The highs just keep getting higher as we delve into holidays within holidays. We have now completely lost track whether we are on a holiday from our tour or if we’ve crossed into another holiday within a holiday. Either way, when we finally make our way out, reality that we were once used to will be a massive shock to the system. With El Nido, in particular, Carong Carong, capturing a piece of our heart.
The day of the boat trip had arrived and at 8 am and the group was joined by Simeon and Stefania fellow backpackers ready to explore the most famous, secret caves and islands around. A small group of us, headed up by our knowledgeable local – Oliver – went off to round up some food at the local market. Pineapples, mangoes, vegetables and fish were purchased and we rejoined the rest of the group to start our adventure. For those who are used to their Marks and Spencer’s, Sainsburys, come to think of it, even the Aldis and Morrisons, the market place here would horrify you.
The fruit and veg stools are OK, a few flies but nothing too bad. The fish stands are a little less attractive but with fresh catches of the morning and an array of shellfish it has a certain appeal. The icing on the cake comes with the meats section, which is, quite gruesome. The one guy with his bare feet resting up on the pile of cut pork was a little off putting so I’m quite glad we opted for the fish.
We loaded up bags, food and our beautiful daughter and paddled through the low tide to the boat. Crewed by four local fisherman we set sail towards our first island. The BBQ was a light and the fish were slowly cooking as we approached a very crowded island Bay. This was the stop to have a Snorkel and jump aboard the kayak to explore the big lagoon. We took it in turns to set off for the breathtaking but extremely crowded hidden gem. Myself and Simeon set off first, overtaking everyone in our path, only to be stopped by a small Que at the caves entrance. A paddle around, a few selfies and we were on our way back to the boat
Another kayak mysteriously appeared so the rest of the gang headed off. Daniella had her personal captain as we were one oar short and she snapped away between jumping ship and swimming among the other kayaks. A spot of snorkeling and a go pro was found nestled between the rocks Stefania . We snapped away with the new camera and set off for a quieter location.
With Prevelly loving the sea life we tucked into some mango and arrived at the next island. This one was just as spectacular as all that surrounded us and we wasted no time by making our way via kayak, snorkeling or swimming to the paradise beach. A coral collecting session for Prevelly to start as the rest relaxed and explored. A small gap in one of the rock faces opened up into a magical world and fortunately as we discovered the small lagoon, everyone had departed. A climb in and we splash around as the girls create the scene for the ultimate Instagram selfie. Spiky rocks, soaring 50 meters high with the occasional tree sprouting from a crack surround us to create such a tranquil environment. It is hard not to get lost in a world where no other thoughts enter your mind and you are merely appreciating that moment of life. Unfortunately the sea wasn’t as peaceful as our thoughts and with a spectacular lunch ready to devour we made our way to the only quite island nearby. Too hungry to wait, we feasted on route and for what ended up costing £2 per person, we ate like kings and queens. The crew somehow prepared a meal you’d expect to see in a top end restaurant, in a space no bigger than a chair, whilst bouncing around at sea. Appreciating every last ounce of the perfectly cooked fish we somewhat heavily, slouched around the boat and then got ready to take on the final stop of the day.
A place where two islands are joined at low tide and a floating shop sits, buoyant all day long between them both. It has some lush greenery which mounds to a viewing point on top of a small hill. Some idyllic waters to bathe in and we spent an hour or so taking the opportunity to explore and relax. A beautiful place by the name of Snake Island . Luckily without the snakes.
The ride home was a very different story from the journey we experienced at the start of the day. With bags stowed away below, all canopies removed, we braced for a stormy ride back towards our home island. Prevelly somehow managed to fall asleep as her previous nap attempt had been rudely interrupted aboard the boat. She managed this as Daniella and I created a cocoon and used bodies, towels and life jackets to surround her. As the waves crashed onto the boat in rhythmic manner we could only hope we were getting close. Afraid to turn around and see for ourselves as the looming threat of a face full of sea water was present. It turned out to be one of those experiences, that whilst uncomfortable and unpleasant, is exactly what it is, an experience. And with this we smiled, laughed and made it back safely.
For anyone venturing this way. A boat tour here can range from 1000 – 2000 pesos. We’ve seen them in action and they are crowded and uncomfortable for a whole day’s experience. They tend to range between 15 to 20 people per boat. A private boat can cost as little as 3500 for up to 4 if you know the right guides and the timing is good. We ended up paying less than 1200 each for 6 on board a boat capable of taking 15, which included food, the cooks, the captain, the taxes and a local guide. This equates to around £17 for an unforgettable day out.
And the only way to end an incredible day is with a cocktail in hand and a pizza on the table at our local favorite – Belle vita.
The following day we set off to another beach – Las Cabañas – for a day of playing in the sand and relaxing by the waters edge. An incredibly beautiful bay, with crystal clear waves creeping up to where the sun chairs and bean bags, occupied by sprawled holiday goers lay. With a spot of tanning and sandcastle demolishing we head on round to where the restaurants occupy the central part of the bay. Greeted by the duo – Chris and Oliver – who now make up the Seatopia formidable five, plus one, we set camp and ordered in lunch. With Prevelly happily tucked up to Daniella for her midday nap we saw the day slowly Unwind in the most peaceful way imaginable. With a tricycle back we were showered, refreshed and ready to try out a new restaurant along the waters edge. Needless to say we didn’t experience anything new as the cocktails, pizza and coffee pulled us into our local. If it’s not broken then why fix it. The stars came out and illuminated the sky as we once again saw an amazing day come to an end.
The sun rose once again with barely a cloud in the sky and it was time to try something new. With the group ready to explore, bikes were hired, tanks filled, tires pumped up and the 45 minute ride to Nacpan began. Three bikes in convoy, lead by Oliver and Kriss, Karin flowing and the three of us in tow. A beautiful change of landscape as we left El Nido. The beach front was swapped for vast landscapes of rice paddies and local farmland. Passing through a few small towns as we finally approached the dirt road that lead us to the awaited, white sands of El Nido’s holiday getaway. The bumpy track saw a turn for the better for bike users as we all passed cars and tricycles slowly navigating through the uneven road surface.
A 50 peso entrance fee and we were cruising along the sand road to Oliver’s chosen spot for some food. A delightful lunch and some surprisingly good Wi-Fi before we made the most of the beautiful day. Once again Palawan had come through, as the sun beat down, the waves gently turned over and all of us relished this spot of paradise. Infected by the perfect set up we scouted the beach front for some possible and affordable accommodation. With the powers above continuing to bless us, two huts were available on the beach for the following day. Deposits paid and only the return journey needed to pack up and set off on our new holiday for a few days.
With an incredible bond made between the Seatopia residents we had our farewell dinner together back at Belle Vita. Just making it back in time for everyone to load up on the 2 for 1 cocktails.
The decision to leave, where we were now calling home, had been made and we headed back to pure paradise – Nacpan Beach. Prevelly unloaded her toys and wasted no time in making the spacious hut her own. After finding a broom she swept the deck from sand and then headed down to meet the manager’s child of a similar age.
The next three days involved some serious sunbathing, a lot of playing in the sand and sea and dining out in dimly lit restaurants. A couple of massages were thrown in for good measure. Now, whilst this place is complete paradise by day, at night it feels slightly more like being stranded upon a desert island, but with restaurants spotted along the beach. The mosquito nets were back and they were greatly appreciated. Whilst having a beautifully large deck area on each hut and even with the hammock installed, it was difficult to get past the sand flies and mosquitoes. It gave the opportunity to have some early nights and appreciate the sun rising to reveal the idyllic surroundings. We did manage to have a couple of evenings where we made it to past ten, with the girls playing cards and myself taking full advantage of the vacant hammock.
Nacpan proved to be a perfect place for Daniella and Karin to spend some quality time together as they strolled along the beach and caught up on life back home. It also gave us the opportunity to really appreciate what we have seen and experienced over the past seven weeks in the Philippines. It was most definitely a holiday within a holiday.
With 6 days remaining and Karin departing on the Saturday we made our way back to El Nido on the Friday morning. The obvious stop off into Bella vita for some pizza and a chance for Prevelly to be reunited with manager’s daughter – Naomi – back at seatopia cottages. The bond they have developed has been so delightful to witness. Naomi at the age of 4 has taken Prevelly on as a little sister and in the mornings she can be found waiting outside our room for Prevelly to wake up.
Saturday came and a quick trip to Las Cabañas for some fresh coconut and lounging by the sea. On our return we said our goodbyes to Karin and from nearly two weeks of being an ever growing group, we returned to the family of three. With Prevelly developing, what seemed to be a cold, we took the opportunity to cuddle up and have an afternoon of watching Peppa Pig. Unfortunately with a lot of coughing and a running nose like a tap she didn’t settle too well. That night she awoke struggling to breathe and we were forced to take her to the local hospital. At 1 am the taxis aren’t as frequent as in the day and the groundsman – Toto – kindly loaded us on his bike and made the journey into town. Prevelly somehow managed to maintain her incredible smile in the early hours as she was given treatment to relieve her congested nose and chest. We returned at 3 am and subsequently spent the next day in and out of naps as we nursed our wounded soldier back to health.
Being as strongly connected as they are, Daniella made all the effort of relieving Prevelly’s illness and took it on herself. Whilst it may have worked a little, we now had two poorly ladies. With enough energy to have an easy day touring around, we rented a bike and headed off to try and buy a ticket at the airport for our flight to manila. With next to no traffic, unfinished roads and signs made from wood, we were definitely not approaching the likes of Heathrow and Dubai. Stopped at the one gate we were informed that the ticket office was not built yet and there should be one in town. Taking advantage of the location we drove down the ‘road’ to nio Beach. With only two other people there we had a beautiful, unspoiled beach all to ourselves. A dip and a quick play before we made our way back to the town. With so much construction work going on there were a few food vendors with their desks set up and homemade snacks available for the workers. We had an incredible fried banana wrapped in pastry as brunch for a very reasonable ten pence. With a quick stop off at home for a nap and the collection of Prevelly’s bucket and spade we then popped over to our favorite beach – Las cabañas. The day was finished with a perfect meal from the most gracious hosts you could imagine at our favorite affordable local. Prevelly has become their restaurant mascot and they have entertained her with every visit. If you are in corong corong and I could remember the name then I would highly recommend this place as the service is second to none and the food is not only cheap but so incredibly tasty. If you have a cute child you may even get some free Mango. Find Seatopia cottages, Come out and turn left on the main road and walk 5 mins to an open aired start to the restaurant.
As the final days were upon us we went into town and loaded up on any essentials that we needed for our next adventure. A final trip to the previously mentioned beach and then our final full day was here. Like each morning before, Naomi and Prevelly played as Daniella and I made our breakfast. With an abundance of beach toys and and an ever growing suitcase, we slimmed down and donated all unused items to Naomi and her family. After loosing some weight with the luggage we decided to put some on in person by indulging in a large pizza as a farewell meal on the beach.
The last few hours were here as we woke up to a beautiful sun filled morning. A final play with her Philippino friend and Prevelly was set to make the short Tricycle ride to El Nido Airport. Although unfinished in its surroundings, the airport lounge is an immaculate new building with complimentary food and drinks. A slight delay as expected and we make the hour flight to manila. The international terminal was as chaotic as one would expect but the 5 hour wait went surprisingly quickly. The next flight was seven hours, which was to be our chance to catch up on some shut eye but it left us all a little sleep deprived as we landed in Sydney. Another layover of 4 hours and then we set off for our final 4 hour flight to Auckland. And here we are, sitting at baggage carousel number 2 waiting for the buggy to pop its head through the rubber strips that lift with the few remaining bags that keep circling the conveyor belt.
It’s been two months in the Philippines of exploring, island hoping and so much that we haven’t even mentioned. We have loved this place and the people we’ve met, from locals to fellow travelers. One day we hope to come back and explore the remaining 7000 Islands.
From the other side of the world we send our love and hope that everyone is doing what they want to do.