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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

El Nido, Palawan: Tour B-Hop a Dope


It's already our third day in El Nido and it seems I am getting a good grasp of the place. I'm getting used to the vibe of the town. Who wouldn't be? you walk a little bit further and you'll end up in rows of bars and restaurants fronting the sea. The place itself seems like a stone encapsulated by the towering edges of limestone peaks. It is crawling with tourists who seem to always be in a friendly demeanor, that striking up a conversation is expected for everyone. The locals picks up the hospitality to another level by greeting everyone with a smile, while tour proprietors offers island hopping packages to everyone who walks around town, ready to hit the beach, but never in an imposing manner.  

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While what happened the previous night shook our core to a semi frightened decibel level, like the other visitors and residents, we did talk about it, theorized at the possible cause and who were responsible. The over-all fear was quickly tucked underneath as the presence of the military and police put the order and peace back in its rightful place. No sooner than expected, El Nido town is back to being the paradise it was, before the momentary disruption.

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This time, fellow travel writer and photographer Josiah joined us for yet another round of island hopping. We went out on the "Tour B" package (800 php each) to visit other places not covered by the "Tour A" we availed the previous day. Our newfound friends from that tour have gone to other places, so we were now on a boat with a different group of people. They were composed by a young Pinoy couple, Two South Korean women, a Japanese couple and an elderly Caucasian couple.

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Of the group we got more friendly with the two South Korean women, Jinhee and Sandara (the older one). Jinhee is a young woman in her early twenties while Sandara (not her real name coz silly me, I'm bad with names) is a bit older woman in her 40's with a soul as young as ours. While we were eating lunch we told her that she looks like 28 years old. Of course, she blushes and would politely say, while semi bowing her head "Oh Thank You". She and Jinhee went to El Nido on their lonesome and just met along the way. Sandara has two children almost the same age as ours (late 20's), while Jinhee is a fresh University graduate. 

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The highlight of Tour B, was the "Snake Island". It is a small island with a trail leading up to a view deck atop a small hill, a hundred meters away from it, another island with lush mangrove can be reached by walking over the sandbar that connects both islands. We walked towards the mangroves through the knee deep water and immersed at the crystal clear waters. Upon reaching the other side we sat idly under the shades of the mangroves for a while. There is a family who lives at the other island, they have a number of dogs who often crosses to the other side whenever they would hear boats coming in. Our boatman says, it is because the dogs knew, the visitors always goes there for lunch. We even saw one dog with an injured foot swimming towards the other island. We thought he might drown, but he made it to the other side and while having our lunch we saw him begging for leftover food.

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Along with Pam, Josiah and Sandara, we went back to Snake Island and saw our group all ready for lunch, it seems they have been waiting for us quite a while. I saw the elderly Caucasian couple giving us a look, I smiled (I rarely smile - but I do so once in a super moon), at them and they smiled back. That means its chow-time. We mowed down the grilled fish, squids like a hurricane, in a matter of minutes and almost ended up in a 'Battle Royale' for the remaining mangoes. It was a diverse group compared to the mostly younger group of the previous day's tour. One thing about going on an island hopping tour in El Nido, is that everyday you will meet new sets of people and along the way will enjoy the place as one. A few hours of sharing a boat ride and discovering new places somehow makes it appear you've known each other for some time.

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Part of the Tour B itinerary are the "Cathedral Cave" , which has a shallow and high opening located in a limestone islet that resembles a cathedral. Inside, the rock formations projects an altar-like image. We also rolled our bodies sideway at the entrance of Cordugnon Cave, a small cave with a high chamber and a small hole at the ceiling where the sun let its light shone bright and illuminates the insides of the cave. We counted fishes as our eyes can see at both Panggalusian and Pinagbuyutan Islands. 

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One of the islands has some constructions going on for the shooting of a "Survivor" France reality TV show. I've mixed feelings about it, while it is a great opportunity to introduce El Nido to other countries especially in Europe, I hope the production crew will try to limit infrastructures to a bare minimum, so as not to produce changes in the already stunning landscape around.

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It was already near sundown when we returned to the town, famished by the endless snorkeling and the wonderful task of enjoying this paradise, we decided to splurge on our early dinner. We randomly ended up at Trattoria Altrove, a popular place known for its brick oven pizza. Entering downstairs, you will see the cooks preparing the pizza on the large brick oven and a stair leading up the second floor. The ambiance is cool and cozy with the dark wood flooring, simple yet stylish furnitures and ceiling fans adorning the place. A mini counter and bar manned by the cashier and the owner, a 30-something European man who wears clear eye glasses and got a look perfect for playing a silent assassin in a Jason Bourne movie, but in real life he is a friendly chap who thanks each of his customers as they leave the place. Around four to five tables good for four-six are properly placed around the room and a couple of low lying tables good for eating pizza in an Indian seat position are located at the furthest part by the window.

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After dinner we went to the other side of the town to meet up with a couchsurfer from Germany, the very beautiful and bubbly, Inah. She has been traveling around the Philippines for a few months already, before that she worked as a bartender in Australia to fund her year-long travel around the world. It seems that before we met her, she already made friends with three Dutch guys; Jong, Hugo and Erik. Three funny dudes who have been on the road for quite some time also. They act like three brothers, kidding around and correcting each other. They are fond of interesting chats over a liter bottle of Tanduay Rum and Emperador Brandy.

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We finally spotted them at a street corner restaurant that serves Mexican dishes, we waited for them to finish their dinner which took a while because they kept on talking about weeds, cakes with weeds, smokes with weeds and its cool effects on one's mind. Having read the book and seen the movie; Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" I got quite an idea on what they were talking about. After they wrapped up their plates, we settled by the beach and played a drinking game called "I Have Never Ever". This time we were joined by another couchsurfer from Manila named Mark.

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The rules of the game is not similar to the rules of "Fight Club", its a simple game wherein the person on cue will declare for example "I have never ever engaged in a threesome". If the others have already participated in that wicked but very fun activity, they will down a shot of rum, if the person who said that have also experienced it, he/she will also down his/her shot of rum. In case nobody among the group has ever done it, the person who uttered it will still drink a shot of rum. So, a person who have tried almost all wild things imaginable, will have the more chances of drinking more rum. The most well-behaved will probably end up as the least drunk afterward.

The night ended until 12 midnight for Josiah, 3am for me and the rest. I took a pass from further drinking after midnight when our group was joined by other tourists, one of them was referred to by the three Dutch Guys as the "LMFAO" dude because of his hairstyle. Over-all it was an awesome day made better by a night of wholesome drinking with occasional bragging of past wild activities, through a shot of rum, endless cheers and wilting seconds of pure happiness.


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