Next stage beckoned: after our relatively monastic life at camp, we were family reunited once again and ready to travel north to see the marvels of El Nido. Poor Alberto was so jet lagged he could hardly keep his eyes open, but our typically insane driver made sure he was as uncomfortable as possible, careering wildly along the windy roads for 5 hours north from Puerto Princesa. Nevertheless, the few times we were able to tear our eyes away from permanent impending death on the road, the scenery was a spectacle- lush, green, lush, green, rice paddies, bison, helmet-free bikers, roadside stalls, and all the time, the sea.
We arrived at the hustle and bustle of Corong Corong beach, just south of El Nido proper, to meet our boat at the wharf. El Nido itself is really a sleepy fishermen’s town turned tourist back packers mayhem, with the ensuing good and bad- teeming with hostels, bars, plentiful ladies and gentlemen of the night, bad sanitation and back packers- but one of the most spectacular views and bats one could ask for. It also has a selection of quite the opposite- some very exclusive and beautiful resorts, a boat ride away, with a price tag to match.
Clever me, obvi, had found what I think was the perfect middle road: a tiny beach hotel, with just four beach cottages and a maximum number of 12 guests, 40 minutes by boat across from Corong Corong. Private beach, simply stunning snorkelling over some of the best coral gardens I’ve seen for a long time, kayaks at your disposal, fabulous food, the most charming, friendly staff ever, a simple cottage RIGHT on the beach, and the best view (not too much) money can buy. Honestly, perfection. Not if you want aircon, telly and wifi all day- or indeed electricity! Power is only available from 5pm until 8pm, and we loved it. A family business, run by charming Alex, his number 2, smiling ‘merman’ Ariel and the rest of the brilliant team, we felt we became part of their family for our delicious 4 night stay.
Lunches and dinners on their tree shaded deck built over the sea were included in the price, and absolutely fabulous: red grouper, fresh squid, even fresher ila (caught minutes before), banana heart curry, prawns curry, rice, the best mango we’ve had…. it goes on. Heaven!
Our days were spent slipping on and off our beach bed into of that WATER, warm enough to spend hours snorkelling: just the coral would be enough, but we saw all manner of fish, and even turtles – on 3 occasions. A touch of kayak, now the girls are past masters with the oars, and back to the beach bed. No shoes, barely any clothes bar a bikini, no telly, no iPads, no noise and no nothing. Proper island hideaway heaven.
The middle day was spent doing the required island hopping tour to see the famous lagoons. They are very beautiful, but chock full of tourists on their kayaks and boats. One thing which is truly remarkable about the Filipinos: during our near 4 weeks here, we haven’t witnessed a crossed word, a raised voice, a sad face: not once, not anywhere. They must be the coolest people on the planet. No stress, no arguments, just smiles and solutions.
As we are always slower than everyone else, much to the girls irritation, we spent longer than normal in the big lagoon, which was excellent as it transpired: being too late to reach the designated lunch spot, lunch was a great barbecue on the boat, with the fabulous lagoon almost completely to ourselves. More turtle viewing and snorkelling, before moving on to the secret lagoon, which frankly would be worth a stop were you able to see it alone, but having to queue to crawl though a hole to take a photo of a large pond filled with tourists, pretty as it may be, seemed rather pointless.
Nevertheless, the next snorkel stop was excellent: huge trumpet fish, squid, parrot fish, clown fish, angel fish, and all those others I’ll never remember the names of; and then on to Snake Island for a quick wander and visit to possibly the best beach bar ever, randomly floating on a sand bar in the middle of a secluded bay. Perfection again!
Inexorable time ensured that these good things needed to come to an end, as ever, but Thailand, Laos and Cambodia beckon, so on we must go with our miserable lives 💚…