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?
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.
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...)