We only stayed in El Nido for 3 nights but it was a highlight for us. The scenery is stunning, we found great value accommodation at the silverise pension (700php per night in a new modern room with a proper bathroom), and everyone was friendly. We spent the two days island-hopping on an organised tour, visiting destinations such as “secret beach” and “hidden lagoon” which were stunning and beautiful. The snorkeling on these trips was OK, but not amazing – although a great highlight was seeing a huge 50cm long cuttlefish (we have only seen the small 10-15cm variety before). There was, unfortunately, coral bleaching and lots of dead coral in some of the places – contrasting with Coron which had much healthier waters. But in El Nido the above-water scenery is even more impressive – and we definitely would have liked to have spent longer there to explore more of the islands and coastline.
But we only had a couple of days before our 21 day visa stamp expired, so we had to get the bus to Puerto Princesa to fly back to Manila for our connection to Hong Kong. The “express” bus was a long 6 hour ride, about a third of it unsurfaced, so it wasn’t particularly comfortable – and the “express” part meant it was something like doing a dirt track rally race in a minivan – until something mechanical broke and we crawled the rest of the way at 20mph with regular clunking noises from underneath the vehicle. So we were happy just to get to the airport in time for our flight.
We spent one night in Manila just out of necessity then flew to Hong Kong to get our chinese visas sorted out.
I think Coron is my favourite place in the Philippines so far and we haven’t even seen the good bits yet. The people are friendly, there’s some great wreck diving (to be experienced tomorrow), there’s actually some OK street food available around the market, costs are pretty low (550php = $13.75 for double room, shared bathroom), but there’s still the basic facilities that make life easier such as pharmacy, ATM (still to be found) and a selection of bars and restaurants in walking distance. It doesn’t feel too touristy, and the tourists who are here are generally like-minded divers.
On the downside, our overwater guesthouse (on stilts and shakes occasionally) was very hot and also noisy due to the dogs last night.. Then the thunder which was constant from around 5am until midday.. So we didn’t sleep at all well.. It rained from the early hours until around 2pm so we decided not to dive today – the time spent on the surface would have been uncomfortable.. So we slept in instead.
At least we made some good use of the afternoon studying our manuals for our enriched air nitrox course. We’ll complete this certification tomorrow – it’s a useful capability particularly for wreck diving, which allows us to dive with air mixtures with a larger percentage of oxygen than normal air – and hence a lower percentage of nitrogen. This reduces the rate at which nitrogen dissolves in our blood at depth and so allows us to stay at depth for longer without getting a dangerous amount of dissolved nitrogen that would lead to decompression sickness. This means that we can spend much longer on a wreck at 30 metres instead of just 20mins – which would be the absolute limit with normal air (and if we start diving to 40m as we might wish to do on the Coolidge in a few months – it will increase our bottom time above 8 minutes – very short with air!). Also we can do our second dives sooner, and for longer. There are some technicalities to understand, but our dive computers make everything so much easier than it would have been 10 years ago – nitrox has become so mainstream largely due to that.
So, we are pretty excited about tomorrow, to take a look at some of the remains of the Japanese fleet sunk by an American attack on 24th Sept 1944.
Yesterday we flew to Manila from the small Caticlan airport just the other side of the narrow channel separating Boracay from the mainland. A week in Boracay was enough to recover and if we’d spent much longer we probably would have started getting bored. The check-in at Caticlan was quite amusing as their computer systems were down and they were very disorganised at checking people in manually (“airphil express” was the airline). When it got to our turn, it took 30 mins to check just the two of us in.
We kept our heads down in Manila, we stayed in a new budget hotel called “tune” and just went out to the shopping mall for dinner. Then today we flew to Legaspi, which is the nearest airport to Donsol. The public transport to Donsol was crammed (16 people in a minivan), but it only cost $2 per person for the 1 hour drive.
We’re here for the whale sharks and a spot of diving – and there isn’t much else to do here, despite the locals’ efforts to make fireflies and anything else they can think of major tourist attraction. It’s a small town with only one restaurant/hotel in the main town and a few resorts outside of town. But it’s nice to be in a place where people are friendly and say hi to you in a nice way and not just because they want your money!
We booked a “whaleshark interaction” for tomorrow – which means snorkelling with a whaleshark if we can find one. Can’t wait!
Then perhaps we will do a day’s diving – manta bowl sounds interesting, but you’re not allowed to go after the whalesharks with scuba gear on here.
We’re back on the backpackers budget after our week of splurge on Boracay, but 1000 pesos ($23) here buys us a nice little fan bungalow with a proper bathroom/hot shower – clean and relatively bug-free – not quite as great value as Thailand or Cambodia but pretty good.
The estuary at Donsol with the Mayon Volcano (near Legaspi) in the background
Updated local phone number in Philippines: +639196393541
We were totally exhausted by the time we got here last night – I had had only about 30 mins of napping sleep in the last 42 hours.. so we slept for 12 hrs until around 11am. The last legs of the journey didn’t really help with a 1.5hr bus ride, followed by waiting for nearly an hour for a ferry (last ferry of the night I think), followed by a 10-15 min trike ride (similar to the moto tuk-tuks we used on Lanta, not the safest form of transport).. so we didn’t get in to our place until nearly 11.30pm.
Then we went out for a quick look at the beaches (our side of the island = windy, waves for wind surfing and kit surfing… other side 10 mins walk away = calm for sunbathing and swimming) and we went to the supermarkets to buy some provisions. It’s really nice to have a basic kitchen – we have a fridge, two gas hobs and an electric toaster oven plus all the necessary pans and dishes.. so we got breakfast items and had a basic brunch when we got back. Provisions are expensive here (e.g. milk is $2-$2.50 a litre.. UHT only. Cheese cost us $6), but restaurants can be relatively cheap (if we’re careful).. so it probably only makes sense to use the kitchen for breakfast and the odd other meal.. we still need to find the market area (D’Talipapa) to see if we can get fish and vegetables cheap enough to make it worth cooking a dinner in once or twice.. which we’d really look forward to as we haven’t done this for the last 3.5 months!
Stef is still feeling a bit rough from the last bout of food poisoning in Kathmandu (it made the long journey a bit unpleasant for her.. but at least she slept more than me).. so she is having a nap again now, but hopefully we can go out for a swim later.
The view from our apartment – you can just about see the sea at Bulabog beach
We are flying overnight to Hong Kong then we have a fun 12 hour layover there before our flight to Kalibo in the Philippines. Hopefully we will get some good nap time in the airport. From Kalibo it will take us about two hours to get to Boracay. We splashed out and booked a nice place with a living area and small kitchen for 8 nights so we can feel a bit more settled.. We haven’t spent more than 3 or 4 nights in one place for the last two months!
Then we will be travelling to three other spots in Philippines before moving on to China.