Friday, 13 August 2010

Summer Vacation: Part One - Palawan, Philippines

Palawan is a great place. Full of ridiculously beautiful scenery, friendly people, good food, and you can turn up with a pittance and do everything you want and more. Overall, not including the plane tickets, I spent around 550,000 Korean Won on the trip, which is about 300 pound and we stayed for about 8 and bit days. Where's the 'but'? There is no 'but'... unless you don't like insects or food poisoning or sweating. OK, OK, maybe food poisoning is a bit harsh, just don't ask for ice in your drink, let's put it that way...

Rather than babble about different stories and things that happened I'm just gonna do what I did with my girlfriend and narrate some pictures and if a story crops up then you'll hear about it.

Puerto Princesa and the Journey to El Nido

Actually I'm going to start off with a video.

So this is me and Denis in something that results from a motorbike mating with a car on our way to the hotel. When we turned up at the airport we were hunting for a taxi. Some guy approached us, like they always do outside the arrivals bit in airports, and hassled us to get into his cab. Today we wanted to be hassled by a cabbie because we wanted one but when he pointed to his car/motorbike freakshow I was like 'Car, please. You know, "beep! beep!"' and done a condescending 'driving a car' gesture with my arms. He said 'no car' and at that point we looked around and actually noticed that there were no cars. 'Sod it', we thought, 'lets go for it'. Turned out to be a brilliant little 5 minute trip to the hotel on which I managed to professionally shoot this video:

We got to the hotel, found a small lizard in the room, drank, ate, slept, and then the next day we were off to El Nido!

'What was that? 10,000 pesos to El Nido from Puerto Princesa? Is... that... a... good deal?' - turns out, yes it was as most other 'people who own a mini-bus' (I shouldn't really call them mini-bus companies cos it's literally a 'man-with-a-van') in the area were charging 12,000 pesos and over. Between four of us this price was negligible and the hotel decided to reduce the price of the tour that we got talked into taking that day because a German couple, who we actually got on with pretty well, wanted to do the same thing that day. So for a 6 hour trip to El Nido from Puerto Princesa with stops on the way at some 'mangrove' tour; an unplanned trip into some mini-rock climbing excursion, which we did in flip flops because we didn't know how demanding it was gonna be (very, as it turned out.. in flip flops anyway); and add onto that lunch and the underground river tour, which was hands down the best thing of the day, made it an awesome 'first proper day' in Palawan.

This is the view at the top of the climb that I previously mentioned. You can't make out all the sweat from this picture but I assure you that I am drenched (the German guy had to strip and change his t-shirt :/). Around the time this photo was taken we first realised, if we hadn't already at the hotel the previous night where they had karaoke set-up, that Filipinos love to sing and our tour guide decided to bust out a tune at this lovely location. I didn't know what to do or say so I just clapped a little bit and went about my business of staying in the shade and taking pictures of the scenery. He wanted us to sing but we weren't really having any of it.

This is the entrance to the underground river. There were thousands of bats screeching in and out and throughout the cave, which was awesome. I'm not afraid of bats :) I did jump a couple of times though when some flew near and people were getting pissed off because I had the job of holding the only torch on our boat - a job which was short lived as I got fed-up and handed it to Denis.
This is me in the underground river, all 'health and safety'-ed up. If you look closely you can make out the shape of a bat just above my helmet.

El Nido

El Nido is, in one word, beautiful. The island hopping tours are a must-see. If you go to Palawan without island hopping on a rickety boat that you hired all-day for chickenfeed then you don't know what your doing. We snorkeled at pretty much every island we visited on the tour and the coral and the fish were so beautiful. I say we... I only managed to muster up the courage to risk it on the last island (nicknamed Helicopter Island, on the count of it's shape) because it's no secret that I'm a shoddy swimmer but the coral at this place was in the shallows so I managed it OK with my friend Beth's help. I owe her one because I instantly noticed what I had been missing when I stuck my head under the water and saw all the beautiful coral and colourful fish. It was seriously one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Beth said she saw two little reef sharks at another place we went to. If I had seen 'em I would've panicked and needed rescuing... The sea is another world and not ours to be messing about in. I would've bricked it, honestly. Talking about that I actually had a dream last night people were snorkeling at the side of a boat and a huge shark turned up and attacked someone. I was on the boat watching and waiting for the sea to turn red but it turned out that the person who had been bitten only had a tiny little nip like they had been snapped at by a small dog :/ Anyway, here are some pictures of our island hopping adventures:

First place we went to. Not sure what it was called but it was gorgeous. When we rolled in on the boat we saw a huge monitor lizard wandering about on the beach we were going to be sitting on soon. I think that's when I first realised that we were in the wild now and that if I was going to get hurt in some way then hospitals were few and far between. It was cool to see the lizard, even if it was from a distance, but it did make me think and I was more cautious/worried from then on. I'm not a pansy, it's just that there's snakes and sharks about! and I didn't wanna get munched on...
This is the boat we hired for our tour. All the boats in Palawan pretty much have the same set-up: large frame jutting out to keep it stable, crewed by a couple of guys who just chill out on the boat for 5 hours while you chill out on beachside sipping at a cocktail :P

This is me at the same beach but on a different day (our next island hopping tour included the same beach so...). I think this was when I got the most sunburnt, which wasn't much. Sarah told me to be careful cos I'm pasty and I didn't fancy peeling everywhere (I peeled everywhere :/). By the way, those shorts weren't really by choice... I forgot to bring the Speedo swim trunks I bought at Grand Mart and I was desperate :/ I grew to like em though :)

This is Helicopter Island where I managed the snorkeling :) It was brilliant... found some cool shells here too.

Don't think I really need to say much about the next picture except that it was taken on a beach in El Nido with a beer in hand :)

Next stop, Port Barton! The weather on the night before we were supposed to be going to Port Barton was horrendous. The roads were all muddy and wet and generally treacherous so it took us a while to find a mini-bus driver who was A) up to the task, and B) was offering a good deal. 6,000 pesos I think it cost us direct to Port Barton from El Nido.

Port Barton (a boatman we met there said it was called something else by the locals but how am I supposed to remember...)

We stayed in some cool little cottages that were 'more pricey' than what we were used to in Palawan, but not really. It still was dirt cheap. 1,400 pesos per room (so split between two) for a awesome little cottage thing with a good view. So about 10 pound a night each. Ridiculously cheap. This is what we stayed in:

On this beach:
First day: Spent all day in bed reading books because I was sick. I won't go into details but I think good advice would be not to ask for ice in your drink. My mates all went out and got the most sun that day that's why in any group pictures you might see of us on Facebook I look like a vampire in comparison.

Second day: Went to a place called 'Blue Cove' about 40 minutes boat ride from where we stayed. It was like a paradise island, seriously. We rolled up and had a beer and a cocktail almost straightaway (I say 'almost' because the service in Palawan is so slow it's unbelievable. They are so chilled out you almost have to preempt how hungry you are gonna be in an hours time because you know the food is going take that long again once you've ordered. I was a bit annoyed at times but I was on holiday so I was in no rush :P). Again, here are some pictures:

The beach at Blue Cove. There were a lot of coconut trees dotted around and my mate, Derek, threw something at the coconuts in the one of the trees near me and the noise it made made me literally leap out of the way because I thought I was gonna take a falling coconut to the head.. :/

Me enjoying my first hammock experience. You can tell it's me by my nose sticking out over the top of the hammock like a sharks fin.

Back at the cottage in time to enjoy another Palawan sunset:

Check out my website ''.

My friend Beth (who is a genuine pro-photographer just like me) took this of me.

Puerto Princesa

Back in Puerto Princesa after our epic journey around the northern half of Palawan and we stayed at the hotel where we stayed on our first night there, which I recommend (Del Loro it was called). Though their 'continental breakfast' consisted of 3 slightly toasted slices of bread with butter and a choice of tea or coffee.. ;) Oh, the night before though we went to eat at some foreigner run restaurant down the street from Del Loro hotel and I had the best steak I think I've ever had in my life... again, so cheap. If you go there order the cheapest steak on the menu (Filipino beef (angus and porter house is twice as expensive and wasn't as good)) with blue cheese sauce... it's making my mouth water just thinking about it. Might try and get a steak tonight actually..

I don't think this blog would be complete without commenting on how many times I thought I was going to die on this trip... The mini-bus drivers are mental. The streets are so botched and muddy and treacherous and then they go diving around corners on the wrong side of the road (if there is a 'side' of the road you were supposed to be driving) whilst overtaking other cars on blind bends.. We had to change a tyre at one point because the roads were so bad. Driving in the dark is worse. Oh well, we played '20 questions' and Beth's Boggle game on her iPod touch to pass the time. Anyway, I'm alive :P

[By the way if you looked for the bat above my helmet in the underground river picture then you have been successfully tricked by me. So, one-nil.]


srisahara said...

Yes, Palawan is the best place in Philippines for vacation. I love the place and I hope have time to visit again.

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