November 2009: I visited the Philippines as part of a larger 3-week trip across Southeast Asia. The Philippines is one of my most meaningful trips because it is where my wife was born and although she didn’t go with me on this trip, I did stay with some of her family in manila and I slept in her childhood room. I spent a week in the Philippines visiting manila, El Nido in Palawan and Cebu Island. My main destination in the trip was El Nido. During a time when Instagram was not as popular yet, I wanted to get to El Nido and its archipelago of jungle clad, white sand ringed mushroom shaped islands before the masses did because I know El Nido was just too beautiful to remain pristine for long.

 

 

Location of El Nido

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Filipinos and to realize that they truly are one of the happiest cultures on Earth. I was constantly greeted, waved at, and invited to random family barbecues where parents would present their daughter to me for marriage.  I was amazed by how friendly the Philippines are. Culturally there were a lot of similarities with Spanish and American culture since both at one time colonized the Philippines. Despite relations between the USA and Philippines being so close now days, in the early 1900s a war fought against with Philippines against being colonized saw hundreds of thousands lose their lives. But all of that is in the past and nowhere is a large presence of Philippine diaspora working all around the world to bring remittances back to support their families at home and this includes the USA, where many including my wife have become American citizens.

Jeepney-common form of publin transportation used from old vehicles left by American troops in WWII.

When I was in manila, my wife’s family showed me around the old city and prepared a large traditional meal for me at their house. It was sad to visit without her, but I knew that someday I would return with her.

 

Old spanish fort in downtown Manila

Old spanish fort in downtown Manila

manila is a chaotic, polluted and crowded city but it does have its charms. One is the many food carts selling everything from tropical flavored ice cream to Beloit-raw eggs with the embryo of a bird inside. Elderly Philippine men believe eating Beloit is like a natural Viagra. I avoided it because I was about to fly overnight on a 6-hour flight to Sri Lanka when I had the chance to eat it and didn’t want any gastrointestinal disasters.

 

Beloit eggs

Sunset over the polluted Manila Bay, where kids still swam in its toxic waters

From Manila I flew directly to El Nido in a small twin turbo prop plane. El Nido is a small village, and the airport didn’t receive much air traffic during the time of my visit. From the airport I took a tuk tuk taxi into town, where I stayed one night on the beach in a cheap guesthouse. The next morning, I met the two-man crew of a small traditional Philippine motorized Bangka boat I hired for two nights of camping and exploration in the islands around El Nido. The price was low and for less than 100USD/day I had my own boat, fresh fish, fruit, cold beers and a crew that catered to me. I was in paradise. During the time of my visit, El Nido wasn’t overrun by tourists, and I rarely saw another tourist boat and my crew made sure to take me to beaches where I would likely be the only visitor.

 

Arriving in heaven

Alone on a deserted beach with jungles, monkeys and monitor lizards

Jungles

Tree monitor

One highlight was exploring the ocean water caves by swimming into them. Some of the were enclosed and would glow with bio luminescence.

 

Tidal caves

Me in a Tidal cave

This little lagoon could only be entered by swimming in and once inside there were shallow pools of clear water rich with marine life.

 

Keyhole Cave entry into a lagoon

Inside of the lagoon

My two man crew in the secret lagoon

We visited a fishing village of families that live off off the fish they catch every day. Iwas told that soon they would all be moved off f the land because a large Korean hotel had purchased the land and was going to build a mega resort. Inevitably this is the path for El Nido and places like it all around the world.

 

Fishing village

Friendly Family at a Fishing village

Friendly Family at a Fishing village

Friendly Family at a Fishing village

Phillipino kids have the best smiles

Everywhere I went, I was met with a post card image of heaven, and I would explore the beaches, chase lizards into the jungles, eat fresh fish that my crew prepared me or drink a cold beer kept in the cooler. But the best part of all of this was I was alone and there were no other tourists.

 

Heaven

Pristine beaches

Karst limestone islands

I camped in my tent in small shelters overlooking beaches where I would swim at night in the warm waters drinking my cold beers. I only slept in a sheet since the ocean breeze was warm and refreshing. 

 

My campsite

Fresh fish my crew would catch

My dinner

In the middle of the night, I felt something crawling up my leg in my sheet and thought it was a snake, but it turned out to be a small mouse who was terrified of me, so I released him into the beach.

 

Mouse in my tent

The islands were incredible, and I could have spent weeks exploring them.

Limestone islands

Visiting a white sand beach I pointed at and wanted to stop at

Another slice of heaven

My boat parked on colorful beach

From El Nido I flew back to manila and onward to Sri Lanka.

 

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