04.05.2011 – SHANGHAI – MANILA – EL NIDO

 

WE TOOK A NIGHT FLIGHT FROM SHANGHAI TO MANILA AND LANDED AT AROUND 4 AM IN AN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. WE DID NOT HAVE MUCH TIME TO CATCH THE NEXT, INTERNAL FLIGHT, SO THE BEST OPTION WAS TO TAKE A TAXI. (THE FARE SHOULD BE AROUND $8). IT IS RECOMMENDED TO FIRST AGREE ON THE FARE AND TO HAVE SOME SMALL NOTES AND CHANGE, AS THE TAXI DRIVERS‚ DO NOT HAVE TIME TO LOOK FOR A CHANGE’).

THE TAXI STAND IS ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE ENTRY TO THE AIRPORT, BUT THE TAXI DRIVERS HAVE APPROACHED AND INVITED US TO THEIR CARS INSIDE THE AIRPORT.

THE DRIVE TO THE NATIONAL AIRPORT TAKES AROUND 10 MINUTE, BUT BE WARNED – EVEN AT 5 AM THE TRAFFIC IS HORRENDOUS AND THE 10 MINUTES COULD BE EASILY STRETCHED …

OUR NEXT MISSION WAS TO BUY A TICKET FOR THE EARLIEST POSSIBLE FLIGHT TO TAYTAY ON PALAWAN. THE BIG PROBLEM WITH PURCHASING TICKETS FOR ANY TYPE OF TRANSPORT IN THE PHILIPPINES IS, THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ASSESS HOW LONG IT TAKES TO COMPLETE EACH SECTION OF THE JOURNEY. THERE ARE SEVERAL REASONS FOR THAT AND I WILL EXPLAIN THE VARIOUS POINTS LATER IN THE STORY. IT HAS TURNED OUT THAT THE ONLY LINE PROVIDING FLIGHTS TO OUR DESTINATION WAS SEAIR. WE ALSO HAD A PROBLEM WITH OUR LUGGAGE – THERE WAS NO FACILITY TO STORE IT, AND WE DID HAVE A LOT OF THINGS, AS JUST BEFORE TRAVELLING TO THE PHILIPPINES WE HAVE POPPED FOR A WEEK TO SEE THE SHANGHAI’S REGION. WE WERE NOT ALLOWED INTO THE AIRPORT WITHOUT A VALID TICKET, AND WE DID NOT FEEL THAT WE COULD WAIT TOO CLOSE TO THE AIRPORT, AS THE SECURITY GUYS WERE LOOKING AT US WITH SOME SUSPICIONS AS IF WE WERE CARING A BOMB IN OUR BAGS ( KEEP IN MIND THAT THE PHILIPPINES ARE FRIENDLY WITH AMERICA AND A FEW DAYS EARLIER THERE WAS A BIG NEWS ABOUT A SUCCESSFUL KILLING OF BIN LADEN. ALSO ON THE SOUTHERN PARTS OF THEIR COUNTRY A NEVER-ENDING STRUGGLE WITH THE LOCAL AL-QAEDA TAKES PLACE.

WE THOUGHT WE WERE LUCKY TO QUICKLY FIND SEAIR OFFICE (ON THE LEFT FROM THE MAIN ENTRANCE WHEN FRONTING THE BUILDING), BUT IT TOOK US ABOUT 40 MINUTES TO PURCHASE TICKETS EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO QUEUE. FORGET ABOUT BANK CARDS ! IT IS MUCH CHEAPER /EASIER TO JUST TAKE CASH FROM AN ATM MACHINE THAN PAY WITH $US. WE HAVE DONE JUST THAT. THE ATM WAS JUST ABOUT 100M FROM THE OFFICE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET. THE NEAREST TRAFFIC LIGHTS ARE VERY FAR, SO ONE HAD TO RUN ACROSS A FOUR LANE ROAD – I FELT LIKE A MOVING TARGET! IT WAS A DOSE OF A VERY HEALTHY GYMNASTICS AT 5.30 AM. ATM MACHINES HAVE OF COURSE A LIMIT OF THE AMOUNT OF CASH YOU COULD TAKE AT ONE GO, SO BETTER TAKE A FEW CARDS. THE BEST / SIMPLEST WAY THOUGHT IS TO CHANGE MONEY IN A MONEY EXCHANGE AT THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – THEY OFFER A GOOD EXCHANGE RATES AND THEN YOU DO NOT NEED TO WORRY. OUR TICKETS COST A FORTUNE – US$ 200+ EACH ! THIS WAS OUR BIGGEST EXPENSE DURING OUR WEEK STAY IN THE PHILIPPINES. IT IS POSSIBLE TO GET THIS TICKETS A LOWER PRICE IF BUYING A FEW (5 MAX) DAYS BEFORE THE FLIGHT, BUT FIRST OF ALL, WE DID NOT HAVE A CHANCE, AND SECONDLY THE PRICE DIFFERENCE WAS NOT TOO DRAMATIC.

THIS TIME WE WERE ABLE TO BUY THE NEXT LOT OF TICKETS FAST AND AT A REGULAR PRICE FOR A FLIGHT FROM PUERTO PRINCE TO MANILA AT US$ 38 PER PERSON. THE INFORMATION I FOUND IN BLOGS SUGGESTED THAT ONE COULD BUY FLIGHT TICKETS FROM A CAFE EL NIDO. I CAN RECOMMEND IT – THEY ANSWER IMMEDIATELY. THIS TIME WE BOUGHT TICKETS FOR CEBU PACIFIC AIR – A LARGE COMPANY, WELL PRICED TICKETS. HERE OUR CARDS DID WORK…

A TIME CAME FOR A WELL EARNED BREAKFAST. THERE IS A “CHEF” AMONG US AND OUR JOURNEYS ARE IN A WAY A CULINARY EXPERIMENTS, BECAUSE WE DO LIKE TO EAT WELL. HAVING STILL TO CARRY ALL OUR LUGGAGE WITH US, WE HAD TO FIND SOME PLACE CLOSE BY. A BAR OPENED FOR BUSINESS WAS ONLY 40 METERS AWAY FROM THE SEAIR OFFICE, AND IT WAS STILL BEFORE 6 AM. THAT PLACE DIDN’T LOOK LIKE WE WOULD HAVE THERE AN EXCEPTIONAL CULINARY EXPERIENCE, HOWEVER WE WERE ABLE TO GET IN WITH ALL OUR LUGGAGE AND GET SOMETHING TO EAT SO EARLY IN THE MORNING.

THIS WAS OUR FIRST MEAL IN THIS FRIENDLY COUNTRY SO WE DECIDED TO MAKE IT SPECIAL. WE HAVE ORDERED THE SAME MEAL “FILIPINO BREAKFAST”, WHICH CONSISTED OF A AMERICAN STYLE COFFEE AND A LARGE PLATE WITH FOUR PIECES OF TOAST, POACHED EGG AND TINAPA (PIECES OF SMOKED FISH AND GREEN PEPPER). THIS WAS PROBABLY THE WORST MEAL WE HAVE HAD IN THE PHILIPPINES… I DON’T REMEMBER THE PRICE, BUT IT WAS VERY CHEAP.

AFTER THE BREAKFAST WE HAVE TRUDGED BACK TO THE AIRPORT. I FOUND IT INTERESTING THAT THE LUGGAGE CHECK TOOK PLACE IMMEDIATELY AFTER ENTERING THE BUILDING, IT WAS RUN VERY EFFICIENTLY. THE NEXT STEP WAS CHECK-IN, THEN MAKING AIRPORT FEE OF 100 P (NOTE PAYMENT ONLY IN PESOS OR US$). THERE IS AN ATM IN THE BUILDING, BUT IT ONLY CAN EXCHANGE LIMITED AMOUNT OF CASH, AS FAR AS I REMEMBER ONLY UP TO 10 000 P.

ANOTHER UNFORESEEN OCCURRENCE WAS AN “INVITATION” TO PUT OUR HAND LUGGAGE ON SCALES TO CHECK ITS WEIGHT AND THEN WE HAD TO HOP ON THE SAME SCALES TO BE ALSO WEIGHT. AFTER SOME CALCULATION WE WERE TOLD TO PAY A FEE FOR THE EXTRA WEIGHT (ABOUT 50 US$).

WARNING: PUT ALL YOU CAN IN YOUR POCKETS, DO NOT FORGET ABOUT YOUR CAMERA. HANG YOUR CAMERA WITH ZOOM LENS ON YOUR NECK MAKING SURE IT IS NOT VISIBLE, OTHERWISE YOU WILL HAVE YOUR MONEY FLOWING IN A BIG STREAM OUT OF YOUR POCKET

OUR FLIGHT HAS NOT LEAVE ON TIME, UNFORTUNATELY. IT HAS TURNED OUT THAT IT WAS RAINING AT OUR DESTINATION. THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A SURPRISE AS THIS WAS A BEGINNING OF THE RAINING SEASON. THIS IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO PLAN EXACTLY A TRIP IN THE PHILIPPINES. WE HAVE MANAGED TO HAVE A GOOD ONE HOUR NAP, WHILE WE HAVE HAD ALL OUR BATTERIES CHARGED. (IMPORTANT IN THE PHILIPPINES: ALWAYS HAVE YOUR CHARGERS IN YOUR HAND LUGGAGE AS IN MANY PLACES ACCESS TO ELECTRICITY IS LIMITED).

THE CHARGER – CONVERTOR OF LOCAL PLUGGING SYSTEM FOR ANY OTHER ONE, GOOD FOR ALL DEVICES, AT THE MANILA AIRPORT COST 50P.

JUST WHEN WE WERE ENJOYING A NICE CUP OF HOT TEA, WE WERE TOLD THAT THE PLANE WAS READY TO BOARD. WE WERE DIRECTED TO THE AIRFIELD TOWARDS THE LITTLE PLANE SITTING THERE, FAR AWAY IN THE DISTANCE. IT WAS A SMALL, 19 SITTER LET 410 UVP-E AND IT CARRIED ONLY OUR GROUP OF FOUR, ANOTHER THREE PASSENGERS AND THE CREW. WE WERE ALLOWED TO GET ON THE PLANE WITH OUR TEAS AND WE WERE SEATED AROUND THE PLANE ACCORDING TO OUR WEIGHT. AFTER THAT, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT GAVE US THE SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS STANDING IN THE PLANE ENTRANCE, THEN LEFT AND LOCK THE DOORS BEHIND HER. WE WERE LEFT WITH THE TWO PILOTS IN THE PLANE. QUICK START AND THE FIRST, 1.5 HOURS LONG PART OF OUR JOURNEY ON THE FILIPINO ARCHIPELAGO HAS BEGAN. IT WAS NOT TYPICAL FLIGHT, AS THIS WAS A SMALL PLANE EASILY AFFECTED BY WIND GUSTS AND “HOLES” IN THE AIR PLUS THE NOISE OF THE TURBO ENGINES WAS NOT VERY PLEASANT…

WE HAVE LANDED ON AN AIRPORT NEAR TAYTAY AND IT WAS DRIZZLING. WE HAVE IMMEDIATELY UNDERSTOOD WHY IT WAS NECESSARY TO WAIT UNTIL THE RAIN STOPS. THE GRAVEL SURFACE OF THE AIRFIELD HAS TURNED INTO A LAND OF A THOUSAND LAKES, LIKE MAZURY IN POLAND. THE “LAKES” WERE NOT DEEP AND THE GROUND WAS QUICKLY ABSORBING THE WATER, HOWEVER ONE COULD IMAGINE THAT IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE TO LAND WHEN IT WAS RAINING. HALF WAY DOWN THE AIRFIELD WAS A SMALL, TIDY BUILDING COVERED WITH A THATCH ROOF AND IT IS THE FLIGHT CONTROL ,WAITING ROOM, SECURITY CONTROL AND AN OFFICE ALL IN ONE. NEXT TO IT A FIRE ENGINE IS STATIONED AND IT SOUNDS A HORN EACH TIME A PLANE IS ABOUT TO START OR LAND. THERE IS ALSO AN AREA FOR SMOKERS AND A CAR PARKING AREA. AFTER LANDING AND TAXING TO THE “AIRPORT” WE WERE GIVEN UMBRELLAS FOR THE WALK FROM THE PLANE BY THE VERY HELPFUL AIRPORT STAFF. DESPITE OF THE INFORMATION WE HAVE FOUND ON MANY BLOGS, THERE WAS ONLY ONE JEEPNEY WAITING TO TAKE CLIENTS ONLY TO THE RESORTS. NO OTHER TRANSPORT WAS AVAILABLE!

WE HAVE STARTED NEGOTIATE WITH THE JEEPNEY DRIVER TO TAKE US TO EL NIDO, BUT HE WAS ALREADY BOOKED TO TAKE THE OTHER PASSENGERS TO THE RESORT, THEN COME BACK WITH THE DEPARTING GROUP AND POSSIBLY TAKE THE NEXT ARRIVALS TO THEIR RESORT. HE HAS PROMISED TO RING HIS FRIEND, AND ASKED US TO RELAX AND WAIT. SO WE WAITED, PASSING TIME WITH SOME READING. IT STARTED TO RAIN AGAIN. JEEPPNEY CAME BACK, SO WE HAVE AGAIN TRIED TO CONVINCE DRIVER TO TAKE US TO EL NIDO. HE RANG AGAIN FOR TRANSPORT FOR US AND TOLD US THAT WE WOULD HAVE A CAR TO PICK US UP IN 20 MINUTES… THE 20 MINUTES STRETCHED TO MORE THAN TWO HOURS… WE HAVE PASTED THAT TIME READING AND CHATTING WITH THE FRIENDLY AIRPORT STAFF. IT HAS RAINED A FEW TIMES AGAIN, ANOTHER PLANE LANDED AND TOOK OFF – THIS WAS THE LAST PLANE FOR THE DAY. THIS WAS DEFINITELY A BIGGER PLANE OF SOME PRIVATE AIRLINE. NOBODY LEFT IT AND ONLY A FEW PEOPLE EMBARKED FROM THE NEARBY RESORT.

THE MOST INTERESTING PRACTICE I HAVE NOTICED DURING EACH LANDING WERE THE TWO GUYS DRAGGING A PORTABLE FIRE EXTINGUISHER TO THE EDGE OF THE AIRFIELD AND WAITING UNTIL THE PLANE TAXIED TO THE TERMINAL !!!

WE BEGAN TO WORRY A BIT WHEN THE AIRPORT STAFF STARTED TO PACK UP. OUR FRIENDLY JEEPNEY DRIVER (GERRY +639218332368) HAS MADE A FEW PHONE CALLS, AND ASSURED US THAT THE BOOKED VEHICLE SHOULD ARRIVE VERY SOON. IT WAS ON THE WAY BUT AS HE WAS TRAVELLING ALL THE WAY FROM EL NIDO AND BECAUSE OF THE RAIN HE HAD TO TAKE A LONGER ROUTE. AFTER ANOTHER 30 MINUTES YET ANOTHER PHONE CALL CAME REASSURING US THAT THE CAR WAS JUST AROUND THE CORNER. THIS IS ANOTHER REASON WHY IT IS NOT ADVISABLE TO PLAN A TRIP IN THE PHILIPPINES TOO PRECISE. INDEED FINALLY A MINI BUS ARRIVED WITH THREE PEOPLE IN IT. THIS HAS SURPRISED US, BUT THE DRIVER EXPLAINED THAT HE NEEDED THEM JUST TO PUSH THE VEHICLE IF NEEDED. I HAVE NEGOTIATED A PRICE AND WE WERE FINALLY ON OUR WAY.

HAVE YOU EVER TOOK PART IN THE DAKAR CAR RACE? NO? THEN YOU ARE IN THE SAME POSITION AS WE WERE AT THE START OF OUR DRIVE TO EL NIDO. THERE WERE TWO YOUNG FILIPINO GUYS SITTING NEXT TO THE ISUZU MINI BUS DRIVER AND THEY TALKED ALL THE TIME AND LAUGHED. WE HAD ABOUT 50 KM OF A SANDY AND GRAVEL ROADS COVERED WITH A SLIPPERY MUD AFTER THE RECENT RAIN. THE DRIVER PREDICTED THAT THE TRIP WOULD TAKE ABOUT 2.5 HOURS. INITIALLY THE ROAD WENT ALONG THE AIRFIELD AND IT HAD AN EVEN CHIPPING SURFACE. SOON ENOUGH THIS LUXURY HAS FINISHED AND OUR VEHICLE STARTED TO SLIDE AND WOBBLE SIDEWAYS. THE DRIVER MANAGED TO MANOEUVRE THE ROUTE AT 40 KM PER HOUR, WHICH IN THAT CONDITIONS FELT LIKE A SPEED OF LIGHT… I HAVE BEEN DRIVING CARS IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES AND MUST HAVE DONE ABOUT 2.5 MILLION KILOMETRES, SO I HAVE VERY MUCH APPRECIATED HIS DRIVING SKILLS.

THE CAR WAS CLIMBING UP THE INCLINES AND DOWN INTO CANYONS FOLLOWING NOT A VERY WIDE ROAD. THE TWO DRIVER ‘S FRIENDS KEPT TALKING AND LAUGHING AND FROM TIME TO TIME WERE GIVING HIM SOME DRIVING ADVICE – WHICH WAY TO PASS A BIG PUDDLE OR WHICH CROSS COUNTRY PATH TO CHOOSE. THE LOGGING ROAD WAS PRACTICALLY ROUGH ALL THE WAY UNTIL JUST A FEW KILOMETRES BEFORE OUR DESTINATION WHERE THERE WERE SOME ROAD WORKS UNDER WAY AND A BRAND NEW CONCRETE SURFACE. WE HAVE REACHED EL NIDO – A SMALL VILLAGE NEAR A BAY. THERE WERE JUST A TWO PARALLEL ROADS AND A FEW SIDE STREETS. WE HAVE QUICKLY FOUND ACCOMMODATION AT TANDIKAN BEACH COTTAGES. GREAT PLACE – I WOULD RECOMMEND IT. BEACH FRONT DOUBLE ROOM WITH AN EN-SUIT AND A BALCONY WITH A TABLE AND CHAIRS WAS 1100 P, SIMILAR ROOM WITH NO VIEW WAS 900 P. CLEAN. NOTE – IF YOU BOOK FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY AN ADDITIONAL FEE OF 100 P APPLIES.

ELECTRICITY ON PALAWAN IS LIMITED. IN EL NIDO IT IS ON ONLY BETWEEN 2 PM AND 6 AM. DO NOT FORGET TO CHARGE YOUR BATTERIES.

AFTER A WHILE WE HAVE STARTED A SEARCH FOR A BOAT FOR HIRE. WE HAVE ALWAYS PLANNED TO HIRE A BOAT FOR A TRIP FROM EL NIDO FOR A TWO DAYS SAIL TO VISIT SEVERAL INTERESTING ISLANDS ON THE WAY TO SABANG. WHEN WE WERE STILL IN POLAND WE HAVE FOUND A COMPANY THAT SUITED US, HOWEVER WE HAVE NOT MANAGED TO GET HOLD OF ITS OWNER THE ROYJEN IN EL NIDO. THERE WAS LOTS OF BOATS FOR HIRE ADVERTISED IN THE MAIN STREET OF THE VILLAGE, BUT NONE WERE REALLY INTERESTING. IN THE END I HAVE TEXTED (+639156022837) ONE OF THE BOAT OWNERS AND HE REPLIED AFTER ABOUT AN HOUR.

WE HAVE GONE OUT FOR DINNER AND SELECTED AS USUAL A RESTAURANT RECOMMENDED BY THE LONELY PLANET. IT WAS EL NIDO SKYLINE GRILL. WE FOUND A TABLE ON A FIRST FLOOR DECK AND HAVE ORDERED SOME SALADS AND LOBSTER. WE WERE DEAD TIRED AFTER TWO FLIGHTS, LONG WAITING TIMES AT AIRPORTS AND THE “CAR RAID” SO I DON’T REALLY REMEMBER MUCH MORE ABOUT THIS MEAL. I ONLY REMEMBER THAT IT WAS ALL VERY TASTY AND THE LOBSTER WAS 700 P. WE HAVE NOT LINGERED THERE AND SOON WE WERE ON OUR WAY BACK TO THE MOTEL WHERE WE SAT ON THE DECK WITH A RUM AND COCA-COLA. BLISS … I GOT A SMS FROM THE BOAT OWNER I HAVE MENTIONED EARLIER AND WE STARTED A TEXT MESSAGE DISCUSSION. AT THIS STAGE A FILIPINO MAN HAS APPROACHED US, ONE OF OUR LADIES HAS TALKED TO HIM ABOUT THE BOAT TRIP IN THE VILLAGE. WE HAVE INVITED HIM TO JOIN US FOR DRINKS. HE POINTED TO HIS BOAT BOBBING ON THE WATER NEARBY. WE HAVE STARTED NEGOTIATE THE DEAL, WE WOULD GET THE BOAT FOR TWO FULL DAYS AND ONE NIGHT, HE WOULD PROVIDE THE BOAT WITH A DRIVER, MEALS, DRINKS AND SLEEPING QUARTERS ON THE BOAT FOR THE FOUR OF US. THE PRICE FOR THE PACKAGE WAS 14 000 P.

WE HAVE AGREED TO HAVE THREE MEALS A DAY OF FISH, SEAFOOD AND FRESH VEGGIE, SPICY LOCAL SALADS. HE WAS ALSO TO SHOW US A FEW NEARBY ISLES WHERE WE WOULD BE ABLE TO DO SOME SNORKELLING. WE PAID 5 000 P DEPOSIT.

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