poppadums.  You can get poppadums in any Indian shop and in many supermarkets.  If you don’t know how to cook rice – fucking google it!
Ben’s Chicken

As always, you are fucking welcome!