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Thursday, May 31, 2012

El Nido, Palawan: 0-24 Hours



Our first day in Palawan can be described as a rough patch for many people in terms of traveling. Not in my case though, part of the joy of traveling are the in-between going from point A to B to C and so on. I was eagerly anticipating the seven-hour bus trip from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. As driven as I am to be a road warrior, I never expected the cruel stretch of dirt road at the last 50 or more kilometers of the trip. It's the part of the journey made tougher by being aboard an ordinary bus. Looking back though, it was one of the best bus moments of my life. The awesome scenery, grinding bumps and near defecating dust made it all memorable and in a crazy way, fun experience.

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Upon arriving at Puerto Princesa Airport we took a tricycle going to Junction 1 (8 pesos per person) and from there we took a multicab to San Jose Terminal (12 pesos). We were supposed to take an air-conditioned RORO bus to El Nido. However, the next bus wont be departing until two-three hours later as the last one just left moments before we arrived. Since it's already pass ten o'clock in the morning we settled for an ordinary bus about to roll out of the terminal (380 pesos) in order for us to reach El Nido before sundown. The bus was filled to its core by passengers and their belongings. My friend Pam and I sat at the furthest seat at the back with a couple of young local girls on our right and an elderly couple on our left.

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Going back to the old couple - I would steal glances at their direction, while the old man holds the hand of the old woman. Obviously they were locals and most probably have spent almost all their years in this paradise of a place. They still stare out at the window with fervent fervor and fascination at the scenery. I could imagine them recollecting in their mind the images of many years gone by and comparing it to the present day. I'm sure all that has changed was, there are more people and more roads now, but the paradise-like image of Palawan remains - though, under threat constantly from mining companies and other natural resources racketeers, the old couple still looks proud and content in spending their life together in Palawan. A thought occurred to me, about wanting to grow old and if blessed with an awesome wife, to grow old together and just like the old couple, to spend our twilight years taking long bus and train rides together.

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On a stop-over in Roxas, Palawan at around 2:00 PM we met up briefly with another travel writer friend of mine, Josiah. He would eventually form a part of our El Nido jaunt for the next few days. Don't be deceived by the title of my travel blog "Nomadic Experiences" - because I've yet to become a "nomad" as I only travel during off time from work. Josiah is different though, he is a real nomad, he quit his job to travel around the Philippines - spending weeks and months in a particular province to immerse with the locals and learn more about their tradition, culture and lifestyle. This time, Josiah has been living in Palawan for the last three months tending to a piece of land by learning to farm and documenting places around the province. I remember him telling me his biggest concern is how to mix traveling, blogging and farming. I wish I had that same kind of problem too.

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I was enjoying our bus trip so far and by the time we reached Taytay, almost half of the passengers got off and I transferred to the empty three-seater by the window and just lavished at the wonderful view outside. Then came the grinding dirt road which I thought was only a short portion of an un-finished road. Soon, I found out it wasn't the case as it stretches all the way near El Nido town. A tormenting ride of around 50 kilometers aboard a bus turned into a crazy bull really provided us a semi-beating. With dust flying everywhere, my hair soon turned into a broomstick and my face felt like it has three inches of additional layers. All the while, an LPG tank besides me keep bouncing on and off the bus floor, which got me worried if it might explode any minute. 

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I heaved a sigh of relief when I started to see signs of "Welcome to El Nido" and saw foreigners walking by the street on their way back to their hostels. Soon, the bus made a full stop and after a grueling (but fun) 7-hour bus ride we were finally stepping into El Nido. Pam and I compared dust on our faces, body and backpacks. We just laughed it off and hurriedly walked into the town to look for an affordable place to stay. We saw a sign that says something about being the "home of budget tourist" we told the tricycle driver to drop us there to check if there were available rooms. We met Mister Jun - the proprietor of El Nido Plaza Inn, he was an unassuming man of around the age of 50. He walks without a shirt but is packing with an accommodating and friendly demeanor. From the short time he showed me the room (good for two-three people at 500-600 pesos fan room) to the time he handed my the key, he was able to tell me about the time he spent in Manila and that he also owns student boarding houses at the University Belt area in Manila.

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The inn isn't located in a beachfront lot, but it is at the heart of the town and very close to the beach. After settling down and taking a much needed shower Pam and I set out to explore the town on foot. Before arriving, she was already in contact with a few couchsurfers and agreed to meet up with them for dinner that night. We saw them at "Sea Slugs" a bar fronting the beach that plays live covers of cool songs from the 90's and 60's. (arguably two of the three best decades in music - along with the 70's). We met Janice - a Filipina solo traveler who has been to Asia and Europe. Traveling for her isn't about the places but the people she met on the road. There's Reiza, an Iranian and Ana, a Portugues, both temporarily living near UP Diliman as part of an NGO organization. There's also Liyi, a Chinese temporarily based in Laguna teaching English and Yoyo, another Chinese girl who traveled to El Nido from China by herself after four of her friends backed out at the last minute.

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We shared a few bottles of beer while I listened attentively to their conversations, I haven't known them yet  that well so I reserved my "one-liner" jokes to myself and just had fun with the vibe of the place. The sounds of the water crashing to the shore, a Pink Floyd cover song being played in the background and cheery new faces made our first night at El Nido a better start than what we expected. The next day, we took the "Tour A" island hopping package and went with them on the same boat.


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