Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Philippine Recap

But before I get to all that, today I got my first red envelope!  And keys to work!  And tutoring cancelled! And Paul's going to tap his beer!   OMG a totally great day.

Back to Manila.  As we're waiting to board we start talking to the nice couple again.  Turns out Lauren (good name) and Ed are English teachers in rural podunk China.  They hadn't booked a hotel and we told them we had reservations at Banwa, so they came along.  Then in the AM we all took a van up to Ed Nido.  Banwa was cute enough, but the town pretty lacking.  In retrospect the smart thing would have been to book it the 5 hours in the van right after getting off the plane.  Better to get all the traveling done in one day than drag it out over two.  Ohh and was that a fun bus ride.  There were 14 passengers so as you can imagine leg room was limited.  And guess who was lucky enough to score a seat in the back row?!  That's right, these kids.  We would hit a bump and the people in front wouldn't feel it, while we're protecting our heads from the ceiling.  And then we got to the dirt roads.  A car would come by in the opposite direction stirring up a dirt tornado.  But no, our driver didn't care he couldn't see, he'd just push that pedal down harder.  Oh the pummel of rocks!  There were several minutes where Paul shielded my eyes from the horror.  But we made it.  In no less than 6 hours because every 10 minutes the driver would a) pull over to pee or b) get out and make sure our tires hadn't exploded.

So CNY is a Chinese holiday, not a Filipino one, so Paul and I figured the place would be deserted.  Wrong.  It's actually the busiest tourist week of the year.  Obviously we had no hotel, no iphone, and no plan, so we spent a solid 45 minutes going from shit hotel to nice hotel to super fancy nice hotel, all to the same response, "full."  We even went to an office and inquired about a resort on a private island.  The guy told us about all of the amenities blah blah and then told us ~$550/night.  At this point we're desperate and say fine!  He makes a call.  "Sorry, full."  You mean we spent the last 20 minutes rationalizing to ourselves that we deserve a 5 star hotel, even when we don't have 5 star jobs, and now you're going to take it away!?  What a cruel cruel man.  Finally someone in a similar situation pointed us in the right direction and we found a perfectly cute hotel on the beach.  But only for two days and then we would have to move on.

By the time this all settles down, we have a San Miguel (Lite!!!) and watch the sunset.  Head to dinner where I had squid (and every following meal possible) and we ran into our new buddies Lauren an Ed! They're super fun and we spent the whole night sipping rhum cocktails at our hotel watching as the calm sea turned into a violent attack on our short beach.

Full Day 1 and we wake up at the crack of dawn (8!) to go island hopping because that's what you do in El Nido.  It is quite possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.  Beautiful white sand, sapphire blue ocean, and rocky cliff islands that jut out all along the horizon.  We first hopped to secret beach where you have to swim underwater through a hole to get to the isolated beach.  Rumor is it's where the inspiration for The Beach came from.  I'm a bit skeptical and think that's a marketing tool used for every island in the Philippines and Thailand.  Regardless, it was cool.  Then we hopped to what I call Triceratops Island where we snorkeled over the reef.  We saw fluorescent blue starfish, day glow stripey fish, Nemo!, and all sorts of interesting underwater craziness.  Island 3 was lunch island.  Just a beautiful white sand beach where we relaxed as the boat crew grilled fish and chicken.  Yum.  Oh I should mention there were other people on this boat.  The blackest man I have ever seen who is currently a teacher in rural Korea.  I can't even imagine the looks and stares this guy gets!  2 Spanish guys, and a mother, daughter son from Canada but were Filipino.  By the end of the day everyone totally bonded.  Hop 4 to an island with an abandoned resort.  It was cool to climb around inside and see all the leftover beds and mirrors and stuff, and finally when we'd had just about enough of island hopping we hit Helicopter Island.  It was shady and you had to swim to the beach, so 90% of our boat just stayed and waited til was time to go home.  Despite how hot it probably was.  By the end of the day getting a little pink and being on the open water got cold.  But I guess I'm always cold.  Post boating met Lauren and Ed again for dinner and drinks.  While waiting an hour and a half for dinner to come (it's island time baby) Lauren and Ed ran into two guys they had met in their random podunk town China a month ago! Weird!  We all hung out, but after all the hopping, we were beat.

Full Day 2 up again at dawn (7!) to go SCUBA diving!!!!  I hadn't been in 10, ew how old that makes me feel, years.  Paul had never been.   It was pretty spectacular.  We signed up for 2 dives each, and everyone else on our boat was pretty experienced so they all did 3.  We were all broken into groups (Paul and I being the lowest level) with our own guides.  Ours was awesome.  Super spunky and excited about life.  He was a cook for 15 years working 20 hours days, and I guess saved up enough money to become a dive master.  He was clearly enjoying life.  The dive was awesome.  Saw tons of fish and a sea turtle!!!!  And found Nemo again, and his whole family.  Territorial little guys they are.  They charge when you go near their coral!!  But by the end of the hour, my 2 size too big wet suit was failing at keeping the heat in, and I was cold.  My allergies had kind of been acting up and my ears were making weird noises, so I opted out of dive 2 to sit in the sun.  Dive 2 looked a lot cooler than the first one.  We parked the boat alongside a cliff island and the divers swam around the base.  Everyone agreed it was the best dive of the day.  I was happy to sit in the sun thank you very much.  Again we pull up to a deserted beach where we have a private, awesome, lunch.  Then out to dive 3.  Paul and I snorkeled through the jellyfish, saw a sting ray and another turtle, then retired from the ocean upon our private boat.  Oh private except for the young Chinese girl who came with her MUCH older Greek boyfriend.  While he was out SCUBAing, one of the boat guys would pull this woman around in the lifesaver, while she wore a life vest and screamed in fear!  haha so Chinese.  When she finally felt a little comfortable he would tie her to one of the balancers and leave her to float while he snorkeled.  soooo Asian.  Our dive master told us ridiculous stories about how these Chinese tourists would come and go SCUBA but couldn't swim.  Why would you do that!?  WHY!??  Even in India all of our guides would say how much they loved Western tourists, 'but not those Chinese.'  I think 90% of it is a language barrier, but I digress.

Post scuba we were treated to drinks at the dive shop, then we were off to meet Lauren and Ed and 2 other dude (Tim and Matt) for dinner and drinks again.  Night life in El Nido isn't crazy, as it's probably just too small, but I think that's a good thing.  We spent each night mixing a couple mango cocktails on the beach and calling it a night. Does it get any better!?  Day 3 move hotels to where Lauren and Ed are staying down the street.  I should mention El Nido at it's peak is still empty.  We'd go to the beach, any time of day, and there would never be more than 4 people out.  Where are they hiding?  Island hopping I suppose.  We spent the day loafing on the beach.  Sipping mango smoothies and cocktails, and of course, met Lauren, Ed, Tim and Matt for dinner and drinks.  It's so much fun to have vacation friends! While on a beach stroll we discovered the Mecca of Ed Nido; the Cadloa Resort.  Private bungalows, bikes, hammocks, bean bags, private restaurant, and it's only a month old!  Jackpot.  They just so happened to have one room available on our last night, so we booked it over early in the AM to maximize our resort time.  The entire time Paul and I spent having this conversation,

"This is awesome."
"This is what a vacation should be."
"Why didn't we find this earlier."
"I LOVE this place."

So although we didn't get to see our new friends on our last day, we enjoyed totally relaxing and absorbing all that is resort life.  Hot water.  24 hour electricity (let me tell you, this is a novelty!).  Service hand and foot.  Clean, really clean, rooms.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

BUT of course we had to wake up at stupid 4 am to van 5 hours back down to Puerto Princesa, grab lunch, fly an hour to Manila, have Kenny Rogers Roasters, fly 2 hours while Paul fought food poisoning from said KRR, then taxi it to make it home by 10pm the very same day.

I appologize, this seems was all quite rushed.  Trust me, I would have done a much better job of telling our tales if I could had done it all along the way, but I didn't, so you're stuck with this.  To sum it all up, it's a beautiful place, with beautiful beaches, fun activities, and reasonably easy (hey I was in India all summer) to get to, so CHECK.  Been there done that.  Bring on Bora Bora....

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