El Nido, Philippines: Island hopping and pig slaughtering.
We hopped on a jeepney in Port Barton bound for Roxas which is the transfer point for onward travel to El Nido. On our jeepney were 17 people and two chickens. We stopped to pile a shitload of animal feed on the roof and then we were off to Roxas (with a quick stop to drop off a delivery of a shitload of animal feed).
In Roxas, all six of us foreigners were bundled off the jeepney in front of an awaiting minibus. The man running this lemonade stand told us that the bus to El Nido costs P350 and takes five hours, whereas the minibus costs P400 and only takes three hours. This minibus was full, but we could take the next one in 30 minutes. We all paid our money, being led to believe that the six of us would minibus it together. We sat down for a drink, and two of the tourists were squeezed into the minibus he told us was full. He told the rest of us that there was another minibus with seats 500m away. He piled us into a tricycle — six people including the driver — and rushed us to the minibus. As they tossed our luggage on the roof, we peered inside the minibus only to find one open seat. A Spanish girl, already on the bus, climbed out and told our guy in no uncertain terms that there was no room for us on the bus. She was right. Although, as an aside, we later found out that she got off the bus less than an hour later. Given the amount of fuss she made, it was a little ridiculous. So you’re going to be a little uncomfortable for 60 minutes, welcome to Southeast Asia.
We waited for the next bus. We weren’t in a rush. The bus guy gave us our money back and we took a tricycle to the bus station (where we should have gotten off in the first place) and found Rorobus. They charged us P220/$5.25 (not P350 as claimed by minibus man) and it was a much more comfortable ride than being crushed in a minibus with complaining tourists.
We arrived in El Nido three hours and 45 minutes later (not five hours as claimed by minibus man), and our search for reasonably priced accommodation began. We wandered the streets, the main problem being that most of the cheapest rooms were full. I would say that it is best to book ahead, but seeing the condition of some of the rooms, it’s probably just better to see it for yourself before you book. After admitting defeat along the waterfront, we headed to Cliffside Cottages where we got a cottage with a private bathroom for P700/$16.70. The best part of this place were the thermoses of hot water they kept on the cottage’s patios, so you could have tea or coffee whenever you wanted. Unfortunately, we happened to be staying in the cottage next to the neighbour’s chicken colony. We were awoken to the sound of roosters every morning. These particular roosters were early risers; although, it wasn’t really possible to sleep past 6am when the power went off, taking the cooling breeze of the fan with it. While eating breakfast the next morning, we saw the owners running around with a small, hairy wild pig on a leash.
We went to the beach, had some lunch, swam in the sea, drank some beers, booked our island hopping tour for tomorrow, and headed back home for a shower. When we got back to our cottage, we looked over and saw a pig lying prostrate on the table. The lady pointed and said, “Wild pig! The rope went around his neck and he died.” Apparently, they bought the pig at the market that morning and then killed it by accident (some would call it murder), and now they intended to eat it. We spent the next few hours playing Scrabble while watching them prepare the pig, stab a giant pole through his middle, and then hand rotisserie him.
We booked our island hopping tour with Servant Tours. We chose Tour A (the highlights of El Nido) and talked the lady down to P600/$14 from P700, but I’m pretty sure we could have got it for less. She didn’t even have to think about letting us have it for P600. If you are really hoping to save money and aren’t on a tight schedule, try going down to the waterfront area with your daypack ready at around 8:30AM. Any tours that aren’t sold out will probably be desperate to fill the empty seats before the ship sets out at 9:00. There would be a maximum of ten people on our tour. It really doesn’t matter how many people (other than being overcrowded on the boat) as there are lots of tourists at all the sights anyway.
We swam in a small lagoon, stopped to take a look at a big lagoon (where they filmed Survivor). We did some snorkelling: the water was so clear that the visibility underwater was amazing. We headed to Shimizu Island for lunch, which was BBQ fish and pork, squid, rice, salad, and fresh pineapple and watermelon. After lunch, we went to Secret Lagoon on Intalula Island, which isn’t really much of a secret. Our final destination was 7 Commandos Beach which has a bar that sells beer and snacks for reasonable prices (beers cost P60/$1.40).
El Nido sits in a beautiful location, surrounded by limestone outcrops. The town itself is very touristy but not in the way the islands of Thailand are. The booming bass and the drunk frat boys are not present. People are there to enjoy the scenery, do some snorkelling, and relax on the beach. The tours are well-organized with enough competition to make it affordable for any type of traveller. Restaurants are expensive for the Philippines but there are some cheaper options. Blue Azul (menu) being one.
We left El Nido happy with our experiences, and headed to Taytay and Roxas where things weren’t so organized and adventure had to be searched for.