8/11/13

Paradise, err, Wallet Lost (Part 2)


The alarm woke us up at 6 AM, and we expected the morning light to pierce through the curtains stereotypical of what happens on summer mornings in tropical paradise. I slowly opened my eyes and didn't see anything like that-- instead, there was a glint of yellow light coming from the bathroom's incandescent bulb, which I forgot to turn off the previous night. No sound of the chirping birds outside either. Jovee, who was lying next to the window, brushed the curtain to the side to open the jalousie. It was raining. What perfect timing, today is the first day of our island hopping, I gibed to myself.

No one bothered to turn off the alarm. The bottle of Empi lights we downed the night before was enough to have knocked us out to sleep, like a log. I even had to call out to them once in a while so we could eat breakfast early and prepare for the day. We were advised by ate the caretaker that the tour boat would pick us up at 9.

We had to waterproof our stuff because we needed to walk out in the open to the beachfront. There were tables and chairs set up in a hut on the beachfront where they serve all the meals, including the free breakfast. Breakfast consisted of rice, danggit, longganisa and sunny-side-up. Could have been my perfect morning chow if not for the meager serving. The other guests were already eating theirs when we came.

The weather was still looking inauspicious and I thought the gloom would just spoil the pictures. Good thing (but still not) that we did Tour A first. I heard Tour C (which we are doing the next day) offers more beautiful beaches and scenery. Mr. Sun ought to come out and shine bright tomorrow, we thought.

From the resort, we had to climb down what seemed to be a mini-pier where the boats could supposedly dock. Unfortunately that day, the water was too shallow and the boats were anchored about 50 meters away. We had to walk on a tide pool with a prolific growth of seagrass, which I found very uncomfortable to walk on. I have learned throughout my entire beach bumming profession that seagrass beds are home to the vile sea urchins. As we climbed aboard, we learned that we were going to share the boat with other groups of tourists. The boat was massive after all.



Anyway, Tour A comprised of a visit to the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Simizu Island and Seven Commandos beach. While on our way to the first destination, I realized that El Nido's seascape bears a strong resemblance to the one in Coron. Not very surprising at all, as they are both in the northern part of Palawan, just a good 6-hour boat ride away from each other.

The Big Lagoon is perhaps one of El Nido's most iconic spots. The boat usually pass through the "corridor," (as what our tour guide called it), a narrow passageway that cuts across humongous limestone boulders. This aisle is impassable at times, especially when the tide is low. In such a case, boats are parked near the entrance and people are encouraged to swim towards the lagoon. Fortunately that day, the water was high enough to let our boats pass through without a problem.



Could have been a better picture if there are clouds and a blue sky in the background. Still not bad, isn't it?

Nothing so much to do at the lagoon, really. The boat just literally went around and exited. Nothing very special to see either. It's safe to say that the entrance and the corridor were the main attractions here. Crystalline waters and little patches of white sand in vivid contrast against dark limestone karsts.

Just a few meters away is the Small Lagoon, which is similar to the Big Lagoon, but just smaller (duh). This was where we spent a lot of time swimming, floating and wading through the water. The boats wouldn't fit into the very small slit that leads to the charming little lagoon, but there are kayaks for rent at the entrance if that's your thing. We didn't rent one because first, it would cost us extra and second, it kind of takes away the fun. This place reminded me a lot of Coron's Twin Lagoon.


Our next stop was the very lovely Secret Lagoon, and I should say one of my favorite spots in El Nido. It is a small pocket of white sand beach hidden behind a limestone cliff, hence the name. JC cornily quipped that they should have changed its name already because it is, after all, not a secret anymore. Small boats could dock on its little beach, and ours was a tad too big to be accommodated. So we were encouraged to jump into the water and check it out for ourselves. Unfortunately my underwater camera was not very cooperative that time and I was not able to take pictures of this pretty place. Boo!

The captain parked our boat at Entalula Island, and soon enough the guide announced that it's lunch time. The sun has finally showed up, but we decided to eat lunch on the boat instead. The heat of the midday sun would punish us out there, and there was not much shade on the island where we could set up the picnic.

Entalula probably has the finest and whitest sand in the whole of El Nido. Too bad I wasn't able to take a handful of sample to add to my sand collection. I've read somewhere that it's now a private island, and you can't just go here without securing a permit. On the other side of the island where we were discouraged to explore, there were some comfortable chairs and tables set up, probably for guests who can afford to book the whole island for themselves.

I wish I could have taken photos of what we had for lunch, it was so festive and very typical of a Filipino beach picnic! Grilled pork and various seafood beautifully arranged on bilaos; salad, fruits and veggies were neatly presented that made them look very appetizing. Before I could take a decent photo of the banquet, it's all goner thanks to the hungry crew we shared the boat with (LOL).



After our hefty lunch, we headed for the next spot called Simizu (or Shimizu) Island. It was named after a Japanese diver who inspected the tunnels underneath it. The Simizu guy said that his team of Japanese divers nearly ran out of oxygen exploring the seemingly endless underwater labyrinth, and up until now the submarine tunnels are still being studied. The waters around Simizu island is teeming with colorful fishes and corals, making it ideal for snorkeling.


We did a little bit of snorkeling and fish-feeding (it seems like the fishes here were already used to the presence of humans and were apprehensive of food) but didn't stay very long. The water is not very much conducive to swimming as it was infested with itchy planktons-- although their bites were practically harmless, they could get really annoying.

So we finally decided to cap the tour off by visiting our last destination for the day.



Seven Commandos beach supposedly got its name from the seven soldiers who took refuge here during the war. I didn't get the specifics whether they're American, Filipino or Japanese soldiers, but heck who cares. All I know is that this beach was one of the most beautiful I've ever been to. What makes it really special is the splendid view: limestone cliffs of various shapes and sizes jutting out of the water around it. It was just a stunning beach. On the other hand, what makes it ugly is the expensive buko that they were selling in the island. Highway robbery at its finest! I could buy 2 coconuts in Manila at that price (50 pesos each!), come on. What's even worse is that we bought one each for ourselves anyway (LOL). I think the Seven Commandos beach experience would not be complete without drinking buko and eating its meat by the beach. Yeah right.

I really don't know how to play volleyball, but tried my hand at it anyway. The ball was not firm enough and it hurt so bad every time it hit some other parts of my arm that was not my wrist. It was fun playing "dumb" beach volleyball with the other passengers of the boat, who we eventually made friends with.

It was already late in the afternoon when the boat returned to the resort. We decided to wash up hurriedly so we could still visit the town in the daylight.



It was still quite early and since it was the first Friday of July, Julius and Jovee suggested that we drop by at the town's Catholic church. There was a Mass being held at that time. We managed to finish the service, and scouted around town for a place where we could eat decent dinner. We checked out Art Cafe, but didn't find the menu very interesting. We decided to eat at Sea Slugs, probably the most famous restaurant by the beach, but realized that it was still too early for dinner. We went to Pukka Bar and grab a few bottles of beer, waited for the sunset and watched some hippie-looking foreigners play Frisbee nearby. Pukka Bar is a relaxed, reggae-themed bar perfect for afternoon hangouts. A reggae band also plays every night at 10 PM.

We waved at a familiar group walking on the beach. It's one of our co-passengers on the island hopping tour. They joined us for beer and decided to tag along for dinner too. Apparently they were also looking for a good place to eat. After a few bottles, we went to Sea Slugs but too bad, it was already packed with people and we didn't make a reservation. 


We opted to go to Art Cafe instead. I ordered chicken tikka masala, which tasted OK. While eating, there were two Israeli guys singing on the stage, playing the guitar at the same time. They sounded really nice, singing hits from mellow Jack Johnson to some jacked up versions of Adele.


video

After dinner, we went back to Pukka Bar to drink the night away. It was a night full of catching up, silly stories, corny jokes, gossips at work and travel experiences. 

It was just a few minutes before midnight when we all decided to settle the bill.  Four tipsy guys walking by the cemetery at midnight seemed like a perfect plot for a horror story, so we all agreed to dismiss the idea. I texted kuya Tolits to drive us back to the resort on his trike.

It was only back in our room when I realized that I lost something really important. Jittery and my hands shaking, I groped all over my body for all other stuff that I might be missing. Camera? Cell phone? Coin purse? They're all here. What's missing is that big slump that used to sit comfortably in my backpocket.

Fuck it. I couldn't find my wallet


(to be continued...)

8/10/13

Paradise, err, Wallet Lost


It makes me really, really sad when I plan a trip out of town with my dearest friends just to end up going all by myself. Planned it at least half a year before the actual date so that everyone can make the necessary preparations, and just a few weeks before the actual trip you'll learn that they can't make it. Aside from the fact that it would make the DIY itinerary more expensive as I have nobody to share the expenses with, it's sad that I can't share with them the breathtaking scenery. Beautiful views open up interesting conversations. It makes us talk about beautiful things too, from simple stuff like silly jokes, to more serious ones like future plans, or where you guys will find yourselves 5, or 10 years from now. A little bit of alcohol makes it even more interesting. My point is, sometimes we plan trips with our friends because, most importantly, we love that we'll be sharing the journey together. Reaching the destination is just secondary.

That is what happened to the recent Palawan trip that I have planned late last year. Pops, Megs, Leo and I have finally decided to visit El Nido before it gets too famous. It has been receiving rave reviews recently, both from local and foreign tourists so we thought we should visit it before it gets too commercialized. As I have mentioned on my previous blog posts, I am never really a fan of crowded beaches. Personally, I don't find the idea of El Nido being the next Boracay very appealing. So when I saw the Piso Fare ad on Cebu Pac's website, I booked a trip to Puerto Princesa right away for the 4th of July, and advised the gang to do the same. We were all excited. It's El Nido after all-- we've been admiring it only on photos and videos. It's time that we see it in person.

To my utter dismay, just when I was confirming everyone's attendance by sending them the itinerary-- I found out that everyone had backed out. Pops couldn't file a vacation leave because of some issues with her teammates; Megs and Leo were out of cash. I tried to understand how valid their reasons were, but I couldn't help but be a little upset. 

But I know myself better. I won't this let this mishap rain on my parade. I thought that if I couldn't visit El Nido now, when? I know that seat sales are very common nowadays, but perfect timing is altogether a different story. It's final: I decided to go alone.

Then I was struck with a better idea.

I offered the plane tickets to some other friends. Facebook has made it very convenient to communicate with people nowadays. Thank heavens JC, Jovee and Julius took them. I also found it as an opportunity to reconnect with these guys, as I haven't seen them in ages. Except for Julius. He joined us in our adventure to Jomalig just a month prior.

And it was finally time.

We met at the airport and I realized that I did really miss these guys so much. We did a lot of catching up and even recalled all the while when I first met them back in college. Seemed like nothing has changed, they were still hilarious as hell.

I woke up to the loud thud of the plane landing hard on the tarmac. As soon as we deplaned, we hailed a tricycle outside the airport to take us to the tourism office so we could secure a permit to visit the Underground River. Paid the necessary fees, booked a trip to El Nido and had a quick lunch at a bulaluhan near the Puerto Princesa coliseum.

The van finally picked us up, and I almost broke into laughter with Julius' reaction when he learned that it would be a 6-hour van ride. Apparently, he didn't read the itinerary. We told him that we could just sleep it through, but the rough and winding road didn't help at all. Thankfully, the van's air conditioning was working well enough to keep us comfortable throughout the entire butt-numbing trip.

We reached El Nido just in time for dinner. At the terminal, we were greeted by kuya Tolits, the person who convoys the guests to the pension house with his trusty tricycle (we booked with HADEFE Cottages, including our island-hopping tour packages). As we were already starving, we had to ask kuya Tolits to pull over at a recommended eatery in the town center.

He pointed us at a restaurant along the street (I forgot the name). We assumed that it specializes on grilled food, apparent on its large charcoal-fed grill gracing its facade. The place was filled with foreigners, so it could be a good sign. After a good scan on the menu, I was surprised to see the prices-- whoa. Grilled tuna/squid meal, good for one person, for 200+ pesos? And I thought the town's main livelihood is fishing? I took a second look at the foreigners enjoying their excessively-priced food. 

We opted to look for a cheaper place to eat. We found a little carinderia-like eatery (with some turo-turo style ulam displayed inside a glass showcase) with an isaw stand outside. Still a bit overpriced but we were already hungry as a bear and just decided to settle for it. After dinner, we fit ourselves on kuya Tolits' smaller tricycle. It's the type that has no roof, just metal railings all around-- typical of something that market vendors use to transport goods and small livestock. We used a smaller vehicle so it could fit into the really narrow alleys that lead to the resort. HADEFE after all is not in the town proper. We passed by few other resorts, a poorly-lit cemetery (creepy), a Gawad Kalinga community, vacant lots, some sari-sari stores and houses every once in a while. At first we were a bit concerned about the location. It was really far from where the restaurants, bars and convenience stores were, but we realized that staying in HADEFE gave us a more relaxed and quiet stay. We loved it.

I appreciate that they provided us with an unlimited supply of instant coffee and hot water. Nothing beats a cup of coffee after a long day. The staff were really nice and friendly too. The room that was given to us (called the Pamana Room) has air conditioning, a nice spacious bathroom, two double beds perfect for the four of us to share. They even provided an extra mattress. As soon as we settled in our room, we checked out the resort. Boy, do they have many cottages and all of them were occupied! HADEFE doesn't have a very nice beach though-- it was more like a mini-port where the tour boats dock. The beach is strewn with pebbles and not very swimmable.


We bought a liter of brandy and decided to drink on our first night. It was, after all, a celebration.


Welcome to paradise, my friends.





(to be continued...)

8/7/13

Boracay, At Last! (Part 2)


Seriously, I didn't expect Boracay to be this gorgeous in broad daylight. The sand was blindingly white and the water was sparkling with mild hues of blues and greens. Truly a lovely sight. The beach was spotless, no trash, just an occasional sighting of natural debris like seaweed, twigs and coconut husks. 

The water was calm and inviting, so as early as 7 AM, we put on some sunscreen and decided to take a quick dip. 


This is where we stayed.

A few hours later, Leo and I felt the urge to eat breakfast. We Googled "best breakfast place in Boracay" and it returned with "Real Coffee and Tea Cafe." We even read the reviews and it seemed promising. The place was just a little hard to spot because it was tucked away inside an alley. We sat down and scanned the menu. I chuckled when I saw the price-- wow. Damn expensive for such simple meals! Anyway I ordered a pancake meal and Leo got the French toast. Few minutes later, we were served complimentary brewed coffee (their specialty, as what the restaurant's name suggested) which I found a tad bland for my taste. Isn't that ironic? Service was kind of slow and we're getting hungrier by the minute. At long last, our breakfast arrived. I was quite saddened by this lonely sight on my plate:


Posted this on my Facebook wall

We learned that their specialty is the Calamansi Muffin, so we asked if we can order a piece so we can taste it first. Unfortunately, they don't sell it by the piece, and we need to order at least one day in advance. We ordered a box of 8 and advised ate the server that we'll get it the next day.

The remaining hours of the day consisted of fun and exciting water activities! We tried Helmet Diving and the Fly Fish (damn you, Fly Fish! My arms were all sore after that craaaaazy ride!!! :D)-- I wish I have pictures though so I could explain better how these activities work. We also hired a boat to tour us around the whole island, and did a bit of snorkeling. We waited for the sunset at Puka beach, one of Boracay's less-crowded areas. The sand there was not fine-- I read somewhere that they are made up of crushed puka shells, where the beach got its name. The limestone cliffs of Puka beach add to its unique and tranquil appeal.




A Chinese guy named Tom (second from the right) joined us in our water activities.





Sunset is really a sight to behold in Boracay.

As Leo and I were dead tired and haven't had sleep for more than 24 hours already, we skipped the nightlife and hit the hay instead. 

We slept like a log and woke up so late the next day that we actually missed breakfast. So we just opted to eat early lunch at Tito's (they serve really really good food!), picked up our calamansi muffins and headed to the airport to catch our afternoon flight.

Yes, I spent a thousand pesos for an overnight accommodation, ate expensive and sad-looking pancakes, ordered iced coffee at the beachside Starbucks and even used the ATM machines on the shore to withdraw extra cash! I was a complete sellout LOL. Sure as hell Boracay is not my perfect beach, but I would never ever deny that it was still an awesome place. The sand is the finest I've ever seen and felt so far. The waters are clean and very swimmable. Many activities to choose from, there's just so many things to do! As how some people put it, it is practically "a portion of Manila by the beach" with all its conveniences within reach. Will I be back soon? Of course! Next time maybe I should stay a bit longer.

I think it's not really a bad idea to spoil yourself every once in a while, is it?

8/6/13

Boracay, At Last!


It's not Throwback Thursday I know, but browsing my old photos gave me some sort of an idea on what to post on this almost-forgotten blog of mine. Been telling myself to keep this side of my life updated at least once a month as a way of preserving that thin, little thread of hope where my sanity dangles.

So the next post is about the hackneyed, over-sensationalized, most talked-about beach of Boracay which I visited this year, May to be month-exact. I was never really a fan of this destination as I am not the type of traveler who fancies luxurious conveniences. Why? Because first, of course these conveniences come with a hefty price tag. 5000 pesos for an overnight stay in a semi-flush boutique hotel? No way. An "American-style breakfast" consisting of a pair of sad-looking pancakes and sunny-side up eggs, plus a cup of brewed joe for almost 200 pesos? Bitch please. Starbucks Coffee, McDonalds, Yellow Cab and even ATM machines lined up along the shores? Are you kidding me???? This is a beach, not downtown, why hello???

Second, I hate crowds. Most especially when I'm on vacation. I love to have the whole stretch of the beach all for myself. I am selfish that way haha. Kidding. Well different strokes for different folks right? I am the "vacationer" who prefers to lounge on a hammock underneath the palm tree, just the sound of the waves and chirping birds on the background. Or maybe some ukulele music too. I shun the blaring sound of techno and house music emanating from the bars and clubs. It takes away my peace and quiet. Or maybe I am just too old for parties, I don't know.


A few months before the trip, I received a phone call from Andre that went something like this:

"Hello, may seat sale ang Air Asia, na-book ko na kayo ha, for Boracay, sa May yan. Bayaran nyo na lang agad kasi credit card ng officemate namin ni Melvin ang ginamit namin sa pagbu-book." 

Honestly, Boracay was never on my travel bucket list. I have thought of visiting the world-renowned beach maybe sometime in the undefined future, but since someone already booked me a ticket, turning it down would be senseless. We've been planning this getaway for so long now too. Well at least I can finally see what all the people are raving about. Prior to Boracay, I've been to quite a number of stunning, off-the-beaten-track beaches that offers the same powdery-white sand and crystal-clear waters sans the crowd, so I mentally prepared myself and lowered my expectations. 

But I almost had a heart attack when I saw what Andre booked us. A roundtrip ticket to KALIBO, FLYING FROM CLARK???!!! OH MY GOD, was he kind of drugged when he booked the ticket??? Kalibo is 2 hours away from Caticlan, for crying out loud! And we had to fly from Clark, which is also 2 friggin' hours from Manila?! This is seat sale, you're saying-- 3000 pesos?! Oh come on. All these things at the back of my mind when I saw the itinerary in my email. I couldn't help but just smirk now whenever I remember.

Going back. Leo & I found ourselves at the Caticlan port just an hour past midnight. I was surprised with how expensive a trip to Boracay could be, most especially when you are coming all the way from Kalibo: the van ride to Caticlan, all the fees you had to pay at the port (if I remember it correctly, there are three types that you need to pay for) and the tricycle ride to the hotel. Not to mention that we had to pay double for the boat, as there were less passengers during off-peak hours!

Andre and Melvin were not in the hotel when we arrived. They booked a quad-sharing room at Blue Lilly, which is, hallelujah, in Station 1. The guy from front desk told us that he was not advised about our arrival, so we had to look for the bastards who were clubbing at what they call Boracay's version of Republiq, Epic. Duh. While waiting for them, Leo and I opted to eat at Jammers, a burger joint just beside Epic. Price was a bit steep, but what the hell, we're starving.

While the two guys were piss drunk and went to sleep right away, Leo and I decided to stay up and wait for the morning. "Sulitin na natin, tutal overnight lang naman tayo dito." I told Leo. We grabbed our cameras and snapped away with Willy's Rock on the background. It is arguably the most iconic feature of Boracay, which is thankfully just a few meters away from the hotel. As the sun rises from the horizon, the beauty that was once unknown to me unfolded right before our eyes.





(to be continued...)