Tag Archives: el nido

Cargo Boats and Commandos

8 May

I’m a great fan of authenticity in travel. Travelling, where possible, as the locals do, which, given the wealth divide in the Philippines, means either with the driver(s) in the chauffeur’s seat(s), and the maid(s) and/or nanny(s) looking after the nippers, or (on our budget) by a spectacular range of public transportation.

Now, cargo boats are a mode of transport that are rapidly disappearing. Many of the big boats on the most popular worldwide routes now function as exclusive, floating hotels for baby boomers who still retain their 60s fantasies of tramp steamers, with a la carte dinners at the captain’s table, marble en suites, and the whole shebang.

So I was really excited to be taking a bona fide cargo boat from El Nido, Palawan, to Coron, in the Calamian Islands, which cluster a hundred miles or so north-east. So was the young master.

Well, he was until we boarded.

It would be fair to say that, for Z, there is such a thing as too much authenticity, and that that thing could be best expressed by reference to the good boat Josille. Continue reading

A Serpent in Paradise

3 May

Black banded sea krait rising from the base of the sea

Not, honestly, the best thing to see while snorkelling

The labyrinth of reef-fringed karsts around El Nido, Palawan, must be one of the best island-hopping destinations in the world. Whether above water or under it, we’ve had the most amazing couple of days.

A little too amazing for the camera I bought in Vientiane, making that two cameras down in under four months, so you’ll have to take the ensuing purple passages on trust…

We’ve spent the last two days island-hopping, first on kayaks, then on a bangka, with Z’s new friend Dima, from the Ukraine, but based in Manila, and his ma, Natasha. It’s been absolutely idyllic.

Take Secret Beach, for example. You snorkel through a foot high crevice in a jagged grey limestone cliff, above a dramatic, turquoise underwater drop off where shoals of angelfish clog the water, into a lost world: white sand beach, shallow coral lagoon, all fringed by these surreal volcanic shards of dark grey cliffs, with crabs scuttling boldly vertical towards the swifts’ nest up above. And you, your companions and your boat, have the place all to yourself. Continue reading

El Nido

2 May

view of bangkas and islands in El Nido bay.

A good way to wake up...

After a few weeks in the Philippines, one becomes almost inured to beauty.

Almost, but not quite, for El Nido, in the north of Palawan, really does take your breath away. It’s named for the swifts’ nests which snuggle within the gothic cliffs that cast a shade so deep the backstreets need streetlights of an afternoon.

A little place, about three streets deep and three streets wide, El Nido sits on a shallow, deeply indented bay, dominated by jagged shards of the cliffs and studded with deep green karst islands, forced from the bay by primeval forces, whose surrealist precipices, humps and angles resemble nothing more than a child’s first sketch of islands.

The first amazing glimpse of the sea in all its glory as you wind through crazy chocolate drop hills, past lazing caribao and palm-thatch villages, is utterly gobsmacking.

I’ve posted before about the beauty of serendipity in travel. And in El Nido, serendipity has really struck. I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined that five hours on the top of an overloaded bus over bad roads could be a beautiful thing.

Buses, and for that matter jeepneys, function in the rural Philippines as a form of FedEx, delivering unaccompanied goods from sacks of rice and boxes of chicks through to fridges and air conditioners. The bus we took, amongst other things, was carrying furniture. Result! Continue reading

Maritime Woes

29 Apr

Fishing bangka with extra outrigging, off Palawan, the Philippines

You can find the bloody fish, though, can't you, chaps?

There are many things unique and wonderful about the Philippines. But the boatmen here are phenomenal in many of the wrong ways.

Right now, sat in utter serenity on a perfect crescent of a beach (me) and scaling a coconut palm (Z), the various unpleasantnesses of the morning feel like serendipity in action.

All the same, Filipino mariners are quite the phenomenon. I’ve traveled in heading for forty countries. This is the only nation I have ever visited where boats routinely deposit one in the wrong bloody place. Continue reading