Week 53 - Manila to El Nido

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Philippines  , Palawan,
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 1 - Manila to Palawan (ferry)

Today is a special day for me indeed. Not only am I off travelling again after staying in places for longer times but I am celebrating my 1st years travel (not that I'm counting or anything but it dawned on me a few days ago). It's amazing how quickly the year has flown by...really, it has. It’s quite fitting though that I celebrate this day in my favourite country (by far) out of the 18 I've visited over the last year. Who would have thought Colombia would get topped...certainly not me. I would have been really pissed off I ended up in Venezuela or New Zealand on this day.

One other thing of major importance that has also dawned on me and hit me like a ton of bricks is the state of my finances or rather the non-existence of them. To put it in very basic terms I am completely skint and if I was running a business I would be filing for bankruptcy right now.

So the month of August will be the last month of travel and blog entries for me on this half of the trip as I work out where the best place to settle for some 6 months would be. It’s time for the realist to kick in...I need to work, plain and simple. In a perfect world I wouldn't break up the trip but what ya gonna do?

Six months of work in either Korea, Australia or back home and I'll be back on the road again like greyhound on steroids who's just drunk 20 Vodka Red Bull's. Even though seeing my family and friends again would be awesome he going home option would be the least preferable because going back to normality again would be a kick in the bollocks for me. We'll see...

So, going back to today's events. After chilling at the hostel I the morning I caught a jeepney to the ferry terminal. Queuing up for the ferry I had a few chicks asking if I played guitar. My modest answer with a wry smile was yes, of course. I mean come on...I have perfected the A and D chords and was onto plucking now (God help me if they ask me to play on the ferry...I'd have to feign a finger injury).

Plonked myself in the bunk bed that is the open sleeping area and got ready for the 28 hours in possibly rough waters.

My surrounding bunk bed neighbours were trainee marines so I behaved myself...especially when their CO came round to check on them. I felt like I was being shouted at when the CO went into one and almost replied with a 'Sir, yes Sir' myself.

It being my 1 year travel anniversary I had a few drinks in the ferry bar and chatted to a few girls travelling to Coron and Palawan.

The seas were getting quite bumpy so after a few bevies I went back to my barracks for a sleep and some MP3 time.

August 2 - Puerto Princesa (Palawan island)

After a pretty good night’s sleep (just happy I wasn't woken by the CO at 0600 for training) I had a walk around the ship. Not much here except a bar, restaurant, small shop and a smoking room.

Chatted to some of the locals about Palawan and got myself pretty riled up and ready for it. Read quite a bit, tried to write but that just made me a tad sea sick, listened to some tunes and watched some TV (yep, there was a TV screen near the beds...nice).

At 7pm the boat docked in Puerto Princesa amid a flurry of activity. True to any ferry port in Asia there were millions of hotel, taxi and restaurant touts everywhere. My guitar (slung over my shoulder) was nearly knocked into the water by an over excited granny dying to get off the ship. Lucky I grabbed it just in time. Course I didn't get stroppy with her because that's just not done here...instead everyone just laughed about it.

Caught a tricycle ride to a recommended hostel called Banwa Art house Hostel (poncey name but really nice place). Had some dinner and chatted to the manager. I had the whole dorm to myself so chilled out (result).

August 2 - Puerto Princesa

I had a few missions to do today like yet again extending my tourist visa and getting some flights to various Philippines destinations (domestic flights are well cheap here...average 20 quid a flight). Sadly the immigration was closed, with it being a Saturday and all but managed to get some flights booked with my favourite airline company...Cebu Pacific.

Wandered around town a bit and to be honest there's not much to the capital of Palawan. It’s not a beautiful city but pretty lively.

In the afternoon I decided I was in serious need of some sun so asked around for the best place for a swim and a sun soak. Caught a tricycle to the nearest and best beach and was totally disappointed. I had to walk through knee high water running through a swamp to get to the beach and then found the beach a complete mess of flooding, litter, flotsam, jetsam and bbq'ing locals.

Chatted to some local dudes and got a few names of clubs and bars in town. Ms Kookey's seemed to be one of the best bars...God knows what kind of bar it is though.

Back at the hostel I chatted to a group of rowdy paddies from Dublin who were organising hiring some motorbikes to ride around the island.

At night me, Mark, Paddy and Danny went out for a few drinks at what was supposed to be the top bar in town (it was dead but the food was good). Of course went to check out Ms Kookeys and immediately knew what kind of bar it was...but what the hell, the music was good so we all had a boogy and got lashed up.

August 3 - Puerto Princesa to Sabang

Last night I was invited to join the Irish lads for 5-6 days of biking around the island. They're good lads so how could I resist. Went into town and hired a nice little Honda 110 for P400 a day (9 quid).

Back to the hostel for lunch and then our convoy of bikers headed off leaving a cloud of dust in our wake. The first destination was Sabang and its beautiful beaches and subterranean cave river.

With 9 hours travel time ahead of us we flew like the wind. Paddy, for the second time did literally fly but not like the wind. He was going round a sharp turn with tarmac road and tried to avoid a huge mountain of cow shit. Sadly trying to avoid it just made him lose control and he went flying ass over tits. Lucky for him he just had bad bruising and cuts. He's a pretty tough cookie and just brushed himself off and carried on.

This would be the second fall he's had and by now his bike is starting to change shape and is starting to look more like a badly made custom bike (bits missing, gear changer bent out of shape, plastic bits hanging off and throttle stuck in high rev...this would cause him all sorts of trouble later on).

The road was really great for part of the way and then it just got worse and worse. Dusty, pebbly, rocky, muddy...it was all there. The lads flew ahead and I being stuck in the back was covered in dust most of the time. After numerous stops I'd be picking dead fly's and insects out of my clothes, face and bag.

It was great being on the road though...I soo could get used to this way of travelling (maybe next time).

Finally reached Sabang at the early time of 7pm (not bad going) and was led by a local to a well nice wooden hut resort on the beach...beautiful. After checking into separate beach huts we all went off for a much needed wash down and soak in the sea. I'm sure the sea changed colour after that.

Had dinner got totally lashed and then went looking for a possible bar or club in the area (Haha absolutely no chance...this was such a small place and it had a 9pm curfew).

So instead we bought more drinks and sat outside the huts drinking and swimming till the early hours.

August 4 - Sabang

After waking up with sore heads we all got a boat to the local underground river (thought to be the longest in the world). Donning hard hats and life jackets we boarded the small row boat and entered the bat ridden cave.

It was quite an experience paddling through a cave this big with bats and birds flitting about missing my head by inches. There were of course many specially shaped stalactites and stalagmites to view but the real experience was just floating through it.

Paddy was in charge of lighting duties at the front of the boat and did a terrible job of it. The guide said point left and he'd point right. We were close to chucking him in the river and taking over ourselves but were having too much fun watching bats swoop mere inches from his face making him jump around like a loon.

After the river and cave trip we decided to hike back and took the Monkey Trail which in all honesty should have been called the Uphill Wooden Steps Trail. It was pretty tough going for 4 hung-over lads but we did clock one monkey (begging for food).

Exhausted and starving (we almost ate the lonely and starving monkey we spotted) we arrived back at beach paradise at 4pm and grabbed some lunch. Then went for a soak and a splash about in the sea.

It was on this night that something unmentionable happened to one of our group for which a sworn oath was taken that it would never be mentioned...ever (very funny but sadly can't be repeated on pain of death).

Not much to do here at nights so sat around the hotel bar and ate and drank all night.

August 5 - El Nido

Early rise and time to go on the road again as the Easy Riders headed back the way we came on the dusty arse breaking road and then headed towards El Nido. Danny and Mark being the faster riders were well ahead and reached there by 6pm. Me and Paddy took it easy and stopped for a few fag breaks and even spotted an Emporer Scorpion (them being the only creatures I am really scared of I kept my distance).

Of course Paddy had another mishap and we've now dubbed his bike the Wild Stallion. It seems to have a mind of its own and bucks at the most annoying moments (like when other vehicles approach) and throw him off. The Wild Stallion no longer resembles a bike...its now just an empty shell of a lump of metal with bits hanging off.

Found a pretty cheap room for all of us at Og's Guest house. Went out for dinner and then got ready for a night out. We all missed going to club in Sabang so now was our chance. The only real club was a disco of dubious character. Danny and Paddy left early (they were knackered) but me and Mark hung around for a boogie and drank till the early hours. Had a very good night all in all.

August 6 - El Nido

Today was chilling day and after being on the bikes for so long it was nice to just stretch out on the sand and soak up some sun mixed with frequent swims it was just what I needed.

The evening was dinner and then more drinks and boogying at the only club open in town.

August 7 - El Nido

Today we all booked a day’s boat trip to see the islands around El Nido. Early at 8am we managed to catch the small boat and spent a day snorkelling, splashing about and three of us even had a dive (to be honest it was a mediocre dive...the coral was totally destroyed). The highlight for me was spotting a Reef Shark on one of the snorkelling trips. Boy was he fast. He clocked me and swam off like a rocket (thankfully not a hungry bigger shark).

Tonight Mark had a date with a local girl working in the souvenir shop and locals in small towns being extremely shy about dating she had to bring a chaperone with her. I volunteered my company as a distraction for him.

She ended up bringing 6 girls with her. Sweet Jesus it was tough going but I managed (with the help of Danny later on) to keep them occupied while the love birds chatted away in the corner.

For the next week I'll be heading back to Puerto Princesa tomorrow, spend a few days there and then catch a flight to Manila then straight away catch a bus to Tagaytay for 3-4 days (dubbed the summer getaway resort for Manila folk). Then I fly to the island of Mindanao (notorious and probably the most dangerous place in the Philippines due to Muslim rebel activity from the comically named MILF rebel group). I'm staying well away from all the trouble spots in the north (Cagayan De Oro).
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