Land vs. Water: Finding Balance
Bright and early we claim our seats on the Cherry Bus to El Nido. We have an eight hour journey ahead of us, but the bus is air conditioned and there’s Wi-Fi on board. Well, the bus is air conditioned. The Wi-Fi isn’t working. *Aside* The Wi-Fi may never have worked a day in its life. It’s hard to tell about things like that in the Philippines. If I say the bus ride was exciting it will probably give you the wrong impression, but the bus ride was exciting. Much of the time the driver was over the centerline, sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road for no apparent reason. He would stop suddenly to pick up another person or two or three. He would also stop in the middle of the road to say “Hi!” to every other Cherry bus driver we passed going in the opposite direction. Add to this the fact that the roads in the Philippines are not properly cambered for curves and you find yourself hanging on tight just to stay in your seat. Then there was the time he had to brake hard to avoid smashing a motorized tricycle that pulled out too soon. That causes everyone to draw an audible, unified inhale of breath, then exhale, “OH!” We had an awesome comfort stop (we don’t call it a restroom here in the Philippines). My bathroom had a 2 ½ foot by 3 foot window beside the toilet. *Aside* The valley I could see from my seat on the throne was bucolic but confusing. Was this so I could see the goats in the field or so they could see me? Nonetheless as with all good things, and thankfully bad things as well, this also came to an end. We arrived in El Nido, nabbing two tricycles to Rosanna’s Pension. *Aside* After we negotiated the price (who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?). We had a room with a balcony that, if you lean way out over the railing, has a beach view. The room also has two windows, but they look into the hallway ending up more irritating than useful even though there is a curtain covering them. The bathroom has hot water at night when there is sunshine all day. We are in the center of town and close to the dive shop, so Tom and I are both happy. *Aside* The Wi-Fi is sketchy. Supposedly it works in the lobby at Rosanna’s, but when the building is full of people, it doesn’t seem to work anywhere. About mid-afternoon when everyone else is out, Rebecca can connect, but not dependably. We settle into one dive-day, one land-day schedule. There's that blanace. Sunday July 10, 2016 Tom dives three dives with Submariner Divers and Rebecca wanders, buys oranges, scopes out the neighborhood and naps.
Monday July 11, 2016 We island hop “Tour C” - Hidden beach, Matinloc Shrine beach, Talisay Beach and Helicopter Island. *Aside* there are Tours A, B, C, and D. Josh advised us that A and C are the best ones. The sea is such that we can’t safely make it past the swim-through to Secret Beach so another island is substituted. At each stop we have the opportunity to snorkel with lunch served by the boat crew on island number three. *Aside* We took our own snorkel equipment since when you travel with dive equipment you should have the equipment needed to snorkel: mask, snorkel, fins (add booties and socks for divers). When we pulled out our fins the boat crew was surprised. Snorkeling in the Philippines apparently does not include fins - mask and snorkel, but no fins. Let’s say we would have been “disappointed” if we had arrived to discover this fact. The reefs we snorkeled were not beautiful. They probably were once upon a time, but not anymore. This has a lot to do with people walking on the reef - which is what you resort to when you don’t have fins. When we get out of the areas where most of the people are walking - which we can do because we have fins - the view is better and we see some interesting things: a vivid electric blue giant clam; a bright yellow giant clam with a piece of staghorn coral attached to its shell so that when you startle the clam the coral moves with the motion; an adorable juvenile box fish - orange with tiny black polka dots, were the highlights. Well, actually the topography above the water was the highlight. *Geology Lesson* The islands of the Pacific were created by massive seismic upheavals millions of years ago. This upheaval also occurred in North America as well as other parts of the world. However, in North America the mountains were shaped by glaciers, carving out our valleys. In the tropics there were no glaciers to smooth the surfaces of these massive, jagged, sharp, vertical cliff faces reaching toward the sky. In many places these cliffs are undercut by the constant motion of the ocean with vegetation growing wherever it can find purchase. This makes the surroundings breathtaking at every turn of your head. One of the screen-savers my computer shows me of exotic locations was almost certainly taken here in the Philippines. Now we are privileged to sit on a boat basking in the glory of all this majesty. Breathtaking doesn’t even describe it. Tuesday, July 12, 2016 Tom Dive Day. Rebecca goes looking for lunch and finds good Wi-Fi on the third floor of a fancy French restaurant, Lassiette, down the street past the dive shop; and lunch. Rebecca catches up on email. Wednesday, July 13, 2016 We plan where we are going next. *Aside* This is tedious work. First Tom has to locate a dive shop he wants to use. Then we have to search for and research places to stay that are near the dive shop - preferably within walking distance. Sifting through the reviews is daunting. Making an actual decision can take hours. Then just when you’ve got the place that looks perfect, it’s not available anymore. It can make your brain shut down and refuse to make any more choices. After making decisions on where and when, then Rebecca starts networking on CouchSurfing to try to find locals to give us the inside scoop on what to do during the non-diving days. We spend the morning from breakfast through lunch at the Lassiette Restaurant researching and reserving. Due to brain strain, it’s time for a break. Tom and Rebecca opt for the Canopy Walk!
*Aside* While walking on Sunday Rebecca looked longingly at the tall cliffs. If she wasn’t afraid of snake bite she would love to explore. As she walked back to Rosanna’s she spotted the “Canopy Walk.” This was a gift from the universe with Rebecca’s name on it. For p400 per person (just a little over seventeen dollars for two) a guide escorts you on a climb up permanent pipe scaffolding, along natural paths with ropes tied along the way as handholds, across a cable bridge, finally reaching the top of the cliffs to look down on the bay of El Nido. Unbelievable! Hot and sweaty after the climb but filled with awe, Tom and Rebecca make their way toward something ice cold to drink, dinner, a hot shower and then bed. Thursday, July 14, 2016 Tom dive day. Rebecca’s write the blog day. *Aside* While on the Canopy Walk, Jovan, the guide, told us about the bird’s nest soup. We’ve all heard about this, right? Well Filipinos can buy a license from the government that allows them to harvest the bird nests from a particular cave or area. Then they build a bamboo “house” on the side of the cliff, living there to protect their cave from bird-nest-thieves (see picture). Mind totally blown. The dive master on the boat with Tom mentioned that it’s not uncommon for them to slip and fall, plunging to their death. Friday, July 15, 2016 Island Tour A day. The weather was perfect for an Island tour! Sun and the breeze made it a fabulous day to be on a boat on the water! Our first stop was 7 Commandos Beach. This is paradise. The sun was HOT but under the palms the sand was cool with a breeze flowing in off the water. If I could have a little house right there under the palms it would be heaven. *Aside* And some internet. Could I have some internet please? Wait how would I get groceries? By boat? Well it still was amazingly beautiful. When we got to the beach there was a dog lying on the beach that is the exact color of the sand. I thought maybe he was one of the 7 Commandos, but Tom said he thought not.
Next stop Big Lagoon and a bit of snorkeling. It’s really sad that so many people walk across the coral reef beds. You can see places where things are trying to live but they are struggling. As long as people don’t understand that walking on coral kills it, there will be no recovery. We have lunch on Simizu Island. Life is short: have dessert first and that’s just what we did. As
soon as boat stops we can hear the ice cream bell. Really? On the island? Yup! There is the Ice Cream Man with his Ice Cream Boat, complete with a small solar panel to play the ice cream music so you can find him! And better still, he’ll paddle over to you!! Ice cold Drumsticks never tasted so good!
*Aside* I was delighted when the Ice Cream Man came over to us with a box to receive the paper trash from our ice cream. If everyone does his part like this, the beauty of these beaches will be preserved. Next up Secret Lagoon. We wander a bit on the beautiful white sand on the beach, have a conversation with a happy little dog who seems to own the beach, then head back to get in line to enter the Secret Lagoon. *Aside* The Secret Lagoon is surrounded by towering rock cliffs with only one small hole in the rock to enter. To get into the Secret Lagoon, one by one, you to sit on the rock at the entrance (only big enough for one person) and scoot in, then swing your legs over and through to the other side. I can’t imagine how many butts pushing over the stone entrance it has taken to make that rock smooth, but smooth it was. And shiny too. The most surprising element of the Secret Lagoon was that the water inside the Lagoon was at a higher level, much cooler, and much less salty than the ocean water outside the lagoon. It was remarkably refreshing and memorable! Our last stop was the Small Lagoon. Other people rented kayaks but Tom and I donned our snorkel gear and headed out. We follow the water all the way to the back and around the lagoon, hugging the rock walls most of the way to see as much as possible of what was left of the reef. After about forty minutes of snorkeling, we’re back on the boat to head back to El Nido. What a grand and glorious day! *Aside* I can only imagine what an amazing, beautiful treat it was for the first person who stumbled into that lagoon. You can see the remnants of coral everywhere and there are still spots of beauty as the creatures there struggle to exist in the face of hoards people indiscriminately invading their home every day.
Saturday, July 16, 2016 Tom Dive Day; Rebecca plans a sunset As we all know, the sun sets every day, But in El Nido city there is a huge, craggy cliff that block the sunset. “Where can you go to see the sunset?” Rebecca asks. “Las Cabañas,” is the answer from the tricycle driver, “I can take you there now, p150” It’s noon. “I want to see the sunset,” Rebecca says. “You can go now and stay ‘til sunset,” says the Tricycle Driver. “ I want to go with my husband. He’s diving now.” “You can come back and get him later.” In a place where your livelihood is dependent on the next person who rides in you trike, the word “No” hardly exists. Tom comes back from diving and we head to Los Cabañas for dinner and a sunset. We finally enjoy a beautiful El Nido sunset.
Sunday, July 17, 2016 Nacpan Beach and Calitang Beach aka Twin Beach We make a date with a trike driver named BJ to meet Sunday morning at 9 AM for the 45 minute ride to Nacpan Beach. True to his word he is waiting for us when we walk out of the Pension at 8:45. We ride for awhile on paved road then suddenly the road turns into rubble road. After awhile it turns back into paved road. This happens several more time until we reach what would be a very muddy road if it had rained last night. This leads to Nacpan Beach. BJ points us to a restaurant on the beach. We order cold drinks and fresh sliced mangos. *Aside* The mangos are so sweet and delicious in the Philippines. It is reported that the best mangos in the world are grown in the Philippines, but it’s hard to get the very best here in the market. They are in high demand for export! We walked along the shore to climb up the hill for the view of the second beach. It’s perfect if you can ignore the trash on the shore and in the water. Even so the view out across the water is amazing. If the sun wasn’t so hot we could stay there for hours just looking. But the sun is very hot, so back we walked to the restaurant for more cold drinks, more mangos and some French fries. *Aside* French fries taste great in the Philippines because they are always fresh cut from real potatoes, not reconstituted frozen potatoes. Anyway it’s a vegetable, right? I should eat more vegetables.
We are really happy that this was the place for our last outing in El Nido. Back in the restaurant, sipping watermelon shakes (made from Filipino yellow watermelon), the breeze blowing in off the water, listening to the waves lap the shore is a perfect way to end our time in this paradise. We signal BJ that we are ready to head back to El Nido. When we get on the road we find that although it didn’t rain on the beach, it rained between us and the paved highway. As we cross one particularly slippery culvert part of the culvert actually breaks under BJ’s wheel and we are stuck. Tom and I jump out of the tricycle sidecar to push and pull until we are free and on our way again. Thankfully, no damage done. Back at Rosanna’s Pension, we pack our suitcases then reward ourselves with something different to eat. Pulled in by the guys throwing pizza dough in the window, we decide on pizza from the wood-fired oven down the street. We climb steep steps made for mountain goats up to the second floor, even though they tell us their comfort room (aka the restroom) is broken, so if we have needs, we will have to go to the hotel down the street. *Aside* This is the first pizza we’ve eaten in the Philippines and it’s surprisingly good! We’d been avoiding pizza because we’d heard that the cheese in the Philippines is just not tasty and most of our exposures to cheese verified that fact, but this is great. A delicious meal to end a splendid day adds up a perfect way to say goodbye to El Nido. Things I’ve learned so far in the Philippines: To brush my teeth with bottled water. Always remove the toilet tissue before every shower so it doesn’t get soaked, as there is no shower curtain in the 4 by 4 bathrooms. Negotiate the price before entering any vehicle. Unlimited on the Smart Cell Phone Plan does not actually mean unlimited if someone from Globe or TM calls or texts you. Those calls mean you have no more money in your plan and need add more money. If someone calls from a landline you may have to sell a kidney.