Leaving my (already-broken) camera home was a deliberate move. First of all, there’s water. Water and me don’t mix. Second, phone cameras are handy, and haven’t I seen those splash-proof cases that will save my Note 5 when it gets into the water? And so, on Tuesday, I left the house with no camera slinging from my neck, just a semi-heavy gray bag packed with a few clothes, a lot of food, and a couple of wires.

I take good cloud pictures; most of them are on my Instagram stories: @hellocaris

Getting to El Nido took an entire day. Our flght was at 12 p.m. and somewhat delayed. We got to Puerto Princesa an hour and few dozen minutes later, only hanging on the words, “Kuya Ryan” and “Tiwala lang.” The reason? We still don’t know our accommodation or our shuttle, but tiwala we did, and fifteen minutes later, after inhaling our first Palawan air as we walked out of Arrival, an anxious-looking Palawenyo greeted my friend, who was our contact, and asked respectfully, “Ma’am Micah?”

We took obligatory Puerto Princesa pictures, of course, and the van arrived, along with two white Spanish couple who would be sitting in front of us. The seats were cozy, and we were advised by the driver, who was also a pastor, that we had two stop-overs: one, to drop by his family who sat on the front with him, and two, to fetch the chicken which will be brought to El Nido as our back cargo.

It turns out that the driver was a former pastor and current member of the Palawan Christian Fellowship, a somewhat-rundown traditional worship center where two or three white kids, who were sons of the missionary living here, played basketball. Foreigners were a familiar sight in Puerto Princesa, much more tricycles that didn’t look like the ones in Bulacan. After dropping off his family, and a little chatter, we headed to the terminal to get the chickens, and they were not what we expected at first.

The Puerto Princesa arrival area. Clean-sweeped, as if nobody was there. Maybe nobody WAS there but us.

Our first ride to El Nido had chickens in it

The chickens, my dear friends, turned out to be four massive boxes of poultry meat heavily lodged at the back of the Grandia. They were so big, each box needed at least three men to place them properly in the car. Thankfully, there was no smell, at least, because the entire ride,I tell you, was no joke. It was SIX FREAKING HOURS, plus an hour to grab a bite in between. During midway, our driver parked the van in front of a regular carinderia (but with a magnificent restroom, according to Miko and Mina). The foreigners ate too, in pure Filipino fashion, and after all of us got our fill, we went back to our seats, continued our humble ways of entertainment, and stomached the rest of the hours.

Come six o’clock, rain started to pour, which wasn’t helpful, because the roads were dark, lampless, and zig-zagged. Plus, our driver drank his last drop of water, which made me a bit concerned (at least about his welfare). But when I got to ask him if he’d want one of our bottled lattes, he declined, for we were near. “Near” meant another thirty minutes before we finally got to a town with lights, and we knew we were in our destination. El Nido, finally.

Our hotel was El Grande, a large block of orange in the main street of Buena Suerte. Inside were big frames of Bob Marley, and I had a hunch the owner had a strong reverence for ska. Off we went to our room, a third-floor dormitory, where the manager did not ask for our payment, because Kuya Ryan will settle everything by tomorrow. As the three of us picked our bunk beds (which, unfortunately, Mina has to take the top part), we decided that Kuya Ryan was probably Charlie – you know, of Charlie’s Angels, because all this time, he only communicated via phone.

First day done, second day, a twist

We finally met Kuya Ryan! During breakfast, a semi-petite man with a bald head sat on the lounge’s sofa. We only realized it was him when the other group, who ate in the pantry with us, called him by name. When we finally got the chance to say hi, and he finally got the chance to ask for the package payment, we discovered that we’ll all be having Tour C today. The caveat: Miss World contestants were having photoshoots on some of Tour A (which was supposed to be our set today)’s island.

Tour C included some meticulous diving, and I knew I had to skip this, so I waved goodbye to my girls as they road the Palawenyo tricycle on their way to the beach. This meant I had all the time to myself, and by time, in a place so rural, and no television in the room, meant a long one. Later in the morning, I decided to take a nice walk. Getting to the beach only meant going on a straight line; during that time, a large cluster of boats were parked on the shore, and I could see people lodging for their tours. Off I went, directionless, sighting the town’s elementary school, post office, environment protection building, and a lot of tourists popping up everywhere, looking very much acclimated to the island’s sunny temperature. I was not a fan of the heat; by 11, when my stomach was churning and all I have seen, so far, were beach front cafes and food shacks, I decided to go home.

Buena Suerte, the street we were in, was a busy mix of rural life thrown in with businesses on every corner. There’s Go Pro Rentals, bagels, frappes, even a gelato corner! But the prices were steep and our pockets don’t have deep holes, and of course, I had to settle for the non-hole making option.

The nice cafes were either full or still not open (there’s an interesting one on-the-way, with a concrete-and-wood interior called Taste), so I took my time to read my book, write things, and wait until my girls bang the door open and tell me the day’s adventures. Which they did.

Dinner! I forgot the name, but I’m sure it has “Ihawan” in it. Please remind me! I’d love to tell the owner how amazing their staff were, and we all had fun during our stay.

By nightfall, the three of us walked around the town for dinner, and we found one they’ve been wanting to go to since last night: a seafood grill at the beachfront, decorated with blue festoon lights on the shore. People flocked the tables on the sand, and we took the next best one: a fuchsia covered table near the stairs of the bistro. Three dogs and a handful of pearl-accessory vendors flocked to us while we ate, but the best conversation we had was with the owner’s sister, who gave us the dibs why El Nido meals were expensive (most of the ingredients were transported from the city), what happened in Secret Lagoon, if they feared what happened in Boracay, and how they fared during lean season, such as this. We went home full, with pearls inside our bags, and the warmth of El Nido locals rubbing off our skin.

Look at this giant dream catcher!

On the third day, I took the plunge

Not exactly sea-deep, but I was held by the neck by one of the boat staffs of Poseidon, the boat we rode to our Tour A along with eight other people. There were two couples and one family – a pair of seemingly-senior parents with their two kids. The weather was fair, the sea was cooperative, and all of us went googly-eyed at the magnificent rocks perched above the crystal green waters. Mom beside me said something about God’s magnificence, and I knew we were in the right company.

We went to five different spots, ate lunch on the third,with the food cooked and prepared inside the boat. INSIDE THE BOAT, dudes. And during the long boat rides, the staffs, whose name I unfortunately forgot, except for Tom and Jerry who helped at the back, and Chris, who said something about auditioning for Big Brother. I hope he gets in. He’s done so many tax-life photos for us than we could ever thank him for.

The best part of El Nido? THEIR PEOPLE.

I rode a kayak! Rode, because I never held a paddle, because I’m too small and too thin for one, but those parts could be changed. But kayak! For someone who’s terribly afraid of water, I had so much fun. In the end, we failed to get the small boat to the direction we wanted, and we had to be pulled to get back to the main boat.

Hello beach. My guess is it’s Shimizu Island during lunch, where the staff prepared for us well-garnished food from the boat!

Look at how serene the waters are!

Going home, there was a downpour. No, not the soft ones that land mildly on your shoulders; sea rains are much more harsh. Miko called them acupuncture. They could, probably, pierce through something, and luckily, in the entire twenty minutes of us reaching back to port, all our bodies were intact. We waded through knee-deep water, got lost in looking for the entrance, and all the while, I was clearing my face washed out with water. We rode a tricycle, who told us where the Miss World judges are lodging, and we headed straight to Brgy. Maligaya where I got my much-needed warm bath.

The rain stopped later that night, which was what we needed, because tomorrow, we’re leaving off to Puerto Princesa. The food in V and V Bagel was less than impressive (for our taste, at least), and we found ourselves hanging out at Oceane Brew.

And oh, look.

A few walks cost us and our tricycle driver a few hours on our last day at El Nido

It was raining in the morning. We had a city trip slated for today, but last night, while Miko was taking a sip of her margerita, we had a change of heart. We were meant to pass the last day slow and steady, which means waking up late and taking our time at breakfast. Miko was craving for coffee, Mina for water, and we walked a bit in the morning as we waited for our tricycle which will transport us back to the terminal. When we came back to El Grande, we were told that the driver has been there a few times, back and forth, and now, we have to wait.

Wait, we did, and much more, talks. El Grande’s manager was a lovely mom with an active son who had curly hair. He played with leaves and a tub of water outside while we chatted. Kids!

We were here! Photo from El Grande Tourist Inn Facebook

I don’t think we asked for her name (wait! I just discovered it: El Grande Tourist Inn’s lovely manager is Ms. Becca Montano), but she did ask for ours and took our picture before we left. Our bags were at the pantry, we were ready to leave, and when the tricycle driver arrived, we were off, saying our goodbyes, waving hands, until the orange block of El Grande disappeared around the bend.

The terminal is where the vans are parked

We intend to get to Puerto Princesa by early evening, so leaving by lunch time was the most feasible thing. It did, however, take us fifteen minutes of waiting, the alluring scent of cup noodles, and paying 5 pesos for a dirty CR to get going. When the clock hits 1 p.m., another driver opened the door, told us to move into his van, because the other three male Caucasians with us have a flight to catch at eight. We hustled.

My eyes were peered on the window the entire five hours of travel. The door would open, people would come in, and I would be moving from one seat to another until the van was jam-packed with strangers and bags and sacks of rice. Still, it would whoosh down the zig-zagged streets as if weight didn’t matter. Weight didn’t matter in El Nido. The mountains, afloat on the bright blue waters, would grow an inch, not fearing if they’d be too heavy to stay on the surface. We can stay in the surface. We can rush in the road. There’s no weight. There’s no heaviness.

The limestone cliffs placidly turned into forested mountains, paved roads, and then, farms. There was a sense of quiet here, a quiet that will make you float. And I, who have been carrying a lot of things in my headspace for a long time, needed the lack of gravity. I have seen the sky and water kiss like an endless horizon. I have craned my neck over rocks and waited for them to whisper their calm.
El Nido is a beauty. A long ride worth the wait. And it was a joy to be here, even for a mere three-and-a-half days.