We’d slept well at Nellie’s. We had turned the fan in the room on at full blast. It drowned out the ‘orchestra of the crows’ that the poor Spanish couple in the living room had clearly been subjected to since 3am. We left at 7:30am, and on to the ‘bus station’ to get the 8am bus bound for El Nido, for 800 pesos each.
We’d grabbed a quick instant coffee, then we got in a packed van and headed off. The van was full of Latinos and Latinas. Spanish, an Argentinian couple who lived and worked in Majorca, a Chilean, and of course, Vero, a Venezuelan. The next 4 hours were a real opportunity for me to practise my Spanish speaking and listening, and I fared reasonably well. God, they can talk. In fact they talked themselves to sleep after 3 hours, so the last hour was enjoyed in comparative silence. The driver was slow, careful, no rush. I’d recommend Nature Island anyday.
And so we finally arrived in the promised land, though you wouldn’t think it given the road-widening construction along the way, and the dust, the glut of guesthouses, the hordes of travellers buzzing about on scooters like some Spanish holiday resort. It got worse when we took the tri-shaw into town from the bus depot….El Nido was a mess. I’m sure it had once been a pleasant town, centred around its pretty church, but the old charm was practically impossible to find now, lost forever to a glut of unsightly hostels, tour agencies, and souvenir stalls, like any other S.E Asian spot that has sold its soul to tourism – unchecked and unregulated growth. And as though more evidence were needed, here too were grubby street kids selling trinkets, and ladyboys howling in the night. Were we in Phuket? Siem Reap? Hanoi? Kuta? They all end up the same.
Thank God, then, for the surrounding area. Bacuit Bay archipelago is truly the jewel in Palawan’s crown. Nevermind Palawan’s – the jewel in Philippine’s crown. OK….the jewel in South East Asia’s crown. Our hotel, Cuna, has a rooftop that offers possibly the most commanding view in the central area. We started our El Nido experience here, on the rooftop, with a lovely lunch. We had a dip in the pool, definitely a pool with a view. We then took a trike to Las Cabanas beach, a lovely stretch of sand with some low key beach bars, some swankier than others, culminating in a natural bend where the ‘famous’ Las Cabanas beach bar is situated, in a prime sunset watching spot. The views were spectacular.
As the magic hour approached, the drones came out. There were at least 4 of them buzzing around, ruining people’s photos, annoying people by buzzing just overhead, spoiling the serenity….imagine in a few years, when a drone will be de rigueur for flashpackers. They’ll be crashing into each other. I’ve taken to sticking two fingers up at them to ruin their photos instead.
Despite the drones, it was a beautiful, magical time. Simple. No performers. No fire dancers. No musicians like on other beaches in other countries….just simple, peaceful beauty of nature to the soundtrack of a million mosquitoes (the drones), as the sun set behind the karsts to end another amazing day.
We dined in a place called Orange Pearl, a rustic beachfront place with an acoustic guitarist and good garlic rice and garlic buttered prawns. We dined well, it was a chilled, lovely place.
We finished just down the beach at Maremegmeg Beach Club – a super-chilled, beach chic hangout, with cushions perched on ample wooden steps leading up to a well-stocked bar and spacious decking. They were playing Massive Attack. They even sell the only craft beer brewed in El Nido, the unfiltered and delicious Palawan Craft beer – expensive at P200 a pop, but oh so worth it.
We took a trike back for 150 pesos, and had a little wander around the town, which seemed a bit more manageable in the evening.