Sunday, November 8, 2015

Manila Diary | El Nido, Palawan


Palawan is ranked #1 of the Top Islands in the World. You could not believe how excited I was to get away from work for a week and completely indulge in the wonders of the island. This week was one of the best weeks of my life, meeting all sorts of new people and trying new foods. Here's my story...


DAY ONE - NOVEMBER 1

The morning arrived quickly, after a night of flying and driving to El Nido. Anthony and I took a quick 5 minute scooter ride to our first destination. There I met 3 amazing girls, Fen, Kelly, and Kamila. Fen and Kelly were traveling from Holland...and Tawaian, Japan, Hong Kong, and a handful of other places. They were on foot, living life as it came by and were kind, open and very charming. Coincidentally enough, Kamila was a sweetheart from Poland and living in a nearby island where she would be there for 3 months on an internship, exactly what I was doing! We talked a little longer until we were directed to our boat. We strapped on our life jackets and set sail!





It was like walking in a dream. The islands are gorgeous. White sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. I couldn't believe my eyes. The sun felt so warm and nice against my skin. We meandered around the island and explored between palm trees and bushes. We relaxed and swam in the ocean for awhile and played with tiny sand crabs that were only 1 inch long. 

We hopped back into the boat and headed to the next stop. A beautiful blue lagoon, perfect for kayaking and snorkeling. Kamila and I decided to share a kayak and explore the inside of the lagoon. There was a narrow opening, surrounded by the sharp black rock that made it so only a kayak could fit through. It opened up to the beautiful lagoon surround by mountainous rock. The water was only a few feet deep, but covered in all kinds of coral. We were in awe. As we rowed, Kamila and I ran into other people from all over the world, including France, Poland and even New York City. It was quiet and beautiful. 


We made our way over to a small beach to take a quick break from rowing. We sat down on the sand and talked about our internships. I couldn't believe that our situation was so similar! Meeting someone that came to a third world country all on her own, and traveling by herself, I couldn't help to think of how brave she was. All of the girls that we met were at one point traveling alone, across borders and countries. I was completely amazed. Kind, simple and giving people that didn't have an agenda, didn't have a deadline just went on about their day, excited, and ready for a new adventure.

It's not very often that you meet people like that. Friendly, adventurous and care-free. It made me think that the world is not as bad as it seems. There is no denying of the deceitful and dark things that happen, but how often do we shed light on all that is good? People are just people. We walk, talk, eat, read, learn, understand and listen all the same. We're all hear trying to find some sort of answer or path for ourselves, and enjoying the ride along the way. Breathing in everything that makes up where you are, the scenery, the people, the culture and cuisine. This is your one moment, your day to live, it should be indulged in the unknown and giving a chance to new things. 

After a while I realized we were being called out too, signifying that lunch was ready. We brushed the sand off of our legs, heaved the kayak back into the water and paddled our way back to the boat. 






Lunch was delicious. There was grilled fish, chicken, muscles, vegetables, rice, cucumbers and yellow watermelon. I didn't mind sitting in a boat, enjoying an amazing meal in the middle of paradise. I had zero complaints! We talked, shared stories and enjoyed each other's company. 

We cleared off the table, stacked the dishes and we set sail for our next destination. This was a smaller lagoon, that had big surrounding rock. Cliffs perfect for jumping off of, that me and Kamila were eager to get too, but our guide said that it was too rocky for us and could be dangerous. (We probably would have been fine, but we listened) We took turns jumping off the boat, taking funny pictures and videos! The water was a deep greenish blue and was a little colder in this area. After awhile we brought up the anchor and traveled to the next spot.



We came up to an open area perfect for snorkeling. I hadn't actually ever snorkeled until today, and it was amazing. We threw out some of the rines from the watermelon and after a few seconds, fishes of all colors started feeding on the fruit, surrounding the boat. I strapped on my goggles and jumped in. I felt like a really big fish swimming in a giant tank. I swam next to beautiful fishes and colorful corals. Alongside the shore there were giant lizards that slowly crawled along the sand. Waves were crashing in a bit harder against the boat, but the moment you dived down, everything was peaceful. 








Our tour had finally come to an end. The sun was hanging low in the sky and I was in search for more delicious food. We invited Kamila to go get dinner with us! We met up again with her an hour later to go find food. We walked along the streets finding a Filipino restaurant. We ordered food and talked about life back at home, school, politics and culture. 

We walked a long the beach that night, in search for a good place to grab a drink. We found a place called the Coco Bar, complete with lights, live music, and a good selection of drinks. I loved picking her brain about her homeland of Poland. We couldn't help but salsa dance to the music and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Wash crashing up against the shore, where we plopped down on the side table and talked until late that night. We walked her back to her hotel and hugged her good bye. It was difficult to say good bye to someone so kind and genuine. We wished her luck on her flight back to Mindanao. We grabbed a tricycle back to the apartment and headed straight to bed.



DAY TWO - NOVEMBER 2

My dreaming was cut short early in the morning, when we were greeted at our door, that our tour guide for the hike was ready to come pick us up. I stretched my arms and rubbed my eyes awake. I pulled on sneakers, shorts and tee shirt and within a few minutes we were out the door.

Today we hiked Taraw Peak, but in reality it wasn't so much a hike, it was more rock climbing. We weaved through homes made of grass, with woman washing clothes, cooking food, and children playing together. In no time at all, we came up upon an entrance made of giant boulders. The black rock was jagged and sharp, but made for perfect holds. I immediately  felt like I was in an African safari, exploring the jungle. We brushed past trees, vines and encountered spiders, snails, ants and all sorts of crawlers. 

I felt at home climbing again, I have missed it so much. We were in the deepest part of nature and it felt so good! Sections of rock would shoot straight up 10 or 15 feet that were surprisingly steep. We ran into a group of French TV producers. They were filming a travel commercial for the Philippines! They let us go ahead of them, because they had very expensive equipment with them. So we slipped past and kept on climbing. 






The view was beautiful. We snapped a few photos before making our way back down the rock. We ran into a few monkeys swinging from trees and climbing the rock above us. They were perched on the branches, just quietly looking on at us, watching us climb down the mountain.

We didn't have much planned after that, we headed back to our hotel and relaxed and had a late breakfast. We were exhausted from the day before, so it was nice to catch up on some sleep and relaxation. A few hours later we woke up in time for dinner and headed to a quaint Filipino restaurant called Bulao Plaza. We walked along the rode finding an alley leading to the beach. It may seem silly, but I have 'Watch the Sunset on a Beach' on my bucket list, so naturally we acted fast to catch the sun before it set. 

Soft waves creeping along the shore, the boats off in the distance with the kiss of cloud coverage above, it was very serene and peaceful. El Nido is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I knew that I was going to miss this gorgeous place, but I still had one more day ahead of me...




DAY 3 - NOVEMBER 3

Today's group was much bigger than the first day. We had people from all over the world; Hong Kong, France, Australia and Israel. There were probably around 20 people on board, and we were ready to see where we were headed for the day. We landed on the beautiful Helicopter Beach to do some snorkeling. Our guides were very kind and I talked to them about the island and traditions. They asked about my home in America and the internship in Manila. The shore was a little crowded with other tourists, so I decided to take my camera and begin exploring.




We moved on to the next location, which was a secret (not anymore) beach. It was cave like with shallow waters. Surrounded by tall rock and dead coral. There were only a few spots where the coral was still alive. It was actually very sad seeing all of the dead coral, it takes an extremely long time to grow back to its natural color and healthy state. The places with live coral were beautiful; home to clown fishes and other small fish. If you stayed very still, you could crouch down by a small pond and watch them swim around. Our guide also found a giant blue fingered star fish which he handed over to me to hold. It was at that same moment, when I became inspired to take a certain kind of "Disney" inspired photo....

I couldn't resist! 
We herded everyone back on the boat and jetted over to Star Beach for lunch. It was very similar to the first day; fish, chicken, squid, vegetables, watermelon, bananas and rice. There I met an Israeli woman named Jordan. She was a little older than me with beautiful blue eyes. She told me that she too was here alone traveling and exploring Asia. She's living day by day, going with the flow. She told me all the places she has been and I gave her a brief insight as to why I was living in Manila. She told me when she was a little girl she dreamed of going to America and road tripping across the entire country. It was interesting to see someone talk of America in such an exciting way! 

We reached an island that had the Matinloc Shrine, a sacred monument built for the Virgin Mary in 1982. It was beautiful. The marble pillars had cracks and crevasses, but still held together well. There were statues of small angels carrying sea shells as basins. Flowers and palm trees still grew there and were wrapped around the area. There was a small lookout that we could hike to with hand carved stone stairs made of different shapes and sizes. The very top had slabs of jagged rock that you could climb onto with a view that is more than worth it. The shoreline, the boats and the far out sea could be seen for miles. Even the light frothy rain was a nice kind of touch. 



The last location was a secret beach. It wasn't far from where we were, plus we could see a storm brewing in the sky, so we were lucky that this was the last spot. We needed to swim about 60 feet into a small opening in the mountain get to a secret beach. The opening was maybe 5 feet wide and the high tides were making the entrance even smaller. I hesitated at first, but I put on my goggles and dived in head first. The ocean below me was a beautiful dark blue, with fish swimming amongst the coral. I swam hard and low so the waves wouldn't push so much. I reached the opening and could finally hoist myself up to higher level ground. 


The secret beach couldn't have been more perfect! Quiet and echoing, our crew lined ourselves along the tiny shore. I leaned back and laid down on the coarse sand. I breathed in deep and felt the cold sand beneath my toes. The very last time I'd be in El Nido. We all were conversing with each other when we realized the storm was picking up and a small trickle of rain was settling on us. Our guide told us we needed to leave before the storm became worse. The moment I stood up, the rain came down even harder and thunder began rolling in the clouds. The surface of the sea turned into a blue shaggy carpetas the raindrops came pummeling down. I felt this surge of adrenaline when the boys began to chant and whistle at the rain. We laughed, jumped around and weren't in that big of a hurry to get out of the storm. Eventually we were all filed away onto the boat and traveled back to the coast. It was the perfect way to end our trip to El Nido

Thanks for Reading
Love, Nick

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