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.

Part 10 – Island-Hopping in El Nido

Our next day adventures took us away from Palawan, and off to exploring nearby seas and islands.  We booked a day-trip with a boat a day earlier, and were instructed to show up at the beach at 8 in the morning.

Even though by now we got used to the fact that on holidays nothing really happens on time, we noticed that the Philippines were generally a bit more punctual than, say, Thailand, and were on the beach at 8 on the dot.  At the early morning hour, the beach, usually quiet and tranquil during the day, represented pure chaos with weak attempts at organization: the bay was full of boats, anchored or tied to buildings on the beachfront with long ropes disappearing into the water.  More boats were tied to those, forming 2nd, 3rd, and sometimes 4th row, disappearing into the mouth of the bay.  The beach itself was choker full with tourists, tour companies’ representatives (judging by the one that sold us tickets, there were at least 5 people from each company, which definitely contributed to the chaos), street food and souvenir vendors, dogs, cats, children, random people loitering about, and God knows who or what.  At first glance, it looked like nothing could possibly happen in such environment, however, after about 45 minutes of waiting around, we were grouped and re-grouped with other adventure seekers, and finally pointed out to our boat.  We walked on the long pontoon till the end, climbed through and over 5 different boats parked side by side in the bay, and finally settled down in what seemed to be our vessel for the day.

Boats waiting in the bay in the morning

Our randomly assembled and very motley crew consisted of 14 people:

  • A Philippine family of 4: two permanently giggling sisters in their mid-20-es, a serious-looking brother of about the same age, and their Mom.  During the course of the day, we learned that Mom and one of the sisters could not swim, and thus did not partake in any snorkeling, or other activities planned for the day.  They were sitting in the boat, chatting and giggling all the time, and taking photos of the other 2 siblings splashing about.
  • An American guy from San Francisco in his late 70-es, who could not swim either, but unlike the other non-swimmers readily jumped into the waters at every stop, tied to a floating buoy.  He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout the experience.
  • A friendly couple from Morocco, who took a lot of photos, and were happy to practice their English with everybody who volunteered.
  • A young Philippine couple who looked like newly-weds, and kept mostly to themselves.
  • An old grandma with a stick, travelling with her daughter.  We were sure she was staying on board, but grandma surprised everybody by jumping out of the boat at the first island stop, and hurried about with her stick, exploring the island.
  • Another Philippine couple, middle-aged, friendly and smiley, but not speaking a word of English (which did not stop them from communicating with everybody in the universal language of gestures and smiles).
  • And yours truly.
Off we go!

We signed up for the “5 islands tour”, and were hoping to be all islanded out by the end of the day.  The weather was great, the sun was shining, the boat’s motor seemed reliable enough and the captain and his two mates seemed to know what they were doing, so the day was promising to be a success.

Helicopter Island (courtesy of

Our first stop was the Helicopter Island (official name – Dilumacan Island) , named so due to its shape that from water was supposed to resembled a helicopter (minus the propeller).  I have to say, that it took quite a bit of imagination for the naming party to arrive at this particular one.  Off the top of my head, I’d have probably come up with a Drumstick, a Whale, or even a half-soaked Swimming Cat…  Alas, somebody saw a propeller-less helicopter, and the island was christened for tourists to come… 

Our boat closed in on a long sandy beach on the Eastern side of the island, where a dozen others were already rocking in the waves, one of the captain’s helpers jumped into the waters, showing that that it was not too deep, and waving for us to follow suit.  Grandma with a stick was the first to show a good example, helped by her daughter (whose efforts resembled more attempts at restraining the old lady, than easing her way off the boat, but grandma was unstoppable!)  Our remaining swimming companions followed her.  The American guy bravely stepped overboard, disappeared in the water, and proudly floated up with the help of a buoy, tied to his leg.

Helicopter Beach – view towards the boat-landing spot

The island boasted a long white sandy beach, stretching as far as the eyes could see, and we were given 20 minutes to explore and admire.  As we walked just a little bit further from the boats, they and the other tourists disappeared behind a sandy bank, giving us a full impression of being all alone on the beach.  This was a great start to the trip – the waters were crystal clear with all shades and colors of turquoise and blues of the skies reflected in them, the sand was white and seemed un-touched by civilization.

Helicopter Beach – view away from the boats

After 20 minutes of enjoying the blues and whites of the Helicopter Island beach, we got back into the boat, and continued to the next stop – Hidden Beach.  Well concealed by the cliffs of the Matinloc Island and accessible only through a narrow crevice in the rocks, the beach is, indeed, hidden from prying eyes and cannot be seen from the water.  Our boat parked next to the crevice, and we first swam, and then walked on a shallow sand spit in the clearest waters we’ve ever seen through the opening in the cliffs.  We were the only boat there at this time, and had the beach and the shallow-water lagoon just to our merry little group. 

The Secret Beach – all to ourselves!

Me, Nic and the American guy were the first off the boat, and the first to see the lagoon and the beach open up in front of our eyes.  The feeling was almost surreal – it was amazingly beautiful, and completely empty.  We felt like the only people on Earth.  That is, until the remaining members of the gang caught up with us, and started splashing about and taking photos.  We did our share of both, and headed back to the boat.  It was time to leave – several more dinghies, twice the size of ours were hovering about at the entrance to the beach, each carrying several dozen passengers, eager to jump into the waters in a quest for hidden treasures.

The clear waters of the Hidden Beach lagoon
Secret Beach

Our third stop was not, strictly speaking, the 3rd island – the boat circled around the Northern tip of the Matinloc Island, and docked at its Western side.  We disembarked at a shallow little cove off the pier at a site of the so-called Matinloc Shrine – a Virgin Mary statue in a white domed pavilion.  Built in 1982, allegedly as part of a spiritual resort construction project that went down the drain due to misappropriation of funds, and other similar distractions, the statue of the Virgin was very white, very well preserved, and covered by a classical-looking white dome. 

Matinloc Shrine – the Virgin Mary is hiding in the greenery

The former construction site boasted not only the shrine (in very decent condition), but a concrete pier, and an unfinished shell of a 3-story building, that was supposed to house the resort per se.  The pier was full of boats docked right at it, as the shrine was a popular destination for religious tourists.  It was also a common lunch pit-stop for most boat operators from El Nido, with several tables and benches, as well as big stones and logs that could be (and intensively were) used by all descendants on the island, free from visiting the shrine.

The remnants of a would-be spiritual retreat

The unfinished building towered proudly over the shrine that seemed comparatively minuscule.  Much as we love abandoned buildings, we decided against exploring the crumbled insides in flip-flops, and resorted to admiring the ruins from outside.  The shrine and the building were not the only relics on this part of the beach, though.  Tucked in the bushes opposite the empty resort shell was a surprising and very colorful memorial to Ferdinand Marcos.  A notorious former president of the Philippines, secret multi-billionaire sued by his own people and a husband of shoe-collecting Imelda, Marcos was not (to put it mildly) a very popular person in his home-country even during his lifetime, let alone after his death.  Finding his monument in full colorful military regalia next to a shrine was surprising, but maybe we were missing some insight into Philippine history and mentality…

The beautiful rocks off the Matinloc Island

While we were sightseeing, our brave crew was busy preparing lunch.  When we returned to the boat, a beautiful feast of grilled fish, fried rice, beans, vegetables and fruit was laid out for us.  Since all benches, stones and tree trunks were already taken, we eat on the boat together with our multi-tasking crew.  Whether it was the ambiance, the happy feeling of vacations, or their actual cooking skills, the food tasted amazing, and we still remember it fondly as one of the best meals we had on the trip!


Full and tranquil after lunch, we lazily watched as our brave crew was trying to jump-start the motor of the boat that at this point also decided to take a break.  We could not do much to help, but no help was needed – after about 10 minutes of the engine screeching, spitting steam and oil, and demonstrating generally un-cooperative behavior, the boys shouted over the rocks to the pier, two more boats with more curious spectators appeared, and our motor was successfully jump-started off the engine of one of them.  We were mobile again!

The boat took us down the Tapiutan Straight, separating Matinloc from the neighboring Tapiutan Island, and paused for our next pit-stop: snorkeling over a coral reef off Tapiutan.  I was not really much for snorkeling, as after several nose operations in my childhood breathing through my mouth was off the list of fun things to do.  Even so, I could enjoy the myriad of colorful fishes hurrying underneath the boat by simply looking down. 

Snorkeling in the clearest waters off Tapiutan Island

The water was so clear, that you could see everything going on in and over the reef, and when some left-over rice was thrown overboard by the captain, and swarms of fishes of all sizes, shapes and colors rushed to pick it up, my curiosity about underwater world was fully satisfied.

You can’t get a bluer water than that!

The last stop of the day was Secret Beach, also located on Matinloc Island, just a little further down South from the snorkeling location.  The beach is called secret, because it is completely covered from water by the rocks, and is only accessible through 2 not very long natural tunnels under said rocks. They are not under-water, but have very low ceilings, with barely a possibility to stick one’s head out from under water to get some breath.  Technically, this should scare people away, at least the claustrophobic ones.  Judging by the number of boats parked right at the entrance to the tunnels, and the hordes of people inside the tunnels and on the beach itself, the prevalence and incidence of claustrophobia among tourists in that particular area was extremely low.  Alas, the beach did not seem to be so secret anymore!…  While the hidden lagoon and the thin stretch of sand on the side of it were definitely spectacular, it was impossible to take any photos where either water or beach would be visible and not covered by visitors, let alone enjoy the experience.  I fully realize how hypocritical my words sound – after all, we were among those hundreds of people covering every square inch of the Not So Secret Beach (they should definitely think about renaming it!)  Well, we did have one beach today all to ourselves, so we could not be too greedy, I guess…

All in all, despite the crowds of the Secret Beach, the day trip was a definite success, and upon return to dry land we washed off the salt of the day with a quick shower, and enjoyed the drinks and the music in our favorite local bar.

Boats are back from the trips in the late afternoon
Our 5-Island Tour route

We still had a couple more days on Palawan, before our holidays would expire, so I am not finished with the Philippines stories just yet.