Adam arrived late Sunday night. Prior to his arrival, we had decided I would meet him in the airport, near where drivers hold signs to pick up their passengers. When I got to the airport, I was told I couldn’t go inside because I didn’t have a visitors pass, which I was supposed to get three days earlier. That’s weird. People were allowed to walk freely into and out of Terminal 3 when I arrived. Guess things are different in Terminal 1. I wasn’t even allowed to be right next to the building. For those of your familiar with the Eppley Airport, it would be like having the security guards make you wait on the island between the parking garage and the airport. After explaining my brother had no phone access and he only knew to wait inside for me, I was able to sweet talk my way past barrier #1 (Eppley Airport island equivalent), but was shut down when I tried to get past barrier #2 (actually going inside the airport). There were two exits coming out of the airport so I had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Fast forward an hour later, Adam comes strolling out! In that hour, he waited for me in our designated meeting spot, went out of the exit that I wasn’t standing at, back to our designated meeting spot, and then found me at the other exit. Later we realized all the delegates for the ASEAN conference were arriving in town that night so security was on high alert and a visitors pass is not a normal necessity. I should probably pay more attention to big events that are going on in each city that I’m in.
Our Manila AirBNB
While giving Adam the tour of our AirBNB, we got to the bathroom. I explained to him toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet and that he needs to use the sprayer to clean himself. “Are you kidding? That is just disgusting!” Fast forward to the next morning…
L: So how was your first bathroom experience?
A: That was pretty nice! It was like using a kitchen sprayer to clean dishes.
L: I must have spent too much time in Asia because that is a perfect description of the amenity, but it has never crossed my mind!
Monday was pretty relaxing as the only goal for the day was for Adam to beat jetlag. He hadn’t slept in 36 hours, but managed to go to bed and wake up at his usual time. How do you do this?! Jet lag hits me hard about 3-4 days in when I sleep for right about 24 hours and you knocked it the first night.
Our redemption dinner
For dinner, Adam requested a Filipino restaurant. We found one 100 meters from our AirBNB and ordered pineapple chicken with rice. This should be a good intro meal to the Filipino cuisine. It. Was. Awful. The chicken was shaped like meatballs, but had about 25% meat and 75% bone shards. This was my second time ordering chicken in the Philippines and both times there were bone shards in it. Safe to say, I will not be ordering chicken while in this country. After giving up on the chicken and lack of pineapple, we gobbled down the rice but were obviously still hungry. On the walk back to our place, we stopped by a Hong Kong restaurant where I had eaten lunch the day before. We ordered Shanghai Rolls with rice and served with an orange duck sauce. Holy delicious! Yes, we both had two dinners and it cost us $12 total for the four meals.
Trike from El Nido airport
Tuesday morning we caught an Air Swift flight to El Nido on a 48-person prop plane. Air Swift is the only airline that flies into El Nido and the experience was great! We were given a goody bag in the Manila airport which consisted of ice cold water, ice cold orange juice, peanut butter bar, ube croissant (ube is a local root whose flavor is used in sweet recipes), and mixed nuts. The seats on the plane were spacious and comfortable. Our luggage was hand delivered to us.
After catching a trike from the airport to our hostel in El Nido, we left our bags with the receptionist and rented scooters to check out Nacpan Beach for the day. Adam was a bit nervous as he hadn’t driven one before. “Don’t go too fast until I figure this thing out.” That lasted all of 1km when we stopped to fill up our gas tanks. “This isn’t too bad. I’m ready now!”
Adam rocking his pink scooter
We were warned ahead of time the last part of the road to Nacpan Beach was dirt and with the recent rains, pretty muddy but not impassable. We definitely underestimated the road. It was like a Class B dirt road in Iowa after three days of nonstop rain. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of it so my descriptions and your imaginations will just have to suffice. The road started out with just some muddy holes which were avoidable. That turned into the entire road being underwater but only for a few feet. Next up was a 50 degree downhill straight into a 60 degree uphill which was rutted out but still managed to have giant rocks in it. With 2km left to the beach, we encountered the worst part. The road was completely underwater for 40 yards. Um… should we just turn back now? This is getting ridiculous. We encountered two English girls who were walking back to their abandoned bike after spending the night on the beach. They gave us pointers on the best way through the water and assured us the beach was worth it. We successfully made it through the water and to Nacpan Beach… and it was so not worth it. While the beach was secluded, the waves were too strong for swimming, the sand was nothing to write home about, and the views weren’t spectacular. Maybe my expectations were too high because I just came from Boracay? After a quick lunch, we headed back to El Nido, checked into our hostel, and went out for dinner on El Nido Beach.
I ordered pancit which is a Filipino noodle dish and Adam ordered seafood pasta. He asked the waitress what kind of seafood was in it. She said “shrimp and squid” to which he replied, “I’ll take it.” Then he turned to me. “Last time I had squid was over 10 years ago and I got food poisoning. It’s probably safe to eat it again.” After dinner, we participated in the hostel’s beer pong tournament (aka shot pong with rum and coke) and went to bed early as we had a full day island hopping tour the next morning.
During breakfast, Adam said, “So let me tell you about my night…” Oh this should be good. I thought it was a pretty quiet night but maybe I slept through something??? Turns out, Adam is allergic to squid. He spent three hours in the communal bathroom, purging the squid out of his body. The communal bathroom which has both showers and toilet stalls. The communal bathroom which both guys and girls use. The communal bathroom where other hostel guests were brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. It’s safe to say, he will never consume squid again.
Our excursion Wednesday was island hopping around El Nido via boat. The scenery was phenomal. We went to three lagoons and two islands. Our first stop was at Small Lagoon. We were given the options to either kayak or snorkel/swim the lagoon. It’s been 11 years since I tried snorkeling. Let’s see if it still freaks me out. I snorkeled about 20 meters from our boat before confirming snorkeling is not for me. I’ll just swim the rest of the way. Wow, this is beautiful here. Ow! What did I just run into? Ow!! That hurts! While looking above the water, instead of down into the water, I managed to swim into a massive rock that had some coral on it. After swimming around Small Lagoon, we boarded our boat and I checked out my body. I cut up the inside of my ankle and had small abrasions on my upper thighs, wrist, and hand.
Next up was Secret Lagoon. While helping one of our new friends over the rocks and towards the lagoon, Adam scraped up his shin. After boarding the ship and checking out his battle wound, one of our captains rushed over and gave him the 5-star First Aid treatment. They dried, cleaned, and put iodine over his wound. Where was this treatment 30 minutes ago?! Don’t worry, I only attempted to clean my wounds by rubbing on them in salt water. We ate lunch on Shimizu Island, boated through Big Lagoon, and grabbed some drinks on 7 Commandos Beach before heading back to El Nido.
On Thursday, we took a 12 passenger van to Port Barton. We turned off the main road and onto another dirt, more like mud, road for the last 23km. The road had short patches of pavement dispersed throughout. It had a hefty dropoff on one side for most of it. Some parts had eroded away to just a single lane. There was a lot of mud due to the recent rains. Something bad is about to happen. I can feel it. We’re either going to go over that dropoff and die or we’re going to get stuck. Sure enough, I heard a CLUNK and then we were stuck, high-centered in the mud. After 20 minutes of the boys rocking the van, putting rocks and pieces of wood near the tires to gain traction, our knight in shining armor arrived…. a Coca-Cola truck coming from Port Barton. The truck hooked their tow rope to our van and pulled us out.
Coca-Cola truck to the rescue!
We all piled back into the van and that’s when it hit me… Adam and I just exposed our open wounds to standing muddy water that had who knows what in it. Bacteria…sewage runoff… whatever diseases the stray dogs carry….
While checking in to our beach cottage, I asked the front desk to use their First Aid kit. After showers, I played nurse to both of our wounds. I used their isopropyl alcohol in place of our hydrogen peroxide and iodine in place of our neosporin.
A: Who knew we needed to pack a First Aid kit while backpacking?
L: First aid kit….hmm… Wait…. I did pack one!
A: Are you kidding me? We’ve been needing one for the last 24 hours and you just now remember you have one?!
To be fair… I had only packed it with the intent of needing it while Flynn and I hike the Anapurna Circle in April. More on these future plans later.
In the morning, we asked the front desk what we should do for a few hours before we were headed out that afternoon. They recommended Papawyan Falls and to arrange for a guide by talking to the man in the bamboo hut on the main road. Uh… every structure in town is a bamboo hut. We walked into a random bamboo hut and secured transportation. While waiting for our driver, we chatted with the man. He was the most hilarious Filipino I’ve met. The best part of our conversation was this:
Man: If you need entertainment while you wait, I can get my mother for you.
Adam: (laughs nervously)
Man: Haha. I’m olding you, I’m olding you! You know, like kidding, but you’re old.
Unfortunately, the road to the waterfall was impassable due to the previous night’s rainfall. Instead, we spent the morning being beach bums. There wasn’t much else to report on Port Barton as we only spent 21 hours there. We used it as a halfway point from El Nido to the Puerto Princesa Airport. It’s not a top tourist destination and the town only gets power from 6pm-midnight. No, that was not a typo. They only receive power for six hours a day. Our accommodation had a generator that provided electricity from 7am-6pm.
That afternoon, we took a 16 passenger van from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa where we caught an evening flight to Cebu which, aside from Manila, is the major hub of getting in and out of the Philippines. We checked into our AirBNB and headed to bed as we were getting picked up at 5am for our canyoneering excursion.
Saturday. Canyoneering excursion near Moalboal. Best. Excursion. Ever! Adam and I were fully prepared for another cramped 12 passenger van for the two hour drive from Cebu City to Moalboal and then a big group excursion. So we were blown away when we were picked up in a private SUV and had a private tour guide. After getting outfitted in our helmets, lifejackets, and aqua shoes, we hopped on the back of motorbikes and were driven about 10km into the countryside. From there, we had to hike 2km to the jump off point and then down into the canyon. There were other groups here, but we skipped ahead of them as they were moving slower. This made the experience even better because no one was hindering our speed and the water wasn’t kicked up. Over the next two hours, we swam, jumped off 10 cliffs, and hiked through the canyon. The tallest jump was 10 meters (30 feet). The scenery was remarkable; the jumps were a thrill; our guide was great and basically our personal photographer.
Our final jump at 10 meters
That night, Adam boarded his plane back to reality and I started research on where to head to next. In reflecting on this last week, I would say Adam had a successful first backpacking experience. He claimed he would stay in a hostel again. He now realizes backpackers go out in t-shirts and shorts so there was no reason for him to pack polos and dress sandals. I think he may even convert all his toilets to sprayers, he enjoyed it that much. He became an expert at strategically packing his backpack for easy access on our one night accommodations. He quickly learned the lingo of meeting other backpackers – what’s your name, where are you from, how long are you traveling? Similiar to AIM’s a/s/l days (age, sex, location), I like to view this as the modern day traveler’s n/l/t (name, location, time).
So what are my future plans? Tomorrow (Monday), I am taking a ferry down to Bohol and Siquijor islands where I will spend my remaining 12 days in the Philippines. I will take a ferry back to Cebu City and catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 24. I secured my first international dogsit in KL and will be watching two dogs from November 27 – December 4 and then again from December 14-January 2. Barb will visit me in Malaysia over her Christmas break from December 23 – January 6. My January and February are unplanned. If I like Malaysia, then I will stay for the full extent of my 90 day visa. If I’m over Malaysia in those 44 days, then I’ll head someplace else. On March 8, I will meet up with my friend, Flynn, in Cambodia. We will spend two weeks in Phenom Penh and Siem Reap before heading to Nepal to trek the 140km Anapurna Circle for three weeks.