Crammed for 6 hours into a 10 person van with 14 other people and their luggage as we bumped over unpaved roads and careened around mountainous corners, I wondered bitterly why I had wanted to go to El Nido, anyway. These had better be the best damned beaches I’ve ever seen.
Luckily, they were.
The Philippines never cease to amaze me. With over 6,000 islands, you can never see it all and each place seems to be more breathtaking than the last. I’d heard amazing things about the island hopping and beaches in El Nido, a town at the top of Palawan island, so Chelyn and I headed up from Puerto Princesa for some quality relaxation time.
The town itself is small and cloudy with dirt roads. Vendors line the streets selling clothes and touristy items but it’s still a mellow small town vibe that doesn’t seem too overrun with foreigners. Our first night we happened upon a lady-boy pageant taking place in the town square and it was quite the spectacle (I really wish I had photos).
For our first full day we took a “tricycle”—the common form of travel in the Philippines, a motorcycle with a giant contraption on the side to sit in—to Los Cabanas beach. The sand was soft, white, powder and stretched down the coast until it rounded a palm tree lined bend. The turquoise water was crystal clear—and inhabited by the occasional giant purple jellyfish. We lounged on the beach drinking coconuts; when it became too hot we swam out to a floating dock to lounge and jump off into the warm water. For sunset we found a beachside bar and had drinks as we watched the sun melt into the horizon.
The next day we joined “Tour A”, a boat that would take us to five destinations including beaches and lagoons. The scenery was incredible and the beaches wonderful, again. There were a few times, however, when the boats anchored and offloaded passengers right over a coral reef that was now mostly dead from being stomped on day after day. We did our best to swim over the reef and not touch anything, but it was heartbreaking to know that these boats were devastating some serious chunks of reefs in the name of tourism.
That evening Chelyn and I headed to the beach with a bottle of wine. The island was filled with couples so instead of paying for expensive drinks in bars and mingling with all those annoyingly happy honeymooners we decided to have our own party in the sand. We rocked out to songs on our little speakers and laughed at the people giving us strange sidelong glances.
But by the end of the evening, disaster had struck.
It hit me first, and then Chelyn, followed by another guy in our hostel who had been on the same boat trip. It was some of the most crippling food poisoning I’ve ever had. It was seriously violent. Liquid spewed from all directions of my body and I wondered if this is what an exorcism felt like. Chelyn and I both passed out on the bathroom floor for the night and spent the entire next day bedridden. It was a sad way to end our time in El Nido, but certainly a memorable one.
Despite the food poisoning, we had an amazing time. If you ever consider going to El Nido I would say a) DO IT, b) don’t step on the coral, and c) be wary of the fish lunch.