Monday, 6 February 2012

Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back again

In which the small lagoon is actually rather large and the secret lagoon isn’t that secret
Starring a lady with a mirror ball on her head and an apparently dying man getting it on next door

Having not yet had enough subterfuge we set out from Puerta Princesa for the far northern tip of Palawan to find a secret lagoon.  The whole northern tip of Palawan is an eroded limestone plateau and the surrounding sea is studded with small islands many of which contain hidden coves and lagoons.  It seemed likely to be worth the 6 hour mini bus journey and, even counting the last hour over dirt roads, it was.  The countryside was beautiful –the island is far less populated than the others with villages few and far between – mostly wild jungle and every now and again a little rice paddy and some palm trees.  

The main town – El Nido – is a tiny little collection of houses and shops and dive centres squashed up against a beautiful bay. It’s quite hard to find your way down to the beach as all the restaurants and bars back onto it and crowd every inch of the shore.  Having found an incredibly cheap place to stay in the back of a truck park we spent a happy afternoon flitting between cafes and staring out to sea.

There are a number of different trips you can do around the bay all of which take you to different islands. We eventually settled on Itinerary ‘A’ because it seemed to offer a nice variety – it included Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon and Snorkelling Lagoon.  What more could you ask for?  Well our motley group included a woman in a mirror ball hat so that’s that question answered.   The trip was great – a fantastic last day at sea bobbing between islands and swimming in lagoons. The small lagoon was actually pretty big and you had to swim through an arch to get to it. The secret lagoon was rather less secret than one might have hoped (there were quite a few people in it) but the novelty of climbing through a rock wall to get to a pool of emerald water more than made up for it.  The snorkelling was excellent and we had a great bbq lunch on a beach all to ourselves.  The final stop was at a very long beautiful beach on the mainland called Seven Commando Beach where some clever guy had set up a rather basic beach bar selling beer that for some mysterious reason was even reasonably priced.  We had a final sundowner on a bench looking out to sea.

Back at our truck stop hut we were awake a lot longer than we’d hoped thanks to the endeavours of the cigar smoking gentleman in the neighbouring room.  It wasn’t entirely clear whether he was just dying (great wracking coughs that sounded like they might have been tearing the fabric of his lungs) or whether he was also making the most of his remaining hours (surely!) on earth by availing himself of the local services.

Thus we were quite tired at the bus stop at 4:30am and barely managed to summon up any enthusiasm or excitement as a giant scorpion ran across the floor in front of us.  Abby just put her feet up on the chair and said in a quiet little voice “I think I’ll keep these here”. 

From Puerta we flew to Manila and then Abby went on north and I spent a night in Manila at a very nice hotel before another pre-dawn taxi took me to the airport.  On the way we passed a man who had been knocked off his scooter.  He was clearly unconscious and his helmet had been knocked off and was lying quite a way ahead of him in the middle of the intersection.  All the cars (and there were quite a lot even at this time of the morning) were just driving around him.  No one had stopped to investigate or help.  It seemed a rather fitting reminder, after a wonderful holiday in this incredibly beautiful country, that for most people in the Philippines life is hard and short. 


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