Part 9. El Nido – Tourist Stuff

Having decided on El Nido being our last destination on this trip, we fell into the routine of island life quite easily.  A morning swim in the rooftop pool, a lazy breakfast in one of many nice places in town, and doing tourist stuff.  Which for us did not include buying useless shit, but consisted of exploring the area by any means possible.

During the first couple of days we walked around El Nido proper about 10 times (the place really was not that big), and having learned every street and bar, we decided it was time to go a bit further.  Our first venture out of town was on dry land.  The next mighty island steed was not easy to find, but we persisted, and our efforts were rewarded.

A run-down but still alive scooter with two helmets of equally advanced age were found and rented for the day.  We had several places on our list:

  • Lio Beach – supposedly a nice and relaxed location with white sand and blue waters,
  • Bulalacalo Waterfalls, located somewhere in the depths of the northern tip of the island and within a scooter-ride distance from El Nido,
  • a Zip Line, which promised to bring you from El Nido proper to one of the tiny islands off its coast over the turquoise sea waters.

It took us about 30 min riding in the heat and relatively chaotic traffic in around El Nido, to get to Lio Beach.  It was, indeed, pristine and beautiful and even a resort, located right on it somehow did not manage to spoil it.  Maybe because mere mortals not holding residence at said resort were still allowed to trod the sand.  Maybe exactly despite of it.  We did not muse too long over the reasons, but were just happy to enjoy the white sand, the blue waters, and the relaxed atmosphere.  We braved the waters, and thoroughly enjoyed the long-awaited swim in the sea.  The water was warm and refreshing at the same time, and the mild wind on the shore kept the few tourists sunbathing on the beach away from the water.  We could not ask for more!

The plus point of the resort being there, was a beach bar/restaurant, where we had some lovely juices and tacos at a very reasonable price.  It looks like he resort was not trying to make all its money on food and beverage, and we were quite happy to allow the paying residents subsidized our snacks with paying heftily for their lodgings.

Refreshed and invigorated by the swim and the snacks, we moved on direction waterfall.  Remembering the lovely waterfalls of Siquijor, we were seriously anticipating this part of the program.  Especially considering the over +40C sweltering heat.  Within 5 min off the beach, the freshness evaporated and was replaced with the already familiar sensation of being in a hot sauna.

The roads of this part of the island left a lot to be desired.  The gravel track leading off the main road to where the waterfall was supposedly located (all maps we had looked quite different from one another, and the exact location of the waterfall differed by miles between them) was expectedly more adventurous.  We were navigating between potholes and huge rocks sticking out in-between them, and it took all Nic’s riding mastery not to get caught in any of huge dents in this track.

Finally, some hand-painted road-side signs indicated that we reached our destination.  The terrain was flat as a pancake, and no waterfall could be spotted with a naked eye, but we tried to be positive.  A cheerful and almost round woman cashed in 50 pesos off both of us for an entrance fee to the waterfall (even though there was no entrance to be seen), and provided essential directions: “cross two rivers, turn right after the 2nd river, cross three more and you are there”.  This started sounding interesting…  Considering the fact that the woman did not mention any boats or canoes, we hoped the river crossing would be done on foot.  But on the Philippines you never know…

We parked our mighty steed in the shade, and set off on our river-crossing adventure.  The first river presented itself shortly – it was a shallow, but wide and fast stream, with clear waters and an uneven rocky bed.  The cold water was a welcome respite for our tired and dusty feet, but we had to watch closely where we stepped, and made sure our flip-flops did not sail away.  Somewhere mid-stream we gave up, and took the flip-flops off – this helped a lot.

The narrow and at times barely visible hedgehog path winding through the jungle was market at places with colorful ribbons tied in strategic locations – without them locating the path would have been difficult, to say the least. 

After trekking through the jungle and having crossed the promised 5 streams/rivers, we heard the first sounds of the waterfall. 

The jungle cleared up, revealing another cardboard sign for the waterfall, this time quoting the entrance price of 100 pesos for two and an ancient man sitting under it, receiving said money with seeming indifference.  We did not argue, and coughed up the pennies.  We were the only visitors, and happily dipped our sweaty, dusty, and mosquito-bitten bodies into the cold waters of this well-hidden jungle cascade. 

I have never felt so refreshed in my life!..  Invigorated by the waterfall coolness, we trekked back through the jungle in no time, and re-united with our mighty stead.  The cheerful round woman was nowhere to be seen…

The Zip Line, advertised all over El Nido as one of the main attractions/fun things to do, was next on our itinerary.  Technically, it was on the opposite side of town from the waterfall, so we rode back to El Nido for another good 50 minutes, past the already visited Lio Beach, and about 10 min outside of El Nido, huge commercially printed billboards left no doubts that the Zip Line was right there.

If we thought getting to the Waterfalls was a bitch, the day had a new surprise for us.  At least the waterfalls were reachable on relatively flat terrain.  To get to the start of the Zip Line, we had to climb up steep cliff on a narrow path with shaky wooden rails until our knees almost buckled and we were seriously out of breath.  On the top of the Zip Line platform we read that we just climbed almost 750 meters – we sure as fuck felt every single one of them!

Now, a brief detour into my personal history.  Somehow, having reached a respectable age of 40+ years, I have never, ever, been on a Zip Line.  Moreover, I had very vague ideas as to what it actually is.  Nic said it was a lot of fun, so I signed up.  After the trip up, that left me almost breathless, I started to seriously reconsider my decision.  Turned out – all for nothing!  Zip lining WAS a lot of fun!  True, you need to “sing for your supper” to climb to the starting point, but after that it was a piece of peace.  We were strapped into harnesses, given colorful helmets, and waved off “into the abyss”.

The abyss was full of light, with bright green treetops underneath, that quickly changed into the turquoise waters, separating mainland Palawan with the tiny Depeldet Island off its Western coast.  The views were spectacular, but the fun was over way too soon to my taste!  The guy on top warned me to keep straight and try not to turn around on the harness, but mysterious forces rotated me right at the very end, and I came to the end of the line back-first.  A huge firm cushion embraced me upon landing (this was not a euphemism for another cheerful and round Zip Line employee, but an actual big leather cushion, strategically positioned to welcome the arriving in the end of the line).  I was ready to go again, but timely remembered the tedious climb up to the starting point.  Probably, some other time…

Getting back onto the mainland Palawan could not have been easier – even though technically Depeldet was a separate island, it was separated from Palawan only by an extremely shallow sandy spit that was very walkable.  We enjoyed a stroll through the shallow clear waters, further up the Marimegmeg Beach, and up to the main road, where our mighty steed was waiting to take us back to our digs in El Nido. We spent another beautiful evening at Subasco, sipping their chilled wine (me) and beer (Nic), listening to their wonderful music, and shooting shit with our newly-found friend (the resident drummer of the band), who spoke great English, wore amazing long dreads, and rode a motorbike (proudly parked in front of the bar).

Our day trip route

Part 8: Palawan

Palawan was not in our initial plans due to its relative remoteness to the rest of the Philippines.  However, having read about it rated “The Most Beautiful Island in the World” only 2 years ago, we decided that considering we were already in that neck of the woods, it had to be visited.  It was also the 5th biggest island of the country, so remote or not, we won’t be short of things to do and places to see, even if we were to stay put there till the end of our trip.  We only had one week left anyway…

With all necessary preparations made the day before, we woke up the next morning to the sound of rain – definitely high time to leave Bohol!  Another ferry starting with a prayer took us to Cebu in 2 hours without any incidents (maybe there was something to those prayers, after all…).  The rain in Cebu was pouring even harder, but we only had a quick taxi ride to the airport to catch our flight to Puerto Princesa on Palawan.  Just the name of the place promised adventures of royal proportions, and sounded amazingly grand!  One hour later, we were there.  The sun was shining, the temperatures were warm, and the surrounding looked temptingly promising.

We had only a rough plan for our stay on the island.  From what we could see on the map, Palawan was actually a long mountain range, sticking out of the Sulu Sea, and stretching from Southwest to Northeast for the impressive 425 km.  The capital, Puerto Princesa, was bang in the middle of it.  Online resources promised amazing places and great parties in El Nido, on the Northern-most tip of the island.  All of them unanimously agreed that getting either to the North or to the South of the island from Puerto Princesa was a bitch due to the length of the journey, mountainous terrain, and lack of easy public transportation options.  We were mentally bracing ourselves for an 8-hour bus-ride, but did not make any commitments just yet.

Palawan map – courtesy of

Considering that our flight from Cebu arrived in the afternoon, and bus rides on unlit night roads through mountains on remote islands were not among the adventures we wanted to experience, we booked a night in a hotel in Puerto PrincesaFloral Villarosa looked nice online, was affordable, had a pool, and offered free airport transfers – what more could you want?!…  Our driver for the 15-min ride to the hotel was a cheerful and completely round guy, who introduced himself as Bobby.  Bobby may have had problems fitting in his own car, but was a superb driver and companion – within the first five minutes of the trip he told us where to eat and drink in Puerto Princesa, shared his opinion on various destinations on the island, and told us half his life story.  All this while expertly avoiding potholes, people and chickens on the road without even looking in the direction he was driving in.  He definitely would have told us much more, but the town was not that big, and the hotel was not that far from the airport.  We loved Bobby!

He delivered us to the door of our lovely digs covered with vines and flowers, but before letting him go, we secured his services for the trip to El Nido the following day.  Fuck the 8-hour bus-rides!…  We could afford to cough up 40 euros a head, and make the trip in 4 to 5 hours in an air-conditioned car in great company.  According to Bobby, he made such trips often, and the only thing he hated was driving at night.  We agreed with him on this point, and decided to leave at 8 the following morning, which would allow him to get back home before dark.

The refreshing pool at Floral Villarosa

We showered the day of travel off our tired bodies, thoroughly enjoyed the pool at Floral Villarosa and had dinner in Captain Ribs (recommended by Bobby – who else!?).  The place had great food, a lovely garden with candles and a giant ginger cat presiding in the middle of it.  Even when sleeping he looked like he owned the place. 

The aspiring boss of Captain Ribs

We had the ribs, the wine, and enjoyed the evening thoroughly.  Apart from a frog falling out from the tree on a couple sitting at the next table (it ran away too fast for me to take a photo, and seemed to be as shocked as the middle-aged Dutch lady and her husband whose table it landed on), the evening so far was peaceful and uneventful. 

Our only mistake was the decision to have a nightcap cocktail at the bar before leaving.  While sipping what we erroneously thought to be our last beverages for the night, we started chatting with three French guys at the bar.  Two of them happened to be the rightful owners of the place (no matter what the ginger cat thought), and after our compliment to their restaurant and the wine, they started opening bottles, generously inviting us to join in whatever it was they were celebrating.  Several hours later, we were stumbling back to the hotel rather drunk, only vaguely and painfully remembering that we had to get up early the following morning…

Puerto Princesa sunset

Alas, our last memories of Puerto Princesa were not the drunk haze, but the amazing Villarosa’s Best breakfast – hash browns with ham, cheese, eggs and bacon, that almost resuscitated us.  Thank you, the unknown breakfast cook – we thoroughly enjoyed your creations!

Bobby was on time, fresh as a daisy, and cheerful as ever.  He threw our bags in the car, squeezed himself behind the wheel (the fact that his driver’s seat was pushed all the way back almost into the boot did not help one bit), and we started off on our journey.  During the next 4 hours (this was exactly how long it took to make 260 km from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, we congratulated ourselves numerous times on making the smart decision the day before – 8 hours on a bus with hangover, through windy mountain roads would have been way too much for our delicate souls!…

Bobby continued entertaining us with a variety of stories, and even through our headaches we managed to enjoy his company.  An hour-long conversation about cocks was definitely the highlight of the trip.  Only in the Philippines!…

Cockfighting (of the bird- and not S&M variety) is a serious business and a national sport in the Philippines.  Before the squeamish-ones and the animal-rights activists spit in my direction for bringing the subject up, it is important to understand that cockfighting is a 6,000 year old tradition, and the gamecocks (I shit you not – this is the official name of the bird!) are not specially trained to be aggressive.  This breed of roosters possesses congenital aggression toward all males of the same species, and the breeders only try to increase their stamina and strength.  Tradition or not, it is still a blood sport, where the loser normally goes into the soup.  Considering the fact that most roosters do end up there anyway, at least the gamecocks go out fighting.  Everyone in the Philippines loves cockfighting, and big events are held regularly throughout the country.  “You have a beautiful cock!” is a perfectly acceptable compliment in polite society in the Philippines (considering the bird is present as well).

With only one pit-stop on the way (toilet for us, food for Bobby), we reached El Nido in record 4 hours, hugged Bobby good-bye, and looked around.  El Nido sure looked like a happening place, and was simultaneously buzzing and relaxed.  We felt right at home.  The Forever Blessed Inn booked online, however, needed all the blessings it could get, as it turned out to be quite a dump.  We thanked our lucky stars and foresightedness for having made the booking for only one night, and decided to apply the tried and tested way of looking for accommodation: walking around and knocking on doors of decent-looking places.  This had additional advantages of sightseeing and exploring the area.

Welcome to El Nido!

Feeling the end of vacation coming, and wishing to make the most of it, we wanted not just a decent-looking place, but a decent-looking place with a pool.  Of which, at the time of our visit, downtown El Nido had exactly two: Sea Cocoon and Cuna Hotel.  These were the 1st two doors we knocked at, and were lucky on second try: the newly-opened Cuna Hotel was happy to welcome us starting from tomorrow!  We happily paid up for the next 5 days (at the equivalent of €40 a night for a spacious, modern room with fantastic bathroom, air-conditioning and a rooftop pool it was a bargain!), and with the last week of our holiday sorted, we could now relax, have a drink and explore the area.

View of El Nido from the rooftop of Cuna Hotel

Upon closer acquaintance, El Nido did not disappoint – it was a crazy little town, sleepy and bustling with energy at the same time, with a wild assortment of little shops, bars and restaurants.  The latter were ranging from the surprising “Odessa Mama” with home-made Ukrainian pelmeni and home-brewed beer on the menu, to the Israeli-run “Happiness Beach Bar”, serving amazing hummus and offering swings and cocktails at the bar.  Throughout the following 5 days thoroughly enjoyed both, as well as “Trattoria Altrove” – a classy Italian with an authentic pizza oven, chucking out fantastic pizzas and attracting crowds of hungry diners every evening. 

Our go-to place for the evenings, though, was “Subasko” – a small music bar around the corner from Cuna Hotel, where we made friends with the bar staff and the owner (all of whom were jamming together and in turns every evening).  The place served drinks (wine as well!) and snacks, and was jam-packed every night, with singing and dancing (with audience participation) going on well into the early hours of the morning.  We loved El Nido!

Subasco – the best bar in El Nido!