23.04.2017 - 30.04.2017 33 °C
With our time in Australia at an end, we flew from Sydney to Manila with Cebu Pacific Air, the Philippines equivalent of Easyjet. The staff wear yellow T-shirts with denim skirts for the women or jeans and boat shoes for the men, topped off with straw hats! We weren’t surprised to find there were no backseat TVs for the nine-hour flight. Instead, the cabin crew tried to entertain everyone by holding a mid-flight quiz! We only stayed one night in Manila, a bustling, sprawling city of over 12 million people. We didn’t get to see much of the city as we stayed pretty close to the airport, but from what we did sample it appeared very chaotic! The next morning we were up early to fly to Puerto Princesa, on the island of Palawan. There are around 7500 islands in the archipelago which makes up the Philippines, home to a population of over 100 million people. Even despite all these islands there are an additional 10 million Filipinos who live overseas, so they certainly make a fairly sizeable chunk of the world’s population.
Arriving in Puerto Princesa, the small airport was a pleasant change from Manila. From there we got a shared minibus to El Nido in the northwest of the island. El Nido seems to be experiencing a boom in tourism, with new hotels being built left, right and centre. It is a bustling little place and we were happy to be staying slightly outside the town, with brilliant views over the town and out to sea. The main attraction of El Nido is its proximity to some amazingly beautiful islands and beaches. These can be explored by a variety of daytrips which depart from El Nido beach every morning. There are four main tours, creatively named A, B, C and D. Someone in the local tourism industry is obviously gifted with some serious marketing skills! On our first full day in El Nido we went on tour A. This included trips to big lagoon, small lagoon and hidden lagoon (each of which are exactly as it says on the tin), as well as some fantastic snorkelling. The highlight was small lagoon which we were able to explore on kayak. The next day we did tour C, which visited helicopter island, hidden beach and secret beach, as well doing some more amazing snorkelling. The scenery in the region is truly stunning, with loads of islands of all shapes and sizes, brilliant beaches and snorkelling almost as good as on the Great Barrier Reef. The only drawback is that there are so many people, us included, doing the same itinerary each day, which makes the different sites very crowded. Secret beach and secret lagoon don’t feel quite so secret when there are hordes of boats pulled up all around, unloading all of their customers. The locally made bangkas are interesting wooden boats, with the engines and steering wheels taken from cars. Tourists from all over the world visit El Nido, but it was great to see plenty of Filipinos on holiday. Filipinos really are fun-loving people who always seem to be having plenty of craic. They never seem to be far away from breaking out into a smile or a laugh, which make them very enjoyable to be around. Most of the foreign tourists seemed to be European, with plenty of French, Spanish and British visitors.
On our final full day in El Nido we hired a scooter to take the trip to Nacpan Beach, recently awarded as being one of the top 10 beaches in the world according to Tripadviser. It is undoubtedly a lovely beach, but we have been spoiled by being in Australia where there were some beaches that I personally preferred. It was still worth the trip and it was good fun to be independent and get out and about on a scooter!
From El Nido we got the minibus back down to Puerto Princesa, the main city on the island of Palawan. On our first evening in Puerto Princesa we went on a firefly watching river tour. This was a really cool experience. With almost no moon and no light pollution we were lucky to see the fireflies clearly. Apparently they are actually a type of beetle that live in trees throughout the Philippines. They emit a glowing yellow light every time they inhale, which is every few seconds. The purpose of the glow is to fool predators such as bats into thinking they are bigger than they actually are. The clear night sky also allowed for excellent stargazing, with our knowledgeable tour guide pointing out the different constellations.
The next day we were up bright and early for a trip to the underground river, one of the main attractions in Palawan. Along with the rest of our minibus we had the dubious pleasure of being accompanied by a local tour guide called Ricky. He was almost as broad as he was tall, and talked a lot about very little in particular. We ended up having to wait for a very long time before our trip on the river actually started. It was poorly organised, with far too much standing around, but eventually we got onto the boat on the river and into the limestone cave system which the river passes through for over 100 kilometres. Despite travelling just a fraction of the overall length in the 45 minute trip, it still felt like we got deep into the caves which have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites. Interestingly the shapes of the stalactites and mites all seemed to be compared to Bible characters and types of food – both of which are very important in the Philippines!
Our final excursion in Palawan was to Honda Bay (which is apparently not sponsored by the Japanese motor firm). This was another island-hopping trip, where although the snorkelling wasn’t as good as around El Nido, the atmosphere was a bit more relaxed as there were less sights to cram in. Charlotte managed to repay the random good deed done to her by a stranger in New Zealand, who handed her bag in to the police, when we found a purse floating in the water at starfish island. Thankfully Charlotte managed to find the owner and return it. When we explained what had happened to some of the other foreign tourists on our boat, we were regaled with a couple of stories of lost items being returned by trustworthy Filipinos. Reassuring as this is, hopefully we will hold on to all our valuables so that we won’t be in need of any similar kindness while we are here!