Down South The Allure Of El Nido Palawan

At exactly seven, I heard a knock on my door. A staff informed me my breakfast is ready.

They were punctual, something I did not expect from a fellow Filipino. A day prior to that, a different staff asked me to choose my breakfast from their menu and the time I wanted it served. This must be a little custom at Marygold Beachfront Inn, a midrange beachfront resort in El Nido's Calle Hama, Brgy Masagana.

Watching the people on the beach and the limestone rock formation adorning Bacuit Bay were as enjoyable as my breakfast. The bay remained populated with docked boats, which one by one, would leave the shore to ferry travelers to some of Palawan's well-received secret lagoons, beaches, and islands around 9 or ten in the morning. By eleven, a certain serenity claimed this part of El Nido once again.

I still had two hours to kill before someone from Northern Hope Tours picks me up for my Nacpan and Maremegmeg day trip.

With no other travel companions to consider, I picked up my two cameras, left the phone in the room, and headed to the beach. Barefoot. I decided to go for an hour walk.

Decisions as random as this are one of the little joys of solo travels: there are no other sensibilities to think of but your own, you go and do whatever you desire to do.

And walking alone has always been a respite, a necessity to know the place I am in a bit more, beyond the constraints of a travel brochure or magazine.

At quarter to eight, the crowd trickles in. They must be somewhere, enjoying their breakfast before joining a boat tour to some secret lagoons, beaches, and islands. While I intend to know if the little clams wriggling on the spot where the waves ends and retreats are eatable. If so, why there is nobody hunting them? There are a lot of them, and I etched to gather them in a basket and make a good soup out of them like what I did in South Kuta, Bali (Indonesia) much to Tobias' fascination back then.

And what is beyond Bacuit Bay? What's behind the green hill to the right?

So I walked to look for answers. Most of the people I asked do not know if the clams can be eaten. These people are employed here in El Nido for the past two or three years. And for them, perhaps, there is a fine distinction between living in a place and being employed in a tourist attraction.

But eventually I found a local who got the answer.

"Marumi ang mga yan (Those are dirty)," informed a man who was about to get on his outrigger. "Kumakain ng dumi ng tao (They eat human waste)," he added with a certain mischief in his lips.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps the clams are dirty. After all, Masagana beach whom tricycle drivers called Aplaya, is where most tourists dine and meet for their tour. Except for some kindred kids, it is rare to see travelers swimming by Masagana. But beyond that little barangay hall at the edge of the crescent-shaped bay—a good twenty-minute walk from Marygold Beachfront Inn—is Caalan beach, a more serene place that has an awesome view of Cadlao Island.

Taking refuge in an everyday scene remains a favorite pastime: a mother wading through the knee-length waters with her toddler; two men repairing a big boat that can accommodate 15 people.

RJ, a blogger friend, said that Bacpacking with a Book, my blog, pursues the unfamiliar. Does it? I asked myself. Is my pursuit of the so-called unfamiliar deliberate? Or it is a mere consequence of being a fluid traveler, of letting the place unfold in its own terms, of arriving without an itinerary in mind, of letting the feet lead the way?

I wanted to believe it is the latter.

Even Tobi was somewhat surprised that I would be joining tours in El Nido. "That's so un-Jona, no?" he said.

It is not the first time that I joined tours, and I am definite it is not the last. I could not afford to rent the whole boat to myself. And I enjoy the comforting company of strangers.

In retrospect, I would not enjoy the tour without the company of a gay couple from Cebu, a middle-aged couple from Czech Republic, a young couple from France, and another solo traveler from Bicol Region. It was a fun group made more exciting by a sunny weather, clear waters, and great lunch.

Plus, a boat tour is a necessity in this part of the Philippines. El Nido alone has "45 islands with over a hundred white-sand beaches, lagoons, and limestone cliffs." Not to mention the mainland El Nido has already a lot of beaches such as Nacpan and Maremegmeg.

The purpose of solo travels is not to be alone. Just like great affairs, to travel solo is to meet and know other people's lives, to share snippets and stories of one another's travels, of one another's many lives.

And the purpose of solitary walks is to process all movements, all thoughts, all sceneries gathered in the span of the trip.

And from thereon, filter through everything. Then sit. Think. And write.

Quick travel guide to El Nido
From Puerto Princesa, it is a six- to seven-hour bus ride to El Nido. Buses leave from San Jose Bus Terminal (Puerto Princesa) every hour from 4AM to 10PM. An AC bus costs Php480, a non-AC at Php380.00. For a faster yet cramped ride, there are vans available for Php500.00 a person.

Where to Stay in El Nido, Palawan
Midrange Hotel: Marygold Beachfront Inn is one of the few midrange resorts in Masagana beach that has a relaxing lounging area. They still preserve all their ees. Their rooms are spacious enough. AC rooms come with complimentary breakfast.

Address: Calle Hama, Bgy. Masagana, El Nido, Palawan
Phone: Globe, (+63) 917-6247722; Smart, (+63) 908-8843711, Sun, (+63) 925-7222777
Website: http://www.mgelnido.com

Budget Accommodation: Northern Hope Inn is a newly opened Filipino-owned budget inn located in the town proper. Its rooftop has an amazing view of Bacuit Bay and Cadlao Island.

Address: Serena St, Barangay Buena Suerte, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Phone: +63 927 735 3221
Website: http://www.northernhopetours.com/

Travel tips:
• Book your tours through Northern Hope Tours. Tour C, Tour A, and a land trip Nacpan Beach and Maremegmeg Beach are highly recommended. Phone: (+63) 927-7353221. Website http://www.northernhopetours.com/
• While Taraw Peak is closed, Canopy Walk is an alternative to have a sweeping panorama of Bacuit Bay.
• Walk your way to Calaan Beach and have an unrestricted view of Cadlao Island as your background.
• Try their interesting take on barbecue. Locals do not serve their barbecue with a soy sauce! Only vinegar. Only Filipinos can understand my fascination, perhaps.
• Kayak your way through the secret beaches on the nearby Cadlao Island.
• Scuba-dive in Matinloc Island.
• Camp on a remote island

Where to eat:
• Big Mama, a beachfront restaurant in Masagana, offers affordable Filipino favorites such as adobo with rice for Php125
• Artcafé, a midrange restaurant and café, is a favorite of many foreign travelers, so expect the price to be tad higher than usual.
• When in Nacpan Beach, have fresh seafood at Kyla's Cocina.

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