It was a long, almost six hours, bumpy ride from the Puerto Princesa airport to the northeastern tip of the long island, called Palawan. I was squeezed between the driver and a Caucasian passenger at the front part of the coaster, a backpack under my leg and my gadgets on my lap. The back of the seat just reached my shoulders, there was nothing to rest my head on. I couldn’t move. The blaring music was unpleasant to my ear, it was not my kind of music.
It was raining outside.
And I was hungry. I only managed to grab a bottle of water as my ride was getting full and was ready to roll.
Halfway through the trip, the coaster stopped at a roadside restaurant overlooking the sea. It was a pleasant respite. After a hearty lunch (it was so cheap!), I made a quick visit to the bathroom. I walked a bit around the tree-filled area to circulate my blood, played with the resident dog, and took photos. The ride from thereon wasn’t any bit better, the road was bumpier and muddier. The views of the forest, the cliffs, and the sea made one wish to arrive at one’s destination quickly. The Caucasian (I can’t remember his nationality) to my right started a conversation. He married a Filipina, acquired a property in El Nido, set up a bed and breakfast, and stayed longer. He fell in love with the place and retired in paradise. He goes to Puerto Princesa City on a weekly basis to purchase his supplies and goes back to El Nido before the sun sets.
We arrived in El Nido at dusk as the rain poured its best. The terminal is located at the outskirts and I had to take another tricycle ride to my hotel. They charged more going to the town than going to the terminal. But the driver was nice and polite.
There are no four- or five-star hotels in El Nido (except the exclusive one on an island off the main town that is so costly that the cost of one night can bring you to more places in Palawan). There are no Shangri-las, Grand Hyatts, Four Seasons, or Westins there (and I hope none will set up shop).
I checked in at Sei Nazioni, a small Italian-owned hotel composed of six cottages representing the owner’s six (sei) favorite nations (nazioni). The check in was fast because of the rain. The counter only had white cloths for protection. I was shown into my bamboo cottage and warned about the tuko (geckos) that would crawl anytime they fancy. There, they charge extra for the use of the air conditioner. But who would want one when the weather was already cool? The ceiling fan was enough. There was no hot water in the shower. No TV. There was slow internet connection. Windows and doors were locked with hooks. but nothing was lost and no break-ins happened.
There are a lot of choices for accommodation in El Nido. There are clean and neat homestays that won’t bleed your pocket, provide you the basic bed and breakfast and free flowing coffee. There are hotels too, but not the starred kind (maybe a few), for those who prefer more ‘comfort’.
Sleep was not much of a challenge. The howls of dogs, hoots of owls, sounds of insects, calls of geckos, and the movement of nighttime creatures lulled me to sleep. A different group sounded the alarm at sunrise — crowing roosters, barking dogs, twitting birds, flapping wings, and howling cats. It was a riot of sounds!
The hotel was small. I met Japanese and German tourists, we chatted over breakfast, happily complained of the sounds we heard day and night, and bid each other well. That would be our routine for a few days.
El Nido is a quiet town that seemed to be left behind by time. It looked like my mom’s hometown in the 1970s. The only public transportation were tricycles but people often walk than ride. I had to walk every day.
The nights in El Nido were dim, dark in many corners — a perfect set-up for a crime story. But, El Nido is a peaceful village, one of the very few places in the Philippines whose crime rate is close to nil, nada, zero, zit, kosong. Looked like the police are more busy with community work rather than chasing criminals.
There were no 7-11s there, only the traditional sari-sari stores, most of which close quite early. Restaurants are all over but many won’t stay ’til late. If you are a club-going, party-person you would be disappointed in El Nido. The only place for late night party we chanced upon was a seaside joint that features a reggae band. Prostitution seemed to be absent in the place. It was the only tourist spot I had been to where no one offered sex and drugs on the street! (Oh, God, please don’t give them the idea; keep El Nido clean.)
It was July and the weather was crazy. It rained most days. The storm was far north of the Philippines, El Nido is at the western side of central Philippines, and yet the weather was unpredictable. All island-hopping trips were cancelled. It was frustrating.
But if this trip was inconvenient, I didn’t mind because it was at this point when El Nido revealed its beauty.